Marianne’s Pantry


Food Ingredient Tips

Welcome to Marianne’s Food Tips Section

Organized alphabetically, enjoy this ever growing list of tips that will make handling various food items more enjoyable. After all, the more we can get done with the least amount of hassle makes for more

happy cooking experiences!


Ripen avocados in a brown paper bag at room temperature 2-5 days. Add an apple or banana to speed ripening; they release ethylene gas.

Bread Crumbs Two Ways

Dry First; Chop or tear good quality bread into pieces. Dry on a rimmed tray for 15-20 minutes in a 300º oven. Whirl in a food processor or blender to the texture desired. Process with fresh herbs if desired. Season with salt, pepper, paprika, parmesan etc…

Mince First; Whirl sturdy or slightly dry bread in a food processor or blender to the texture desired. Process with fresh herbs to color the crumbs and infuse them with the herbal flavor. Season with salt, pepper, paprika etc… Crisp and color the crumbs by sauteing in butter or oil or by baking at 300º for 15-20 minutes.

Broth / Stock

  1. Getting into the habit of making and freezing broth is akin to composting for a committed vegetable gardener.

  2. I make broth as I cook. Sometimes it is just the water that I par-cooked vegetables in. Sometimes it is a full blown pot of vegetables with some roasted meat bones. I freeze it in quart yogurt or deli containers labeled with a sharpie pen on a  piece of masking tape (I keep these in my leftover container drawer). I usually supplement these broths with a spoon or more of a concentrated bouillon product like Better Than Bouillon  to provide sodium and more depth of flavor when I use them in a recipe.

Click here for complete directions to making broths and stocks.

Chestnuts, Roasting - Click Here

Chiles - Roasting

  1. Chiles can be roasted over an open flame, under the broiler, or on a barbecue grill. I use the grill in the summer to not heat up the house.

  2. I stem and seed chiles before roasting as it seems less messy, but this may be considered unorthodox by purists.

  3. Turn the heat source on - grill to 450-500.

  4. If desired, stem and seed the chiles. If possible, cut out the stem and pull out the seeds without halving the chile.

  5. Be careful not to rub your face or you may get burned if the chiles are hot.

  6. Check the chiles every 2  minutes and turn them with tongs as they blacken. They should take 10 minutes, but may take as long as 20 depending on the heat.

  7. Put the blackened chiles in a paper bag that is inside a plastic bag as they are done.

  8. Let them cool and then peel. Again be careful not to rub your face or you may get burned if the chiles are hot.

  9. Roasted chiles will keep several days covered in the refrigerator.

Couscous; General Cooking Information

  1. Couscous, a staple in Northern Africa and other parts of the Mediterranean, is a wheat product , though it was originally made from millet. I always buy the whole wheat variety when I have the option.

  2. Traditional couscous is quite a process to cook, with bouts of spreading it on a tray and sprinkling it with water and then steaming it over top of the stew so it absorbs the stews flavors. This is one instance in which I choose a simpler method of cooking it, similar to how rice is cooked.

  3. Recipes differ on amounts of liquid needed. I find that for whole wheat, 1 part couscous to 1.5 parts salted water or broth works fine. If you are serving the couscous with a stew, salted water is fine. If you are serving it as a side dish, you may want the added flavor of a broth.

  4. Bring the liquid to a boil. Turn it off and stir in the couscous, making sure it is all under the water.. Let it sit about 10-15 minutes, then fluff it well and let the steam escape.

  5. If you are making a salad and will add a dressing, use a little less water, like 1.25 parts per part couscous.


  1. Anytime you are using sliced eggplant, you should salt it and let it sit for 20-30 minutes, so that any bitter flavors will get pulled out.

  2. Peel all of skin off the eggplant or leaves stripes as desired - for decoration and/or to make it  easier to bite. Slice eggplant into desired thickness length or crosswise.

  3. Lay the slices touching but not overlapping on a paper or linen towel lined tray. Sprinkle both sides with salt.Lay another towel on top. Leave to drain of bitter juices for 30 minutes then pat dry with paper towels.

  4. Proceed with your recipe.                                        

    Feel free to Contact Marianne with any cooking questions you might have.

