Love to cook? Read on for professional tips on building flavor without all the calories!

Posts tagged ‘chef lynn miller’

What pan should I use?

Pots and pans are shaped differently for good reasons. Learning about them is, however, an often overlooked lesson for new cooks. Here’s a quick primer on what vessel to use when:

For searing meats, use a frying pan. They have short sides so that steam can escape and you can get a good sear (browning) on your meat. Too much steam will hold liquid in the pan and cause boiling. This means that your meat won’t have enough contact with the hot pan surface and it won’t brown. This is the same reason that it’s important to be careful not to crowd the pan. Too much food in the pan can also cause boiling because there are too many juices running from the meat. Again, your meat will not properly sear (brown).

For roasting in the oven,use a large pan and leave space around your food. This will allow the heat to reach all around it and it will brown evenly.

For cooking in liquid (braising), use a heavy pan with medium high sides (like a Dutch oven) and cover it. This will keep the liquid from evaporating and contain it around the food so that it assists flavoring and simmering. Use just enough liquid to surround the meat so that it will flavor the meat and cook it gently.

For making a reduction, use a pot with a large surface area — one that is wider than it is tall. Spreading out the liquid exposes more of the surface liquid to the air and it will reduce faster. Note that liquids reduce slowly at first and more quickly as time goes on. Therefore, you need to pay close attention as you have less and less liquid. If you are not careful, you can not only totally boil your liquid away. Not only will you have no product left, if you leave it unattended long enough, you can overheat your pan and catch it on fire!

For making stock, use the opposite type of pan that you would use for a reduction. You want the liquid to simmer but not boil away (reduce), so use a pot that is taller than it is wide. Less surface area is exposed, so the liquid will not boil away as quickly.

For melting products (like chocolate) that can easily burn, use a double boiler (two pots that fit together). The bottom pot contains water (just enough so when it boils the water does not touch the top pot) and the top pot sits on top, just above the water. This causes a very gentle heating process that insulates tender products and protects them from burning.

The same is true for baking tender things like custard in the oven. You can cook them in a water bath by placing the cooking vessels on a jelly roll pan (cooking sheet with sides) or larger pan with sides and then adding just enough water to come about half way up the sides of the vessels containing your custard.

For steaming, use 2 pots that are almost exactly like a double boiler, except that the top pot has holes in it to allow the steam from the boiling water to come through and cook (steam) the food. Generally, use a pot that is several inches taller and wider than what you want to cook. If your pot is too large, you can burn your food. If it’s too small, it can overflow, so choose the size of the pan according to how much food you want to cook.

Don’t forget to allow for food that grows in size as it cooks, like rice (which triples in size) and caramel corn sauce (which bubbles up when the soda is added).

No matter what pan you are using, remember to stay in total control of your heat. Pans with heavy bottoms will help, but it’s up to you to cook food steadily and carefully so that it won’t burn. Have fun!

Spice up your life!

Dieters: Think of spice as your secret weapon! When you eat something spicy, you feel more full and it stays with you longer. Oh, you don’t like hot food, you say? Of course, if you can make it hot enough to taste spicy that’s the best, but even if you just add enough so it doesn’t taste hot but has just a little bite, it will help.It will linger on the back of your tongue and give your food a more fulfilling taste.

You can accomplish this in many different ways… by using ground spices like cayenne and hot curry, by using hot pepper flakes, by adding bits of chopped hot peppers, or by using hot pepper pastes like Ahi Amarillo or chili paste, or simply by adding a shot of hot pepper sauces like Tabasco. Each ethnic group has its own offering in this spice department!

Here’s why it’s so satisfying to add some spice from chilies to your diet. Chilies contain capsaicin, which stimulates the nerves in your mouth, which in turn stimulate the brain, which in turn releases endorphins. And we all know about endorphins. They make us feel really good. The spicier the food then, the more endorphins get released. So here’s where you have to figure out how much makes sense for you.

Chilies will also speed up your metabolism, so it has been suggested that will help in weight loss, but it has not been proven. Sounds good, though! Some of you won’t be able to take this advice due to stomach issues, but actually studies have shown that there is no higher incidence of ulcers in Mexico and other countries where chilies are a predominant food than any place else. You just have to know your own body and what it can tolerate. Peppers are really good for you in other ways. They are really high in beta carotene and vitamin C, two things that fight cancer and heart disease.

Added into a dish with a little salt and some citric acid (like lemon or lime juice or wine), they can be invaluable in increasing flavor. So how do you figure out how much of these flavors to add? First, always, always, always taste what you are serving to your guests before you give it to them. Soup is a good one to start with because you can take out a ladle full and experiment on it without ruining the whole batch. Add small amounts at a time of each individual spice – first salt, then lemon, then Tabasco sauce. Experience the difference in the taste after each addition. Get each one right and then move on to the next. If you overdo one, start over. This little exercise will tremendously increase the flavor in your cooking and help you to understand the power of spices and how they work together. Give it a try and report back!

Pasta! Pasta!

Those who know me well know that (more than occasionally and especially in the kitchen) I can start a small project and passion will quickly turn it into a large one. Yesterday, its name was pasta! My cooking philosophy is that if you can buy a great product inexpensively, then buy it. It’s only worth spending your precious time making something from scratch if it’s distinctly yours, something special or different or saves you a lot of money. This way, you can include purchased products with yours and have the best of everything. In the case of simple pasta, Barilla and others have been there done that, but sometimes it’s fun to get creative and make your own flavor combinations – not to mention using up leftovers in the process and getting some spices into your diet. What you see here started out with, “Let’s make some spaghetti noodles for dinner!” and ended up being (counterclockwise from the front) Spinach Spirelli, Turmeric Penne, Beet Amori, Basil Pesto Spaghetti, Tomato Macaroni, and Turmeric Fettuccini with bits of fresh red bell pepper running through it. As you can see, pasta provides unlimited opportunities for creation! I can just imagine how much fun I’m going to have inventing colorful sauces to go along with these! And to me, that’s what’s fun about cooking… Imagining, creating and presenting something fun that looks beautiful on your plate.

