Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Recipe - Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

It was relatively warm (50s) and quite sunny here yesterday, but today, though still warm, is very rainy, so feels chillier than it really is. Tonight, however, winter is going to make a return.

I thought this would be a good time to offer yet another great wintertime soup recipe. Those who like winter squash should like the previously posted recipe, but if you're looing for something just a bit sweeter, but still very healthy (eat as many of those deep orange vegetables as you can), this Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup should fill the bill quite nicely. It's naturally sweet, but has some spiciness due to the addition of curry powder and cumin. Enjoy it with whole grain bread or whole grain crackers.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup


2 tsp. olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tsp. cumin
2 T. curry powder
1 pound bag of baby carrots
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups fat-free, low sodium chicken or vegetable broth


1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven and saute onion until softened.

2. Stir in cumin and curry powder and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add carrots, sweet potatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

4. When cool, transfer vegetables to a blender and blend until smooth, working in batches.

5. Return to Dutch oven to reheat.

Serves 6

Friday, January 25, 2008

Herb Substitutions

Almost every cook has occasionally found himself or herself out of an herb he or she needs right away. If you're ever caught in this jam, you can, in some cases, substitute one herb for another. Below are some of the best/most common substitutions:

Savory can be used in place of thyme.

Marjoram can be substituted for oregano.

Cilantro can stand in for parsley.

Chervil can replace tarragon.

Anise seeds are a good replacement for fennel.

Nasturtiums can replace capers.

Hope this helps! :)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Recipe - Slashed Sea Bass Stuffed With Herbs

After writing a little about choosing and storing herbs, I felt a recipe making use of fresh herbs was in order and one of the best is the sea bass recipe below. I hope you'll try it, enjoy it, and let me know how you liked it. Try it with a whole fish when you really want to impress. Enjoy!

Slashed Sea Bass Stuffed With Herbs


6 individual (175-200g) sea bass fillets, or1 sea bass, scaled and cleaned, 3.2 to 3.5 kg.
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. fresh marjoram
2 T. fresh basil or mint
2 T. fresh green herb fennel or dill, roughly chopped
3 lemons
100 ml. extra virgin olive oil


1. Preheat the grill or griddle; it must be very hot and clean.

2. Slash the skin side of the fillets by making 1 cm. deep slashes at 6 cm. intervals. Make slashes across the width of the whole sea bass in the same way.

3. Season the fish with salt and pepper.

4. Mix the herbs together, then push as much of this mixture into the slashes as you can, reserving the remainder.

5. Grill the fillets, skin side down first, until done to your liking. Alternatively, place the whole fish carefully on the preheated grill and do not turn over until it is completely sealed - when the fish comes away from the grill easily. When the fish is sealed on both sides, reduce the heat and continue grilling until the fish is done, or cooked to your liking.

6. Mix the juice of 1 of the lemons with the olive oil, and pour over the grilled fish, then scatter remaining herbs over. Serve with lemon wedges.

Yield: 6 servings.

Note: You can use individual fillets for this recipe or a whole fish which looks splendid brought to table just as it is.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Word or Two About Herbs

One of the marks of a truly great gourmet cook is knowing how to use herbs well. Herbs can enhance almost every dish we create, but most people just don't use them properly.

Dried herbs are readily available on almost any grocer's shelves. Like most gourmet cooks, I keep a complete stock of dried herbs in my cupboard. In fact, I often dry my own. There's nothing wrong with using dried herbs when fresh aren't available and they can be a real boon to a cook who's in a hurry.

However, drying greatly diminishes the potency of herbs. And, although the flavor will be similiar, dried herbs just can't compare to fresh.

When buying fresh herbs at the grocer, remove them from the plastic bag or other container they came in as soon as you arrive home. If you don't, they'll wilt and deteriorate very quickly - in as little as one day or less.

You can greatly extend the life of fresh herbs by standing them in a bowl of water and covering them very loosely with plastic. Be aware that you'll have to change the water every few days, though. By doing this, you can keep fresh herbs in your refrigerator for up to a week before having to discard the unused portions.

An alternative is to wet a few inches of a paper towel and wrap it loosely around your bunch of herbs, then store them in a plastic baggie in your refrigerator's vegetable drawer.

