Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zest and Zuppa Inglese

Well, I’m sad. This has been a very fun month for me with interesting posts to write and all sorts of swell folks dropping in to comment. Thank you for that! I do hope that you are intrigued enough to read my culinary mystery, Mission Impastable (and the sequels), as well. If so, I would love hearing from you about your reading experience. And if you’re in a book club that reads mysteries, and you choose Mission Impastable, I am available to Skype with your group. Check out the book club kit I put together for MI, too! Free for the taking!

Now let’s get to it!

Z is for Zest
Zest is both a noun and a verb. Cool, huh.

The noun definition for zest is the colored part of the skin of citrus. (Not the bitter white underneath layer). Zest is filled with oil and is an intense version of the fruit. When it is removed and added to dishes, as an ingredient or as a decorative element, zest elevates the dish beyond using juice alone.

My salmon marinade includes fresh orange juice and the zest of that orange. The bright notes of the citrus really give a pop to the dish.

The fun comes when zest is a verb. To zest (the verb) citrus means to use a special grater that creates these light and fluffly little shreds of zest (the noun) so you can use it in recipes. You run the sharp blades of the zester across the skin and collect as much zest as needed for recipes.

Yes, there is a special kitchen gadget called a zester. Here’s a link to buy your own zester if you don’t have one. Okay, true, you can do zesting the old-fashion way with a paring knife or veggie peeler, but why would you? Truly, this zester is a tool I use at least once a week, so I keep it handy!
I zest lemons, grapefruits, and oranges from our own trees and freeze the zest to use in recipes later. Not quite as good as the fresh, but dang close!

Z is for Zuppa Inglese (ZOO-puh   een-GLAY-zeh)
Zuppa Inglese is a soup--a dessert soup. In Italian, it means “English soup” and is very like a British trifle.

I’ve never made zuppa inglese, but I have made trifle. The pictures on the Web do not look like soup at all. They all look very like trifles. The origin of zuppa inglese is unknown, though there are many colorful tales about its creation. We do know that it goes back at least to the 1500’s.

Traditionally, zuppa inglese is sponge cake (flavored with the zest of lemons or oranges! and an Italian herb liqueur or rum). The cake is layered with custard. Sometimes candied fruit and/or toasted almonds are added. Meringue might be on top.

But why zuppa inglese is called soup is lost in history, cause this ain’t soup!

We’ve come to the end of our month together, but I hope you looked around “Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time” to see the range of offerings and that you are enticed to return. Every February, my readers choose a category, and I post at least one recipe a day in that category. In 2012 I posted soups. In 2013, I posted chicken recipes, and this year was appetizers. Come back next February, if not before, and see what I am cooking up. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yakitori and Yuba

Let’s go Asian again for two Japanese food terms. As America falls deeper in love with ethnic cooking we find ourselves eating and cooking things we never even heard of a few years ago. While you may have encountered yakitori at your local fast food restaurant, odds are good you didn’t get yuba there!

Y is for Yakitori (yah-kee-TOE-ree)
Yaki is Japanese for “grilled”, and tori is "poultry", most often chicken, that has been marinated in teriyaki sauce. Teriyaki sauce is soy sauce, honey, and ginger. Make your own. Don’t buy the bottled stuff! (Teri means “shine” or “luster”.)
A yakitori dish often serves veggies or gingko nuts alongside (and maybe even chicken livers). To make your own yakitori, cut up chicken into chunks, marinate it for a few hours, then thread the meat onto skewers and grill.

I use wooden skewers that I soak overnight in water so that they don’t burn up on the grill.

Y is for Yuba (YOU-bah)
Sometimes you will find yuba called bean stick, tofu skin, tofu bamboo, or soy milk skin. To make yuba, soy milk is boiled in a shallow, wide pan. A skin forms on the surface of the boiling soy milk which is carefully removed, laid flat on a surface, and either eaten fresh or is dried.

Yuba is creamy tasting, and has a nutlike taste. Because of its high protein content, yuba often stands in for meat in vegetarian dishes.

When the yuba sheets are left to dry, they are sometimes rolled up in sticks that can be deep fried and eaten alone or in other dishes. When the yuba sheets are not rolled, they can be used to wrap other foods prior to them being steamed or even braised or deep-fried. You may have inadvertently eaten yuba in dim sum.

Last day tomorrow! Please join me for Z is for . . . 

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for Xanthan Gum and XXX

I am so excited! I am featured today on the Mysteristas site. If you want to know some insider information about me, this is the place! Please drop in and leave a note!

Last three letters of the alphabet, last three days of this blog challenge. I want to invite you to return after the challenge is over. I cover a wide-range of topics here, from recipes to information on my mysteries to cooking tips and techniques. I love having readers drop in and comment. Please, be a regular.

