Ingredients

The pea-size berry of the evergreen pimiento tree, native to the West Indies and South America, though Jamaica provides most of the world’s supply (allspice is also known as Jamaica pepper). The dried berries are dark brown and can be purchased whole or ground. The spice is so named because it tastes like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

Choose the variety of apple to fit the use. “Golden Delicious” is an all-round apple that can be used for baking as well as eating raw. The “Red Delicious” has a tendency to lose its shape and flavour when cooked. The advantage of both varieties is that they don’t darken as readily as other apples. Use them to make attractive salads.

The “McIntosh” is very juicy, and has a slightly tart flavour. It can be used raw or cooked. The texture of cooked Macs is less firm than some people like. Be sure to handle “McIntosh” apples with care to prevent bruising.

Cortlands” can be used for snacks and in cooked foods. The white flesh is firm and resists browning. This makes it a popular apple in salads as well as pies.

The “Northern Spy” apple’s tart flavour and yellow flesh makes it a good cooking apple.

The artichoke, is slow food at it’s best: you cannot rush to eat one (and it is a bit messy as you eat this with your fingers)

To prepare, cut with a pair of scissors the prickly tops of each leaf. Cut off the top of the artichoke with a knife, and cut or break off the stem. Some people go as far as removing the “hay” deep in the middle of the vegetable (I don’t). Cook in water until you can easily pull off a leaf. It can take a while so a pressure cooker can be useful. A piece of lemon can be added to the water.

When they are done, drain well and deposit each artichoke in a soup bowl, itself set on a larger plate, with a dipping sauce container close by.

The trick is to pull out each leaf, holding it by the tip, one at a time, dip the base in the dipping sauce and pull the leaf through your teeth, to get the “meaty” part of the leaf. Deposit the leaf on the plate and start again with another one. When you are done you will be left with some very pale and soft leaves, you can pull them as a bunch rather than one by one. And when you uncover the (purple) hay, (inedible prickly choke) you need to remove it delicately and discard. This is easily done with a spoon. Be careful not to waste parts of the heart underneath: it is the best part! the reward! Then the tender artichoke heart and meaty bottom can be eaten. You dip that also and can eat it all as far as the base of the stem.

There are many varieties of asparagus, the green ones, the most frequent, the white, always tender and the purple tipped ones rare and fruity tasting.

Some fresh asparagus need to be trimmed, and peeled. Cut off the tough part with a knife and then you may use a vegetable peeler and, starting below the tip, bring the blade all the way down to the base.

They can be steamed or cooked in water. There are special pots made to cook them standing up.

History and lore

Basi’s common name comes from the Greek for “king”, basileus. In India, Ocimum sanctum, or holy basil, is sacred to Krishna and Vishnu. But delicious, generous sweet basil, Ocimum basilicum, has a darker past. Scattered on graves in ancient Persia and Malaysia, it was thought by the Greeks to bode misfortune. The Romans believed that the more basil was abused upon planting, the better it would thrive. In Crete it symbolized “love washed with tears”, a theme that returns in Bocaccio’s deliciously morbid tale of love and composting “Isabella and the Pot of Basil”, later famously revisited by Keats and the Pre-Raphaelites. Of the many types of basil now available in nurseries and farmers’ markets, green, tiny-leaved varieties of O. basilicum are best for traditional Mediterranean cooking. Opal basil has a spicy, gingery aspect, but some purple basils make better ornamental plants and garnishes than culinary herbs – taste before you buy. For use in Asian-inspired dishes, Thai basil lends a distinct anise flavour; holy basil, O. sanctum, is clove-y; and lemon basil, O. basilicum ‘Citriodorum’, tastes just like it sounds.

Storing

Basil is excellent for flavouring vinegars and oils. The leaves may be puréed with a bit of water and frozen in ice cube trays. Or the leaves can be put in a jar, salted, covered with plenty of olive oil, sealed tightly, and kept in the fridge.

Drying

Basil leaves may be dried, but the flavour suffers, becoming blander, with a vague mint taste.

Cooking

Essential for good Mediterranean food. Pair with ripe tomatoes, as in the classic Caprese Salad. Pesto, the Ligurian basil sauce that is synonymous with summer, can also be frozen (before adding the cheese), to brighten the winter months.Try the basic recipe in Trenette (a narrower, thicker version of tagliatelle) with pesto, potatoes and green beans. Always tear the leaves, instead of cutting them, for salads to avoid bruising, and add at the last minute, since vinegar dressings can affect the flavour of the herb. Mash into soft butter, alone or mixed with other herbs. Or, using a very sharp knife to minimise bruising, cut in chiffonade to add to finished soups, sauces, or egg dishes.