  5. This tip is courtesy of Clifford Wright.

Eggs - Hard Boiling

  1. This tip is courtesy of Clifford Wright.

  2. I often don’t get the eggs out an hour in advance like he suggests, so my cheat is to put them in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.

  3. Remove eggs from fridge for an hour. Put in pan with cold water and 1 t salt. Put on lid. Bring to a boil and cook 9 minutes. Put in bowl with ice water. Crack and peel or store for later use.

Farro, About, Cooking Basics and Recipes - click here

Freezing Soups, Stews, Grains, Beans

  1. Freeze extra soup/stews/chilis in 16 or 32 ounce deli containers for a quick meal. Label with masking tape and a sharpie on the lid. Using like-shaped containers makes it easier to organize the freezer.

  2. Reheat in a pot on the stove or put in bowls to microwave. Don’t microwave the plastic container.

  3. For curries and chiles that get served over a grain, freeze extra in sandwich baggies in 4 oz portions. Push it to make a “tube”, fold the top over and run a 10” piece of masking tape around the middle of the tube (like the ring on a cigar but mid-way down). This size also works perfectly as a small side dish for two.

  4. Put the frozen grain in a bowl and reheat 45 or so seconds in the microwave. Or stovetop in a double boiler.

  5. Cooked beans can be frozen in their cooking liquid in 8-16-32 oz deli containers. Mark the type with a sharpie on masking tape and whether they have been seasoned yet (beyond sea salt, pepper & olive oil). I like 8 and 16 oz sizes so I can pull out a little to use in Mexican breakfasts, as an add-in to a grain or as a side dish on its own.

Leafy Greens - Storing

Herbs coming in a clamshell package can be kept like that if you have the storage space. For bunches of herbs & greens,  remove any twist tie or rubber band, and gently shake out the herbs. If there are any discolored or slimy bits, remove them now. Rinse the remainder under cool water and then shake out. gently but thoroughly. Spread the greens(all top to bottom) on a linen towel, cloth napkin or paper towel. Roll up gently. If the towel is very dry, sprinkle a few drops of cool water on it and put the roll in a produce bag. Don’t use a twist tie or a resealable bag as a little air is needed. It is fine to put into a produce drawer, but not if it might get crushed or shoved around. Actually, no produce items benefit from this treatment. Try to store produce where it can repose gently until it is used.

Herbs & Spices

Which is which?

  1. An herb is the leafy green part of the plant. A spice is the seed, bark, hull or other non-leafy part of a plant. Interestingly, cilantro is the leaf of the cilantro plant, and coriander is actually the seed of the cilantro plant (or one might say cilantro is the leaf of the coriander plant. . ._

Using Fresh vs Dry Herbs

  1. Use fresh herbs whenever you can, but good quality dry herbs work in most situations.

  2. Exceptions include dry cilantro and dry chives.

  3. Also don’t try to make pesto with dry herbs

  4. 1t dry herb = 3 t fresh

  5. When using dry herbs, always crumble them before adding to dishes to release more flavor.

  6. When using fresh, add whole sprigs to and pull out before serving. Fine chop some of the fresh and toss in at the last minute to give a more intense flavor. Don’t chop woody stems.

  7. Use restraint when adding herbs, you can always add more, you can’t take away too much. A little rosemary goes a long way. Too much of oregano can also overwhelm.

  8. Dry any extra fresh herbs and add to your spice jar. Either chop and set in a flat dish to thoroughly dry or hang sprigs in a upside down to dry.


Information from

  1. Soften in 95 degree water. Use enough water to reach level of honey in jar. Do not microwave or boil - this makes it lose something.

  2. Eating honey from a 50 mile radius of where you live helps you build a resistance to allergy symptoms

  3. Substitutions

    one cup = 12 oz

    use 2/3 cup honey for 1 cup sugar

    add 1/2 t baking soda per cup honey used

    reduce liquid by 1/4 cup per cup honey used

    reduce oven temp by 25 degrees to reduce browning

Leeks, About

Leeks are a relative of the onion, and are especially loved by the French. Onions can be substituted in a pinch, but once you start using leeks, you’ll want to use them whenever you can. They are especially wonderful in egg dishes, in sautes with mushrooms, in pilafs and soups. They can be quite expensive, so whenever I see nice looking ones at a good price, I buy several and gladly work them into our meals. You only use the white part of the stem in cooking (use the tops in stock), so gauge the quantity accordingly. It may only be ¼ of the weight of what you buy.

