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A-Z Cooking Tips

Have a look through these tips and terms for some handy cooking gems and storage instructions.

A

Asparagus spears

Open cans of Wattie’s asparagus spears at the bottom of the can and turn out into a sieve to drain. This way you won’t break the delicate tips.

Avocado

If storing half an avocado, always replace the avocado stone in it, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to prevent browning. Store guacamole with the stone in it too.

B

Bacon - storing

To store bacon once the packaging is opened, remove from the packet, cover with paper towels and store in an airtight container. The bacon will keep until the use by date specified on the packaging.

Bacon - wrapping

When using bacon to wrap around the outside of a loaf or piece of meat stretch the rashers out using the back of a heavy knife. Streaky bacon will stretch quite significantly making it easier to handle and producing a better looking dish.

Baking Beans Substitutes

When Blind Baking, if you don’t have ‘baking beans’ try using uncooked rice or dried beans. Keep them in a separate sealed container for repeated use.

Baking in paper

This is a great way to cook fish so that all the juices are retained inside the parcel. Use cooking or baking paper for this – not greaseproof!

Blind Baking

This is a method used to ensure that pastry bases are cooked through properly. The pastry is lined with baking paper and then filled with either dried beans, rice or special metal ‘blind baking beans’. The blind bake material heats and helps the pastry cook through. Bake for 15 min at 200 C, then remove the beans and the paper. Return the base to the oven for a further two minutes. The beans can be cooled and stored for use again and again.

Bread crumbs

If you have left-over stale bread, crumb it up by rubbing it, or grating it and freeze it in bags.


To make a quick bread-crumb topping for casseroles, mornays or pies, rub 50g of butter into 2 cups of fresh breadcrumbs, ½ cup grated cheese, sprinkle over and bake.

Burnt saucepans

If you burn the bottom of a saucepan, pour in cold water and 2 teaspoons of baking soda. Leave to soak overnight. The pot will come clean easily with steel wool.

C

Caster sugar

Use caster sugar for a finer texture – and particularly when baking meringues as it dissolves during beating, giving you a smooth, glossy meringue.Add a couple of vanilla pods to your jar of caster sugar to make vanilla-infused sugar.

Celery

When cooking with celery add the leaves just before serving so that they impart a fresh clean spring flavour to your dish. Add celery leaves to soup, toss with bacon through pasta, or add to a coleslaw or green salad.

Cheese

Hard cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan have a high fat content and melt quickly when heated – making them ideal for adding to sauces. Semi-hard cheeses such as edam, gouda, colby or gruyere do not melt so readily and are best for toppings.

Cheese – grated

Grated cheese can be kept in the freezer and used in cooking without needing to be defrosted.

Chicken

Always defrost chicken and turkey in the fridge – you must allow sufficient time for this. A chicken will take 1-2 days and a turkey, 3 days.

Couscous

To cook couscous, place equal quantities of instant couscous and boiling water or stock in a bowl and stand for 5 minutes until the couscous has absorbed all the moisture. Fluff up with a fork and season with salt and pepper. You can also add a knob of butter or a dash of olive oil as well as spices, herbs, nuts and fruit.

E

Eggs

To test eggs for freshness, place them in a jug of water. If fresh they will sink or stay near the bottom. If they float or sit near the top the eggs are stale and should be discarded.

Eggs – whipping

Eggs will whip better and will be incorporated into baking better if they are used at room temperature. This takes about 45 minutes once they have been removed from the fridge.

F

Filo pastry

When cooking Filo pastry, work with one sheet at a time, keeping the remaining sheets under a lightly damp cloth. Filo sheets will dry out quickly if left uncovered and they will become brittle and break when you go to roll them.

Fish - buying tips

Buy fish the day you intend to cook it. Fish should smell clean and fresh. Whole fish should have bright eyes, the skin should be bright, gills should be bright red. Fish bought the day before should be kept refrigerated and refreshed in ice-cold water to which a handful of salt has been added.

Fish – cooking

Fish is cooked when it is moist and flakes easily. Overcooking causes it to become dry and unpleasant. Cooking time is determined by thickness of the fillet. A 2 cm fillet will take 6-7 minutes.

Flour – shelf life

If self-raising flour is kept too long it can lose its ability to rise properly. The same applies to baking powder. Check use-by dates and replace regularly.

Frying with Butter

When frying with butter, add a little oil to prevent the butter from burning. The oil raises the temperature at which butter will burn.

G

Garlic - crushing

Garlic presses are messy to use. Instead, crush unpeeled cloves with the flat side of a large chef’s knife. The skin will then peel away easily.