I’ll bet you wondered what I could possibly write about today. You may even have gone hunting for food terms. Perhaps you thought I would do xylitol (a sweetener, and other things) or xuxu (chayote) or xi gua (Chinese watermelon) or xiphios (Greek for swordfish) or xoconostle (green prickly pear) or xocolatl (Aztec word for chocolate) or xouba (small fish near Spain) or xom tum (a spicy Thai dish) or . . . need I go on? (And I am not clever to get a bunch more x-terms in this post?)

It was tough, yet again, choosing terms that I thought you might not know (but should) or terms that you were confused about. On to it!

X is for Xanthan Gum (ZAN-thun)
This is a term you might find on processed foods you buy. You could make your own xanthan gum, a natural carbohydrate, were you so inclined to ferment corn sugar and extract the tiny microorganism xanthan gum comes from as a by-product. Nah! Let the scientists do it.

Xanthan gum has a huge number of uses in processed foods. You will see it used as an emulsifier, a stablizer of food elements, a gelling agent, a foaming agent, a thickener, a whipping agent, and a suspending agent. Whew! That’s a lot of usefulness from one product. However, most often xanthan gum is used as an emulsifier, stablizer or thickener in foods you buy like salad dressings, gravies, ice cream, sauces, or dairy products like sour cream and yogurt. When people are cooking gluten-free baked goods, they likely use xanthan gum as a gluten substitute to give volume so the bread rises. Check your labels. Betcha you’re eating xanthan gum.

X is for XXX
This was tough. How many ‘X’s” should I put up because this is what you will find on packages of confectioner’s sugar. The number of X’s refers to the number of times sugar is ground to make it finer and finer particles. X is the designator of powdered sugar aka confectioner’s sugar. You probably use XXX or XXXX, but ultra-fine powdered sugar is 10x.

You could indeed grind your granulated sugar over and over and over to make your own confectioner’s sugar, but odds are you don’t have the tools in your kitchen to get as fine a grind as the commercial sugars.

If you do decide to make your own, use your coffee grinder or even a mortar and pestle. You should also add an anti-caking agent such as cornstarch, flour, or calcium phosphate as commercial brands do. Because of these additives, powdered sugar is not a good beverage sweetener!

Some other sugars you may have seen are caster sugar aka baker’s sugar or superfine sugar. Caster sugar has grains about half the size of granulated sugar. Or you may have come across snow powder (aka snow sugar) which has other additives like dextrose, starch, and anti-binding agents.

Just an FYI: the British call powdered or confectioner’s sugar, icing sugar and it is made without flour or cornstarch.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Water Bath and Whey

This is the last full week of posts for the April A to Z Blog Challenge. Last year, participants dropped like flies on a cold summer day. But this year, there are more than 2000 bloggers still participating. If you haven’t checked in to find some new sites, you should before it all goes away next week. Let’s get to the last Saturday post for this year’s challenge.

W is for Water Bath.
You might be asking, “Aren’t all baths water?”  And why are we concerned with ablutions while cooking? Well, silly, of course, water bath is a cooking method.

Some foods bake best with direct heat, either broiling or roasting or baking, but some are more delicate and need a moist heat for even cooking.

Apparently, alchemists are credited with the creation of the water bath method to control cooking temperature and moisture. Who knows what was in their little pots, but today we use the bain marie (Mary’s bath) or water bath to cook flan and other custards, cheesecake, and pudding.

The moisture helps keep cheesecakes from cracking and flan from getting rubbery. The water bath also helps ensure a more even baking temperature than the oven alone.

To use a water bath, place your baking dish into a larger pan, pour boiling water into the larger pan halfway up the side of the baking dish. Then bake as directed. Some water evaporates, but some remains so be careful in removing the pan from the oven.

W is for whey (WAY)
Whey, you know, like in “Little Miss Muffet.” What does that nursery rhyme tell you about whey?

Well, whey is something to eat while sitting on a tuffet. (Huh? What’s a tuffet?) Whey is compatible to eat with curds (more on that later). But, umm, not much else, right?

Another name for whey is milk serum. Whey is the fluid left after removing the casein and fat from milk. There is sweet whey (a by-product of making hard cheeses like cheddar and swiss) and acid whey/sour whey (a by-product of making cottage cheese or yogurt).

So Miss Muffet was eating a bowl (because it was liquid-y, she’d need a spoon) of curds (the solid parts of curdled--see the connection?--milk containing the casein and fat) and her whey. You could compare it to cottage cheese. Clearly, Miss Muffet was not a picky eater.

And that tuffet? It’s a small clump of grass, sturdy enough, I guess to hold a little girl and her bowl of curds and whey.

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Velouté and Vichyssoise

How did we get to V already? It seems that this month of cooking terms is flying by. I have a whole bunch of future blog posts lined up because of what I couldn’t get to this month. So come on back for more later on!

V is for Velouté (veh LOO tay)
You gotta love the French for systematizing cooking and creating categories like “mother sauces”, of which velouté is one. Mother Sauces birth other sauces that are related to them, but not the same as a Mother Sauce. Rarely is a Mother Sauce used on its own. It is traditional to modify it for the dish being created.

