Maybe January should be renamed the Over month. For many, it's the month of start over, makeover, do-over, changeover, turnover, and a few hangovers, especially on Day One. Clean sweeps and fresh starts. Live better and be wiser.

In spirit of improving, we begin the new year with several tips regarding eating and cooking in general. Sharon Cook of Charleston inspired the idea by randomly sending some words of wisdom of her own. Others are drawn from reference books I have on hand.

For the record, this column always welcomes any helpful hints that readers wish to pass on. What works for you? We'd love to hear.

From Sharon:

--"A helpful hint I learned while working in a restaurant: If you like creamy salad dressings but want to reduce calories, toss your salad with a little vinaigrette dressing first, then add a small amount of your favorite creamy dressing. The thinner vinaigrette will maximize the coverage of the creamy dressing. Red wine vinaigrette makes a great base for blue cheese or ranch dressing. Balsamic vinaigrette makes a great base for Thousand Island or French dressing, etc. Lemon juice, pickle juice, and olive juices are also great thinners for creamy dressings."

--Also, "When you buy fresh broccoli, cut off the stems and place them in a zipper bag to go in the freezer. They can be used later in a couple of ways. They can be grated or julienned and added to coleslaw or added to homemade stock. This is true of lots of things you would normally throw away. Mushroom stems, leafy fennel fronds, etc. Waste not, want not!"

Here are a few tidbits from "The New Food Lover's Tiptionary" by Sharon Tyler Herbst (William Morrow, 2002):

--Ground sirloin makes the leanest burgers, then ground round, ground chuck and, last, ground beef (also simply called "hamburger"). The leaner the ground beef, the drier the cooked burger will be.

--To rescue overcooked cheese that has become a rubbery mass, cut it into medium pieces and process in a blender until smooth, adding a little cream if necessary. If the rubbery cheese is part of a sauce, include some of the sauce liquid in the blender. Return the cheese to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, over very low heat until it's melted and smooth.

--When passing salt and pepper, etiquette prescribes that you put the shakers or mills down on the table, rather than hand them directly to the guest requesting the seasoning.

More from "834 Kitchen Quick Tips" by America's Test Kitchen (2006):

--Washing a blender jar can be a real chore. Get a head start on the cleaning process by filling the dirty blender halfway with hot water and add a couple of drops of liquid dish soap. With the top firmly in place, turn the blender on high for 30 seconds. Most of the residue pours right out with the soapy water, and the blender jar need only be rinsed or lightly washed by hand.

--Taken straight from the freezer, small pint-size containers of premium ice cream often are frozen too hard to scoop easily. Solution: Place the ice cream container on its side on a cutting board and cut off slices, right through the cardboard, with a serrated or electric knife. Peel the cardboard off the sides of the ice cream disk and serve. The lid will sit flush against the ice cream left in the container for easy storage.

Found in "How to Squeeze a Lemon -- 1,023 Kitchen Tips, Food Fixes and Handy Techniques" by the editors of Fine Cooking (Taunton Press, 2010):

--Recycle the bubble wrap that comes in parcels to use as a protective lining between expensive nonstick pans when stacking them in drawers or cabinets. This prevents the nonstick surface from getting scratched.

--Whether you plan to grill a portobello mushroom or cook it any other way, there's an important but often overlooked prep step you should take: Remove the gills on the underside of the cap. They have a bitter taste, and they exude an unattractive black liquid when they're cooked. To get rid of them, just scrape them off with a table knife or the side of a spoon.

--When the pepper mill isn't in use, stand it in a ramekin, which keeps residual ground pepper from dirtying the counter (or other surface).

--To keep the edges of a pie crust from browning too quickly, the traditional fix was wrapping little strips of foil around the rim of the pie, a tedious process. Instead, take a square of foil somewhat larger than the pie and cut a big X through the center and place it over the pie. Fold back the quadrants from the center and secure the edges of the foil around the pie pan.

Who's got the recipe?

--A Cottageville reader is interested in tasty ways to a prepare a pork loin roast.

Still looking:

--From Donna Maria LaBrasca of Charleston: "Your readers will have to go way back in the archives for this one. It's a recipe that was published in The Post and Courier somewhere between the late '70s to mid-'80s. I do remember the title, though: Sugar-Free Fruit Cookies.

"It's a unique little cookie that is sweetened only by the chopped, dried fruit and chopped nuts that are in it. It resembled a thumbprint jam cookie, both in size and in its crumbly texture. In addition to the usual butter and flour, there was also sesame seed in the cookie, which added to the delightfully crumbly, slightly crunchy result. ... It's the perfect treat to have with hot tea, or when you want a cookie that isn't overly sweet."

--Laura De La Maza of Mount Pleasant says her family really enjoyed these treats. "I am looking for a Granola Ball recipe that was published in The News and Courier in the early '90s. I used to make these for my family and would love to have the recipe if you can locate it. The ingredients I can recall are oats, honey, dates, wheat germ and peanut butter."

We are getting some fresh recipe requests, but keep them coming. If there's any recipe you've lost, have memories of or are just wondering about, let us know. Email Food Editor Teresa Taylor at or call 937-4886.