Cooking tips from the readers

rat_small.png Thanks to everyone who entered our Ratatouille competition, we now have loads of kitchen tips (and one lone optical mouse tip too!) to share with readers.

The winning tip was from DaveMcD, who shared his tip for caramelised grilled bananas:

Want to impress everyone with a great dessert next time you have a BBQ or guests for dinner but are afraid you don't have the skills, then this is the dish for you: Caramelised Grilled Bananas. Take 1 banana per person and halve it lengthways leaving the skin on. Place all the bananas skin side down on a tray and sprinkle brown sugar liberally over the top. Be as messy as you like it makes you look like Jamie Oliver and is half the fun. Drizzle light streaks of honey over all the bananas. Whack under the grill or on the BBQ hotplate for 5 mins or until the brown sugar is bubbling and caramelised but not burnt. Take out and leave the skins on, serve on plate or shallow bowl with ice cream or mascarpone. You can also add some strawberries or small berries to make it look awesome. Stand back and bask in the praise.

Follow the link for a load more tips!Here are our 4 runner up tips:

Deepti - I learnt this from my mum. Cover the cooking workspace with one or two sheets of newspaper before you start cooking/chopping/etc. It's a great place to put vegetable peels, egg shells, the spatula dripping oil, etc. If anything falls off the chopping board, it falls straight onto the newspaper. In the end, just roll up the newspaper into a ball and toss in the bin. No cleanup!

Rachel - Pancakes. Can. Be. Frozen. This was a revelation to me. All you have to do is make a double batch next time you're in the mood. Eat one half of the cooked pancakes while the other half cools. Then stack the cold ones into "serves" (two or three pancakes) separated by squares of baking paper. Put each serve into a freezer bag, suck out the air, seal and sling them into the freezer. To reheat, just put them - unwrapped - onto a plate and microwave for 15-20 seconds. Near-instant dull Tuesday pick-me-up. The texture is retained remarkably well for the fluffy kind of pancake. Haven't tried it with crepes, but I don't see why it wouldn't work as well. Just keep an eye on them in the microwave, you don't want to turn them into rubber coasters.

Alastair - In a word: Soup! Apart from the fact that nothing can beat it on a cold winters day it can be a real money saver too. This discovery came about when my fiancée had to go overseas for a month as part of her studies. It just so happened to coincide with some of the coldest weeks of winter. Not being the greatest chef myself I popped down to the supermarket for a 'soup pack' (carrot, celery, onion, etc. all pre-wrapped), smoked ham hock or bacon bones and a bag of split peas. I boiled it on the stove for a couple of hours (mostly unattended) and the result lasted me for about 3 weeks. Unfortunately by the time I'd used it all up I was thoroughly sick of soup and more than ready for my fiancée to come back, but 3 weeks worth of dinners for less than $20 isn't too bad?

PNit - I have a recipe for a DIY mouse pad for optical mice. I have always used a blank piece of paper taped to my desk instead of a mouse pad. The tracking accuracy of optical mice always seemed much better on paper than on a desk or a fabric mouse pad. And it was cheap too! I recently acquired a laminator. Laminating the sheet renders my paper impervious to wear, and provides a frictionless surface without affecting the tracking. You can also choose to laminate a useful document for a mouse pad (I use the CSS cheat sheet). Currently I am using an empty laminator sheet (run through a laminator so it is stiff and clear) stuck to my desk with tape at the top and bottom so that I can slide paper underneath easily. This setup allows me to keep any useful notes, reminders or todo lists literally at hand.

And here's the rest of our reader tips:

ooda - Learn how to debone a chicken. WIth a small, sharp knife that fits into your palm well, once you get the hang of it, it should only take 10-15 minutes to debone all the bird, but much less if you're just aiming to get the good meat (breasts and thighs) off. It doesn't matter if you hack up the meat a bit, as for dishes like curries, it's perfect. Boil the bones in salted water with some herbs for a few hours and you have good, cheap (relatively) stock. Now combine hints! Freeze the stock in ice-cube trays, and you'll always be at the ready.

xzackly - Simple; buy in bulk to save money and resources. for example, we buy massive jugs of olive oil and use them to refill a fancy-looking regular sized bottle that is easier to use on a daily basis. we also label all our jars with strange names to confuse the guests... the coffee jar says "grandpa" and the confectioners sugar says "dreams (crushed)."it makes cooking fun.

Neil - I previously thought the George Foreman grill was the handiest cooking gadget but now its my $30 electric steamer. Steam chicken, veggies, rice, whatever you want. Tastes great (especially carrots) and its better for you than frying.

Mr. K - The biscuits are called "Kourabiedes" but may be better known as Greek short-bread biscuits with icing sugar on top. Google the recipe and you'll find stacks of ways to prepare them, however my tip is to replace the ingredient of "brandy" with "Baileys". I can assure you... a Bailey's Kourabiede is heaven.

Jamie - If you cook your meals larger and freeze the excess, you can cook once a week, and always have something easy to make for you or the family after a long day when you don't feel like cooking. By making it a family event and getting everyone to help, you spend good quality time together, and free up time in the week to catch up with each other instead of working at home.

Lilithia - Eggs are the easiest meal to create. HERE IS MY FAVOURITE. Scrambling is best personally. Place three eggs into a bowl, whisk, cook flat as a pancake, place streamed rice in between, place cut tomatoes on top & then... yeah. :) Delicious!

Walrus - To make schnitzel taste better, add herbs and spices such as paprika, parsley, ground oregano and basil to the egg you use to drench the meat.

Shelley Martin - To give rice an added boost of flavour, add stock powder to it before cooking and mix. It's absolutely delicious

Thanks to everyone who entered. Now we just need a few more summery days so we can fire up the BBQ and check out those grilled bananas. :)


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