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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Cooking

TIP OF THE DAY: Easy Food Glamour

Fine restaurants know that exciting presentation of food is almost as important as the preparation of the dish. They don’t serve main courses with mounds of starch and vegetables circling the protein; they use potatoes, rice and veggies as the bed to hold the protein.

In its simplest form, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in New York City shows how easy it is to put your protein atop a bed of grains. You can center the protein or place it off-center, as shown in the photo.

Whatever the bed comprises—see our list below—you can make it more visually arresting and flavorful with mix-ins. Here, Del Frisco adds diced vegetables to brown rice.

Use a spoon to drizzle the sauce; you can make an easy sauce by deglazing the pan.

 

grilled-salmon-rice-veg-delfriscos-230

Grilled fish or meat looks fancier atop a bed of grains and/or vegetables. Photo courtesy Del Frisco’s.

 

MENU BASICS

Start with grilled, poached or sautéed meat, poultry or seafood (or tofu). For a bed, use:

  • Beans: cook with at least one other ingredient for interest, such as bacon or onions, and herbs; garnish with fresh herbs
  • Grains: barley*, buckwheat*, black/brown/red/wild rice*, bulghur, corn*, couscous, farro*, grits, kamut*, white rice or quinoa, with mix-ins (see below)
  • Noodles/pasta: refined or whole grain noodles, dressed with butter/olive oil and herbs or complementary sauce
  • Potatoes: mashed potatoes white or sweet potatoes, or mashed cauliflower; hash browns, sautéed potatoes or other “flat” preparation
  • Salads: Bean salad, corn salad, mesclun, rice salad, tomato and onion salad (in season)
  • Vegetables: Roasted, sautéed, steamed with fresh herbs
  •  
    *The asterisk indicates a whole grain.
     
    MIX INS

    A combination of ingredients is always more interesting than one alone. Would you rather have a bowl of lettuce, or a salad of lettuce plus three or four other vegetables?

    Try to enhance any of your beds with at least one other ingredient; for example:

  • Fresh herbs: chiffonade or minced
  • Mixed vegetables: beans; diced carrots, celery, onions, squash, etc.; edamame; onions; peas and other favorites
  • Nuts and seeds: chopped or slivered almond, pecans, pistachios, walnuts or other favorites; chia, flax seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), pomegranate arils
  • Onions: chives, green onions, leeks, red onions, shallots or yellow onions, cooked or raw as appropriate
  •  
    Happy bedding!

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: 15+ Uses For A Culinary Torch

    bonjour-culunary-torch-230

    Making crème brûlée is just one of the
    numerous things you can do with a culinary
    torch. Photo courtesy BonJour.

     

    Many of us have purchased a culinary torch (a.k.a. chef’s torch or brulée torch) for the sole purpose of caramelizing sugar on crème brûlée.

    But a culinary torch has numerous other uses in the kitchen, for preparing both sweet and savory dishes. Here are 14 ways to use your torch, with thanks to Williams-Sonoma for some of these ideas.

    BREAKFAST

    1. Breakfast or dessert grapefruit brûlée. Cut a grapefruit in half and pat the cut surface dry. Sprinkle a thin layer of brown or white sugar and some optional cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Heat with the torch until the sugar bubbles.

    2. Brûlée your oatmeal. Sprinkle cooked oatmeal or other porridge with a thin layer of brown or white sugar; heat with a torch until it gets crisp.
     
    LUNCH/DINNER

    3. Caramelize beef and other meat.

     

    Meat that’s served rare, like roast beef, is best cooked at a lower temperature. But this technique doesn’t produce a caramelized crust. Chef Thomas Keller shares his technique for prime rib: Before popping the roast into the oven, char the outside with a blowtorch. You can also do this with lamb. And, it makes any bacon wrap (like bacon-wrapped shrimp) crisper: just torch the bacon before putting the appetizers in the oven.

    4. Char bell peppers. Instead of holding them over the stove, use your torch. You can also use the torch to roast small chiles (jalapeños, e.g.).

