Saturday, September 29, 2012

How to Separate Yolk From Egg!!

Photo Courtesy of
I just had to share this amazing video! Check it out!

By the way, I probably will still stick to separating the yolk by passing it between two shell halves. But don't forget, the best way to fish out broken shell pieces or even little bubbles of yolk out of egg whites is by using a larger piece of shell to "attract" them like a magnet!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Back to Basics, Part 5: Grilling

Grilling is a cooking technique that almost everyone is acquainted with, and a cooking method in which some folks take a tremendous amount of pride. As well they should, because it is not as straight-forward as everyone makes it out to be! But have no fear, the knowledge of a few simple key facts about grilling will make your next cookout a huge success.

Photo Courtesy of
First of all, and I have to say this, please don’t call it “barbecuing”. Okay, I won’t be that much of a stickler, but I will tell you that this term is technically incorrect when referring to the quick, dry and high heat method of cooking you are accomplishing when using your outdoor or indoor grill. “Barbecue” describes meat that has been cooked in a low heat, moist environment for a long time, breaking down the collagen in the meat into gelatin resulting in a succulent, tender dish usually served with some kind of sauce. This is also known as braising. If you missed my column on braising, check it out!

What you can do, however, is recognize the many similarities between grilling and broiling. Although grilling provides an incredibly unique flavor and special texture that is difficult to produce with any other cooking method, broiling is always an alternative to grilling as it is also quick, dry, and accomplished with high heat. In both grilling and broiling, you will usually use naturally tender, portion sized products (although many folks are discovering the art of cooking larger products on a grill with great results). You are also able to easily cook your food to varying degrees of doneness when grilling or broiling, and you generally can develop a delicious crust with both ways of cooking. Broiling is done, of course, in an oven under the broiler setting with your food sitting on the highest rack, placed within six inches of the broiler unit.

Now we’ll move on to the incredibly interesting characteristics and techniques that are unique to grilling. First of all, one thing that cannot be achieved through boiling is the distinctive and appetizing grill marks. Don’t underestimate the effect of perfectly executed grill marks, and also don’t overestimate how difficult it is to achieve them! With a couple of practice runs, you will be a professional. When starting to grill, first make sure your grill is incredibly hot, which means you’ve given it ample time to heat up, not that you necessarily still have all the burners on high. (More on zone grilling in a minute…) Place your food, presentation side down, at a 45° angle as related to your grill grates. Do not move your food from that position until it releases easily from the grates. Then, do not flip your item, but rather rotate it 90° and leave it until it releases easily from the grates. At that point, you flip it and continue cooking it on the other side. You can also make grill marks on the other side of your food using the same technique, if desired.

Another key to successful grilling is to understand the use of “zone grilling”. A popular technique is to heat the grill to high and keep it there, or to always cook your food right above hot ash grey coals, but that might not be the best method. With thin cuts of meat and more delicate food items, constant high heat will cook your food way too fast and result in an overcooked interior. With thicker cuts of meat, the exterior of your food will be charred before the interior is cooked through sufficiently. In general, it is advisable to first preheat your grill on high for about 15 minutes to ensure the grates are extremely hot or, if using coals, give them plenty of time to burn until they are ash gray. Then, while keeping one “zone” on high, turn the other zones to medium, low, or even off (which is also referred to as “indirect grilling” and used for very large items). When using a charcoal grill, you can either spread the coals out so the heat is not as intense or move them around so one part of the grill is slightly cooler than the other (usually the middle to avoid any area getting too cold). This way, you can sear and mark your food on the high side of the grill, and then finish cooking it on a cooler part of the grill. Most of your steaks, chops and chicken pieces should still be finished over medium heat, whereas your pork loin could be finished over low heat and something as big as a turkey would be finished with no direct heat underneath it but high heat in the area around it. When cooking vegetables, it is probably sufficient to cook them over medium the entire time.