Of course, the best way to obtain the very freshest herbs is to cut them from your own garden right before use. Herb gardens don't take up much room and don't require a lot of care and the luxury and joy of being able to step outside and snip a bunch of rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil, or dill anytime you need it is certainly worth the time you spend caring for the garden. If you live in an apartment and just don't have any space available outside, consider growing the herbs you use most frequently in pots. You can purchase them as seeds or seedlings at any good nursery. Not only will they enhance your cooking, they'll enhance your kitchen as well with their cheery, inviting look.

Using herbs correctly, and using fresh herbs whenever possible, is one of the things that separates a gourmet cook from a cook who's simply adequate.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Recipe - Winter Squash Soup

Right now, where I live, it's quite cold - about 15 F. That's too cold for me to spend much time outdoors, where I love to be in the summertime, but cold weather does offer great opportunities to cook some marvelous soups. One of my favorites is the Winter Squash Soup recipe presented below. It requires a bit of work, but that work is well worth it. This soup's not only guaranteed to warm you up on a cold winter's day, it's guaranteed to be delicious as well. It's great for lunch, or even for dinner, when served with a nice salad and warm, crusty bread. This recipe makes ten servings, so if you have any left over, just refrigerate it and serve it the next day.

Winter Squash Soup


3 1/2 pounds kabocha squash, halved and seeded
2 pounds butternut squash, halved and seeded
1 1/2 pounds acorn squash, halved and seeded
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 white onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
4 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 pound peasant bread, crusts removed, bread torn into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 cups creme fraiche
1 pinch ground cardamom
1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 pinch ground ginger 1 pinch ground cloves


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Season the kabocha, butternut and acorn squashes with salt and pepper and lay them cut side down on two large rimmed baking sheets. Pour 1 cup of water onto each baking sheet, cover the squash with foil and bake for about 1 hour, or until tender. Let cool slightly, then scoop the flesh into a bowl. Keep the oven on.

2. In a large saucepan or casserole, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon each of the cardamom and nutmeg and 1/8 teaspoon each of the ginger and cloves and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Add the squash flesh and heavy cream and simmer over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor and return to the pan. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm over very low heat.

3. Meanwhile, on a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the pieces of bread with the 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Spread the bread out and bake for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown.

4. In a small bowl, combine the creme fraiche with the remaining pinches of cardamom, nutmeg, ginger and cloves and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, dollop with creme fraiche and croutons and serve.

Yield: 10 servings

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Recipe - Fluffy Omelette

This light and fluffy omelette is perfect for Sunday breakfast or Sunday brunch. There are as many variations as your imagination can dream up (ours are just the start), so grab some fresh eggs and enjoy!

Fluffy Omelette

Ingredients: (Serves One)

2 free-range eggs
1 T. water
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
10 grams (2 tsp.) butter
1 1/2 T. chopped fresh curly parsley
1 T. chopped fresh chives
20 grams (1/4 C.) fine shredded cheese of your choice


Carefully measure and prepare all ingredients.
Place eggs and water in a bowl and lightly whisk with a fork until well combined and slightly frothy.
Heat butter in an omelette pan over medium high heat until it begins to sizzle.
Tilt the pan to coat the surface with the melted butter. (It is very important that the pan be hot and the butter sizzling before adding the egg mixture so the eggs will cook quickly and brown underneath, while remaining soft on the top.)
Add the egg mixture to the pan.
Use the back of a fork to quickly draw the cooked eggs from the edge of the pan towards the center and then tilt the pan so the uncooked egg runs to the edge.
Repeat the above process until the omelette is lightly set, about thirty seconds.
Cook the omelette, without stirring, for another thirty to sixty seconds or until the underside is nicely browned and the top remains soft and slightly runny or, if you prefer, lightly set. Be careful not to overcook.
Sprinkle the omelette with herbs, and cheese.
Use your fork to lift one side of the omelette and fold it over to the other side to enclose the entire filling.
The cheese will melt from the heat of the omelette.
Slide the folded omelette onto a warmed plate, salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.


Mushroom and Herb Omelette - Before adding the egg mixture to the pan, cook 125 grams of sliced mushroom caps in 20 grams (1 T.) of butter in the omelette pan over medium high heat for five minutes or until tender. Remove from pan and set aside. Wipe the pan with paper towels and continue as directed in the basic recipe, sprinkling the mushrooms over the omelette with the herbs and cheese.

Smoked Salmon and Dill Omelette - Replace the cheese with 50 grams of thinly sliced smoked salmon, cut into strips and 1 T. of sour cream or mascarpone cheese, and replace the chives with 1 T. of chopped fresh dill. Continue as directed in the basic recipe.

