Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Equipment & Gear: Kitchen Knives

The knives in your kitchen come in all sizes and shapes. Some are for dining, chopping, slicing, carving, and tearing. But which knives are made for what purpose and which are essential to have in your kitchen?

In this article, I'll look at some popular knives and discuss what each type of knife is designed for (and some unconventional uses for them).

Chinese Cleaver (Asian Cleaver)
The chef's knife is the one knife that is consistently rated as the single most essential in the kitchen. However, if I could only pick one knife to have in the kitchen, it would be a Chinese or Asian cleaver. This knife's sharp edge is thin enough and sharp enough to easily cut and mince food and at the same time strong enough to handle light cleaving jobs. The side of the blade can be used to smash garlic and ginger and the top edge san be used (with care) as a meat tenderizer. The broad blade is often used to move food from the cutting board to the stove. However, due to the overall shape and size of a Chinese Cleaver, there is not as much precision as a chef's knife. Since I have a full compliment of knives, my Chinese cleaver sits on the sidelines waiting for the day when I can only have one knife to use.

Chef's Knife
Amazon.com: JA Henckels Pro S 8 in. Chef's KnifeThe most versatile knife in the western kitchen is the chef's knife. It is used for cutting, slicing, chopping, and mincing. The curved blade allows rocking back and forth for fine chopping and mincing. Chef's knives come in blade lengths from 6 to 12 inches. The longer the knife, the more you can cut, but the more difficult it is to control. If you've got small hands (like I do), you may want to stick with the 6 to 8 in. variety. Tina uses a 6 in. while I find the 8 in. allows me to grip the knife just forward of the bolster with my forfinger and thumb without discomfort (the 6 in. is slimmer so the back of the knife digs into the side of my knuckle). If you've got one of these and a board scraper, you won't need or want to use an Asian cleaver.

Amazon.com: Shun Classic 6-1/2 in. SantokuThis is the Japanese equivalent of a chef's knife and has been gaining in popularity in Western kitchens. It has a broad blade and a tip that is lower than a chef's tip. Typically made thinner than a chef's knife, it does not have as much structural strength or weight, but is great at all chef's knife functions except for cutting through bone. Many brands now carry santokus, but a few have made poor design decisions (edge is almost flat, tip too low, knife too thick, etc.). The Shun Classic Santoku shown here is probably the best santoku on the market right now. Unfortunately, for left handers, it's a right handed knife (the unique D crosssection handle fits right handers).

Paring Knife
Amazon.com: JA Henckels Pro S 4 in. Paring Knife The paring knife is great for working a blade in a small space. Paring apples, cutting fruits, butterflying shrimp, and seeding a jalapeno are just some of the tasks the paring knife is well suited for. The paring knife has a thin blade that makes it easy to manuever while cutting. The sharp tip is also useful for removing potato eyes and other such tasks. In general, a paring knife is simply a miniature chef's knife - designed with the same curves and angles but smaller. This makes switching between the chef's knife and the paring knife a natural action.

Carving Knife (Slicing Knife)
Amazon.com: JA Henckels Pro S 8 in. Carving KnifeA carving knife's special purpose is to carve poultry, roasts, and hams after they have been cooked.Amazon.com: JA Henckels Pro S 10 in. Granton Edge Slicer Carvers typically have points to reach into tight places, but roast beef carvers have blunt ends. Some have hollow recesses along their blades and are referred to as granton or hollow edged or scallops. These air pockets allow for thinner slicing because they prevent meat slices from adhering to the blade. Why use a slicer instead of a chef's knife? Thickness. A carving knife is much thinner, enabling the knife to slice through finely while a thicker knife will wedge and tear the cooked meat once it cuts in too deep.

Bread Knife
Amazon.com: JA Henckels Pro S 8 in. Bread KnifeA bread knife's job in life is to cut, you guessed it, bread. Many breads have a hard crust which keeps a slicer or chef's knife from digging in and gripping the bread when you start to cut. You can use the tip of the chef's knife to punch a hole where you want to cut and then slice, but what about soft breads? With soft breads, the chef's knife doesn't clip around on the crust, but while you cut into the bread, you compress it instead of slicing clean through. A bread knife solves both problems by providing large serrations that grip the crust and can saw through soft breads without squishing them. This knife is also useful for cutting dense cakes (yellow cakes, pound cakes), but use a fine serrated knife for light cakes (angel food cake).

Utility Knife
Amazon.com: JA Henckels Pro S 6 in. Utility KnifeThis knife is the in-between knife. If you've got a 4 in. paring and a 10 in. chef's, you might want a 6 in. utility knife for all those jobs in between. Sometimes it's also called a tomato knife (usually when it has medium serrations) or a sandwich knife. Since Tina uses a 6 in. chef's knife, I use that instead.

Boning Knife (Fillet Knife)
Amazon.com: Victorinox 6 in. Boning KnifeThis thin knife allows you to remove membranes from meat and meat from bones easily. Usually, it is made thin enough for the blade to be a little flexible. Typically, this will be the sharpest knife you own because it will also be the thinnest knife. Use this to cut anything soft that needs fine precision work, but don't cut semi-frozen meat with this blade (use a chef's knife for that). The Victorinox or RH Forschner brand boning knife with Fibrox handle is probably the best boning knife available and is 1/5 the cost of most high end knives. This model goes for $10 and the handle doesn't get slippery when coated with juice and membrane from the poultry you're working on.

Meat Cleaver
Amazon.com: JA Henckels 6 in. Meat CleaverThis knife is used to hack pieces of meat with bone apart. Usually imprecise due to the amount of force you need to use, the meat cleaver sections meat pretty well. I suggest using a seperate cutting board because you'll probably cut into the board a bit. In western cooking, there will be very little need for this knife because most of the time we trim the meat off the bones. When quartering a chicken, a boning knife is used and we avoid cutting through bone (unless we're doing it Asian style where having slivers of bone is part of the look and feel). Most of the time the butcher handles the bone cutting for us with their rotary and band saws (which produce much cleaner cuts and a meat cleaver).

Steak Knife (Dining Knife)
Amazon.com: JA Henckels Pro S 4-1/2 in. Steak Knife This is the knife your guests will use to tear cooked meat into bit sized chunks. It's usually best to have large pieces of cooked meat served whole to preserve the juices and have your guests cut them. A steak knife does not cut meat as much as it tears very finely.

What to look for in knives? Here's a short list of stuff people usually tell you what to look for:

  • Full tang - The tang is the part of the knife blade that is embedded in the handle. It is not necessary to buy a knife where the tang goes all the way to the back (full tang). Make sure it has at least 3/4 tang though, any less and the balance might feel weird (you don't feel like you're holding the knife; it feels like your holding a handle that's holding the knife...), constant use of over the years could result in loosening of the blade from the handle, or it might just fall out if you use too much force.

  • Forged - Stainless steel knifes are generally forged or stamped. Forged knives are typically more durable and are usually thicker (more structural support). I like my chef's knives to be forged and my bread knife to be stamped (because stamped is thin and cheap). You can get all forged, but it will cost more (a nice forged slicer will also be thin, but will be pricey compared to a stamped version). The forged ones are reputed to hold an edge longer as well. I'll take this opportunity to point out that some companies like J.A. Henckels have started to do a composite stamp/forge which they claim makes their knives better than plain forged. Basic metallurgy tells us that it's probably not true, but personally I like the feel of their knives and haven't had any complaints about durability or cutting ability.

  • Diamond edges - Some knives advertise "never need sharpening" due to a diamond coated edge (or something like that). I would recommend against these knives because they do eventually get dull and you can't sharpen them. Same with ceramic knives - you have to send them back to the factory for sharpening.

  • Serrated edges - Some knives are serrated. That's fine. Some chef's knives are serrated. That's not fine. Serrated knives cut by tearing. This is fine for some foods (breads and cakes) but not for food preparation. A sharp smooth edge works better than a serrated edge - just remember to use a slicing action instead of pushing down through the ingredient (chopping). Remember, we're cutting, not sawing.

