Kitchen Hints and Tips - Vegetables

Oyster mushrooms are excellent but a bit pricy. As mushrooms are about 90% water, when they are in the supermarket for a long time the water content is greatly reduced. Stock up on the oysters when they are in a somewhat desiccated condition, slice them and allow to dry. Reconstitute by soaking in a beef or bouillon liquid and use them in any way you desire. But, my preference is to go into the forest and collect them wild. Caution....Have a field guide or someone who can identify the mushrooms you've collected. ~ Frank Hoffman, Toronto

Marinate carrot strips, drained, sliced beets (plus onions, if desired), cauliflower florets, or broccoli florets in the liquid from a jar of sweet pickles. Put the lid back on and refrigerate for two or three days to allow the flavor to develop.

To keep boiled vegetables bright-colored, add a few drops of olive oil to the water.

To keep vegetables from discoloring after they are peeled, cut the pieces into a bowl of salted water (about 1 tablespoon to a quart of water). This works well with potatoes and other produce.

To wash greens, fill sink with water. Cut off and discard stem ends. Add trimmed greens to water, gently submerging them once or twice. Let stand in water a few minutes. With your hands, lift out washed greens; do not disturb sand that has accumulated on bottom. Place washed greens in a large colander to drain. Before cooking, rinse drained greens under running water two or three times.

Add a pinch of sugar when cooking vegetables. Sugar acts as a marvelous flavor enhancer. There is never enough sugar to make the vegetables taste sweet.

Use leftover vegetables to make into patties. Mash vegetables together, add parsley, butter and your favorite seasonings, then fry.

To restore fresh flavor to frozen vegetables, pour boiling water over them, rinsing away all traces of the frozen water.

Cook vegetables in the bottom of a double boiler while you make the cream sauce for them in the upper pan. This saves fuel and energy.

Onions, broccoli and Brussels sprouts will cook faster if you make an X-shaped cut at the base of the vegetable.

By lining the crisper section of your refrigerator with newspaper and wrapping vegetables with it, moisture will be absorbed and your vegetables will stay fresh longer.

Lettuce and celery will keep longer if stored in the refrigerator in paper bags instead of cellophane. Don't remove the outside leaves until ready to use.

To prepare frozen vegetables for a casserole, cook them right in the box. Remove outer wrapping first, then pierce box with a fork. Place in the microwave and cook, following microwave directions on package. Let stand a few minutes. Gently squeeze package to get rid of excess steam before opening.

If fresh vegetables are wilted or blemished, pick off the brown edges. Sprinkle with cool water, wrap in a towel, and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Cook in vegetable, beef, or chicken broth for a nice flavor.

Put vegetables in water after the water boils — not before — to be sure to preserve the vegetables' vitamins.

Line the bottom of the vegetable compartment with paper toweling. This absorbs the excess moisture and keeps all vegetables and fruits fresher for a longer period of time.

Use nylon net to scrub vegetables at the kitchen sink. It cleans them without rubbing off the skin, where the good nutrients are.

Artichokes
Don't cook them in aluminum or iron pots as they will turn the pots gray.

To store, don't wash them when you get them home. Just drizzle with a few drops of water, then seal in airtight plastic bags. Refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Before cooking, let them stand for 1 hour in a large pot of cold water to which you've added 1 tablespoon vinegar for every quart of water. This helps prevent discoloration, and the flesh will be more succulent after cooking.

To prevent discoloring, stand artichokes in cold water with a tablespoon of vinegar for an hour before cooking.

Asparagus
To make thick asparagus stalks tender, peel the lower parts up to the tender part with a potato peeler.

Tie fresh asparagus with string before cooking. This way you can remove the spears easily, without breaking them, after they're cooked.

Open a can of asparagus from the bottom so you can pull out the spears without breaking the tips.

If you bend an asparagus stalk, it will snap at the point where it becomes tender.

If you peel stalks with a vegetable peeler before you snap them, you'll have less waste and more of the asparagus spear to eat.

If asparagus becomes wilted, stand it vertically in a pan or jar in about 2 inches of ice water. Cover with a plastic bag and fasten to the jar with a rubber band. Put in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours before cooking.

Bean Sprouts
Keep them white and crisp by storing them in a bowl of water in the refrigerator.

