Saturday, June 17, 2017

Slice and Dice: Portobellos

Slice off the stem of the mushroom


I used to get a lot of flak for serving meatless meals, having descended from a line of devoted carnivores. The men, in particular, need dishes that offer heft and flavor. Because they are dense and filling, portobello mushrooms seem to satisfy even the pickiest eaters in the family. So, if you’re trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle and/or a greener footprint, pick up some portobellos.

How to Select Portobello Mushrooms

What do you get when a crimini mushroom (or baby bella) grows up? A portobello with chocolate-colored gills and a woody stem. Select the ones that are plump and smooth-skinned, with a delicate, earthy aroma.

How to Clean Portobello Mushrooms

Using a paring knife, slice off the stem. If it has the texture of a wine cork, throw it out or save it for making stock. If it is tender, rinse it and slice it into pieces length wise. 

Remove the gills using the tip of a spoon to scrape them away.
Scoop out gills with a spoon
Wipe the mushroom cap with a damp cloth or paper towel to remove dirt without soaking it in water.
How to Slice Portobello Mushrooms
Place the cleaned mushroom on a cutting board stem-side down. With a chef’s knife, cut the mushroom in half.
Slice the mushroom cap in half

Rotate each half so the flat, just-cut end is parallel to you, and slice across it width wise into 1/2-inch lengths (or thinner if desired).
Slice portobello width wise





How to Chop Portobello Mushrooms

Repeat steps above for slicing. Rotate the sliced pieces 90 degrees and cut across them width wise to make 1/2-inch cubes (or smaller if desired).
Slice into cubes

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Slice and Dice: Avocados

My apartment in Japan was tiny, but I figured I could squeeze two other teachers around my bento table for a meal. It would start with chips and guacamole, which where I come from, calls for bottled lemon juice and a few plops of mayonnaise. Over my lunch break, I flagged down a clerk at Isetan department store and asked for lemon juice with the cadence of a cave man. She smiled politely, bowed briskly, and sped off in the direction of the cooler as I followed in hot pursuit. She handed me a bottle of chilled juice and then bowed again. I replied with “Domo arigato” and teetered in her direction. Then I asked for may-oh-naise. The clerk broke into a broad smile, and replied, “My name? My name is Akiko!” Humored, I left without mayonnaise, which I later realized was a good thing. Who needs mayo when you've got fresh avocados?
 
As luscious as butter and as subtle as white chocolate, avocados add creamy comfort to many a dish. Their bumpy, alligator-like skin hides melt-in-your mouth yellow-green flesh. Here are some tips to use, whether you’re shopping for a batch of rippled, purple-skinned Haas, thin-skinned Fuerte, or another variety.

How to Select Avocados

Avocados only ripen after they have been harvested. To test whether an avocado is ready to eat, give it a gentle squeeze and look for a shallow imprint in the skin. If the flesh is as hard as a bowling ball, it will need time to mature. If you feel the flesh collapses under the skin, the fruit is past its prime.

How to Store Avocados

Ripe avocados can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days. Once cut, be sure to sprinkle them with lemon juice, lime juice, or another acid to keep them from turning brown (or "oxidizing"). Unripe avocados should be kept at room temperature until they ripen. To hasten the ripening process, place the fruit in a paper bag with an apple or a banana.

To freeze: If, through great fortune, you end up with more avocados than you can use, consider freezing them. Use the steps below to pit and mash the fruit. Then sprinkle it with lemon juice, lime juice, or another acid to keep it from browning. Place it in an airtight container or freezer-safe bag before freezing it.

How to Prepare Avocados

To pit: Thoroughly wash and dry the avocado. Place it on a cutting board lengthwise. Hold a chef’s knife parallel to the cutting board. Starting at one pole, slice into the fruit. Rotate the fruit and continue to slice it along the equator.


Hold the avocado with both hands and twist in opposite directions. 

Carefully insert a spoon under the pit and lift it out. 



To slice: Place half of the avocado on a cutting board with the cut side down. With a chef’s knife, cut it down the middle lengthwise. 

Carefully pull off the skin. 

Place the fruit on the cutting board and slice it lengthwise or width wise.

To dice: Hold half of an avocado with one hand, flesh side up. With a butter knife, cut the flesh into half-inch strips lengthwise. Cut the flesh into half-inch strips width wise.



To mash: Scoop out the flesh from a pitted and diced avocado with a spoon and place it in a bowl. Then mash it with a fork.





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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cooking Dry Beans

Black Bean Tacos

I prepared a lot of bean dishes in graduate school. Chickpeas were my go to legume. When I was really strapped for time, I would sauté them with turmeric and cumin and smother them in salsa. I loved the contrast of the creamy garbanzo beans and the feisty tomatoes. The cost of preparing the dish was low, and as a grad student that was a huge bonus. 

