Tag Archives: cooking

Essential Spices & Blends

By Julia Rogers and Mario Fiorucci

 

Introduction

What sets a great cook apart from an ordinary one is a sure hand with seasoning. When the right spices are employed, even the simplest food becomes a memorable dish. The few key spices we present below will boost flavor to any dish, spark your kitchen creativity, and allow you to experience a world of ethnic cuisine.

While we often speak of herbs and spices as one and the same, they are actually quite distinct. Herbs are fresh green leaves of plants, typically from temperate climates. Some herbs withstand drying, becoming more pungent and durable, but they still have a limited shelf life. Spices are dried aromatic seeds, roots, flowers and fruits, of tropical origin. They make an intense and lasting impression. Because herbs grow prolifically, they were historically accessible to all classes. From the Roman era onward, Europe’s peasantry seasoned their food with chives, borage, parsley, leeks, and other greenery foraged from ditches and byways. In contrast, spices held the cachet of scarcity, and the mystique of obscure provenance. They became status symbols at the tables of the elite.

Our gastronomic love affair with spices has been a long and passionate one, fueled by curiosity, desire and greed. Once literally worth their weight in gold, spices established the fortune of trading nations and enriched the cuisines of all corners of the globe. Luckily for modern cooks, stocking an extensive spice cupboard requires neither high-seas adventuring nor special wealth.

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Olive Oil

Introduction

To taste a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is nothing short of tasting Earth’s ambrosia. Archeological excavations have proved the existence of wild olive trees as long ago as 12,000 B.C.!  As far back as written records extend, humans have always prized the olive and its oil as a symbol of health, strength, peace, and prosperity.

Yet, not many people have had the fortune of tasting good EVOO; grocery stores have bombarded us with cheap, flavourless olive oils that even at their eight buck price tag are priced one-hundred times too much. What makes a good EVOO? What should you look for on a label? We answer these questions below. A few weeks back, we assembled 17 HB customers at our Queen St. store to form a tasting panel. We tasted 10 olive oils and rated them using an official 100 point European show scoring system. Despite the fact that nobody on the panel had any formal olive oil tasting training, the results were remarkably accurate as compared to professional judges; we say this because the top olive oils from our panel are also internationally awarded olive oils.

The results are shared below.

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Sauté, Fry and Stir-Fry

Important, time-tested techniques essential to making delicious meals.

Introduction

Quickness is key for sautéed and fried dishes. Take the word “sauté” itself: it means “to jump” in French – an apt description for the way food behaves in the pan. You should have everything ready to go and at the right temperature before you begin, so that you can remain focused during the actual cooking time. The goal is to produce foods that are golden and crisp on the outside and juicy within. Aside from getting the timing right, none of these techniques is terribly difficult. Mastering them will bring very satisfying – and speedy – rewards.

It may seem counterintuitive, but sautéing and frying are considered dry-heat cooking methods, since oil and other fats do not contain any water. They do lock in moisture, however, when they are heated high enough, so long as the heat remains constant. Start with oil (or any other cooking fat) that is too cold, and your fried foods will absorb too much of it and turn out greasy. Heat the oil too high before adding the food, and you’ll end up with a burned crust surrounding an undercooked interior. Just as important is not overcrowding the pan, which can cause the food to steam rather than fry, and the temperature of the oil to drop significantly.

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Steam, Poach & Simmer

Three important techniques to building great meals.

Introduction

The beauty of steamed, poached and simmered foods lies in their clarity. These gentle techniques coax essential flavours from delicate fish, shellfish, poultry and meats, all without overpowering them. Because they are wet-cooking methods, they produce foods that are exceptionally moist and tender throughout, with pure flavours, unadulterated by much more than subtle hints from the cooking liquid. It’s precisely that purity that makes steamed, poached and simmered foods so versatile and delicious.

Because they require little (if any) fat, these cooking methods are among the most healthful. As part of a multi-layered meal, steamed, poached and simmered dishes can help balance the textures and flavours of richer foods; this is how they are treated in Chinese cuisine, for example, where at least one steamed dish appears as part of nearly every meal to provide a contrast to fried, roasted or more strongly seasoned foods.

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Braised Comfort

Roast Beef is not only a food. It is a philosophy. Seated at Life’s Dining Table, with the menu of Morals before you, your eye wanders a bit over the entrees, the hors d’oeuvres, and the things although you know that Roast Beef is safe and sane, and sure.

Edna Ferber, American writer (1887-1968)

Introduction

It’s that time of year again. The beautiful colours of fall have vanished, leaving us with brisk winter temperatures and the craving for good ‘ole comfort foods. The delicate flavours of food & wine that we enjoyed during spring and summer lack the oomph that our palates (and padding) require during winter. In this issue of Live to Eat, we will explore the magical cooking technique of braising – the technique behind France’s famous coq au vin and boeuf bourguignonne and Italy’s osso buco.

Now simmer down. “Braising” may sound like one of those complicated culinary terms, but what we’re talking about here is a pot roast. Basically, braising is cooking food in a relatively small amount of liquid in a closed container over a long period of time. Magically, braising can turn a tough and inexpensive cut of meat into a tender, heart warming, and hearty dish.

How does braising work its magic you ask? Well, tough cuts of meat come from well used muscles that contain a higher amount of a connective tissue called collagen. When cooked slowly in liquid, collagen is converted to gelatin, the substance that brings body and decadence to your palate. The “wet heat” from cooking in liquid is essential in this process because the liquid transfers heat more effectively than dry heat. If you were to use a dry heat-cooking method with a tough cut of meat, such as oven roasting, the outer portions of the meat would become over cooked, dry, and tough long before the internal temperature of the meat becomes high enough to break down the collagen.

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The Fundamental Principles of Roasting

Introduction

One would assume that of the twenty-two previous newsletters that we have issued over the last three years, one of them would explain the fundamentals of the most important cooking technique for meat – roasting.  Well, everyone knows what happens when you ass-u-me.  To say this newsletter is long overdue is an understatement.  For this article, we chained together our Head Butcher and our Head Chef, each a mastermind in their own right, for a period of time that seemed like an eternity.  Below is the brilliant result – a lot of detail without giving any detail at all.

After reading the newsletter and becoming familiar with the fundamentals, don’t forget to print out The Ultimate Roasting Chart and place it on your cookbook shelf.

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