Helpful Tips

CULINARY LAVENDER

Asparagus

Culinary Lavender has a sweet, slightly floral flavor with a lemon overtone, but should be used sparingly to avoid a soapy taste.‘Hidcotelavende ris the best choice for culinary use when color is important in the presentation, as in ‘Lavender Herbal Jelly'. It is a sweet angustifolia that is great for culinary delights. When using this lavender to add color to your recipe, add the juice of lemon, orange or lime. The citric acid brightens the color to a ruby lavender hue.
‘Provence’ lavender is another of the angustifolias that is more the shade of washed denim. It has a soft fragrant bud with a sweet, almost savory flavor. It works well in cookies, teas and of course the classic herb blend, ‘Herbs de Provence’.

Lavender flowers may be used fresh or dried. The fresher the flower, the more flavorful its taste, so pick your flowers as close as possible to food preparation time. Stem flowers may be put in a glass of water in a cool place. All blooms should be thoroughly rinsed. Immerse them in water and remove any insects or dirt. Lay the flowers gently on cloth or paper towels and dab dry. If necessary, layer them carefully between moist towels in the fridge until needed.

To dry, cut the lavender flowers in the morning when the dew has evaporated and before the heat of the day. Pick the flower stems when the buds are almost but not completely open to full bloom. Tie the stems, about a dozen together in each bunch and hang upside down to dry in a dark, dust free place with good ventilation. Once dried it is easy to pluck the flowers from the stems. Store in a dry place, in a tightly covered glass or pottery container so the oils will not escape from the flowers.

In cooking, use 1/3 the quantity of dried flowers to fresh. Because of the strong flavor, the secret is that a little goes a long way. Experiment using a small amount of flowers and add more as you go. Lavender can act as a substitute for rosemary in many bread recipes. Lavender sugar can be substituted for granulated sugar in cakes or custard. Try using the stems for making fruit kabobs.
Always remember when using culinary lavenders… use the right kind and use sparingly.

*NOTE: Do not eat flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers. When in doubt do not use.
Bon Appétit!

 

FROM THE DENMAN ISLAND FLAGSTONE
“FLOWER POWER-LAVENDER” - JULY 2011

ASPARAGUS—PURCHASING, STORING AND COOKING

AsparagusIt is amazing how many people don’t buy asparagus because they don’t know how to prepare it. Asparagus is a member of the Lily family. The ‘spears’ grow from a crown that is planted 8 to 10 inches deep. Peak months of supply are from April through June. When purchasing, choose spears that are tender (easily punctured), bright green, with compact tips and slight purple tinge on the stems. If the tips are open, the vegetable is past its prime. Very thin, wilted or crooked stalks may be tough or stringy. Fat spears are more likely to be tender than thin ones.

Store fresh asparagus clean, cold and covered. Break off the stem end as far down as snaps easily. Wash in warm water several times and remove any loose scales. Pat dry and place in moisture-proof wrapping. To maintain freshness, wrap a moist paper towel around the stem ends, or stand upright in two inches of cold water. Refrigerate and use within 2 or 3 days for best quality.

The key to perfect asparagus lies in the cooking. It is not necessary to peel green spears. A quick steaming that leaves it cooked but ever-so-slightly crisp is all it takes to achieve optimal texture and flavor. Do not cook asparagus in aluminium or iron pots as the flavor can be affected. The best cooking method is to tie the spears into a bundle, it will be easier to handle. Cook by standing upright on the stem ends in ½ inch of boiling water; the water cooks the stems and the tips are then cooked by steam. This is why asparagus cookers are tall upright pots. Cook uncovered for the first 3 minutes then cover and cook to tender-crisp stage—about another 2 to 5 minutes. Remove with tongs.

To stir-fry, cut spears diagonally, leaving tips whole. Stir-fry pieces in butter or hot oil, in a skillet or wok at medium high heat. Stir constantly until tender-crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Try oven roasting by tossing the asparagus in extra-virgin olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast uncovered, at 450˚ F. about 8 to 10 minutes or until tender-crisp, shaking the pan occasionally to turn the spears.
Enjoy spring’s most treasured bounty.
Bon Appétit!

FROM ‘FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD’

“ASPARAGUS—NATURE’S SUCCULENT LITTLE SPEARS” - APRIL 2003

 

NOTES FOR SUCCESSFUL CANDY MAKING

candy*CANDY THERMOMETER is an accurate guide to the correct stages of cooking. Some thermometers can actually be off a few degrees, so test the thermometer for accuracy.  Stand it in 3-inches depth of boiling water for 10 minutes. It should read 212˚F at sea level. If there is any variation, add or subtract the same number of degrees to or from the temperature required for the candy. Hang thermometer on the pan so it does not touch the side or bottom of pan. Be certain that the bulb is covered with the mixture, not just foam. Read the temperature at eye level.
*PREVENT GRAININESS in candy by completely dissolving all the sugar crystals; stirring and heating the sugar solution will help. If candy is stirred during cooking, stirring must stop before the end of the cooking process. 
*COVER THE SAUCEPAN for the first 5 minutes of boiling time. The steam formed helps to wash down any crystals that may have remained on sides of the pan.
*WASH DOWN CRYSTALS from sides of pan during cooking with a pastry brush dipped in water; move candy thermometer to one side and wash down any crystals that may have formed under the thermometer.
*POUR CANDY holding the saucepan within an inch or so of the cooling pan.
*DO NOT SCRAPE sides and bottom of the saucepan.