So what's the final verdict? Here we go:
Buying 1 knife only
  • Either Chinese cleaver or Santoku
Buying 2 knives
  • Chef's knife (or Santoku; from now on, I'll just say Chef's knife but I mean either)

  • Paring knife
Buying 3 knives
  • Chef's knife

  • Paring knife

  • Carving knife (if you roast) OR bread knife (if you eat a lot of bread)
Buying 4 knives
  • Chef's knife

  • Paring knife

  • Boning knife (unless you don't prepare beef, pork, poultry, or fish)

  • Carving knife (if you roast) OR bread knife (if you eat a lot of bread)

How about buying a knife set? It depends. Most of the time knife sets come with one or two good knives and the rest are not so good (that's why they put it in a set). Often you're better off buying the knives individually and as you need them instead of all at one time.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Kitchen Notes: Saturated Fats, Cholesterol, and Heart Disease

So, last Wednesday I made a Coconut Creme Pie and brought it into work. No surprise, it was completely consumed with other coworkers on the waiting list for slices that were disappointed. What was surprising was a couple of the consumers commented on how bad the pie must be for their bodies. I assured them that I used no additives and kept the ingredients as fresh as possible. I admit that there were some trans fats in this particular pie because I was unable to get graham crackers without partially hydrogenated oils. It turned out that they were concerned mainly about the coconut. One of my coworkers who was watching his cholesterol levels said, "It's high in cholesterol!" I assured him that as a plant product, it was impossible for coconut to have cholesterol. Then he said, "Well, it's high in saturated fat then."

Ah, saturated fat. The most maligned and misunderstood "bad" food in the last thirty years. During the last year, I've been trying to figure out why everyone thinks saturated fat is evil and I have been unable to discover any evidence that there is evidence that saturated fats are bad for you. In fact, quite the opposite. I'll take this space and discuss briefly (although it might seem long to you) saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, cholesterol, and the misconceptions we've been brought up with. I'll touch briefly on trans fatty acids too, but that topic is so nasty that it really deserves it's own article along with the possible manipulation of the American diet by food oil companies. Okay, back to saturated fat.

Something that doesn't help is that saturated fat is specifically called out on nutrition labels on food products as well as a Daily Value Percentage. This makes it seem that we need to limit the intake of saturated fat but not monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. This implies that saturated fats are worse than the other two fats and that is not the case.

A little background first:
Fats are comprised of fatty acids which are long chains of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms hanging off them:
     H H H H H H H H H H H
     H H H H H H H H H H H
(lauric acid)

(This molecule can be written as CH3(CH2)10COOH.) If all the carbons between the carboxyl (COOH) group and the methyl (CH3) group have two hydrogen atoms attached to them then the fatty acid is considered to be saturated. A saturated fatty acid is more or less straight (in reality the carbons zigzag a bit, but the overall chain is straight). This causes the fatty acid to have a high melting point. The longer the chain, the straighter the chain, the higher the melting point. That means most saturated fats are solid. In addition, the carbon single bond is quite strong resulting in a molecularly stable fatty acid.

Unsaturated fats refer to fats containing fatty acids that do not have as many hydrogens attached as is possible. Instead of bonding to hydrogen, one or more carbon atoms form a double bond with the next carbon:
     H H H H H H H     H H H H H H H H
     H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H
(oleic acid)

This is a monounsaturated fatty acid because it has only one carbon double bond. This particular fatty acid (oleic acid) has a double bond in the ninth position from the methyl (CH3) group making it an omega-9 fatty acid. The majority of olive oil's monounsaturated fat is comprised of oleic acid. The double bond causes a bend in the chain (away from the missing hydrogens) so that the chain is no longer straight. This lowers the melting point and causes unsaturated fats (like olive oil) to be liquid at room temperature. Also every double bond in a fatty acid "weakens" the structure.
When a fatty acid has more than one carbon double bond, then it is considered polyunsaturated:
     H H H H H H H     H     H     H H
     H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H H

This particular fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) has the first double bond in the third position from the methyl (CH3) group making it an omega-3 fatty acid. This fatty acid is found most commonly in flaxseed oil and salmon. Because of the three double bonds, this fatty acid is fragile and very sensitive to light and heat. Also, because of the three double bonds, this fatty acid curves back on itself and has a very low melting point.

When exposed to free radicals (molecules with unpaired electrons that are highly reactive), polyunsaturated fatty acids can undergo a process called lipid peroxidation which results in the polyunsaturated fatty acid to release additional free radicals. Lipid peroxidation has been directly linked to artherosclerosis (the constriction of the arteries due to build up of a plaque composed of fats, cholesterol, and other substances) and coronary heart disease (artherosclerosis of the coronary arteries that lead to the heart). Free radicals have little or no effect on the more stable monounsaturated and saturated fats.

It is commonly believed that the build up in the arteries is predominantly saturated fat and cholesterol. This is an inaccurate or incomplete statement. The plaque in the arteries varies from subject to subject, but it has been demonstrated that 3/4 of the fatty acids present in arterial plaque is unsaturated. [1] Also, cholesterol's role in the body is ignored when discussing artherosclerosis. The plaque formed in the arteries does contain substantial amounts of cholesterol, but probably because cholesterol is used as a healing agent. The damaged interior artery walls are patched up with cholesterol and then additional plaque builds up and more cholesterol is used to patch up the walls. The cholesterol is most likely not a cause of the plaque build up, but instead a body reaction to the plaque. The fact that no cholesterol is found sticking to the interior vein walls (where cholesterol concentration is the same as in the arteries) as you would expect if you were to believe the predominantly advertised theory that cholesterol causes circulatory disease. [2]

This brings us to the common belief that saturated fat increases the blood LDL cholesterol levels which in turn cause artherosclerosis. Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol from the liver to the tissues while High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol in the blood back to the liver to be broken down. The buzz words "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol have been used to label HDL and LDL, respectively. The belief that saturated fat lowers HDL in the blood is backed by several scientific studies, but there are also a number of studies that show that saturated fat intake can result in an increase in HDL as well. [3]Currently, there is no conclusive proof that saturated fat intake can be correlated to change in HDL/LDL ratio in the bloodstream.

An even more interesting fact is that the claim that LDL and HDL levels play an important part in heart disease and that there is a fight between "good" and "bad" cholesterol is short on supporting evidence (but long on media support). There seems to be as much scientific data that populations with high incidents of coronary heart disease tend to have higher levels of HDL (so-called good cholesterol). In addition, low levels of HDL do not correlate to an increased risk for coronary heart disease. Most interesting of all, is a study of people who have genetically caused reduced levels HDL do not have a higher risk of coronary heart disease. [4] Studies across several countries with similar HDL-LDL levels resulted in very different incident rates of heart disease. If the theory that HDL-LDL leads to heart disease is to be true, then a more consistent death rate from the disease would have been evident in these countries. It has also been shown that cholesterol level in the blood stream has no correlation with heart disease. In fact, over 80% of people who suffer heart attacks, do not have elevated cholesterol levels. [5] In addition, only 30-40% of people with artherosclerosis have elevated cholesterol levels. [6] It seems that cholesterol is neither a good indicator nor a risk factor for heart disease. (Note: A very small percentage of people have a genetic illness called hypercholesterolemia which interferes with their ability to matabolize cholesterol. People with this genetic condition do have to watch blood cholesterol levels.) [7]

So, what is the next most likely candidate for leading to heart disease? Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a) has been pointed to as a coronary heart disease risk factor. [8] Although research is incomplete, early findings have been strongly suggesting that Lp(a) contributes to and promotes atherosclerosis. Evidence currently points to trans fatty acids as a major increaser of Lp(a) levels. What's ironic is that saturated fats have been linked to lowering Lp(a) levels! [9]

So, what are trans fatty acids? In polyunsaturated fatty acids, the chains naturally are found to all bend in the same direction. In chemistry this is referred to as cis. If the bends alternate, then this is referred to as trans.
     H H H H H H H     H H H H     H H
     H H H H H H H H H H     H H H H H
(trans-9,12,15-octadecatrienoic acid)

Trans fatty acids are created through partial hydrogenation of fats (natural or chemical). In nature this occurs rarely and results in very small amounts of trans fatty acids. In our supermarkets, this is a common place fatty acid. It was discovered that if you partially hydrogenated a fatty acid, about half of the fats would have bends going the other way (not in the same direction: cis), thus straightening out the chain. This causes the fatty acid to have a higher melting point, allowing the public to enjoy solid fats without the saturated fat (which was thought to be bad at the time). Margarine replaced butter, shortening replaced palm oil and lard, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil replaced coconut oil. During the last ten years, a great deal of research has been performed on trans fatty acids and the conclusions are not good. Trans fats (fats made of trans fatty acids) promote artherosclerosis and other cardiovascular dieases and increase the risk factor for cancer. In addition, trans fats have been found to replace necessary saturated fats in fat cells resulting in an unusable substance taking the place where a fuel and nutrient source should have been. This leads to the body increasing capacity of fat cells in order to maintain fuel and nutrient storage levels. Trans fats are also unstable and may lead to promotion of free radicals in the human body (for the same reasons that polyunsaturated fats do). It should be noted that fully hydrogenated fats are the same as saturated fats and do not exist in cis or trans formations (as there is no bend).

