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FOOD FUN: Beyond The Twist, Lemon & Lime Flowers & Art

No doubt you’ve cut lemon and lime circles and twists for garnish, and wedges to squeeze over beverages, salads, seafoods, and so on.

We have long used a channel zester to carve vertical lines in fruits and vegetables, creating a design in the fruit and strips of peel for garnish.
 
THE GROOVY JOYS OF CHANNEL ZESTING

James Beard said: “Two of of my best friends are a stripper and a zester.”

When you use it to cut channels (grooves) into, you can create edible art—not to mention ingredients for recipes and garnishing.

  • If you want very fine pieces for garnish or grated peel for a recipe, run the row of sharp holes over the item.
  • The channel knife (the little blade in the larger opening) lets you create peel garnishes with little effort.
  • Someone with dexterity can carve the entire peel in one continuous strip, to decorate a punch bowl or a platter.
  • If you’re serving a grapefruit half and enjoy carving (we find it very therapeutic), carve horizontal grooves. You can do this the day before, and halve the grapefruit before serving.
  • Whatever you carve, save any leftover peel for garnish, salads, tea, etc.
  • When zesting citrus, avoid the bitter white pith under the peel.
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    CITRUS TRIVIA

    Zest is the colored, outermost skin layer of citrus fruits; its volatile (essential) oils make it highly perfumed.

    Zest is rich in antioxidants: flavonoids, bioflavonoids and limonoids. It is used to flavor sweet and savory dishes; it can be candied for pastry use or as a sweetmeat (e.g., candied grapefruit peel—scroll down) for the recipe.

  • Citrus fruits are native to Southeast Asia where they have been cultivated for over 4,000 years.
  • In the U.S., Florida has the most acres of citrus trees (654,747). California is second with 303,101 acres.
  • Per capita consumption of citrus fruits in the U.S. was 21.7 pounds in 2005, down from 23.5 pounds in 2000.
  • Oranges and grapefruits do not ripen after they are picked, but lemons and limes do.
  • Citrus pith is the major source for commercial pectin manufacture, used to thicken jelly and other foods.
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    Chanel Zester

    Carved Lemon Flower Slices

    Carved Lime

    [1] Grooves cut with a channel zester. [2] When sliced, the groves create flower-like slices (photos #1 and #2 courtesy IdTryThat | WordPress. [3] Elaborate channeling creates beautiful food art (photo courtesy The Eddy | NYC).

     
    STOCKING STUFFER IDEA: Give a channel groover to an arty cook. You can get it in any kitchen gadget department or online.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Cook Octopus

    Raw Octopus

    Ceviche With Octopus

    Grilled Octopus

    Octopus Salad With Beans

    Fancy Grilled Octopus

    Octopus Tostadas

    [1] Cleaned, frozen, thawed and ready to cook (photo courtesy EuroUSA). [2] Ceviche with marinated (not grilled) octopus (photo courtesy Lola | Denver). [3] Seared and ready to plate (photo courtesy Scarpetta | NYC). [4] A classic first course or luncheon salad: grilled octopus and fancy greens atop a bean salad vinaigrette (photo courtesy l’Amico | NYC). [5] An easy yet fancy main (photo courtesy Gardenia | NYC). [6] Octopus tostadas (photo courtesy MexicanFoodMemories.co.uk).

     

    Over the past 10 years, charred/seared or grilled octopus has become de rigueur at just about every restaurant we patronize.

    That’s great news, because we love grilled octopus with a drizzle of olive oil. It doesn’t get more delicious than that.

    Yet, simple as it is to grill seafood, we never tried it at home. One reason: We typically don’t see mature octopus at fish markets (in mainstream markets, it’s often a special order); and we personally don’t like the miniature size (not as meaty, not as tender, etc.).

    So this past weekend, we happened upon frozen octopus at a Latin American grocer. It was tentacles only, which means we didn’t have to remove the head and beak. What could we do but buy it and give it a shot?

