Archive for Kitchen Tips

Carrot Soup With Ginger & Lemon

I have been making this fresh tasting soup for many years and it’s always a welcome first course for dinner or as a main course with multigrain bread or soda bread (recipe below), some cheese, perhaps an English cheddar or Scottish cheese.  The addition of ginger & lemon gives the soup a nice zing.  Our local carrots become available in June and I think this is a wonderful way to celebrate the new crop of sweet carrots!  This past Easter we served the soup as a first course made from the last of the absolutely fantastic winter carrots from Nat Bailey Farmer’s Market.

Makes 4 Servings

¼ cup butter
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 Tbsp. finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 ½ tsp. minced garlic
1 ¼ lbs. carrots, peeled & chopped
2 tomatoes, seeded, chopped (approx. 1 1/3 cups)
1 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel (zest)
3 cups low salt or homemade chicken stock
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Garnish: finely chopped parsley or snipped, fresh chives
sour cream or yogurt

Make the Soup:

Melt butter in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Add ginger & garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add chopped carrots, tomatoes and lemon peel; sauté 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Cool for 15 – 30 minutes before blending for safety reasons (see below).

Puree soup in batches in a blender. Return the soup to the pot. Reheat until hot, thinning with more stock, if desired. Stir in the lemon juice, season with salt & pepper. Serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, parsley or chives or both.

Soup can be made 1 day ahead. Cover & chill. It also freezes well.

Please see about blending hot liquids by going to Blending Hot Liquids in Phyllis’ Kitchen Cooking Tips.

If you would like to make the soda bread, please go to Brown Soda Bread.

If you would like to make your own stock, click Making Stock.

Phyllis’ Kitchen/Cooking Tips

One of the most useful and indispensable things to have is a pepper grinder. Peugeot is a good brand.

Having two small electric coffee grinders. One for spices, one for grinding a large amount of pepper.

Another extremely useful tool is a rasp (Microplane) for grating citrus zests and for grating cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano

A baker should know how to correctly measure when making a recipe. Liquids should be measured using a glass measuring cup & solids are measured by weight which is why a scale is such an important kitchen tool.•Buy a good instant read thermometer; you’ll never regret it.

Using potato starch for thickening sauces or gravies instead of flour. It works really fast and there is no floury taste. Blend the potato starch (1 – 2 Tbsp.) with some wine or other liquid (3-4 Tbsp.) that you have used in your sauce, whisk in; cook for a few minutes until it is thickened to your liking. You can adjust the amount of thickener required according to the volume of sauce you have.

Pasta cooking water is indispensable to finishing your pasta dishes. Cook pasta al dente, remove 1 cup of the water; drain pasta and stir into the sauce that you have simmering in a large sauté pan. Toss pasta and sauce to combine adding pasta cooking water a bit at a time if the sauce seems dry. This is a really good trick and helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.**

A note about rice for Risotto. Arborio, Vialone Nano & Carnaroli are three rices used to make risotto. However, Vialone Nano and Carnaroli are considered the best choice. The Vialone Nano has smaller grains, cooks faster & absorbs condiments better, but the Carnaroli is less likely to get overcooked.  Superfino, Semifino & Fino refers to the size & shape (length & narrowness) of the grains.

Dried Pasta brands I like to use: Garofalo, Da Cecco, Sgambaro both their pasta tradizionale Italiana and their Bigoli Nobili, artisanal ones from Napoli such as La Fabbrica della Pasta di Gragnano and Gigi brand. When making mac n’ cheese I have found Italpasta elbows to cook up very well without collapsing and getting mushy.

A kitchen scale is a valuable piece of equipment in the kitchen. We simply could not cook without one. You can weigh the butter you need rather than trying to use a cup or tablespoon to measure. Trust me, it’s a lot faster and not messy. A digital one works well.

How to buy avocados. I buy them still hard, place in a paper bag and put in a warm place, such as on top of the fridge for a couple of days until ready to be used. Have also discovered once you cut the avocado rinse in cold water to prevent darkening.