So, now we have discussed how saturated fats do not cause directly or indirectly heart disease, cholesterol is not an indicator or risk factor of heart disease, polyunsaturated fats should be reduced in the diet, and trans fats are to be avoided completely. (Pretty much the opposite of what the media and food oil producing companies tell us.) But, I haven't discussed any benefits of saturated fats.

Before I get into that, I want to mention that although a reduced polyunsaturated fat intake is recommended, there are two families of essential fatty acids that we should intake: omega-3 and omega-6. These are polyunsaturated fatty acids where the double bond is three or six carbons from the methyl group. About 1-2% of the calories you intake in a day should be omega-3 and about 2-3% should be omega-6. Too much omega-6, however, can limit your body's ability to use omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish, flaxseed, walnut, and unprocessed soybean oil (the processing that removes color and oil from soybean oil pretty much destroys all the linolenic acid in it).

In a past article, I've mentioned that I cook predominantly with olive oils and butter. Here's why: olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat. In fact it is less than 10% polyunsaturated. Butter is less than 4% polyunsaturated and contains a large amount of heathful substances. These include naturally occuring vitamins (A, D, E, and K), small amounts of linoleic (omega-6) and linolenic (omega-3) acids, butyric acid (demonstrated anti-tumerigenic properties and a major fuel source for intestines), lauric acid (anti-microbial and anti-viral), glycosphingolipids (protects against intestinal infections), conjugated linoleic acid (strong anti-cancer properties and helps prevent weight gain; found only in butter and milk from grass-fed cows), lecithin (assists in metabolising cholesterol and fat components), selenium (aids vitamin E as an antioxidant; butter is one of the richest selenium food sources available), and cholesterol. It might seem weird to list cholesterol as a benefit, but cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D and many hormones as well as an antioxidant and the body's primary repair substance. Consuming cholesterol also contributes to intestinal wall health. Ingesting cholesterol on a regular basis has been shown to not increase blood cholesterol levels because the body reduces its natural production and increases cholesterol metabolism to compensate.

It should also be noted that the small amount of ingested cholesterol can hardly be noticed in the large amounts of cholesterol flowing in your blood stream. For example, if you are capable of intake half of the cholesterol you consume daily (let's say 150 milligrams of 300 milligrams consumed) and you compare that to the amount of cholesterol in the blood (150 mg/dL), then you'll find that of the 7500 mg of cholesterol in your blood (150 mg/dL * 10 dL/L * 5 L/human) you've added only another 150 milligrams (assuming your body is even capable of intaking 50% of the cholesterol you've ingested). A healthy body can easily throttle back cholesterol production and increase metabolism to absorb the additional cholesterol intake.[3]

1. Felton CV, et al; Dietary Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Composition of Human Aortic Plaques. Lancet, 1994.

2. Cranton EM and Frackelton J; Free Radical Pathology in Age-Associated Diseases. Journal of Holistic Medicine, 1984.

3. Enig M; Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol; Bethesda Press, 2000.

4. Smith R and Pinckney E; Diet, Blood Cholesterol, and Coronary Heart
Disease: A Critical Review of the Literature. Vector Enterprises, 1991.

5. Rowland D; The Nutritional Bypass. Heath Naturally Publications, 1995.

6. Reiser R; The Three Weak Links in the Diet-Heart Disease Connection. Nutrition Today, 1979.

7. Byrnes S; Diet and Heart Disease: It Is Not What You Think. Whitman Publications, 2001.

8. Garrison J and Somer E; The Nutrition Desk Reference; Keats Publishing, 1995.

9. Enig M; Fat Facts; Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation Journal, Winter 1998.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Recipe File: Basic Biscuits

This is probably the simplest biscuit recipe that I know. It's pretty fast to throw together and I like to top my chicken pot pies with this dough.

Set aside 2 cups all purpose flour in a large mixing bowl. Prepare 6 tablespoons cold butter, 3/4 cup milk, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Then, using a pastry cutter (shown on left), a pair of knives, a spoon, or your hands, cut the butter into the flour. Basically, cut the butter and mix with flour to coat and separate the pieces. Continue until you get pea sized pieces of butter. It is important that the butter be cold for this process and not begin to melt. If it starts to get a little mushy, you can slip it into the refrigerator for 15 minutes to firm back up a bit before continuing.

Pour the milk in and mix gently with a spatula. We're not looking for a kneading action her, just a gently mix. (Kneading will produce gluten which will make the biscuit bread like instead of light and flaky.) Using your hands, form the dough into a ball once the milk has been evenly distributed through the dough. You might need to use a kneading action to get it into a managable shape and to remove some dough fromt eh sides of your container, but try not to knead too much.

Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper or clean surface and roll out into a large sheet about 1/4 in. in thickness. Use a cup or biscuit cutter to cut rounds out of the dough. Do not twist the cup or cutter (unless you have already cut all the way through). Twisting will result in uneven or failed rising. Usually it's a good idea to press the top of the biscuit down a little or else you will get biscuits with rounded tops.

Now, biscuit placement is key to getting good rise out of the biscuits. Place the biscuit dough circles into two 9" cake rounds or onto a half sheet pan. Have the biscuits just touching. This should give enough air between the biscuits to allow even heating, but not so much space that the biscuits spread out when they rise. Bake in a 425°F oven until golden (about 15 minutes).

Basic Biscuits

2 cups flourmixcut into pea sizemixroll out and cutbake at 425°F until golden
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbs. butter, cold
3/4 cup milk
Copyright Michael Chu 2004
Perhaps this is a good time to discuss baking pans with respect to biscuits. The use of a nonstick baking pan will result in your biscuit bottoms turning black while the tops are not yet golden. Aluminum foil and dark metal pans often have the same affect. Probably the best pan to use for biscuits is a gray aluminum pan.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Recipe File: Traditional Chicken Pot Pie

Perhaps there's no comfort food as comforting as a nice hot chicken pot pie. It's also a breeze to make. Chicken Pot Pie is comprised of three recipes: the toppping or crust (Pie Crust or Biscuits), Creamed Chicken, and additional vegetables.

Since the topping can be anything fluffy or flaky (I like a basic rolled biscuit top), I won't cover this recipe here.

Let start with the creamed chicken. We'll need two cups chicken broth, 4 tablespoons of butter, 1/2 cup all purpose flour, 1-1/2 cup whole milk, 2 tablespoons sherry, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, lemon juice and white pepper.

Cube (or shred) previously cooked chicken into bite size pieces and place on side.

Melt butter in sauce pan or saucier over low heat. Pour flour in and whisk.

After one minute, remove from heat and add 2 cups chicken broth.

Whisk until smooth.

Add milk and whisk over medium heat until simmering. Remove from heat and scrape the sides of the saucepan with a heat-proof spatula. Whisk vigorously to break and chunks and return to medium heat for one more minute.

Turn off heat and mix in chicken & sherry until evenly distributed. Add lemon juice, nutmeg, salt and white pepper to taste.

Now that we have creamed chicken, prepare the ingredients for chicken pot pie: 2 tablespoons butter, 1 chopped medium onion, 1-1/2 cup chopped carrots, 1/4 cup chopped celery, 3/4 cup peas, 3 Tbs. minced fresh parsley. Peas and carrots can be be the frozen kind. Thaw in water and drain.

Melt butter in nonstick skillet over medium heat.