    It turns out that frozen octopus is actually more tender than fresh. Freezing and then thawing the tentacles helps to tenderize the meat. White wine, often used as a braising liquid to slow-cook the tentacles, is a second tenderizer.

    Octopus, first braised/poached and then charred/seared or grilled, is incredibly versatile and can take on any aromatics. The classic Mediterranean preparation is poached in white wine with garlic and oregano, served with gigante beans and/or some combination of capers, lemon, olives and tomatoes.

    But you can make anything from octopus tostadas to tandoori octopus; or go beyond the popular octopus and bean salad with a salad of fennel, mint, orange slices and red onion in a sherry vinaigrette.

    You can cut the cooked octopus into kabob chunks, serve it thinly sliced on a flatbread pizza. We made a hero sandwich with sliced octopus, roasted red peppers and giardiniera.

    Perhaps the most difficult step with octopus is he first step: deciding how you want to serve it, with so many delectable options. Some of our favorites are shown in the photos—at least, the ones we’re capable of making. Also take a look at pulpo a la gallega, an octopus and potato torta from Spain; and octopus terrine, which can be turned into octopus pastrami.

     
    RECIPE: SEARED OR GRILLED OCTOPUS

    Here’s an important note before you start: As with bacon, onions and other foods, what looks like a lot of cooks down to far less. Estimate 3/4 to 1 pound per person as a first course.

    Ingredients For 6 First Courses

  • 1/4 cup plus extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds octopus, thawed overnight in the fridge
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, oregano, or both
  • 1 bottle dry white wine (e.g. Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. REMOVE the beak from the octopus. Place a plastic cutting board in the sink, slice off the head, and flip the octopus to remove the beak, which is in the middle of the tentacles. With a paring knife, slice around the beak and pushing it through, as if coring a pear or tomato. It will to pop out the other side.

    2. HEAT 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large enameled cast-iron casserole or dutch oven. Add the octopus and cook over moderately high heat, turning until lightly browned (2 to 3 minutes). Transfer the octopus to a plate or bowl. Add the garlic cloves to the casserole and cook over moderate heat, stirring until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 20 seconds.

    3. ADD the white wine gently, and bring the braising liquid to a boil. Here’s a tip from every Italian nonna: When slow-cooking in wine, put the actual wine cork in the braising liquid to cook along with the octopus. It’s one of those tricks that no one can explain. But simple slow cooking (braising) also creates tender tentacles, so don’t go crazy looking for “the secret.” There is one tip we’ll pass along from Bon Appetit: If you want the tentacles to curl, dip them in the hot poaching broth three times before submerging.

    4. RETURN the octopus to the casserole, add up to 1 cup of water or broth if necessary, to cover the octopus. Cover the casserole and braise over moderately low heat until very tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the octopus completely in the braising liquid, another technique that keeps the flesh tender.”

    5. REMOVE the red skin by rubbing it with a paper towel, taking care to leave the on suckers, which are the parts that get crispy when grilled. Plus, removing them will dry out the cooked octopus. If the suckers start to come off when rubbing, it means the octopus has been cooked it too long. It isn’t ruined, but do your best to keep the remainder intact for the aforementioned reasons.

     
    6. FINISH the octopus by searing in a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, creating a deep char on the outside. We prefer to sear the tentacles whole, about 8 minutes per side (we like ours very crispy). The flesh and suckers will caramelize nicely; (you can also thinly slice the tentacles and grill cut side down over moderately high heat, for about 1 minute; then and cook for 20 seconds. We cook the octopus in long lengths, and prefer to serve it two meaty 6-inch or four 3-inch pieces. Cut the head into 1-1/2-inch pieces. We use them in green salads or as a garnish for fish.

    7. PLACE on a platter lined with paper towels to absorb any excess olive oil. Season lightly with salt. Transfer the octopus to plates. Fill the radicchio leaves with the Italian salad and set beside the octopus. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve.
     