For example, velouté (from the French for “velvet”) is an ultracreamy white sauce that is stock thickened with a white roux (check R for roux classifications). But not just any stock. For velouté the stock is a light stock. And that means the bones were NOT roasted before making the stock. Now is that fine-grained thinking or not? Whew! The French take their cooking very seriously.

Different stocks are used (fish, veal, beef, chicken, etc.) depending on the dish the velouté will be used in. The name of the stock used is the name of the velouté: fish velouté, chicken velouté, and so on.

The daughter sauces of velouté are many. I know of ten; maybe there are others. One I’ve encountered is Sauce Allemande (aka Sauce Parisienne), with lemon, cream, and egg yolks served with eggs. Another is Sauce Vin Blanc with fish.

The Mother Sauces are amazing in their proliferation of daughter sauces. Know what the Mothers are? Velouté, Béchamel, Hollandaise, Espagnole, and Tomate.
Want to impress a waiter? (Well, maybe; or maybe he’ll think you are revealing your ignorance.) Ask what the Mother Sauce is for a daughter sauce listed on a recipe description.

V is for Vichyssoise (VEE she swahz)
One of my favorite cold soups is vichyssoise. I have had the restaurant versions, which I love, but my own variation is somewhat lighter and quicker and is listed at the end. Traditionally, vichyssoise is sweated leeks and onions mixed with potatoes and cream and pureed before adding chicken stock. It can of course be eaten hot or cold, but it is more dramatic to serve a cold soup, yes?

Vichyssoise’s history is murky. It is likely that it existed as a peasant soup before being elevated to premier restaurant status. However, there are several listings of a kind of cold potato soup by several chefs in different eras (one of which gave the soup its name). Who knows and who really cares? It’s delicious and refreshing for a carb-based dish.

Here’s my cold potato soup that I probably shouldn’t call vichyssoise.

Sharon’s Vichyssoise-esque (about 4-6 servings)

5 green onions, sliced
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium potatoes
2 can condensed milk
2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
chives for garnish

In medium skillet, sweat both kinds of onions in butter about 8 minutes. (Don’t brown)

While cooking onions, microwave the two potatoes until soft. Cut into pieces to let them cool off.

Add broth and milk to the onions and simmer gently for five minutes.

In blender combine onions mixture, potato, salt and pepper. Puree until no chunks are left, and it is smooth. Refrigerate until chilled, at least two hours.

Pour into bowls to serve and garnish with chives.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Umami, Unsalted Butter, and Utility Knife

Yep, another one of those days I couldn’t not bring you three terms. If only you saw all the terms I have eliminated this month, you’d be impressed I got it down to the number I did!

Do you try to guess what my next terms will be? I do, as I travel around the A-Z Challenge blogs. If there’s a category, I gotta guess.

U is for Umami (oo-MAH-mee)
While writing my “Month-of-Appetizers” posts last February, I referred to umami quite a bit. I modified that section here, so if you already know this, skip on down to the next U term.
Back in the day, I was taught in science class that there were four flavors: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Our tongues supposedly had areas where taste buds specialized in those flavors. Or something like that. It was a looooong time ago!

For generations people, most people, accepted the conventional wisdom. But some sophisticated palates recognized that there was this one taste that didn’t fit. Some scientists argued that if they couldn’t classify it, it just wasn’t real! Are you kidding me??? As far back as Escoffier, the taste was real and realized in his veal stock.

It took a Japanese scientist--in 1908! So why weren’t we taught this???--to unravel the mystery taste which he named umami meaning something like, delicious or savory. Umami flavor comes from high levels of glutamate, an amino acid. In fact, MSG seasoning was developed to give an umami taste to foods.

Sweet and umami are generally recognized as the only flavors, of the five, that the palate finds pleasing by themselves. Umami, however, is a lot more subtle.

Umami is a meaty, savory flavor. It is that taste in seaweed, potatoes, mushrooms, anchovies (below the salt taste), green tea, and tomatoes, for example. Breast milk is an umami taste!

U is for Unsalted butter
Why would you buy salted butter? Did you know that salted butters differ in the amount of salt per stick? Did you know you can have up to a whole teaspoon of salt in one stick?

Okay, so salt is a preservative and unsalted butter will not last as long as salted butter. Got it. But, with unsalted butter, you can better control the salt content while cooking.

Do you ever cook with clarified butter? If so, you know that that butter must be unsalted butter so you can cook at higher temps.

Unsalted butter has a creamier, sweeter taste than its salted sister. Having said that, it must be recognized that some people prefer the taste of salted butter to unsalted butter. If your family is among them, wean them off the salted gradually so you can go to unsalted butter down the line.