When butter is foaming, add onions, celery, and carrots and cook until tender, about five minutes.

Stir vegetables (including parley and peas) into creamed chicken and pour mixture into baking pan.

Now top with either pie crust or biscuit dough. I usually use biscuit dough because I like the fluffy texture.

After making biscuit dough, cut and layout all the biscuit pieces to cover the pot pie.

Using a pastry brush, brush beaten egg over the surface of the pot pie crust to give it a brown color after baking.

After baking for 25 to 35 minutes at 400°F, the crust should be golden brown and the chicken mixture should be bubbling. Your pot pie is now complete and ready to serve.

Chicken Pot Pie
Creamed Chicken

4 Tbs. buttermeltcombine over low heatcombinebring to simmerScrape sidescook one minutemix inseason to taste
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 cups whole milk
3 chicken breast halves, cookedcube
2 Tbs. sherry
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
lemon juice
white pepper

Chicken Pot Pie
2 Tbs. buttermeltsautemixpour into 9x13 panlay on topbake at 400°F for 25 min.
1 medium onion, chopped
1-1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/4 cup celery
3/4 cup peas
3 Tbs. parsley, minced
2-1/2 quarts creamed chicken
2 cups crust dough
Copyright Michael Chu 2004

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Recipe File: Homemade Mayonnaise

Last night I was making potato salad and tuna salad when I ran out of mayonnaise. I usually have a jar of Best Foods Real Mayonnaise (Best Foods is also known as Hellmann's) in the refrigerator, but this time I forgot to buy some more when I ran low. Although I have made my own mayonnaise in the past (usually for special occasions because homemade mayonnaise is so good), I usually prepare recipes with the store bought variety because it lasts about six months in the refrigerator (while homemade might last up to week). Of all the brands available, I find the Best Foods (or Hellmann's) brand to be the best tasting and most natural (fewest unidentified ingredients) of the supermarket mayonnaises.

Too lazy to leave my home in the middle of food preparation (and too nice of a guy to send Tina on a mayonnaise buying errand), I grabbed a clean bowl and my whisk to make some of my homemade mayo.

All you need are two large egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, a pinch of white pepper, and 1 cup oil. I ran out of lemon juice last night (I just keep running out of ingredients), so I used about 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. I also froze the two large egg whites in ice cube trays for later use. For the oil, I used extra light olive oil because of its very faint (almost nonexistant) flavor and nutritional and health properties.

I put the yolks, lemon juice, salt, and pepper into my mixing bowl and whisked until smooth and light. I then whisked the oil, a few drops at a time, into the mixture. I made sure the mixture was smooth and well integrated before pouring the next few drops of oil. The whisking will suspend the oil into the yolk mixture and adding the oil a little at a time will keep the mixture in a state of emulsion - which is what we want.

After about 1/3 cup of oil has been whisked in, you can speed up the pouring a bit. Make sure the mixture is back in emulsion before pouring any more oil. Once all the oil has been whisked in, you have mayonnaise. This is a good time to add any extras, a spoonful of dijon mustard and extra salt and black pepper is usually what I add.

Because handmade mayonnaise is mostly egg yolk, the mayonnaise will have a healthy yellow color. Store bought or machine made mayonnaise usually also contains egg whites which will lighten the color up as well as lighten up the flavor. Anything you don't use immediately, put it in a jar and refrigerate. It should hold for half a week to a week.

Homemade Mayonnaise

2 large egg yolkswhiskwhisk oil in drop by drop
3 Tbs. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of white pepper
1 cup oil
Copyright Michael Chu 2004

You might note that I called both mayonnaise and vinaigrette dressing emulsions. But, a vinaigrette eventually seperates while mayonnaise maintains its state of emulsion. This is because of the egg yolks which contains a substance called lecithin (an emulsifier). You may have seen lecithin as part of the ingredient list of store bought ice cream and salad dressings. This substance when mixed with water (the lemon juice) and oil (the olive oil) helps hold the two together in suspension. Of course, if we kept mixing more and more oil into the mixture, we would eventually overwhelm the emulsifier and the whole emulsion would separate (at least that's what I'm told, maybe one day I'll do it to see what happens when you mix in too much oil).

Monday, June 21, 2004

Recipe File: Basic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

A flavorful salad dressing can be easily made by combining some simple ingredients together. I usually start with 2 parts oil and 1 part vinegar in my vinaigrette dressings. The oil and vinegar can be combined with a blender, food processor, whisk, or jar. In the end it really doesn't matter how you choose to combine the oil and vinegar so long as we get an emulsion (where the vinegar is finely seperated and suspended in the oil).

Blender and food processor:
Start with the vinegar and any herbs & spices you want in the blender or processor. Blend briefly. Dribble in oil while blending until all of the oil is in the mixture. (I should mention that although several recipes call for using a food processor, I would prefer to do make the sauce in a bar blender. Often, it is harder to clean the food processor than a blender when dealing with extremely liquid foods.)

Start with the vinegar and any herbs & spices you want in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the oil one tablespoon at a time for about half of the oil. Then whisk in the rest two to three tablespoons at a time.

Jar (my favorite):
Start with the vinegar and any herbs & spices you want in a jar. Pour in one tablespoon of oil. Screw lid back on jar and shake vigorously. Continue pouring in oil and shaking until half the oil has been integrated. Continue by pouring two or three tablespoons at a time.

After the dressing is made, you can safely store it in the refrigerater for about two weeks.

Basic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

1 cup extra virgin olive oilblend together slowly
1/2 cup basalmic vinegarcombine
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. rosemary, crushed

You'll notice that my recipe calls for 3 cloves of pressed garlic. Now, I don't believe in garlic presses because I don't want to pay $12 - $15 for a garlic press that is only useful when I need pulverized garlic. Instead, I use a Microplane Zester which also zests and grates when it's not pulverizing garlic (or ginger).

By the way, never use a garlic press for mincing garlic, because it doesn't.

Recipe File: Oven Baked Spare Ribs - Two Ways

For pork ribs that literally fall off the bone, I use an oven to slowly cook the ribs.

The recipe is quite simple: mix 18 oz. of barbeque sauce (1 bottle) with 1/2 cup orange juice. Pour into a 9x13 pan. Place ribs in pan and flip using tongs so ribs are coated. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in a 300°F oven. Total cooking time can be as short as 2 hours or as long as 4 hours. Flip ribs over halfway through cooking.

Cooking the ribs for 2 hours will result in meat almost falling off the bones. If you cook for four hours, the ribs may be hard to lift out of the pan because the meat will be on the verge of falling off the bones under slight pressure. The cartilage will also be soft and practically melt in the mouth.

After the ribs are done cooking, remove th aluminum foil and continue to cook for about 10 min. per side to thicken the sauce.

A variation on this recipe is to make Chinese cinnamon spare ribs. Usually this dish is made on a stovetop with spare ribs cut into small pieces. This recipe will work for both whole ribs and for cut ribs, but I prefer the whole ribs.

In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup soy sauce, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup sherry, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1 tsp. ground black pepper. Pour into 9x13 pan and bake in same way as previous recipe.

Oven Baked Spare Ribs
Barbeque sauce

1 bottle BBQ saucewhisk
1/2 cup orange juice

Chinese Cinnamon
1 cup soy saucewhisk
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sherry
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground black pepper

Bake at 300°F for at least 2 hours, flipping ribs halfway.
Uncover and bake each side for 10 minutes to finish.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Test Recipe: Faux BBQ Beef Ribs

I didn't have the time to take pictures for this one. Recently, a local store was selling beef back ribs for less than a dollar a pound. In my area, that's a good deal. Unfortunately, when I got to the store I realized that most of the meat from the ribs was trimmed off. I picked the piece that had the most meat hanging off of it and set to work preparing it in the least troublesome manner, for hopefully a decent tasting return. Beef ribs are more meaty than pork ribs which tend to be tender and falling off the bone. If you like a strong flavor and hearty texture, then beef ribs are the way to go.

I started with two racks of about 6 or 7 beef back ribs each. I prepared a rub by tossing together two tablespoons of ground black pepper, a tablespoon of oregano, two teaspoons of cayenne pepper, and two teaspoons of celery salt. I then placed the ribs in two 9x13" baking pans and rubbed all the surfaces with the spices.

