How Many Plates do I Really Need?

plates for entertaining

4 is not a number no matter how many chairs are in your dining room!

My kitchen table seats only 3 and my dining room table has only 6 chairs.  So, how many plates do I really need?  I need a lot more than 6!  I can honestly say that I get asked that question by almost every client I have.  The answer is that everyone needs at least 10 even if you only seat 6 at your table and here’s why:

First, you will sometimes choose to use some regular plates (not serving pieces) just for serving the food that you’ve made.  Perhaps the meal is more casual and you don’t feel the need to pull out your platters and, whatever you’ve created will fit just fine on a dinner plate.  That’s why if your table is like mine and you’re serving 6 you will need more plates.

Second, you might be having a casual dinner and somehow a plate or two gets cleared into the kitchen but your guests aren’t quite finished with the meal – you need more plates!

Third, for some holidays you might add a folding table or two with folding chairs to seat 12 and you need more plates.

Or, maybe you’re serving a buffet and a guest wants a clean plate – all of a sudden you need more plates.

Then there’s always the dreaded and unexpected ‘plus one’ that wasn’t on the original guest list but someone brings to the party. You can scramble for another chair that you pull up to your table but, if you don’t have extra plates, how are they going to eat their dinner?

And, what if you’re being very careful with cleanup but a plate slips through your fingers and goes crashing to the floor?  Or, the garbage disposal decides to eat a spoon? Or any number of other mishaps and disasters that could descend on your evening?

You can see where this is headed.  The number of chairs at your table is only the start of how many plates, bowls, glasses, spoons, forks, etc. that you need to have on hand.  My rule of thumb is an additional 4 of everything.  This holds true no matter what shape or size your plates, bowls or flatware are.  Extras are always the answer.

I used to throw an annual New Year’s Eve party for all of my friends.  The last several years the number of guests grew to 100.  After I pushed back all of the furniture in my living room I squeezed in 10 tables for dinner.  But, you can imagine how many dishes etc. I had for those parties – service for 115!!!  I just never knew if someone was bringing an ‘extra’ and I always needed to be prepared.

Count your plates and be ready for anything!

Help! I’m Having a Party – How Much Wine do I Need?

wine-math-made-easy

Do the Wine Math: It’ll save your party every time.

I get asked a lot about how much wine is needed for a party and my answer is always the same: do the Wine Math.

No, it’s not New Math which is very complicated and completely unnecessary. It’s Old Math where we use addition, multiplication and a very small amount of division. All you need are some numbers to start.

Wine math is just that simple. First you have to know how many glasses are in a bottle. Then you need to figure out the kind of party you’re having, how long it will last, the number of people that are coming, and exactly who you’ve invited (meaning what type of wine drinkers they are). Once you figure all of that out, it’s a very quick calculation.

Of course, if you’re having a break-up pity party with just you and a friend then who cares about math at all? Important fact:  two very large mason jars will hold about a bottle of wine.  Simply add your favorite chick flick and you’re good to go!

Let’s get back to the very important wine math. A standard bottle of wine is 750 ml which is approximately 25 ounces.  You will find that the suggested serving of a glass of wine is 5 ounces so that would mean that each bottle would pour about 5 glasses.  However, I don’t think anyone pours exactly 5 ounces of wine – it usually ends up closer to 6 ounces – which means that, on average, a bottle of wine will hold about 4 glasses of wine.  Use that as your ‘rule of thumb’.

So, think about how your guests will drink.  You will pour one glass before dinner, a couple more will be consumed during the meal, and probably one more after dinner.  That means, assuming that there are 4 glasses in a bottle, that you would need about one bottle per guest.  But, as I’ve said above, you also need to consider a couple of other variables before you hit the wine store.

Guest Count – hopefully your friends are the type that will actually RSVP and not just show up unannounced.  Always add two more people to the count because someone will bring a random extra that they ‘forgot’ to tell you about or you have that one friend who never RSVPs and never shows but who will decide to come to your fabulous event.

Here’s where you pull out the calculator for the wine math:

Multiply the number of guests times the number of estimated glasses filled per guest.
THEN divide that number by 4 (approximate glasses per bottle) and that equals the number of bottles needed.

