Green onions: storage trick

It seems to me that I’m buying these with my grocery order on an almost weekly basis. i used them for garnish on a pot of steamed rice, or as an ingredient to an Asian inspired dish. I love the little spark of colour they add to a dish along with the subtle flavour addition. The week following, I’m throwing them away because they’ve become limp or worse. I’ve tried several methods for extending their life but nothing seemed to do the trick.

Game changer: I have no idea where I read it because I’d love to give credit where credit’s due. Next time you purchase green (spring) onions, chop them all up right away. Put them into an empty water bottle and store in the freezer.

The next time you want some sliced green onion for the top of a dish, just shake them from frozen out of the bottle. They take no time to defrost, there’s no unnecessary food waste and it’s about as convenient as it gets. And, to my surprise, the onions did not freeze into one massive clump that got stuck in the bottle. A couple of vigourous shakes on my part ensured that they poured freely from the bottle.

Thanks for reading. Keep cooking and we’ll talk later.


KY Ingredients: Eggs Part 1.

Ahhhh, the ever versatile, yet humble egg. Although I know there are many people who voluntarily don’t use eggs in their cooking, I’ll confess that’s never been a position I could defend. Eggs are a nutritious, cheap source of protein and one of the few foods that naturally contain Vitamin D, as well as other fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E and K. Eggs are also used as a binding agent, an emulsifier, a thickening agent, and for leavening. In my mind, they are an indispensable part of cooking chemistry.

Shell colour

Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat. Brown eggs are no more or less nutritious than white shelled eggs. The colour of the shell depends on the type of chicken that laid it. Some chicken breeds, like those who have red ear lobes, are white egg layers. Others, like those with dark earlobes, produce brown shelled eggs. Inside, it’s the same stuff, except…

The colour of the yolk depends on the hen’s diet. Very bright, bold egg yolks indicate a diet that was full of greens.

Leavening agent

The egg white is fat free and is about 90 percent water and 10 percent protein When an egg white is whipped, a process technically known as aeration, air is forced into the liquid, creating a foam. Egg whites, properly whipped, will yield about eight times their original volume.This foam traps air bubbles, resulting in a froth that increases height and provides a rising action in a lot of baking. As the foam is baked, the air expands, lifting and providing a lightness to the texture. As the protein continues to heat and congeals, the air is trapped and the shape is retained. This is what gives a souffle or the meringue on a lemon pie its lift and height.

To maximize the volume of your beaten egg whites, you must first ensure that the bowl and beaters/whisk are absolutely grease and oil free. Even a little bit of yolk in the egg whites will cause a problem. That’s why when you’re separating eggs, to do each egg one at a time over a separate bowl and pour the newly separated white into the work bowl. That way, if a yolk breaks and messes up one white, you haven’t lost the entire bowl you had cracked for that angel food cake.

Also egg whites whip up best when they are at room temperature. Eggs separate best when they’re cold. So if you can, leave yourself enough time to separate the eggs and still let the egg whites come to room temperature.

Emulsifier

Every one knows that oil and water don’t mix — that is, until you add an egg yolk. The yolk contains lecithin, a fat that can be used to emulsify these two strangers into a smooth mixture. Egg yolk is what keeps mayonnaise or Hollandaise sauce stable.

Binding agent

An egg is often used in recipes to take advantage of its binding ability. In hamburgers, meatballs or meatloaf, the egg proteins tighten up during the cooking process and help keep everything together. Generally speaking, one large egg per pound of meat is the ratio used.

Egg is also used to keep breading adhered to the underlying food. The basic process for breading anything is to roll the food in plain flour, then dip it into an beaten egg mixture, followed by rolling it into the bread crumb coating. If you can, setting the food aside on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes to let the coating dry really helps keep things where you wanted it.

Thickening agent

An egg’s ability to hold 4 times its weight in water makes it a good thickening agent in sauces, puddings and custards. Make sure you cook the mixture gently. Since the yolk and the white gel at different temperatures, you need to stir frequently and softly so the egg incorporates into the entire dish, rather than ending up with scrambled eggs in your custard.

Additionally, you don’t want to add eggs directly to a hot dish. Pour a bit of your hot liquid into the lightly beaten eggs and mix vigourously to warm the eggs up. This is called tempering. If cold eggs hit the hot liquid, they will solidify too quickly, leaving you with a stringy mess that no amount of beating will smooth out again. .

Storage

In many European locales, and I’m sure other places in the world, eggs are stored at room temperature. They are kept in baskets and they do perfectly well. This would be my preference but, alas, I do not live in an egg-sensible market.

In North America, freshly laid eggs are washed at the hatchery, removing the protective, anti-bacterial coating that Mother Nature provided. In addition to this, eggs are stored under refrigerated conditions before they get to the grocery store. Once refrigerated, eggs need to stay refrigerated for food safety reasons.