I then poured enough apple juice into each pan to cover the bottom by at least 1/4 inch. Covering each tightly with aluminum foil, I placed them onto a center rack in a 300°F oven.

I then let them bake for two hours.

After the two hours, I uncovered the ribs and let them bake for a few more minutes until the outside developed a slight char. You could also finish them over a grill, but I wanted the least amount of trouble and since the oven was hot, why not use that heat?

Using an 8 inch chef's knife, I cut between ribs which I held up vertically on a cutting board. I've served these plain with salt on the side as well as with barbeque sauce.

Faux BBQ Beef Ribs

2 racks of beef back ribsrubbake at 300°F for 2 hr.
2 Tbs. ground black peppermix
1 Tbs. oregano
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. celery salt

Recipe File: Basic Pancakes

I make a great buttermilk pancake, but I don't usually keep buttermilk in stock. That means an extra trip to the store Saturday morning if I feel like making pancakes. So, this Saturday, I decided to test the The New Joy of Cooking's Basic Pancakes recipe which uses ingredients every kitchen should always have in stock.

I used (from the top, clockwise) 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1-1/2 cup milk, 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted), 2 large eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

I combined the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt) into a large bowl and whisked a little.

Now, I whisked the wet ingredients (milk, butter, eggs, and vanilla) together.

I then poured the wet ingredients onto the dry and whisk, but not too long. Just enough to combine thoroughly. If there are some lumps left, it's okay. When the batter cooks it'll smooth out and you won't taste it.

Joy of Cooking now says to fold in any additions now. I added some frozen blueberries that I thawed quickly in a some warm water and drained. This is where the recipe makes a fatal mistake. More on that later.

I then quickly prepare my two burner griddle. You can use an electric griddle as well. In both cases, the surface should be smooth and non-stick.

Turning both burners on, I heated the griddle until a few drops of water tossed onto the surface ran around franticly. (If the water jumps off the griddle, then turn down the heat. If the water just sits there, increase the heat.) Now, I melted a pad of butter onto the griddle to lubricate it.

Using a paper towel, I rubbed the butter around until it evenly coated the pan and I couldn't see any butter. You don't want too much fat on the griddle or you'll be frying the pancakes.

I scooped 1/3 cups of batter onto the griddle to make a pancake. This is when I discovered that the blueberries impeded the flow of the batter. Usually, when I make my buttermilk pancakes, I pour the batter out steadily onto one spot and it forms a near perfect circle. I then sprinkle my filling on top of the batter on the griddle. Now I know why. First, the batter doesn't flow evenly and forms alien shapes on the griddle because of the blueberries. Second, the blueberries are unevenly distributed and some pancakes have some and some have a lot. Don't make this mistake - put the fillings in after the batter hits the griddle, not in the batter. You might notice in this picture there's a big lump in the batter of the second pancake. Don't worry about that, it evens out and can't be tasted. The pancake will be tough if we over mix.

I cooked the first side until bubbles covered the pancake surface and begin to pop. I then flipped the pancake over.

Once the second side has lightly browned (about half the time it took to cook the first side), I removed and served. If you need to make a lot of pancakes, you can stack them on a plate in a 200°F oven. On Good Eats, Alton Brown recommends placing paper towels between each layer of pancake, but I find that it works for me to stack without the paper towel waste. Usually, Tina and I can't eat too many pancakes at a time, but I still make a full batch.

I extra pancakes can then be frozen. A quick trip to the toaster or toaster oven will produce homemade pancakes much better than the supermarket frozen kind. This picture is of a buttermilk pancake that came out very circular because the filling was added after the batter was poured on the griddle.

The results of the tasting proved that these pancakes were quite good - on par with the buttermilk pancakes. A little fruit topping or maple syrup and they resulted in a delicious breakfast. So, I've decided to promote this recipe from a Test Recipe to one for the Recipe File.

Basic Pancakes

1-1/2 cups all purpose flourmixwhisk briefly
3 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. melted, unsalted butterwhisk
1-1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Copyright Michael Chu 2004

Monday, June 14, 2004

Recipe File: Corn Fritters

A couple weeks ago, Tina and I had dinner at the E&O Trading Company in San Jose, CA. We found the restaurant to be a noisy, up-scale, Southeast Asian fusion restaurant that did not serve exceptional food. (Most of the food was high quality and very tasty, but you can get similar meals at a Thai or Malaysian restaurant for a third of the price.) One dish that did stand out was their Indonesian Corn Fritters which was served with a spicy soy sauce. I decided to make this dish at home for about a dollar.

I place a piece of shelf liner under my cutting board to keep it from moving. I prefer this to a wet towel.

Cut the kernels off the corn a few rows at a time. We're trying to preserve the kernals, so cut a little deep. Run the back of the knife or your board scraper against the cob to extract the remaining bits of corn.

We're looking for about 2-1/2 cup of corn. Canned sweet corn that's been drained will also work fine.

We'll also need (from top left, clockwise), two large egg yolks, two large egg whites, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and 2 tablespoons all purpose flour.

Beat the egg whites in a large bowl with a whisk. You can also use your stand mixer or hand mixer with a whisk attachment. I placed the bowl on a piece of shelf liner to keep it from moving. A towel rolled and twisted into a donut also works well.

You're done beating the egg whites once you achieve stiff peaks. Just dab your whisk into the whites and lift. If the egg white form points that don't droop down, then you've got stiff peaks. (If they droop then it's called soft peaks.) Stop whisking now, or you'll dry out the egg whites.

Lightly beat the egg yolk and then mix into the corn.

Add flour, salt, pepper, and sugar and mix.

Fold in the egg whites into the corn mixture.

This is what the final mixture looks like.

After melting 2 tablespoons of butter in a nonstick skillet (which you'll notice I'm not using in this picture because I didn't have one handy), place tablepoon sized heaps into the hot butter. You can also use oil instead of butter, which I did for half of my fritters because Tina prefers to not have the butter taste with her corn. (I, of course, used light olive oil.)

Once they browned, about 2 to 3 minutes, I flipped them over and browned the other side.

A larger pan would have helped speed things up, but I still managed to make about sixteen fritters fairly quickly. A fashioned a quick sauce out of Shiriachi chili sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. I also made the fritters with varying degrees of brownness and determined that dark or light brown did not have adverse affects on taste.

Corn Fritters

2-1/2 cup sweet corn kernelsmixmixfold
2 large egg yolks
1 Tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 Tbs. all purpose flour
2 large egg whitesbeat (stiff peaks)

2 Tbs. butter or oilheatfry 2-3 min. per side
1 Tbs. mixture

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Test Recipe: Joy of Cooking's Peanut Butter Cookies (14-in-one)

I've had a craving for peanut butter cookies lately, so tonight I finally had some free time to throw together a batch. Instead of using my normal recipe, I decided to try the first peanut butter cookie recipe from The New Joy of Cooking (the 14-in-one cookie recipe with peanut butter).

I used (clockwise from top) a Kitchenaid stand mixer, 2/3 cup peanut butter, 1 egg and 2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup unsalted butter. Not shown is 2-1/2 cup all purpose flour. The peanut butter I chose to use is Laura Schudder's Smooth Old Fashioned Peanut Butter. This peanut butter doesn't have trans fatty acids because it doesn't contain any partially hydrogenated fats (unlike most other store bought peanut butter). I also use unsalted butter because it's always difficult to determine how much salt is in your salted butter and therefore difficult to replicate a recipe. This is why most baking recipes call for unsalted butter. If you don't have unsalted butter, just use your salted butter, leave out the loose salt, and hope for the best.

So, I mentioned that I used 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk... so that leaves 1 large egg white unaccounted for. What did I do with it? Instead of throwing it away, decided to freeze it for use later. Put the whites in an ice cube tray and place in freezer. After they have become solid, simply break them out into cubes and place in a labelled ziplock bag. In this case, the large egg white will make two cubes, so I'll label the bag as such. Perhaps when I accumulate enough whites, I'll make an angel food cake.

The butter, sugar, and salt should be blended in the mixer until the butter fluffs up and lightens in color. This is quite an important step as it allows the crystals of the sugar to punch through the butter and leave small air pockets giving you a fluffy cookie and not a dense rock.

