Some of Susan Holt's Many Tips For New Cooks

Wednesday, August 20, 2008; 9:01 PM

- When you dress a salad, always put the oil on first; it's called oil and vinegar for a reason, because if you hit the lettuce leaves with acid first, they break down quickly.

- When solid chocolate is cloudy, it means that some of the cocoa butter has started to separate and has risen to the surface. It could be a function of heat or extreme cold. It's called bloom, and it doesn't affect the chocolate's flavor or quality.

- Salt pasta water heavily enough that it tastes like seawater, because most pasta dough contains no salt. You want to season the water, as opposed to draining the pasta and then seasoning it. If you season it later, the salt sticks on the pasta and blisters the surface, or it gets washed away by the sauce and makes the sauce too salty.

- Using frozen shrimp is fine. They're cheaper, you can use them anytime, and unless you see them heads-on at $20 or more a pound, the shrimp you buy thawed at the counter were most likely once frozen anyway. Don't refreeze thawed shrimp; better to cook them off and freeze them that way if need be. If you're using wine in a sauteed shrimp dish, start with the shrimp in a frozen state to allow the wine's alcohol enough time to evaporate.

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