Savvy cooks will love these tricks for rescuing leftover pumpkins, storing fall cheese, using skewers and lots more!
What's sadder than a leftover Halloween jack-o-lantern made from a pumpkin? Don't throw Jack out, though. Cut the gourds in half vertically down the middle. Make sure each half can fit, cut side down, on a baking sheet sprinkled with water. Then bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 60 minutes. You'll know they're done when the skin darkens and the pumpkin starts to fall in on itself. A fork or knife will penetrate easily when it's done. Remove from the oven and let cool at least 20 minutes, then scoop out the flesh and puree in a food processor (throw away the skin). Now you have pumpkin puree for pie, soup and many other holiday dishes.
Some cooks prefer wood skewers, while others insist on metal versions. If you are using wooden skewers, to keep them from burning, soak them in water for half an hour first. This also helps preserve moisture in the food. Also be sure to align food pieces right next to each other on wooden skewers for proper heating. With metal skewers, choose twisted or squared versions so food won't fall off. Since metal holds heat better, a little space between food items on metal skewers is okay. If making foods with different cooking times, cook them on separate skewers and then combine them on the serving plate.
The best cheese is aged in cooled rooms, so it makes perfect sense to store tightly wrapped cheese in the refrigerator. Try to keep air away from the cheese, since air promotes mold growth on cheese. If some mold grows on the outside of the cheese, just cut it off. However, if it's gotten all the way through the cheese, discard it. Always bring cheese to room temperature before using it in cooking. Cheese that's well aged or ripened also can be frozen, but beware that the longer it's frozen, the more likely it is to dry out and become crumbly. Thaw cheese slowly in the refrigerator for a day or two; don't leave it out on the counter where mold can grow on it.
Honey is a wonderful substance created by bees that can substitute for sugar in many recipes. It's especially good in many succulent harvest-seasons recipes such as squash, pumpkins and baking. Because it's sweeter than sugar, less honey can be used to achieve the same sweetness as sugar. Start by replacing half the sugar in any recipe with honey and see how it tastes. Keep experimenting with other recipes until you find a balance that pleases your palate.
In addition, remember these adjustments:
* For each cup of honey added to a recipe, reduce liquid by one-quarter cup.
* To encourage proper rising in baked goods, add half a teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey.
* Cut back oven temperature by 25 degrees F to prevent excess browning.
* Coat the measuring spoon or cup with a little vegetable oil (corn, canola or safflower, not olive!) or non-stick spray when measuring honey, and the honey won't stick to the utensil.
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