SYRUP STAGES & TEMPERATURES:

*SOFT BALL STAGE (234°F to 240°F)- a small amount of syrup dropped in very cold water forms a soft ball; flattens when taken from water.
*HARD BALL STAGE (250°F to 266°F)- forms a ball which is pliable yet hard enough to hold its shape in very cold water.
*SOFT CRACK STAGE (270°F to 290°F)- a small amount separates into threads, which are hard but not brittle in very cold water
*HARD CRACK STAGE (300°F to 310°F)- the syrup forms threads, which are hard and brittle in very cold water.

FROM ‘FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD’

“MOM’S HOMEMADE HALLOWEEN TREATS” - OCTOBER 2001

CRÊPES ~ BASIC FOLDING TECHNIQUES

Crepes
CRÊPE ROLLS
- spread filling on each crêpe and roll tightly from one side, to form a cigar shape.
CORNUCOPIAS- cut the crêpes in half. Place filling to one side and roll into a cone shape.
CLASSIC FOLD OR ENVELOPE- place filling in the center and fold the two sides over the center.
CRÊPE POCKETS- begin with ‘Classic/Envelope Fold’ then tuck the two open ends into the crêpe.
TRIANGLE FOLD- spread filling on half and fold in half to cover, then fold in half again to form a triangle.

DOUBLE STUFFED TRIANGLE- place filling on one quarter and fold in half, place more filling over the previously filled quarter and then fold in half again to form a double stuffed triangle.
STACKED OR LAYERED CRÊPES- place filling on one crêpe then top with a second, place filling on that one, add another and proceed to desired height. Serve by cutting in wedges.

FROM THE DENMAN ISLAND FLAGSTONE

“CRÊPES SIL VOUS PLAIT” – SEPTEMBER 2008

BARBECUE SMOKE POUCH

ChocolateTo create a true smoked flavor to your barbecue, use the ‘indirect cooking’ method and a ‘smoke pouch’. To build a smoke pouch, place 2 cups of hickory, mesquite or apple wood chips into water and soak for 1 hour. Drain the excess water from the wood chips and place in the center of a large double piece of foil. Add 1 cup of dry wood chips and mix. Close the foil around the chips sealing the package. Using a fork, poke holes in both sides of the package.

To prepare the barbecue for smoking, preheat the grill with all burners on high. When the grill reaches 400˚F, turn off burners that are directly below the food. Place smoke pouch underneath the grill, directly over the high heat source of the grill. Close the lid and wait for smoke. Wait until the barbecue cavity is full of smoke. Place ribs on the side of grill with burners turned off. Turn the heat down to medium low (220-275˚F) and smoke ribs for about 3 hours, after 1½ hours, put in a new smoke pouch.

Besides smoking, this is known as ‘indirect cooking’. The key to indirect cooking is placing food away from the direct heat of the fire. The food is slow roasted rather than seared. Any grill will work, as long as it has a cover. The closed cover is integral to this method, as it traps the heat of the fire (and smoke if used) and circulates it around the food. Preheat grill to 400˚F turn off the burners that are directly below the food. Burners on both sides of the food should be adjusted to equal amounts of heat (medium or low) as indicated in the recipe. The heat circulates inside the grill, so turning the food is not necessary. The only time the lid should be lifted is to check meat and baste with sauce if needed.
Bon Appetit!

FROM "FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD":
“RIB TICKLERS” – JUNE 2006

COOKING ONE (OR TWO) SERVING MEALS

Meat BallsAnyone who lives alone will agree that sometimes it's just too much trouble to put together a proper meal for only one. There are many things that make cooking for one (or two, for that matter) easier and eating more enjoyable. Your fridge and freezer can be a great help when planning meals. When cooking rice, potatoes or pasta, cook extra and store it for soup, salad or to re- steam or fry for another day. Like meatballs? My freezer usually has a zip lock freezer bag of already cooked, individually frozen meatballs. I make a sauce and throw in as many pre-cooked, frozen meatballs needed, simmer and when they are hot through, serve with steamed rice and vegetables. For a ready-made meal, make a large batch in gravy and freeze them in small plastic cartons in one-serving portions.

