"HOW-TO'S" FOR BEGINNERS AND REFRESHERS

So you're just beginning to get into the cooking scene! Or maybe you just want to learn something new or refresh your memory about a couple of things. I hope these descriptions and photos help. I have to thank that amazing magazine, CUSINE AT HOME for publishing these gems every month!! If you're not now receiving this magazine, you should be if you want to continually learn (and no, I'm not getting paid for pluggin it!). There are no advertisements---just good solid cooking with great recipes, easy directions, and photos with every one.

[Rendering Bacon] [Hulling Strawberries] [Removing Silverskin] [Pitting Avocados] [Preparing Mussels] [Preparing Asparagus] [Making and Using a Bouquet Garni] [Toasting Nuts and Seeds] [Creaming Butter] [Tying a Roast] [Pitting Olives] [Roasting Garlic] [Cutting a Bell Pepper] [Boiling Pasta]

RENDERING BACON
Rendering is a technique used to melt fat from diced meat, usually pork or bacon, to get lardons (LAHR-dons). Typically lardons are used to garnish soups, salads, eggs, etc--whenever you want a bit of meaty flavor. The rendered fat is also great for sauteeing vegetables.
Cut slab bacon or thick-sliced bacon about 1/4" dice, and cook in a skillet over low heat 10-15 minutes to extract the fat without charring it. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Use in recipes calling for lardons and other recipes calling for cooked & crumbled bacon.
HULLING STRAWBERRIES
Unless you're dipping strawberries in chocolate, chances are your recipes call for "hulled" strawberries. Hulling is simply removing the green leaves and inner white core of the berry. The best way if pretty low-tech---use the tip of an old-fashioned vegetable peeler and insert the tip directly under the leves at an angle, then force the tip up to pop it all out. If you want to spend the money for another gadget, you can purchase a regular strawberry huller, which looks like a very large paperclip.
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REMOVING SILVERSKIN
Silverskin is the extremely tough connective tissue found under the fat layer of pork and beef tenderloins that doesn't melt during cooking like fat does. If left on the meat, it will shrink and twist, turning the meat into a "corkscrew". Use a very sharp narrow-blade knife to slip just under the silverskin, making a "tab" to hold onto. Holding the tab firmly with one hand, run the knife blade under the membrane, keeping it angled away from the meat, trying not to remove any of the meat.
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PREPARING AVODADOS
Use a sharp knife to cut the avocado in half lengthwise, allowing the knife to butt up against the pit. Separate the avocado into halves by rotating them in opposite directins. Carefully hit the pit with the knife, twist the blade and lift out the pit. To extract the fruit, run a large table spoon between the flesh and peel. The avocado half should pop right out.
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PREPARING MUSSELS
First, know that the mussels are alive when you buy them. Then store them in a colander filled with ice. If they sit in water, it can kill them. When ready to cook, discard any mussels that are not tightyly closed. If any are open, plunge them into cold water---live ones will close, dead ones won't, so pitch them. Remove the beard---the fibrous thread outside the shell---use your fingers or even small pliers to pull the beard towards the small end of the shell, and pull it completely off. Scrub each mussell well under cold running water to remove mud and sand. They're ready cook---and cook now!
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PREPARING ASPARAGUS
To store fresh asparagus, fill a large glass or bowl with cold water and put the asparagus in, stem side down, and keep them refrigerated. Regardless of the size of the asparagus spears, snap off the woody ends. Simply hold the spear at the bottom and in the middle---bend it---and the stem will snap right off where it turns tough. If you have pencil-thin asparagus, not much more needs to be done. If your have larger thicker spears, they tend to be woodier than others around the stem and base. In that case, use a vegetable peeler and peel off the outer skin to remove stringy fibers. This also helps to even out the cooking.
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MAKING AND USING A BOUQUET GARNI
Bouquet garni (boo-KAY gahr-NEE) is French for a bag or sachet of herbs and spices that is simmered in soups, stocks and stews to add flavor. The most commonly used herbs are parsley, bay leaf, thyme; spices may include peppercorns, cloves, garlic. The bundle keeps them together so they're easy to remove later. Cut a large square of good quality cheesecloth and place the seasonings in the center of the square. Gather up the corners to enclose them completely and tie securely with a long piece of kitchen twine (the twine should be long enough to hang outside the pot). Attach the bundle to a handle of the pot for easy removal, Before serving, untie and discard the bundle.
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TOASTING NUTS AND SEEDS