How much wine will they drink? Nobody can perfectly predict this but there are a couple of ‘rules’ that you can always depend on.  If your guests at least like wine they will drink one glass in the first hour but if they enjoy wine or even love it the number will be closer to 2 glasses in that first hour.  For each hour after that add one more glass to the count.  Following this logic – if your party will last about 4 hours most will drink close to 5 glasses of wine. You will need both a red and a white and enough of each in case most of your guests want to drink one or the other.

Now, if you’re like me and you are pouring Champagne, the whole calculation goes out the window because a bottle of bubbles will pour approximately 8 champagne flutes.  Unless, however, you’re at my house then a bottle will only hold 6-7 flutes because I have really large champagne glasses!

See? “Wine math” made easy. Now go and enjoy your party!

Wines in the picture:

Sophisticated Living – What is it?

sophisticated_living

More important, how to I obtain it?

I often talk about sophisticated living and how everyone can live their lives that way.  But, I think many people are confused about what I mean and how to achieve it in their daily routines.

Most people assume that to live a sophisticated lifestyle you have to have a lot of money and spend it lavishly.  I’m here to tell you that sophisticated living has absolutely nothing to do with how rich you are or your spending habits.  Instead, it has everything to do with putting effort into what you choose to surround yourself with – the items you touch on a daily basis, the things that you use not only with your family but also with your friends and colleagues when you entertain.  It has to do with everything that lives behind the cabinet doors in your home.

Your cabinets should be filled with things you enjoy touching and using, the feel of them, the weight and balance of a favorite kitchen knife or dining fork, even the casual water glass you use on a daily basis.  They don’t have to be silver or cut crystal – they just have to be something you love to use.  That’s not to say that I don’t love beautiful silver and crystal (because I do!) but everything doesn’t have to be formal and it definitely doesn’t have to belong to only one manufacturer or only one pattern.

The things that we surround ourselves with and use are a reflection of ourselves and should be items that we love to share with others.  Whether it’s because they have a great story to tell or are handed down from someone we loved or because we simply happened upon them on a trip!  They could be the silliest BBQ plates that were found in a second-hand shop on a road trip that turn a casual afternoon barbecue into a long night of laughter.  All of these contribute to sophisticated living.

The photo includes some of my most cherished items – the one piece of silver my mother had (the simple Revere Bowl), the first champagne glasses I ever purchased when I was 21, the beautiful Baccarat Mille Nuits champagne flutes that were a gift from my best friend that started my collection, the box of salt cellars that are clearly missing one little dish and two spoons but were so sweet I had to buy them from an antique dealer, various silver serving pieces bought at flea markets all over the world – even my cherished wooden cooking spoon (burn marks and all) that I’ve moved from home to home over the last 40 years.  All of these items are a reflection of me, who I am and what I want to share.

The joy has been in the collecting of these things and it continues every time I reach for one of them to use.

It’s Summer So It Must Be Corn Season!

corn

Corn etiquette: how to pick it, store it, and fix a bad choice.

I look forward to summer every year for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fantastic produce that’s perfect and in season for these few months.  There are so many to choose from but one of my absolute favorites is corn!  Some of my best food memories are from BBQs that either I attended or threw and there was always fresh corn in one form or another on the menu.  In fact, I’m usually teased about how neatly I eat corn off the cob– one row at a time – I can’t help it – it just tastes better that way!

The sweetest and freshest corn (no matter the color – white, yellow or bicolor – color is not an indicator of sweetness) is found at your local stand or farmer’s market.  But, even if you must go to your local grocer for fresh corn know that peeling back the husk will dry out the cob for the other shoppers no matter where you are buying the ears.  A serious etiquette No-No.  Just look for full, heavy ears with tight, green husks and shiny silk at the ends.

corn_and_FranUnfortunately, corn will start to lose it sweetness as soon as it is picked which is why I recommend buying local.  But, it’s also the best reason to eat it as quickly as you buy it – eating it the same day as you purchase it would be ideal.  If you must, keep unhusked ears in a plastic bag in your refrigerator for no more than 3 days.  If you can’t use them all up then blanch the cobs (peeled and without silk) in boiling water, cut off the kernels and store in plastic bags in your freezer. They’ll last up to one year and you’ll have fresh corn available no matter the season!  Just lay a shucked ear on the cutting board and (with a sharp knife) slice off a strip of corn.  Continue turning the cob until all kernels are removed.