These days when I cook beans, I reach for dried beans whenever possible. Dried beans are not only cheaper than canned beans, they are free of salt and other unwanted preservatives. When cooked properly, dried beans are also mush-free unlike so many of their tinned cousins.
Soaking Methods for Dried Beans
Using dried beans admittedly requires a bit of planning. After being picked over and rinsed, the beans should be hydrated to reduce their cooking time. This is done using either a quick soak method or a long soak method.
  • The quick soak method (also known as a hot soak) involves boiling dried beans for two minutes and then soaking them for an hour or so in the hot liquid before cooking them.
  • The long soak method, or cold soak, requires soaking the beans in cool water for six to eight hours before cooking them. 
Dried, soaked, and cooked black beans

Black beans in three stages (l-r): dried, soaked, and cooked
Regardless of which method you use, always start with the freshest beans possible (versus those that have languished on the pantry shelf). Not surprisingly, the fresher the bean, the better its cooked texture will be.
How to Cook Dried Beans
Lay the dried beans on a countertop or cutting board. Pick out and discard any shriveled beans, small stones, or other foreign matter. 
Picking through dried beans




Rinse the beans with cold water and drain. 

Soaked beans
To soak with the quick soak method: Place the beans in a pot and cover them with water, using three cups of water for every cup of beans. Bring to a boil and cook for two minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and set aside for an hour.

To soak with the long soak method: Place the beans in a pot and cover with water, again using three cups of water for every cup of beans. Cover and set aside for six to eight hours.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans.  


Place the beans in a pot and cover with water (using three cups of water for every cup of beans). Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to produce a gentle simmer. When the beans just start to soften, season with salt. 
Cook the beans until they are tender, adding water when needed. Cooking times will vary depending on the type of bean you are using. Pinto and garbanzo beans take longer to cook than kidney, navy, and lima beans. Drain beans in a sieve.

Cooked and drained black beans


















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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Boiling Eggs













When I was four, our family traveled to Ontario to visit the Raos, who were close family friends. Just before dusk the first night, I managed to get lost in their subdivision. A neighbor heard me whimpering to her cat who was lounging in the driveway. I had thick black hair and a bangle encircling each wrist. She guessed that I was related to the Raos who were the only Indians on the block. To confirm her suspicion, she asked me what I liked to eat. Instead of  saying "curry," I responded with "Cookies and eggs." Thankfully, she called the Raos anyway.

I still get weak in the knees when I eat eggs, and am especially fond of  Eggs in Coconut Milk and Egg Roast. On the rare occasion when my fridge is near empty, I boil one up until its yolk is velvety and its white has a cushy softness. I sprinkle it with salt and pepper for breakfast in a flash.

It’s easy to overcook eggs. To avoid producing boiled eggs with rubbery whites and yellow-green yolks, follow these simple steps:

How to Boil Eggs 

Fresh eggs are often harder to peel than eggs that have been around for a week or so. So boil older eggs whenever possible. 

Place eggs in a saucepan in a single layer. Cover with an inch or so of cold water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat.

Remove the saucepan from the heat. Cover with a lid and let the eggs sit in the water for five minutes to make soft boiled eggs and 15 minutes for hard boiled eggs. 

How to Peel Boiled Eggs

Drain the water. Allow the eggs to cool for one minute until they are easy to hold. 

For soft boiled eggs: Carefully tap the top of the egg on a hard surface to crack the shell. Peel off the top third of the shell. Use a spoon to scoop out the cooked egg.

For hard boiled eggs: Crack the egg shells by gently rolling each egg against a hard surface with the palm of your hand. You can also cover the saucepan with a lid and slide it across your kitchen counter to crack the shells of the eggs inside. Hold each egg under cold water and peel off the shell, beginning at the wide end, which gives most easily.
 

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Slice and Dice: Ginger

Worn out versus fresh ginger
I took a class on the cuisine of Levant in culinary school. One day, the instructor stopped by my station while I was sauteing onions and garlic. I told him that I really wanted to toss in some fresh ginger as so many of the dishes that I learned from my mom combine all three ingredients. He laughed and replied, "Ah yes, the holy trinity of Indian cooking!" 

Fresh ginger brings verve to Indian cuisine, Chinese cuisine, and dishes from many other regions of the world. If you’ve resolved to part with the routine in 2017, seek out the citrusy aromatic in the produce department. 


Ginger looks like an odd shaped hand with knobby fingers. Break off a piece or two from a plump stem with smooth skin (see example on the right above). Avoid chucks of ginger that are wrinkled (see example on the left above). You can store it unwrapped in the fridge for up to one month. 


How to Peel Ginger

It’s best to remove the skin (which has the shade and roughness of a paper bag). Begin by breaking off any small knobs and cutting off the rough end.