Leeks - To Store

Cut off the dark green ends (rinse and make stock with them) and then roll the leeks in a cloth napkin or linen towel sprinkled with just a little water. Put them back in the plastic bag and they should keep happily in the vegetable drawer about a week.

Leeks - To Clean

Discard or make stock from the top dark green portion of the leek as it cooks up tough and stringy, You’ll have 4-7 inches. Cut the root off. Slice the leek in half lengthwise and look through the layers for grit. Rinse any out without taking the leek apart. Chop as needed, then re rinse the chopped leeks.

Legumes & Dry Beans-Click Here

Mushrooms, Dry - To Rehydrate (3/27/13)

• Remove any peppercorns or other spices from the mushrooms. Put mushrooms in a small saucepan and barely cover with water. Bring to a gentle boil, turn off and cover. Let the pan sit for about 20 minutes, pushing the softening mushrooms into the water several times.

  1. Drain mushrooms well (avoid any grit), and save the water for stock. Proceed as with raw mushrooms, chopping and sauteeing etc. . .


Information from Whole Foods

While dried mustard powder does not have a very strong quality, mixing it with water initiates an enzymatic process that enhances its pungency and heat. To moderate its sharp flavor, you can either add some very hot water or an acidic substance such as vinegar, either of which will stop the enzymatic process.

Nuts - Toasting

Toasting enhances the flavor of nuts. It can be done several ways; the key is to not let them burn.

Toast before chopping, so there are less “crumbs”.

Stove Top; Put pieces in a single layer in a skillet set on medium. Stir every 30 seconds or so - will take 2-4 minutes.

Oven; Spread in a single layer in a pie plate or on a rimmed cookie tray. Put in a cold oven set to 325 for 8 minutes as it heats. Turn oven off and leave nuts in for 5-8 more minutes.


Most pears are harvested in the summer, but because they keep so well in cold storage, they are often held back and brought out in the deep of the winter when the variety of fresh fruits are lowest. Ripen pears in a brown paper bag at room temperature 5-10 days. Add an apple or banana to speed ripening; they release ethylene gas.

Pears ripen from the inside out and once ripe, they can go quickly to over ripe. They will start to smell and soften all over - the softening starts at the stem end. Gently touch near the stem end, it will give just a bit when it begins to be ripe. Don’t press too hard or you will make a bruise there.

Peppers - Roasting

See Chiles - Roasting

Polenta, About, Cooking Basics and Recipes - click here


Try this to keep the red juices off yourself. Fill a mixing bowl with water and set in a clean sink. Score the peel of the pomegranate and put it in the bowl. While it is under the water break the pomegranate apart. Work with one section at a time(in the bowl under the water) and separate the white pith from the seeds .Toss the pith, save the seeds. Seeds can be kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days.


  1. The amount of water needed per cup of rice increases with elevation and aridity. I.E. It takes less water to cook rice in Miami than in high plains, mountain, or desert areas.

  2. Unless you are making risotto, resist all temptation to stir rice. It only makes it like a porridge.

  3. Make brown rice ahead and freeze it in one or two serving size portions (4-5 os per serving) in plastic sandwich or small resealable bags so you have it ready for a quick meal.

Cooking Brown Rice

Root Vegetables & Winter Squash, Storing

  1. Store these in a cool dark place - ideally at 40-50° degrees.

  2. Store onions separately from potatoes. In the winter, I do not refrigerate onions, but I keep them in my garage which stays at 35-50°. I also store my winter squash this way. Once is gets warmer than 65° or so, the onions go into the refrigerator and I use up the last of the winter squash and wave good bye to them until the next fall.

  3. For potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beets, cut any green tops off and put the roots into a brown paper bag. Very lightly dampen the bag, put it into a larger plastic bag and gently put these bags into a produce drawer. Try not to crush or mash them.