    Variation: You can also roast the octopus, but we haven’t tried it.
     
    WHAT IS AN OCTOPUS (SCIENTIFICALLY SPEAKING)?

    The octopus (plural octopuses, octopodes or octopi) is a cephalopod mollusc in the phylum Mollusca (class Cephalopoda, order Octopoda, family Octopodidae, genus Octopus, species vulgarism, plus more than 100 total species, representing one-third of all cephalopods.

    The octopus has two eyes and four pairs of arms (tentacles) and a beak mouth at the center underside of its tentacles. An invertebrate, it has no vertebral column [backbone or spine) and no other skeleton. It most intelligent of the invertebrates.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Spices & Dried Herbs As Plate Garnishes

    Pork & Cabbage Salad

    Round Squash Ravioli

    Dessert Plate Garnish

    Spice Cocktail Rim

    [1] Chef Eric Levine adds a ring of flavorful spices around a circle of salad. [2] At Obicà, a Neapolitan-focused restaurant, Chef Erind Halilaj adds a dramatic spice stripe over butternut squash ravioli. [3] They’re not spices, but crumbs, used here by Chef Daniel Eddy of Rebelle, are lovely garnishes. [4] Spice blends make tasty rimmers for cocktails, too (photo courtesy Pompeian).

     

    For festive occasions—or simply to dress up an everyday meal—make your plates sing with a scatter of spice.

    Once upon a time, professional chefs and the home cooks who copied would use a piece of parsley or other green herb to garnish the plate. Since most foods fell into the brown-beige color family, the plate garnish would “give it some color.” Few people actually considered eating the parsley.

    Today’s chefs are much more innovative. The paltry parsley has evolved into colored swaths of sauce, brushed onto plates; polka dots of sauce; drizzles of coulis; swirls of olive oil; condiments splattered like Jackson Pollack.

    But the easiest way—no steady hand required—is to scatter herbs and spices onto the plate.

    All you need to do is select flavors and colors that complement the food on the plate.

     
    RECOMMENDED DRIED HERBS & SPICES FOR GARNISHING

    This is not a comprehensive list; we went mostly for textured items rather than finely-ground powders. But you can use the latter if they work with your plate decorating concept.
     
    Savory Dried Herbs & Spices

  • Black: black lava salt, nigella seeds, peppercorns (crushed/cracked), poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds
  • Brown: allspice, caraway seeds, grains of paradise, nutmeg (crushed/cracked), smoked sea salt and other flavored gormat salts, urfa biber
  • Green (pale): aniseed, fennel seeds, garam masala, green peppercorns, herbes de provence, lime peel, matcha salt, oregano, rosemary, za’atar
  • Green (deep): basil, chervil, cilantro, dill weed, epazote, fenugreek, fines herbs, matcha, parsley, tarragon
  • Orange: orange zest, shichimi togarashi (Japanese Seven-Spice)
  • Pink/Purple: Himalayan pink sea salt, lavender buds, Merlot sea salt, pink peppercorns, rose petals
  • Red: achiote, alaea red lava salt, aleppo or other chile flakes, annato seeds, gochu garu (Korean chile flakes), piment d’espelette, sriracha salt and other red gourmet salts
  • Tan: celery seeds, Old Bay seasoning,
  • Yellow: aji amarillo powder, curry salt and other yellow flavored salts, fennel pollen, grapefruit zest, lemon zest, mustard seeds, turmeric
  • White: coarse sea salt (especially flake salt like Maldon or Cypress), flavored coarse white salt (garlic, lemon, lime) sesame seeds
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    More Savory Options
    You may also have some of these in the cupboard:

  • Crumbs: bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, pretzel crumbs
  • Savory drink rimmers
  • Spice blends, from Italian herbs to shichimi togarashi, Japanese Seven Spice (don’t overlook Mrs. Dash)
  • Meat rubs
  • Smoked and flavored salts (for ideas see SeaSalt.com)
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    Sweet Dried Herbs & Spices

