Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

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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Pasta: Dry, Fresh or Frozen?

posted in Pasta, Rice and Grains by Lisa Freeman

cooking pasta

Before you choose the shape and size of pasta you want to cook, you will need to decide if you are going to buy either dry, fresh or frozen pasta.

Dry Pasta

Dry pasta is the most readily available type and can be found in boxes or bags on the grocery store shelf. It can be stored for up to a year. Some folks think dry pasta is a supermarket invention, but it has actually been preserved and sold this way in Italy for centuries. It takes longer to cook dry pasta (usually 10-12 minutes) than it does to cook fresh pasta. There are many different brands of dry pasta on supermarket shelves, as well as plenty of gourmet dry pastas, in all kinds of shapes and colors.

Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is found in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. It can also be found in many specialty shops, nestled in a protective layer of semolina flour. Fresh pasta is in a semi-dry state, but still considered fresh. In many supermarkets, it is common to see fresh pasta in a clear plastic container. Fresh pasta cooks quickly — it usually takes 4-6 minutes to get it al dente. If unopened, a package of fresh pasta can typically be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks, or in the freezer for a month. (Be sure to check the “sell by” date before buying fresh pasta.) Keep in mind that if frozen, it will require a few extra minutes of cooking.

Frozen Pasta

Frozen pasta has been flash-frozen to lock in the flavor. Gourmet shops usually sell it in small cartons offering exotic flavors like lobster ravioli. But these days you can also find frozen pasta at the supermarket. Bagged frozen pasta meals require about 10 minutes of cooking. Some include chicken or meat, veggies and a sauce, which can make a full-fledged meal in minutes.

No matter which pasta you end up going with, the golden rule is not to overcook it. Fresh pasta turns into a mushy mess when overdone; dry pasta gets gummy if it is undercooked — so be sure to watch your pasta as it boils and follow the directions on the package. Before draining the boiling water, taste your pasta to make sure it is tender and properly cooked.

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Be sure to check out startcooking.com’s pasta roundup for some great tips and recipes!

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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!

Cheers!

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