Monday, December 1, 2008

Classic Lemon Bars

From The Art and Soul of Baking

Makes 36 (1½-inch) squares

Eyes light up at the sight of these tart and refreshing favorites. A soft, puckery lemon filling atop a vanilla scented shortcrust is just the ticket after a rich winter meal, and it is also a refreshing treat on a hot summer day. Okay, okay, it’s great anytime. Surprisingly easy to make, these bars deliver a lot of satisfaction for the amount of elbow grease invested. Of course lemon is the classic, but you could substitute lime juice as well. Or, for a more exotic version, try an equal amount of passion fruit juice instead of the lemon juice.

1 recipe Vanilla Shortcrust Dough (page 209 - see below), prepared through Step 2
4 large eggs
2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (1¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
²⁄³ cup (5 ²⁄³ ounces) strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

9-inch Square Cake Pan, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Cooling Rack, Whisk, Medium Bowl, Thin Knife or Small Spatula, Fine-Mesh Strainer

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the center.
2 Line the pan with foil across the bottom and up all four sides, then lightly coat with melted butter, oil, or high-heat canola-oil spray. With the spatula, scrape the dough into the prepared pan and press it into an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Chill for 30 minutes.
3 Bake the chilled crust for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.
4 Whisk the eggs and granulated sugar together in the medium bowl. Whisk in the flour until there are no lumps. Whisk in the lemon juice. Pour the filling over the crust. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the filling is set and does not jiggle when you tap the side of the pan. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. When cool, refrigerate for 1 hour.
5 To serve, grasp the foil and lift the cookies out of the pan. Set them on a cutting surface. Gently peel back the foil, using the tip of a thin knife or small spatula to help separate the bars from the foil if necessary. Cut into 1½-inch squares and transfer to a serving plate or storage container. Just before serving, use a fine-mesh strainer to dust confectioners’ sugar over the tops. (Wait until the last minute to do this or the confectioners’ sugar will soak into the filling and look blotchy.)

The bars keep well at room temperature for 1 day. For longer storage, keep them airtight in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The bars cannot be frozen, however, because the crust becomes soggy when defrosted.

Vanilla Shortcrust Dough

Makes 1 (9- or 9½-inch) tart shell

The wonderfully crisp and crumbly texture of this easy-to-use tart dough resembles a vanilla shortbread cookie, suitable to many types of fillings. There are different ways to make a shortcrust shell. This recipe offers two options for mixing the dough, with a food processor or by hand. There are also two options for forming the shell, by rolling out the dough or pressing it directly in the pan.

1 ¼ cups (6 ¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1 ¾ ounces) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 to 3 teaspoons water

Food Processor Fitted with a Metal Blade or a Medium Bowl and Pastry Blender, Small Bowl, Whisk, Rolling Pin (Optional), 9- or 9 ½-inch Fluted Tart Pan with Removable Bottom

To mix the dough using a food processor: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 5 times to blend. Add the cold butter pieces and pulse 6 to 8 times, just until the butter is the size of large peas. In the small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, and 1 teaspoon water. Add to the butter mixture, then process just until the dough begins to form small clumps, 5 to 10 seconds. Do not let the dough form a ball. Test the dough by squeezing a handful of clumps—when you open your hand, they should hold together. If they are crumbly and fall apart, sprinkle 1 teaspoon water over the dough and pulse several times, then test again. Repeat, if necessary. To mix the dough by hand: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the medium bowl and blend well with the whisk. Add the cold butter pieces and toss until they are lightly coated with the flour. Use the pastry blender or your fingertips to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs or crushed crackers. If at any time during this process the butter softens and becomes warm, place the bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes before continuing. In the small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, and 1 teaspoon water. Add to the dry ingredients and toss between your fingertips or with a fork 20 to 30 times to evenly distribute the moisture. The dough will still look very crumbly, but if the mixture is squeezed in your hand, it should hold together. If not, sprinkle another teaspoon of water over the top and toss to blend. Repeat, if necessary.
2 Finish the dough: Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead gently 2 or 3 times, just to finish bringing it together. Shape it into a disk about 6 inches in diameter. If the dough is still cool to the touch, continue on to the next step. If the dough is soft and sticky, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes before continuing.
3 To make the tart shell by rolling the dough: Make sure the dough is cool but malleable. If it has been refrigerated or frozen and is quite hard, let it sit on the counter for 10 to 12 minutes before rolling; otherwise, the dough will crack under the pressure of the rolling pin. Since it’s difficult to remove this dough from the work surface without tearing it unmercifully, place the dough disk between two 14-inch pieces of waxed paper, parchment paper, or plastic wrap. Roll it into an 11-inch round, rotating it (and the paper) clockwise slightly after each roll to create an even round. Remember to roll from the center outward and to lift the rolling pin at the edge to avoid smashing the edge into the paper, which will make removing the paper difficult. As you roll, the paper or plastic wrap will get wrinkled into the dough. When this happens, peel it off, smooth out the wrinkles and lay it back on the dough. Flip the dough over and repeat, if necessary, with the top piece. Continue to roll, flipping and smoothing wrinkles as necessary, until the dough is 11 inches across and between ¹⁄8 and ¼ inch thick. If the dough is soft and sticky, transfer it to a baking sheet and chill it for 30 minutes. Peel off the top piece of paper or plastic. Leave the bottom piece attached—this will hold the dough together while you transfer it to the pan. Lift the dough by the exposed paper or plastic and flip it over and center it over the tart pan as best you can. Peel off the paper or plastic. (If it sticks and won’t come off, place everything on a baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes—the paper will then peel off easily.) Ease the dough across the bottom of the pan and up the sides, pressing it into the corners of the pan with your fingertips. If the dough breaks or cracks, just press it together again. Once the dough is even in the pan, fold the excess dough at the edge inward to create a double layer of dough along the wall. Press firmly with your thumbs to fuse the two layers of dough, then roll your thumb over the rim of the pan to remove any excess dough there. Save the excess dough in case a crack forms in the crust during baking. Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes before baking. To make the tart shell by pressing the dough into the pan by hand: First, chill the dough for 30 minutes. Break the cold dough into small pieces roughly an inch or two in diameter and scatter them evenly over the bottom of the tart pan. Use the heel of your hand to press the pieces of dough flat, connecting them into a smooth, even layer. Press from the center of the pan outward, building up some extra dough where the bottom meets the side. Using your thumbs, press this excess up the sides of the pan to form the walls, making sure they are the same thickness as the dough on the bottom of the pan. Roll your thumb over the rim of the pan to remove any excess dough (save this for patching any cracks that might form during baking). Refrigerate for 1 hour, or freeze for 30 minutes before baking.

