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    Cooking Techniques
       excerpted from How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food

      ... see great recipes from Mark Bittman the Minimalist on our GREAT CHEFS page!



    The most difficult of the factors involved in cooking, correct technique comes with good instruction (hopefully provided in the pages of this book) combined with practice. Sometimes good technique is everything. A skillet, for example, must be hot before butter is added in order for the butter to sizzle without burning, so that it can sear and crisp the food that is in turn added to it. This cannot be learned in an instant; you must get used to preheating the pan before adding the butter, you must judge the correct level of heat on your particular stove, you must learn to be ready at the right moment. If you haven't done this before, there's no reason to expect to be good at it right away, any more than you'd expect to serve aces the first time you played tennis.

    On the other hand, your cooking can be plenty good while you are learning proper technique, and there are some techniques you can ignore altogether. Most people who learned to cook from their parents, or from cookbooks, never learned the "correct" way to slice or dice an onion. Yet although this may mean that it takes them ten seconds longer to do it than it would otherwise, and that their pieces are not exactly uniform, it does not affect the flavor (or in most cases even the appearance) of their finished dishes.

    We have designed this book to take advantage of the fact that people can learn many preparation techniques better through visual means than written ones. In the relevant sections, you'll find illustrations for using knives and other kitchen tools and for relatively complex procedures.

    Cooking techniques--those that actually use heat to prepare food, such as grilling and sautéing--are a little different, because there is not much visual about them. Yet there are only a few basic, master techniques in cooking, and most have been the cornerstones of cuisine for centuries.


    The Basics of Heat

    Most beginning cooks fail to get sauté pans and ovens hot enough (this is not the case with grilling, where the biggest mistake is to make the grill too hot). Whether you're pan-grilling or sautéing, you should get used to preheating your skillet for a minute or two--longer if you have an electric range (see below)--before you start to cook. If you turn the heat on under your skillet, then start cooking, you're beginning with a cold pan and your food will never brown. And browning is important in developing flavor.

    Likewise with an oven. Yes, preheating ovens is a common practice, and a good one. But 350 [degrees] F is not hot enough to brown most meats in an oven; you need high heat, 450 [degrees] F and higher, if you want to put a nice crust on the food you're cooking, whether it's bread or chicken. My recipes reflect that belief, but when you cook on your own, or with another cookbook, keep it in mind.

    A note about electric ranges If you have an electric range, you've probably been told that it's impossible to cook well with it. This is nonsense: Heat is heat. The disadvantage of an electric range is that its elements take time to respond--they're slow to heat up, and equally slow to cool down. All this means is that you have to plan ahead.

    If you know you're going to want to start cooking over high heat, turn a burner to high a few minutes before you're ready to cook. If you know that you're going to want to transfer that skillet to low heat after an initial searing, have another burner ready at low, or medium-low heat, and simply move the skillet. It's as if you're cooking on a stove top that has hot and cold spots, rather than on an infinitely flexible burner.

    Of course if the stove top is crowded and you don't have a spare burner, you'll have to anticipate: When your food is nearly done browning, for example, turn down the heat; the burner and skillet will retain enough heat to finish the process, and will have cooled off in time for you to proceed.


    The Basics of Grilling and Broiling

    Grilling is the oldest cooking method, and one that justifiably retains its popularity. It (and broiling) are the only methods that use direct heat--nothing but a thin layer of air separates the heat source from the food. This virtually guarantees a crisp crust quickly. (There is indirect "grilling" as well; see below.)

    Although it can be easy, grilling is somewhat overrated. It isn't magic and, unless you use a wood fire or spice up your fire with wood chips, it does not "add" flavor. In fact, if you use a gas grill, grilling is identical to broiling--the only difference is that one puts the heat source on the bottom, the other on top. So there's no need to fire up that grill if it's cold outside--just turn on the broiler. (This assumes you have a reasonably efficient broiler; if you do not, your grill is probably more powerful and will generate more heat, so you will notice a difference in browning and cooking times.)

    A couple of notes about the broiler:

    * Always preheat it, but only for a few minutes. If your electric broiler requires the oven door to remain open in order to stay on, preheat the oven to 500 [degrees] F, then preheat the broiler, and broil with the door open.

    * If you are broiling food whose fat will render as it cooks--such as most chicken and meat--use a rack in a pan, so the fat can drip away from the food. This is not necessary if you're broiling fish, vegetables, boneless chicken breasts, or anything that will remain in the broiler for just a few minutes.

