All About Food: Cooking tips from Elle and Terry

In our experience of cooking, dining, researching and writing about food, as well as running a restaurant and catering business in Laguna Beach, we have accumulated a wealth of tips that may help you avoid kitchen nightmares or just make your cooking life easier.

Here they are in no discernible order:

•Take your bananas apart when you get them home from the store. If you leave them connected at the stem, they will ripen faster. Peel the banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick the little strings off. That's how primates do it.

•Bell peppers with three bumps on the bottom are sweeter and better for eating. Peppers with four bumps on the bottom are firmer and better for cooking.

•After roasting peppers over an open flame, wrap them in a paper towel. Wait until they are cool and rub the skin off with the paper towel. The skin will stick to the paper towel and come off easily.

•To test a pineapple for ripeness, try to pull out a center leaf. If this is fairly easy, it is ripe. Don't forget to smell the pineapple or any other fruit. Good fruit smells sweet.

•To keep cut avocados green, rub some olive oil on exposed flesh or sit them in a thin puddle of oil and store it cut-side down in fridge.

•Salt scrambled eggs before cooking. They will be softer, more tender and moist. For richness, add a couple of spoonfuls of sour cream, cream cheese or heavy cream before beating.

•You can refresh older herbs by soaking them in cold tap water for 10 minutes and then drying them (in a salad spinner, if you have one).

•Brown rice will cook in just 20 minutes if you soak it for an hour or more in cold water. You can leave it soaking all day if you like.

•To get a nice and quick brown when sautéing chicken, fish or pork, sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over the hot oil and let it caramelize slightly before adding the protein.

•To defrost uncooked, unpeeled shrimp, cover with water. For every cup of water, add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of sugar. The shrimp will plump nicely.

•When frying ground beef, add a teaspoon of water, it will help pull the grease away from the meat while cooking.

•When skimming fat, move the pot so that half is off the burner; the bubbles on the hot side will move the fat to the cooler side, making it easier to remove.

•To avoid diluting summer sangria with ice cubes, freeze chunks of fruit and add them instead (like pineapple, peaches, grapes, berries).

•Peel ginger with a spoon to avoid losing product. Store unused ginger in one-inch pieces in a plastic bag in the freezer and it will keep longer than a month.

•Store your open chunks of cheese in aluminum foil tightly wrapped. They will stay fresh much longer and not mold.

•To make pesto that doesn't turn dark when exposed to air, blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for only 20 to 30 seconds, then plunge into ice water. Then proceed.

•Before you pour sticky substances like honey or peanut butter into a measuring cup, rinse it out with hot water but don't dry the cup. Add your ingredient and watch how easily it comes out.

•To reheat pizza, use a non-stick skillet on top of the stove on medium low heat until warm; this keeps the crust crispy. It's much better than microwaving it and much faster than a really hot oven with a pizza stone.

Yes kiddies, we got a million of them and if you have a good one, send it to us. We would love to print it the next time we do a tip sheet.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet foods and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

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