What The Pros Know
Professionals have to keep one step ahead, and you can follow their lead. Both this shortcrust dough and Easy Chocolate Press-In Dough (page 212) may be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 days, and they also freeze beautifully for up to 6 weeks. So, when preparing tart dough, think about doubling or tripling the recipe and refrigerating or freezing the extra batches.

To freeze made-ahead doughs, flatten each batch of dough into a 6- or 7-inch disk, double-wrap in plastic, and slip into a resealable plastic freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or on the counter for 1 hour before using. To make life even easier, roll or press the dough into the tart pan(s) immediately, then wrap the entire pan in plastic wrap and freeze in a resealable plastic bag. Be sure to include a nub of dough left over from trimming, to patch any cracks that form during baking. Then, when you want a tart, all you need to do is unwrap and pop it the preheated oven, allowing 3 to 5 extra minutes for baking.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Classic Fudgy Brownies

From The Art and Soul of Baking

Makes 16 (2-inch) brownies

Rich, dark, fudgy, and slightly chewy, these homemade brownies are always a hit, so much better than anything you can buy. Serve cold with a glass of milk, or warm from the oven with a scoop of ice cream. Like a simple black dress, they can be accessorized to match any occasion. For a casual snack, serve them right out of the pan. For something a bit dressier, dust the brownies with a layer of confectioners’ sugar, then use a stencil and cocoa powder for a contrasting design (see page 436).

Inspired by Jackson Pollock? Drizzle melted dark chocolate (or dark, milk, and/or white chocolates) wildly over the top. For a very special occasion, paint a message or design right onto the brownies using gold luster dust (see page 436) or frost them with a layer of Dark Chocolate Ganache (page 412) accented with the elegance of gold leaf (page 436).

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (up to 64 percent cacao), finely chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup (2 ½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
½ cup (about 3¾ ounces) chocolate chips or chunks (optional)
½ cup (2 ounces) chopped nuts, toasted and cooled completely (optional)

8-inch Square Cake Pan, Parchment Paper, Double Boiler, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Whisk, Cooling Rack, Thin Knife or Flexible Spatula, Chef’s Knife

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F and position an oven rack in the center. Line the pan with foil or parchment paper across the bottom and up two of the sides, then lightly coat with unflavored oil or high-heat canola-oil spray.
2 Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler. Place the butter, semisweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate in the top of the double boiler (off the heat). Turn off the heat, then set the butter and chocolate over the steaming water. Stir occasionally with the spatula until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
3 Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in the sugar. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, stirring well to incorporate each before adding the next. Stir in the vanilla extract. Whisk in the flour and salt. Continue to stir until the mixture changes from dull and broken-looking to smooth and shiny, about 1 minute. Whisk in the chocolate chips and chopped nuts, if using.
4 Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center of the brownies comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it (do not overbake). Transfer to a rack and cool completely
5 Run a thin knife or flexible spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen the brownies. To remove the brownies from the pan, grasp the foil or parchment paper extending up the sides and pull gently upward. Set the brownies on a cutting surface and use a chef’s knife to cut into 16 equal pieces. Since these are fudgy, it’s a good idea to keep a hot, wrung-out towel nearby so you can wipe the knife clean between slices. You could also serve the brownies right out of the pan, if you like, pressing a piece of plastic wrap against any cut surfaces and across the top to keep them fresh.

Tightly wrap the remaining brownies in plastic or place in an airtight container. They will keep well at room temperature for 2 to 3 days, or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Chocolate Mint Brownies with White Chocolate
Chunks Omit the vanilla extract and add ¾ teaspoon pure mint extract instead. Do not use nuts or dark chocolate chips at the end of Step 3, but instead add 4 ounces of good quality white chocolate chopped into ¼-inch pieces. Bake and cool as directed above. Melt an additional 1 ½ ounces of white chocolate and pipe or stripe it over the top of the cooled brownies in any pattern you like (page 431). Let the white chocolate cool and harden before cutting the brownies.