• Back to broiling…because you don’t have the benefit of hot grill grates to help caramelize your food, I often like to use a “cheat” crust to add texture and flavor to grilled items. My favorite is panko mixed with melted butter and crushed garlic and a little grated parmigiano reggiano. There is nothing that doesn’t taste good on!
• When grilling, there are so many options for flavor. I always advocate that you not mess with a great steak too terribly much…salt (give it at least 30 minutes at room temperature to really penetrate), pepper, and maybe a little olive oil, but there are so many other meat options out there that might need a little help. Try marinating (any combination of an acid, a fat, and seasonings) or creating your own seasoning mix with your favorite spices and dried herbs. For succulence, you can add a drip pan with water, beer or apple juice to your grill or fill it instead with water-soaked wood chips when slowly cooking larger cuts (smoke takes a while to adhere to your protein so it’s not advised for quick-cooking foods).
• When it’s time to get grilling, make sure you’re prepared. This is particularly important since most of our grills are outside and running back into the house when you’re meat is ready to come off is a no-no! Here are your must haves:
o Grill Brush to clean your grill grates once they’re hot.
o Lightly oiled bundled cloth (usually handled using tongs) to oil your grill grates after they are hot.
o Tongs/Spatula/Basting Brush, as needed
o Receptacle for your cooked food, and maybe some tinfoil as well.
o Don’t forget extra propane, or coals and matches!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I was recently asked a question about roux, so I thought I would answer it here.
Roux-thickened Chowder

Roux is a mixture of cooked flour and butter or oil that is classically used as a thickening agent in soups and sauces. Many contemporary recipes forgo the use of roux and instead use the Singer Method (pronounced "sawn-jay"), which is basically cooking aromatics in fat, then sprinkling with flour before adding liquid to make a soup or sauce. This method is quick and can work well if you are following a well-tested recipe with very exact measurements, but we're not always that lucky! Understanding as well as knowing how to make and use roux is an important skill for any avid cook.

Classically, roux is composed of 60% flour and 40% oil or butter BY WEIGHT. I have in a pinch, however, used equal parts flour and butter with decent results. Clarified butter (butter that has been melted very slowly so that the proteins and water separate from the fat and are then skimmed off) is preferred because of its flavor and lack of water, but oil or whole butter can also be used. Just melt your butter first then whisk your flour into it. I like to use a small sauté pan for this step.

Colors of Roux
Once your flour is whisked in, heat your sauté pan briefly over medium-low heat and stir. Your roux should be the consistency of wet sand. At this point, you have what's known as White Roux. If you continue cooking your roux, stirring often, until it achieves a light brown color and has a hint of a nutty aroma, you now have what's known as Pale or Blonde Roux. If you continue to cook your roux until it's much darker and has a strong nutty aroma (yum!) that is known as Brown/Dark Roux. You can also achieve this process in a 350°F oven. Doing it this way takes longer, but you will have more even results.

The uses of white, pale/blonde, and brown/dark roux vary. Basically, if you are making a white soup/stew or sauce, you'll use white or pale roux. If you are making a dark soup/stew or sauce, use a blonde or dark roux. The more color your roux has, the more flavor it has.

The flip side to the flavor bonus is that brown/dark roux has less thickening power than white and pale/blonde roux. (In other words, it takes more brown roux to thicken the same amount of liquid as a lighter roux.)
Here is a basic guideline of how much pale/blonde roux to use for every GALLON of liquid you are trying to thicken. If you are using white roux, you use a little less and if you're using dark/brown roux, you should use a little more:

Consistency of Soup/Sauce Desired
Total Weight of Roux
Weight of Flour (60%)
Weight of Butter (40%)
Per Amount of Liquid
12 oz
7.2 oz
4.8 oz
1 Gallon
16 oz
9.6 oz
6.4 oz
1 Gallon
18 oz
7.2 oz
1 Gallon


When incorporating roux into liquid, it’s best that your roux and your liquid are opposite temperatures (i.e., sauce is hot but roux is cold), because they are easier to mix that way. If they are not opposite temperatures it's vital to "temper" the roux into the liquid, meaning you put a little bit of the liquid in with the roux and whisk it. Continue adding liquid to the roux until there are no more clumps, THEN you add that mixture into your main pot with the rest of your liquid/stew/soup/sauce.  When in doubt, temper your roux into your liquid using this method to ensure you don’t get flour clumps.