Next, I put in the peanut butter. This whole time my Kitchenaid UltraPower Stand Mixer has been on setting 4 out of 10. Can you make this recipe with a hand mixer? Of course, but it will take a bit longer and if the peanut butter is real thick, you'll need to manage the speed and power of your hand mixer properly. Mix until smooth. This was a good time to scrape down the sides once.

I then poured in the egg yolk while the mixer was still going. Once that integrated, I added the egg and vanilla extract and allowed that to mix through.

Now, I reduced the speed of the mixer to its lowest setting and bit by bit added flour to the mixture. You don't want to overwhelm the mixture's ability to integrate the solid, so a little at a time is best. Otherwise, you could have a chunk of unblended flour because you put too much flour in one spot. Also, slowly adding flour reduces the potential for flour get thrown out of the bowl.

Once I scrape the sides down once more time and mixed for thirty more seconds, I got a moist dough which stuck to itself more than the bowl. Note how clean the bowl got - that was the dough pulling all the dough from the sides of the bowl. I shaped it into a ball at the bottom of the bowl for easy handling.

Now, I seperated the dough into two and placed on plastic wrap.

I then placed the two wrapped dough balls into the refrigerator to firm up (at least one hour). Since I made these in the evening, I'll use them the next morning. You can refrigerate for up to two days or freeze for up to a month.

The cookies made from this dough was bland (not much peanut butter flavor) and cakey. I had to take them to two groups of people before the two dozen cookies were consumed. Only one person liked them. This recipe is not recommended. See Recipe File: Peanut Butter Cookies for the recipe I use on a regular basis.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup unsalted buttermixmixmixmixmix
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups all purpose flour
Copyright Michael Chu 2004

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Smoke point of various fats

The smoke point of various fats is important to note because a fat is no longer good for consumption after it has exceeded its smoke point and has begun to break down. Once a fat starts to smoke, it usually will emit a harsh smell and fill the air with smoke. In addition it is believed that fats that have gone past their smoke points contain a large quantity of free radicals which contibute to risk of cancer. Refining oils (taking out impurities) tends to increase the smoke point. The table below lists some ballpark values for smoke points of various common fats.

FatSmoke Point °FSmoke Point °C
Unrefined canola oil225°F107 °C
Unrefined flaxseed oil225°F107 °C
Unrefined safflower oil225°F107 °C
Unrefined sunflower oil225°F107 °C
Unrefined corn oil320°F160 °C
Unrefined high-oleic sunflower oil320°F160 °C
Extra virgin olive oil320°F160 °C
Unrefined peanut oil320°F160 °C
Semirefined safflower oil320°F160 °C
Unrefined soy oil320°F160 °C
Unrefined walnut oil320°F160 °C
Hemp seed oil330°F165 °C
Butter350°F177 °C
Semirefined canola oil350°F177 °C
Coconut oil350°F177 °C
Unrefined sesame oil350°F177 °C
Semirefined soy oil350°F177 °C
Vegetable shortening360°F182 °C
Lard370°F182 °C
Macadamia nut oil390°F199 °C
Refined canola oil400°F204 °C
Semirefined walnut oil400°F204 °C
High quality (low acidity) extra virgin olive oil405°F207 °C
Sesame oil410°F210 °C
Cottonseed oil420°F216 °C
Grapeseed oil420°F216 °C
Virgin olive oil420°F216 °C
Almond oil420°F216 °C
Hazelnut oil430°F221 °C
Peanut oil440°F227 °C
Sunflower oil440°F227 °C
Refined corn oil450°F232 °C
Refined high-oleic sunflower oil450°F232 °C
Refined peanut oil450°F232 °C
Refined Safflower oil450°F232 °C
Semirefined sesame oil450°F232 °C
Refined soy oil450°F232 °C
Semirefined sunflower oil450°F232 °C
Olive pomace oil460°F238 °C
Extra light olive oit468°F242 °C
Soybean oil495°F257 °C
Safflower oil510°F266 °C
Avocado oil520°F271 °C
I like cooking with extra light olive oil and butter. This is mainly because olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (73%) while being low in polyunsaturated fatty acids (<10%). The refined nature of extra light olive oil mainly affects taste and smoke point, but does not reduce the nutritional benefits of olive oil. Butter, although high in saturated fat (66%), is low in polyunsaturated (4%) and contains a host of vitamins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and acids that are antimicrobial and antitumorigenic. Anyway, it tastes good.


I find that whenever you're discussing a topic with or trying to explain something to others, it's best to have a common vocabulary. This is true in the kitchen as much as it is in the professional world. Here is my kitchen dictionary, compiled from the top of my head, the internet, and various cookbooks.

Al dentePasta that is fully cooked on the outside and slightly underdone on the inside. The pasta should give slight resistance when bitten into, but not hard or overly soft.
BakeTo cook food in an oven. Baking large or whole pieces of food is generally referred to as roasting.
Bake blindAlso blind baking. To bake a crust without a filling. This step is used to solify the crust so the later addition of filling will not soak into the crust to make it soggy or less structurally sound.
BarbequeTo slowly cook food on a covered grill. Barbeque is a grilling style.
BlanchTo plunge food into boiling water briefly, then into cold or ice water to halt the cooking process.
BoilTo cook food in a liquid heated to the point where large bubbles break the surface. A rolling boil is when the bubbles cannot be dissipated by stirring. At sea level, 212°F
BroilTo cook food directly under the heat source. Typically refers to placing food immediately under an oven broiler.
BrothThe liquid resulting from boiling vegetables or meat in water.
BrunoiseTo cut into cubes of 1/8 inch. Usually, begin with a julienne and cut the strips into small cubes.
Chef's knifeThe main knife of the French kitchen. A versatile cutting instrument capable of fine control (capable of cutting a vegetable into a brunoise) and with enough strength to hack through bones.
ChiffonadeTo cut into thin shreds. Usually applied to leafy vegetables or herbs.
ChopA cutting motion that involves pressing the edge of the blade straight through the object. In a recipe, this refers to cutting into rough chunks.
CoreThe center of a fruit or the removal of the center of a fruit.
CutThe act of seperating a large object into small parts. Usually performed with a knife or other sharp object (blades of a food processor).
DashAbout 1/16 teaspoon or 1/2 pinch.
Deep fryTo cook food by submerging it completely in hot fat.
DeglazeTo heat a small amount of liquid with the intention of removing browned bits of food left from pan frying. This step is performed after the food and excess fat has been removed. The liquid is often wine or stock and the resulting mixture is used as a base for a sauce to accompany the pan fried food.
DiceTo cut into equal sized cubes. Depending on the application, the cubes can be as small as 1/4 inch or as large as 3/4 inch. Usually performed by cutting into the object parallel to the board, then cutting length wise along the object, and finished by cutting across the previous cuts to form cubes. This technique keeps the object together as long as possible to minimize cuts.
FatIn cooking, usually refers to oil or butter. In food preparation, refers to, well, fat.
FoldTo gently combine an aerated mixture with a heavier mixture. A rubber spatula is used to cut through the mixture and up the side of the bowl to bring the mixture on the bottom to the top. The bowl is rotated 90° and the motion repeated.
FondThe browned pieces of meat left on a traditional pan after pan frying.
FryTo cook food in hot fat over moderate to high heat. See deep fry and pan fry.
GrillTo cook food on a metal grate set over a heat source. Commonly referred to incorrectly as barbeque.
JulienneFood is cut into strips about 1 to 2 inches long and 1/8 in. by 1/8 in.
MinceTo chop very finely. Usually performed with a rocking motion with a chef's knife.
Nonstick cookwarePots and pans coated with a chemical layer that reduces or eliminates bonding between the metal and the food. Requires that non-metal utensils are used in cantact with the cookware.
PanCookware that has at minimum one long handle (may have additional handles). Typically, it is shallow. A lid is optional.
Pan fryTo cook food in hot fat in a skillet or fry pan over moderate to heat heat. Usually uses more fat than a saute. Typically the objective of a pan fry is searing or fond.
ParbakeTo cook partially in the oven.
ParboilTo cook food partially by boiling it briefly in water. Typically, you would use a blanch to parboil food. The technique is used to prepare dense foods for cooking with more delicate foods so that all the ingredients are done cooking at the same time.
PareTo remove the skin or outer layer of fruits or vegetables. Usually performed with a paring knife or vegetable peeler.
Paring knifeA small knife usually constructed in the same shape as a chef's knife but dimensionally reduced. Used for paring, cutting small objects, or activities that need more precision than a chef's knife is capable of.
PinchTo squeeze together tightly with fingertips. Measurement: about 1/8 teaspoon.
PoachTo gently cook food in liquid just below the boiling point. The surface of the liquid should be moving, but not producing bubbles yet. Between 160190°F to 180190°F.
PotCookware that has two handles and a lid. If it has a long handle then it may be referred to as a pan. Typically, it is deep.
PreheatTo increase the temperature of an oven to the desired baking temperature prior to the insertion of food.
ReduceTo boil a liquid until the volume is reduced. The final product is referred to as a reduction.
RoastGenerally, to cook food in an oven in an uncovered pan. This term is usually used for whole or large pieces of food. Oven cooking chopped pieces of food is usually referred to as baking.
SaucepanA round pan with a long handle, tight fitting cover, and relatively deep. Extremely versitle, but used best for making soups and sauces, boiling, and braising.
SauteTo cook food in a saute pan over direct heat with a little fat. The objective is to cook the food quickly and with enough space and movement to allow most of the excess moisture to evaporate. It's not a saute if the food is simmering in its own juices. By the way, saute means "jump" in French and is named for the tossing technique used to keep the food moving and evenly cooked.
ScaldTo heat a liquid until just below its boiling point. When referring to non-liquids, to plunge vegetables into boiling water to loosen the skin. See also blanch.
SieveAlso called a strainer, this device has a mesh or perforated bottom and is used to sift dry ingredients or strain liquids.
SimmerTo cook gently in a liquid at a temperature low enough to just barely produce tiny bubbles that break the surface. About 185-195°F.
SliceA cutting motion that involves drawing the edge of the blade, with pressure, along and through the object. This is an efficient cut.
Smoke pointThe temperature at which a fat begins to break down and produce smoke and harsh smells. The fat should not be used once its smoke point has been reached. Smoke point lowers for a fat everytime it is heated.
SteamTo cook over boiling water such that the food is cooked by the vapors.
Stir fryTo cook food in a large pan over very high heat while constantly stirring the food. Traditionally the pan used is a wok.
StockThe strained liquid from cooking vegetables or meat and seasonings in water.
StrainTo pour liquid through a filter with the intention of removing particles in the liquid. A sieve or cheesecloth is often used as the filter. Also, this term refers to pressing solid matter through a sieve to produce a pureed texture (as in baby food).
Traditional cookwareRefers to any pot or pan that is not non-stick. The preferred traditional pan has a stainless steel interior and either an aluminum core or is aluminum clad. Proper preheating of the cookware and using a little oil before adding food will have a non-stick result. However, eggs and fish will probably stick no matter what - use a non-stick pan for those.
WokA multipurpose pan with round bottom and sloping sides. Non-stick woks with flat bottoms are popular for use in America because of the flat stovetop. With American stoves, it is often difficult to produce good stir fry with a wok because the sloping sides cool too quickly.
ZestThe aromatic outermost layer of skin on a citrus fruit. The white pith is not part of the zest. Can be removed from fruit with a paring knife, but is easiest removed by a Microplane Zester (or a woodworking rasp).

