Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Washing Lettuce

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

When making a salad, lettuce is usually one of the main ingredients.

What you need to know about lettuce is mostly how to wash it and to make sure that it’s edible and attractive.

If you are unsure what type of lettuce to buy, check out my post “Salad Greens From A to Z”.

The lettuce you buy from the supermarket may or not be packaged in some way, but it came from the ground and you can’t just start eating it, unless you’ve bought the pre-washed kind.

When grocery stores started selling pre-washed lettuce I thought it was brilliant, until I bought a bag. I discovered that if I didn’t use it within a day or two it was history (with a bit of a slimy edge). Granted, when I used it immediately, it was a huge time-saver. But, if you know how, it really only takes about 4 minutes to wash, dry and store lettuce.

Knowing how to wash and store lettuce (and other “salad greens”) is not that big of a mystery, particularly if you have a salad spinner. And I do recommend that you get one. They are relatively cheap and they make washing lettuce a snap.

Salad spinners cost about $25. If you eat a lot of salad it is well worth the investment.

However, let’s begin with the “but I don’t have a salad spinner” approach.

First, cut the head of lettuce away from its root with a knife. (You can also just do this with your hands – the root should break off easily.) Then, separate the leaves.

To wash iceberg lettuce first remove the core with a paring knife.

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Then break it apart with your hands. (Some heads of iceberg are much firmer than others!)

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Fill a large bowl with cool water and gently place the lettuce leaves in the bowl giving them a gentle swish as you drop them in the bowl.

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After about 30 seconds of floating in the water the sand or dirt will sink to the bottom. Gently shake the water off each leaf and place them one at a time on paper towels or a clean dish towel. Blot the lettuce dry with some more paper towels.

OK, that’s the manual way. Now let’s use the salad spinner.

A salad spinner is a great little tool for both washing the lettuce and getting the excess water off. It comes in three parts – the bowl, the colander (the bowl with the holes in it) and the lid.

You begin the same way by cutting off the root and separating the leaves. But now, you place the leaves inside the colander, which is sitting inside the bowl.

Fill the spinner with water. All the sand on the lettuce leaves should sink to the bottom.

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Lift the colander (with the lettuce in it) out of the bowl, pour away the water, and then replace the colander in the bowl. Finally, put the lid on.

Now you can spin the lettuce by turning the handle. The spinning action will force the water off the lettuce, and help it to dry.

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Storing lettuce

If you’re not going to use the whole head of lettuce, then lay out the washed leaves on paper towels…

… and roll them up and put them in a plastic bag.

To save money, you can use the plastic bags from the produce section of the grocery store.

When lettuce is washed and properly stored, it stays fresh in the refrigerator for about 5 to 6 days. However, note that lettuce that you’ve washed yourself and stored properly will last longer then pre-washed lettuce.

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How to Cook Potatoes in a Microwave

posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

I love baked potatoes, and have already written about how to bake them in the oven. Unfortunately, I often don’t have the time to wait for up to an hour for my baked potato to cook in the oven, even though they definitely taste better that way.

So, like lot of people, I often zap potatoes in the microwave. In less then 10 minutes, they get cooked, covered with sour cream and bacon, and I’m ready to turn on the TV.

Here’s how to cook a potato in the microwave oven.

First, wash the potato under running water (no soap!). You can scrub it with a vegetable brush or just rub it with your hands. Then pat it dry with a paper towel.

Puncture about four holes in the potato, with the tip of a sharp knife or a fork. This is important, as it allows the steam to escape. Otherwise the potato may explode when you cook it. (Seriously! If you don’t puncture it, the potato will go SPLAT all over the inside of you microwave!)

If you are baking potatoes in the oven, you can rub a small amount of oil on them so that the skin gets nice and crispy. It is not necessary to rub oil on potatoes you are cooking in the microwave oven.

Place the potato on a microwave-safe dish. Check the small print on the back of the dish to be sure. Then place it in the microwave oven. (By the way, microwave ovens do not have to be preheated.)