Where in the fridge should they be stored? Definitely, not on the door although many fridge manufacturers have an egg shelf on the fridge door. This is the warmest part of the fridge and has the most temperature fluctuations. Generally speaking, eggs should be refrigerated in their carton. Egg shells are porous and can absorb strong smells into the egg, giving them an “off” flavour. That said, I store mine in a large glass vase because I have a very small fridge and need the room.

If you need room temperature eggs, something often called for in baking, you can quickly warm them up by setting them in a bowl of warm (not hot) water for a few minutes.

Get cracking

The best way to crack the egg shell is to smack it on the counter or another flat surface. Cracking it on the side of a bowl or fry pan increases the chances of having egg shell drop into the dish. The force from the thinner edge of the bowl pushes the shell towards the centre of the egg, meaning it’s now in your cake batter.

So what to do when in spite of your best efforts, there’s now a little bit of egg shell sitting in your bowl? The two best methods for removing is to wet you finger and just fish the sucker out. The second method (and probably the most efficient) is to use the larger egg shell to fish it out. The sharp edge of the egg shell will cut through the viscosity of the egg white and help you fetch it.

And don’t forget your eggshells are compostable. They will break down nicely in your regular garden compost. Finely ground egg shells can replace pumice stone supplementation if vermiculture (worm) composting is your thing. You can even add the finely ground shells as a top dressing to your house plants for that extra boost of calcium plants need when they’re growing. (Calcium is used in cell wall structure).

And finally…

Yes, you can unboil an egg. The white of a boiled egg becomes solid because the proteins get tangled up during the cooking process. Scientists have discovered the way to make it liquid again Why on earth would anyone want to. Well, SCIENCE… On a more serious note, the technology is being pursued because it gives them an insight on how to untangle other proteins, something that might be useful in the medicine of the future.

And that’s it for today. Thanks for reading. Keep cooking and we’ll talk later. More on eggs coming in future columns because I don’t think we’ve fully “egg-splored” this versatile kitchen ingredient.


So… whazzup? What’s this about?

My intentions for this blog

I’ve spent a few days trying to block out this post in my mind so I could coherently lay out what this blog will look like. Well, thanks to my amazingly non-linear brain, I confess to having failed to develop the neatly articulated, logically sound description of the blog I have envisioned.

Welcome to my “stuck in the spin cycle” brain. Everything’s in motion; most ideas are under consideration. Basic theory: we’ll know what this blog looks like when it’s built. That said, I can tell you what this blog is not. It is not a recipe blog. It’s not a diet blog. It’s not a lifestyle blog. I’m neither a chef nor a “social influencer”. There are plenty of perfectly talented people out in the blogosphere who are rocking those gigs and that’s not where my head’s at.

This is a cooking blog. it’s about that most human of activities — the preparation of food. Food is not merely fuel. It’s a source of joy and it comforts us. Food is an expression of love. Breaking bread with friends and family is where we build the bonds of community. We feast on our holy days because food is a central pillar of who we are as a people; as a society over just a collection of individuals. Yeah, I’m a bit of a shameless romantic in this department and I’m not one bit embarrassed by it.

I have spent a lot of time teaching cooking skills in my life. I was a volunteer at my local food bank where we have a teaching kitchen. i used to do a cooking show for my local cable channel that was pretty popular with the immigrant community in my home town. I have cooked all my life and was encouraged by the wonderful cooks who were my mother and grandmothers. Cooking is my passion. I read cookbooks like others devour mystery novels. My sister is an awesome cook, especially when it comes to anything Italian. It never occurred to me that there were people who didn’t know how to cook. Not because they were lazy, or stupid, or spoiled or any of the other cockamamie reasons people give for the marked decline of cooking skills in our society. Many people don’t cook because they don’t know how to and that lack of what I call “cooking literacy” is a huge barrier.

When I was working with clients at the food bank, we always had recipes hanging on the walls for people to take home with them. One day I saw a woman looking at one that she had picked up. She read it and then she put it back. I said, “You can take that with you if you want”… I can’t remember what the recipe was for but she wasn’t going to take it because she didn’t have oregano at home, so she couldn’t make it.

“All I have is Italian seasoning”, she said.

“That would work. Just use the same amount”, I replied.

The look of astonishment on her face was a life lesson for me. As I continued to teach, I gently explored the level of “cooking literacy” in my classes. Information that I have always taken for granted because it was just part of my environment can be a massive obstacle for some people who are just doing their best to put a meal on the table for their kids.