  4. I store the bags in produce boxes in an outside refrigerator which I keep slightly warmer than my regular refrigerator. This seems to keep the produce from drying out as much as it normally does, and also keeps it from getting slimy.

Salt, Sea

More minerals and less “salty” than table salt.

Use this type for cooking and use table salt for cleaning projects and killing slugs.

Purchase French Grey Sea Salt now.


Salt, Pepper & Seasoning Basics

  1. Season as you cook, not just at the end; add with restraint – you can always add more.

  2. Tasting; ask yourself, what does this need? Salt, heat, sweet, acid, fat, or time for things to meld?

  3. I use French Grey sea salt and I keep it in a small bowl. Iput it in a pinch at a time for sautes. There are different size “pinches”, so get to know yours and figure out how much salt it actually is. My small pinch is about 1/16 teaspoon.

  4. Use a pepper grinder and get used to how much pepper comes out per grind. I usually use 8 “double-grinds” (back and forth) per 2 pinches salt. 25 double grinds nets me about ¼ teaspoon.

  5. White pepper is black pepper that has the hull removed. It is used when the black flecks of pepper would not add to to look of a dish - like a white sauce or corn chowder. I have only found it ground.

  6. Except in the case of a stock, stew or sauce that is to be reduced, salt and pepper as you go along. This means, season the onions as they are cooking, season again when you add the next ingredient. As you add more ingredients, re season appropriately.

  7. For grains or larger soups that you are seasoning a large amount of liquid, use measuring spoons.


Soak in water for a minute or two to make husking easy. If you are going to roast them, do this before skinning. It is easier to skin them once roasted.

                                                                           Photo courtesy Lisa Merrill

Tomatoes - Peeling and Seeding - or not

Italians & restaurant chefs almost always say to peel and seed tomatoes - a time consuming and not always that easy challenge. If you can live with peels and seeds, disregard the instruction.

Peeling is usually the most difficult and unless it is a very fancy sauce they won’t compromise the dish.

Seeds are more bothersome, but they can be removed with a little more ease. Slice the tomatoes in half crosswise. Over the compost bucket or disposal sink, gently squeeze the tomato like you are juicing a lemon. Use a grapefruit knife, spoon (or finger) to pop out the seed sacks that run along the outside edge of the tomato

Tomato Paste - Saving Extra

Cut off both ends of the can with a can opener, leaving one piece of the round metal in place. Carefully push the round through the can to get the “column” of tomato paste to come out the other end. Put it into a baggie and freeze it.whole can into a plastic baggie and freeze. A half inch chunk is to equal 1 tablespoon.

Vegetables -  Stovetop Cooking Basics

Vegetables - Roasting Basics

Vegetables, Storing

  1. Accidental science experiments in my produce drawer have led me to believe that plastic can extend the life vegetables, but only with a layer in between.

  2. I put things like peppers, beans, broccoli, cauliflower into brown paper bags or wrap them in linen towels or cloth napkins. I very lightly moisten these and then put the package into a plastic bag. The next step is to store these packages gently so they do not bruise or crush each other. I store the majority of my vegetables in produce boxes in an outside refrigerator.

  3. If you have a cool garage, you can store produce for a few days in produce boxes gently covered with a damp towel, no plastic even needed.

  4. Modern refrigerators cool by removing moisture from the air, which is why things need plastic protection. But if the moisture is trapped in the bag and has no layer to absorb it (and make it available to vegetables as they need it), it can’t get out and that is when food begins to get slimy and prematurely rotten.

Also See;

Herbs and Leafy Greens - Storing

Root Vegetables & Winter Squash, Storing

Leeks - To Store

Winter Squash - Peeling & Par cooking

    See Marianne’s Recipe for Chilean Corn Bean Stew (uses winter squash)

    See Marianne’s  Recipe for Butternut Black Bean Sausage Soup

Winter Squash, Storing

  1. See Root Vegetables, Storing

Yogurt, Draining to make Yogurt “Cheese”

Use drained yogurt in these recipes:

     Watermelon Tzatziki Salad (with cucumber and mint)

      Balsamic Roasted Roma Tomatoes with Lemon Cheese Spread