Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beef top round with parsnips, carrots, onion, ...Image via Wikipedia
Remember visiting grandma's house and walking into a kitchen overflowing with the most luscious smells you've ever encountered?  There was always a large pot on the stovetop simmering away.  And when that pot was opened at dinnertime, you found yourself face to face with a plate of the most tasty meats and vegetables you've ever eaten.  Nobody could cook like grandma!

Not to diminish your childhood memories, but you can now cook every bit as good as grandma.  Chances are, in that stovetop pot, grandma was braising.  Braising is a method of cooking meats and vegetables.  It is especially effective for tougher, cheaper cuts of meat such as shanks, briskets and rumps.  This is a primary technique taught in culinary school.  Braising is not only great for home cooked meals, it is also a method for gourmet preparations straight from New York or Hollywood.  Cooking school graduates have developed some wonderful variations to the meats, liquids, vegetables and spices included in braising to create some truly elegant meals.

Regardless of what you include in your pot, one thing is certain.  Because braising involves cooking in liquid for longer periods of time, your house is sure to be filled with the most delightful aromas, and your meat will be fork-tender… just like grandma’s.

In culinary arts school, professional chefs learn to start the braising process by searing the meat in hot oil.  The reason for this is twofold.  First, searing seals the meat (trapping the juices inside) so the meat doesn't become dry when cooked.  Second, searing your meat before braising brings out a lot of flavor.  The caramelization of the meat on the bottom of the pan gives an extra layer of rich essence to the recipe.

Once the meat has seared and is browned on all sides, remove it from the pan.  Create a bed of chopped vegetables (called a mirepoix) on the bottom of the pot.  In culinary school, professionals are taught to pair the meat with the flavors of the vegetables.  For beef or lamb, you might select carrots, onions and celery for your veggie mix.  Allow the vegetables to sweat (cook just until they begin to produce liquid) then add your meat and liquid.

Add the meat back to the pan, add your spices and pour in your liquid.  This is where your creativity will come in.  In the south, you might find braised dishes such as traditional pot roast with carrots and potatoes.  Seasonings could include garlic, salt and pepper.  Liquids might be a combination of beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. 

In the Los Angeles or Hollywood area, you may be more likely to find lamb shanks braised with rosemary, tomatoes, garlic, onion, chicken stock and red wine.  Culinary arts school instructors usually tell would-be chefs to pick up on local flavors whenever possible to bring authenticity to their creations.

Once your favorite seasonings and liquids are in place, reduce the heat to a low setting for stovetop cooking or transfer your pot to the oven and bake at approximately 300 degrees.  (Be sure you have an ovenproof pot.)  Cook for about 3 hours on the stovetop or 2.5 hours in a 350-degree oven.  Plate up your meal and serve with some of the delicious sauce left in the pot!  It's a meal everybody will love.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seared Scallops with Orange and Vermouth

Using an orange zester to zest an orange.Image via Wikipedia
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 pounds sea scallops
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 scallions including green tops, chopped
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1 teaspoon grated orange zest


In a large nonstick frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderately high heat until very hot. Season the scallops with the salt and pepper. Add half the scallops to the pan and cook until browned, about 1 minute. Turn and cook until browned on the second side and just done, about 2 minutes longer. Remove from the pan. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pan and repeat with the remaining scallops. Wipe out the pan.

In the same pan, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the scallions and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the vermouth and orange zest. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the scallops and warm until just heated through, about 1 minute.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cooking With Honey – The Healthy Sweetener

A jar of honey with honey dipperImage via Wikipedia

If you want to be able to cook sweets without the negative health effects of refined sugar, honey is an excellent option. Among other reasons, honey is metabolized more slowly by your body, meaning that you are less likely to get a sugar “high” after eating something made with honey.

Honey can be challenging to cook with, though, for several reasons. So many people don't cook with it because they don't know how. But once you know how to use honey in your favorite kitchen creations, it's not hard at all to use.

The first challenge that honey presents is that it burns more easily that normal sugar. This problem is usually eliminated by doing your cooking or baking at a slightly lower heat.

The main hurdle to cooking with honey is that it is a liquid. Replacing sugar with honey will ruin some recipes if you don't make an allowance for the extra liquid that the honey adds.

Most muffins, simple quick breads, yeast breads, etc you can make the substitution without any adjustment. Cakes, cookies and some other recipes you should decrease the amount of liquid in the recipe to account for the honey.

Honey is also very easy to use in pies. Since they are already somewhat liquid, you can replace the sugar with honey. If the pie filling seems too runny, just add a little extra thickener before you pour it in your pie shell.

The flavor of honey can sometimes be an issue, but not usually. If you are making a recipe that you don't want the flavor to be noticeable, there are several things you can try. First of all, get the mildest flavored honey you can. Usually that will be a very pale clover honey. (The paler the honey, the sweeter and milder the flavor, in general.)

If necessary, you can use part honey, and part some other sweetener, such as apple juice concentrate, agave nectar, stevia, or even sugar if you have to.

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