Many microwaves have moisture sensors inside so that all you need to do is press the button that says ‘potato’ and just wait for the microwave to beep at you.

If your microwave doesn’t have a potato button, a general rule is that one 7-to-8 ounce Idaho potato takes about 7 minutes to cook. 2 will take about 11 minutes.

The microwave will often say REST. That means the potato, not you! You need to just let it sit for a couple of minutes, for it to actually finish cooking.

But remember, each microwave oven is different, so you need to stick a knife in the potato to see if it is done. The knife should slide in easily and you should be able to squeeze the potato without too much resistance.

To open a microwave ‘spud’, it needs a bit of a bash first to break the fibers apart.

First, slice the top with a knife.

Then place a folded paper towel over the microwave potato. Using the bottom part of your fist, give it a bash. Be really careful as the potato will be very hot.

Now if you give it a squeeze it should be nice and fluffy.

You can now top it with your favorite topping.

As my Irish grandfather used to say, “I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like!”

Here are a few more startcooking.com potato posts:

Baked Potato Toppings

Baked Potato with Salsa

Mashed Potatoes

Oven Baked Potatoes

Roasted Potatoes

Sweet Potato Casserole

How to Choose and Use Potatoes

Enjoy!

Microwave Potatoes Ingredients:

(4 Servings)

  • 4 medium baking potatoes

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How to Cook Asparagus

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

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Asparagus with Guy Kawasaki’s Teriyaki Chicken

For dinner at home, with or without company, I like to serve asparagus because fresh asparagus can get cleaned, trimmed and steamed in the microwave in less than 10 minutes. I steam the “spears” just to the point where they are tender but still have a bite to them. Then I just add a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and sometimes a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and the asparagus is ready to serve.

Buy asparagus that has nice bright green stalks and doesn’t look dry or shriveled. Depending on the season, you can buy asparagus that is pencil thin or stalks that are three times thicker than a pencil! I prefer slightly thicker stalks which I then peel. Many years ago my old friend Roger Bennet (from London, Montreal and St Remy) taught me the peeling trick. (See below.)

Asparagus is sold by the bunch. There are approximately 14-18 spears of asparagus per bunch. Count on about 3 to 5 spears per serving.

Make only what you are going to eat for dinner. Asparagus cooks really fast in the microwave so there is no point in making enough for leftovers.

If you are not going to use it immediately, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. It should keep about 3-4 days.

Preparation:

Wash one bunch of asparagus under cool running water.

Trim away the bottom 1/3 of the stalk. The tip of the asparagus is very tender, but the farther down you go on the stalk, the tougher it gets.

If you bend the asparagus it will naturally snap at the point where it goes from tender to tough (which is usually about 1/3 of the stalk).

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Leslie demonstrates this method in startcooking.com’s post on Roasted Asparagus with Garlic Sauce.

You can now use the new shorter “broken” asparagus as a guide to cut the rest of the bunch.

Peel the stalks so that they are the same width as the tip. This ensures even cooking. Really thin stalks of asparagus do not need peeling.

Lay the asparagus two to three deep in a rectangular dish.

Add one Tablespoon of water.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Leave a small vent in the corner for steam to escape. (This also helps the plastic wrap from almost shrink wrapping itself over the asparagus. When that happens it’s a lot harder to remover the plastic wrap. (Be careful not to get burnt from the hot steam!)

Set the microwave on high heat and cook the asparagus about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. If you want your asparagus to be more tender, cook it for another 30 seconds or so.

Be sure not to overcook asparagus. Overcooked asparagus not only turns to mush, but it develops into a very unappealing shade of green.

Asparagus is great served either hot or cold. If you are going to be serving it cold you need to get the cooked spears cooled off quickly or they will loose their bright green color. You can either put the hot spears in a bowl of ice water…

…or in a colander and run cold water over the spears.

For more startcooking.com tips on blanching vegetables check out Keep it Fresh: Learn How to Blanch.

Cheers!

Ingredients:

(Makes 3-4 servings)

  • One bunch of asparagus
  • 1 Tablespoon of water
  • Salt and Pepper

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