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TRICOS Y TRUCOS (TIPS & TRICKS)

Mise en Place:
The most important three words in the kitchen, aside from “don’t catch fire,” are “mise en place.” This French phrase, means to put things in their place by measuring, cutting, and otherwise prepping ingredients and laying them out before attempting a recipe. Doing adequate prep before you start cooking will make the cooking process a whole lot faster. Better yet, it’s easy to avoid overcooking or burning your food if you’re not frantically trying to find ingredients.

How to Clean a Grill and Tip for Cooking Proteins on a Grill:
Rub your hot grill with an ONION to make cleaning it easier. Oils in onions have anti bacteria properties that can sanitize your grill and prevent microorganism from getting in your food. And when you are ready to cook, be sure and use a FOOD THERMOMETER to help you gauge precisely when your food is finished. Judging a food’s temperature with your eyes alone, may not be a great idea, since it can often lead to overcooked or undercooked food, putting you at risk for food poisoning.

How to make Heavy Cream and Buttermilk:
To make heavy cream, take 1 cup of whole milk and add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and let sit to thicken and then use in your recipe. 

To make buttermilk, take regular whole milk (or heavy cream), and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar (or 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice). Let the milk mixture stand for 10-15 minutes and you will have a perfect buttermilk substitute. Another substitute is Greek yogurt thinned with whole milk or water to the consistency of heavy cream 

Prepping dry beans before cooking them:
Dry beans are more nutritious and by soaking them in water and adding a little baking soda to the water, will help to cut down on your time in the kitchen. Putting baking soda in the water before soaking beans improved their texture and allowed them to cook more quickly. Beans are also great to lower your risk of heart disease

How to prep Patacones (aka Tostones) ahead of time, and save time:
1. Peel the plantain and cut it into 1-inch chunks.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Place the plantains in the oil and fry on both sides, approximately 3 1/2 minutes per side.
3. Remove the plantains from the pan and flatten the plantains by placing in a plantain masher (aka tostonera) OR by placing a cup/glass/jar over the fried plantains and pressing down.
4. After mashing, let cool for at least 30 minutes and place the cool mashed plantains in a zip locked bag and store in the freezer until ready to use. 5. Whenever you want to eat patacones (aka tostones) remove the pieces that you want from the freezer.
6. Heat the oil in a pan and place the frozen pieces in the hot oil (no need to thaw) and fry 1 minute on each side. Salt to taste and serve immediately.

When cooking, don’t overcrowd the pan:
You might think you have enough room in your skillet for an extra piece of chicken or an extra carimanola, but frying in large batches will cause the temperature of your oil to drop too low, resulting in a less crispy chicken or causing your carimanolas to burst open. When water-rich vegetables are too close together in a pan, the steam given off by the veggies will prevent them from cooking evenly, leaving them soggy instead. As a preventive measure, fry or cook in small batches, and be sure to stir while cooking — this will fry your food more evenly

How to prevent Cross-contamination:
Foods can become contaminated by microorganisms (bacteria and viruses) from many different sources during the food preparation and storage process. Follow these steps to prevent cross-contamination and reduce hazards to food:
• Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before preparing food, between handling different foods, or after using the toilet, changing diapers, or handling pets. And wash them again before, during and after handling raw meats and foods.
• Wash and sanitize all equipment, cutting boards, and utensils that come in contact with food.
• Avoid touching your face, skin, hair, and cell phone, or wiping your hands on cleaning cloths.
• Store foods properly by separating washed or prepared foods from unwashed or raw foods.
• Never use the same knife for raw meat, poultry or seafood to chop produce or ready-to-eat foods.
• Do not use the spoon you use to prepare food to taste the food. And if you do, do not put back in the pot after putting in your mouth 

How to sharpen your knife:
Cutting with a dull knife only wastes time in the kitchen. Sharpening your knives regularly allows you to get more precise cuts, making it easier to cook your food quickly and evenly, and sharp knives are less prone to slipping, saving you a trip to the emergency room. However, if you do not own a knife sharpener, you can use a ceramic mug. Turn the ceramic mug upside down and slide the knife across the bottom to sharpen it since the bottom it is unglazed and rough