Tomato and Bacon Omelette: Cook one thin slice of bacon, trimmed and copped, in the omelette pan over medium heat for three to four minutes or until beginning to crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel, then continue with the basic recipe, sprinkling the omelette with 1/2 small ripe tomato, diced, the bacon, and the herbs, and cheese.

Basil and Parmesan Omelette: Replace the parsley and chives with 1 1/2 T. chopped fresh basil and replace the cheese with 20 grams (1/4 C.) finely shredded Parmesan cheese. Continue as directed in the basic recipe.

Note: Never salt eggs before or during cooking. Salt can cause the eggs to become tough during cooking. For best results, salt eggs, if desired, only after cooking.

The "Incredible Edible Egg" Has Gotten an Unfairly Bad Rap

I adore eggs. I love them soft-boiled, hard-boiled (especially in salads), poached, in omelettes, souffles, quiches, as egg salad, etc. If it's made with eggs, I love it.

Unfortunately, the egg, which is a marvelous source of nutrition, a source of high quality protein and vitamin B-12, as well as a source of a wide range of other vitamins and minerals, has gotten an unfairly bad rap because of its high cholesterol content.

Yes, eggs do contain quite a bit of cholesterol, but what most people don't realize is that that cholesterol isn't going to raise your overall serum cholesterol levels unless you eat eggs incessently, day in and day out. Two, three, or even four eggs per week probably aren't going to do you a bit of harm.

In fact, research has shown that our overall serum cholesterol levels are raised more by the intake of trans fats and saturated fats than by foods containing cholesterol, itself. Eggs do contain some saturated fats, but more than half the fat found in eggs is either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated - the "good" fats. In fact, if we don't take in enough of these good fats our body will actually raise our levels of LDL (low density lipoproteins) or "bad" cholesterol. Low density lipoproteins actually carry cholesterol around our arteries and deposit it on their walls, leading to coronary artery disease. The biggest risk factor for LDL cholesterol is a diet high in saturated fats and being overweight. Optimum LDL cholesterol levels are under 100, but a level in the low 100s is still very good.

HDL (high density lipoproteins) or "good" cholesterol, acts as a "cleanser," actually picking up the bad cholesterol from our arteries and eliminating it. Two of the best ways to increase HDL in our body are eliminating excess saturated fats from our diet and engaging in regular aerobic exercise. (And by "regular" we forty to sixty minutes a day, six days a week.) Optimum serum HDL levels are 60 or over. A person can have a very low overall cholesterol reading, but if his or her HDL is low, then that overall low reading isn't so good.

When choosing whether or not to include eggs in your diet, remember, too, that dietary guidelines apply to your overall diet, not to a single meal, a single recipe, or a single food. For healthy people, the advantages of eggs greatly outweigh their cholesterol content, which really, if eaten in moderation, won't raise your overall serum cholesterol count one bit.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Recipe - Linguine with Clams, Langostinos, and Artichokes

If you like pasta and shellfish, why not try something different and very, very special. This recipe is not only a wonderful pasta dish for a family dinner, it's also terrific to serve to guests. The addition of langostinos makes it very festive and different from ordinary "party" fare. And, perhaps best of all, for very busy cooks, it's easy. (Now, I promise - no more fish or shellfish - at least for awhile.)

Linguine with Clams, Langostinos, and Artichokes


1/4 c. butter
4 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sm. onion, minced
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. hot red pepper
3 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 pkg. linguine
3 (7 oz.) cans minced clams with juice (We don't advocate using canned food, but sometimes even we have to agree it's far more convenient.)
1 pkg. langostinos, thawed and drained
1 (8 oz.) can artichoke hearts
Fresh grated pepper
Fresh grated Romano and Parmesan cheeses


Heat butter and oil together.
Saute onion and garlic until soft and straw colored.
Add clams with juice, langostinos, and artichoke hearts (drained and quartered).
Stir in oregano, basil, hot red pepper, parsley and pepper.
Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until sauce thickens slightly.
Serve over linguine cooked al dente.
Sprinkle freshly grated cheese on top.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Just for Fun - A Few Quotes Related to the Culinary World

Fish, to taste right, must swim three times - in water, in butter and in wine. (Polish Proverb)

The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a star. (Anthelme Brillat-Savarin)

I feel a recipe is only a theme, which an intelligent cook can play each time with a variation. (Madame Benoit)

Langostinos - Shrimp or Lobster?

Langostinos are shellfish that can easily be substituted for shrimp or crayfish in just about any recipe. The word, "langostino," technically means "prawn." Because of this, there has been a lot of confusion over whether the langostino is actually a relative of the shrimp or the lobster.