A lack of basic cooking knowledge was holding them hostage. They relied on highly processed and expensive packaged foods. Their diets were laden with salt and sugar. Even if they had a bag of rice and a bag of lentils, they didn’t know how to turn it into a meal. They didn’t know how a few inexpensive spices could elevate a dish from “meh” to “can I have seconds?”. The region where I live has real social problems with childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and other health disorders that are not helped by high consumption of these “industrial food-like products” — Thank you, Michael Pollan, for that phrase. We need cooking skills in our community and there’s no sense in bemoaning the lack of “home economics” in the public school system. Moaning about how it was in the “good ol’ days” doesn’t fix the problem now.

Those of us who cook already know that it’s considerably cheaper to buy a chicken and cut it up rather than buying it already cut into pieces by the butcher. It’s in the range of $1.00 or more per kilo. That information doesn’t help you if you don’t know how to cut up a chicken, what to do with it once it’s cut up. Besides, right now, a bucket of KFC looks like a viable option because the kids need to eat. Right. Now.

All in all, this blog is going to hang around three basic components. They will be called “Know Your Ingredients”, “Know Your Equipment” and “Kitchen Basics”. Most posts will be added into one of these categories. We also have sections with recipes to spark people’s imaginations. And because food is an important part of culture, there will be posts on news and philosophy about food, cooking, diet, agriculture, environment, and economics.

What this blog is NOT is a harangue that you should eat THIS way and only THIS way. And furthermore, people who eat THAT way are … well not quite civilized. None of that nonsense because if a person can make choices about what kind of food they eat, they enjoy a certain amount of privilege in our society. It took me a long time to wrap my head around that. My goal is to give people the information that they need to make creative and informed choices about how they feed themselves and their families.

Most of the people I was teaching frequently experienced food insecurity, largely because there was too much month left at the end of the money. For this reason, a lot of the cooking classes focused on low meat/no meat dishes. Meat and cheese both can take a big bite out of the family grocery budget. Having a couple of dishes that the family enjoys that don’t contain these two expensive ingredients can go a long way to keeping the food costs down.

Not everything in this blog will be about inexpensive meals, or vegetarian cooking although there will be plenty of both. Holiday feast food tends to be more expensive and more complex. There will be posts on gourmet ingredients, with the idea of helping people make substitution choices that fit their wallet and regional food availability. I’m not concerning myself a great deal about “local” food because this is the internet and already, I have readers from around the world. I have no idea what’s “local” in the markets in Romania this week.

Here’s a quick break down of the major sections of this blog:

Know Your Ingredients

What’s the difference between Himalayan salt, kosher salt, and Celtic sea salt? Does it matter on my pasta? White onions, red onions, shallots, spring onions? What gives? What is elephant garlic anyway?

All these questions and more will be answered in the Know Your Ingredients section.

Know Your Equipment

What features should I look for in a decent fry pan that isn’t going to break the bank? Is the latest rage, must-have kitchen gadget worth it? How do I sharpen a knife? Do I really need a bread knife? How do I prioritize my purchases if I’m just starting to build my kitchen?

These are the types of questions I’ll be tackling in the Know Your Equipment section.

Kitchen Basics

It just the little things you need to know that make cooking so much easier and convenient. Need a quick salad dressing for your greens? Five minutes and a few pantry items will make a great vinaigrette. Teriyaki sauce .. I’ve got that as well. How to make gluten-free, vegetarian gravy for your brother-in-law this Thanksgiving?? On that as well.

News and Philosophy

Sometimes I like to take a step back and see the whole forest instead of just the trees. Cooking is a cornerstone of culture, so I consider history, anthropology and other oddball subjects to be fair game for a cooking blog. There will be talk about agricultural policy and climate change and who knows what else I find interesting.

Thanks for joining me on this journey. I hope I can spread some of my passion for cooking. Thanks for reading. Keep cooking and we’ll talk later.



KY Ingredients: Allspice

Jamaican pimento, myrtle peppers, Jamaican peppers — it’s all allspice.

For years, I thought Allspice was just another spice blend — like poultry seasoning or pumpkin spice. Apparently, I’m not alone. The common name for this spice — All Spice — has been used by English cooks since the 1600s. Obviously, it reminded someone of a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In fact, if you don’t have allspice in your spice cupboard and a recipe calls for it, you can use 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, and a pinch of ground nutmeg in its place.

In reality, it’s it’s own thing. Allspice comes from the small, dried unripened berries of the Pimenta dioica tree, a species native to the Caribbean. It figures prominently in Caribbean cooking where it’s a key component of Jamaican jerk spice.

In the British Isles, it’s usually reserved for the dessert cart dishes. We typically reserve sweet spices for cookies and cakes. Elsewhere in the world, it’s used in savory dishes. In Middle Eastern cuisine, it flavours meat dishes. German sausage makers use it in their wares. And in Poland, it’s found in everything from pickles to deli meats.