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Ingredient Substitutions

Unless you have a fully stocked kitchen, you're probably going to have to make a run to the supermarket at least once for any new recipe you try. At least I have to. Sometimes, I just don't feel like it, or I'm not willing to spend money on an ingredient that I might never use again. Will something in the pantry or spice rack work just as well? Maybe. The only way to know is to try it and see - but what should I try? Well, here I've compiled a list of possible substitutions from the web, cooking shows, cookbooks, and conventional wisdom.

Allspice (1 tsp.)Ground cinnamon (1/2 tsp.) & ground cloves (1/2 tsp.)
Apple Pie Spice (1 tsp.)Ground cinnamon (1/2 tsp.) & ground nutmeg (1/4 tsp.) & ground cardamom (1/8 teaspoon)
Arrowroot (1&Tbs.)Corn starch (2-1/4 tsp.)
Baking Powder (1 tsp.)Baking soda (1/4 tsp.) & cream of tartar (5/8 tsp.)
Baking Powder (1 tsp.)Baking soda (1/4 tsp.) & buttermilk (1/2 cup)Reduce liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup.
Baking Powder (1 tsp.)Baking soda (1/4 tsp.) & molasses (3/8 cup)Reduce liquid in recipe by 1/4 cup. Adjust sweetener also.
Bread crumbs, dry (1 cup)Cracker crumbs(3/4 cup)
Broth, chicken or beef (1 cup)Bouillon (1 cube or 1 tsp. granules) & boiling water (1 cup)
Butter (1 oz.)Margarine (1 oz.)Margarine must contain more than 80% fat. Margarine should have 100 calories per tablespoon. Recent scientific evidence shows that trans fatty acids are extremely bad for your health. Trans fatty acids are created by mechnical hydrogenation of liquid oils - which is how they make margarine. Keep the butter around.
Butter (1 oz.)Vegetable shortening (1 oz.)For baking. Recent scientific evidence shows that trans fatty acids are extremely bad for your health. Trans fatty acids are created by mechnical hydrogenation of liquid oils - which is how they make vegetable shortening. However, one company does produce a trans fatty acid free shortening from palm oil.
Butter (1 oz.)Oil (1 oz.)For melted butter, oil can be substituded.
Buttermilk (1 cup)Lemon juice or vinegar (1 Tbs.) & milk (enough to make 1 cup)Allow to stand for five minutes.
Buttermilk (1 cup)Plain yogurt (1 cup)
Buttermilk (1 cup)Cream of tartar (1-3/4 tsp.) & milk (1 cup)
Chili Sauce (1 cup)Tomato sauce (1 cup), brown sugar (1/4 cup), vinegar (2 Tbs.), ground cinnamon (1/4 tsp.), ground cloves (a dash), & allspice (a dash)
Chives (1 Tbs.)Tips of scallions (1 Tbs.)
Chocolate, semisweet (1 oz.)Unsweetened chocolate (1/2 oz.) & granulated sugar (1 Tbs.)
Chocolate, semisweet chips (6 oz.)Unsweetened cocoa powder (1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs.), granulated suger (1/4 cup plus 3 Tbs.), & melted butter (3 Tbs.)
Chocolate, unsweetened, melted (1 oz.)Unsweetened cocoa powder (3 Tbs.) & melted butter (1 Tbs.)
Coconut, grated (1 cup)Coconut, flaked (1-1/3 cups)
Coconut milk, fresh (1 cup)Canned cream of coconut (3 Tbs.) plus hot water or milk (enough to make 1 cup)
Cornstarch (1 Tbs.)Flour (2 Tbs.)For thickening. Note: Cornstarch thickened liquids are translucent while flour thickened liquids are opaque. Also, flour needs to be cooked longer and should be simmered after thickening to avoid flour taste.
Corn syrup, dark (1 cup)Light corn syrup (3/4 cup) & light molasses (1/4 cup)
Corn syrup (1 cup)Granulated or packed brown sugar (1-1/4 cups) & water (1/4 cup)Water can be replaced with any liquid in recipe. Do not reduce liquid used in recipe.
Cream, whipping (1 cup unwhipped)Prewhipped whipping cream or whipped cream substitute (2 cups)
Egg (1 large)Egg substitute (1/4 cup)Follow directions on package
Egg (1 large)Reconstituded powdered eggsFollow directions on package
Egg (1 large)Mayonnaise (2 Tbs.)For use in cake batter
Egg (1 large)Baking powder (1/2 tsp.), vinegar (1 Tbs.), & water (1 .Tbs)For use as a rising agent in baking. Water can be replaced with any liquid, such as apple juice.
Egg white (1 large)Frozen egg white (2 Tbs.)
Egg white (1 large)Powdered egg white (1 Tbs.) & water (2 Tbs.)
Egg yolk (1 large)Frozen yolk (3-1/2 tsp.)
Egg yolk (1 large)Powdered yolk (2 Tbs.) & water (2 tsp.)For baking.
Egg yolk (2 large)Egg, whole (1 large)For thickening sauces
Flour, All-Purpose sifted (1 cup)All-purpose flour unsifted (1 cup minus 2 Tbs.)Too much whole wheat flour may result in too dense of a product.
Flour, All-Purpose (1 cup)Whole wheat flour (1/2 cup) & all-purpose flour (1/2 cup)Too much whole wheat flour may result in too dense of a product.
Flour, Cake sifted (1 cup)All-purpose flour sifted (1 cup minus 2 Tbs.)
Flour, Self-rising (1 cup)All-purpose flour (1 cup minus 2 tsp.), baking powder (1-1/2 tsp.), & salt (1/2 tsp.)
Flour (2 Tbs.)Corn starch (1 Tbs.)For thickening
Flour (2 Tbs.)Arrowroot (4 tsp.)For thickening
Flour (2 Tbs.)Quick-cooking tapioca(2 Tbs.)For thickening
Garlic (1 clove)Garlic powder (1/8 tsp.)
Garlic (1 clove)Instant minced garlic(1/8 tsp.)
Garlic (1 clove)Garlic salt(1/4 tsp.)Reduce salt in recipe by 1/8 tsp.
Half-and-half (1 ccup)Light cream (1/2 cup) & whole milk (1/2 cup)
Half-and-half (1 ccup)Butter (1-1/2 Tbs.) & whole milk (enough to make 1 cup)
Herbs, fresh (1 Tbs., minced)Ground dried herbs (1/2 tsp.)
Herbs, fresh (1 Tbs., minced)Unground dried herbs (1 tsp.)
Honey (1 cup)Granulated sugar (1-1/4 cup) & water (1/4 cup)Water can be replaced with any liquid in recipe. Do not reduce liquid used in recipe.
Lemon Juice (1 tsp.)Vinegar (1/2 tsp.)
Lemon Zest (1 tsp.)Lemon extract (1/2 tsp.)
Marshmallows, mini (1 cup)Ten large marshmallows
Mayonnaise (1 cup)Sour cream (1 cup)For use in salad dressings.
Mayonnaise (1 cup)Yogurt (1 cup)For use in salad dressings.
Mayonnaise (1 cup)Cottage cheese, pureed (1 cup)For use in salad dressings.
