Dried Herbs

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Herbs are different from spices, as they are from the leafy parts of the plant (oregano, parsley, dill, rosemary, thyme, etc). Spices are usually seeds or flowers of the plant (cloves, paprika, etc) or bark (cinnamon) or even roots (ginger). Today’s blog is on dried herbs.

– Although dried herbs that you purchase in the markets have a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs, dried herbs will quickly diminish in their potency or “pungency”.

– Add your dried herbs toward the start of your cooking so that they have time release their flavor.

– Store dried herbs away from heat, light and air. It is best to store them away from your stove and oven area – in a cool, dark place. Always keep them tightly sealed.

– To get more out of your dried herbs, crumble them between your fingers before adding them to whatever you are cooking.

– If using old herbs, that’s okay. They never really go bad — they just lose their intensity as they age. Just use a little more to make up for the loss of flavor.

– Write the expiration date in bold letter on the bottle so you can always be sure you are getting the most from your herbs and spices.

– If you cook a lot, like myself, I file my dried herbs and spices in 2 different shoe boxes: savory herbs (like Thyme) and spices in one box, herbs and spices used in baking (like Cinnamon) in another. These are stored in my pantry, in an easy-to-pull-out manner.

– When adding dried herbs to salad dressing – let the dressing sit about 15 minutes or more in order for the dried herbs to soften and do their job.

Substitutions:
– 1 tsp. dried herbs = 1 Tbsp. fresh herbs, that’s about 1/3 less
– If substituting dried/ground herbs for dried/ground herbs – use half the amount

***My next Blog entry will be about fresh herbs

How to Care for Your Kitchen Knives

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When I teach Knife Techniques, I always ask my students to bring their knives into class. Many times I’m amazed (ok, shocked) at the condition of their knives. So today’s blog entry is offering suggestions on how to make your knives last longer.

1) The best way to store your kitchen knives is in a wooden knife block that sits on your kitchen counter. If you need to save space, get a “magnetic” knife rack that go onto the wall. Never store your knives in a drawer (unless you have specifically a knife block designed to fit into a drawer) as this will dull the edges and tips.

2) To clean your knives – always wash them in hot soapy water. NEVER put them in a dishwasher as this will ruin the handles and the blades! Dishwashers, by the way will NOT disinfect your knives, and exposing your knives to high heat can permanently damage them. As a safety precaution, never leave your knives in a sink full of soapy water!

3) Cutting on wood and plastic will help to preserve a knife blade. Avoid cutting on glass and stone.

4) Sharpen your knives regularly yourself with a “Sharpening Steel”. If you have the popular Santuko knife, use an Asian Style Knife Sharpener. When done sharpening your knives, be sure to wash the blade to remove microscopic bits of steel created when sharpening.

5) Foods like onions and potatoes will discolor carbon knives – and the knives in turn discolor those foods! It’s a good practice to wash and dry your knives right after using them to keep them in top condition.

6) Once a year or so, have your knives professionally sharpened. This breathes new life into your knives. To find a professional knife sharpener, look on the internet for a restaurant supply house as they normally do knife sharpening for the local restaurants and for a reasonable price.

Caring for Stainless Steel Cookware

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Stainless Steel cookware is easy to keep clean when you follow these simple tips. Good quality stainless steel pans that are “trip-ply clad” should not be overlooked when purchasing good cookware simply because you think they are hard to clean or too expensive. My students are constantly amazed at how quickly we clean up my pans in our lessons. You’ll be too when you learn these tricks!

1)  When done cooking, remove any leftover food from your pan. If you think you’ll have a hard time cleaning the pan, then put about 2 cups of water in the pan, turn up the heat to medium-high and bring the water to a boil. When the water comes to a boil, stir the brown bits up from the bottom and sides of the pan with a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula, till they are incorporated in the boiling water. Then proceed to washing your pan.

2)  If you have a really bad stain (blue-green) after cooking with wine and/or cream: pour about 2 cups of Distilled White Vinegar into your pan and bring to a boil. Then simmer about 15 minutes. Clean pan as usual.

3)  If after washing your pan, you have a funny blue-ish white tinge on the inside of your pan, pour some Distilled White Vinegar (I always have some on hand) into the pan and swirl it around or use a sponge to rub the vinegar into the surface of the pan. Then wash…the stain will be all gone!

4)  Other items that can be used to clean stains from your pans:

–  any acidic product such as “bottled lemon juice”.

–  if you have used a lemon in your cooking, keep the lemon halves around for a day. Use the inside of the lemon like a sponge to scrub the stain and bottom and sides of the pan.

5)  To eliminate hard water spots on your cookware, always make sure you dry your cookware right after washing.