Chocolate-Pecan Brownie Cookies
Use toasted pecans for the nuts and substitute mini chocolate chips for the larger chips or chunks. Use a spoon or small ice cream scoop to portion tablespoons of batter about 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through. The cookies won’t seem done, but will firm up as they cool. The tops should look matte instead of shiny—you may want to bake a few to get the timing right before you commit to the entire batch. Makes about 45 cookies.

What the Pros Know

There are two types of brownies—fudgy and cakey. Fudgy brownies always begin with butter and chocolate melted together, which creates a dense, chewy texture. Cakey brownies begin with butter and sugar creamed together, and the chocolate is added later. The creaming step fills the batter with air, lightening it and making it more cake like in texture. You can change the style of your brownies by simply changing the mixing method to achieve the texture you want.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Old-Fashioned Tomato and Meat Sauce for Pasta

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

Prep 45 min | cook time 3 hr | serves 6

This rich tomato sauce is excellent served with rigatonio other sturdy dried pasta with ridges that will hold the sauce. The meat in this recipe—the pork ribs and beef chuck—adds to the rich flavor. However, meatballs, Italian sausage, veal stew meat, Italian fennel sausage, or even a browned pork chop or piece of beef sirloin can be substituted. Just make sure not to use more than 3 pounds of meat, which are served as a side dish with the pasta.

8-Quart Dutch Oven, Tongs, Food Mill, Rubber Spatula, 8-Quart Stock Pot with Matching Pasta Insert or Other 8-Quart Pot and Colander, Large Ladle, Two Large Spoons

1 to 1 ½ pounds meaty pork spareribs or country-style ribs
1 to 1 ½ pounds boneless beef chuck or stew meat, cut into 2-inch pieces
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup coarsely chopped yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes with juices
1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 pound rigatoni, penne rigate, or conchiglie (large shells)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving

1. Make the sauce: Blot the meat dry with paper towels and sprinkle generously on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in an 8-quart Dutch oven or other large, wide pan over medium heat. Working in batches, add the meat to the oil and cook, turning with tongs, for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned on all sides. As each batch is done, transfer it to a large plate. When all of the meat has been browned, set it aside.

2. Spoon off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 5 minutes, or until golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, or until softened. Remove from the heat.

3. Fit a food mill with the medium disk, and set the mill on the rim of the Dutch oven. Put the tomatoes with their juices in the food mill and puree. Reverse the crank to extract every bit of flavor from the tomato pulp, and occasionally stop to clean the underside of the mill with a rubber spatula, so the puree falls freely. Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, oregano, and red pepper to the pan and stir to blend.

4. Add the browned meats and any juices that accumulated on the plate to the pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook uncovered, stirring and adjusting the temperature to maintain a slow simmer, for 2 to 2½ hours, until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced.

5. cook the pasta : Fill a deep 8-quart pot, outfitted with a pasta insert if using, three-fourths full with water. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Add 3 tablespoons of coarse salt to the boiling water and then gradually add the pasta. Stir with a long-handled slotted spoon until the water returns to a boil. Boil the pasta for 10 minutes. Remove 1 piece of pasta with the slotted spoon and test for doneness. Pasta is cooked when it is only slightly resistant to the bite. If the pasta is too hard, cook for 2 minutes more and test again. Keep testing the pasta every 2 minutes, or until it is cooked to your liking.

6. Slowly lift out the pasta insert, allowing the water to drain back into the pot, or set a large colander in the sink and pour the pasta and water slowly into the colander. Do not shake all of the water off the pasta.

7. Ladle a pool of just the sauce—no meat—in the bottom of a large pasta serving bowl. Add half of the pasta. Top with another ladle or two of sauce, again without the meat. Top with the remaining pasta. Top with 2 more ladles of the sauce. Using 2 large spoons, gently mix the pasta with the sauce until evenly coated. Reserve the remaining sauce.

8. Use tongs to lift the meat from the sauce and either arrange it along the edges of the pasta or place it in a separate serving bowl. Pour the remaining tomato sauce into a gravy boat or a small bowl, and serve along with the pasta and meat. Pass the cheese at the table.

Keep the Pasta and the Bowl Hot

A great way to heat the pasta serving bowl is to set it in the sink and set the colander for draining the pasta inside the bowl. That way, the boiling pasta water heats up the bowl as the pasta drains. When ready to serve, simply pour the water from the bowl and the bowl will be hot.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Chef’s Torch -- from Things Cooks Love

Things Cooks Love

This handy torch is the scaled down home version of the industrial blowtorch. It is fired by butane, and the pointed flame is hot enough to caramelize sugar on a crème brûlée, turn on a cheese bubbly and golden, brown the tops of casseroles, melt herb butter on top of vegetables, and
transform pale gold chicken skin to deep mahogany in a matter of seconds. Although many restaurant chefs use industrial-strength torches, the chef’s torch, lightweight and just 6 inches long, is perfect for the home cook.

Toasted Goat Cheese, Roasted Beet, and Pear Salad |
Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes with Bubbling Mozzarella

Tips for Using
The butane canisters are small and inexpensive. Buy two, so you’ll always have one in reserve. One canister is good for about 1½ hours of use.

Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions before using your chef’s torch. For example, pay attention to the advice about the angle of the barrel. If the angle is too severe, the flame will extinguish itself.

The torch is not recommended for caramelizing brown sugar, but works well with turbinado and granulated white sugar.

Use the torch to toast marshmallows, to char chiles or bell peppers, and to melt jelly or jam glaze on fruit tarts, cheesecakes, and tortes.

Use the torch to heat the bottom of a custard cup or pan to ease the unmolding of panna cotta, a gelatin mold, a cheesecake, or other cold mixtures.

The torch is handy for warming up a knife blade before slicing cold, firm cheesecakes, ice-cream cakes, or pies.

Care in Using
Remove sticky fingerprints from the handle with a clean, damp cloth. Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions.

The chef’s torch is difficult to replicate, but a preheated broiler will work for some tasks, such as browning the top of a casserole. Commercial chefs prefer the brawny hardware-store torch, but it’s not recommended for the typical home cook.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Indian Pantry

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

India is a country of contrasts, with cool mountains in the north, tropical plains in the south, and a heady mix of religions and customs in every corner. Not surprisingly, this cauldron of differences has produced a varied, complex cuisine that inevitably attracts the adventurous cook. The diversity of Indian cooking is melded into a single culinary tradition by the importance of spices in every dish. To stitch the culinary quilt together the following pages focus on the tawa and karahi, two pieces of cookware found in every Indian kitchen, along with the electric spice grinder. The Indian kitchen’s most commonly used spices and ingredients include cumin, garam masala, and ghee, and as each pinch of spice hits the hot tawa, you draw closer to the heart and soul of Indian cooking.

This staple of the Indian pantry is what Western cooks call clarified butter. Ghee can be bought in tins, but the flavor is better if you make it yourself. The process is simple: melt butter, let the milk solids separate from the fat and sink to the bottom of the pan, and then pour off the clear liquid, or ghee. The solids have a lower smoking point than the fat, so they burn at high temperatures, plus they promote rancidity, especially if refrigeration is not available. (See page 323 for the technique.)

Black Pepper
Native to India, this pungent dried berry is thought to be the most widely consumed spice in the world. It has been used in India since ancient times, usually cracked or ground and added to foods to give them a touch of heat.

A member of the ginger family, cardamom is a small pod with a thin, crackly covering and a number of tiny, round dark seeds inside. The pods can be green or bleached white. The seeds can be removed and the pod discarded, or the entire pod can be ground. Ground cardamon is also available, but some recipes may call for using the seeds whole. Cardamom, which is pungent and spicy with sweet tones, is used in both sweet and savory dishes.

With the introduction of chiles to India in the sixteenth century, the “heat” in Indian cooking began to change, moving away from black pepper. Indians love their food spiced with chiles, and grow many different varieties. The Mexican chiles available in most supermarkets can be substituted. Typically, the smaller the chile, the hotter it will be.

The cinnamon used in India is from the bark of the cassia tree, which is milder than the bark of true cinnamon. In northern India, rice is often seasoned with a cinnamon stick. Cinnamon is also used in garam masala, a custom blend of spices specific to every cook in India.

The dried flower bud of a tropical tree, clove has a powerful flavor and scent. It’s one of the spices in garam masala; is used in sauces, especially with tomatoes; and is added to rice dishes.

C oriander is used extensively in Indian cooking, both as a fresh leaf (cilantro) and a dried seed. The seeds are small, hard spheres that give off an intoxicating floral scent when ground. The mild flavor of coriander goes well with vegetable dishes, especially those made with tomatoes, eggplant, and carrots.

C umin is considered the most important spice in Indian cooking. It is a small, curved, highly aromatic light brown seed that looks a bit like caraway. It is sold whole or ground. Toasting cumin seeds before grinding brings out their flavor. Cumin has strong citrus notes and is often added to neutral-tasting vegetables, such as beans, potatoes, and rice.

Curry Powder
Indian cooks typically mix up their own curry powders, choosing spices and proportions to their taste and according to the dish being seasoned. Curry powder is considered the original masala, or blend, of the southern Indian kitchen, whereas garam masala is the blend favored in the north. According to Indian food expert Julie Sahni, another blend, panch phoron, is popular in the kitchens of eastern India. Curry powder is used to flavor sauces and goes well with meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes, especially tomatoes.

Fennel seeds look a little like cumin, without the curve, but the sweet licorice aroma and flavor couldn’t be more different. It is used to season vegetables and for sweets.

Garam Masala
In Hindi, garam means “warm” or “hot” and masala means “a blend of spices.” The spices included in this blend vary by region, by cook, and by the dish to which it is being added. Every Indian cook creates his or her own blend, which can have as few as ten or as many as thirty different spices. In the United States, you can buy already-ground garam masala in jars or packets or mixtures of whole spices. Whole-spice mixtures typically include bay leaf, cinnamon stick, brown mustard seeds, green cardamom pods, whole cloves, and cumin seeds. The spices are always dry roasted on a griddle (tawa) or small skillet before they are ground in an electric spice grinder or, for smaller amounts, in a mortar and pestle (see page 129).