Keep a separate garlic board to crush and chop garlic on – so that you do not taint your other chopping boards with garlic. The more you chop garlic the stronger the flavour as chopping releases more essential oils.

If you are using pre-purchased garlic paste allow ½ tsp per garlic clove.

Garlic – cooking

Garlic has a much higher sugar content than onions, so will burn before the onion has softened. To avoid this, add the garlic to onions and meat once browned.

Ginger – cooking

Add a little, grated, to pork casseroles, mashed kumera, or to transform a chicken stuffing. Toss with butter over freshly cooked vegetables. Add to freshly cooked rice, or add to salad dressing.

Ginger – storing

To keep ginger, peel, slice, blanch and dry. Pack into a clean jar and cover with dry sherry. Keep in the fridge.

H

Ham

Your fridge can get overloaded over the Christmas season so make sure you regulate the temperature to make sure it stays cold enough (less than 5°C).. Always keep food in the fridge and items which just need keeping cool such as drinks in a chilly bin with ice.

Herbs

To store longer, wash well in cold water and shake off the excess. Place in a plastic bag and blow up with air. Seal the top and store in the fridge.Herbs are better cut with kitchen scissors rather than being chopped on a board which bruises the leaves.

Honey

Use honey as an instant glaze on meats and grill for a few minutes until golden. Drizzle over steamed vegetables such as carrots or parsnips before seasoning. Carrots are delicious cooked with the juice of an orange and a couple of tablespoons of honey. Use honey in place of golden syrup or maple syrup on pancakes or waffles.

K

Knives

Never put good knives in the dishwasher. The harsh action will pit the fine edges of the blade and can also ruin the handle. Good knives are an investment. You should have a paring knife, a cook’s knife and a medium sized all-purpose knife.

L

Leftover Ham

Leftover ham? Here are some great ideas:

  • Cut thick and grill on the BBQ with pineapple pieces
  • Dice and use in omelettes, scrambled eggs or fried rice
  • Use diced or sliced ham on pizza or in toasted sandwiches

Lemons

Grate lemon zest over freshly squeezed vegetables with a good seasoning of black pepper and a squeeze of juice.

Lime zest

Lime zest works well with coconut and pineapple. Add grated lime zest to chopped pineapple, chopped spring onion, a little chilli and coconut shreds for a fresh salsa.

Limes – lime butter

To make lime butter, grate the rind and squeeze the juice from a couple of limes and mix with 100 g softened butter and use to dot over fish.

M

Meat - casseroles

Always seem to taste better the next day as the flavours have time to meld and mellow. Preparing them a day in advance will only improve the flavour. Simmer casseroles at 140˚ – 160˚C to ensure that the meat remains juicy and tender. Meat boiled rapidly at high temperatures, say 180˚ – 200˚C will be dry and tough.

Meat – marinating

Marinate meat by putting all the ingredients into a re-sealable bag – this makes it easier to coat the meat in the marinade and it can be easily turned. Meat marinated with sugars or honey must be cooked gently otherwise the sugar will burn before the meat is cooked.

Meat – storing

Always store meat in the fridge. Keep as dry as possible, don’t let it sit in its own drip or moisture. Never place beside warm items. Leave in its original packaging and place in the coldest part of the fridge. Use within 2 days.

Mince

When browning mince, use the back of a spoon to break the mince up into small even-sized pieces. Brown in a hot pan in small batches. Do not allow the meat to stew in a lukewarm pan. If this happens, remove the mince, strain, reheat the pan and start again.

Muffins

Do not over-mix muffin batter as the muffins will peak like Mt Everest. To mix, lift the mixture up with a spoon and turn it over on top of the remaining mix in the bowl. Give the bowl a quarter turn and then repeat this lifting and mixing routine until all the ingredients are just blended.

Mushrooms

Always keep mushrooms in a paper bag - this will prevent them from sweating and they will keep longer.

N

Nuts

Keep nuts and coconut in the freezer as they have a high oil content and will go rancid if left in a warm kitchen.

O

Onions – chopping

To chop an onion quickly and easily, peel it leaving the core intact. Cut in half through the core end. Slice thinly across the onion and then chop finely.

Onions – storing left overs

If storing left-over onion in the fridge keep it well wrapped or in an air-tight container. Onion will taint other foods easily, particularly dairy products.

Oranges

Toss fresh summer berries with grated orange rind, a dash of merlot and a spoon of sugar and allow to stand for one hour before serving.