Regardless, when using roux (or when using flour to thicken a liquid at any time), you MUST bring your liquid to a simmer to achieve the thickening power (at least 180°F).  Generally you will need to simmer for at least 15 minutes to remove the flour flavor.

You can use your roux right away or store it in the fridge! Let me know how it goes!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Questions? Comments?

Greetings to those of you taking a look on my blog after reading the "Gourmet Corner" in the Aztec Newsletter!  I have a few ideas floating around in my head about what you might like to read (i.e., cooking at altitude, maybe some reviews or suggestions of local restaurants, how to use local ingredients, where to shop, etc.).  However, if you have any suggestions at all about what you want me to write about OR if you have a specific question you'd like me to answer, please leave it here in a comment or you can email me at


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Back to Basics, Part 4: Frying

I sincerely hope all of you have been enjoying reading about the fundamentals of classical French cooking, and that you are learning something and hopefully doing some experimentation of your own.  Please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

For the last several posts I have been talking about the advantages of learning these primary techniques.  One that I haven’t mentioned is how understanding the basics of these methods will help you to “fill in the blanks” in recipes that are not detailed enough to tell you what to look for or what the purpose is of each step they include.  I hope you find this to be true.  Today, we will cover an American favorite: frying.
A dish I made at the C.I.A.: Pan-Fried Walleye Pike
served over Haricot Verts and a Wild Rice Pancake
with Corn Coulis
There are two types of frying: pan-frying and deep-frying.  Although these two methods are similar in many ways, there are some key differences that it pays to understand.  The main difference is, of course, the amount of oil used.  In pan-frying, you are not submerging your food item in hot oil as you are with deep-frying, but rather only using enough fat to come half way up your item in your pan.  If your oil comes more than half way up your food while pan-frying, then the center of your food will show a darker brown ring and be too well done.  The other difference is the preparation of your food before frying.  Pan-fried items are breaded whereas deep-fry items can be breaded or battered.  The final difference is, of course, the type of pan you use.  When pan-frying, it is best to use a slope-sided sauté pan (called a “sautoir”) or a cast iron skillet.  When deep-frying, you must use a large pot with plenty of surface area, such as a dutch oven or a rondeau.  (Stock pots will not work as they do not have enough surface area and your food would be too crowded, resulting in soggy fried food!)

Now onto the similarities between both types of frying.  No matter how you’re frying, you are looking for a crispy brown exterior and a moist, tender interior.  The temperature at which you fry is generally around 350°F/175°C but you might decrease that for thicker foods (1/2”+) or those with bones (so the inside has time to cook through before the outside gets too brown) or increase it for thinner foods (1/4”), shrimp or vegetables that cook through faster.  Additionally, you always want to fry portion sized pieces of naturally tender items, like chicken breasts, pork loin chops or vegetables.  You can fry in any fat that has a high smoke point, which excludes extra virgin olive oil.  Fats that work great include canola/vegetable, peanut, soybean, corn, rendered animal fats, etc.  The sauce for fried items is always made in a different pan and served underneath or on the side of your dish.

Finally, we’ll talk about breading and batter.  To bread an item, you use the standard 3-Stage Procedure, which is flour, egg (or egg wash), and your breading agent (such as fine breadcrumbs, panko, crushed cornflakes, chopped nuts, etc.).  To batter an item, you simply dredge it in flour and then in your batter.  Sometimes you might dredge in panko, like when you’re making tempura.       

Here’s the basic frying procedure:
1.      Heat your oil in the appropriate pan to the appropriate temperature. 

2.      Dry your meat. Season well with salt and pepper.  Dredge the item in flour, then egg, then your breading agent, allowing the excess of each to fall or drip off before moving to the next step.

3.      If you breaded your food, you can either fry right away or place your items on a rack until you’re ready to fry, allowing you to do the most time-consuming part (breading) a bit ahead of time.  However, if you’ve battered your food you must fry it immediately.

    4.  Place your food items in the oil in batches, being careful not to overcrowd your pot.  Monitor the temperature of your oil and watch your items as the fry, turning when needed. 