Fresh ginger, with its familiar pungency and heat, is used widely in Indian cooking. It is typically peeled and then grated, chopped, or thinly sliced before adding to dishes. It is a popular seasoning in lentil dishes, various curries, and chutneys.

Mustard Seeds
M ustard seeds come in several colors, but small brown seeds are most often used in Indian cooking, especially in the vegetarian cooking of the south and in traditional Indian pickles.

Nigella Seeds
These small, black, pungent seeds are sometimes called black onion seeds, though the onion is not a relative. They are used in stir-fried vegetables, pickles, and in dals, dishes made with dried split lentils, peas, and/or beans.

Turmeric, a rhizome like ginger, is commonly dried and ground into a brilliant golden yellow powder with a strong earthy taste. It is the spice that gives curry powder its distinctive color. It is also a common addition to vegetable, rice, seafood, and meat dishes and to pickles.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How to Trim Artichokes

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

Half fill a large bowl with water and add the juice of 1 lemon. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, cut off the stem flush with the bottom. Pull away and discard any blemished outer leaves. Lay the artichoke on its side and, with a large knife, cut about ½ inch off the top, to remove the prickly tips.

Use kitchen scissors to snip off the prickly tips from the remaining leaves. Rinse the artichoke under running cold water and place in the bowl of lemon water. Repeat with the remaining artichokes. The artichokes are now ready to steam or boil until tender. To remove the choke, invert cooked artichokes on a folded kitchen towel to drain and cool. Then stand the cooled artichokes stem side down. Use your fingers to gently spread open the leaves at the top to expose the prickly-tipped center leaves. Grasp the leaves with your fingers and pull them out. Reach down into the artichoke with the tip of a spoon and scrape away the fuzzy choke. The artichokes are now ready to stuff and bake, or chill and serve cold with mayonnaise or a vinaigrette dressing.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

Boning Knife
A boning knife has a thin, narrow, curvaceous blade about 6 inches long and ½ to 1 inch wide. Because boning requires considerable dexterity, the handle should fit and feel comfortable in your hand.

Carving Knife and Fork
Also called a slicing knife, this knife has an 8- to 12-inch-long, narrow, slightly tapered blade and an easy-to-grip handle. Knives designed to cut through cooked meat and poultry are tapered to a point at the end. Knives for slicing smoked fish or ham are a bit longer, with a straight edge and a squared-off end. A meat and poultry carving knife is often sold in a set with a two-pronged fork, for holding the meat steady while it is being carved.

Cheese Knife
A number of distinctive cheese knives are available, each suitable for different types of cheese. One popular design has an offset blade, which angles down from the handle before straightening out to a length of about 5 inches. This knife works with soft, semisoft, and semifirm cheeses. Another model, also for soft cheeses, has large perforations in the blade that prevent the cheese from clinging to it and a sharp scalloped edge that ensures a tidy cut. Another useful knife is the Parmesan knife, which has a stubby, spade-shaped blade and a sturdy, oval wooden handle. It efficiently cuts such hard cheeses as Parmesan and aged Gouda, Asiago, and provolone into jagged chunks.

Chef’s Knife
The chef’s knife is covered on page 9 in “The Basic Kitchen,” but here you’ll have a chance to think about adding more chef’s knives to your knife block. For a novice cook, a small chef’s knife (8 inches) is usually perfect. But if you are a more adept cook with greater knife skills, you might find a chef’s knife with a longer blade more practical. Chef’s knives can be as long as 14 inches, but a 10-inch knife is more than adequate for home use. You might also consider adding a smaller (6-inch) chef’s knife for your kitchen as well. Before buying, always hold the knife in your hand so you can judge the weight, balance, and comfort of the handle. Simulate the rocking motion of chopping before buying to decide what feels most comfortable.

The extra-strong, wedge-shaped, sharp-edged blade of a meat cleaver is designed for cutting through bones, but this large knife can also be used for many other tasks, such as halving acorn squash, cutting apart a slab of ribs, or smashing a garlic clove. There are also vegetable cleavers shaped like wide squares available that are designed primarily for cutting vegetables. These are not durable enough for cutting through meat bones. Whichever one you choose, make sure to buy a cleaver with good heft for both efficiency and versatility.

Paring Knife
Owning paring knives in a variety of sizes and styles eases tasks in any kitchen. Two styles, the straight 3-inch blade and the bird’s beak blade, are described on page 10. Among other types is one designed specifically or vegetables, called a standard parer, which has a curvaceous blade and sharp upward tip and looks a little like a miniature boning knife. Yet another type has a narrow, triangular 3-inch blade that is useful for such small jobs as slicing handheld strawberries or mushrooms.

Poultry Shears
Heavy-duty kitchen scissors are a versatile and indispensable kitchen tool (page 10), and some of them are sturdy enough to cut through poultry bones. However, true poultry shears are always stronger. There are several models on the market, so be sure to look for some or all of the following features: a curved blade for getting around and into chicken joints, a cushioned handle that permits a firm grasp, a notch at the back of the blade for keeping the bones in place while you cutdown, a serrated bottom blade for extra cutting power, a strong lock for keeping the spring-loaded blades safely closed during storage, and made of stainless steel that is dishwasher safe.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Asian Pantry

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

Many of us love Asian food but don’t necessarily feel comfortable cooking it at home. However, many Asian recipes rely on a minimum of tools and cookware, use techniques that are easy to master, and call for only a handful of ingredients. In this chapter, you’ll take a closer look at a few classic pieces of cookware found in Chinese and Japanese kitchens, such as the wok, suribachi, and bamboo steamer. The fascinating ingredients typically found in an Asian pantry include pickled ginger, tamari, and umeboshi, and then accompanying recipes put them to use. You’ll also find suggestions for substitute cookware if you don’t have the authentic piece on hand. Soon the thought of cooking Asian food at home will no longer seem impossible.