Beans
Do not add salt when cooking dried beans. The salt toughens beans and prolongs cooking.

Beets
To prevent the beets from bleeding while cooking, do not cut the stems of beets too close. Leave about one to two inches of stem and keep the root intact. Put about 2 tablespoons of vinegar in the cooking water, and peel the beets after they are cooked.

Instead of boiling beets, bake them like potatoes. They have a lovely flavor.

To keep the color in your beets when boiling them, add a little lemon juice.

Bell Peppers
To keep stuffed green peppers from collapsing, bake them in greased muffin tins.

To peel peppers, put them under a preheated broiler for just a few minutes. Then drop them immediately into a paper bag. Close the bag tightly. The steam from the hot peppers will loosen the skins so they can be slipped off.

Green peppers don't last long in the refrigerator. A good way to get them to last as long as possible is to wash them and hollow out their insides. Then cut them into whatever sizes you want. Dry them with paper toweling before putting them into a dry plastic bag, then freeze them. When you need green peppers, you'll have them still fresh.

Broccoli
Stems can be cooked in the same length of time as the florets if you make "X" incisions from top to bottom through stems.

Cabbage
To keep red cabbage red, cook the cabbage uncovered and add a little lemon juice, vinegar or 1/4 cup wine to the water.

Insert wooden picks through cabbage wedges to hold leaves together while cooking.

To absorb odors while cooking, place a small cup of vinegar on the stove.

To soften cabbage leaves before making stuffed cabbage rolls, remove the core from a large head of cabbage and place it in a pan of hot water. Heat the water to not-quite-boiling. Remove the cabbage and carefully peel off the outer leaves that have softened. Put the head back in the water, bring the water back to a simmer and repeat until you have enough cabbage leaves.

Carrots
To make perfect carrot curls, use a vegetable peeler to cut long strips of carrot. Roll them up, and fit each strip into an ice cube tray compartment. Fill the tray with cold water, and store it in the refrigerator until ready to use, then drain.

Do not store unwrapped carrots in the same storage container as ripe fresh apples. The apples give off ethylene gas that causes a "ripening" process in all fruits and some vegetables. This can result in the carrots acquiring a bitter taste.

Be sure to remove carrot tops before storing them in the refrigerator. The tops drain the carrots of moisture and cause them to become dry and limp.

Cauliflower
To keep it bright white, add a little milk during boiling.

To keep it snowy white, soak for 30 minutes in cold salt water before cooking it.

Cauliflower will stay white if you cook it with a strip of lemon peel.

Place a piece of stale bread on top of cooking cauliflower, and the house will stay odor-free.

Cauliflower cooked in an aluminum pot will darken. Use a different kind of pot and add a little sugar, lemon peel or vinegar to the cooking water to keep cauliflower white.

Celery
To make celery curls, cut the stalk into 3- or 4-inch pieces. Slice each piece into narrow strips leaving the end uncut to hold them together. Place them in ice water for 30 minutes until they curl.

To give stew great color and flavor, add a few teaspoons of soy sauce.

Store in the refrigerator in paper bags instead of plastic ones. It will keep longer.

Celery will crisp up fast if you place it in a pan of cold water and add a few raw sliced potatoes.

Strip the leaves from celery, wash them and dehydrate them on a cookie sheet in a slow oven. The dried leaves are then crumbled and stored in airtight jars. These flakes make a nutritious addition to soups, stews, and broths of all kinds.

Celery leaves should be dried and saved for soup, stew or salad dressing. Rub the dried leaves through a sieve to powder them.

Cucumbers
Put attractive scalloped edges on cucumber slices, by running the tines of a fork lengthwise over the peeled or unpeeled cucumber, then slice.

Eggplant
Drop eggplant into salted water as you peel it to remove any bitterness. Dry it with a paper towel before cooking.

The fewer seeds in an eggplant, the less bitter it tastes. Check the bottom (the end opposite the stem). There will be a grayish "scar" about the size of a dime. If the "scar" is oval or oblong, the eggplant will be loaded with seeds. If the "scar" is round, it will have far fewer seeds.

Garlic
Chop garlic in a small amount of salt to keep pieces from sticking to the knife or chopping board.

Before chopping garlic, sprinkle the cloves with salt. The salt will pick up the juice that would otherwise be left on the chopping board.