A question that is always asked – boil or grill?  Here’s the answer – for the sweetest more ‘corny’ tasting corn – boil.  If your corn is fresh from a local stand or the farmer’s market simply place shucked ears into a pot of boiling water for 1-3 minutes.  Corn that’s purchased at the market is, more than likely older, a bit less sweet and tender and will require a few more minutes of cook time – maybe 5-8 minutes.  But, if you are looking for the charred smokiness that can only come from the grill then by all means – grill!  Leave the ears in the husks – you don’t need to soak them in water prior to placing them on the grill – and set them on a medium high pre-heated grill.  Turn them occasionally until the outside of the husks are charred evenly – maybe 15-20 minutes.  If you want a bit more color on the kernels loosen the husks slightly before grilling.

The trick to having sweet corn that may be a bit past its prime?  Add ¼ cup sugar for every 4 quarts of boiling water.  It’s nobody’s business if the sweetness is from the corn itself or a little extra ‘help’!

Recipe Idea: Prepping Roasted Veggies for Later

roasted veggies yum

Great way to spread out the goodness of great tasting veggies.

I know it’s July, but here in Los Angeles we have finally gotten what we lovingly call ‘June Gloom’.  It stays overcast all day and isn’t quite as hot as it’s going to get for summer.  That’s not to say it’s actually cool out but, because it’s ‘gloomy’ outside you sort of think that it is.  It was the perfect time to hit the market and prep some roasted vegetables for the week.

When you slowly roast fresh veggies (any combination that you love) with some aromatics you have the basis for any meal of the day.   I always make enough for a couple of days – that way I can use them for breakfast with my eggs, lunch over some baby spinach or as the perfect side for my favorite crispy skin salmon.  I have a few rules that hold true no matter which vegetables you choose.

Always buy organic when possible. But not everything ‘has’ to be organic so check the ever-changing list of the Dirty Dozen to see which ones must be organic and the Clean 15 to see which contain the least amount of pesticides.  You can always depend that a thick-skinned vegetable, like butternut squash, is fine if it’s not organic.

Start roasting with the vegetables that will take the longest to cook.  That way as you’re adding more vegetables to your roasting pan everything will end up cooked the right amount of time.  For this group of vegetables- baby potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, onions, garlic, asparagus, mushrooms- the potatoes will need to cook the longest.  Cut the vegetables so that they are basically the same size.

I’m a sucker for potatoes (in any form) so if you’re like me you will want some roasted potatoes in the mix.  I used the baby multi-colored (just because they look good) ones.  Whatever potato you decide to use- boil them in fairly salty water till just barely fork tender, drain and let cool slightly.  Smash them which will allow for more crispy edges and place on a sheet tray.  Drizzle with good extra virgin Olive Oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, some fresh ground pepper and any herbs you want to start with (I used some Italian Rosemary that I brought home from Sicily on my last trip).  Toss them so all sides of the potatoes are coated and start roasting at 450°.  Check the potatoes after about 15 minutes for crispiness.

In this group the onions and fresh garlic (smashed as well) went into the pan next. Add a drizzle of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and more kosher salt and pepper with each new add of vegetables.  I know it sounds like a lot of salt but you will need it for flavor.  Remember to use only kosher salt as regular salt is way too salty.

Toss the mixture together every time you add new vegetables and then spread evenly across the sheet pan to evenly roast.  Next, I added the asparagus (you can see I peeled the stems – check out my blog on asparagus for tips on the prep).

The zucchini and summer squash next and then finally the mushrooms.  Check every 7-8 minutes after you add a new group of vegetable to make sure you don’t overcook.

Be sure to taste with each new addition so you can adjust seasoning.  If you think you have enough oil in the mix – stop adding it.

Let the mixture cool and place in a sealed container in your refrigerator.  It will last 2-3 days unless you eat it all sooner!  I’m going to take some of these roasted vegetables tomorrow morning, reheat them in a skillet, add some chopped tomato, crack an egg in the middle and cover to cook the egg.

Breakfast!!!  I can’t wait.

What’s the Best Summer Beverage in this Heat?

summer spritzer

The simplest spritzer to help keep you cool in this heat.