Langostinos are small, crayfish-sized shellfish that look and taste like a cross between a shrimp and a lobster, though to me, at least, more like a tiny lobster. To add to the confusion is the fact that they are a substitute for shrimp, but rarely for lobster.

Langostinos, as they're usually called, is the Spanish name for these small shellfish. In France, where they're also used extensively, they're called langoustine, very similar, but a little harder for an American to pronounce. They are also known as Dublin Bay prawns and Danish lobsters. Is it any wonder people are confused?

Langostinos are definitely a member of the lobster family. Usually, these fascinating shellfish are about seven inches long and have light red bodies and darker tails. Their abdomens are more narrow than those found on shrimp and their legs are longer.

Langostinos are becoming increasingly available in worldwide markets. They make an interesting and fascinating substitute in many recipes that call for shrimp, crayfish, and yes, sometimes even lobster. An ordinary salad can be made exotic by the addition of langostinos.

I first learned about these interesting little creatures in Europe. I had never heard of them before. I hope you'll take the opportunity to make use of them in your culinary creations. I don't think you'll be sorry.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Tips for Ensuring Fish Freshness

Since fish are so good for us, it's vitally important to buy only the freshest fish possible. The freshness of the fish and shellfish we buy will directly impact the success of our finished product, and in some cases, our health.

If you purchase your fish at a fish market, you need to ask the fishmonger (yes, they are still called that) several questions. These questions include:

Where was this fish caught?

When did it arrive at the market?

Who is the wholesaler?

Has this fish ever been frozen? (Fish that have been frozen and thawed should never be refrozen.)

Most reputable fishmongers use only the most reliable wholesalers, wholesalers who provide them with only the freshest and highest quality fish.

Fresh fish have a "ten minute margin." This means that fish should never, never be out of the refrigerator, or off a bed of ice for more than ten minutes. This should be your very first consideration when buying fish - whether or not they've been kept properly refrigerated or iced.

Many otherwise very good cooks will buy fish at their local grocery or fish market, then spend another twenty to thirty minutes or so continuing with their shopping or driving home. This can be a very dangerous practice and one that can quickly lead to a nasty case of food poisoning, something no one ever wants. Buy your fish last and ask for ice at the fish counter to keep your purchase cold. If the market doesn't or won't provide ice, then bring your own ice chest with you. This ice chest will also be ideal for transporting the fish from the market or grocery to your home.

No matter what type of fish or shellfish you purchase, there are several things to keep in mind to ensure obtaining the freshest product possible:

Notice the fish's eyes. One of the very best signs of freshness in a whole fish is clear, shiny eyes. If the eyes are milky or dark, forego the fish, as it isn't fresh.

Choose fish with bright, almost metallic looking skin. If the skin looks dull and creamy, choose another fish.

Look for gills that are brightly colored, not clouded and slimy.

A very strong odor in a dead fish is a bad sign. A fresh fish has a very fishy, yet mild scent, something akin to seaweed.

The flesh of the fish should be firm to the touch. It should spring back when you press it (and you should definitely press it). If it's limp and dull, select another fish.

Fish are one of the healthiest foods we can eat, but they are also quite delicate. Ensuring freshness will protect the health of both you and your family.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Great Salmon Recipe for Wintertime

Salmon is my favorite fish. In fact, salmon is a big part of my favorite meal. This recipe, with Oregan hazelnuts and juniper berries is a wonderful addition to any wintertime table.

Northwest Salmon With Hazelnut and Juniper Berry Sauce


4 salmon steaks
1/4 cup Oregon hazelnuts, broken
3 Juniper berries, crushed
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup cream


Sauté salmon steaks and remove from pan. Add hazelnuts and juniper berries. Deglaze with brandy. When mixture is reduced and alcohol is gone, add cream and cook until thickened. Salt to taste. Pour over warm salmon steaks.

Note: You can add broken Oregon hazelnuts to any quick sauce to achieve a wonderfully nutty flavor. (It must be a quick sauce, though, in order to maintain the crunch of the berries.)

Yield: Four servings

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fish Facts for Beginners

I love fish so I know the importance of choosing the freshest fish possible. Fish, which are extremely healthy, are increasing in demand in the cuisines of many countries. East Asia is the greatest importer and exporter of fish. Thailand is the leading exporter, China ranks third, and Indonesia is among the top ten.