    For desserts and other sweet dishes, consider:

  • Colored sugars: coarse sugar, decorating sugar, decorative sugar (shapes), sanding sugar, sparkling sugar
  • Conventional sugars: dark brown, demerara, light brown, muscovado, turbinado
  • Crumbs: cake crumbs, cookie crumbs
  • Flavored sugars: blueberry, cinnamon, espresso, green chile, raspberry, etc. (here’s the selection at EssentialCane.com, plus how to make your own)
  • Sweet herbs: basil, chervil, lemon thyme, garam masala, marjoram, mint, pink peppercorns, sage, sweet cicely, tarragon
  • Sweet spice blends: apple pie spice, chai spice, mulling spice, pumpkin pie spice
  • Sweet spices:
  • +Black, brown and tan: allspice, anise seed, brown sugar (dark, light, raw, turbinado, cacao nibs, cardamom, cassia buds, chia seeds, cinnamon (crushed sticks), coffee beans (crushed), cloves (whole or crushed), nutmeg (freshly ground), poppy seed, vanilla bean pod (crushed)
    +Green: lime peel or zest, matcha powder
    +Pink and purple: dried rose petals (crumbled), lavender buds
    +Yellow and gold: bee pollen, ginger (crystallized or cracked), granulated honey, peel or zest (grapefruit, lemon, orange)
    +White: sesame seeds

     
    MORE HERB & SPICE TIPS

  • Don’t toss “end of the bottle” spices and herbs to make room for new bottles. Instead, combine them in an empty bottle to create your own “garnishing blend.”
  • If an herb or spice has lost its flavor, you can still use it for garnish. In fact, it’s a great use for past-their-prime seasonings.
  • If you don’t like a spice you’re purchased, use it for a plate garnish. Some people don’t even attempt to taste the spices; and those who do dip a fork in it may like it.
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    WANT TO ADD A DRIZZLE?

    If your plate could still use some filler, match one of these to the food. Note that the oil (or any liquid) should be placed on the plate first, before the food and the garnish.

  • Flavored oils: from basil and blood orange to habanero and wasabi.
  • Colored oils: naturally colored oils include avocado oil (virgin), hot chile oil*, dark sesame oil* and mustard oil*; you also can make your own colored oils).
  • Olive oil—for artistic purposes, the darker the better. You can add green food color—which is what more than a few bottlers [illegally] do.
  • Syrups: agave, dessert syrup, flavored simple syrup, honey, maple syrup, molasses.
  •  
    ________________
    *These oils can be very strong, and may have to be diluted with olive oil or plated in droplets.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Cook A Frozen Steak Without Thawing

    Frozen Steak

    Frozen Steak

    Strip Steak

    Splatter Screen

    [1] Remove the frozen steak from the freezer (photo courtesy Mart2Go). [2] Place it in a hot pan (photo courtesy Good Eggs). [3] In 20 minutes, plate and enjoy (photo courtesy Eddie Merlot’s). [4] We use a mesh spatter screen, but we just ordered this folding spatter screen from Norpro.

     

    Want a steak but you haven’t defrosted it yet?

    No problem. Your steak will be ready in less than 30 minutes with this technique developed by Dan Souza of Cook’s Illustrated (thanks to Good Eggs for sending their adaptation to us).

    Dan experimented by cutting strip steaks in half, freezing both halves, then defrosting one half before cooking.

    He cooked both the thawed and frozen halves exactly the same way, and found that the frozen steak lost less moisture, cooked more evenly, and tasted better than the thawed half!

