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Things Grandma Forgot to Teach You About Cooking

A-photo-of-Chuck-MalloryWe should all have a grandma who taught us a bunch of stuff about cooking. In times gone by, that was a given. But today folks have to rely on any elderly cook they can find. There is no substitute for years of experience at the stove.

Thus, here is an array of valuable tidbits that you are not likely to know unless you are already a very experienced cook with a variety of types of food. I’ve modernized a few of them (my grandmother never used a microwave or pastry brush, for instance) but they are still basic, solid, home-cooking tips.

Grandma at the tableAlways make mashed potatoes with a ricer or mashing by hand. Machines, even an electric mixer, can deteriorate the starch in potatoes enough that they won’t come out fluffy.

Rest plain cooked rice in the pan for 15-30 min. after it has finished steaming. Leave the lid ajar. This will help the grains stay intact and help the grains firm up to a good texture.

Salad secret: if making a dressed salad with green leafy vegetables and are using a vinaigrette or other acidic-based dressing (such as lemon or fresh tomato), dress the salad right before serving. Acidic foods make green vegetables look dull and feel limp quickly.

If serving boiled vegetables and you don’t want the wrinkly look or shrinking some boiled vegetables (such as corn, carrots, green beans or asparagus) can have, drain vegetables after boiling and immediately use a pastry brush to coat them with oil or butter. This helps them trap moisture inside.

When juicing citrus fruit (by hand), bring it to room temperature and then roll it on the counter (to get the maximum amount of juice) before you cut it.

Enhance a spice’s flavor by heating it briefly in a dry stovetop pan on medium heat about 1-2 minutes, or until it has a “nutty” or cooked smell. Remove from heat immediately.

To check the freshness of eggs without breaking them, place them in a bowl of water. Fresh eggs will lie flat in the water. Old ones will float and lift an end toward the surface.

You can’t make homemade whipped cream from anything other than whipping cream or light whipping cream because other products (such as milk, light cream, or half-and-half) do not have enough fat. Use a chilled bowl and chilled beaters for the greatest chance of success.

To make a homemade pie crust more flaky, substitute a third of all-purpose flour in the recipe with cake flour.

Of course, a cast-iron skillet should not be washed with soap and water. But how to clean off those cooked-on pieces of grit? Just put coarse salt in the pan. Use a soft dry cloth or paper towels to scrub the grit away.

And the following one is mine, because Grandma would never have used liquor in a recipe:

When frying vegetables in a batter, you can get a crisper, lighter crust by replacing about a third of the flour with corn meal. It’s also helpful to replace up to one-fourth of the batter liquid with vodka. Vodka boils off more quickly and blocks some of the gluten formation. The alcohol should cook out.

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6/15/2012 1:56:01 AM

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melissa riley
1/6/2012 8:13:46 PM

And like your wise Grandma, I will NEVER USE A MICROWAVE ! Google dangers of microwave ovens for more info.


charles mallory
1/4/2012 2:28:57 PM

Thank you for the inside info, but I've been a follower of Clara for a long time! I was impressed by her "Dandelion Greens" video. My own kinfolk had dandelion greens, but from the pristine woods of rural north Missouri. She just grabbed them out of her backyard, in NJ!


nebraska dave
1/4/2012 1:39:15 AM

You are lucky. My grandma actually retired from teaching school and she and grandpop opened up a small town (350 population) restaurant. People came from miles around to eat at her main street diner. However all the recipes died with her as they were in her head. She cooked and Grandpa took the orders, delivered the food, and received the money. She was an awesome cook. My wife was a great cook as well but there again it was a dab of this, a pinch of that, and couple glugs (sound the bottle makes when pouring) from that bottle. No written recipes again. In my family the grandmas passed down the cooking skills and recipes by on the job training. Boys were not allowed in the kitchen and had to learn other outside skills. So in the words of the mighty Crocodile Dundee, with modification, you can live on my cooking but some times it doesn't taste that great. My most famous dish is refrigerator soup. My kids cringe at the mention of it and would run and hide not to have to eat it. I'm not sure why but you can let your imagination run wild with it and probably come with a good reason. It was always so .... interesting. Each soup was never quite the same. I don't guess my kids will be wanting that recipe. Have a great grandma cook book day and thanks for the tips. It seems I could use a few. :0)


genene wight
1/3/2012 10:41:45 PM

Lovely to read these tips & touch a gentler time in my mind! Thanks for a great post!


cindy murphy
1/3/2012 9:56:40 PM

Correction.....I love this post of "yours", not "ours". (Wish a modify comment button had come with the new format.)


cindy murphy
1/3/2012 9:54:19 PM

Hi, Chuck. I just received this Christmas my Mom's cookbook (Mom's friend wanted it after Mom died, but it was decided it HAD to stay in the family; the friend will get a copy). She had a lot of tips just like these written in it....some of them quite funny or bizarre, actually. The book is really a treasure - upcoming blog post coming (sometime...eventually) soon (I hope). I love this post of ours - it reminds me of "Great Depression Cooking" on YouTube done by Clara, a 96 year old grandmother. She is so sweet, you just want to give her a hug. You should give the videos a watch sometime - she explains how to cook a dish as they did back them, along with stories from that era. Here's a link to her "Great Depression Cooking - Pizza" video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAa4-cctmDk&feature=relmfu