Where do you use allspice? Let us know in the comments.

Thanks for reading. Keeping cooking and we’ll talk later.

Other posts that might interest you: 


Chana Masala Powder

Photo credit Gastronomia Slow via Creative Commons

I’m lucky in that I live in a university town, blessed with a widely diverse population. In addition to the regular grocery stores, we have small markets that cater to different ethnic communities. We have a Korean market and a Chinese/Pan Asia market, as well as an Indian groceries supplier. When I making Indian dishes, I can just add a tablespoon or whatever the recipe calls for from a pre-mixed package. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences these conveniences.

This is why if I publish a recipe containing a premixed spice package (masala just means spice mix), elsewhere on the blog, I will have a full print out for the blend. Now be aware that the “traditional” recipes vary from town to town, region to region, even house to house. But overall, this will bring you close. This is the ingredients for Chana Masala (Chickpea Spice mix). I’ve included the Indian names for the spices in case you’re blessed with an Indian grocery store.

If there’s an ingredient or two on this list that you just can’t source, omit it. It’s unlikely to make that much difference in the long run.

Chana (Chickpea) Masala (Spice Mix)

  • 12 tsp cumin seeds / jeera
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 14 tsp black cumin seeds / shahi jeera
  • 14 tsp pepper
  • 14 tsp fennel / saunf
  • 1 tsp dry fenugreek leaves / kasuri methi
  • 3 cloves / laung
  • 2 pods cardamom / elachi
  • 3 dried red chilli
  • 14 tsp turmeric
  • 14 tsp dry mango powder / aamchur
  • 14 tsp pomegranate powder / Anardana
  • pinch hing / asafoetida

Measure out your spices first. You don’t want to be digging for something while the spice blend cooks. It’s too easy to burn that way.

Heat a small dry skillet over a medium heat. Add the whole spices one at a time, stirring and moving the spices. The idea is to toast them lightly. It’s important to keep these spices moving steadily because they burn very easily. Once you have just powdered spices left — tumeric, mango powder, pomegranate powder and hing — remove from heat and stir the powdered spices in. Keep stirring for a few minutes and allow it to cool.

Load into a clean spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle to grind the spices. They should be evenly ground and well mixed

Store in a small glass jar that is well sealed for freshness.


Pindi Chole — Chickpea stew

Instant pot dish, vegan suitable, gluten free

Course: Entree/ Main course

Cuisine: Indian

Main Ingredient: Beans

Serves: 2 as a main; 4 as a side

Ingredients

  • 1 cup chickpeas — dry, no need to soak
  • 2 tea bags
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 pods cardamom (available at Indian grocery) alternative: 1/4 tsp ground
  • 4 cloves
  • 14 tsp baking soda
  • 12 tsp salt
  • 3 cup water
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil of your choosing.

Directions for Stage 1

  1. Pile everything in to a 6 qt Instant pot and mix. Fasten the cover and turn the release valve to “seal”. On high pressure, manually set for 45 minutes. If using 3 qt pot, set for 50 minutes.
  2. Let cool for 10 minutes before opening the release valve.
  3. Drain chickpeas, discard whole spices and teabags. Set aside for Stage 2.

For a mild curry

  • 3 tsp oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 tsp ginger garlic paste
  • 1 green chili slit down the middle or 1 tsp chopped green chilis
  • 2 Tbsp chana masala (link to recipe here)
  • 1 – 14 oz canned small diced tomatoes or 2 large fresh tomatoes chopped
  • 12 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp cilantro finely chopped or 2 Tbsp chopped celery leaves

For more heat in your curry, in a small fry pan, gently fry the following together and stir into your finished curry.

  • 1 tbsp ghee / clarified butter or oil of your choice.
  • 1 green chili slit
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and julienne or 2 tsp ginger paste.
  • 14 tsp Kashmir red chili powder. Warning: this is a very intense spice. Alternative — 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.

Directions

  1. In the Instant Pot, set cook setting to Saute. Add 1 tbsp of ghee or oil of your choice. When the oil is hot, saute the bay leaf in it for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the onion, along with garlic-ginger paste and the split green chili. Saute until the onions turn golden brown.
  3. Add the prepared chana masala powder and keep stirring as the spices become aromatic and delicious. You don’t want to burn the spices.
  4. Add the tinned tomatoes and mix all the ingredients together. .
  5. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and oil separates
  6. Add the reserved cooked chickpeas and ½ tsp salt. If you are using the spicy additions, stir those in now
  7. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. Add the chopped cilantro and mix well.

Serve with rice, naan bread, roti. Add a few cooling side dishes like sliced cucumber, sliced bananas and you can never go wrong with a little Indian pickle on the table.

Thanks for reading. Keep cooking and talk at you later.

Kate