6 Timesaving Ingredients to Keep on Hand

Broccoli florets: Divide broccoli into small florets (no more than 1 1/2 to 2 inches across the top), leaving 1/2 inch of stem on each and trimming to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Blanch florets 2 minutes in large pan of rapidly boiling unsalted water. Drain florets and quick-chill 5 minutes in large bowl of ice water. This stops the cooking and sets the bright green color. Drain florets well, then layer with paper toweling in a plastic zipper bag and store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Maximum storage time is 5 to 7 days.

Minced garlic: Separate 2 or 3 bulbs of garlic into individual cloves and peel. The easy way to do this is to whack each clove with the broad side of a large heavy chef's knife; this loosens the skin, which can be quickly stripped away. Mince garlic moderately fine. (I use a food processor, pulsing to just the right degree of fineness; if you mince by hand, sprinkle chopping board with salt -- that way the garlic won't stick to the knife or your hands.) Spoon minced garlic into a glass or porcelain ramekin and press plastic food wrap flat over surface of garlic. Slip ramekin into a small plastic zipper bag, press out all the air, seal, and store in refrigerator. Every time you dip into the garlic, reseal as carefully as you did the first time around. Because most recipes call for garlic by the clove, here's a handy table that translates minced cloves into teaspoons:

1 small clove garlic = 1/2 to 1 teaspoon minced
1 medium-size clove garlic = 1 to 11/2 teaspoons minced
1 large clove garlic = 2 to 2 1/2 teaspoons minced

Fresh lemon juice: It's a pain to have to stop and juice a lemon mid-recipe, so I like to keep a little jar of "freshly" squeezed lemon juice in the refrigerator (and sometimes separate jars of orange and/or lime juices, too.). My favorite storage container is a half-pint preserving jar with a dome lid because the jar fits directly underneath the spout of my electric juicer and holds the juice of about 6 lemons (or 8 limes or 2 medium size oranges). I squeeze the juice directly into the jar, cap it tight, and set in the refrigerator. It remains amazingly fresh and is infinitely superior to bottled juices (I won't give them house room). Maximum storage time is 2 weeks for lemon or lime juice, 1 week for orange juice.

Chopped yellow onions: You'll save tons of time if you chop 2 or 3 pounds of yellow (all-purpose) onions whenever you have time and store them in fridge. But I recommend this only if you have a food processor. Here's the technique that has served me well over the years: Halve each onion lengthwise, slip off the peel, then cut each half in two both crosswise and lengthwise. Drop onion chunks into food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade and pulse briskly until moderately coarse-further chopping may reduce the onions to mush. So will trying to chop too many at a time: for best results, no more than half-fill the processor work bowl. Once the onions are chopped, bundle into a large plastic zipper bag (a heavy-duty freezer one), press out all the air, and seal. Place this bag in a second large, heavy-duty plastic zipper bag, press out the air, and seal. Store in the refrigerator. Whenever you need onions, simply reach in with a measuring spoon or dry cup measure and retrieve the amount you need. Carefully reseal both bags as before after each use, pressing out all air (this keeps the onions from smelling up the fridge and/or absorbing refrigerator odors). Many recipes call for onions by the piece (2 medium-large yellow onions, chopped), rather than by the cup (2 cups chopped onions). No problem. Here's a handy conversion table geared to today's onions, which tend to run large:

1 small yellow onion = 1/4 cup chopped
1 medium-small yellow onion = 1/2 cup chopped
1 medium-size yellow onion = 3/4 cup chopped
1 medium-large yellow onion = 1 cup chopped
1 large yellow onion = 1 1/2 cups chopped

Minced parsley: Here's a trick I learned some years ago. Unband the parsley but do not wash. Discard the stems, also any wilting or discoloring leaves, then mince the parsley as coarse or fine as you like. Place in water to clean. Bundle washed parsley in several thicknesses of paper toweling and squeeze as dry as possible. Next spread the parsley on several thicknesses of dry paper toweling, fold left and right sides of toweling in, then roll parsley up in toweling. Slip roll into a small plastic zipper bag and set in the refrigerator.

Chopped bell peppers: Wash peppers, pat dry, then quarter lengthwise, starting about 1/4 inch from the top: stack 3 or 4 scored quarters and slice crosswise, stacking the cuts about 1/4 inch apart. This will give you a good even chop. Even easier, cut quarters into 1-inch chunks, drop into food processor fitted with metal chopping blade, and pulse quickly until coarsely chopped.

Cooked rice: Many years ago I learned to cook rice ahead of time and stash it in the refrigerator or freezer. The trick is to cook it just until al dente (firm-tender) so that the grains remain separate instead of clumping. Few staples are handier to have because cooked rice can be slipped -- refrigerator cold, even solidly frozen -- into casseroles, soups, salads, stews, and stir-fries. Then too, it can be reheated and used a backdrop for dozens of other recipes.

This is the method I've evolved for cook-ahead rice. It continues to serve me well:
Bring 2 quarts water to a rapid boil in large (at least 4 1/2-quart), heavy saucepan over high heat. Add 4 cups uncooked converted white rice (no substitute), stir well, then return to rapid boil. Adjust heat so water stays at gentle but steady ripple and cook uncovered until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Do not stir. Fluff rice gently with fork and cool 1 hour. Do not cover. Fluff rice gently again, then spoon lightly --do not pack -- into plastic storage containers, snap on lids, label, and date. Set in refrigerator or freezer. To reheat refrigerated or frozen rice, pile rice in large fine sieve, fork lightly apart, and balance sieve in top of large, heavy saucepan over 2 inches boiling water. Cover loosely with lid or foil and steam just until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes, but times will vary according to amount of rice being reheated and whether it's refrigerated or frozen. Fluff with fork and serve.


From Dinners in a Dish or a Dash by Jean Anderson. Copyright 2000. New York: William Morrow.

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