Beans are a wonderful and inexpensive source of protein and are also rich in iron, phosphorous and B vitamins. Many people around the world rely on beans as their main source of protein. There are many different types of beans available in most supermarkets, common ones being Broad Beans, Butter Beans, Garbanzo or Chick Peas, Haricot beans, Red Kidney Beans and Soya Beans. Many other varieties are widely available in health and wholefood shops.

While dried beans do not perish easily and add attractive colours to any kitchen when arranged in glass jars, they will harden over time to the extent that no amount of soaking or cooking will make them tender. It is better to buy them in smaller amounts and use them within a few months.

Recipes with beans usually mean you need to be a little more organized to make sure the beans are soaked and cooked before starting the recipe. This puts a lot of people off cooking with beans but the extra effort (really just a little planning) is well worth it, opening up a whole new palate of recipies as beans can often be substituted for meat in recipes.

Washing

Beans may be in greater or lesser need of washing depending on where they were bought. Might as well wash even polythene packed beans. Put them in a large sieve and run some cold water through them, moving them around with your fingers to make sure the water gets to them all.

Soaking

There is no doubt that beans benefit from an initial soaking before cooking. This not only speeds up the subsequent cooking time but also makes them more digestible. There are 2 ways of soaking beans:

The Long Cold Soak. Cover the beans with twice their volume of cold water and leave them to soak for 4 – 8 hours or overnight.

The Short Hot Soak. A boon if you’ve forgotten to get organized in advance. Put the washed beans in a saucepan, cover with plenty of cold water and bring them to the boil. Let them boil vigorously for about 3 minutes then remove them from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave them to soak for 45 – 60 minutes. This can be repeated if desired.

Rinsing

After the beans have soaked it helps to make them more digestible by rinsing them in a large sieve under cold, running water. It is worth doing this if you are using the Short Hot Soak method and wish to soak the beans twice.

Cooking

Most beans require cooking before they are used in a recipe. Some beans intended for casseroles can be used straight from the soaking stage but I prefer to cook them anyway to soften them further. Flavourings can be added at this stage but do not add salt as this toughens the outside of the beans and prevents them from cooking properly.

The following cooking times are a guide as beans sometimes vary from batch to batch.

  • Adzuki Beans 30 minutes
  • Black Eyed Beans 30 – 45 minutes
  • Borlotti Beans 1 hour
  • Broad Beans 1 1/ 2 hours
  • Butter beans 1 1/4 hours
  • Cannelloni Beans 1 hour
  • Chick Peas (Garbanzo Beans) 1 – 1 1/2 hours
  • Haricot Beans 1 – 1 /1/2 hours
  • Pinto Beans 1 – 1 1/2 hours
  • Soya Beans 3 – 4 hours

The beet is often sold already cooked and pickled but it is wonderfully sweet when eaten freshly cooked.

The smaller ones are easier to cut or grate. But better wear rubber gloves to peel them. They stain. So much so that the juice of the beet can be used to colour food like sauces.

When making soups or stews that you wish to season without leaving the seasonings in after it is cooked you can make a “bouquet garni”.

It is usually composed of parsley, thyme, bay leaf, sage, celery, and rosemary all tied together, either with string or inside a cheesecloth square.

And you always remove it at the end of cooking.

When choosing a cucumber look for a firm and shiny specimen. Smaller ones tend to have less seeds, unless you buy english cucumbers which have practically none.

It is recommended to peel the skin. Although I like to remove thin lines of it, with a zester, which leaves stripes that look pretty when the cucumber is sliced. If you want to make very thin slices you can use a cheese slicer.

If it will be eaten raw, it is a good idea to salt the slices and let them stand, on a paper towel, for about 20 minutes to make the cucumber release water.

Add a gourmet touch to your salad while making use of day-old bread. Makes about 1 1/2 cup croutons.

  • Cut 3 slices of bread into 1/2 inch cubes.
  • In medium skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil with 1/4 teaspoon fresh chopped garlic (or garlic powder) and cook bread cubes, stirring frequently until bread is crisp and golden.
  • Drain well on paper towels.

There are many varieties of cream, all categorized according to the amount of milk fat in the mixture.