China is a leading exporter of pollack, cod, haddock, and cephalopods, though China, too, is beginning to rely more and more on imported fish.

The largest culinary market for tuna is, of course, Japan. The Japanese, as a nation, eat more than 200,000 tons of tuna each year compared to only 55,000 tons consumed in the United States. Most of the tuna consumed in Japan is yellowfin or bigeye tuna. Ecuador and Trinidad are the biggest suppliers of tuna to the United States.

Fish and shellfish are so healthy because they're the best source of omega-3 oil, something our body needs to boost HDL, or "healthy cholesterol." Omega-3 oils also go far in strengthening the immune system. Omega-3 oils can cut the risk of heart disease, arthritis, depression, and inflammaion.

It's not hard to guess that the fish highest in omega-3 oils are the oily fish - salmon, trout, bluefish, tuna, anchovies, mackerel, herring, and sardines. You might not like all of these varieties of fish, but adding a serving of one or two of them two to three times each week will greatly enhance your diet - and your health.

While all of us should avoid trans fats and saturated fats, eliminating all fat (like the mono- and polyunsaturated fats) isn't a good idea. This can lead to dry skin and various other health problems. Adding fish high in omega-3 fatty oils can add healthy fat to your diet.

Fish caught at sea contain a higher amount of omega-3 fatty oils, but they are more likely to contain contaminants as well. Farm raised fish have far fewer contaminants, but they contain fewer omega-3 oils as well. So, it's a tradeoff. We feel it's best to add a variety of fish to your diet. Grill yourself a fresh salmon or trout or make a tuna salad sandwich and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Food Survey - Favorites

1. Drink

Evian because it tastes like absolutely nothing. My favorite flavored drink is Starbucks' Strawberries and Creme Frappuccinos. I can't stand anything carbonated, so I never have soft drinks. I also love iced-tea with lots of sugar and lots of mint, but I rarely drink it.

2. Ice Cream Flavor

I love ice-cream, but again, it's something I rarely eat. I guess I'd have to go with Ben and Jerry's Mint Choclate Cookie or Pistachio Pistachio.

3. Fast Food Restaurant

Do not like fast food! If pressed, I'd have to go with McDonald's fish, just because I like fish.

4. Type of Pizza

Wild Mushroom Crispani from Panera, or if I make it myself, a nice, thin crust, pesto aioli, lots of wild mushrooms, spinich, and maybe sun-dried tomatoes.

5. Thanksgiving Dinner

The traditional one. I love the side dishes most, though, mashed potatoes, yams, stuffing, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce. I'd much rather have pecan pie than pumpkin, however.

6. Snack Food

Some kind of cheese, fruit, and wine, definitely. And maybe a baguette. :)

7. Side Dish

Garlic or white cheddar mashed potatoes. I also love barbecued corn-on-the-cob.

8. Food to Eat While Driving

I never eat while driving.

9. Food for Breakfast

I usually have oatmeal, whole wheat double fiber toast (plain), and apple juice. If I go out, then it's definitely French Toast, Eggs Benedict, or a Spinich and Mushroom Omlette. In France, it's definitely croissants.

10. Sit-Down Restaurant

Olive Garden. I've eaten Italian food in Italy, many, many times, in many regions, though mostly in the north, and I have to say, Olive Garden is better. :)

11. Italian Dish

Love Italian food. Cheese ravioli is a favorite, or Fettuccini Alfredo. Classic Lasagna. Plain old spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce. At Olive Garden, Stuffed Chicken Marsala.

12. Chinese Dish

Orange Chicken, definitely. I love the sweetness. But the chicken has to be top quality.

13. Sandwich

Panera's Sierra Turkey or Asiago Roast Beef or my own gourmet turkey sandwich. :)

14. Cheese

I love almost any kind of cheese. I guess my favorites are bleu and brie. I love baked, stuffed brie. I serve it at Christmas stuffed with mushrooms and also stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes. I also make a blueberry chutney that I serve with brie and crackers.

15. Donut


16. Type of dessert

Strawberry shortcake! Love it!

17. Type of Cake

Triple layer chocolate with caramel frosting

18. Vegetable

Spinich, potatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, beets, corn. Really, I've never met a vegetable I didn't like.

19. Fruit

I love fruit! Bananas, strawberries, mangoes, oranges, cherries, red raspberries, almost any fruit will do.

20. Food In Bed

I never eat in bed.

21. Beer

Nope, none, can't stand it, but beer-battered fish and chips are great.

