Seasonal Flavors: Ten Cooking Secrets Revealed!

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There are some things you never learn from a recipe. You must either learn these things from a trusted friend or family member who knows their way around a kitchen, or you learn them from trial and error. Happily, you can now learn ten of these secrets from the Crozet Gazette!

1. When baking with chocolate—under cook it. I learned this from my friend Barbara, who is an extraordinary baker. When she makes brownies or chocolate cake, she removes the item from the oven a few minutes prior to the recipe directions. Her chocolate items are divine.

2. Soup needs celery—and lots of it. This I learned from my father, who every Saturday, his day off, would put his head out the back door to check the weather, come back in and proclaim ‘it’s a good day for soup!’ Yes, we lived in the mountains of Pennsylvania where there are two seasons: August and winter, so it was almost always cold and dreary. But this is a man who even made us soup for a summer picnic (low point for me). Neighbors would drop by to eat Dad’s delicious and legendary soup. And the secret was celery.

3. Everything is better with bacon. Whether you’re wrapping a fig, making a sandwich or crumbling it on your salad, bacon makes it better. Now that I think of it, this is probably no secret.

4. Meatballs are best using bread soaked in water. Forget the breadcrumbs if you’re making meatballs. Take a few slices of bread and soak them in warm water. When completely soggy, remove the bread, wring it out and add it to the meatball mix. The soaked bread gives the meatballs a velvety consistency.

5. Don’t over-knead a quick bread or pastry. Yeasted breads benefit from at least ten minutes of kneading. But when making biscuits, muffins or pie dough, less is more. Handle with care, the less manipulation the better.

6. Gin and Tonic needs LOTS of lime. This is another thing I learned from Barbara. Before I met her, I would cut a wedge of lime and squeeze it into my happy hour G&T. But Barbara squeezes at least half a lime into her drink. I’ve also found that adding more gin makes it better, too!

7. To make a crispy chicken, dry before roasting. One of the most delicious parts of a roasted chicken is that crispy skin. To guarantee you’ll get that, always dry the bird with paper towels before roasting, and crank up the heat. Rub the chicken with oil and herbs prior to roasting. My kids claim I make the best roasted chicken. I tell them—just dry it.

8. Want to have a good party? Invite a few too many people. This is not exactly a cooking tip, but if you’re a cook, you enjoy entertaining. My mom always said that the best way to have a great party is to invite a few more people than your house will accommodate. We grew up in a very small house, so this was not usually a problem. Putting a lot of people in a small space, with good food and drink, forces them to interact and have fun. Works for me!

9. Store your apples in the refrigerator and your citrus fruit at room temperature. A bowl of apples may look good on the table, but the apples do not store well at room temperature. Again, this is a Barbara tip. She also insists that tomatoes should not be refrigerated. Right again.

10. The secret to great meatloaf? Catsup (or Ketchup), take your pick. If you want a really interesting read, Google Malcolm Gladwell’s article in a 2004 issue of The New Yorker magazine. He explains, the intricacies of catsup and why it is so delicious. If you love a good meatloaf, the secret is more catsup than you can imagine. Let’s make one.

Excellent Meatloaf

  • 1 pound hamburger
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup catsup
  • ½ small onion, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 T dried parsley

Mix, form into a loaf and bake at 350°F for 45 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

This is the basic recipe. To make a larger meatloaf, double or triple the quantities. Add 15 minutes to the baking time for each additional pound of meat.

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