  • Light cream, also called coffee or table cream, can contain anywhere from 18 to 30 percent fat, but commonly contains 20 percent.
  • Light whipping cream, the form most commonly available, contains 30 to 36 percent milk fat and sometimes stabilizers and emulsifiers.
  • Heavy cream, also called heavy whipping cream, is whipping cream with a milk fat content of between 36 and 40 percent. It’s usually only available in specialty or gourmet markets. Whipping cream will double in volume when whipped.
  • Half-and-half is a mixture of equal parts milk and cream, and contains 10 to 12 percent milk fat. Neither half-and-half nor light cream can be whipped.
  • Ultrapasteurized (UHT) cream, seen more and more in markets today, has been briefly heated at temperatures up to 300°F to kill micro-organisms that cause milk products to sour. It has a longer shelf life than regular cream, but it doesn’t whip as well and it has a slight “cooked” flavour. All other cream is highly perishable and should be kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
  • Pressurized whipped cream, contained in cans under pressure, is a mixture of cream, sugar, stabilizers, emulsifiers and gas, such as nitrous oxide. It’s not really “whipped” but, more aptly, expanded by the gas into a puffy form.
  • Aerosol “dessert toppings“, which are usually made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, have absolutely no cream in them and taste like it. Read the label.
  • Crème fraîche.This matured, thickened cream has a slightly tangy, nutty flavour and velvety rich texture. The thickness of crème fraîche can range from that of commercial sour cream to almost as solid as room-temperature margarine. In France, where crème fraîche is a specialty, the cream is unpasteurized and therefore contains the bacteria necessary to thicken it naturally. To make your own, combine 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a glass container. Cover and let stand at room temperature (about 70°F) from 8 to 24 hours, or until very thick. Stir well before covering and refrigerate up to 10 days. Crème fraîche is the ideal addition for sauces or soups because it can be boiled without curdling. It’s delicious spooned over fresh fruit or other desserts such as warm cobblers or puddings.
  • Sour cream. Commercial sour cream contains from 18 to 20 percent fat, and has been treated with a lactic acid culture to add its characteristic tang. Sour cream often contains additional ingredients such as gelatin, rennin and vegetable enzymes. Light sour cream contains about 40 percent less fat than regular sour cream because it’s made from half-and-half. There’s also a nonfat sour cream, which is thickened with stabilizers. Refrigerate sour cream in its carton for up to a week after the date stamped on the bottom of the container. If any mold forms on the cream’s surface, discard it immediately.

Note

When whipping cream, start with a cold bowl and beaters, (especially in summer). Just as with beating egg whites, it is best to start on a slow speed and increase slowly. Add sugar and vanilla once the cream has started to thicken.

Cornichon, French for “gherkin”, cornichons are crisp, tart pickles made from tiny gherkin cucumbers. They’re a traditional accompaniment to patés as well as smoked meats and fish.

Native to the Mediterranean and the Orient, coriander is related to the parsley family.

It is known for both its seeds (actually the dried, ripe fruit of the plant) and for its dark green, lacy leaves.

The flavours of the seeds and leaves bear absolutely no resemblance to each other. Mention of coriander seeds was found in early Sanskrit writings and the seeds themselves have been discovered in Egyptian tombs dating to 960 b.c. The tiny (1/8-inch), yellow-tan seeds are lightly ridged. They are mildly fragrant and have an aromatic flavour akin to a combination of lemon, sage and caraway. Whole coriander seeds are used in pickling and for special drinks, such as mulled wine. Ground seed is used in many baked goods (particularly Scandinavian), curry blends, soups, etc.

Coriander leaves are also commonly known as cilantro and Chinese parsley. Fresh coriander leaves have an extremely pungent (some say fetid) odor and flavour that lends itself well to highly seasoned food. Though it’s purported to be the world’s most widely used herb, many Americans and Europeans find that fresh coriander is definitely an acquired taste.

Choose leaves with an even green colour and no sign of wilting. Store a bunch of coriander, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Refrigerate in this manner for up to a week, changing the water every 2 days.

Note

When crushing coriander seeds, you might want to use a sieve to remove coarse bits.

The chive is related to the onion and leek, this fragrant herb has slender, vivid green, hollow stems. Chives have a mild onion flavour and are available fresh year-round. Look for those with a uniform green colour and no signs of wilting or browning. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to a week. Fresh chives can be snipped with scissors to the desired length. They’re delicious in many cooked dishes but should be added toward the end of the cooking time to retain their flavour (french: ciboule ou ciboulette).

A mild-flavoured member of the parsley family, this aromatic herb has curly, dark green leaves with an elusive anise flavour. Chervil is one of the main ingredients in “fines herbes“. Though most chervil is cultivated for its leaves alone, the root is edible and was, in fact, enjoyed by early Greeks and Romans. Today it’s available dried but has the best flavour when fresh. It can be used like parsley but its delicate flavour is diminished when boiled. Chervil is also called cicily and sweet cicily.