P

Pasta - cooking

Pasta needs to be cooked in plenty of boiling salted water. Allow 2.5 litres (10 cups) of water for every 200 – 250g of pasta. Allow 100 – 150g dried pasta per person. This is equivalent to 1 – 1 ½ cups of dried pasta shapes. Adding oil to the boiling water doesn’t really help to keep the pasta separate as the oil floats on top. Instead, toss the pasta in oil once drained.

Pita bread

Split and cut into wedges, brush with olive oil or melted butter and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and sesame seeds. Place on baking tray and grill under medium heat until crunchy and golden brown. Store in an airtight container and warm before serving as a nibble with drinks.

Poaching Eggs

Bring a large saucepan of water to a gentle boil and add 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar per litre of water.


Break an egg into a cup then gently slide it into the water. Cook until egg white has set, about 2-3 minutes.


Using a slotted spoon gently remove egg from water and sit on a paper towel to drain before serving on a bagel or toast with Wattie’s Cooked Frozen Spinach or Wattie’s Baked Beans or Spaghetti .

Potatoes – storing

Don’t store potatoes in the fridge, but in a cool, dark, well ventilated place. Always remove from the plastic bag as they will sweat and green.

R

Red peppers - grilling

Grilled red peppers are intensely flavoured. The easiest way to prepare them is to cut them into quarters, discarding the seeds and core. Press the quarters flat and place on a foil-lined baking tray. Grill under a high heat until they are blistered and blackened. Cover tightly with tinfoil and leave them to cool. The skins should peel off quite easily.

Rice

1 cup of uncooked rice equals about 3 cups of cooked rice.

Rice - cooking

Rice absorbs a lot of water as it cooks. If you are boiling rice, allow 6 cups of boiling water to 1 cup of rice. If you are cooking rice by the absorption method, allow 2 ½ cups of boiling water for every 2 cups of rice.

To cook rice in a microwave, place it in a very large, lidded microwave proof container. Pour over the right amount of water, (2 ½ cups to 2 cups of rice), cover with a loose lid or plastic film and microwave on high power for 8 minutes. Stand for 5 minutes and then fluff up with a fork.

Allow ½ - ¾ cup of rice (uncooked) per person. Rice swells by three times its size when cooking. So ½ a cup becomes 1 ½ cups.

Add a little extra flavour to boiled rice as it cooks by adding a cinnamon stick, bayleaf, a few cloves, or a piece of ginger.

Rice rules

Cook rice in small amounts and eat the same day as cooking – it is not advisable to reheat cooked rice.

Rice – varieties

There are many different types of rice available – don’t assume that they are interchangeable. Some dishes require a specific variety – risotto for example should be made with Aborio Rice – the starchy outer of the grain melts away and thickens the risotto. Basmati Rice is intensely fragrant rice used for Indian dishes. Sushi Rice – is a sticky starchy short grain rice ideal for making Sushi. Jasmine Rice is great for Thai and Asian meals. Short grain rice is ideal for close-textured dishes like rice pudding or paella. Wild Rice isn’t really rice at all, but the seed of a grass grown mainly in America and Australia. It requires long cooking and is generally served mixed with other rices.

S

Separating Egg Whites

When separating egg whites, break each egg into a secondary dish before adding to the mixture. Avoid using any whites that have yolk in them.

Skewers

Soak bamboo skewers in cold water for 30 minutes before use. This helps to prevent them from burning on the barbecue.

Slippery Surfaces

To keep your mixing bowl or chopping board from sliding around, place the bowl or board on a damp cloth or tea towel.

Spices

Toast spices in a little oil or butter before using to wake up their flavour.Replace spices 6 months after opening as they will have lost valuable essential oils – and with it, the flavour.

Sweet Short Crust Pastry

If you want to make your own sweet shortcrust pastry then click here try this easy recipe.

T

Tomato paste - leftovers

Freeze any leftover Wattie’s Tomato Puree in ice cube trays. Once frozen transfer to a bag and seal. The cubes can be added to a sauce, gravy, soup or casserole. Pesto can be frozen and used in the same way.

Tomato paste – cooking

Browning tomato paste for casseroles, soups and pies adds a real depth of flavour and more intense colour. Stir the paste all the time over a moderate heat so that it browns rather than burns. It also acts as a thickener, eliminating the need to add extra flour.

Tomatoes

Do not keep fresh tomatoes in the fridge. They are a fruit, so keep them in a cool place away from heat and light to let them continue their natural ripening process and to develop their full flavour.

Turkey

Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator this can take 3-4 days and can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 days after thawing.

V

Vanilla

Always use pure vanilla essence rather than imitation. It is more expensive, but the flavour is superior and you need to use less of it because it is more intense.

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