How to Make Couscous

April 2, 2012 § 5 Comments

I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about rice because it is cheap and easy, especially if you know how to use a rice cooker. But there are many, many delicious and healthy grains I hope to touch on, and next up is couscous. Couscous is made from semolina flour, has a good deal of protein, and it cooks in about three minutes (you’ll have a tough time finding anything but the instant version of couscous, so it’s pretty safe to assume.) It’s my go-to starch when I’m throwing together a last minute meal.

One of the ideas I have brought up, and will continue to bring up and expand upon, is the idea of free flavor.  By adding herbs, spices and veggies to your grains, you can turn a boring pile of clumpy starch into something with depth and flavor. It will sometimes be the best thing on your plate! Here’s a recipe to show you how to use free flavor to enhance this wonderfully simple grain, couscous. « Read the rest of this entry »

How to Steam Vegetables

March 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

One of the easiest ways of preparing food, especially vegetables, is by steaming. This is not my favorite method of cooking, because you don’t get the depth of flavor produced by roasting or the ability to layer flavors produced by sautéing. However, steaming is hands down the easiest, quickest and healthiest way to prepare food. Since this blog is about breaking down cooking to it’s most basic components, I figure this is a great technique to write about.

First, you will need a steamer basket to suspend food above boiling water. You can find either a metal, plastic or bamboo basket that has small holes or slits in the bottom. This allows the steam to cook the food, instead of submerging food in water, as with boiling or blanching, so you don’t lose nutrients into the cooking water. Metal steaming baskets are common in any grocery store that sells kitchen supplies, and you can find them on-line for right around $10. You can also find bamboo steamers at an Asian market or on-line for about the same price. « Read the rest of this entry »

Awesome Chocolate Coconut Bars

February 27, 2012 § 9 Comments

So, because I am both busy and surrounded by a great many people with various culinary skills that I do not possess, I’ll be hosting guest posts from time to time. First off is my marvelous associate, Kitt Jennings. She is quite the baker, putting together some of the best cookies, cupcakes and pastries I’ve ever had. They’re specially requested for friends parties. You’re about to see what all the fuss is about!

Your humble blog author would never say so, but he is definitely one of the best people you can have in a kitchen. Until it comes to desserts, that is. Not that he’s bad at it — baking is just not really his thing. That’s where I come in. Baking and candy making are the absolute only things I do better in a kitchen. So, dear readers, allow me to share a recipe with you. « Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: Yan-kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook by Yan-kit So

February 24, 2012 § 3 Comments

A book I have been spending a lot of time with recently is Yan-kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook by Yan-kit So (part of the reason I haven’t been posting too much recently!). I’ve found it to be a great, easy to read book that manages to be authentic, comprehensive and accessible. I have made a good dozen or so recipes from this book, and all have been tasty, and many have been completely, outrageously good.

Some of the favorites so far have been the Kung Pao chicken, willow chicken in black bean sauce, beef with preserved tangerine peel and braised fish Hunan-Szechwan style. The Kung Pao chicken is a scaled back version of what you see in many restaurants – no onions, bell peppers or jalapenos here. It’s dried red chilies, peanuts and sauce. And it’s so much better for it. The chicken in black bean sauce calls for fermented black beans, not that gloopy black sauce at the grocery store, which makes for a dish that is still pungent and flavorful, but also light. The beef with preserved tangerine peel is fragrant with orange without being syrupy or overly sweet, and is a great way to use those dried tangerine peels. And braised whole trout in a spicy broth really just sells itself, doesn’t it? « Read the rest of this entry »

How to Make Dried Tangerine Peels

February 15, 2012 § 5 Comments

One of my favorite things about winter is the small, delicious citrus fruit that comes into season at this time. It’s beautiful. In the middle of a long dark winter, tangerines of all kinds are like small little doses of sunshine. At the store near my house, you can often find 5 lb bags of these tangerines on sale for the same price as a jug of orange juice. It’s the best preventative health care I can think of.

After I’m done devouring my tangerines, I’ll sometimes dry out the peels in the oven to use for later. What do I use them for? Any number of things. I’ll throw them in with some rice to give it a nice, fresh fragrance. I’ll add them to a nice cup of mint tea. Put them into a chicken brine. Use them to make the Chinese classic, orange chicken. « Read the rest of this entry »

Penne with Pesto, Zucchini & Mushrooms

February 6, 2012 § 9 Comments

I think pasta is one of the most enjoyable foods to cook. I can’t really explain it, but I have a lot of fun with pasta. Part of that is because it is such a broad category with almost endless variations – you can really throw just about anything into a pasta and have it turn out well. You just have to exercise some restraint. The secret is to not overwhelm the pasta with sauce or other ingredients. Despite the endless variations, however, there are certain pastas I find myself making again and again. This is recipe for penne with pesto, zucchini and mushrooms is of them.

During the summer months, when Kitt’s garden is really taking off, we end up with a lot of basil and a lot of zucchini. This pasta is a great way to use both of these ingredients. I always enjoy pairing zucchini with cremini mushrooms because they not only taste great together, they also cook at the same rate. And one of the easiest ways to take advantage of lots of basil is to make pesto. We make huge batches in the summer, and then freeze several portions of it to thaw throughout the year – which is why I’m posting this in winter! For this recipe, you can use store bought pesto or make your own. « Read the rest of this entry »

How to Saute Vegetables

February 5, 2012 § 4 Comments

In my article, “How to Sweat Vegetables,” I talked a bit about the difference between sweating and sautéing. To quickly recap: sweating releases the aroma of vegetables without changing the flavor. With sautéing, however, the goal is to brown the vegetables, giving them a rich flavor.

Sautéing also requires a slightly different cooking method than sweating. When sautéing, you want to use a higher heat, more oil and a wide pan. I sautee on medium high to high heat, depending on what I’m cooking. Vegetables with a lot of water – such as zucchini, mushrooms or cabbage – cook better on high heat, while vegetables that are more dense – such carrots, fennel or onion – should be cooked on medium high, so they don’t burn before they’re done. « Read the rest of this entry »

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