22. Drink With Dinner

Evian. I don't drink much with dinner because I get full very fast.

23. Fruit Juice

Apple juice, apple juice, apple juice. Just love it.

and finally...

24. What is your favorite meal?

Honey grilled salmon with mashed potatoes and a great salad with honey mustard dressing beforehand. Probably a macchiato for dessert. If I'm feeling really festive, zabaglione.

A Great Wintertime Recipe - Blueberry Chutney

Although this blueberry chutney is great any time of the year, I especially love it in the winter. I usually make a lot of it and serve it with brie or camembert and crackers on Christmas Eve. It's always a great hit. It can also be used as a sandwich spread (it's terrific with ham).


3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/4 cup minced onion
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger root
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 cinnamon stick
dash salt


Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan, then bring to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Boil 1 minute and remove cinnamon stick. Cool completely, place in tightly sealed containers, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Then, enjoy!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cooking Legumes - The Long and the Short of It

Not everyone loves legumes, but just about everyone knows legumes are good for their health. A lot of people, however, say legumes just take too much time to cook, or the results are unpredictable (this is largely due to improper cooking methods).

We have to buy most of our legumes in dried form as only fava beans, black-eyed peas, mung beans, soybeans, and peas are available fresh. When legumes are purchased fresh, they don't need rehydrated and cooking times are much shorter.

Legumes can be prepared on the stove or in the oven, but due to the long cooking time involved, most cooks prefer to cook beans in a pressure cooker or in a microwave.

All dried beans need to be cooked in enough liquid to adequately rehydrate them. They must be covered in sufficient liquid to cook them evenly, and often oil of some kind is added for flavor. Oil also decreases the chances of the beans boiling over, which can be a problem. Butter, lard, ham hocks, or bacon, though not the healthiest of foods, are often added to beans to enhance the flavor.

Some chefs insist on adding salt to the liquid in which the beans are cooking from the very beginning of the cooking time, insisting that the salt greatly improves the flavor. Others wait until the beans have softened a bit and argue that adding salt at the beginning of cooking causes the beans to be less tender. It's really a matter of personal preference, but one thing is for sure - if salty meats, like ham or bacon, are added for flavor, then any added salt must be reduced.

The tenderness of beans is very important. For this reason, microwaves, while very convenient, are less reliable for cooking beans than pressure cookers. The high heat of a pressure cooker allows the beans to soften thoroughly and also reduces cooking time.

You can also save time when cooking beans by precooking them and storing them in the freezer. Then, all you have to do to enjoy is defrost and reheat rather than soak and cook.

If you're cooking beans to freeze, undercook them just a bit. Remember, you'll be cooking them again when you reheat them, so during the initial, pre-freeze cook, remove them from the heat with thirty minutes to spare. (In a pressure cooker, cook them only one to two minutes less than normal.) Beans will expand when frozen. Freeze them in small containers and don't fill them completely full.

Before freezing the beans, make sure they're covered with enough liquid to keep them moist. Defrost in the refrigerator or in a pan of warm water. After the beans have thawed, simmer them for thirty minutes on the stove or one to two minutes in a pressure cooker.

Don't use canned beans. These can be so convenient, but they just aren't good for you or your loved ones. Canned beans have less nutritional value than fresh or dried and they can take on a distinctly metallic flavor due to the can in which they've been stored. They're also packed with preservatives, sodium, and other ingredients no one really needs and shouldn't really want.

Legumes are really "coming into their own." Their variety is enormous and they are often interchangeable. They can often add an unusual or unexpected flavor to a very usual dish.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Recipe - Classic Chocolate Truffles

This recipe makes about 24 truffles


1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
8 oz. chopped, semi-sweet chocolate + 6 oz. for dipping
about 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted


1. Mix the cream, butter and corn syrup together in a saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a full boil. Turn off heat.

2. Add 8 ounces of the chopped chocolate, and gently swirl the pan. Do not stir. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.

3. After 5 minutes, whisk slowly to combine.

4. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. In the meantime, line baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. After 45 minutes, the mixture will start to thicken quickly, keep refrigerated another 11 to 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

6. Using a mini ice cream scoop or two spoons, form the mixture into 1-inch balls and and place on the prepared sheets.

7. Chill until firm, about 10-15 minutes. While the balls are chilling, melt the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate. After it is completely melted, allow to cool slightly before continuing.