    5.  Remove your items from the oil when they have reached a beautiful golden brown and are cooked through.  You may have to check the items from your first batch by testing their internal temperature or cutting into them to make sure they are cooked.  If the outside is brown and crispy before the inside is done, you need to lower the temperature of your oil before starting your next batch.

    6.  Place your food on paper towels and sprinkle with salt if needed, but only leave there for 1-2 minutes.  If you are not serving immediately, move your food to a rack in order to maintain the crispy exterior.

·        Some cooks season the flour instead of the item, but I prefer seasoning the item itself to have more control over how much salt/pepper/etc. gets on your food.
·       The temperature of your oil is your make-or-break factor when doing any type of frying.  It really helps to have a fry thermometer (which is the same thing as a candy thermometer) to ensure your oil is the right temperature to start and to monitor it throughout the process.  For example, adding food to your oil causes the temperature to go down, so you want to make sure your oil comes back up to the right temperature between batches to ensure a quality product.
·        When breading, use one hand in the wet ingredients and one hand in the dry ingredients to avoid a sticky mess on your fingers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thanksgiving in September

I realize it might seem a little early to start thinking about Thanksgiving........but let's anyway!

Our whole family is coming into town for Mr. C's baptism the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so it's going to be a full house this year and I have to be ready!  My sister and I have already started talking about it...Should we brine the turkey? What sides will we have? Wine? Who's making dessert?  So many decisions!

So let me know what's going on in your brain as you get ready for Thanksgiving.  What is your favorite way to prepare turkey?  Where are you going to buy your turkey?  (This is particularly important for those of you who live in Mexico City to answer for me, since I'm new and have no idea!)  What are your family's favorite sides? What other traditions to you have?  We can also look at this from the "Foreign Service" perspective, since we so often are living in countries where Thanksgiving is just another Thursday to everyone around us.  Have any good stories about foreign Thanksgivings?

More to come on the decisions I make for our Thanksgiving dinner this year...I'm thinking it's gonna be spectacular.......

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back to Basics Part 3: Braising

This week we will continue on our journey of demystifying the six basic cooking techniques that form the foundation of classical French cooking.  Remember, understanding these basic techniques, that are really much more simple than professional chefs would have you believe, will help you in so many ways.  Primarily, you will be able to look in your fridge and cook what you have available even if you don’t have the perfect recipe.  Secondarily, understanding the basic techniques will help you decipher recipes much better, allowing you to change them according to your needs or figure out when they might not work the way you expected.  Today, we will discover the satisfying (and house-warming!) method of braising.

The braising method is what is known as a “combination” cooking method, meaning that you use both dry and moist heat to cook your food.  Many lesser recipes might call for you to skip the oh-so-important step of searing your food (the “dry heat” part of the equation) prior to cooking it in liquid.  That, however, is a sad mistake as you miss out on the enhancing flavor, color and texture that will be attributed to your dish through the Maillard Reaction when you brown your meat first. After searing, it’s time to finish cooking your food in a savory moist environment.

One of the best selling points of using the braising method is that it is perfect for less tender cuts of meat (think chuck, brisket, shank or round), which also tend to be less expensive.  It’s also one of those methods that, because it’s “low and slow” can be prepped ahead and cooked for a long amount of time, helping you to avoid the “a la minute” rush (cooking things at the last minute) right before dinner time.  However, if you do want to cook naturally tender cuts of meats in your flavorful sauce, go right ahead.  Just shorten your cooking time.  Finally, once your main dish is complete, your sauce requires no additional effort as you simply use the liquid in which you cooked your meat, and you can even choose to cook your “sides” (like potatoes or other root vegetables) right in with your meat for a one pot meal.

 Here’s the basic braising procedure:

1.       Dry your meat. Season well and sear in fat (vegetable oil, olive oil, or other rendered fat) over medium high heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven. Remove meat from pot once it has a nice, golden brown crust on all sides.
Short Ribs ready for searing
and Diced Mirepoix
    2.      Add mirepoix (classical French combination of 2 parts onion, 1 part celery and 1 part carrots) and other desired aromatics to pot.  Use the mirepoix and a wooden spoon to deglaze the fond (flavorful browned bits) from the bottom of the pan.  If using dried herbs, add these now too and cook them with the aromatics until the vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized. You can also add tomato paste at this point but allow it to cook until it is sweet-smelling and not acidic anymore.