    The steak needs to be frozen properly, since any extra moisture or ice will cause a flare-up when it hits the hot oil. Here’s Dan’s freezing technique:

    HOW TO FREEZE A STEAK

  • SET the steak(s) on a baking sheet lined with parchment and place in the freezer until frozen.
  • WRAP each fully-frozen steak in plastic and place it in a heavy-duty plastic bag.
  • SQUEEZE any air out of the bag. Place it in the back of the freezer, so it doesn’t get hit by warm air every time you open the door (which can create condensation on the meat).
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    RECIPE: COOKING A FROZEN STEAK

  • 1 frozen steak (not thawed!)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cast iron pan
  • Optional: splatter screen, meat thermometer
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 275°F. Set a wire rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and set aside.

    2. DRIZZLE 1/8″ oil into a cast iron pan—just enough to coat the bottom. Place the skillet over high heat. When the pan is smoking hot, gently lay the steak onto the pan and sear both sides until browned, 90-120 seconds per side. NOTE: Frozen steak splatters more.

    3. TRANSFER the steak onto the wire rack and place in the oven. Cook until the steak is the desired doneness: 18 to 20 minutes for a 1-inch-thick steak to be medium rare (an internal temperature of 125°F on a meat thermometer).

    4. COOK the veggies or prepare the salad while the steak cooks.

    5. REST the steak for at least 3 minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to settle in the meat, instead of pouring out when sliced.

    Here’s a video of Dan’s preparation.
     
     
    THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF STEAK

    How many different types of steak have you had?

    Check out our meaty Glossary Of Beef Types.

     

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cooking In Parchment, Or “En Papillote”

    Today is the first-ever National Parchment Day, celebrated on the last Wednesday of June to bring awareness to those who have not yet discovered the joy of working with culinary parchment.

    The holiday was created by PaperChef, a leading producer of premium culinary parchment.

    The right way to declare a holiday is to submit a proposal to the federal government, state or local government. A less official way to do it is to submit it to the National Day Calendar a commercial venture originally begun as a hobby by two enthusiasts in North Dakota.

     
    WHAT IS CULINARY PARCHMENT PAPER?

    Culinary parchment paper, also called kitchen parchment and bakery paper or baking paper, is a cellulose-based paper that provides a disposable, non-stick surface. It is a popular aid for oven cooking: It saves greasing and enables easy clean-up.

    It also is used to create a packet for moist-heat cooking in the oven—for fish and shellfish, poultry, vegetables and so on. The French call this technique en papillote (on poppy-YOTE); it is al cartoccio in Italian, and cooking in parchment in English. The food is put into a folded pouch (parcel) and then baked in the oven.

    You can also cook in parchment on a grill, up to 425°F, using a metal plate on the top rack and closing the lid. Unlike aluminum foil, the parchment won’t scorch.

    Don’t confuse parchment with waxed paper, which has a thin coating of wax on each side to make it nonstick and moisture-resistant. Unlike parchment paper, it is not heat-resistant; the wax can melt and the paper can ignite in the oven. Parchment paper is impregnated with silicone, which prevents it from catching fire.

    But you can do the reverse: In most applications that call for wax paper as a non-stick surface, you can substitute parchment.
     
    CULILNARY PARCHMENT HISTORY

    Culinary parchment has only been available since the 19th century. The earliest reference we have found is in the London Practical Mechanics Journal in October 1858.

    We don’t know when it was applied to culinary use. Some sources cite the early 20th century. The 1858 reference suggests architects’ and engineers’ plans (today’s blueprints), tracing paper, bookbinding and maps.

       

    Salmon En Papillote

    Chocolate Chip Cookies Baked On Parchment

    [1] Salmon cooked in folded parchment paper (photo courtesy PaperChef). [2] Cookies baked in a pan lined with parchment (photo courtesy Jules | Wikipedia).

     

    Before cooking parchment, according to the website of The Telegraph, a daily newspaper in the U.K., “cooks would have used normal sheets of whatever white paper was on hand.” The article references a cookbook from 1823 by Mary Eaton, for baking beef in an earthenware dish covered in “two or three thicknesses of writing paper.” She warns against using brown paper, because “the pitch and tar which it contains will give the meat a smoky bad taste.”