8. Place cocoa in small bowl. Remove the balls from the refrigerator. Using one hand, dip the balls into the melted chocolate. Roll it around in your hand, allow the excess to drip back into the bowl. Place the truffle in the cocoa. With your clean hand, cover the truffle with cocoa.

9. Lift it out and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining truffles. Place back in the refrigerator for 5-8 minutes to set.

To store: May be stored up to one week in an airtight container.

Note: White chocolate may be substituted for the dark chocolate. Think about making these for a romantic Valentine's Day dessert. You can dip the truffles in contrasting chocolate and decorate. If you decide to roll the truffles by hand, it is important to make sure your hands are cold, never warm. Dip your hands in ice water for a few seconds and then dry them. Do this immediately before rolling the truffles. If your hands are too warm and the truffles begin to melt while you are rolling them, redip your hands in the ice water, dry them, and proceed.

Bon Appetit!

Ganache - Try It, You'll Love It! :)

Ganache is a simple thing, really. It's just cream and chocolate. But oh, the wonderful, wonderful things a creative chef can do with it!

To make ganache, one simply boils heavy cream and pours it over bits of chocolate, then stirs and stirs until the chocolate melts and forms the most irresistably smooth texture.

Most of the time, in making ganache, you'll be using equal parts of cream and chocolate, though this can vary from recipe to recipe and will also depend on how, exactly, you plan to use your ganache. You can make ganache from either dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate, but one thing is very important - no matter which type of chocolate you use, for the best ganache, use the highest quality chocolate you can find. This is one confection where cutting corners just won't work.

No one really knows who invented ganache, though several countries claim the honor. We do know the public began its love affair with ganache sometime around the mid-1800s. Switzerland claims its pastry chefs were the first to make truffles from ganache, however the French claim to have invented this confection earlier than the Swiss at the Patisserie Siradin in Paris. No one, however, really knows for sure.

One of the best known uses for ganache is truffles, an elegant dessert, which are made by rolling the mixture into balls, then rolling those balls in cocoa powder (the traditional coating), confectioners' sugar, coconut, nuts, or even dipping them in chocolate sauce and letting it harden. Liqueurs and other flavorings can make truffles even more tempting and flavorful. For example, if you want hazelnut flavored truffles, you might add Frangelico to your truffle mixture. For orange flavored truffles, you can't beat Grand Marnier, and for my favorite, coffee flavored truffles, add espresso to the hot cream and Kahlua to the truffle mixture.

Truffles are fun to make, though they can be time consuming. The good news is that they store exceptionally well. You can freeze truffles for several months and they keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. Remeber to serve them at room temperature, though.

Heated ganache is often poured over a cake or torte, coating it with a slick, sugary glaze. To make your ganache extra shiny, you can add oils, such as butter or corn syrup.

Chilled ganache is often used as a filling or spread for cakes and other pastries. When softened butter is added, you've made ganache beurre, a confection that is very similar to chocolate buttercream.

No matter which type of chocolate you use - dark, milk, or white - or what you use ganache for, there no denying its elegance and sophistication. Next time you're having a party, try some chocolate truffles for dessert (both dark and white - decorated with contrasting chocolate) and your guests will sing your praises. They also make a perfect Valentine's Day dessert.

Why a Copper Bowl Works Best - Demystified

In the previous post, we gave you some tips for whipping egg whites to perfection. We strongly advised using a copper bowl. In this post, we're going to tell you why a copper bowl works best.

When egg whites are whisked in a copper bowl (and remember, they need to be whisked by hand, not mixed with an electric mixer, for best results), the copper ions in the bowl migrate into the egg whites themselves to form a molecular bond with an egg protein known as conalbumin.

This conalbumin/copper molecular complex is far more stable than the molecular complex of whipped egg whites alone. The result is that egg whites whipped in a copper bowl are far less likely to "unfold" than those whipped in a stainless steel, or any other type, of bowl.

The difference can truly be dramatic and we hope you'll try it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Whipping Egg Whites - Yes, There Are Secrets

If you like to make sponge cake, mousse, meringues, etc., you already know the importance of properly whipped egg whites. Properly whipped egg whites, however, are an essential part of all pastry making and every serious cook should know all the "little secrets." Many, however, do not. I've had numerous questions from readers and friends who tell me they simply can't whip egg whites to perfection each and every time they set out to do so. Well, I think they could, if only they'd consider the importance of a few crucial elements.

Separate the eggs very, very carefully. When we're cooking and baking, we usually don't need to be too precise about separating eggs. As long as most of the yolk is separated from the white, things will be okay. However, if whipping egg whites is our objective, even one dot of yolk will ruin the whole affair. If there's one speck of yolk in the whites, the whites will certainly fail to peak properly.

