Wax paper and other wonders Helpful hints: Collection of cooking tips provides a thousand tried-and-true ways to make life easier in the kitchen.

June 19, 1996|By Irene Sax | Irene Sax,NEWSDAY Los Angeles Times News Service

Jean Anderson uses so much wax paper that she thinks she should buy stock in the company. Anderson, a busy cookbook author, spends long days in the kitchen testing recipes, and RTC there's usually wax paper somewhere about.

She covers the counter with it. ("When I'm done I just roll everything up and put it in the garbage. No mess.") She sifts, grates and measures onto it. ("So much easier than bowls, and there's nothing to wash.") She butcher-wraps chopped parsley and lemon zest in it. ("It lets them breathe, while in cling wrap they'd get all slimy.") She lines baking pans with it and covers food for the microwave with it.

And -- more to the point -- she wants us to know about it. That's why she included her wax paper addiction in her book, "1,001 Secrets of Great Cooks" (Perigee, $12), a collection of cooking tips collected from people whose lives are spent with food.

When Anderson sent out letters to 100 cooks and food writers and got responses from more than 60 of them, she realized that almost every cook has a bit of advice he or she is dying to share.

"I was amazed at how eager people were to tell me how they crushed canned tomatoes or rolled pie dough," she said. "There were two rather queenly ladies -- I won't tell you who, so don't ask -- that I fully expected would snub me, and both of them sent a bunch of tips."

Recognizing a tip

What is a tip, I wondered, and how does it differ from a recipe?

"A tip is a bit of advice that makes something easier, better, cheaper or quicker. And while a recipe tells you how to make one dish, a tip can be used with many dishes.

"If I say that the best way to peel garlic is to whack it with the side of a knife, you can use that information hundreds of times. And a tip is personal. It's like a friend standing by you in the kitchen saying, 'Here, I think you'll find it easier if you do it this way.' "

I know I have tips I love passing on, because they've made my life in the kitchen so much easier. One is to spray the inside of a measuring cup with cooking spray before you pour in molasses or honey. Measuring honey isn't a daily matter for me these days, but when I do it, the spray lets me get out every last bit and makes cleaning much easier. I admit, however, that until I read the book I never thought of using cooking spray to oil the bowl I use to raise yeast dough. (No. 393.)

A lot of the advice, in fact, was new to me. I didn't know you could cut hard winter squash easily if you first microwaved it for 2 minutes. (No. 485.)

Or that if you shake a bunch of grapes and many fall off, the grapes are past their prime. (No. 20).

Or that wrapping peeled potatoes in damp paper towels keeps them from coloring just as well as dropping them in cold water. (No. 224.)

Or that you can cool hot soup quickly by filling a plastic bag with ice cubes and submerging it in the soup. (No. 577.) And I once knew, but had forgotten, the ahead-of-time salad trick of making dressing in a bowl, crossing the servers over it, and then adding the greens, so they're ready to toss at the last minute. (No. 533.)

Several people gave different solutions to the same problems, proving that certain jobs cause the most problems. There are numbers of ways to mince parsley, peel peppers, store brown sugar and cut onions without crying.

Many of the tips came from Anderson. She discovered that she could slice mushrooms with an egg slicer one day when she was faced with "a mountain of mushrooms" to go into a huge amount of boeuf bourguignon. And she believes she invented the idea of mixing meat loaf in a plastic bag. (No. 236.)

In fact, there is a whole new category of plastic-bag tips. We're told to use them for marinating (No. 769) or as pastry bags (No. 698.) But my favorite plastic-bag idea was the one that said to keep one near the kitchen phone. Then, if it should ring while your hands are sticky from breading chicken or mixing meat loaf -- "and it will," says Anderson -- you can slip one hand into the bag and answer the phone while the receiver stays clean. (No. 973)

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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