    5. Cook a pizza, no oven required! Your torch will brown a ready-to-eat crust, melt the cheese, even roast the veggies.

    6. Glaze a ham or a pork roast. Brush with chutney, honey mustard, preserves etc. If you’re adding fruit, lay the pineapple slices or other fruit over the ham. (If you need to use toothpicks, first soak them in water.) Sprinkle with brown sugar. Heat with the torch until the sugar caramelizes.

    7. Melt cheese. Add a finishing touch to the cheese atop onion soup gratinée, chili or any hot dish with grated cheese, including mac and cheese.

     

    8. Peel tomatoes. When making sauces, chili, etc., you can blanch the whole tomatoes in boiling water, or use your torch to sear and easily peel the skin. When skin starts to crack, set the tomato aside to cool, then peel.

    9. Sear fish. You may have seen a sushi chef use a torch to sear the outside of a raw piece of tuna or other fish. Try it at home for an appetizer, atop a bed of frisée, mesclun or seaweed salad; replace some of the olive oil in your vinaigrette with sesame oil, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds. For a more cooked alternative, use the torch to crisp the skin and of the fish that hasn’t gotten it crisp enough in the pan (how to crisp fish skin).

    10. Singe the pin feathers off poultry. Easy peasy!

     

    roasted-bell-peppers-zabars-a

    Charred bell peppers. Photo courtesy Zabar’s.

     
    11. Toast a bread crumb topping. Stuff tomatoes, bell peppers or avocado halves with chicken, crab, lobster, shrimp or tuna salad. Sprinkle with buttered bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, then heat with a torch until golden brown. You can also torch the bread crumb topping on mac and cheese and spaghetti or other pasta dishes.

    DESSERT

    12. Brown meringue. Use the torch to brown the meringue atop Baked Alaska, fruit tarts, meringue pies and other desserts.

    13. Create burnt sugar garnishes. Place a greased cookie cutter on a Silpat liner and sprinkle a thin layer of sugar inside the cutter. Heat with a torch until crisp, then lift off the cutter. Use the burnt sugar decoration to garnish desserts such as frosted cakes, ice cream or pudding.

    14. Make s’mores. Do this in the kitchen; or if your guests are handy adults, place graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows on a platter and invite them to spear marshmallows with fondue forks and toast and assemble their own.

    15. Flambé your food. Make delicious, festive desserts: Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee, dessert crêpes, fruit compote, etc. Pour Grand Marnier or other liqueur into a metal measuring cup and heat with the torch. Pour the warmed liqueur over the dessert and then use the torch or a long match to ignite. How to flambé.

    16. Unmold frozen desserts. If they resist popping out of metal molds, the torch is neater and quicker than hot water.

    17. And of course, crème brûlée.
     
    Have other suggestions? Let us know!

      

    Comments

    FOOD 101: How To Chiffonade

    How to chiffonade. Photo courtesy Marichelle | Lifeflix | Flickr.

     

    We so often recommend a chiffonade (shif-oh-NOD) garnish that we’re devoting an article to it.

    Chiffonade is a chopping technique in which leafy herbs or greens (basil, sage and spinach, for example) are cut into long, thin strips. Large, stackable leaves are needed—the technique doesn’t work with small leaves such as parsley or thyme.

    The word comes from the French chiffon, “little rag,” and refers to the shreds that this technique produces. It is also used to slice other foods (such as crêpes or thin omelets) into strips.

    The technique, shown in the photo, is easy:

    1. STACK the leaves.

    2. ROLL them tightly.

    3. SLICE perpendicular to the roll.

     

    Use the chiffonade as a garnish or stir into eggs, salads, soups, stews, etc.

      

    Comments

    TIP: The Easy Way To Healthier Cooking

    Struggling with that “eat healthier/lose weight” new year’s resolution?

    Nutritionists tell you that you can have your favorite rich foods, just in small portions. One piece of pizza instead of two. One heaping tablespoon of ice cream instead of half a pint.

    But overall, eating healthier means better nutrition and fewer calories. The good news is that even historic “bad eaters” can appreciate the delicious flavors of these other foods. It’s a mind thing.