Toasting shelled nuts and seeds brings out and enhances their flavors. Although many will do this in the oven, a quicker and easier way is to do it on the stovetop. Warm a small saute pan on top of the stove over medium-high heat. No fat is needed. Add the nuts, toss or stir them frequently so they don't burn and they will toast evenly. Most nuts and seeds toast quickly, so keep an eye on them, control the heat, and keep them moving so they don't burn. Oven-toasting is slower but browning is more uniform. Place nuts in a shallow baking pan in a single layer into a 375-degree F. oven. Pine nuts and sesame seeds toast in 1-2 minutes. Large nuits take 5-7 minutes stovetop of 10-12 minuts in the oven. Properly toasted nuts are aromatic.
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CREAMING BUTTER
Cookies and cakes go to new heights when the butter is creamed. Creaming whips tiny air bubbles into the fat, and those air bubbles expand during baking, producing smooth and light results. Butter should be slightly cooler than room temperature and a bit soft to the touch--65-68ºF. If it's too warm, it may melt during creaming and turn greasy---it it's coler, it will be lumpy and air won't incorporate properly. Cube the butter, then beat at medium speed with a mixer. If sugar is required in the recipe, that makes evene more air bubbles to be trapper. Cream the butter (and sugar if called for) until very light in color (almost white) and texture. It takes 4-7 minutes so be patient.
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TYING A ROAST
Ideally, to tie a roast, you should use a surgeon's knot, which is similar to a glorified shoe-tying knot and perfect for tying roasts. Lay pieces of kitchen twine at least 12-14" in length underneath the roast, spacing them about 2" apart. To tie the knot, make the first loop like you are tying a shoe---then do that loop again two more times, then pull the twine firmly to the meat. Friction will hold the loops in place. To secure the loops, simply make a grany knot. When all strings are tired, trim off the excess string before cooking. When the roast is done, simply snip the twine with scissors to remove them.
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PITTING OLIVES
How do you get rid of the pits in all these lovely gourmet olives?! There are gadgets out there to do this chore, but cost $$. If you have an old-fashioned cherry pitter, that should work fine. If you don't have either one---dig out your trusty chef's knife! This method is best for black olives---the flesh of the green ones grip the pits more firmly making them hard to remove. Simply put the olives on a cutting board, place the flat side of the chef's knife (sharp edge away from you!) directly on top. Now, press down firmly on the blade with the flat of your hand. This will loosen the pit, probably crack the walls of the olvie, at least on one side, but it's done. Just remove the pit throught eh split, taking care not to mangle the flesh too much.
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ROASTING GARLIC
Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Then cut the "neck" off two garlic heads, exposing the cloves. Cut a large piece of foil, place the garlic in the center, and drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the garlic. Crimp the edges of the foil together tightly into a packet so no oil leaks. Place the packet on a baking sheet and roase 45-60 minutes. The garlic is done when it's soft and easily pierced with a knife/ Cool the garlic a bit, the squeeze the heads from the bottom to remove the cloves---they'll slip right out. Add mashed cloves to sauces, soups, vegetables, or spread on toasted bread slices.
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CUTTING A BELL PEPPER
If you've ever mangled a bell pepper trying to slice it, study the pepper's structure a bit and you'll discover a better way. Bell peppers have a boox-like shape with a stem on top and seed core inside. Since the four sides of the pepper are what get used. simply put the pepper on a board, stem side up, hold the pepper by the stem, and use a sharp chef;s knife to cut off the sides. This leaves the stem and seed core intact to discard. Trim the membrane from the insides, then slice with the skin side down. The rougher inside flesh is easier to cut than the tougher outside skin.
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BOILING PASTA
The biggest problem with cooking pasta is keeping it from sticking together. Most tricks don't do much good either. The fact is---pasta is staarchy and will stick a little, no matter what. Contrary to popular belief, do not add oil to the water---that simply coats the pasta and sauces slip right off. Also, do not rinse the cooked pasta---rinsing eliminates the starch preventing sauces from clinging to the pasta. First, bring water in a very large pot (about 4 quarts per pound of pasta) to a rolling boil. The more room in the pot, the easier the pasta can move around, preventing it from sticking. When the water is aat a furious boil, add a hefy amount of salt (preferably kosher salt---about 2 tablespoons per 4 quarts of water). Then add the pasta. Immediately stir the pasta, preferably with a large fork, to get the pasta moving in the water. Stir it often during cooking. Finally, when it's done, drain and sauce the pasta right away, because it begins to stick as soon as it's drained.
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