Handy Hints

You don't spend a lifetime cooking and explaining the process without picking up a neat trick or two. 


Lost in translation ...

US and Australian tablespoons are not the same. Australian tablespoon is equivalent to 20 mls or four teaspoons.  

American tablespoons is equivalent to 15 mls or three  teaspoons. Teaspoons, thankfully, are always 5 mls. This is especially critical to keep in mind in recipes for cakes, biscuits, souffles and other delicate items. Know the source of your recipes (country of origin) and adjust measurements accordingly. 

US baking soda is bicarbonate of soda in Australia. 

Australian scones in the US are known as biscuits. Australian biscuits are known as cookies in the US. US jelly is the equivalent of Australian jam. Broiler is a grill. Green onions (US) are called shallots or spring onions in Australia. Even though true spring onions have bulbous white ends and what most Australians think of as spring onions are straight. Shallots are actually small purple or golden-skinned cluster onions. To distinguish they are sometimes called French shallots or eschallots.

Tips for the less experienced cook ... some things you may not know.

Egg whites and grease do not mix! If you want stiff whites, they will not play ball if there is even a hint of grease in the same bowl. Make sure bowl and beaters are washed in hot water and detergent and dried with a clean tea towel. Likewise, egg yolks contain fat, so make sure there is no broken yolk tainting the whites. The best implement for removing a fragment of shell is eggshell (very sharp edges cut through the albumen easily).

Egg whites freeze beautifully and thaw to room temperature quickly.

Lentils and dry beans will never cook to tender perfection if salt is added at the start of cooking. Wait till they are cooked to the desired softness before adding salt. If you didn't remember to soak overnight, start soaking them in boiling hot water. This will speed things up considerably. Rinse and change water often.

Ginger is a wonderful spice, but don't leave it in the fridge and forget it or it will go mouldy and slimy. Much better to use what is needed and put the remainder, broken or cut into short pieces, into the freezer. When required, remove from freezer, scrape off skin, and grate on a fine, sharp grater. Even easier than when fresh! Otherwise store in a bowl at room temperature. It will start to dry out and may even shoot, but is still good for tea when it gets too old. Really new ginger has pale or pink tips and thin skin that literally rubs off. The older your ginger, the more potent (hotter) it will be.

Spices need to be stored airtight to conserve their volatile, fragrant oils. Best to keep the most expensive, such as cardamom and saffron, in small jars or airtight containers in the freezer. Cardamom pods lose their green colour in the cupboard, but hold it in the freezer.

Coconut milk curries may curdle if covered while cooking. Simmer uncovered to avoid this. However, if your curry has curdled, you may be able to salvage it by adding more coconut milk and stirring.

To peel a tomato quickly and easily, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water for a couple of minutes. Drain and the skin will peel away easily. Alternatively, blister over a naked flame.

The sharper your knife, the less tears you'll shed slicing or chopping onion. Many people have the misconception that a sharp knife will cut them, but you are more likely to hurt yourself by using force and a blunt knife.

Chestnuts will usually be easier to peel if you cut a cross on the side of them before boiling or roasting. Failing to do so will result in messy explosions in your oven.

The hottest part of the chilli are the seeds and the membrane to which they are attached. If you aren't good with heat, remove them. Depending on the chilli, your fingers could be smarting for a long time. If uncertain about the chilli you are handling, better to err on the side of caution and wear disposable gloves. A paste made from bicarb soda and water can relieve the burning to a degree. Remember not to touch eyes or sensitive skin if you've handled a hot chilli. 

A burnt pan may be salvaged by bringing a tablespoon of soda bicarbonate and a squirt of dish washing liquid to the boil, then allowing it to soak. Bring to the boil and let it cool again if the burnt on food is stubborn.

You can test if an egg is fresh bu placing in a bowl of water. If it floats, it ain't!