Mustard, dry (1 tsp.)Prepared mustard (1&Tbs.)For when the mustard will be used in cooking.
Onion, chopped (1 small or 1/4 cup)Instant minced onion (1 Tbs.)May need to be reconstituted before adding to dry foods. Usually can be added directly to wet or moist foods.
Pasta, cooked, semolina (4 cups)Pasta, uncooked semolina (8 oz.) or Pasta, uncooked egg (14 oz.) This conversion is for spaghetti, angel hair, linquine, fettuccine, bow ties, rotini, penne, radiatore, mostaccioli, macaroni, shells, twists, spirals, wagon wheels, and vermicelli.
Pasta, cooked egg noodles(2-1/2 cups)Pasta, uncooked egg noodles (8 oz.)
Pumpkin Pie Spice (1 tsp.)Ground cinnamon (1/2 tsp.), ground ginger (1/4 tsp.), ground allspice (1/8 tsp.), & ground nutmeg (1/8&tsp.)
Rum (1 part)Rum extract (1 part) & water (3 parts)
Sour cream (1 cup)Plain yogurt (1 cup)
Sour cream (1 cup)Buttermilk(3/4 cup) & butter (1/3 cup)
Sour cream (1 cup)Lemon juice (1 Tbs.) & evaporated whole milk (enough to make 1 cup)
Sugar, confectioner's (1 cup)Fine sugar (1 cup) & cornstarch (1 Tbs.)Fine sugar can be produced by running granulated suger in a food processor with a metal blade until powdery.
Sugar, light brown (1 cup)Dark brown sugar (1/2 cup) & granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
Sugar, granulated (1 cup)Light brown sugar, packed (1 cup)
Sugar, granulated (1 cup)Confectioner's sugar (1-3/4 cups)
Tomato juice (1 cup)Tomato sauce (1/2 cup) & water (1/2 cup)
Tomato sauce (1 cup)Tomato paste (3/8 cup) & water (1/2 cup)
Tomato soup (10-3/4 can)Tomato sauce (1 cup) & water (1/4 cup)
Vinegar (1 tsp.)Lemon juice (2 tsp.)
Wine, Red (1  cup)Grape or cranberry juice (1 cup)
Wine, white (1 cup)Apple or white grape juice (1 cup)
Yeast, compressed (3/5 oz.)Active dry yeast (1/4 oz.)From package
Yeast, compressed (3/5 oz.)Loose active dry yeast (2-1/2 tsp.)
Yogurt (1 cup)Buttermilk (1 cup)
Yogurt (1 cup)Milk (1 cup) & lemon juice (1 Tbs.)

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Recipe File: Salsa Cruda

After trying several kinds of store bought salsa, from the pasty kind to the "fresh" chunky pico de gallo, Tina still found something to be desired. So, I decided to try to put together the salsa her tastes buds were clamoring for. Unless you use a food processor, salsa (in this case, a chunky Mexican style salsa cruda) requires quite a bit of slicing. It's a good thing I find cutting to be stress releaving after a long day at work.

First, I started with a tomato salsa recipe from Cooks Illustrated. The recipe called for tomato, jalapeno chile, garlic, red onion, cilantro, salt and pepper, and lime juice.

My tools (from left to right): Board scraper (to move prepared ingredients to bowls, clear the board, and scrape it clean), Paring knife (to core tomatoes and remove membrane from the chile), Chef's knife, and a teaspoon (to remove seeds and ribs from the chile).

First I diced the tomatoes. I like doing that in the following steps:

  • Each tomato is sliced in half.
  • Tomatoes are then placed face (the cut part) down and sliced parallel to the board in 3/8" widths
  • Two at a time, the tomato rounds are sliced into 3/8" strips
  • Then rotated, and sliced into 3/8" cubes

I then placed the diced tomatoes into a collander over a bowl to allow excess moisture to remove itself. About 30 minutes should do it.

I then diced the onions. Keeping the "base" of the onion intact, I sliced 3/8" parallel cuts into the onion followed by 3/8" vertical cuts. Since I didn't cut through the base, the onion held mostly together. Slicing through the onion at this point produced a suitably even dice.

Next, I minced the garlic. Cutting the garlic is performed in a similar manner as dicing the onions, except with smaller distances.

I then cut the chile in half lengthwise and used my teaspoon to remove the seeds and ribs. These I placed aside for use later to adjust the hotness of the salsa. I then pressed each chile half flat and using a paring knife removed the bitter membrane from the inside of the chile. The chile in this state should have a "fruity" taste with a hint of spicyness. I julienned (cut into long strips) the pepper halves and then minced.

Grabbing a small handful of cilantro, I bunched it up and just sliced away to produce the chopped cilantro I needed.

Then, I threw the garlic, onion, and cilantro on top of the tomatoes as they finish draining.

After the tomatoes have drained for thirty minutes, I poured out the liquid from the bowl emptied the contents of the collander into the bowl. I added about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt (I find it easier to sprinkle and manage than table salt), a half twist of my pepper grinder, and about 2 tablespoons of lime juice. I then mixed the salsa together.

Now that I had the salsa, Tina and I both tasted it on Tostidos White Corn Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips. The salsa was pretty good, but lacked something. After mincing and mixing in two more cloves of garlic and throwing in some more salt, we found the optimum mixture of flavor.

The final ingredients list ended up as follows:
  • 1-1/2 pounds firm, ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1 large jalapeno chile, seeded, minced
  • 1/2 cup red onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice

The chile seeds can be minced and mixed in for varying degrees of hotness. Tina prefers mild, so I only used a few of the seeds.

Salsa Cruda
1-1/2 pounds firm, ripe tomatoesdice & drain
1 large jalapeno chile, seededmince
1/2 cup red oniondice
3 garlic clovesmince
1/4 cup cilantro leaveschop
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground pepper
2 tablespoons lime juice
Copyright Michael Chu 2004