Friday, June 25, 2010

How to Peel Garlic Easily

I cook very often with fresh garlic, a great addition to everything from pasta to chicken dishes. For most dishes, the best distribution of flavor is achieved when the garlic is peeled and minced.

Peeling garlic doesn't have to be difficult. Separate the clove from the rest of the head and trim the tips off with a knife. Then, use the flat of the blade to crush the clove against your cutting board. When the clove splits, the skin can be removed easily.

I strongly suggest purchasing a wooden bowl and a curved blade (as pictured or similar) for mincing garlic and other herbs.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How to Defrost Something Quickly

I am often spontaneous when it comes to cooking, and I can never remember to defrost meat or fish a day or hours ahead of time. I also dislike microwaves (I do not own one) because they affect the taste of food and may decrease the nutritional value. Instead I put the frozen item, still in it's original packaging or freezer bag, in the sink and run hot water over it. Make sure the packaging is water tight.

This should defrost most foods within 20 minutes, depending on the size of the item. The more surface area it has, the faster it will defrost, so when I store food I make sure each piece is flat and not stacked or folded over. Sometimes I cut meat into small, stir-fry size chunks before freezing. Fish may take a little longer than other meats; my guess is this is because it contains more water.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sweet and Sour

In this little Venn diagram, I've brainstormed a few potential sauce and marinade ingredients. While not every pair of sweet and sour ingredients is a match, it is always fun to experiment with different combinations. Ingredients that have both sweet and sour qualities are often great foundations for sauces. My personal favorite is orange juice, the star of many Asian recipes. Be creative and use your imagination. If your feeling stuck trying to come up with a good marinade, it's hard to go wrong with brown sugar and vinegar.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Recipe: Tomato Basil Salad

A quick one. Great for a snack or alongside a meal. Combine the following and drizzle with olive oil and red wine or "Four Thieves" vinegar:

1. Tomato slices
2. Fresh basil leaves
3. Shredded mozzarella cheese
4. Salt and ground black pepper (optional)

How to Properly Thicken a Sauce

Thin sauces don't stick to food, have a poor mouth-feel, and are honestly just wimpy. Adding flour or cornstarch directly to sauces, as you may have experienced when making your thanksgiving gravy, inevitably creates stubborn lumps that are difficult to dissolve. Instead, avoid the lumpiness and thicken sauces with the following process:

1. Put some flour or cornstarch in a small jar (a clean, empty spice container is ideal).
2. Add water until flour is saturated

A general mixing rule in cooking is to always add wet to dry, so do not reverse steps one and two.

3. Shake vigorously
4. Heat sauce on med/low heat in a small pot or pan.
5. While stirring constantly, pour the mixture into the sauce incrementally
6. Stop adding mixture when sauce is desired consistency. It may happen suddenly.

If you accidentally over-thicken, add a little water directly to the sauce to thin back out again.

Many marinades can be made into hearty sauces using this method. This method can also be used to thicken gravies and stews.

Recipe: Balsamic Rosemary Chicken

Simple, tangy, herby chicken.


1. Skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into one inch pieces
2. 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
3. 1/4 cup olive oil
4. 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary
5. Juice of one blood orange (regular orange juice may be substituted)


1. In a bowl, mince rosemary leaves into tiny pieces, avoiding the woodiest parts of the stems (trick: use a pair of scissors)
2. Rub pieces together with your fingers to bruise and release fragrance
3. Add vinegar, orange juice, and olive oil
4. Submerge uncooked chicken in the mixture and soak, refrigerated, for at least 20 minutes. (Ideally use this time to prepare other parts of the meal).
5. Remove chicken from liquid and sauté in an olive oil-greased pan for a few moments on high (if you do it right it will caramelize the outside) then turn down to medium heat.
6. To prevent chicken from drying out, add a small amount of the marinade to the pan while the chicken is cooking (just a few tablespoons in total). Do not add any liquid too close to the end as it does contain raw chicken germs and needs to be cooked.

Try the same recipe on tuna steaks.

Stock Your Kitchen: Absolute Staples

The very basics (keep well and used frequently):


1. Salted Butter (lasts longer than unsalted)
2. Olive oil
3. Sesame Oil

1. Soy sauce (a more sophisticated saltiness)
2. Teriyaki sauce (I like Kikkoman®, Roasted Garlic)
3. Red wine and/or balsamic and/or apple cider vinegars

Dry Goods
1. Light brown sugar
2. Granulated sugar
3. All-purpose flour


1. Rice
2. Dried pasta
3. Cous Cous (cooks in just 5 minutes)

1. Salt
2. Black Pepper
3. Mrs. Dash®
4. Ground Cinnamon
5. Fresh garlic

Other good ideas
1. Eggs
2. Frozen mixed vegetables (fresh are much better in both flavor and nutrition, but are more expensive and keep poorly)
3. Frozen meat, poultry and fish
4. Milk
5. Half and Half
6. Parmesan cheese
7. Quality bread (Choose the kind baked at the store over prepackaged, ideally free of cornsyrup and preservatives. Keep it in the fridge for a longer shelf life.)