Chile-Pepper Oil
Sold in small bottles in Asian grocers, chile oil is vegetable oil that has been steeped with hot red chiles. It’s used as a seasoning in dipping sauces, stir-fries, soups, and other dishes. Buy it in a small bottle and store in the refrigerator to preserve its heat and keep it from turning rancid.

Chinese Rice Wine
Sometimes called yellow wine, rice wine is made from fermented rice. It has a slightly nutty taste and is used in many Chinese dishes. It is available both salted for cooking and unsalted for cooking and drinking. Look for Shao hsing, which can be purchased in Asian markets. If Chinese rice wine is unavailable, dry sherry, sake, or dry white vermouth can be substituted.

Chinese Salted Black Beans
These small, fermented, very salty black soybeans are used to flavor steamed and stir-fried seafood, chicken, or vegetables. They come in small plastic bags. They can be rinsed before using to remove some of the salt. Store at room temperature.

Fish Sauce

Pungent and salty, fish sauce, made by allowing salted fish, usually anchovies, to ferment in large earthenware crocks or barrels in the sun, is used as both a flavoring and a condiment in Southeast Asia. There is a wide variety of brands to choose from in Asian groceries and well-stocked supermarkets, most of them from Thailand. Once opened, store fish sauce in the refrigerator. Buy a small bottle as a little goes a long way.

Five-Spice Powder

The spices used in this aromatic blend vary among manufacturers, but can include any combination of cinnamon, fennel, star anise, clove, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns. It is a popular ingredient in southern China and in Vietnam, where it is used in rubs, marinades, and as a seasoning.

Fresh Ginger

A knobby-looking rhizome with thin, tan skin and creamy white, somewhat fibrous flesh, fresh ginger is used in marinades, stir-fries, soups, and countless other ways. The skin is easily peeled with a paring knife or scraped off with the edge of a teaspoon. Once peeled, the flesh is grated, slivered, or chopped. Ginger, which has a pleasantly spicy, peppery yet sweet flavor, is stocked in the produce section of most supermarkets. Store unwrapped in the vegetable bin in the refrigerator. For longer storage, slip ginger into a resealable plastic freezer bag and freeze for up to four months, then peel and grate or chop while still frozen.

Hoisin Sauce
Hoisin sauce is a slightly sweet, spicy, thick soybeanbased sauce typically flavored with sugar, garlic, chiles, and many other seasonings. It is used as a glaze or basting sauce for grilled, roasted, or slow-cooked meat and poultry; to flavor stir-fries; and as a dipping sauce, often thinned with soy sauce or Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry). Once open, store in the refrigerator; it will keep indefinitely.

Japanese Rice

When properly cooked, Japanese medium-grain rice, also called sushi or short-grain rice, yields moist and slightly sticky yet firm kernels. It must be rinsed well before cooking to remove some of the starch, and because it absorbs some of the rinse water, it requires less water for cooking. Excellent-quality Japanese rice is grown in the United States. Look for Kokuho Rose, CalRose, and Nishiki brands. Japanese-grown rice is not exported to this country.

A versatile fermented soybean paste found in every Japanese pantry, miso is available in jars or plastic containers in the refrigerated section of the market. There are many different types of miso, each with its own color and flavor. Light-colored, mild misos are used in delicate soups, sauces, and salad dressings, whereas darker, stronger-tasting types are used in more robust soups and for all-purpose cooking. Stored in the refrigerator, miso will keep for months.

These thin sheets of dried, dark green to black seaweed, with a flavor reminiscent of the sea, are primarily used for wrapping sushi and for snipping into small pieces for garnishing all kinds of dishes. Toasting nori improves its flavor and texture, emphasizing its nutty, salty taste. It can be purchased already toasted, or it can be briefly toasted over a gas burner or with a chef’s torch. Nori is typically sold in cellophane-packaged sheets, either whole or perforated.

Pickled Ginger
Cut into paper-thin slices and preserved in sweet vinegar, pickled ginger, or gari, is available in plastic containers or jars in the refrigerated section of Japanese or Asian markets. Available in its natural color or dyed pale pink, it is always served alongside sushi.

Rice Vinegar
Japanese rice vinegar is colorless, generally quite mild, and versatile. Look for Marukan brand, which is light enough for dressing leafy greens and rice salads. It comes both seasoned and unseasoned, although unseasoned vinegar is preferred by many cooks because of its pure, clean taste. Chinese rice vinegars, available in black, red, and white, are usually stronger tasting than Japanese vinegars and are used mostly for braised dishes; for stir-fries, such as sweet-and-sour pork; and as a table condiment.