Eggs – fresh or rotten?
You have a carton of eggs in the fridge that has gone past its sell-by date. All is not lost, as the printed date on the carton doesn’t actually correspond to the expiration date. Most store-bought eggs, if kept in the refrigerator, remain fresh for weeks beyond that date. Eating a bad egg can cause food poisoning, but before tossing in the garbage, here is an easy way to tell if it is still good: place the egg in a glass/bowl of cold water. If it floats to the top, it is rotten; if it stays at the bottom, it is still fresh and good to eat.

How to ripen fruits and veggies:
To help your avocados, plantains, papayas, etc. to ripen faster, place them in a brown paper bag and store the bag, closed, at room temperature (65º-75º F), and out of sunlight (in a dark place). The bag helps to concentrate the levels of ethylene gas that they emit as they ripen. This will take 3-5 days.

Asthma and Coffee:
Caffeine is a drug that metabolizes into theophylline, which is a bronchodilator drug that is taken to open up the airways in the lungs. Therefore, caffeine found in coffee, can relieve the symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing, coughing and breathlessness, for people with mild-to-moderate asthma, for about four hours.

How to suppress a Cough:
Pineapple contains enzymes which have strong anti-inflammatory properties that help you stop coughing. The bottom of the pineapple is the best area to smell if you want to determine whether or not it is ripe, because it is the most aromatic part of the fruit. However, it if has a pungent, sour smell then the pineapple has gone bad.

Ginger:
Ginger helps to reduce nausea (even if pregnant), pain, and inflammation. You should keep fresh ginger on hand at all times. Boil ginger and drink hot for indigestion, as well as for cold/flu

How to get more juice from a lime or lemon:
In order to get more juice out of a lime or lemon, place in the microwave for 25-30 seconds on high; that should be enough time to release its juices. Do not go overboard in heating time, since it could cause the flesh to dry out

How to preserve leafy produce such as Culantro, Mint, etc.:
Prolong the life of your produce by wrapping them loosely on a dry sheetof paper towel and placing them in a ziplock bag. Oxigen is not a friend of veggies, so get as much air out of the bag before sealing. Also, avoid washing until ready to use.  And make sure to leave ample room in your refrigerator and produce drawer. Overstocking can cause less air to flow through the refrigerator, which can cause uneven temps with food expiring faster.

Clean and season protein before freezing:
Purchasing proteins (e.g. meat, fish, poultry) in bulk saves money. However, in order to preserve and prevent freezer burn, open packaging, wash, clean, and season. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and foil, label and date and place in freezer. This will expedite cooking time. Just thaw and cook

Store spices in the right location:
To prolong the life of your spices, keep them in a cool, dark place. Don’t store them on top of the stove, as heat and humidity can alter their flavor. Do not place hot sauce in the refrigerator. Cold temperature will alter the spice and flavor of the hot sauce

Let red meat rest before cutting into it:
Even a well-done steak should never taste dry. To prevent a steak from losing its juicy interior, place it directly on top of aluminum foil after taking it off the stove or grill. Carefully wrap the steak in the foil and let it sit for six to seven minutes. This allows the juices to settle before you cut into the meat. The meat will continue to cook while it is in the foil so if you prefer medium steak, you should take it off when it’s medium rare.

Need to chill drinks but don’t have ice or space in the fridge:
Not enough space in your refrigerator to chill your drink? Place drinks into big tubs or buckets filled with salted ice water – the salt will cause the temperature to drop, giving you icy cold drinks in seconds.

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Culantro

Panama’s key spice is “culantro” (not cilantro), as shown in the picture to the left.  Culantro is a tropical perennial in the Apiaceae family that is widely used as a seasoning in many of our dishes.  It is native to Central and South America and not well known in the United States. It is known as “cha[r]don beni” in Trinidad