U is for Utility Knife
While the chef’s knife is generally agreed to be the one kitchen knife to have if you can only have one good knife, the utility knife is a close runner-up. The blade is shorter than the chef’s knife blade (usually 4-7” long) and it is terrific for a variety of light cutting jobs. You might think of it as a paring knife, but that one is shorter.

Still, you will find yourself using your utility knife for many jobs your paring knife does. You’ll cut a variety of medium to small veggies, fruits, herbs, and other foods with ease.

Some utility knives have a serrated blade so you can cut breads, hard boiled eggs, and soft-skinned fruits (like tomatoes) more easily. However, I prefer my utility knife to have a non-serrated edge so I can keep it sharp.

Remember. Love your knives, and they’ll love you. Handwash them in non-harsh detergents and dry immediately. Store in a protective sleeve if possible to guard against blade-banging.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Table d'Hote and Tapenade

I almost did truffle today because chocolate and mushroom truflles are soooo different in origin and taste, but I’m feeling a bit lazy, so I am keeping this post short with two very easy to understand terms, both of which you have likely seen on menus.

T is for Table d’Hote (TAH bluh   DOTE)
This is fast. Table d’Hote is a complete meal, with one set price, consisting of several different courses preselected by the restaurant. Table d’Hote is a frequent item when the restaurant may have an exceptionally large number of guests (like on holidays) as a way to control ordering time, preparation, and serving. It is simply simpler.

When you see Table d’Hote on the menu, it means what you see is what you get, both pricewise and foodwise. Sort of like dinner at home, eh? Announce Table d’Hote for your next Sunday dinner guests and see what they say!

T is for Tapenade (tap uh NOD)
Tapenade is an appetizer or seafood accompaniment. Sometimes cooks baste fish, chicken, beef, or pork with the tapenade while cooking.

Traditionally, tapenade (a puree or paste of olives) includes olives, capers, garlic, and anchovies. However, you will find tapenade recipes with parsley, lemon juice, rosemary, nuts, bell peppers, tuna, and other ingredients.

Often spread on crackers, toasted breads, or veggies, a tapenade will stand out among your appetizers with its unique combination of flavors.

Okay, I can’t resist doing one more T! I know! It’s a sickness!
But I can’t for the life of me understand why you would buy Teriyaki Sauce when it is so easy to make (and much cheaper). I use a lot of Teriyaki Sauce to marinate salmon, meats, and poultry as well as part of my stirfry dinners. It’s great to flavor a vinaigrette dressing. Such a versatile sauce. And all it has in it is sake, sugar, ginger, soy sauce and some seasonings. Make some Teriyaki Sauce tonight!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Self-Rising Flour and Sweat

S is for Self-Rising Flour
Those who’ve been with me from the beginning remember we started with A is for All-Purpose Flour. So I had to do Self-Rising Flour, for contrast, right?

First, how they are alike: Both are wheat flours.


That’s it.

Differences are in the structure of the flours and with additives. Be careful when buying self-rising flour because many brands have substantially less protein than all-purpose flour. In fact, many of the self-rising flour brands are closer to cake flour than all-purpose flour (protein-wise).

I suggest strongly that you NEVER buy self-rising flour. It is way too easy to make your own. Besides, why buy a bag of self-rising flour that can go stale when all you need is a cup of flour for that recipe. I’ll share my recipe at the bottom. Or find one on the Internet. They’re easily come by and surprisingly different in the amounts of added ingredients.

As its name implies, self-rising flour is boosted flour. It is flour with salt and baking powder added. That’s it! Now why would you pay extra for THAT? I don’t know why people even use self-rising flour; the time saved is miniscule.

And obviously (or is it obvious to all?), if using self-rising flour in place of all-purpose flour, omit the salt and baking powder from the recipe.

S is for Sweat
What’s with all the polysemous words in this A to Z Challenge series? I’ve already done nap and rest; today is sweat! And, no, this has nothing to do with your kitchen temperature nor your anxiety level while cooking.

When we sweat foods, we are pre-cooking them. Not pre-cooking as in parboil (an earlier term). Sweating doesn’t get them to that stage. Sweating is a cousin of sauté, but sautés are done at higher heat. The purpose of a sauté is to cook to the stage of ready-to-eat (think stir fry).

The term sweat is a pretty interesting one, don’t you think? You might see it called butter steam in some recipes. Foods when heated slowly with a small amount of fat, at a medium-low heat, emit water droplets on the surface just like your skin does. A sweat is a step cooks take prior to cooking food longer in a recipe.

Why sweat foods? Sweating enhances the flavors of foods as a way to build flavor layers in your recipe. The foods we sweat are the aromatics (garlic, shallots, green onions, onions, carrots, parsnips, celery, and more) that have strong cell walls. Sweating breaks down the cell walls when they lose moisture so the flavor can come out more in the rest of the cooking process. But be careful when sweating. Don’t brown the food or you have gone past the sweat.

Self-Rising Flour (makes 1 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

Sift all ingredients together. Make a quantity (if you use it often) and store in an airtight container.