It’s summer. It’s hot, even in the evening. You have friends coming over and no one wants red wine. Even rosé just doesn’t seem cold enough. What to do? What to serve?

Spritzers are a great summer beverage for a group at any time of year but when the temperatures rise they are especially good. Depending upon who you ask there are as many variations and nuances as the number of people in the conversation.

Some who are more cocktail aficionados might have definite opinions as to what is a ‘real’ spritzer. They could say that it is a combination of any Prosecco with the addition of an aperitivo (think Aperol or Campari), served over a lot of ice with a dash of club soda and a twist of some citrus or perhaps an olive. There’s even one that would be better for when the weather cools down that uses a very dry Spanish style hard cider instead of the Prosecco and Amaro instead of the aperitivo. Of course, there is the option of serving an Aperol Spritz (found all over Italy and for some the only way to drink them) which is 3oz of Prosecco/2oz of Aperol and a splash of club soda all served over a glass filled with ice. There are even recipes using super chilled white wine and club soda or ginger ale or any lemon-lime soda (which of course will completely change the taste of the wine – which might actually be your goal).

You can use sparkling water (water that is naturally carbonated and comes from springs or wells with all the bubbles already in it) or seltzer (plain water than has been artificially carbonated and contains no added minerals to enhance the flavor) or club soda which does contain added minerals which gives it a slightly saltier taste with a bit more tang. But, do NOT use tonic water for a spritzer. Tonic water is artificially carbonated and contains minerals like club soda but with one very big difference. Tonic water contains quinine which changes the flavor and makes it the perfect partner for gin-friendly cocktails. Also, tonic water does contain sugar which means it will add calories to your beverage.

I guess you’d say my tastes for a summer beverage in the heat run to simplicity. When it’s this hot outside and an ice-cold glass of rosé sounds like it would be almost right, I know just the recipe to make that glass perfect. I simply fill my wine glass about 2/3 the way up with ice, pour in my favorite rosé about 2/3 the way up the glass and then top it all off with a fun club soda I just picked up at the market. This drink is perfect for a serve yourself bar and the little glass bottles of club soda look fabulous on your beverage station!

So, for your next get together for a group this summer or even just for yourself after a long work day try my simple recipe for a spritzer – you won’t be disappointed!

 

Summer spritzer

In the picture

Tips on Storing and Serving Wine

storing and serving wine

How do you know if you’re doing it right?

Picture it:  You’re at a good restaurant with friends and one of them is a self-proclaimed wine snob so you hand him the wine list.  He chooses what he says will be an amazing wine.  You take a sip and you are seriously underwhelmed.  What happened?  There could be several reasons – you don’t enjoy the same wine profile (but you could swear that this was a wine you loved the last time!), the bottle is ‘corked’ (i.e. the wine has been contaminated by a fungi from the cork and it smells like wet dog!) in which case it won’t hurt you but it does indeed stink and affect the taste of the wine, or it wasn’t stored or served properly.

This can happen at home even easier than at a good restaurant but here are some easy tips to avoid it.

First, all wines, red and white, should be stored in a cool (heat is the biggest enemy for wine), dry, dark place.  That means no sunlight, on their side so the cork stays moist, away from heat and ideally at approximately 55° Fahrenheit.  Temperatures higher than 70ºF will age wine more quickly and any warmer than that and you will have ‘cooked’ your wine.  On the other hand, don’t keep wine in a place where it can come close to freezing either.

Now for the fun part – serving and drinking the wine.

Everyone has heard that red wines should be served at room temperature but what they don’t say is that ‘room temperature’ is basically the temp of a wine cellar in Europe!  So, it’s not REALLY room temp.  When red wine is served too warm it loses its nuance, it will taste flat and very often jammy.  On the other hand, whites are often served way too cold which will mask any flavor or dimension the winemaker has worked so hard for.

So here are the serving temperature tips that will help your wine taste as wonderful as the winemaker hoped.