3.      Put your meat back into the pot along with any hearty vegetables you would like and add your desired liquid to ¾ of the way up your meat. You can use water, stock or broth, reduced stock, brown sauce, tomato sauce, etc. (or a combination) and you can add wine, beer, etc.  The possibilities are endless.  Bring your liquid to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Add flavor enhancers such as bay leaves, thyme sprigs, parsley stems, etc. if desired.

4.      Cover your pot and place in a 325°F/162°C oven.  Your liquid should maintain a gentle simmer (about 180°F/80°C) throughout the cooking to dissolve collagen in the meat into gelatin, making it very tender.  Turn your meat every 15-20 minutes to promote even cooking. Add your more tender vegetables towards the end of the cooking process so they can cook through but don’t fall apart. Cook your meat until it is fork tender and/or falling off the bone.

5.      Once your meat is finished, check your sauce.  If you would like it to be thicker, you can add a previously prepared roux or a pure starch such as cornstarch or arrowroot and allow it to simmer a bit longer on the stovetop.  (Sauce thickened with roux must simmer longer than sauce thickened with pure starch in order to eliminate the “flour” taste.)

6.      Remove bay leaves and herb stems, skim off any fat from your sauce and serve with your meat and vegetables.  Garnish with fresh herbs if desired.

·         If you are braising smaller portions of meat, sear in batches in order to maintain the heat in the pan.
·         “Stewing” is very similar to braising except you are using bite-sized pieces of meat.  Generally, stews are cooking entirely on the top of the stove as they take much less time than braising.  You also generally will cover your meat completely with liquid when stewing.
·         Don’t burn your fond!  (I believe I’ve said this before…) If while you’re browning your meat or caramelizing your mirepoix you notice the fond burning, turn down your heat.
·         If you’re not sure whether your meat is “fork tender” or not, cook it a little longer because when it’s tender, you’ll know it’s really tender.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Baby Food (?!?!?)

So today, I'm making baby food. Now, before you say "That lady's crazy if she thinks I have time to make my own baby food...), hear me out! It doesn't have to be difficult.

Mr. C. enjoying his spinach and quinoa...

The best thing about making your baby's food, to me, is the cost. WAY cheaper! Secondly, I truly do love giving my kids wholesome food where I know every ingredient. Not that I think Gerber is bad for kids (at least not the baby purées....don't get me started on their "microwave meals" for toddlers...) but since making my own baby food turned out to be so easy and had at least a couple of advantages, why not?

I don't have a lot of spare time either but I can usually cook enough baby food in one morning to last at least 30 days, if not more. Months 6-10 (when your babies pretty much eating only purées) are the easiest. Mr. C is only 8 months with two tiny little teeth so we're still on purées. 
Today, I boiled (separately) carrots, broccoli, and apples (would have steamed the veg except I don't have a steamer insert...take note, husband!), sautéed spinach, poached pork, and made quinoa using chicken broth. I used the food processor to purée everything (except for the apples, which I used the food mill for), adding water or cooking liquid and olive oil when necessary, and voilà, I had a ton of baby food. I mixed the pork and some creamy carrots together and froze those in my ice cube trays. I'll freeze the rest in the same way, then when it's mealtime I just pull two to three cubes out and defrost them quickly in the microwave for my cutie. (Depending on what it is, I might mix in some yogurt or water or even rice cereal.) For dinner today Mr. C had a mixture of quinoa (which I did not purée) and spinach with a little applesauce for dinner, which he LOVED. Surprise! I love it when they still eat everything....

All the purées

Going into the ice cube trays
Along with the cubes of chicken mixed with applesauce and brown rice as well as puréed peas that I still have in my freezer from the last time I made baby food, this will probably last until Mr. C is ready to start eating chunkier foods.

There is a fantastic site that has great information on making baby food all the way from 4-6 months until toddlerhood that I love to's Check it out and let me know what you think.

