Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

How to Buy, Store and Boil Eggs

posted in Eggs by Kathy Maister

Today’s post is a little bit longer than normal, because I’m going to talk about three things – buying, storing, as well as how to boil an egg. If you just want to know about the boiling part, skip ahead.

Eggs are a staple food all over the world. Apparently, the average American eats about 250 eggs per person, per year, and the average hen lays about 250 eggs per year. So somewhere out there, there is one hen whose sole purpose is to provide you with your eggs. Fortunately, the grocery store acts as the middle man.

Buying Eggs

When buying eggs you get to choose which size and color you want. Size matters, color doesn’t. White, brown, or South American light blue and green eggs are all the same on the inside. Official sizes are Peewee, Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large, and Jumbo. It is rare to see Peewee and Small eggs in grocery stores here in the USA.

Sometimes when you open a box of eggs one or two seem smaller than the rest. The cartons of eggs are actually sold by the total weight of the carton, not each individual egg. Most recipes nowadays use large eggs as the standard size.

Before putting a carton of eggs in your grocery cart, open the carton and make sure there are no cracked eggs. Move each egg slightly to make sure none are stuck to the carton. If any are stuck, choose a different carton.

Always buy eggs before the sell-by date on the carton. If stored properly in the refrigerator they should keep 3-5 weeks from the time you bring them home from the grocery store.

Here’s what to look for when you crack open an egg: If the sticky stuff surrounding the yellow yolk in the center, (known as “the white”), is somewhat cloudy, that means it’s a very fresh egg. A clear white means the egg is ageing, but still fine to use. If the white is pink or “iridescent” then the egg has probably gone off and should be thrown out.

Storing Eggs

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, by the time you get home from the grocery store, you end up with a cracked egg. It may have been cracked from the very beginning, and you just didn’t notice when you were checking them in the first place.

For whatever reason, just throw the cracked egg away. There is no point eating an egg that may have an unwelcome history of germs!

The only time it really is OK to eat a cracked egg is if it cracked while you were cooking the egg. That should present no problem.

Refrigerating Eggs:

Although virtually all refrigerators in the USA have egg-holders on the door, that’s not really the best place to store eggs. There is too much temperature fluctuation on the door shelves. Consequently, the best place to store eggs is in the original carton that you bought them in.

Buying and storing eggs is different through-out the world. My post “Born in the USA” explains why.

(Briefly “In the USA, government standards say all eggs must be washed and stored at temperatures no higher than 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Washing the eggs is a good thing but it does leave the eggs without an outer coating and very susceptible to invasion by bacteria. Hence refrigeration of washed eggs is absolutely necessary.” Unwashed eggs do not need to be refrigerated)

Can Eggs be Frozen?

You can freeze eggs BUT it can be a bit more complicated than just popping them in an ice-cube tray. PLUS both the taste and texture will be compromised.

There are several very good sites that describe how to freeze eggs (if you must!) including oChef, the National Center for Home Preservation, What’s Cooking America.

Also the USDA has a great general information page on eggs.

Cooking Eggs

Very few cooks (or cookbooks) agree on how to cook an egg. In fact, the BBC News announced a foolproof way to cook eggs. A temperature-sensitive ink stamped on an egg lets you know if the egg is cooked by changing color as you cook the egg!

I don’t know why everyone uses the term soft boiled or hard boiled eggs. One should never ever boil an egg. In fact, you know when a “cooked” egg is overcooked by that green ring that you sometimes see around the yolk. It is perfectly fine to eat, but it doesn’t look great.

When hard cooking eggs it is best to use eggs that are at least one week old. You will find that they are much easier to peel.

OK, here we go!

Place the eggs tightly in a single layer in a saucepan. (One egg or 10 eggs will all take the same time to cook, as long as they are in a single layer.) Add one Tablespoon of salt to the water. (This will prevent the eggs from cracking.)

Then cover the eggs with water.

Place it on your stovetop on high heat.

Cover the pan.

Bring the water to a boil.

A lot of recipes will ask you to gently place the eggs in boiling water but I don’t like to do it that way. Too often while placing the egg in the water it has slipped, cracked and …well…hello poached egg!

After the water comes to a boil, immediately shut off the stove and let the pot of eggs just sit on the stove, covered, for 15 minutes for large eggs. Some people say to remove the pan from the stove top to avoid over cooking. All pans hold heat differently. Once you make the perfect hard cooked egg, try to use the same pan and timing to make all future hard cooked eggs.

After 3-5 minutes you will have a soft cooked egg.

A hard cooked extra large egg should sit for 18 minutes.

Drain the hot water from the saucepan and let cold water run over the eggs.

It’s best to peel the eggs right before you use them.

I know two ways to make the peeling easier. One is to crack the shell at the ends of each egg and return them to cold water. This allows the water to seep in.

Or after the eggs have cooled just put them in the refrigerator for a few hours. Cold eggs are much easier to peel.

A hard cooked egg should be put in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking and will keep in the refrigerator, unpeeled, about 1 week.

That’s it for eggs!



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How to: Mushrooms

posted in Food, Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

When it comes to buying mushrooms, we often go by appearance rather than taste. We stick to those clean-cut white button mushrooms, perhaps a bit intimidated by the wilder characters in the fungus family. But it’s worth getting to know all those odd-looking mushrooms—they can really add taste and sophistication to your cooking.

