Cooking Tips and Techniques

Chard and spinach, cooking

Cook fresh chard by first stripping the stems from the leaves and chopping them. Chop the leaves roughly. Bring about 1/2 cup of water to a boil in a pan large enough to hold the chard and add about 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the chopped stems, cover, lower the heat and cook about 2 minutes until stems are just softening. Raise the heat, add the leaves and turn with a pair of tongs until the leaves are wilted. Drain and cool.

Cook spinach the same way in a small amount of water but no need to separate the stems. I discard the large spinach stems. Be sure to wash chard and spinach in a large amount of water to get rid of sand.

Cookie dough, rolling out

Make the dough the night before or at least 4 hours in advance. Roll the dough out lightly floured wax paper. Be sure your rolling pin is floured and the surface of the dough is floured. Don’t use a lot of flour but keep adding just a little to keep things smooth. Don’t dawdle with the rolling. Cut out the cookies with the cutters and then put the whole sheet of paper in the freezer for about 5 or ten minutes. Once they’ve firmed up, it’s a snap to peel them off the paper and onto the cookie sheet. Line the cookie sheet. Parchment or non-stick baking paper is the best thing to have happened to home bakers that I can think of. You can use your sheet pans over and over without washing in between and there’s no more prying the cookies off the sheet. Don’t even consider baking without this marvellous stuff.

Cream, whipping

For beautiful billowy clouds of whipped cream, use very cold, heavy cream that is not ultra-pasteurized. Chill a bowl that is not too large and the beaters in the freezer for about 10 or 15 minutes. Beat the cream on the highest mixer speed until it forms soft peaks. For 1 cup of cream, sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoon of sugar over the lightly whipped cream and continue to beat for another 30 seconds or until the cream is stiffly beaten. Do not overbeat: the cream will separate and form butter. Fold in 1 teaspoon of vanilla, if desired. Rather than vanilla extract, vanilla sugar makes a delicious flavoring. (See below for how to make vanilla sugar).

Salted whipped cream is made in the same way with a small amount of salt (no sugar). This can be served with soup, fish, or cold vegetables and further seasoned with orange or lemon rind and pepper.

Fennel, cutting

First, wash the fennel bulb.

Slice off the top shoots and discard (you can save the lacy top for a garnish if you wish – it’s a bit like dill). Slice through bulb from top to bottom and then, carefullycut away the tough interior root (it will be a solid white wedge) and disard that. Trim any discolored parts from the outermost layer (don’t be too fussy here). finally, you can chop or slice what’s left. It’s very good raw.

Nuts, toasting

Heating or toasting nuts brings out their flavor. It’s a quick step but an important one. To toast nuts in the microwave, spread the nuts ona plate and microwave on high checking every 10 seconds. They burn very easily.

You can also toast nuts ina skillet with a little oil which you first heat up and then add the nuts, tossing and stirring. Again, they will burn very easily so don’t leave the stove and remove them just as they become a bit darker. Drain on a paper towel and add salt, if desired.

Peel, blanching

With a peeler, remove the peel in long strips from the orange or lemon trying to get as little of the white pith as possible. Put in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, drain in a strainer and refresh under cold water. Repeat 3 times. Why do this? Blanching peel gets rid of bitterness that truly affects flavor. It’s a little time consuming but a useful technique to know.

Tomatoes, peeling

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Have a bowl of ice water ready. With a sharp paring knife, lightly score a large X on the stem end of the tomato. Lower one tomato at a time into the boiling water and count to ten. Remove, place in the ice water for a moment and immediately slip off the skin. Repeat with the others. If the skin doesn’t come off easily on the first try, count a little slower.

Vanilla Sugar

Place one or two cups of sugar in a jar. Cut a vanilla bean in half and submerge the pieces in the sugar. Cap tightly. This will last indefinitely and more sugar may be added as it is used.

Zesting

To remove the ‘zest’ means to grate the outermost peel of a citrus fruit without getting too much of the white pith underneath. the white pith is bitter whereas the zest is aromatic and contains a bit of oil; this is the flavor you want. To zest a fruit, you can use the smallest holes of a grater or a zesting tool sold at many kitchen stores. It may take a bit of practice at first. A microplane is another grating and zesting tool that has become very popular, available and easy to use.

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