Break off nob from hunk of ginger


Cut off dryends of ginger



Cut off dryends of ginger
Some people use a spoon to remove the skin. Other use a knife or vegetable peeler.


Using a spoon: In one hand, nestle the ginger between the base of your index finger and the base of your thumb. With your other hand, clasp the spoon between the stem and the head. Scrape the edge of the spoon against the skin as you move it up the side of the ginger. Rotate the ginger and repeat until all the skin is removed. 


Peel skin with a spoon
Using a vegetable peeler: Hold a piece of ginger vertically on a cutting board. Run the vegetable peeler down the ginger. Turn the ginger and repeat until all the skin in removed.  


Remove skin with a peeler
How to Slice Ginger 


Place a piece of peeled ginger on a cutting board. Pinch the ginger with your extra hand to hold it in place on the cutting board. Position the knife at one end of the ginger and slice into the ginger widthwise. Move the knife across the length of the ginger until it is sliced completely. 


Slice ginger width wise
How to Mince/Dice Ginger 


Hold a chef’s knife over the ginger slices. Place the other hand on the back of the knife. Rock the knife back and forth over the slices and mince finely.


Rock knife over pile of sliced ginger
How to Grate Ginger  


Hold the microplane in one hand at a 45-degree angle, with the tip resting on a cutting board. Hold a piece of ginger so one end touches the grating surface. Slide the ginger down the microplane. Tap the tip of the microplane on your cutting board to remove any ginger that is clinging to the microplane. 


Slide ginger across microplane
How to Create Ginger Matchsticks 

Some recipes, such as stir-fries, call for long, thin slabs or sticks of ginger. Here’s how to prep ginger for those dishes.



Place a piece of peeled ginger on a cutting board. Hold a chef’s knife in one hand. Pinch the ginger with your other hand to hold it in place on the cutting board. Square off the ginger by cutting the rounded sides to form four right angles. After cutting the first side, rest the flat surface you just created on the cutting board to stabilize the ginger, and continue to cut the ginger into a rectangle. 


Create matchsticks of ginger
To create thin slabs of ginger: Pinch the ginger with your extra hand to hold it in place on the cutting board. Slice the ginger by moving across the ginger lengthwise until it is cut completely. As you do this, remember to keep your fingers curled in and out of harms way.


To create matchsticks (julienne): Stack the slabs you just created. With your extra hand, hold the stack at one end to keep it in place. With your other hand, slice along the length of the ginger, through the stack.


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Friday, January 20, 2017

Slice and Dice: Chiles

Jalapeno and serrano peppers
My mom is marvelous cook, and early on I discovered that chiles are her secret weapon. She is a strong advocate for the spunky lot, and when I joined a community garden, she insisted that a Jalapeno plant make it into my tiny plot. Chiles not only add heat to curries, stir-fries, and casseroles, they heighten the flavor of other ingredients. They are affordable and available year-round. I suggest keeping an ample supply in your kitchen. 

How to Select

Chiles continue to ripen after they are harvested and many become hotter as they mature. Their color also deepens or changes. Jalapenos, for example, go from green to red as they age. If you're looking to maximize heat, select darker chiles from the bunch. Taut, shiny skin is a sign of freshness. Avoid soft, wrinkled one that look like they could use a boost of Botox.

How to Remove the Seeds and Inner Tissue

Chiles get their kick from capsaicin, a chemical concentrated in the spongy inner tissue and seeds. It has an irritating effect, so avoid touching any part of your face (especially your eyes) when preparing chiles. If you have sensitive skin, consider wearing gloves. During clean-up, carefully wash your hands and kitchen equipment with soapy water to cleanse away any capsaicin that may have lingered behind. Chiles can be prepped with the capsaicin-laden tissue and seeds intact. If you want to dial down the heat, use these steps to remove them:


Thoroughly wash and dry the chile. Lay it on its side on a cutting board and slice off the stem end.





Slice the chiles in half lengthwise.

Place one half of the chile on the cutting board with the cut side facing up. Slide the tip of the knife under the tissue and carefully cut it away from the inner wall without cutting through the flesh.




Use your fingers or the tip of the knife to scrape out the tissue and seeds.



How to Chop

Lay one half of the trimmed, deseeded chile on a cutting board skin side down. Cut it in thick slices lengthwise.



Rotate the slices 90 degrees and cut across them width wise. 



 How to Julienne

Lay one half of the trimmed, deseeded chile on a cutting board skin side down. Cut it in thin slices lengthwise.

How to Mince

Lay one half of the trimmed, deseeded chile on a cutting board skin side down. Cut it in thin slices lengthwise.

Rotate the slices 90 degrees and cut across the slices width wise.


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