  1. Light bodied white wines like Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc, sparkling and rosé – serve them cold straight from the refrigerator. Once poured they will warm up to about 40°-50°F which is ideal.
  2. More full-bodied whites like Chardonnay, Chablis, Viognier and even light, fruity wines (think Beaujolais Nouveau) taste best between 50º-60ºF. Just take the bottle out of your refrigerator about 15-20 minutes early so that it warms up just enough before you want to serve it and you’ll be very close!
  3. If you’re like me and you love a more full-bodied red (a big Cabernet anyone?) then you want to start sipping them at about 60º-65ºF. You will notice there will be a difference in complexity.  Again, just take them out of the refrigerator about 15-20 minutes before you want to serve and you’ll be good.

Now that you know how to store and serve your wines – get creative with the bottles you pick.  Have a wine tasting party or just friends over to taste your new choices.  The more you taste the more you know.  Enjoy!

tips on storing and serving wine

Wines in the picture:

Tips on How to Ripen that Rock-Hard Avocado

ripe-avocado

Can’t find a ripe avocado and you need one (or more) to make guacamole tomorrow?

You invited friends over tomorrow night for a viewing party of the finale of your favorite TV show and you want to make your famous guacamole.  You head to your local market for avocados and every single avocado they have is rock-hard!  What do you do besides scream at the produce manager or drive all over town hoping to find ripe avocados?  Here is my tip on how to solve your problem and have perfectly ripe avocados in time with no screaming.

First, you need to understand a little bit about avocados and how to pick them at the store.  Avocados don’t ripen or soften on the tree – this happens after harvest so depending on how those avocados were shipped and stored they might be ripening just in time or still be hard like baseballs.

A perfectly ripe avocado will be firm when held in the palm of your hand but will yield to gentle pressure.  Don’t be fooled by the skin color as different varieties are different colors – some are black and some will never get any darker than light green.  But, do avoid those with dark blemishes on the skin or have areas that are much softer than the rest of the fruit.  These ‘spots’ are likely bruises – pick a different avocado.

Avocados (and some other fruit) produce ethylene gas.  This gas causes the fruit to ripen and is normally released slowly.  But, what if you could only find unripe avocados in the store and you need that avocado to go from a rock-hard fruit that could hurt someone if thrown at them to a perfectly ripe item that will be transformed into your guacamole for your friends?  And you need that to happen in a day.

Here’s my tried and true tip that never fails:

You only need a brown paper bag, either bananas, kiwi or apples (these release ethylene gas at a much faster rate than avocados), hard avocados and about 24 hours.  Place the hard avocados into the brown paper bag, add at least one banana or kiwi or apple (the more fruit-the more gas is released-the faster the ripening), fold over the top of the bag and leave on your counter top for at least a day.  If you choose to add apples to the bag find either red or golden delicious varieties – these have not been bred to ripen slower (like a Gala apple) and will release more ethylene gas than some other types of apples.

I don’t recommend using the oven or the microwave to ‘ripen’ avocados.  These methods may indeed soften them but they don’t really ripen so they won’t have the same creamy, buttery texture and nutty flavor that a ripe avocado does.

My last tip: only put already ripe avocados into your refrigerator.  So, if you can only find fully ripe avocados at your market (lucky you!) and you don’t need them for a day or two then definitely refrigerate.  Now that you know how to ripen that avocado – have a party and make some guacamole for me!

Recipe for Summer Punch: Champagne, Fruit, and Fun Ice

summer punch feature

An adult drink with champagne that only looks fruity sweet (it isn’t).

It’s summer and that means outdoor or indoor fun with friends and family and usually in a group.  I always recommend greeting your guests with an adult beverage when they arrive.  A summer punch sets the tone for the party and lets everyone know that you want them to have a great time.

The easiest way to serve an adult summer punch to a group (with very little effort from you-the host) is with a batch cocktail or fun punch.  Punch can be colorful and is definitely made ahead of your guests’ arrival which takes a lot of the stress out of making sure that first glass of ‘welcome’ is ready when they walk through the door.

Set up a beverage area with the punch bowl, cups or small multi-colored glasses and, of course, napkins.  Add flowers and you’ve created a focal point for the party and a place where everyone can simply serve themselves and you can focus on food or other aspects of the party and not on making cocktails.

summer punch prepOne of the downfalls of most punches is that they are very sweet.  This recipe for Champagne Punch with Brandy from epicurious is not. The addition of plenty of citrus – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit juice and fresh mint combats any sweetness in the mix.