Butter: unsalted for baking & cooking. Unless otherwise specified, unsalted butter is the choice for baking & cooking.

What to do with those leftover Parmigiano Reggiano rinds? No Italian Mama would throw these away. They are little tesoro’s or treasures to be added to soups, pasta sauces or whatever else you feel might benefit from the addition. When you buy your Parmesan or Pecorino Romano in a piece, always a good idea, it keeps really well, you simply cannot compare the dried out, pre-grated stuff to your own freshly grated cheese. When we are down to just the rind, we toss into a freezer bag and freeze. They sell rinds at Whole Foods for a couple of dollars for 3 or 4 rinds!

Freezing dill. I like to chop fresh dill fronds when it is in season; place in a jar with a tight lid and freeze. Anytime a recipe calls for fresh dill, voila!

Freezing parsley. If I have parsley I am not going to use up, I simply chop it and put into a small freezer bag. Comes in really handy when you need a couple of tablespoons for a stew, soup or whatever.

Freezing tomatoes. Some cooks can tomatoes. Me….just can’t be bothered. So when I have really ripe ones around that I am unable to use, I just throw them in a plastic bag and fire them into the freezer. Peeling them is a cinch. Just run them under hot water and the skins will come off easily. Let thaw a bit, then chop and use for soups, sauces or whatever.

Store brown rice and grains in your freezer. They won’t go rancid for a really long time.

Handling Stinging Nettles. Always wear rubber gloves when handling the nettles before they are blanched. You won’t be happy if you don’t!

Blending Hot Liquids. A safety tip: let the liquid cool down for a minimum of 30 minutes to prevent any accidents. When the liquid is too hot, it will blow off the lid of the blender causing not only a huge mess but burns as well. Even when the liquid is warm, I still place a folded up tea towel on top of the lid and hold it while I am blending.

To bake lasagne, cover the lasagne with baking parchment then the foil before baking. The baking parchment doesn’t allow the lasagne to stick.

When making a pasta sauce such as a ragu or tomato sauce for dinner, why not double the recipe (or even more). Place the amount you will need into freezer containers, label and freeze. You will pat yourself on the back later when in a hurry for a quick dinner and voila, there it is!

Many years ago when I was purchasing fresh basil from Zara’s at Granville Island, I was given a great tip on how to keep it fresh….it really works! Fill a container with water, trim ends of basil stalks, just as you would for flowers, place in the container, cover with a plastic bag, but do not seal it. Place on a windowsill or on the counter, NOT IN THE FRIDGE. It will keep for up to a week this way.

I use dried white beans as pie weights. They are a lot cheaper than purchased pie weights and can be reused. Just cool and store in a big jar.

I like to grate fresh ginger using a fine grater instead of chopping it. You get rid of the fibrous bits and blends in better. You should use approximately half of what is required in the recipe doing it this way.

To prepare dried porcini mushrooms: measure the amount required for the recipe, then place in small glass bowl & cover with very hot water; let stand until soft, approximately 15 – 20 minutes.  Remove from the soaking liquid & chop as per recipe directions.  Stain the soaking liquid in a sieve that is lined with either 2 layers of rinsed cheesecloth or a moistened coffee filter.  The soaking liquid can be used in your recipe if specified or frozen for a later use.

To core pears:  use a melon baller.  It works great & makes a quick, neat job of the coring.

Don’t waste those celery leaves:  instead of throwing into the compost, add some to salads, or stir into a soup, use in stews, use in your turkey stuffing, or as a garnish.

Pre-Cooking Spareribs

I have seen many recipes that ask for the ribs to be pre-cooked before finishing on the barbecue. The recipe asks that the ribs be separated and then boiled for some time. Oops…I think this method not only toughens the meat but a lot of flavour goes into that water.

I use an alternative method that keeps the ribs juicy & tender.

Place the rib racks in an oiled roasting pan, layering if necessary. Between the layers place slices of onion, salt & pepper & other seasonings that might be in the barbecue sauce such as garlic and ginger.  Put approximately ¼ to ½ cup water over the ribs, cover with 2 layers of tin foil and place in a 350 F preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes. When the ribs are removed from the oven, leave the foil on until they are ready to be finished on the barbecue.