    So start looking at your favorites an see where you can make revisions. You might want to start with a copy of Cooking Light: The New Way To Cook Light, Fresh Food & Bold Flavors for Today’s Home Cook.

    While there are numerous books in the Cooking Light series, this books starts with the principles of eating lighter:

     

    Continue to enjoy pasta, but make it whole wheat pasta and 50% “primavera” (half pasta, half vegetables). Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

  • Healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado oil, rather than butter and cream
  • Larger portions of vegetables and more modest portions of meat
  • Whole grains rather than refined ones (white flour, white rice, e.g.)
  •  
    The recipes use “real” ingredients instead of fat-free sour cream, artificial sweeteners, etc.

    They provide more than enough flavor, texture, color and mouthfeel to satisfy everyone at the table.

    The adjustments are easy, the taste results negligible, the overall transition painless. And if you want to lose weight without working at it, this is how!

     

    The best way to start a new eating regime:
    Read an inspiring, calorie-cutting cookbook like
    this one. Photo courtesy Cooking Light.

     

    OUR PERSONAL TIPS

  • Substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream and cream cheese. Whether on a bagel or a burrito, it works!
  • “Pad out” pasta and rice with vegetables. Aim for a half and half ratio, and vary the veggies and the cuts (dice, julienne, circles, etc.) so they don’t get routine.
  • Make exciting salads. A plate of boring greens cries out for caloric dressings. Instead, add other, more flavorful vegetables and a vinaigrette: artichoke hearts, broccoli, capers, edamame, hearts of palm, olives, pimento and/or water chestnuts, for example. When tomato isn’t in season, it’s pretty flavorless—again, crying out for caloric dressings. Substitute grape or cherry tomatoes in red or the more catchy yellow, pimento or sundried tomatoes. And don’t use inexpensive oil and vinegar: treat yourself to the good stuff.
  • Drink lots of water or plain iced tea with meals. The more you drink, the fuller you get. Vary with club soda, flavored unsweetened seltzers and other low calorie options. Drink wine in spritzers (half wine, half club soda).
  •  

  • Enjoy your favorite cake in cubes. We’d rather eat a tiny piece of rich cream cheese cheesecake than a slice of “cheesecake lite.” A solution:
    Bake the cheesecake in a pan, like brownies—shorter than a standard cheesecake. Keep it in the freezer, and cut small squares as needed for a “fix,” or to top a larger dish of mixed berries for dessert.
     
    Send us your favorite tips, and keep working it.

      

  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Uses For Egg Whites

    It must be “egg day” at THE NIBBLE: We just finished an article on the new pullet eggs (“farmer’s eggs”) from Fresh Direct. And now, some suggestions for leftover egg whites.

    More than a few recipes require just the yolk of the egg: custard (including crème brûlée), egg nog, hollandaise sauce, Key lime pie, mayonnaise and pudding, to name a few.

    So what do you do with the leftover whites?

    It’s easy enough to combine them with whole eggs in a scramble or an omelet. You can also toss them into soup that you’re heating, to create the ribbon effect in Chinese egg drop soup. The extra egg white adds more protein, for just 17 calories (per large egg white). You can add one or two extra whites to cake batter.

    But here’s a list we got from About.com years ago, and continue to build on.
     
    Uses For 1 Egg White

  • Add To Frittatas, Omelets Or Scrambles
  • Soufflés (an extra 1-2 whites add to height and volume)
  • Sugared Nuts
  •  

    Add extra egg whites to a regular frittata or omelet. Photo courtesy DeLallo.com.

     
    Uses For 2 Egg Whites

  • Cake Frostings (buttercream, seven-minute frosting and marshmallow frosting)
  • Coconut Macaroons
  • Egg Drop Soup
  • Marshmallows
  •  
    Uses For 3 Egg Whites

  • Egg White Omelet (add spinach and herbs)
  • Lemon Meringue Pie
  • Meringue Cookies
  • Nougat
  •  

    Make meringues: delicious, crunchy,
    cholesterol-free cookies. Photo courtesy
    American Egg Board.