After food (usually meat) has been sautéed and the food and excess fat removed from the pan, deglazing is done by heating a small amount of liquid in the pan and stirring to loosen browned bits of food on the bottom. The liquid used is most often wine or stock. The resultant mixture often becomes a base for a sauce to accompany the food cooked in the pan.

It’s essential that diced vegetables be uniform in size so they cook evenly – and look good too. Slice the vegetable very thin; stack several flat slices, and slice again very thin, into julienne. Gather several matchsticks and chop into equal-size cubes.

After food (usually meat) has been sautéed and the food and excess fat removed from the pan, deglazing is done by heating a small amount of liquid in the pan and stirring to loosen browned bits of food on the bottom. The liquid used is most often wine or stock. The resultant mixture often becomes a base for a sauce to accompany the food cooked in the pan.

It’s essential that diced vegetables be uniform in size so they cook evenly – and look good too. Slice the vegetable very thin; stack several flat slices, and slice again very thin, into julienne. Gather several matchsticks and chop into equal-size cubes.

Cooking in very hot oil or fat (200° to 500° F). The hotter the oil the less it will penetrate the food.

A mixture of one liquid with another with which it cannot normally combine smoothly, oil and water being the classic example. Emulsifying is done by slowly (sometimes drop-by-drop) adding one ingredient to another while at the same time mixing rapidly. This disperses and suspends minute droplets of one liquid throughout the other. Emulsified mixtures are usually thick and satiny in texture. Mayonnaise (an uncooked combination of oil, egg yolks and vinegar or lemon juice) and Hollandaise sauce (a cooked mixture of butter, egg yolks and vinegar or lemon juice) are two of the best-known emulsions.

A thin, glossy coating for both hot and cold foods. A savory glaze might be a reduced meat stock or aspic whereas a sweet glaze could be anything from melted jelly to a chocolate coating. An egg wash brushed on pastry before baking to add colour and shine is also called a glaze. To coat food with a thin liquid (sweet or savory) that will be smooth and shiny after setting.

A garnish made of minced parsley, lemon peel and garlic. It’s sprinkled over Ossobucco and other dishes to add a fresh, sprightly flavour.

A popular Mexican specialty of mashed avocado mixed with lemon or lime juice and various seasonings (usually chili powder and red pepper). Sometimes finely chopped tomato, green onion and cilantro are added. Guacamole can be used as a dip, sauce, topping or side dish. It must be covered closely and tightly to prevent discolouration.

In cooking it is a thickening agent for soups, sauces and stews. Beurre manié, roux, egg yolks or starches such as flour, cornstarch and arrowroot are among those agents used for thickening. A liaison is sometimes also referred to as a binder. Remember that egg yolks must be tempered with hot liquid before adding to the liquid in order to prevent curdling.

A mixture of diced carrots, onions, celery and herbs sautéed in butter. Sometimes ham or bacon is added to the mix. Mirepoix is used to season sauces, soups and stews, as well as for a bed on which to braise foods, usually meats or fish.

The French word for a paper frill used to decorate the tips of rib bones, such as those on crown roasts. En papillote, refers to food baked inside a wrapping of greased parchment paper. As the food bakes and lets off steam, the parchment puffs up into a dome shape. At the table, the paper is slit and peeled back to reveal the food.

Cooking in a liquid that is just below boiling temperature. Poaching is a particularly effective method for cooking fish. Because it involves partially or completely submerging the food in a gently simmering liquid, it is nearly impossible to dry out even the leanest or most delicate fish. Foods can be poached in water, wine, stock or any combination of the three. To enhance the flavour of the liquid, herbs, spices, or other flavourings, such as lemon and garlic, can be added. The poaching liquid can be used as a light sauce. When the fish is opaque, simply remove it from the liquid and boil the liquid until reduced and the flavours intensify. Here is an unconventional approach that makes the technique even better: first, quickly sauté the fish to add colour and taste, and then poach it gently in a savory broth of white wine, clam juice, garlic, lemon and crushed red pepper. The result is perfectly cooked fish with wonderful flavour. The bonus: it is low in fat.

Wash the fruit, and pat dry. Use a small, sharp paring knife or a vegetable peeler to pare off the skin in long, thin vertical strips. Pears are best peeled in this method. For apples, thinly peel all around the fruit in a spiral.

 

To core whole apples and pears, place the sharp edge of a corer over the stem of the fruit, press down firmly, then twist slightly; the core, complete with pips, will come away in the center of the corer. Push out the core from the handle end.

 

Another way to core fruit is to halve the fruit lenghtways, the cut into quarters or segments. Carefully cut out the central core and pips, with a small sharp knife.