Chart For Cooking Meats And Poultry

BEEF (Rib, rolled rib,   ribeye, tenderloin) 120 – 125 F Rare
125 – 135 F Medium Rare
135 – 145 F Medium
155 – 160 Well Done, If You Must But…
VEAL (Leg, Loin Rack,   Boneless Shoulder) 155 – 160 F Medium Well 170 F Well Done
LAMB (Leg, Shoulder,   Rib) 135 – 140 F Medium Rare 155 – 160 F Well Done
FRESH PORK (Chops, Loin, Leg, Ham) 155-160 Medium Well– 170 F Well Done
POULTRY (Chicken,   Turkey, Goose, Duck) Note:  If Your   Poultry Is Stuffed, Stuffing Temperature Should Be At Least 160 F When You   Remove From The Oven 165 – 175 F


How To Hardboil Eggs

I know, I know, everyone has their method.  This is the way my  Mother always did them.


Place “large” fresh eggs in a pot of cold water; cover & bring to the boil. Remove pot from the heat and let stand from 9 – 12 minutes, depending how hard you like your hard boiled eggs.

Drain; fill the pot with cold water and let the eggs stand for 10 – 15 minutes; changing the water to keep it cold if necessary. Remove eggs from the water and on a hard surface, tap each egg all over to crack the shell. Slowly peel the shell from each egg & return to the cold water. After shelling all the eggs, remove them from the  cold water and place on a clean kitchen towel or on a couple of layers of paper towels & dry.

Chill if not using immediately. The eggs will keep up to 24 hours in the fridge.



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Pre-Soaking Beans

Using this method means no soaking overnight. There’s a theory that if you do soak overnight; fermentation begins to take place, hence stomach issues can arise.  Since finding this method, I never soak overnight.  Sometimes you just don’t know “what’s for dinner?” the day before!

Place the beans in a large pot with water to cover; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat a bit. Cover leaving lid ajar a bit and boil for 2 minutes, being careful not to let the pot boil over. Remove from the heat and with the lid on, let stand for 1 hour. Proceed with your recipe.

Cooking Bacon In The Microwave

Because I really hate the mess that frying bacon on top of the stove makes, I use this method when I need cooked bacon.


On a dinner plate, place a piece of paper towel. Lay the bacon slices on top. Cover with another layer of paper towels.

Place in the microwave & cook on high heat, in 1 minute intervals, checking to see when it is just slightly less than your liking, as it will contine to cook while resting; rotating the plate after every minute of cooking. Depending on the thickness, this could take anywhere from 1 minute to 4 minutes or so.

How To Roast Tomatoes

For a printer friendly version of this recipe, click here.

Feeding right into my tomato addiction, these!  I use them for pasta, pizza sauce, crostini, soup or anything else I can think of.  Yum, Yum.

20 ripe plum tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
¼ cup EVO
¼ tsp. each salt & pepper


Trim the stem end of the tomatoes; cut in half lengthwise. Arrange, cut side up without crowding in a well oiled glass or non-reactive pan (not aluminum). Mix together garlic, basil and EVOO; spoon over tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt & pepper. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for approximately 2 hours; checking after the first hour or until the tomatoes are softened, shriveled & the edges have begun to darken a bit.





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How To Peel And Seed Tomatoes

When it comes to cooking, this is a very useful bit of information to know.


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. With a very sharp knife, cut an “X” in the skin on the top of the tomatoes. Plunge into the boiling water for 30 seconds & up to a minute, just until you see the skins peel back and loosen a bit. Remove to a colander and run under cold water for a couple of minutes. Let cool, peel with a paring knife. Cut tomatoes in half horizontally. Gently squeeze out the seeds from the tomato. Proceed to use as required in your recipe.

