Excellent Tips To Take Your Cooking To The Next Level

by Dorsey T. Emanus

Cooking is more than assembling ingredients to make a dish. It is a way to express yourself. By selecting the dish, spicing up the dish and serving the dish, you are making a statement at each step. Take control of the message you are sending with these cooking tips.

Plan your meals in advance. One of the biggest time wasters is engaging in the "what am I going to fix for dinner?" debate. Often, we could have dinner on the table by the time we fuss with examining the options. Over the weekend - or whenever your free time occurs - think through the upcoming week and loosely plan four or five meals you know your family will enjoy. This advance planning allows you the time to stock your fridge and pantry with the items you need.

Here is a great cooking tip to use when you are handling smelly garlic. After handling garlic, simply rub your hands with a piece of stainless steel for 30 seconds. This could be your sink or a doorknob. After doing this, wash your hands with soap as your normally would. The stainless steel helps to remove the odor from your hands.

Be careful when adding oil to a pan in which you are already cooking. If you just pour oil anywhere in the hot pan, it will not only lower the temperature of the food you are cooking, it may also splatter. To avoid this, you should slowly add oil to one spot away from the food.

To prevent your homemade pizza from becoming soggy with all of the juicy toppings you add, lightly coat the bare dough with olive oil. Pizza sauce, peppers and meats can all weigh down a pizza dough and cause it to be soggy even after baking so be sure to brush on a bit of olive oil for a crispier, firmer pizza!

Know the gender of your eggplant! There are both male and female eggplants, and it pays to know the difference. The seeds of an eggplant can be very bitter. A female eggplant's seeds have a tendency to be more bitter than those of a male eggplant. You can identify a male eggplant by its base - it will be smooth and round, whereas the female base is more oval in shape and deeply indented.

Egg Plant

Make Johnny cakes for a treat at home or in camp! All you need is flour, baking powder (the kind that comes in a can, not baking soda that comes in a box), and cooking oil. Mix about a teaspoon of baking powder thoroughly into a cup of flour. Add enough water to make a thick batter. Pour it into a hot greased skillet, and fry the cakes like you would a hot cake.
If you are going to bake cookies, make sure that the dough is chilled thoroughly before it goes on to the baking pan. By doing it this way, the leavening ingredients can take effect before the butter flattens out, which in turn, can make your cookies lose their flavor.

Store your spices and herbs in a area that is cool and dark, and keep them away from the stove. Doing this ensures your spices are always rich with flavor every time you reach for them. Heat, humidity and light will cause your herbs to lose their flavor much faster.

The difference between a good chef and a bad cook boils down to effective education. By adding these tips to your existing cooking routine, you are sure to gain an edge over other chefs, impress your family and delight your own taste-buds with a medley of delicious meals. This information can take your dishes from dull to dazzling.

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More of Tahoe...

...the airport.  Every possible scenario went through my mind as I anticipated flying with Cruz, and we were well-planned and prepared for (what I thought was) every one of them.  Our first day of flying proved, however, that you can never really know what to expect.

Cruz exceeded my expectations and made this mama proud on all four flights to and from Tahoe.  He was completely mesmerized and in awe of all things airport - at times, we had to ask him to use his 'inside voice' because he was shouting 'p-wane' as loud as he could, peering out the windows of the airport pointing at every mode of transportation he spotted.  From 'bus,' to 'duck' (truck), to 'p-wanes,' he was completely in his element, and I think his fingerprints can be found on every picture window in O'Hare.

He loved the airplane itself, and sat like a little angel on our laps, peering out the window and excitedly pointing out every 'p-wane' he saw.  We stuffed him full of fruit snacks to keep his ears from popping, and he slept for three of the four hours of our flight to Reno.  Things were going all too well, and I even told Beau that Day 1 had been far too easy on us.  That is, however, until the rather rough landing hit...

It was bumpy, it was rough, and it made me sweat a little.  As we prepared for landing in Reno and hit quite a rough patch of turbulence, I closed my eyes tight and asked Beau to help Cruz pull the tabs on his new Elmo book.  I didn't feel well, and tried to concentrate on my breathing as we descended into the good state of Nevada.