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rest and Roux

R is for Rest

No, that does not mean a nap from all your hard work cooking! That’s the thing with these polysemous words. You can be led astray.

No, today’s rest is what happens to food at a specific point in the process where you walk away and let it be by itself for a while. And this is not just so you get a break. A rest for food is timed as to start and finish.

There are two situations I know of for letting food rest. If you know of others, please inform all of us in the comments section below.

We’ve talked about gluten in bread baking in an earlier post. If bread isn’t kneaded enough, the gluten won’t form. And bread needs gluten to rise. Another piece of the equation is letting the dough rest for at least 30-60 minutes (this really depends on environmental factors) until doubled in size.

With pastry dough, to reduce shrinkage, let the dough rest at least 30 minutes before rolling out. With both bread dough and pastry dough, resting allows the elasticity in the dough to relax.

Set that dough aside and let it rest. Of course, you can, too!

The other cooking situation requiring resting is even more frequently violated than allowing dough to rest.

NEVER cut your meat as soon as you remove it from the heat. Meat has to rest to keep the juices from leaking out resulting in dry meat. Resting allows the juices to re-absorb into the meat.

As a rule of thumb, allow meat to rest one-fourth of the total cooking time. If your chicken roasted for one hour, let it rest 15 minutes before carving. If your pork chops were on for 10 minutes per side, let the meat rest 5 minutes (1/4 of the total 20 minutes).

In one experiment, a roast lost 10 tablespoons of liquid with no resting time. When the same size roast rested 40 minutes, 2 1/2 teaspoons of juice was lost. BIG difference when it comes to eating!

Meat with the most retained juice is more tender and easier to chew and digest.

So, ladies and gentlemen, step away from the meat!

R is for Roux (ROO)

I love the word roux. I am using it in the title of one of my upcoming culinary mysteries. Wouldn’t you want to read a book called, Roux the Day?

A roux is a standard feature in classical French cooking. Roux is a base for thickening sauces, stews, and soups created by skillet cooking slowly over low heat equal amounts of fat and flour. Any fat can be used, but most of us like butter best.

BUT--big warning here--do not measure that fat and flour. Weigh it. Roux are created with equal amounts of fat and flour by weight not volume.

Melt the butter, then add the flour. Cook the mixture for about 15-30 minutes, stirring constantly. The actual time depends upon how thick you want the roux and how dark. A dark roux will thicken less than a lighter one. I’ve never read why that is so, but it has to be a chemical change in the flour.

There are four shades for roux: white, blond, brown, and dark brown. Each shade has a purpose in cooking different dishes. The darker roux are used more for flavor enhancement, with thickening a secondary concern.

Some of you have made thickening sauce like this but without the cooking step. You just whisked the fat and flour together and it thickened your stew just fine. The problem with that is the raw taste of the uncooked flour. In a roux, you get a nice nutty aroma and flavor. And cooking is all about layering flavors.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quatre Épices and Quinoa

Q is quatre épices (KAH-t(r)e  ay-PEE-say), a spice blend that is a regular feature in French cooking.

I am really big on making your own spice blends instead of spending money for taco seasoning or pumpkin pie spice. They are soooo easy to make and much cheaper. For today, I am highlighting one that may not be as familiar to you.

There are actually cinq or six spices, quatre of which might be used. However, rarely are only four spices in the mix. Be daring. Make yours with different combos to find what works best for you. There are savory and sweet (for cakes and puddings) spice combos. We’re doing savory today.

Quatre épices always has: white pepper (though black can be used), nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Some recipes will substitute allspice for the pepper or cinnamon for ginger. Many recipes include all six. Play with it to find your favorite combo! One ratio is equal amounts of any spice but pepper. The amount of pepper is double that of any single spice. In other recipes, the proportions vary from this recipe.

The French use quatre épices as their go-to spice on all kinds of food. Pork roasted with honey, rosemary and quatre épices will stun your guests. Use 1 teaspoon per each pound of meat. Quatre épices will “spice up” beef stew dishes or sprinkle it on chicken before roasting. Sprinkle on veggies or in pâté. It’s everywhere.

Or you just might make these nuts:

Quatre Épices Appetizer Nuts
1 cup sugar
1¼ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons quatre épices
2½ cups mixed nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds)

Bring water and sugar to a boil over high heat. Stir until sugar mixture turns golden. Turn heat to medium. Add salt and spice mixture. Stir to combine.

Add nuts to coat. Continue cooking until sugar mixture thickens.

Turn nuts out onto a parchment covered baking sheet in a single layer to cool.

You can eat them as is, or crush the nuts and sprinkle on your salad or ice cream.

Q is for quinoa (KEEN-wah), a pseudo-cereal since the plant isn’t a member of the true grass family. While we treat it as if it were a whole grain (and cook it like rice or barley), quinoa is actually a seed. Quinoa has one of the highest protein levels of edible seeds. Quinoa, a complete protein, is also gluten-free, high in phosphorus and fiber, and a good calcium source.