    * Generally, you will broil two to six inches away from the heat source, the closer distance for thin, quickly cooked foods, the greater distance for thick, slowly cooked foods. But this is detailed in each recipe, and you'll easily get the hang of it.


    The main idea behind both of these techniques is to get a nice, slightly charred crust on the food's exterior while cooking the interior to the desired degree of doneness. Generally, the best foods to grill or broil are less than an inch thick; thicker foods tend to burn on the outside before they are fully cooked inside. Thin cuts of meat, poultry, fish, or vegetables are ideal for this, because the intense heat just about cooks the food through as it browns the outside.

    But you can also grill or broil thicker cuts, with a couple of minor adjustments. In the broiler, just move the food farther from the heat source so it browns a little more slowly, turning occasionally and giving it time to cook through.

    On the grill, start thicker cuts close to the flame and move them a few inches away after the initial browning. If you use hardwood charcoal or briquettes, you want to cook over glowing coals covered with ash. Right near those coals, the heat is in excess of 600 [degrees] F, far too hot to cook anything. A couple of inches above, which is probably where your rack sits normally, the temperature is about 500 [degrees] F, a great place to sear. (If you can hold your hand just above the rack for about two seconds, the temperature is just about right.) If you can raise the rack to four inches, you have effectively lowered the heat below 400 [degrees] F, a good place to cook bone-in chicken. (Here, you will be able to hold your hand for as long as four seconds.) If you can't raise the rack, move the food to a cooler part of the grill.

    Or, on many grills, you can use indirect heat to finish cooking larger pieces of meat. (This is no longer grilling, technically; rather it is a form of roasting--but never mind.) After an initial searing, bank the coals to one side (on a gas grill, lower the heat, or turn one of the burners off) and move the food to the cool side of the grill; then cover the grill. Now you have the food bathing in a pool of hot air, but removed from the searing direct heat of the flame. This technique also allows you to slow down the cooking, so you can place some soaked wood chips on the fire and add a little of their flavor to your food.

    The chief drawback of broiling and grilling is that their intense heat can dry out many foods, especially those without a lot of internal fat. This is why broiled and grilled foods are often served with moist dipping sauces or dressings.

    A word about grilling versus barbecue Grilling, as defined above, is cooking food over direct heat. Barbecue means one of two things: long, slow, usually indirect cooking with smoke, or anything treated with a barbecue sauce.


    The Basics of Roasting

    Like grilling and broiling, roasting uses dry heat; the difference is that it does so in a closed environment, and the heat is indirect. Most roasting should be done at high heat--450 [degrees] F or higher--and, at its best, crisps up the exterior of foods, whether vegetables, fish, or meat, without much danger of burning, while cooking the interior relatively slowly and avoiding overcooking. Flavors added during roasting may be in the form of solids or liquids, and the liquids left in the roasting pan after cooking may be used for a sauce.

    Baking, also performed in the oven, is done at lower heat, and (in my book, at least) usually refers to the cooking of breads and pastries. Of course the oven can also be used for warming, or for heating foods in closed containers--in which case it is acting very much like your stove top.

    Electric ovens tend to be more accurate than gas ovens, but both are notoriously unreliable. A difference of 25 [degrees] F doesn't make much difference when you're roasting a large piece of meat (although it will affect your timing, of course), but it can be a killer when you're making a delicate dessert, such as a custard. Buy an oven thermometer, and use it.


    The Basics of Sautéing

    Saute is French for "jump," and simply refers to food that is cooked, in a hot pan, with some amount of fat (some say that the pan "surprises" the food). Whether that fat is a half cup of butter or one tablespoon of olive oil, naturally, has an effect on the finished product. But regardless of the amount or type of fat you use, sautéing, like roasting, grilling, and broiling, can put a crust on food. And it has a couple of advantages: Properly done, sautéing does not dry food out, and it gives you a base on which you can easily build a sauce (see The Basics of Reduction Sauces, page 790).

    The simplest, most straightforward sauté begins by dredging thin slices of meat or fish in flour, bread crumbs, or other seasonings; the food is then cooked over high heat, in hot fat, for ten minutes or less. (To sauté anything over an inch or so in thickness requires an initial browning followed by covering the pan; this is more like braising.) "Deglazing" the pan afterward--using a liquid to release the flavorful bits that remain after cooking--is a quick and easy way to make a sauce, known as a reduction. You can deglaze with lemon juice, vinegar, wine, stock, juice, cream, or a combination.