Use the proper bowl. When egg whites are whipped, chemical reactions occur inside the bowl. It is absolutely essential that either a stainless steel or copper bowl be used. Copper bowls have long been considered to give the very best results and even chefs who generally keep a "stainless steel kitchen" will have at least one copper bowl - for use in whipping egg whites. Never use plastic, aluminum, or glass. These types of bowls will greatly reduce the volume and alter the color of the eggs in an undesirable manner.

Always use a whisk. Many people like the convenience of an electric mixer and an electric mixer can be used to whip egg whites successfully. However, the use of an electric mixer can lead to overmixing and overmixing will ruin the peaks. It's always best to use a whisk. Using a whisk will give your whipped egg whites the very best results and the very best results should be what you're striving for.

Add cream of tartar. You only need a pinch, but that pinch can make all the difference. It can help your whipped egg whites to stiffen and hold their peak. Sugar - plain granulated sugar - can also be used, but sugar will reduce the overall volume.

Whip the whites at room temperature. We're food safety advocates. That's why we usually don't advocate leaving eggs out of the refrigerator. When it comes to whipping egg whites, however, we do do make an exception. Egg whites whipped at room temperature means they'll peak much more successfully.

Now that you know the "secrets" of perfectly whipped egg whites, get in the kitchen and show your friends and family that mile high meringue on your world famous lemon pie!

Charcuterie or Who Doesn't Like a Little French?

Charcuterie has been prized as a culinary art in France for more than five hundred years. In French, the word "charcuterie" simply means "cooked meats," however charcuterie actually encompasses a very wide range of specially prepared meats prized for their uniquely rich flavors and creamy textures. Although charcuterie is characterized by it delicious flavors, dieters need to beware. Those wonderful flavors are obtained by the addition of lots and lots of fats.

Some of the more common charcuterie include pates, sausages, rillettes, smoked ham, bacon, galantines, crepinettes, headcheese (we think the French fromage de tete sounds much nicer), and terrines. Charcuterie is a mystery to many non-gourmet cooks, but studying the recipes and taking the time to actually make a few of them (and they do take time), takes the mystery out of the process.

While charcuterie are the meats, fish etc. listed above, the person who makes the meats, etc. is the charcutiere, or the cuiseur de chair, the "cooker of meat."

A la charcutiere mean "in the style of the butcher's wife" and is used to describe the dishes made in a rustic style, usually at home, and usually using the leftover scraps of other dishes to make sausages and pates. Meats prepared a la charcutiere and often grilled and seved with a brown sauce of roux and clarified butter, then garnished with julienned sweet gherkins.

Charcuterie, while more often than not, quite rustic in appearance and flavor, is really a highly developed art form. Each spice is measured precisely; mousse must be "melt in your mouth creamy" in order to be considered for use; chefs vie for the best fish pates using unique combinations of creams and wines.

Charcuterie is often used as a filling. Beurre blanc is an example of this type of filling.

If you really want to be "up" on the culinary arts, especially the French culinary arts, then you really can't know enough about charcuterie. It's a fascinating subject to study, and once you've tested a few recipes, a very tasty one to sample as well. :)

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Egg Trivia

I love eggs. I love eating them and I love cooking them. No, I don't overdo it because like other healthy eaters, I don't want the extra cholesterol. But a few eggs each week are good for most of us in good health and not detrimental at all.

Being a lover of eggs, I also enjoy "egg trivia" and thought you might, too.

Boiled duck eggs offer a totally different visual experience than do boiled chicken eggs. Why? Because the "whites" of duck eggs turn light blue, while the yolk turns a deep, reddish orange. These exotic (for an egg!) colors make for a very interesting and different presentation on the gourmet table.

White shelled eggs come from hens with white feathers. Okay. No mystery there. So do brown eggs come from hens with brown feathers? Nope. They come from hens with red feathers. So why aren't the red? LOL

A week in the refrigerator is equivalent to a day at room temperature for an egg. Keep this in mind for food safety's sake.

If you're not sure whether an egg has been cooked, spin it. If it spins well, it's been hard cooked. If it wobbles (and it's not a Weeble), it's still raw.

We all hate to clean up broken eggs. They're slimy and just plain messy. However, if you sprinkle the mess heavily with salt, the egg will wipe up easily.

Have an egg or two for breakfast. And enjoy!