Homemade pasta is great because it can accomodate any dietary needs – even gluten free. To make it, you have lots of choices. You just need flour and liquid. Your flour can be any type – semolina, whole wheat, or rice – just to name a few – or any combination thereof. Your liquid can be eggs or water or also a mix. The ratio is 500 grams of flour to about 6 eggs for extruded pasta like I made (using a machine) or if you are making it by hand, I like to use a mix – 12 ounces semolina and 4 ounces unbleached white flour with about 1 cup of eggs. (You can add a Tablespoon of oil to make the hand rolled dough a little softer if you like.) Add the liquid in gradually until your dough feels right. That’s all that’s in it. Think about how inexpensive that is. Each one of those piles in my picture uses about one pound of flour. Next time you want to support a local restaurant, order their pasta dish!

Coloring your pasta is easy. You can either add a few Tablespoons of vegetable powder or a small amount of cooked vegetables puréed in your food processor or blender. (If they are juicy, include them in your liquid amount.) Spices can be chopped very tiny if fresh or they can be dried. Realize, though, that vegetable powders don’t change the taste much. They are added primarily for color. Things that do change the taste are the things that change the taste of anything the most – garlic, hot peppers and ground pepper to name a few. The Basil pesto spaghetti I made was great because it used up some leftover fresh pesto and made the pasta a flavor creation by itself. Usually with a pasta dish, it’s all about the sauce, but this time the spaghetti stood on its own. I could heat a can of diced tomatoes with jalapeños for a sauce and it would be a beautiful dish. It would be enough.

The best way to eat pasta is fresh. It just needs to rest a half an hour and then you can cook it up. The taste is really tender and lovely – quite different than dried. However, another great thing about it is that it can keep a long, long time, so you can make a lot and use it as you need it. You can freeze it or in the case of plain pastas or those colored with vegetable powder, simply dry it and store it in the pantry – just like the pasta you buy at the store. If you dry it, just make sure you dry it quickly. (My pasta is piled up for the picture, but afterward, I moved some of it to other screened trays and spread it out so it dried out in a matter of hours.) So… there are a few reasons to give homemade pasta a try. Have fun and PS… It’s low fat!

Sugar Baby, Sugar!

Like most people I know, I’m trying to diet. The minute I hear the dreaded D-word though, all I want is sugar. It pursues me through my dreams and tortures me until I submit.I realized I had to call a halt last night when I looked in the mirror and saw myself eating a dish of chocolate chips smothered in some Sanders caramel sauce I found hiding in a back corner of the refrigerater. (It was all I could find after the diet cupboard cleanout.) So what’s a girl to do? GET BACK TO THE BASICS.

One of the very best ways to increase flavor is to reduce a liquid. It strengthens and concentrates what is left and  lets us take total advantage of nature’s goodness. So try this. I took a gallon of cider and boiled it down to a cup. Add nothing. Just refrigerate it until you want to use it. Apples have a lot of pectin, so this process turns it into a delicious jam that is incredibly sweet, flavorful and filling – not to mention handy! Put it on your toast instead of sugary jam, brush it on pork chops, pork roasts, chicken or duck after cooking, stir it into your cinnamon tea, etc. etc. Have fun with it. I know you will really enjoy it.

NOTE: It can take as long as two hours over high heat to boil the cider down to a cup, so you want to do it when you will be around. Keep a close eye on it especially at the end because it will reduce faster and faster. It will froth at the end and then it’s done.

The Royal Beet

I know many of you think you don’t like beets, but have you tried the yellow ones?

They’re milder, don’t stain your fingers when you peel them and they add a brilliant yellow color to your plate presentation. To me, they are absolutely delicious with nothing on them – not even salt and pepper and especially not butter. They’re wonderful as a warm side or cold as a salad ingredient or topping. Best of all, they’re chock full of vitamins and minerals – especially touted as being excellent for your heart – but 100 grams contains only 45 calories, no cholesterol and almost 3 grams of fiber – the perfect diet food!

I used to hate cooking beets. When we only had the red ones, I found the preparation messy, the cooking time long and they would always add insult to injury by leaking their natural red dye all over the other food on the plate. All of those issues are solved now. The yellow ones are no worse to peel than a potato. Unpeeled, they keep for a long time in the refrigerator. Cooked, you can keep them and enjoy them for up to 7 days.

And cooking them is what I really came here to talk about today. One of the reasons I like to go to restaurants is to soak up cooking and presentation ideas from other chefs. For me, it’s the best way to shake off a rut because as usual, two heads are better than one! Recently, I saw a beet presentation that I loved. As pictured above, they were cut into julienne strips and then steamed. The resulting mound was prettier than layering sliced beets on a plate and get this – when I tried it at home, the steaming time (from the time the water started to boil) was only ten minutes! Eureka! This will be my new beet method until I find another one… which might be putting them through a spiral machine, which would decrease the cooking time even more. Stay tuned on that one. I’ll try it tonight.

By the way, the other side prepared in the Flavor Secrets kitchen last night was the leftover cauliflower from my last post. I mixed the purée with some chopped red onion sautéed with a minimum amount of oil. It spiced it up enough to make it different. We ate that with a baked chicken breast (dipped in egg, sprinkled with 1 Tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and baked for about 30 minutes at 375F.

Total calories: About 400. AWESOME.

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