Even though you use cold juice and cold champagne the big bowl of punch will never stay as cold as you want it to be for the whole party.  The rule is (even if you are having only a single drink) that the larger the ice cube the slower it will melt.  It will keep your beverage, and in this case the punch, cold longer without diluting it.

Instead of just adding the cut citrus to the entire bowl of punch, I used some of the cut fruit in the mini-bundt cake molds that I was using for the large ice shapes.  The more interesting the shape of the ice the more fun your punch will look.  I found my mini bundt mold from Nordic Ware at Williams-Sonoma.  I wanted the cubes large enough to melt as slowly as possible and still not worry that they would fit into my punch bowl.  After the molds are frozen solid simply run warm water on the OUTSIDE of the mold and the ice will release easily.

The great thing about this punch is that you can make a second pitcher of the juice mixture (no bubbles yet) to make the ice molds.  This absolutely insures that when the ice eventually melts (and it will) that your summer punch will not be diluted.  Alcohol will not freeze completely so do not add champagne to anything that you want to freeze solid.

Pour the fruit punch mixture into your punch bowl, add some of the cut fruit, add the beautiful ice and at the last minute before your guests arrive add the champagne.  Now you’re ready for a party!

Kitchen tip: How to use raw asparagus.

raw asparagus

It’s Summer and that means Asparagus in all its glory! Who knew?

Some of my most favorite fruits and vegetables are in season right now – beans of all types, eggplant, tomatoes, carrots, stone fruit, berries, grapes, pears – the list is long.  And right now, one of my favorites is everywhere – Asparagus!

There are many ways to serve asparagus that involve cooking or, at the minimum, blanching.  They can be added to pastas, salads, grilled or roasted and used as a simple side dish for your favorite entrée, almost any way you can think.  But, one of my favorite ways is to not cook them at all!

Raw asparagus can be very chewy and unappetizing.  The stalks can be very fibrous and almost impossible to chew.  But, ribbons that you make from raw asparagus are the best way to eat those raw spears because they are always tender.  Asparagus ribbons bring beautiful color and character to anything they are added to with just the right amount of crunch.  And the best part is they are so simple to make.

Buy medium to larger spears – save the pencil thin ones for other dishes where you want the asparagus to stay whole.  Rinse the asparagus and pat dry.  Then either snap or cut off the woody ends and simply peel the spears with a Y-peeler using a firm touch.  Y-peelers are the best for this job because you can shave the entire spear without hitting your hand on the counter or your cutting board.

If the stalk rotates or is slipping and you can’t get it to stay steady on the cutting board simply shave one side into a flat surface, place that side down on your board and shave the rounded side into ribbons.  If some of the tips fall off just add them to your ribbon pile.

The ribbons can become the salad alone tossed with a great vinaigrette and topped with some shaved parmesan. Or, add pine nuts or chopped walnuts to the salad for more texture.  Top a bowl of your favorite grains with the ribbons and then perhaps add a perfectly poached egg for an entire meal.

But, my favorite way to use raw asparagus ribbons is to add them to toast.  Here I’ve simply smashed ripe avocado onto multi-grain toast, topped it with some fresh ricotta, added a sprinkle of kosher salt, a few cracks of freshly ground pepper, the raw asparagus ribbons and then some chili flakes for a bit of heat.  Delicious!

Recipe Cooking Times Can Be Deceiving!

cooking times

Often, they’re just a suggestion.

Recipe writers can’t always be quite as precise as they’d prefer when they list cooking times in a recipe.  So many variables enter into the equation.

This Spring, a friend’s daughter was making her first brisket for a dinner party.  She had preheated her oven, browned the meat on both sides, added all the ingredients to the roasting pan and then carefully put it in her oven for the listed 2 hours of cooking time.

She called me in a panic at the 2-hour mark – she had placed the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the brisket and the temp on the thermometer was correct.  But to her horror, the meat still appeared a bit pink (brisket is cooked all the way through) and it wasn’t tender at all!  She had eaten brisket many times at other friends’ homes and it was ALWAYS fork tender.  Hers was tough.  She was almost in tears and she couldn’t understand what she’d done wrong.