Garlic peel will slip off easily if you place the clove on a cutting board, and press down on it hard with the flat edge of a wide-blade knife. The skin will almost fall off by itself.

Garlic cloves can be kept in the freezer. When ready to use, peel and chop before thawing.

Garlic cloves will never dry out if you store them in a bottle of cooking oil. After the garlic is used up, you can use the garlic-flavored oil for salad dressing or stir-fry.

Green Beans
Saut green beans in a small amount of oil before you add liquid to them. The flavor is improved enormously, and you'll cut down cooking time.

Potatoes
Before microwaving potatoes, wrap each potato in a paper towel instead of simply placing a towel on the oven floor. Moisture is absorbed from all around the potato, so the skin will be crisper.

Lettuce
It will keep longer if you store it in the refrigerator in a paper bag instead of plastic.

Perk up soggy lettuce by adding lemon juice to a bowl of ice cold water, and soak the lettuce for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Soggy lettuce can be fixed by dousing it quickly into hot, then ice water with a little apple cider vinegar added.

Lettuce will crisp up fast if you place it in a pan of cold water and add a few raw sliced potatoes.

A fresh head of lettuce won't brown as quickly if you remove the care before storing. Just hit the core sharply against the counter top and twist it out.

Lettuce will not "rust" as quickly if you place a paper towel or napkin in the storage container.

Mushrooms
Never store mushrooms in a plastic bag because they quickly become slick and unpleasant. They keep best either in a brown paper bag (with the top folded down) because the brown paper absorbs the moisture that the mushrooms produce.

You can tell if mushrooms are fresh because their caps are completely closed, with no gills showing.

To keep mushrooms white while you saut them, either add a half teaspoon of lemon juice to each half cup of melted butter or, if you are saut ing whole caps, saut the tops of the caps first and fill the cap with lemon juice while the top is saut ing.

Onions
Slice while partially frozen, and there will be no tears.

If you have many onions to peel, cover them with very hot water a few minutes and the skins will slip off easily.

Peel and quarter onions. Place one layer deep in a pan and freeze. Quickly pack in bags or containers while frozen. Use as needed, chopping onions while frozen, with a sharp knife.

To get the onion smell off your hands, rub a stainless steel spoon over your hands or rub your hands on a stainless steel sink. It works every time!

If an onion seems too strong to use raw on a sandwich or in a salad, place the slices in a bowl of water to which you have added about 1 teaspoon of sugar per cup of water. Let the slices soak for about one hour.

Rub your hands with parsley after cutting up onion, and the onion smell will disappear.

When cooking onions and garlic together, always cook onions first then add the garlic. The flavor of each will be kept separate and the garlic will not become bitter.

Fix a stockpile of chopped onions for your freezer. Peel off the skin and cut the onions into sections. Place in a blender filled with cold water. Grate for two or three seconds, then drain in a colander or between paper towels. Spread the chopped onions on a cookie sheet and freeze them quickly. Put the chilled onions into freezer bags and store in the freezer to use as needed.

After an onion has been cut in half, rub the leftover side with butter, and it will stay fresh longer.

Store them, wrapped individually in foil, to keep them from becoming soft or sprouting.

Parsley
Store fresh parsley by rinsing it and shaking off the excess water. Wrap it in several thicknesses of damp paper towels. Store the wrapped parsley in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Freeze parsley by rolling the sprigs into a tight ball, then wrapping in foil. Freeze. Unwrap when needed and shave off the quantity you require. Re-wrap the remainder and return to the freezer. It will retain its flavor and freshness.

Keep parsley fresh in your refrigerator by putting the bunch in a plastic bag with a quarter of an apple.

Keep parsley fresh and crisp by storing in a wide-mouth jar with a tight lid. Parsley may also be frozen.

To keep parsley fresh for up to two weeks, trim 1/2 inch from the bottom of the stems and place the entire bunch in a covered jar that contains enough water to keep the stems wet. Every few days, cut off another 1/2 inch or so because the stems will tend to seal and stop taking up water if you don't.

Potatoes
Salting potatoes before cooking perfects their texture. It removes a lot of their starch and built-in moisture.

If making potato pancakes, salt the shredded potatoes and leave them in a colander to drain for 15 to 20 minutes.