Quinoa is an old cultivated plant. Indigenous Andeans first grew it 3000-4000 years ago. The Incas called it the “mother of all grains” and thought quinoa to be sacred. And it is, kind of. A complete protein. No need to have meat if game is scarce. No need to pair it with another food like corn and beans must.

So if this is such great stuff, why is quinoa just now making superfood status? Why haven’t we been eating it forever? Why are we just learning about it?

Blame it on the Spaniards. When they encountered quinoa, they rejected it as “Indian food”, not fit for the conquerers. That’s bad enough, but then they suppressed cultivation because of quinoa’s role in native religion. The Spanish forced the natives to grow wheat instead. Boo!

Quinoa must be rinsed prior to cooking to remove a coating that can make it taste bitter. Other than that, quinoa, like rice, is easy to cook. Prepare with one part quinoa to 2 parts liquid, and it is done in only 15 minutes. I like to cook in a broth and white wine combo and then add dried cranberries. Yummy! I’ll bet some quatre épices would add flavor, too!

For more ideas, here are 25 quinoa recipes

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Parboil and Pasta

The invitation is still open--if you have a food term you wondered about, put it into the Comments below and I’ll attempt to de-mystify it. I have been getting such terrific feedback from readers about these posts. I am grateful you are reading, learning, and enjoying this month’s focus. There are way too many terms to deal with in a month, so I am going to do at least one post a month on some of the others.

Today is P Day. And P is for Parboil.
Parboil is not that hard to understand. It is harder in the execution, however. Parboil simply means to boil something (often a veggie) so it is partially cooked. Aye, there’s the rub.

How much cooking? What is “partially cooked”? For parboiled potatoes, for example, you want the fork to go into the outer edge easily but then hit the resistance of the raw potato. Rice should be firmer than al dente.

You kind of have to practice this so you don’t end up with mushy foods at the second cooking. Most of the time, we don’t parboil. We just cook the initial food longer. But it does speed up dinner prep if you have done some pre-cooking of the ingredients, so I’m more likely to parboil for a dinner party.

Did you know that “instant rice” is parboiled then dried out so it cooks faster? Instead of spending lots of money, make your own instant rice to store for quick dinners or backpacking meals.

Also, I discovered a recipe I just love for a quicker risotto that uses parboiling to cut the cooking time in half. This recipe is great for weeknight dinners, but I still do my normal 1-hour risotto for company. It is better when slow-cooked!

P is for Pasta
You know I love pasta. When I wrote Mission Impastable, my culinary mystery, it allowed me to showcase some of my pasta recipes. (I use my punny titles to give the reader an idea of the focus for most of the recipes in that mystery.)

Oh, my! So many pastas, so little time. Contrary to urban myth, Marco Polo didn’t introduce pasta to the Italians after picking it up from the Chinese. Lots of cultures at that time (the ones who had wheat) had developed forms of pastas. He might have brought back a shape they didn’t know, but the Italians already had pasta invented. Pasta, is after all, just flour, eggs, salt, some oil, and water. The word pasta means “dough”!

Back in the day, I didn’t own a pasta maker. I rolled and cut my uneven noodles and draped them over kitchen chairs to dry. Ah, yes, those were the days, my friends. If you are into making your own, try this simple recipe.

Pasta comes in many shapes. Pasta is either rolled and cut or extruded into a shape. Each shape is designed to highlight the use. Some pastas hold on better to thinner sauces and some onto thicker. Some shapes are meant to hold ingredients within the shape.

Clever folk, right, to take the same recipe and get so many variations and therefore different dishes and tastes.

Here are types of pastas and a couple of examples of each--there are MANY more:
long pasta (rolled/cut or extruded)--spaghetti; fusilli (corkscrew)
ribbon-cut--fettucine; lasagna
short-cut extruded--cannelloni; macaroni
decorative pasta--farfalle (bow tie); orecchiette (ear-shaped)
minute pasta--orzo (rice-shaped);  alfabeto (alphabet letters)
stuffed pasta--ravioli; tortellini
irregular shapes--gnocchi; spaetzle
For a more complete listing:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Oats and Osso Buco

O is for Oats
The lowly oats made it into this month of cooking terms because there are so many forms that oats can take. We haven’t always eaten oats; initially they were food for horses, but humans discovered they can nourish people as well, having the most food value of any of the cereal grasses.

While animals can eat them whole, oats for human consumption are cleaned, toasted, hulled, before being cleaned again. The resultant product of that process is groats. At this point, they have retained most of the nutrients of the original oats, but the degree of further processing can reduce nutritional value substantially. NEVER BUY minute/quick oats! Instead, buy less processed oats and cook for a bit longer (sometimes a goooood bit longer as with Irish oats--but worth it).