6)  Last but not least, never cook on high heat, it’s not good for your pans or your food…happy cooking!

Hard Boiled Eggs

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1)  For easy to peel hard-boiled eggs, choose older eggs to cook, as they have taken in some air which helps their inner membranes separate from the shell.

2.)  Immediately after cooking, you’ll want to cool the eggs in their pan, very quickly under cold running water. This will stop the cooking process and prevent the eggs from overcooking. This is an important step, as cooling the eggs quickly prevents the dark greenish gray surface from forming around the yolk.

3)  Empty the cold water from the pan. Then shake the pan (with the cooled eggs in it) so that the shells crack really well. Then start peeling the eggs from the larger rounder end (near where the air bubble). You can do this under cold running water to help rinse away the broken bits of shell.

4)  If after following the above directions, you still have problems with a greenish gray surface appearing around the yolk, then cut down on your cooking time.

5)  Never attempt to hard boil more than 18 eggs at one time – as it creates a longer cooking time, and will overcook your eggs.

NOTE: If you are still having problems with your hard boiled eggs, please send me a note and I’ll send you my own personal notes for cooking times which I teach my students.

Shallots

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Shallots are about the size of a head of garlic (as seen in this photo). When sliced into, they’ll sometimes be a pretty shade of reddish-purple, similar to that of a red onion.

Another favorite cooking ingredient of mine: a shallot tastes like a cross between a garlic and an onion. Similar in size to a head of garlic, shallots have an outer skin that must be peeled before using. They’re milder than onions but have a richer, deeper and more complex flavor than onions, especially after being sautéed in a little butter and oil. They cook up quickly and chefs love their sweet, aromatic flavor.

Found in the produce section, look for firm shallots with dry skin. If they seem moist to you, or have begun to sprout – avoid them. Store them in a cool dry place (not the refrigerator) and they’ll keep for about a month.

Serving Suggestions:

– In their raw form, their delicate flavor makes a wonderful addition when sliced and added to salads.

– Roast them whole for an interesting side dish (coat with oil, and season them first).

– Sauté sliced shallots in a little butter and oil until they are crisp, season with salt and pepper, then use them to top off your green beans.

– Add slices or minced shallots to your homemade salad dressings and vinaigrettes.

– If you need just a small amount of chopped or minced onion, they make a great substitute.

– Mince shallots and mix with softened butter and chopped fresh herbs, salt and pepper and stuff under the skin of chicken before roasting.

Most of my students have never heard of shallots, but they quickly fall in love with their unique taste. Once you start using shallots in your kitchen, you’ll never stop!

Tips Every Cook Should Have

If you add too much salt to a soup or stew, drop in a quartered raw potato and gently boil for 5 -10 minutes or so. When you remove the potato, the overly salty taste will be gone.

– When making soup or chili, to absorb the grease that settles to the top, place a leaf of lettuce on the top of soup while cooking. I’ve also heard that strips of parchment paper will do the same thing. Remove when it has done its job.

– When hard boiling eggs: Add a little vinegar to the water when an egg cracks during boiling. It will help seal the egg and prevents it from oozing out into the water. Or add a bit of salt to the water, it will also do the same thing.

– Sprinkle a little salt in your frying pan before cooking to keep the grease from splattering.

-Butter the rim of a pan in which you cook rice or macaroni so it won’t boil over.

– Spray a bit of non-stick spray on your grater before shredding cheese. It prevents the cheese from sticking to the blade.

Meyer Lemons – the “backyard lemon”

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The Meyer Lemon is darker and more round in shape than a store-bought lemon. Their flesh or rind is also thinner.

Meyer Lemons are one of my favorite ingredients to cook with. Nicknamed the “backyard lemon” it is not grown commercially for a few reasons. One reason being their skin is thinner than the regular Eureka or Lisbon lemons sold in the stores, therefore they are more fragile. However, they grow easily in the backyard and if your neighbor brings you a bag of lemons from their backyard, chances are they’re Meyer lemons. Consider yourself lucky.

Over the past several years, Meyer Lemons have grown immensely in popularity with chefs and you’ll see recipes in magazines and cooking shows incorporating them. Meyer lemons are sweeter and far less acidic than regular lemons. This is because the tree is a cross between a regular lemon and an orange or Mandarin orange.

Since the skin of the Meyer lemon is thinner than a regular lemon, be careful when zesting a Meyer lemon (or any lemon). Do not grate into the inner white pith below the rind, as it is bitter.

Meyer lemons are perfect in homemade salad dressings/vinaigrettes, desserts, lemonade; add it’s zest to your favorite shortbread or sugar cookie recipe, make Meyer lemon marmalade, and of course, just pile them into a nice ceramic bowl to admire on your kitchen sink.