Luisa Rios' Kitchen Notebook

Archive for the 'Kitchen Tips' Category

Five Quick Cooking Tips & Tricks from our Kitchen to Yours

Written by Cooking Journeys, October 18th, 2013
Personal Chef cooking galore

Personal Chef cooking galore

Cooking every day gives us plenty of opportunities to come up with nifty little tips and tricks to be efficient and successful in the kitchen. Here are five of our tried and true practices that we encourage you to implement while cooking at home.

1. Grease your meat, not your pan. To decrease oil splattering when searing meat on the stovetop, rub the meat with oil rather than adding it to the pan before you sear. Let your pan get good and hot while you season your meat and lightly coat it in oil. When the pan is hot, sear away without having to shield yourself from splattering grease.

2. Lightly cook your garlic before adding it to a recipe. Raw garlic can be pretty pungent and can develop a bitter taste as it sits. Lightly sautéing it before adding it to a recipe that calls for raw garlic that will remain raw (ie. salad dressings, salsas, etc.) will mellow out the flavour.

3. Peel your celery. Celery’s stringy fibers are tough to chew and can get stuck in your teeth and throat. To prevent this from happening, peel the back of the celery rib (where the toughest fibers are) with a vegetable peeler before snacking or chopping to use in a recipe.

4. Set timers. Whenever you are cooking – oven roasting, steaming, or searing on the stovetop – setting a timer to remind you to check on what you’ve got cooking is key to avoiding many a kitchen disaster. No more burnt pies, mushy broccoli or tough steak!

5. Don’t follow recipes blindly. Use your culinary common sense. If a recipe’s method seems inefficient, do what makes the most sense to you. Likewise if the end result lacks pizzaz, add your own personal flair to it. Make notes on what you changed so that the next time you make it, it will be just as good!

What are some of your favourite kitchen tips and tricks? We would love for you to share them with us!


Salads and Greens Galore: How to Clean, Store and Keep Your Greens Fresh!

Written by Cooking Journeys, June 13th, 2013
Cleaning Greens

Tips for Cleaning Garden Salad Greens

Lettuces and greens galore are usually the first things you see when you visit your
local farmers market.

These delicate, crunchy leaves are one of my favourite signs that summer is finally here. They’re also delicious, especially when tossed with a nice, light vinaigrette or topped with beans, nuts, seeds, or your favourite cheese or smoked salmon  – an easy, light lunch or dinner that’s ready and waiting for you in your fridge!

But before you toss them in the fridge in the same bag you used to bring them home, a little bit of housekeeping will help keep your greens fresh until your next shopping trip. The following four quick steps will help keep your salad greens nice and crunchy for the whole week:

  1. The Clean Up: Soak your greens in cold water in a bowl or the kitchen sink for a few minutes. (But don’t place delicate leaves directly under the water stream, unless you like your greens bruised).
  2. The Dry Up: Use a salad spinner (a must-have kitchen tool!) or pad the leaves mostly dry with a paper towel.
  3. The Dressing Up: Wrap your greens between paper towels, no more than two or three layers per bag. Then put them in a plastic container, zip lock bag or supermarket produce bag, and store them in your fridge’s “Vegetable – High Humidity Drawer” (a story for another day!).
  4. The Perking Up: If your greens are looking a little sad or tired by the end of the week, throw out any slimy or wilted leaves and soak the rest for 15-20 minutes in a bowl filled with ice water (yes, put ice cubes in the bowl). Spin-dry them, and they’ll be ready to serve all over again!

Note:  if you buy lettuces that come with the root attached (e.g. Boston or Butter lettuce – great for wrapping tacos if you’re going gluten free!), don’t cut off the attached root. Just store it in the original plastic container, and clean it when you’re ready to use it. If the lettuce head root has been already trimmed, wrap the root in a moist paper towel and refrigerate it in a plastic produce bag or zip lock bag. Otherwise, the root will oxidize and the lettuce will start to wilt.

Also, always remember that, when it comes to fresh greens, moisture and air are your enemies! So never store your greens in an airtight container, where the moisture won’t have anywhere to go.

To set your summer salad feast off on the right foot (or leaf), here’s one of our favourite salad dressings – a yummy Poppy Seed Vinaigrette:

  • Mix 3 parts Extra-virgin Olive Oil with 1 part Balsamic Vinegar (e.g. 3 tablespoons of oil with 1 tablespoon of vinegar);
  • Season with the juice of ½ a lemon, Dijon mustard, honey or maple syrup, S/P and poppy seeds;
  • Dress lightly or liberally, serve and enjoy!

Feel free to ask us for the recipe or go play with different oils and vinegars until you find your signature salad!

Farmers Market Tip of the Day: Vancouver is lucky enough to have many great local greens growers. One of our favourites is Sole Food Street Farms, a growing community of urban farmers who are producing wonderful greens, fruits and vegetables right in the middle of the city.

The Dirty Dozen & The Clean Fifteen: How to Keep Your Produce Clean

Written by Cooking Journeys, March 21st, 2012

Spring is in the air, which means fresh produces coming our way!

Kale and Swiss chard too.

Remember: soak in water, spin to dry, store in a clean container or a plastic bag with a paper towel.

As a personal chef, I’m at the grocery food store between four to five days a week. Sometimes, I can be found gazing dreamily over the selection of produce (yes, I am that geeky!) Most of all, I love to see the differences between local/organic and “regular” produce.

Growing up in Colombia, it was very common to pick a piece of fruit from a tree, polish it with my t-shirt and eat it. Right there. No thought or worries about contamination, pesticides, fungicides, etc.