And just as I told Beau I was surprised that the landing didn't seem to phase our son, he coughed and threw up all over himself, my lap, my feet, and our many belongings stowed under the seat in front of us.  There we sat, covered in puke, laughing through our complete and utter chaos.  Thankfully, the plane had started deboarding and I don't think anyone noticed but us.  So, needless to say, we were the last three people on our flight, and I made good use of the extra outfit I packed for Cruz 'just in case.'  I can't say the same for Beau and I...

We went a little light on the juice and fruit snacks on the way home from Tahoe.   

...Cruz loved the hotel and seemed un-phased by his new home for the week.  We had to unplug both phones from their jacks as he loved to 'hullo' the front desk, and we had afternoon adventures singing 'Five Little Cruzers Jumpin' on the Bed.'

We had a suite, so were able to fill our mini-fridge with some Cruz essentials - whole milk and cheese slices, grapes, strawberries, and yogurt.  Every afternoon, Cruz would sit at the table for snack time, toasting sippy cups and watching Daddy catch Goldfish in his mouth.  Why is everything more fun when it happens in a hotel room?!


...We had a rental car and put the pedal to the metal on Scenic Highway 89, a road that takes you all the way around Lake Tahoe's 72-mile shoreline.  This was Beau's first time driving up in the mountains, and he quickly learned that I had the better end of the deal being able to gawk out the window while he tried to keep our car on the narrow road.  It was a little hairy at times, especially on one patch of road just outside of Emerald Bay --- no guard rails, and a very very steep cliff just below.  At times, I felt like we were on a roller coaster!    

We drove and we drove and when we felt like it, we stopped.  We stopped at Squaw Valley, the home of the Lake Tahoe Winter Olympics, stopped at Fleur de Lac, the home of the filming of the Godfather II, and often stopped on the side of the road, to simply take in a view or let Cruz throw some perfectly smooth stones in the smooth, serene waters.    

...Although I was slightly disappointed with the rain showers the first day of our trip, natives of Lake Tahoe were as happy to see the rain as we were here in Iowa.  They, too, have been without practically all summer, and the lack of moisture in mountain country affected many parts of its landscape.  As it turns out, the rain we saw on our first day led to one of the most gorgeous sunsets in Lake Tahoe all summer long (said so by one of the nature workers on our gondola ride).  We had dinner at Riva Grill, a contemporary, but charming cabin right on one of Tahoe's many marinas.  After dinner, we walked barefoot to the beach and let the golden light of the setting sun soak into our bones.

Cruz didn't seem to mind the cold waters of the lake, and while I was busy snapping pictures of the sunset, he decided to go for a swim.  And just as the sky began to dance with pinks and purples and oranges, we put a shivering wet, sand-filled baby back to our hotel for a warm, bedtime bath.  

...we took a gondola ride up to the very top of one of the highest peaks in Tahoe. 

...and spent a day at Lakeside Beach, building sandcastles and burying each others' feet in the warm sand. 

...But our highlight of our trip wasn't the mountains, or the lake, or our gondola ride to one of the highest peaks in California, but involved Cruz on the last night of our trip, dancing by himself in the middle of the dance floor at Farm Bureau's farewell dinner and dance.  There he was, completely oblivious to the forty families who had turned their chairs to watch him shake his hips to The Stones singing about satisfaction.  He had entered his zone, and created quite the entertainment for the rest of us, and soon gathered quite the crowd to join him.

As we were watching our son from the sidelines, I told Beau that that had to be one of Cruz's top 5 moments of his life.  By then, three older kids had joined him and it was hard to figure out who was following who.  They introduced Cruz to 'the running man,' and Cruz introduced them to what we like to call 'the flea picker,' a move where Cruz strides to the beat all while picking his chest as if he's a monkey looking for lunch.  Even the CEO of Farm Bureau was joining in on the fun, snapping pictures of Cruz with his camera phone and bobbing his head to the beat of Cruz's drum.  It was a moment I won't ever forget, and we danced the night away under the stars of the California sky...

I'm working on a video and photo book of our trip to store away in what I hope will be the first of many great family adventures exploring this great world of ours.  There's so much to see, and I've got a pretty good team together to see it.  Lots of love for Lake Tahoe, for the mighty mountains, and most of all, for my little dance machine.