    More options in olden times:

  • Oil-soaked or buttered paper, for baking and roasting. Buttered paper was put on top of a roast to stop it from cooking too quickly—the way we use foil today.
  • Fish was cooked en papillote in a parcel of paper brushed with olive oil. Fish was cooked en papillote in a parcel of paper brushed with olive oil.
  • Brandy-soaked paper circles were used to seal fruit jams and preserves.
  • Beyond skimming, excess grease was removed from the top of a stock or soup with ink-blotting paper. Today, paper towels do the trick.
  •  
    Parchment used as writing paper dates to ancient Egypt. It is a completely different animal, so to speak: It is made from sheep and other animal skins, and was first created as scrolls, with the skins trimmed and stitched together as required. Animal parchment is still used for applications from college diplomas to religious texts.

    What the two parchments—animal and vegetable—have in common is their creamy white color.

     

    Salmon In Parchment

    Vegetables In Parchment

    Paperchef Parchment Bag

    [1] You can add a sauce or create one. Here, compound butter will melt to flavor the fish and vegetables (photo courtesy GoodLifeEats.com). [2] Vegetables cooked in parchment: so much more delicious than steaming but the same calories (photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma). [3] There’s no need to fold paper: Just put the contents in a parchment bag [photo courtesy Paperchef).

      THE BENEFITS OF PARCHMENT PAPER

  • Low-fat cooking with fewer calories: You can cook healthier meals, without the need for added fat. No vitamins are “washed way” in the cooking process.
  • Convenience: The parchment packets may be prepared up to a day in advance, and are perfect for a single serving when you are cooking for one. It’s non-stick, non-scorching, and clean-up is a snap. Leftovers can be reheated in the oven without drying out (or becoming mushy, as with the microwave).
  • Flavorful and tender: Moist heat cooking captures and imbues the food with anything you add to the packet: aromatics (garlic, ginger, scallions, sliced lemon or lime), herbs, spices, wine and liquids from coconut milk to sauce and stock. The method produces very tender meat and vegetables.
  • Simple yet elegant: Parchment entrées are impressive at the dinner table. At a restauraunt, it is traditional for the maitre d’ to slice open the paper in front of the guest, delivering a delightful gust of aroma. At home, when everyone cuts open his or her packet, the effect is the same.
  • Environmentally friendly: Parchment is 100% biodegradable and FSC* certified.
  • Kosher: PaperChef is kosher-certified by Star-K and OU. Reynolds parchment and foil are certified kosher by OU.
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    _____________________
    *Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification means that the materials have been sourced in an environmentally-friendly, socially responsible and economically viable manner.

     
    TYPES OF CULILNARY PARCHMENT PAPER

    More many decades, cut sheets, or those cut from a roll of parchment, were the options for lining baking pans, cake and pie tins, casseroles and the like.

    Different formats evolved to meet consumer needs.

  • Parchment sheets are the most convenient way to cook with parchment paper. Simply grab a pre-cut sheet to line pans, bakeware and cookware. You can buy rectangles as well as rounds.
  • Parchment rolls are a multipurpose kitchen paper. Like foil and waxed paper, you pull out the amount you need and cut it on the serrated package edge.
  • Parchment cooking bags are a recent innovation and our favorite parchment product. Just toss the ingredients into a bag, fold and cook. It saves the time of cutting a piece of paper to size and folding into packets.
  • Parchment baking cups allow muffins to slide out of the pan—like cupcake papers for muffins. We also like them to create perfectly round baked eggs, for Eggs Benedict or other fancy preparation. Lotus cups are deeper, for larger muffins. Tulip cups are made to add panache to specialty cupcakes, with a petal-like top for an impressive presentation.
  •  
    FIND PARCHMENT-BASED RECIPES FOR EVERYTHING FROM BREAKFAST TO DESSERT

    They’re all over the Web, including on the website of PaperChef.com.

     

      

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