If making French fries, add salt to the ice water they soak in before you drain and dry them for frying. Adding salt before cooking also helps give the potatoes a natural saltiness so that you don't have to overdo it when they are done. Sea salt works best and is much better for you than ordinary table salt.

To get a flakier baked potato, prick it with a fork halfway through baking.

Don't pare small, new potatoes. Rub the skin off with a metal pot scrubber.

Potatoes will stay white after you peel them until you are ready to cook them if you cut the pieces into a bowl to which has been added either a teaspoon or so of lemon juice or vinegar, or some salt. Do not let the potatoes soak in the water too long because they can lose a lot of their supply of vitamin C.

Bake potatoes by standing them on end in a muffin tin. That way you can remove them all at once, and they will bake just a little faster that way, also.

For the best French fries, let cut potatoes stand in cold water for one hour before frying. Dry thoroughly before cooking. Fry them just a few minutes and blot off the grease. Fry a second time until golden brown. Put them in a brown paper sack. Sprinkle with a little salt and shake. You will drain and salt in one action.

A leftover baked potato can be re-baked if you dip it in water and bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes.

Always start old boiling potatoes in cold water. Cook new potatoes in boiling salted water.

To make mashed potatoes fast, cut raw potatoes with a French fry cutter. They'll cook in just a few minutes.

Save some of the water in which the potatoes were boiled. Add to some powdered milk and use when mashing. This restores some of the nutrients that were lost in the cooking process.

For beautiful brown and crisp baked potatoes, wash skins well, then butter the skin before putting them in the oven.

Try using sour cream instead of milk when mashing.

Add a small amount of vinegar to grease when frying potatoes to eliminate the greasiness.

For baked potatoes that are crispy outside and fluffy inside, cook in a hot oven, about 425 degrees F.

Overcooked potatoes can become soggy when the milk is added. Sprinkle with dry powdered milk for the fluffiest mashed potatoes ever.

Make delicious soup with leftover mashed potatoes. Blend potatoes with a little milk. Place in a pot and add a little more milk, some butter and a sprinkling of parsley and chives.

For crisper-skinned baked potatoes in the microwave, wrap each potato in a paper towel. Moisture is absorbed from all around the potato, so the skin is crisper.

For the best French fries, let cut potatoes stand in cold water for an hour before frying. Dry thoroughly before cooking. Fry them the first time for a few minutes and blot off the grease. Fry the second time until golden brown.

Hurry up baked potatoes by boiling in salted water for 10 minutes, then place in a very hot oven.

For fast baked potatoes, cut potatoes in half and place them face down on a baking sheet in the oven.

If you've peeled too many potatoes, cover them with cold water to which a few drops of vinegar have been added. Keep refrigerated and they will last for 3 or 4 days.

Spinach
To easily remove moisture from thawed frozen spinach, place spinach in a pie pan. Set another pie pan over spinach. Over the sink, holding pie pans vertically in your hands, press pans together. Liquid will be pressed from spinach and drain into the sink.

Sweet Corn
An ordinary shoe horn is excellent for removing the corn kernels from the cob.

Corn on the cob will be simple to open if you wash them with cold water, place in a plastic bag and freeze for an hour or so before shucking.

Grilling corn on the cob — Soak the corn with husks in a pail of water before placing them on the grill, with husks on. The husks will most likely be charred but the corn itself will not be burnt. The corn will have a pleasing buttery taste without adding anything to it.

To remove corn silk, run a damp paper towel or terry cloth over the shucked ear.

If necessary to store fresh corn, buy it in the husks and store in the refrigerator. This prevents sugar in the corn from turning to starch.

To select fresh corn, look for fresh green husks, dry silks, and even rows of plump kernels.

Place the small end of a cob of corn in the middle of your angel food cake pan. Cut the corn off. The kernels fall neatly into the pan. There is very little spattering of the milk, and you can easily and neatly cut off all the kernels.

To keep sweet corn yellow, add 1 teaspoon lemon juice to the cooking water a minute before you remove it from the stove.

To test freshness of corn, pop a kernel with your fingernail. If the milk is watery, then the corn is immature. If it is thick and starchy, the corn is old.

When cooking corn on the cob, use the tender green leaves from the corn to line the bottom of the pot. It really improves the taste.

Squash
Add some maple syrup to leftover squash before re-heating.