Sesame Seeds
White, tan, and black sesame seeds are used in Chinese and Japanese cooking. The white are unhulled and have a mild taste. The tan and black are hulled and have a more assertive, nutty flavor. They are used as a condiment and in salads, stir-fries, sushi, and other dishes. Because sesame seeds are high in fat, they should be refrigerated to avoid rancidity. They’re available in jars or cellophane packages in Asian or other well-supplied grocery stores.

Sesame Soy Marinade

Available in specialty grocers, this Shanghai-style bottled soy-based mixture of sesame oil, spices, and sherry is used to marinate poultry and meat or as a seasoning for stir-fried rice or vegetable dishes. It’s the familiar flavor in stir-fried beef and broccoli.

Shiitake Mushrooms

These mushrooms are sold whole or sliced, dried in cellophane packages or boxes as Chinese black mushrooms in Chinese stores and shiitake mushrooms in Japanese stores and must be rehydrated in boiling water (for a quicker result) or tepid water before using. The flavor and aroma are both smoky and pungent, and the texture is thick and meaty. In contrast, fresh shiitake—available in most supermarkets—are mild and soft. Before using whole fresh or dried, discard the tough, inedible stems.

Shiso Leaves

Related to the mint and basil family, shiso is a popular herb in Japanese cooking. The heart-shaped, jaggededged, aromatic leaves are used in recipes for Japanese sashimi, sushi, and salads. Small plastic bags holding about six fresh leaves are sometimes found in produce sections of Japanese markets. Refrigerated, they’ll keep about one week. It is sometimes called perilla or Japanese basil.

Soy Sauce

Used as a condiment or seasoning, this familiar Asian sauce is made from fermented soybeans combined with roasted wheat or occasionally barley and is available in a variety of strengths. Light or thin soy, used primarily with milder foods such as fish and poultry, is often saltier than dark soy, which is aged longer, giving it a deeper, more caramel-like color and flavor well suited to use with meats. Bottles labeled simply “soy sauce” hold a pleasantly strong and salty all-purpose sauce. Low-sodium soy sauce has the mildest taste and is recommended for people watching their sodium intake. Mushroom soy, a popular Chinese sauce, is soy sauce flavored with dried Chinese black mushrooms.

Similar to soy sauce and traditionally made without wheat, tamari, which originated in Japan, is slightly thicker and has a mellower, richer flavor. Today, tamari made both with and without wheat is sold. If you are following a wheat-free diet, check the label before purchase.

Toasted Sesame Oil

This aromatic, amber-colored oil is pressed from toasted sesame seeds. It is a seasoning oil, not a cooking oil, and it adds a delicious depth of flavor to steamed vegetables, soups, stir-fries, marinades, and dipping sauces. Buy small bottles and store in the refrigerator because it
quickly turns rancid.

Tofu is made from soy milk. It is sold in square white cakes in the refrigerator section of almost all markets. Sometimes called soybean curd or bean curd, it has a custardlike texture and bland flavor, which helps it to blend well with spicy or highly flavored foods. In Chinese and Japanese cooking it is often stir fried, deep-fried, or added to broth. It can be diced, sliced, mashed, or pureed. Many types of tofu are available, including soft, firm, and extra firm. In Western-style cooking it is used in casseroles, soups, smoothies, salads, stir-fries, sandwiches, and puddings and other desserts. Tofu should be kept refrigerated. It stays fresh for about one week.


These brined, unripe plums are a delicacy in Japan. They are deep red—which comes from including red shiso leaves along with the brine—and have a mouthpuckering tartness. Believed to aid digestion, umeboshi are used as a stuffing in onigiri (rice balls wrapped in nori) and as a condiment at most meals. These are available as whole plums or as a paste in jars, tubes, and cans in Asian or Japanese food shops.


Wasabi, a Japanese root commonly compared to Western horseradish (the two are unrelated), has a memorable eye-watering, sinus-clearing kick. Sold as a pale green paste or powder (the fresh root is rarely available in the United States), it is lightly applied—just a tiny dot is sufficient—to maki-zushi and other sushi and is mixed with soy sauce as a dip for raw fish. The paste is available in a convenient small tube, whereas the powder, which must be reconstituted with water (follow the directions on the label), comes in a can.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Clay Cooker

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

The design of a clay cooker, also known as a clay pot, imitates the ancient practice of covering food with wet clay, roasting it in an open fire until the clay forms a hard shell, and then cracking the shell to expose the cooked food, likely losing most of the tasty juices at the same time. Today, clay cookers are far easier to use and are especially appreciated because foods cooked in them require little or no added fat.

Some clay cookers are unglazed on the inside but all need to be soaked in cold water for about 30 minutes before using for the first time. As the heat of the oven permeates the pot, the wetness in the clay is drawn out, adding moisture to the cooker’s interior.

Tips for Using
Read the instructions that accompany your clay cooker before use. All clay cookers—even glazed ones—must be soaked—typically 30 minutes—before they are used the first time.

All clay cookers should also be soaked each time they are used, but for a shorter length of time,
typically 15 minutes.

To soak, slip the cooker into a sink filled with cool water.

Some clay pots must be placed in a cold oven, which is then turned to the desired temperature, usually 400° to 450°F. Make sure to read carefully the instructions that accompany your clay cooker.

Because the soaked pot adds so much moisture to the food, it’s the perfect vessel for making soup.