     

    More Egg Whites

  • Angel Food Cake or White Cake
  • Baked Alaska
  • Meringue Topping For Pies/Tarts
  • Pavlovas (meringue cups to hold custard, fruit curd, fresh fruit, mousse, whipped cream, etc.)
  •  
    But what if your goal is to make meringues or angel food cake, and you have leftover yolks?

    That’s another article. Stay tuned.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: More Ways To Use Tofu

    Tofu is a nifty food. Some people don’t like the spongy texture and find it bland. But the great thing about tofu is that it’s adaptable to any flavor you cook with it.

    It’s also modest in calories—94 per half cup—with 10 grams of protein, zero cholesterol and just 1% carb, which is dietary fiber. There are large amounts of calcium and iron and nice hits of B6 and magnesium. It’s a gluten-free product.

    We’re neither vegetarian or vegan, but a few years ago we started to add more tofu to our diet as a New Year’s resolution to cut back on cholesterol-laden proteins and to eat more sustainably (animal methane is the #1 contributor to greenhouse gas).

    Now, we’re hooked. At Asian restaurants, we’ll typically choose a tofu dish over more “meaty” options.

    Don’t be afraid to experiment at home. Tofu is very easy to work with once you try it. As you learn the range of tofu styles available, you’ll discover how it can add a new dimension to your cooking.

    Tofu is:

     

    We love to snack on fried tofu instead of mozzarella sticks. Enjoy them with a fat-free Greek yogurt dip or with a ponzu sauce dip with toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions. Photo by Sakurai Midori | Wikimedia.

     

  • Incredibly versatile. Beyond using as a protein, you can substitute tofu for caloric and cholesterol-laden staples like sour cream, heavy cream, mayonnaise, cream cheese and ricotta (try a tofu tiramisu).
  • Not just for Asian cooking. It can fit into any cuisine. As a start, try Italian dishes with tofu instead of other proteins —tofu parm instead of chicken parm, for example.
  •  

    Pudding without fat/cholesterol: Delicious
    tofu pudding substitutes for flan or panna
    cotta. Photo by Chris 73 | Wikimedia.

      Preparing tofu is easy. Drain off all the water and wrap the block in paper towels to blot; then slice it according to the recipe.

    There are different styles of tofu, and the recipes will specify the style of tofu you need.

  • Soft tofu is best used in dips, smoothies, desserts, and blended into lower-fat, cholesterol-free salad dressings. We love a mango smoothie blended with orange juice, honey, milk/soy milk and soft tofu; and a chocolate tofu mousse. Mash it with avocado or hummus for a snack or sandwich spread. Cut the tofu into small cubes for blending or mashing.
  • Medium Firm tofu works well in casseroles, soups and salads. Cube it as a protein-rich garnish for soups and see how good a tofu scramble is (you won’t miss conventional scrambled eggs in this recipe).
  • Firm and Extra Firm tofu are great meat substitutes and ideal for stir-frying, grilling, deep-frying, crumbled in chili, and much more. Marinate Extra Firm tofu in soy sauce and then chop it into blocks for conventional grilling or kebabs. Crumble Firm tofu and mix with ground turkey, onion and breadcrumbs for tasty meatballs. Create your own tofu burgers with mashed tofu, bread crumbs, chopped onion and seasonings.
  •  

    There’s no need to buy a tofu recipe book; but if you want to learn to make your own at home, this book, Asian Tofu, is a great resource.

    But you can start at HouseFoods.com, which has numerous recipes in every meal category.
     
    TOFU TIPS

  • BUY premium quality tofu. If you care about non-GMO foods, rely on a brand like House Foods, which uses only non-genetically modified soybeans grown in the USA and is Non-GMO Project verified.
  • STORE leftover tofu in a water-filled, airtight container in the fridge. It can keep for two to three days, but change the water every day or two.
  • FREEZE excess tofu in its original container or a freezer bag. To thaw, just leave it out on the counter for a few hours (don’t microwave it). Defrosted tofu’s texture becomes more spongy, great to soak up marinade sauces and great for the grill.
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Don’t Toss It, Transform It!