I calmed her down, told her that she’d done nothing wrong and then, because I’ve cooked more brisket than I’d care to think about, gave her this advice: ignore the cooking time and meat temp and put it back in the oven until a long-tined fork goes into the thickest part of the brisket with the greatest of ease.  Then, and only then, it would be cooked perfectly.  She needed to cook to the indicator – tenderness – not the time in the recipe.  Needless to say, her brisket was a success.

Here’s a good rule to follow:  Always cook to the indicator and not the time on the recipe.  The listed time is basically a suggestion unless you’re talking about how long to boil eggs and then it’s quite specific!

Recipes will always tell you what something is supposed to look or feel like.  It might be ‘cook until the skin is crispy and brown’ or, ‘when the spices start to stick to the bottom of the pan’ or, as in my favorite salmon recipe, ‘until the color has changed half to two-thirds the way up side of the filet and the skin releases completely from the pan’.

The reason you can’t go by an exact time on most recipes is because kitchens vary.  The oven temperature could be ‘off’ (even though you set your oven temp to what is in the recipe that doesn’t mean that your oven and the recipe writer’s oven are calibrated the same), the moisture in the air can be different from your kitchen to theirs, the material of your pan can be different from the writer’s, or any other number of small differences that can all add up to the listed cooking time in a recipe being not quite right to get the hoped for result.  Medium on an electric range is completely different than medium on a gas range.

So, remember, the cook times to achieve a ‘doneness’ are suggestions (we all taste pasta while it’s cooking, don’t we?).  If after the suggested cook time has expired and it still doesn’t look like what it’s supposed to – keep cooking.  Remember my brisket story.

If you remember this tip, pay attention to the process and don’t blindly follow the cook time on a recipe, you will have a much better result.  Patience!

8 Fruits and Vegetables that Don’t belong in your Refrigerator

How to keep your fruits and vegetables tasting as they should.

In a perfect world we’d shop daily and prepare what we purchased for that evening’s meal.  But, we all know it’s just not that easy to get to the market every day.  So, you go to the market and buy everything on your list making sure that you pick the freshest fruits and vegetables possible.

But, then you get home and the indecision sets in.  You begin to ask yourself – does this belong in the refrigerator or should it stay on the counter?  Will this spoil quicker if I leave it out?  Will it taste the same if I refrigerate it as it would if I just left it on the counter?

The answer is:  some produce needs to be stored in the refrigerator but some do significantly better if left out on the counter!  Here are the 8 fruits and vegetables that you should just leave out.

  1. Tomatoes – in season or out they will ripen perfectly if left on the counter. When you put them in the refrigerator their texture becomes mealy and really not very appealing.  If you’ve waited until tomato season (May through October with some differences depending on where you live) to enjoy their amazing flavor – do NOT refrigerate them!
  2. Garlic, Onions, and Shallots – these alliums do best in a cool, dry, dark place where they can breathe. Do not leave them in the plastic bag you used to bring them home from the market.  The only alliums that actually should be stored in the refrigerator are spring onions and scallions.
  3. Thick skinned squash – like Acorn, Butternut and Kabocha should stay at room temperature. Thin skinned summer squash like zucchini are the exception and should go into the refrigerator.
  4. Potatoes – of all types (including sweet potatoes) – like alliums like cool, dark, dry places. Sunlight and moisture facilitate ‘sprouting’ which is something you want to avoid.  The sprouts won’t kill you but they taste terrible and will need to be trimmed off before you use the potatoes.
  5. Fresh Corn – this one is a bit tricky. If you’re going to use the corn within a day or two then leave it on the counter and save some space in the fridge.  But, if you need to keep it longer than 2 days then it needs to be in the refrigerator to keep its freshness.
  6. Stone Fruit – like peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, etc. are in season now. Just like tomatoes their flesh will go mealy if stored in the fridge so keep them on the counter.
  7. Pineapples – a little secret – once picked they will not continue to ripen so buy one that is ripe and ready to eat the day you’re purchasing it and then just leave it on the counter until you cut it. The refrigerator will have absolutely no effect on its ripeness.
  8. Melon – this one is strictly a preference. If you keep your uncut melon on the counter at room temperature the flesh remains as soft as possible.  When you refrigerate it, the flesh become more firm or crisp, so it really depends on how you like it.

And now you know the ‘rules’ on which fruits and vegetables to refrigerate and which to just leave on the counter!