Care in Using
Don’t take a clay cooker from a hot oven and place it on cold granite, tile, stainless steel, or another cold surface. Instead, place it on a folded kitchen towel to buffer it from extreme temperature changes.

Wash with warm, soapy water and gently scrub with a stiff plastic brush. Use only mild dishwashing liquid, never strong cleaners.

To remove stubborn burnt-on food or residual odors from the interior, fill the clay pot with warm water, add a spoonful of baking soda, and let stand overnight. It should then scrub clean. Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions.

Dutch oven, cocotte, or braiser.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Moroccan Kitchen

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

The MoroccanPantry

Morocco boasts a varied landscape: orchards of olives, almonds, and lemons; fishing boats crowding the seashore; and sheep and goats grazing on the mountainsides. Its colorful markets keep Moroccan pantries well stocked with exotic spices in every color and aroma. The intriguing cookware includes the couscoussière, a two-tiered metal pot for cooking couscous, and the tagine, a shallow earthenware pot with a tall, conical lid for cooking its famous stews. Here you will read about some of the staples of the Moroccan pantry and learn how to make bisteeya, a lavish savory pie with a buttery, paper-thin pastry, topped with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar—an appropriately sweet finish to your journey through the global kitchen.

Cumin is one of the most popular spices of the Moroccan kitchen. For the best flavor, always toast the whole seeds in a small, dry skillet to release their aroma before grinding them in either a mortar or an electric spice grinder.

When uncooked, couscous, small beads of rolled semolina, look like tiny pellets. When steamed, they swell and become soft and fluffy. Boxes of precooked couscous—often labeled “instant” or “quick cooking”—hold the same couscous you see sold in bulk in specialty-food shops, health-food stores, and many supermarkets. The box directions produce a satisfying but heavy starch, but when steamed in the traditional way (page 316), the results are lighter, fluffier, and more tender.

Flower Waters
Orange-flower water and rose water are used to flavor desserts, sweets, and beverages. Both waters are distilled from blossoms or buds and are sold in small bottles 312 in specialty-food shops and in some large liquor stores.

Made from chiles, garlic, and caraway, coriander, and/or cumin, harissa is a fiery sauce found on tables throughout North Africa. It can be purchased in jars or tubes, or made at home in a blender or with a mortar and pestle. Harissa is used as a condiment to flavor soups, stews,
couscous, and other dishes.

Preserved Lemons
Preserved lemons—slit whole lemons packed into jars with salt and lemon juice and left to mature—are indispensable in the Moroccan kitchen. The rinds are cut into small pieces to flavor tagines and other dishes, while the pulp is used to season sauces. They can be made at
home (page 328) or purchased in specialty-food shops.

Ras el Hanout
This blend of exotic spices is primarily used to flavor meat dishes, but it is also used in rice dishes and couscous. It can be made with as few as ten spices or more than three times that amount. Home cooks typically roast whole spices and then grind them to a fine powder
in a mortar or spice grinder. Look for ras el hanout in specialty-food shops.

The orange-yellow stigma of a purple crocus, saffron is used in the cooking of many countries around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, including Morocco, where local cooks regularly add it to tagines. Stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, it will keep for up to 6 months before it begins to lose its pungency. (For more on saffron, see page 293.)

These paper-thin Greek pastry leaves are widely available frozen, typically rolled in plastic and packed into a long, narrow box. Phyllo is an excellent substitute for traditional Moroccan pastry when making bisteeya.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Cookware: Grill Pan

From Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes.

The grill pan, also called a skillet grill, comes in all sizes and shapes (round, square, and rectangular) and is made from a variety of materials, such as steel and aluminum blends, or cast iron. Designed for use on the stove top, it has raised grids that leave seared grill marks on the surface of the food, making it possible to pretend you’re grilling even when it is snowing outdoors. The wells between the grids catch fat and juices, leaving the surface of the food dry—a boon for anyone interesting in low-fat cooking.

Tips for Using
Before adding the food to the grill pan, preheat it over medium heat for about 2 minutes, or until a drop of water sizzles and evaporates on contact.

Oil the grill pan or the food, just as you would when using an outdoor grill.

The grill pan is perfect for quickly heating up hot dogs or fully cooked sausages, and great for grilled sandwiches, thin cutlets, chicken breasts, and vegetables.

Food cooks more slowly on a grill pan than it does on a flat surface, because contact with the food is limited to the grids.

Hamburgers are only successful on a grill pan if the patties are less than ½ inch thick. This is true of most meats cooked on the grill pan.

Vegetables cook best when they are thinly cut, so all surfaces will come in contact with the hot grid.

Care in Using
Never scour a grill pan with abrasive cleaners. Instead, soak the pan in warm, soapy water, loosen cooked-on particles with a stiff brush, rinse, and dry.

Before storing a washed grill pan, rub all of its surfaces with flavorless cooking oil until they are dry, with no trace of oil remaining.

Always consult the manufacturer’s instructions.

A panini grill can be substituted for a grill pan.

Tamari-Glazed Swordfish with Mango, Ginger, and Sweet Onion Salad | Marinated Grilled Zucchini with Oregano and Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette

Coming Next: Grill Pan Recipe - Marinated Grilled Zucchini with Oregano and Dried-Tomato Vinaigrette