And you can also let me know if you think I'm crazy or if you like my ideas...and share some ideas of your own, please!!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back to Basics, Part 2: Roasting

Today we will talk about another easy and versatile method known as roasting.

 The roasting method is another dry heat method of cooking, usually done in the oven, which means that you use very little added liquid or fat.  The beautiful reaction to indirect heat in a closed environment like the oven is that the food’s natural juices turn to steam inside the item and penetrate the food more deeply.  What’s happening on the outside is called the “Maillard Reaction” and, simply stated, is the breakdown of protein and carbohydrates on the surface of the meat which results in a delicious golden brown crust, adding not only flavor but a beautiful appearance and aroma to your dish.  This method is still relatively quick, so you still want to choose naturally tender items but, unlike sautéing, you can use larger cuts that will provide multiple portions.  Examples of great foods to roast are beef or pork tenderloins or whole chickens or turkeys.  (We’ll save your less tender cuts of meat like rumps or short ribs for the “low and slow” method of braising, which is similar to roasting but uses much more liquid.  More on that in future columns!) 

Another benefit of roasting is that, similar to sautéing, you can make a delicious, flavorful sauce from the pan drippings from your food.  All you need for your sauce is the pan drippings as a base, aromatics (“mirepoix” is commonly used…this is the classical French combination of 2 parts onion, one part celery and one part carrot), some kind of acidic deglazing liquid (such as wine, water or stock), a little bit of flour for thickening, and seasonings.
Here’s the basic roast procedure:

1.       Prepare your food by seasoning with salt and pepper and anything else you like such as fresh or dried herbs, spices, garlic, etc.  When using anything other than salt and pepper it helps to use a little bit of olive oil as well. 

Alaina's Turkey from last Thanksgiving!
2.      Preheat your oven.  Many cooks like to start their oven high (like around 425°F/218°C) to help create a beautiful crust on their food, then drop the temperature down (to around 325°F/162°C) to finish cooking the inside nice and slowly. 

3.      Place your food in a shallow roasting pan on some sort of rack.  You want to make sure there is airflow underneath the food.  If you don’t have a metal rack, you can use bones or chicken wings to elevate the food.

4.      Roast your food uncovered until the desired internal temperature is achieved.  Add mirepoix (French combination of onion/celery/garlic) to your pan half-way through cooking time to allow it to absorb some juices but not be overcooked.

5.      Remove your food from the cooking pan and set aside to rest for at least 15 minutes..  Deglaze your pan (which means loosen the flavorful browned bits, called “fond”) using your acidic liquid.  Allow this liquid to reduce through simmering (on the stovetop if possible, but in the oven works too) until your sauce is “napé”, which means it coats the back of a spoon.

6.      If you would like your sauce to be thicker, sprinkle a little flour in the pan or add a previously prepared roux.  Add more liquid (like stock) and whisk to dissolve the flour.  Allow this liquid to come to a simmer and cook it, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches your desired thickness and there is no flour taste remaining.  This may take as long as twenty minutes.

7.      Skim off any fat from your sauce and strain if desired to remove mirepoix.  Brighten your sauce with a little lemon juice and toss in some fresh herbs to serve. 


·         To avoid steaming the exterior of your food (and create a yummy crust), you must use a shallow pan.

·         Allow your food to season for a while before cooking; an hour minimum if possible.  The larger your piece of meat, the longer you want to let it season. 

·         Don’t burn your fond!  If you notice that, during the roasting process, your pan juices or mirepoix are burning, be sure to stir them so your sauce later will not be bitter.
·        You must allow your food to rest at least 15 minutes before carving as this allows the juices in the food to redistribute through the meat, as opposed to running all over your cutting board, resulting in a dry, tough main course!
Internal Temperature for Roasted Items
Chicken: 165°F/74°C (in the thigh)                         Don’t forget! Your food will have a chance to        
Pork: 145°F/62°C                                                     “carryover” after it comes out of the oven,
Beef: anywhere between                                           which means it will continue to cook.
         130°F/54°C for medium-rare and                    Pulling it out 3-5° before the listed
   150°F/65°C for well-done                                        temperatures is advised!