Now, even though the impulse is the same, the thought that crosses my mind when I see a lovely piece of fruit is whether or not it has been loaded down with unwanted chemicals.

For example, did you know that just rinsing your produce in running water will reduce, but not eliminate, pesticides? And if you eat five servings of fruits and vegetables from the Dirty Dozen List (see below) each day, you’ll be ingesting an average of 10 pesticides a day?

In my opinion, the best way to keep chemicals out of your produce is to follow the Environmental Working Group’s list of The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen. Basically, the Dirty Dozen are those fruits and vegetables that have a tendency to absorb anything that’s sprayed onto or around them. So when grocery shopping, try to find them in as organic and local a form as you can.

Similarly, the Clean Fifteen fruits and veggies are tough enough to keep chemicals where they belong: on the outside. For these, if you choose not to go organic, the consequences are likely to be a whole lot easier to stomach.

Remember these lists the next time you go shopping:

The Dirty Dozen (Buy organic):Apples, Bell Peppers, Blueberries, Celery, Grapes (imported), Nectarines (imported), Kale and Collard Greens, Lettuce, Peaches, Potatoes, Spinach and Strawberries.

The Clean Fifteen (Lowest in pesticides):?Asparagus, Avocados, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Eggplant, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Mangoes, Mushrooms, Onions, Pineapples, Sweet Corn, Sweet Peas, Sweet Potatoes and Watermelon.

Clean your fruits and vegetables well, not only of dust but unwanted pesticides.

The way you clean your fruits and veggies after you get them home can also make a difference. Soaking, for instance, is generally much more effective than rinsing. For squeaky-clean fruits and vegetables, follow this simple formula:

  • Fill a large bowl with enough cool water to cover all the produce you want to clean.
  • Add 3 Tbsp of baking soda or Cider Vinegar, and 2 Tbsp hydrogen peroxide (optional), per gallon of water.
  • Soak your produce for a few minutes, but don’t forget them! Soaking too long will leach away the nutrients along with the chemicals.

For smaller quantities, combine 1 cup of fresh water, 1 cup of distilled white vinegar, 1 Tbsp baking soda and the juice of half a lemon. Store in a spray bottle, shake well and spray fresh produce. Let sit for a few minutes, then rinse and enjoy! (Don’t forget to clean the tip of the spray bottle before storing it away.)

Reusable Grocery Bags – To Tote or Not To Tote!

Written by Cooking Journeys, July 06th, 2010

Reusable Shopping BagsIt took me many, many shopping trips until the habit of bringing my reusable grocery bags with me became second nature. Many, many times they stayed behind, hanging from the doorknob or even right in front of my nose.

Now, I might forget my keys, my shoes or, some days, even my name – but I never leave home without my reusable grocery bags! In the unlikely event that I do forget them, there’s always a couple of “just in case” extra bags that live in the trunk of the car. Or, if I happen to be walking, there’s my tried and trusty “Mickey Mouse” foldable back that lives in my purse.

(Wondering about the name? Yes, it’s a bag with ears that folds into a miniature Mickey Mouse shape about the size of a small coin purse. A good friend of mine brought it for me from Disney World, and it has become a full-time extension of my purse).

In other words, when it comes to “green” shopping, all my bases are definitely covered. But try as hard as we might, there are still some things for which reusable grocery bags just don’t work. Take produce bags, for example. Since the farmers’ markets aren’t available all week, I often have to stop at the supermarket on my way to the kitchen. Most of their produce is drenched in water to preserve freshness, making it tough to pack it in with the dried goods and other items. The same is even truer for the meat and poultry department.

Which brings me to my dilemma – to use or not use plastic shopping bags. Lately, I’ve been hearing a number of news stories about the importance of washing your reusable bags to prevent the risk of food-born illness. This seems like common sense, right? You carry canvas bags, bags get dirty. What to do with dirty cloths? You wash them. If it isn’t a cloth bag, then you sanitize them with Lysol wipes. Use a basket instead of a bag? Water and soap will do.

So what’s a health- and environmentally-conscious shopper to do? Here are a few things I’ve found useful about grocery bags and how we use them:

1. Reusable grocery bags come in many different materials; most of them are hand- or delicate cycle- machine washable. All should be washed after each use. Hang to dry – don’t use the dryer even if they say you can. Some people also recommend bleaching your bags once a week to reduce or eliminate bacteria (1 Tbsp of chlorine-free bleach per gallon or 16 cups of water, or ¾ cup for your standard washer cycle).

2. Separate your bags into different categories, then use them only for those things that fit into their respective groups. For example, I use some bags only for produce, others for meat, and still others for carrying books, gym items and so on.

3. I still wrap meat, poultry and seafood in double plastic bags before putting them into the reusable shopping bags. Don’t forget to keep your meat and produce in separate bags. For things that have to be refrigerated, if I know they’ll be out of the fridge for more than a few minutes (even in Vancouver’s less-than-blistering-hot summers), I also put a cooler in the car with some ice packs.

Reusable Produce Bags4. To reduce produce bags, I always put a hand basket in the front of my grocery cart. I put all my produce that isn’t wet into the basket instead of putting it into plastic bags, then I hand the basket to the cashier and we pack all my lovely fruits and veggies loose in a reusable bag. If you’re a good seamstress or have a good farmers’ market or natural food store near you, you can also make or buy reusable produce bags – has some good ones for bulk grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits.

5. One last tip? Go one step further, and consider bins over bags. Bins are sturdy, reusable, and easy to clean and keep dry.

Happy shopping!

What are your tips for a healthy, green and trouble-free shopping spree?