An alternate method, that I discovered recently, comes from Marcella Hazan, is especially useful for making a gorgeous, juicy in-season tomato salad, salsa or uncooked tomato pasta sauce.  Holding a sharp  swivel-bladed peeler perpendicular to the tomato, work in a saw tooth motion around the circumference until the tomato is peeled. If the tomato is especially tight skinned, make a slit in the skin first to get started.

How To Make Pizza Dough

For a printer friendly version of this recipe, please click here.

This is the pizza dough I have used for a number of years. I like the idea that, for the most part, the rising takes place in the fridge the day before. Once, I made dough that required punching down a couple of times during the day. Because we were not going to be home, we took the dough with us in the car and punched it down when required!

DSC_6614 nx2Tips: My sister suggested that instead of using flour to press out the dough, oil your little fingertips with EVO and press out. She says it works really well. She also said NOT to use “pizza” yeast. I think this is probably instant yeast. She bought some and the package said you can make a pizza in 3 hours?? She said the crust was “awful”. However, by using regular yeast and letting the dough have a nice slow rise you develop the taste & get a really good crust.

Pizza dough freezes well: after the 1st rise, punch down the dough, place in a freezer bag & freeze.  To use:  remove the dough from the freezer, place in an oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap & a towel and set stand until it is room temperature, about 3 hours, or the night before, remove dough from freezer, place into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap & leave in the fridge until a couple of hours before you want to make your pizza.  Remove dough from fridge, cover with a towel & allow to rest until it is room temperature.  Make pizza as usual.

A pizza stone is an inexpensive but welcome addition to your kitchen equipment if you like to make pizzas.

1 (1/4 oz) package, active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
1 3/4 to 2 cups of unbleached flour, plus additional for kneading and dredging
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp. salt (the original recipe calls for more, but I think this is enough)
1 Tbsp. EVO

Stir together yeast, 1 Tbsp. flour and 1/4 c. warm water in a measuring cup & let stand until mixture appears creamy on the surface. Around 5 to 8 minutes depending on temp. in kitchen. I know you will think this is nuts, but I use chopsticks to combine the yeast, flour & water.   I read somewhere that metal & yeast don’t like each other.

Stir together 1 1/4 c. flour & salt in mixer bowl or food processor, then add yeast mixture, oil & remaining 1/2 c warm water & stir until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour, 1/4 c to 1/2 c,  for dough to come away from side of bowl. This dough will be slightly wetter/sticky and that is a good thing. Knead dough in mixer for 5 min. or processor for a couple of minutes. Dough should be smooth, soft and elastic (so add a bit more flour if you need to) but remember it should be a bit sticky. Place dough in an oiled bowl; dust with a Tbsp. of flour, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge. The next day remove the dough about 3 hours before you want to make the pizza. Punch down, cover and let rise again at room temperature until you are ready to assemble your pizza.

Place the pizza stone in a cold oven & preheat it at 500 degrees for 1 hour before baking the pizza.

Cut out a 12″ round of baking parchment.  Place dough onto the parchment lined 12″ pizza pan and using floured fingers, press out the dough to fill the pan.  Crimp edges a bit. Place a minimal amount of toppings on the dough then slide the pizza, baking parchment & all onto the pizza stone; bake for 8 – 10 minutes. It kind of depends on how many toppings you use but less is best. The more you put on the longer it takes. But don’t over bake as it will continue to bake after you remove from the oven. Remove the pizza from the oven onto a pizza pan to cool approximately 5  before cutting.

Recently, I tested a new pizza dough recipe.  It’s Jim Lahey’s No Knead 18 hour rise dough.  The dough has a great flavour & his method for baking works great!  The beauty of this dough is that it does not require a heavy duty stand mixer with a dough hook.  However, you have to plan a bit so that you can be around after the 18 hours are up, plus it may take longer, depending on how warm your room is.

Whereas, with the recipe above, it’s no fuss, no muss, you mix the dough, using a heavy duty stand mixer with a dough hook, (if you are so inclined, you can knead by hand), throw it into a bowl & let it rise in the fridge until the next day.  You only have to make sure you take it out of the fridge a few hours before you want to put together your pizza, punch down the dough, then let it come to room temperature.

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