The forms that oats can take after reaching the groats stage are:
Irish Steel-Cut Oats--groats cut into 2-3 pieces; served as breakfast food or as a non-sweetened side like rice, in salad, or in stuffing mixtures; Irish steel-cut oats take about an hour to cook; I make a slow cooker version that cooks overnight--so easy!

Old-Fashion Rolled Oats--steamed groats are flattened and rolled to make thick flakes; interchangeable with Quick Oats in most recipes. I use old-fashion rolled oats in DH’s oatmeal cookies. (

Quick Oats are also steamed then rolled, but thinner so they cook more quickly. They also are not quite as nutritious.

Instant Oats--filled with sugar and cannot be used in recipes calling for oatmeal.

There is also gluten-free oat flour made from ground up groats that I use in apple crisp for my gluten-intolerant friends. I make mine by grinding old-fashion oats in my food processor.

Oat bran is the ground-up outer covering on oats and is a great high fiber source. I put it into baked goods to up the nutritional value.

Leftover cooked oatmeal? Put in muffin pan cups and freeze individual servings. I can have an oatmeal breakfast with little fuss by re-heating in the microwave.

O is for Osso Buco
This will be quick! Osso buco is Italian for “pierced bone”.

Osso buco is braised veal shanks prepared with olive oil, onions, tomatoes, anchovies, carrots, celery, lemon peel, garlic, broth, and white wine. Go to this month’s G entry for the gremolata that is traditionally served on top of the osso buco. You would serve osso buco with a side of risotto.

See why I did braise and gremolata earlier this month? Now you’re all prepared to make this dish!

Not at all a hard dish to make, osso buco does require time!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nap and Newburg

N is for Nap and Newburg

Short entry today. Both N words are pretty straightforward. There are harder N words I could have chosen, but I decided not to, so nectar will show up in blog post later this year. But I do have an N recipe for you at the end of the post!

Nap is a verb in the food world. Its etymology, however, is from the French (naturellement!) noun, nappe, meaning “tablecloth.” In keeping with its etymology when you nap a food, you completely cover it with a thin, even sauce layer. You could nap ice cream with chocolate sauce or cover your chicken piccata with caper sauce. To nap means the food is totally covered.

If you’re lucky enough to have dined on lobster Newburg, you’re lucky enough! (To paraphrase an expression)

Newburg is a sauce that got named a style of food. Traditionally, Newburg is dish of chopped shellfish (crab, shrimp, or lobster) in a white sauce with a butter, cream, egg yolks, sherry, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper emulsion. This one is not for already-high cholesterol folks! Again, traditionally, Newburg is served over buttered toast.

There are variations--there are always variations--of Newburg sauce, but try the classic version before others. It is still my favorite.

As a caution, when making your Newburg sauce, add the sherry right before serving so the full flavor comes through. Oh, and do you like Eggs Benedict? Try it à la Newburg sauce instead of your Hollandaise. Bet you won’t go back!

Here’s the N recipe! Just created these for DH, and he loves them. Two-bite desserts are a big favorite in my home!

Nutty Caramel Chocolate Cream Cheese Pielets (about 2½ dozen)
2 pie crusts
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup caramel sauce
¼ cup mini chocolate chips
¼ cup pecans, chopped fine

Preheat oven to 375°.

Cut pie crusts into 30 circles. (I use my Pampered Chef Cut-and-Seal)
Blend cream cheese, caramel sauce, chocolate chips, and nuts thoroughly.

Place a heaping teaspoon of cream cheese mixture down the middle of the pastry circles. Fold over to make half circles. Crimp with the edge of the crescent.

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for about 16-18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool and eat. Refrigerate leftovers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Macerate and Mirepoix

M is also for Mission Impastable, my culinary mystery filled with recipes built around the murder. (Couldn’t resist making a plug before getting into today’s cooking terms.)

If you watch many cooking shows you have learned terms like mise en place (food prep technique which means getting everything gathered and chopped and measured BEFORE you begin cooking so you don’t have to interrupt the cooking) or MUFAs (the healthful monounsaturated fats from seed, nuts, olives, and the like). See how sneaky I was to get in some more “m” cooking terms?

And maybe from the Food Network you learned macerate and mirepoix, but if not, today is your lucky day!

Macerate is a relative of marinate. When you marinate, you want to infuse flavor into the meat or whatever. It also helps soften the food for easier digestion. (Please pay attention to the times given for marination as you can ruin a piece of chicken by over-marinating it so it becomes mushy. Yuck!)

Macerate, on the other hand, means that you are going to soak or steep (see Infuse earlier this month) a food to soften it. Often we macerate dehydrated foods in order to make them juicier for eating. But you can macerate fresh foods, too. If you have ever added sugar to cut strawberries and let them sit before serving, you are macerating. The sugar brings out the juices in the strawberries to deepen the flavor and make them more digestible.

Sometimes we macerate to separate food. Soaking the food breaks it into parts (see the warning on over-marinating above). You might macerate grapes to separate into the skins and juice and seeds so you could extract the liquid for wine. You want it to break up. Liqueurs are made by macerating ingredients.