If you live alone, you can make a big pot of soup and freeze it for future use. I always have a variety of soups in single serving containers in my freezer ready for a quick meal or unexpected guests.

And what to do with a whole bunch of parsley? Use what you need, chop the rest and freeze it in an ice cube tray then store in a freezer bag, add a 'cube' to any cooked dish.

Dining alone does have its benefits. You can cook what you like and not worry whether anyone else will eat it... you can serve just as much as you want, when you want it. and you always eat in good company. However, finding nutritious recipes that work well for just one is not an easy matter. The recipes for one and two servings included in my cookbook, "Gourmet by Sally Rae", are a collection I have saved, shared and used over the years. Proof that cooking for one (or two) can be fabulous!!

Bon Appetit!

FROM "FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD":
"SINGLING OUT GOOD FOOD" - APRIL 2004
"A FEW OF MY FAVOURITES" - FEBRUARY 2007

ASSEMBLING A CHEESEBOARD --Explore the art of cheese appreciation!

Cheese BoardA cheeseboard works well for cocktail parties, casual get togethers or as an appetizer. Sampling a single cheese for the first time can be illuminating, but tasting three to five in a social setting can be educational and fun. A larger number of cheeses are appropriate; their different shapes, sizes and colours add the board's visual appeal. Include assorted textures; ripened, unripened, blue, hard, semi-soft and soft. Include various flavour intensities; strong, gentle, sharp. Toss in one unusual cheese for added interest. Place cheeses on a large wooden board or slab of marble or granite.

Accompaniments such as breads, crackers, fruit, nuts and vegetables are arranged on or near the cheeseboard along with serving implements. You may want to make attractive labels or 'flags' naming the cheese and its country of origin as a guide for your guests. When you are sampling cheese, begin with the mild and progress to the stronger ones. Always cleanse the palate with water or fruit (grapes work well) between tasting. Cool temperatures mute flavours, so allow every cheese to rest for an hour or so at room temperature before serving; this gives the cheese its optimum flavour profile. Keep them wrapped until ready to serve. Larger ones should be cut just before serving to keep them from drying out. Allow about 1 ounce per person per type of cheese. In other words, by counting all the cheeses offered, around 4-5 ounces per guest. However, if the cheeseboard constitutes the main course, allow 2 ounces per person per type of cheese, or about 8-10 ounces of cheese per guest.

As an accompaniment, a rule of thumb for bread is; the more delicate the cheese, the whiter and less salted the bread, the more flavourful the bread, the stronger the cheese. Flavoured or hearty-textured crackers tend to take away from the texture of the cheese therefore a very plain 'water-style' cracker is best. Fresh fruit is always a favourite with cheese, especially apples, pears, and figs in season. Dried figs, prunes, dried cranberries and raisins are delicious with all styles of cheese. Savoury tidbits like olives and nuts are also great accompaniments. As with wines, foods from the same geographical area tend to harmonize best.

FROM "FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD":
"SAY CHEESE!"- APRIL 2007

TO TEMPER CHOCOLATE

Chocolate

Start by chopping the chocolate very finely. Throughout the tempering process, be careful that no moisture gets into or condenses on the chocolate or it will become impossible to work with.

Place the chopped chocolate in the top of a dry double boiler over hot, but not simmering water. (NEVER use a microwave for this.) Stir as it melts. A chopstick is my favorite tool for this task. Heat the chocolate to 104°F. Remove from the bottom of the double boiler. Cover the bottom so the escaping steam does not condense on the chocolate. Cool to 80°F stirring occasionally. Return the top of the double boiler with chocolate to the bottom and bring the chocolate back up to 89°F. The chocolate is now tempered and ready to use for glazing, drizzling or dipping.

FROM "FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD":
"CHOCOLATE-FOOD OF THE GODS" -MARCH 2000

BURGER FOOD SAFE 101

*Always thaw frozen ground meat in the refrigerator or microwave. Cook microwave-thawed meat immediately.

*Use a thermometer to know when the patties are done. Patties can look done (ie. no longer pink inside) BEFORE being fully cooked. Your burger is done at 160°F/ 71°C

*NEVER EAT BURGERS RARE!!

*Check each patty for doneness since grills have hot and cold spots and patties can vary in size. Wash the thermometer stem after testing a partially done burger.

Cooked BurgerFor the best burgers:

*Mix ingredients just until combined and shape lightly into patties; over-handing will make the burger tough.

*Shape patties into a flat, even thickness for faster more uniform cooking.

*Chill patties for at least an hour before cooking, they will hold their shape better.

*To keep burgers juicy, turn only once, don’t press down while cooking, and do not overcook.

*To maximize juiciness in lower fat burgers, add ¼ cup minced fresh mushrooms to 1 lb. of lean or extra lean ground meat.

FROM "FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD":
"BURGER BONANZA" -APRIL 2005