Posts Tagged ‘ cooking ’

Easy Cooking Tips You Want To Know

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Last week I was doing an event in Central Park that was all about tips for Italian cooking. The Barilla Pasta Company sponsored it. I learned some really simple, but key things I didn’t know about cooking pasta, sautéing garlic and using olive oil. Wanted to share them with you guys.

The Pasta Experts

PASTA:

Always boil enough water for your pasta: one gallon of water to one pound of pasta.

Don’t add oil to your water. It does nothing. If you don’t want it to stick, the key is to add enough water and to occasionally stir it.

Add enough salt so that your water tastes like broth. For those who add a pinch of salt (like I always have)—try a few tablespoons instead. Unless you have dietary restrictions, your water should taste like a broth/saltwater. The salt will stick to the pasta and help give it flavor. I kid you not; this made a HUGE difference in the way the dishes tasted.

Don’t EVER rinse your pasta (something I always did until now). You want the starch on it to bind to your sauce.

Don’t overcook your pasta. How do you know? Follow the directions on the box. Every pasta shape is different, so you must read the directions. If it says boil for 9 minutes, test it at 8. The chefs would often drain it a minute early and add it to the sauce they were making. That way it would finish cooking in the saucepan. If you overcook pasta, you lose the essence of it. Plus, it is harder to digest. You definitely want al dente, which is usually what the directions specify on the box.

GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL:

Use a good olive oil. Look for bottles/brands that have a “best if used by” date on them. Olive Oil is best used 18 months-2 years from the time the olives were harvested. So if you’ve had a bottle sitting on your counter for a decade, toss it.

Buy olive oil that is in a tinted bottle. It shouldn’t be exposed to light. Or heat. Keep in cool, dry place, but not in the refrigerator.

They all used Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Seemed to be the general consensus.

When using olive oil to sauté garlic, heat the oil at medium (in other words, be patient. Don’t just put it on high to get it hot faster). Then add your garlic.

There is really no need to have a garlic press or to finely chop it. If you just put a clove in (without the skin, obviously), or cut a clove in half, that is enough to infuse the flavor into the olive oil. In fact, these guys, who were from Italy, often let the garlic infuse, then they would take the clove out and throw it away or use it for bread.

Don’t burn your garlic. Apparently we Americans are notorious for overcooking both our pasta and our garlic. The garlic should just be turning color when you either remove the cloves or add the rest of your ingredients. By adding other items, the cooking process naturally slows down and your garlic won’t burn. You can also add some water from your pasta pot (remember: properly salted) to slow down the garlic from burning. Also by adding water that the pasta is boiling in, you can make your sauce creamier, as it has some starch in it from cooking the noodles.

For as many years as I’ve stood with chefs in kitchens from my Food Network job, The Best Of I was surprised that I didn’t know some of these very basics.

One more personal tip I did bring to the table: to get the garlic smell off your hands, rub your fingers on stainless steel. I often use the sides of my kitchen sink. It neutralizes the odor.

Any other tips you have to share? Or questions? I feel like an expert now!

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Hellish Household Help–Part 2

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I’ll call her Dorothy. She was the new cleaning lady I was trying out who came highly recommended from my friend. This, after I let my other cleaners go (read why). I greeted her at the door. She immediately seemed a bit cold to me. I took it as shy. I welcomed her in, offered her coffee and showed her our place. As we moved from room to room, I could feel her getting tense. We have several levels of steps, including a spiral staircase, so I thought maybe she was nervous with heights. We walked down to the kitchen, and she exploded. Phil (and Wayne) were at the table feeding Fia breakfast and all of our mouths—even the cat’s—dropped open.

“I DO NOT do stainless steel,” she began, wildly gesturing to our appliances.  “M (my friend) didn’t tell me you had this or I would have never agreed to do this job.”

“Um, oo—kaaay,” I said, looking at Phil whose mouth remained on the floor.

She continued. “It is impossible to clean. I hate that stuff. It always smears,” she said stomping her foot.

For some reason, the codependent side of my personality made a surprise visit that day.

“Okay, then don’t do it. I’m alright with that,” I said, trying to calm her down.

Truth be told, my mom has just passed away, our house was a disaster, I had a packed day with Fia and I just wanted my house cleaned. I didn’t want her to leave.

She looked right at me, her eyes getting narrow. “I am not sure I even want to do this job. This is a big place. And it’s hot outside.”

A few things: our house is not an outdoor hut. It is inside and we have a HUGE air-conditioning unit. I offered to crank it up even more.

Also, our apartment, large by NYC standards, is about 1200 square feet. I don’t think that is insurmountable. And I’m a clean freak—so when I say it was a disaster—it was–by my standards. Any stranger walking in would not have thought so. Was I missing something here?

She stood there with her hand on her hip and continued.

“For me to do this job, it will take 6 hours and cost x.” I think Phil actually spit out his coffee. It was three times what we’ve ever paid. Before I could respond, she said, “But I’m here, I may as well stay. I’m going to change into my cleaning clothes,” and huffed off.

Phil looked at me and with a clenched jaw whispered, “Remind me what was wrong with our other ladies?” I started to cry.

I knew he was frustrated, but this wasn’t my fault.

“Okay, calm down. Just have her stay today. Then we’ll find someone else. Alright?” I nodded, wiping my face.

“I have to get to work,” he said. He sometimes works from his office at home, but he wasn’t about to hang out in crazy land.

“Do you want her to clean your office?” I asked.

“F-ck yeah. For that money, she sure as sh-t better clean it.”

I pulled myself together and approached Dorothy. She was at our closet going through my cleaning supplies. “This won’t work,” she said, tossing disinfectant wipes out of the bucket.

“Um, okay, use whatever you think is best. I’m taking the baby and going to the park. My husband won’t be home so go ahead and clean his office.”

She glared again. “I’m not sure I’ll get to it,” was all she said. Tersely.

By now, I was a wreck. What happened to my pit-bull personality? I knew I needed to go scour the neighborhood for it.  This woman was a b-tch and a bully and had no right to be so self-righteous.

Fia and I left. Came home 2 hours later. Dorothy was still there and the parts she had cleaned (including surviving the stainless steel, gasp) were sparkling.

I put Fia down for her nap, and sat at my dining room table to eat.

“Um, I’m about to dust that,” she said with bitterly.

I clearly hadn’t found my independent side yet. So I stood up, willing to accommodate, and said, “I’ll just go upstairs. I will put your payment by the front door.”

You ready for this? Here’s what she said:

(more…)

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