Four Theives Vinegar

An old Wiccan recipe. Squeeze peeled garlic cloves through the neck of a glass bottle until full (don't worry if they bruise). Fill to brim with red wine vinegar, cork, and age on the windowsill for about a month.

Liquid should pour out freely while the garlic remains in the bottle. Refill to top with more vinegar after every use. If you do not completely cover the garlic cloves with vinegar, they will mold and the entire bottle must be discarded.

Recipe: Mustard Vinaigrette

An all-purpose salad dressing. Shake well.

1. Two heaping tablespoons stone ground mustard
2. 2/3 cup red wine or "Four Thieves" vinegar
3. One tablespoon honey
4. One tablespoon brown sugar
5. 1/2 cup olive oil

Recipe: Seared Steak Salad

This one will make you seem like a true gourmet, without much actual cooking involved. Feeds two people (and is surprisingly filling, serve as the main course). This recipe is also good with seared tuna.


1. One mango, diced
2. One package red raspberries
3. Two large handfuls baby spinach
4. 1/3 cup toasted almonds
5. small handful toasted sunflower seeds

6. two six-ounce (approximately) steaks or fillet mignon cuts if you're feeling fancy
7. one tablespoon butter or enough sesame oil to coat the bottom of your pan

8. Mustard Vinaigrette

Proportions are flexible.


1. Place a pan large enough to hold both steaks on med/high-high.
2. Add butter before completely up to temp, oil can be added earlier.
3. When butter is melted or oil is hot lay on the steaks.
4. After just a minute or so: flip, give one more minute, and remove.
5. Being careful not to burn your fingers, slice meat into thin strips with a sharp knife. It should look pretty darn raw in the middle, hence "seared" (think fancy Mediterranean restaurant). If you feel more comfortable cooking the steak a little further, make sure you slice it extra thin afterward to achieve the same tenderness.

6. Toast almonds and sunflower seeds in a dry pan on med. Do not burn. Under-toasted is better than going too far. Seeds should be browned slightly.

7. Toss mango, raspberries, spinach, almonds, and sunflower seeds in a large bowl.
8. Coat with mustard vinaigrette.
9. Divide into servings, lay seared meat over top, drizzle vinaigrette once more.

Recipe: Winning French Toast

Impressive french toast. If you have a reasonably equipped spice rack, you should be able to whip this one up anytime as long as you keep bread and eggs in the house. Feeds about two people.


1. Multigrain bread (choose the kind fresh baked in the store over the pre-packaged variety)
2. Vanilla extract (It's expensive, but one bottle goes a long way. Choose organic if your budget allows or at least without artificial ingredients.)
3. Nutmeg
4. Ground Cinnamon
5. Honey (teaspoon)
6. Half and half
7. 1 egg
8. 1 tablespoon butter
9. Real maple syrup (I prefer grade B, it's heartier and less expensive)


1. Break an egg into a large mixing bowl
2. Add two shakes each of nutmeg and cinnamon, a capful of vanilla extract (about half a teaspoon), honey, and a splash of half and half.
3. Whisk vigorously with a fork until homogeneous
4. Heat a frying pan on medium, add butter when warm
5. Dip slices of bread into egg mixture until bread is soaked. This should only take a couple seconds for each (I use the smaller pieces toward the ends of the loaf so I can save the larger slices for sandwiches.)
6. Cook until brown on both sides
7. Serve with maple syrup

Recipe: Pan-fried Catfish Fillets

Catfish is the likely the least expensive of your local grocery store's seafood selections. If properly prepared, it can also be one of the most delicious.


1. Catfish fillets (enough to feed you and your family/friends)
2. All-purpose flour
3. Mrs. Dash®
4. Sesame Oil (enough to coat the bottom of a large pan)
5. 1 tablespoon salted butter
6. Salt
7. Lime and/or vinegar (chef's choice or whatever is available)


1. Cut fillets into pieces about the width of your spatula
2. Sprinkle a a fair amount of Mrs. Dash® on either side of each fillet
3. Toss each fillet in flour until well coated
4. Heat a large frying pan at med/high on the stove
5. Coat the bottom of the pan generously with sesame oil
6. When oil is hot, throw in the butter (scoot around in pan until it melts)
7. Put in the fillets. Try to position the thicker ones closest to the center of the pan to even out the cooking time.
8. Add salt/lime/vinegar in desired amounts while cooking. Do not add too much at once or the pan temperature will drop
9. Flip when edges are brown
10. Peek at the undersides of the fillets from time to time until they are about as brown as the first side.
11. Remove from heat and serve.