    We love the food at Petrossian in New York City. It doesn’t have to be caviar (the restaurant’s most famous offering) to be wonderful, as we discovered when we ordered crab cakes.

    The chef stuffed sections of the crab legs with fresh crab and sea urchin and topped them with caviar: very upscale sashimi!

    We’ve ordered crab cakes countless times at countless restaurants, but no one ever served us the stuffed legs of the crab with our crab cake. We loved it, and it inspired today’s tip:

    Before you toss out shells—be they crab legs or shells, lobster claws or shells, scallop shells, juiced citrus halves, de-seeded pomegranates or other fruits or vegetables—consider how to repurpose them. You don’t need caviar to make it fun.

    IDEAS FOR STUFFING THE SHELLS

     

    Petrossian turned the empty crab legs into gourmet sashimi. Photo courtesy Petrossian Restasurant | NYC.

  • Condiments: chutney, dipping sauces, mustard, etc.
  • Dessert: fruit salad, ice cream/sorbet or pudding in fruit shells
  • Garnishes: chopped chiles, herbs, onions, nuts and other items that people can choose to add or not
  • Salads: chopped greens, egg salad or protein salads (chicken, shrimp, etc.), slaws, vegetable salads
  • Sides: applesauce, fruit compote, mashed potatoes, rice or grains, vegetable purée
  •  

    What kind of leftover shells do you typically have, and what would you do with them?

    NOT ENOUGH SHELLS FOR EVERYONE?

    Simply freeze them until you have enough.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Deglaze The Pan

    Have red wine? Pour it in! Photo courtesy
    BalanceWine.Wordpress.com.

     

    When you cook or bake with alcohol, you’re probably aware that the heat evaporates much (but not all) of the alcohol. The New York Times report that a sauce made with wine, then simmered and stirred for 30 minutes, can retain as much as a third of its alcohol content. (Results will vary depending on the particular cooking method.)

    But what about the health benefits* of the red wine in the sauce? Since the healthful compounds are in the grape concentrate, not in the alcohol itself, cooked wine without alcohol still appears to have some health benefits. Here’s the full article.

    And that bit of news inspired today’s tip: Use red wine (or other liquid) to deglaze a pan. This is no 30-minute undertaking: You can do it in three minutes.

    WHAT IS DEGLAZING?

    Deglazing is the simple process of creating a pan sauces after you sauté a protein: fish, meat or poultry.

    You simply add a cold liquid (beer, brandy, broth/stock, cooking water, fruit juice, vinegar, wine, etc.†) into the pan and scrape up the flavorful roasty bits of protein, called fond, that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.

     

    This is the same technique used to make gravy from the drippings in a roasting pan.

    WHAT IS FOND?

    Fond is the French word for bottom—in this case, the small, tasty bits on the bottom of the pan. Fond is concentrated flavor: Why scrub it away in the sink when you can turn it into something delicious? Deglazing is simply combining the fond with a liquid to create a sauce.

    Note that fond comprises roasted brown bits. If you you have burned protein on the bottom of the pan, don’t use it: The sauce will taste burned.

    “Fond” is also the French word for stock:

  • Fond blanc is white stock.
  • Fond brun is brown stock.
  • Fond de vegetal is vegetable stock.
  •  

    HOW TO DEGLAZE A PAN

    1. REMOVE the cooked fish, meat or poultry to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

    2. POUR off most of the fat in the pan. Turn the heat up to high and add the cold liquid. (NOTE: If using alcohol, remove pan from heat when adding). The liquid will shortly begin to boil.

    3. SCRAPE up the fond with a wood spoon or spatula, as the liquid boils. When all the fond is incorporated, turn down the heat. The sauce is ready.
      
    *Red wine, in moderation, provides antioxidants, including resveratrol, that may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of “good” cholesterol and protecting against artery damage. Resveratrol is a polyphenol compound found in red wine and certain plants that has antioxidant properties with possible anticarcinogenic effects. Here’s the scoop from the Mayo Clinic.

    †Don’t use cream or other dairy, which can curdle in the heat.