Mirepoix is a chopped veggie combo, called aromatics, used as a flavor base to make your own stock, soups, sauces, and stews. Traditionally, the mirepoix mixture is ¼ carrots, ¼ celery, and ½ onions. Mirepoix has relatives in other aromatic combos.

The holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cooking is onion, celery, and bell peppers. Other cuisines have their own aromatic combos, but every one I know of uses onions!

If the mirepoix is brought to the table to be eaten as a side dish, it is called matignon. Mirepoix can be prepared au gras (with meat) or without meat as au maigre. So many M words today!

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lardons and Lecithin

Love my cooking shows! And how they have proliferated in the last couple of years. I remember the days when Julia Child’s “The French Chef” and Graham Kerr’s “The Galloping Gourmet” were the only cooking shows on TV. Then we went a realllllly long time before the advent of the Food Network and its shows.

In fact, part of my love of cooking and thus my career as a culinary mystery writer (Have you read Mission Impastable yet?) can be traced, in part, to the fascination with those programs

As an avid watcher of programs, I am alert to the new-to-me foods highlighted on shows like “Chopped.” It was on “Chopped”, in fact, that I first heard the word lardon used. A great thing about "Chopped" is that the celebrity chef judges will talk about the ingredients in each basket, educating those of us who don’t know what in the heck is in the mystery basket.

Lardon is a chunk of pork fat (from the pig belly) that is used to flavor and bring moisture into cuts of meat being braised on roasted. If you think you see a connection to lard, that fat Grandma used in her pie crusts and to fry chicken, you are correct. Lard is the rendered fat from said pork belly. <Here’s a bonus: render means to extract the fat via heating.>

Traditionally, one would sew lardons, sort of, into the meats to keep them in place while cooking. Alternatively, sometimes, cooks crisp up lardons to add to salads, dressings, or to layer flavors in dishes like quiche, omelets, or beef stews.

Sometimes you’ll see a recipe calling for bacon lardons. That does not mean a strip of bacon. It means the fat only from that strip of bacon. And skinny bacon strips aren’t good for extracting usable pieces of fat. Get the thickest bacon you can find and trim away the meat, keeping the lardon for your dish.

Today’s second term is one you’ve seen a million times if you read food labels. Hold it. Not IF you read food labels; WHEN you read food labels.

Lecithin is a fatty substance that can come from plant or animal sources. Its main purpose is to emulsify (allow things to blend that might not otherwise) ingredients. A tablespoon of soybean lecithin (a vegetable oil) has 100 grams of fat and 763 calories. Lecithin is often a component in non-stick cooking sprays since it also helps prevent food from sticking.

Using lecithin-based products (like cooking sprays) means less fat is used than what would normally be the case. As both an emulsifier and a lubricant, many cooking folks like that fewer calories are consumed when coating cook surfaces.

Lecithin is considered to be a harmless compound. Cooks wanting to use whole wheat flour only for baking bread find lecithin gives them the soft, airiness of white flour bread. It provides the moisture that seems to make the difference between dense and light.

Food for thought (so to speak): Check your paint cans. Lecithin is used as a paint emulsifier. Yummy!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Knead and Kumquat

I’m disappointed none of you has asked for a food term yet. <pouty face>  I want the challenge! Please list a food term you are curious about in the Comments section below. And, as this is Saturday and the A-Z Challenge takes Sundays off, I won’t be posting again until Monday. Don’t you wonder what L will be? Ho ho ho!

K is for Knead
I included knead on my list not because people don’t know in general what kneading is but to explain why you knead and why not to take shortcuts. We are such an impatient lot that sometimes people don’t knead dough for as long as they should.

And just what does “should” mean? First a definition: Kneading is stretching, folding, and pushing dough so that gluten forms in the flour. Who cares? Well, you should if you want your bread to rise. Elastic strands form when you knead that keeps gases in the dough. Gases in the dough means it can rise.

Back in the day, all kneading was done with the hands (a great exercise, by the way!), but now many mixers and food processors come with attachments to do the kneading electrically.

Even my bread machine can knead! So if kneading by hand or machine, follow those recipe directions so you get the most rise out of your bread.

K is for Kumquat
Maybe you are really up on your tropical fruits, but I wasn’t always able to pick a kumquat out of a fruit line-up. You?

Kumquats are tiny citrus fruits resembling an oval or round orange. Kumquats have an interesting flavor contrast. The entire fruit is edible, often ending up sliced into salads or as a plate garnish. The rind is sweet and the flesh is really tart. Kumquats are a good source of essential nutrients like potassium and Vitamins A and C.

You may have seen kumquats in fruit preserves or maybe candied or even pickled. These have been cooked. Keep fresh kumquats refrigerated. And try them when you cook. People will wonder at your secret ingredient in that salad, salad dressing, or fruit salsa.