Most supermarkets sell a few varieties of fresh mushrooms, including portobello, oyster and shiitake, as well as bags of dried mushrooms. But beginner cooks may not be sure how to clean specialty mushrooms, or what to do with them. This post will take the mystery out of buying mushrooms and help figure out what kind to use when.

I have already covered the basics on how to wash and store mushrooms, but the basic idea is to rinse them (never soak them) and use a cloth or paper towel to remove any clingy dirt.

White Mushrooms (Button Mushrooms)

These immature, unopened mushrooms are probably the most common in North American supermarkets. They can be bought either fresh or canned. (I do not recommend using canned mushrooms.) Some grocery stores sell them pre-sliced but, once sliced, these mushrooms spoil quickly; they oxidize after being cut, turning brown and soft once exposed to air. They can be eaten raw or cooked in almost any dish, but their flavor intensifies with cooking. Bigger button mushrooms can be left whole and stuffed, for an appetizer or side dish. Check out startcooking.com’s recipe video for bacon-and-cream cheese Stuffed Mushrooms.

Baby Bella Mushrooms (Cremini or Brown Mushrooms)

These are a darker, more flavorful version of the white button mushroom. They can be used in all the same ways as the white button mushroom.

Portobello (or Portabella) Mushrooms

These are the grownup versions of the baby bella mushrooms, and can have caps that are six inches in diameter. They may be sliced and sautéed, but are often left whole and roasted. They have a rich taste and meaty texture that’s often likened to steak; some vegetarian recipes use them as a meat substitute. Their tough stems should be removed before cooking. Although the dark brown gills under the mushroom cap are edible, some prefer to remove them. To do this, simply scrape them off with the tip of a knife. Here’s startcooking.com’s recipe for Portobello Mushrooms and Goat Cheese.

Oyster Mushrooms

These fan-shaped mushrooms grow on the sides of trees, looking kind of like an (you guessed it) oyster. They have a mild taste, and work well in stir-fries, soups, sauces and many other dishes. Cut off the base of the mushroom, then separate its layers before cleaning them.

Shiitake Mushrooms

If you like Asian food, you’ve probably tasted these in miso soup, sushi or in Chinese stir-fries. They have white stems, brown caps and typically sprout off logs. Shiitakes add a deep, smoky flavour and chewy texture to all kinds of dishes. They are available fresh or dried, which is said to have a more intense flavour. In Asia, shiitake mushrooms are associated with longevity and good health.

Enoki Mushrooms

These long, crisp mushrooms are usually used in soups, but can also go in salads and sandwiches. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are available fresh and canned. They grow naturally on the hackberry tree (enoki in Japanese). Cut off the roots before using.

Maitake Mushrooms (also known as Hen of the Woods, Sheepshead or Ram’s Head Mushrooms)

Clustering around the base of trees, these feathery fungi are known as the King of Mushrooms in Japan because they can grow very large. Used in China and Japan for medicinal purposes, they have a strong, woodsy flavour and meaty texture. They work well in stir-fries.

Porcini Mushrooms (these are the dried version)

Prized in Italian cooking, these large-capped mushrooms typically grow in Europe and North America. They can be bought fresh and, because of their meaty texture, can be grilled and sautéed much like portobellos. They are often available dried in bags, and after being soaked in water, can be added to soups, sauces, stews and risottos. Read on for more about reconstituting dried mushrooms.

Dried Wild Mushrooms

It’s nice to have a bag of mixed dried mushrooms (like the ones above) on hand to add “oomf” to all kinds of dishes. Just remember to leave time to reconstitute them. There are various ways to do this, depending on how much time you have. The dried mushrooms can sit in a bowl of cool water overnight, or in warm water for 20 minutes before cooking. They can also be boiled for 10 minutes before cooking. The water that they steep in will have lots of flavor and, if strained through a coffee filter to remove grit, can be used in place of other liquids in recipes.


After I finished photographing all these mushrooms, I sliced them and cooked them in a large frying pan with a small amount of olive oil. They were FANTASTIC!



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Do More with Leftover Chicken or Turkey

posted in Meat, Poultry and Seafood by Jessica Howard


After Roasting a chicken or a turkey you often end up with some leftovers that can make for a delicious, easy lunch/dinner for tomorrow. For most recipes, you can interchange cooked chicken for cooked turkey. When making Chicken in Lettuce Cups, Chicken Salad with Wild Rice and Chicken Salad with Grapes, you can substitute the cooked chicken for cooked turkey. Cooked chicken or turkey also stars in recipes for casseroles, enchiladas and lasagna.

Here are just a few more recipe ideas:

  1. Roasted chicken or turkey makes a great addition to soup. Tear it into pieces and warm it up in either a homemade or canned soup.http://startcooking.com/public/IMG_1113.JPG
  2. Enjoy it cold, cut into chunks on top of a simple green salad, Caesar salad or coleslaw.
  3. Mix chopped pieces of chicken with avocado, mayonnaise or a favorite salad dressing and use it as a sandwich, pita or wrap filling.
  4. Add it to pasta sauces and dishes.
  5. Heat it up in a favorite ready-made sauce and serve it over rice.
  6. Wrap it up and freeze it to use later.

Tip: Cooked chicken or turkey shouldn’t stay in the fridge more than two days. It can be frozen, but not for more than a few months.

If you want to use every last bit of a roasted chicken or turkey, make homemade soup stock from the bones. Homemade stock tends to be more flavorful than store-bought, plus you can adjust the salt to your own taste.

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