     

    Remove the protein, add red wine or other liquid, and deglaze the fond into a delicious sauce. Photo by Raz Marinkka | IST.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY & GIFT: Knife Sharpening By Mail

    Want a holiday gift to make any cook happy? Sharpen their knives!

    Well not you, exactly. But for an online payment of $34.99, you can send them a shipping box from USA Sharp that includes four knife guards plus prepaid, insured priority shipping labels for quick and easy USPS turnaround.

    Then, just slip the knives into the knife guards and drop the box in the mail. The company promises a 24-hour turnaround, which means that the USPS will return the sharpened knives within 3-5 business days.

    And sharpen your own knives, while you’re at it.

    USA Sharp is a family knife sharpening service that founded in the 1930s by an immigrant to Massachusetts who hand-wheeled a pushcart around town. His granddaughter has taken to the Internet to sharpen knives from kitchens and foodservice operations nationwide.

    And that’s a good thing, since no matter how good (or average) your knives, if you don’t sharpen them regularly, it’s harder to cut. Worse, you run the risk of the blade slipping off the food and into your flesh. Using a sharpening steel or gadget at home is in intermediate step until you call in the big guns (professional sharpening).

    IT COULDN’T BE EASIER

    While you can get knives sharpened at local establishments and traveling trucks, there’s nothing easier than dropping your knives in the nearest mailbox.

     

    Even if you regularly use a sharpening steel, your knives still need to be wheel-sharpened a few times a year (depending on how often you use them). Photo courtesy Inside Woodworking.

     

     

    Put knives into cardboard box, drop box into the nearest U.S. Postal Service box.

     

    It’s worth noting that hardware stores and kitchen shops often use small tabletop machines—or even the knife-sharpening gadgets you can buy in their stores—in a “one machine fits all” sharpening operation. There’s little or no differentiation among the various types of knives and their unique requirements.

    USA Sharp inspects each knife to determine which a sharpening method will create the finest hard edge.

    Not only can USA Sharp sharpen the knives; they can fix most knives that have been improperly sharpened elsewhere and recondition most blades that are chipped, bent, or have broken tips.

    The company also has a knife recycling program for food pantries and soup kitchens. “Retired” kitchen knives are turned reconditioned to provide the gift of sharp cutlery to the chefs who help to feed the hungry.

     
    So get sharp: Send for your shipping box today at USASharp.com.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Truffle Butter

    Little things can make a huge difference. In the world of fine food, D’Artagnan Truffle Butter is one of the little things that can elevate and transform almost everything you eat.

    And it’s affordable—made with compared to $2,500 per pound this year (a pound buys a lot of truffles).

    The best truffle splurge for $15 is this black truffle and white truffle duo from d’Artagnan. You can also check at your local fine food retailer.

    You can use either truffle butter (you may enjoy both equally or prefer one variety over the other) to create easy yet impressive recipes:

  • Bread and butter—baguette slices with truffle butter are a splendid appetizer (serve them with Champagne or other wine)
  • Eggs cooked in truffle butter
  • Truffled pasta
  • Truffled mashed potatoes
  • Truffle Sauce
  •  
    See the different ways to use truffle butter and more about this affordable luxury in our review.

     

    One of our favorite foods to enjoy with wine: truffle butter on baguette slices. Photo by Melody Lan | THE NIBBLE.

     

     

    Buy it for yourself, give it as a gift to your
    favorite cooks. Photo courtesy iGourmet.

     

    WHY IS TRUFFLE BUTTER SO INEXPENSIVE?

    It’s flavored with tiny pieces that break off from the truffle. They can’t be sold at top dollar like whole truffles, but are purchased for a fraction of the price by manufacturers, who add them to butter or infuse them in olive oil.

    Note though that most of the truffle olive oil out there is not made with real truffles. Most manufacturers use artificial truffle flavor and aroma: truffle molecules re-created in a lab.

    That doesn’t mean it isn’t good: many of the artificially-flavored products are delicious. But if you’re paying more than $20 for truffle oil, read the label to ensure that it’s infused with real truffles.

     

      

    Comments

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