 

To peel citrus fruit: once you have removed all the bitter white pith that lies just beneath the rind of citrus fruits, use a small serrated knife to cut down in between the membranes enclosing the segments; cut along both sides at the base of the segment then carefully ease out the flesh of the fruit.

This type of cooking is done in a hermetically closing pot (presto). It is fast and conserves the nutritional value of food because it requires little water.

Culinarily, to boil a liquid (usually stock, wine or a sauce mixture) rapidly until the volume is reduced by evaporation, thereby thickening the consistency and intensifying the flavour. Such a mixture is sometimes referred to as a reduction.

A cooking term describing the texture of an egg-and-sugar mixture that has been beaten until pale and extremely thick. When the beater or whisk is lifted, the batter falls slowly back onto the surface of the mixture, forming a ribbonlike pattern that, after a few seconds, sinks back into the batter.

To cook food uncovered in a hot oven. To roast a chicken: leave it at room temperature 30 minutes before it is placed in the oven to ensure even cooking of the bird. When the chicken is ready to go into the oven, it is placed breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan. The rack prevents the chicken from stewing in its own juices, and the placement of the bird allows the juices from the fatty part of the chicken to run down into the leaner white meat of the breasts. After 30 minutes the chicken is turned breast side up by inserting a large kitchen fork into the main cavity. If the skin is pricked, some of the juices may be lost.

To cook in a small amount butter or oil (or a mixture of both) to colour the food. Usually using a skillet or a saucepan over high heat and with a movement of turning the meat in the pan (hence the word sauté which means to jump in french). When chopped items are cooked, the pan is left uncovered and the mixture inside is stirred until brown on all sides. When larger pieces, like chops or steaks, are sautéed, they are cooked uncovered until brown on both sides. Then the heat is lowered, the pan is sometimes covered, and the meat is cooked to the desired doneness. The mixture left behind in the pan can contribute to a sauce: the meat is removed, some liquid is added and brought to a boil, and any browned bits in the pan are stirred up. Then the mixture is reduced to a sauce consistency.

To separate an egg, crack the egg on the edge of a bowl and open it up over a smaller bowl, holding the larger half-shell beneath the smaller one. Carefully let the yolk settle into the lower shell. As you do this, the white will spill out into the bowl below. Transferring the yolk to the smaller half of the shell, let the rest of the white spill into the bowl. Transfer the yolk one more time, then place the yolk into a separate bowl. It’s a good idea to separate eggs one at a time into a small bowl and then transfer the separated egg into a larger bowl. This way, if some shell or yolk should fall into the white, it is easier to remove it. This is important, because if you’re going to whip the whites, any fat from the yolks will prevent proper aeration. If you have a lot of eggs to separate, try this: Simply pour the cracked egg into your hand and let the white slip between your fingers into the bowl. The yolk remains behind.

This requires the use of a “bain marie” that would have a pierced upper part or a steam flower (or folding vegetable steamer). You cover the whole thing with a lid so as to keep the steam inside. Be careful that the water does not touch the food (or it would be boiling) yet there must always be enough to avoid scorching the pot. You can add spices or herbs to the cooking water.

A technique by which ingredients, particularly vegetables, are cooked in a small amount of fat over low heat. The ingredients are covered directly with a piece of foil or parchment paper, then the pot is tightly covered. With this method, the ingredients soften without browning, and cook in their own juices.

Popular throughout Spain in bars and restaurants, Tapas are appetizers that usually accompany Sherry or other Apéritifs or Cocktails. They can also form an entire meal and can range from simple items such as olives or cubes of ham and cheese to more elaborate preparations like cold omelets, snails in a spicy sauce, stuffed peppers and miniature sandwiches. To me they are synonymous with shrimps, mountains of shrimps eaten standing at a bar in the south of Spain…

French for “tile”, a tuile is a thin, crisp cookie that is placed over a rounded object (like a rolling pin) while still hot from the oven. Once cooled and stiff, the cookie resembles a curved roof tile. The classic tuile is made with crushed almonds but the cookie can also be flavored with orange, lemon, vanilla or other nuts.

When the pot containing the food is put into or over another larger pot containing very hot water (double boiler). This can be done on the stovetop or in the oven. It is used for delicate preparations that cannot withstand high heat (egg or cream based sauces and chocolate).

The perfumy outermost skin layer (rind) of citrus fruit (usually oranges or lemons), which is removed with the aid of a citrus zester paring knife or vegetable peeler. Only the coloured portion of the skin (and not the white pith) is considered the zest. The aromatic oils in citrus zest are what add so much flavour to food. Zest can be used to flavour raw or cooked and sweet or savory dishes.