    Traditionally, the fat used in sautéing served two purposes: to crisp the coating, and to prevent the food from sticking to the pan. Thanks to non-stick pans, however, you can use just need enough fat to provide some sizzle if this is a concern.

    Pan-grilling: Non-stick pans have led to an increase in what is best called "pan-grilling"--cooking over high heat, in a skillet, with no added fat. (With some very sturdy foods with even surfaces, such as steaks, pan-grilling can be done in a heavy cast-iron skillet as well.) You should only try pan-grilling with thin, quickly cooked foods (not, for example, with bone-in chicken), and you should only try it if you have a good exhaust fan.

    Having said that, however, there is a fine combination of pan-grilling and roasting that will work for somewhat thicker foods, and contain the smoke: Before you start to cook, preheat the oven to 500 [degrees] F. When it's hot, heat your skillet until it is very hot, then add the food. Sear it on one side, just for a minute; undoubtedly, it will become so smoky that you will wish you never began. Quickly transfer the pan to the oven, and finish the cooking in there, turning the food only once. You will brown both sides and have all the time you need to cook the interior. (Just be careful handling the pan--its handle will become as hot as its cooking surface.)


    The Basics of Stir-Frying

    Stir-frying is similar to sautéing in that food is cooked over high heat in a small amount of fat. There are, however, several differences. Food to be stir-fried is cut up before cooking, which further minimizes cooking time; liquid is added during the cooking; and stir-fries are most often associated with Asian flavorings, while sautés are European (although there is no binding reason for this, the tradition continues). Traditionally, stir-fries were prepared in woks, but you need not follow this tradition. In fact, the design of a wok is not well suited to most home ranges; a large, deep-sided skillet, with sloping sides is best. These are sometimes sold as woks with handles, or, as discussed in the skillet section (page 2), in one of the hybridized "sauté pans" with deep, rounded sides, sort of a combination sauté pan/saucepan.

    To stir-fry successfully, you must have all your ingredients ready and at hand; once you begin cooking, there will be virtually no time to dig things out of the cabinet or refrigerator and begin measuring them. In addition, you must use very high heat; even more than sautéing, most stir-frying requires you set your burner on "high" and leave it there. (If, however, at any point during the cooking you feel that things have gotten out of control, turn off the heat and think for a minute. You will not ruin anything by doing so.)

    Stir-fried food is fairly dry--in order to brown the little bits of meat, fish, chicken, and/or vegetables that you're cooking, you must keep moisture out of the skillet or wok. This usually means you will want to finish a stir-fry with some liquid, usually wine, stock, or water. In some traditions, that liquid is in turn thickened. This is a matter of taste; you can serve a stir-fry with its thin, slightly reduced sauce, or you can thicken it. The easiest way to do this is to stir in a mixture of about one tablespoon cornstarch and two tablespoons cold water; this does the trick in an instant. One final word about stir-frying: It helps to lay in a good supply of basic Chinese seasonings: soy sauce, oyster sauce, dark sesame oil, gingerroot, and so on.


    The Basics of Deep-Frying

    The most challenging cooking method for home cooks, not because it is difficult--it's actually quite straightforward, given a few simple rules--but because it is invariably messy and usually smelly. As the bubbling oil cooks the food, small bits of it escape into the surrounding air. If the food you're cooking is benign, this isn't so bad; but almost all savory foods give off relatively strong odors that become unpleasant once they've attached themselves to your furniture. Only the most powerful of exhaust fans can whisk this oily smoke away before it travels through your house. If you don't mind any of this, follow any of the deep-frying recipes you'll find throughout the book; I love to deep-fry, but always remain aware of its difficulties.

    The rules of deep-frying are simple: The oil (see The Basics of Oils, page 87) must reach a good temperature to brown the exterior of the food quickly, while cooking it. That temperature is almost always between 350 [degrees] and 375 [degrees] F--365 [degrees] F is a good all-purpose compromise--and is most easily measured by using a frying thermometer. (If you have an electric deep fryer, of course, it will cycle off when it reaches the preset temperature.) You can use small amounts of oil in narrow pots to deep-fry--for example, it only takes a couple of cups of oil to gain a height of two or three inches in a small saucepan. But the disadvantage of this is that you can only cook small bits of food, and not very many of them at once.

    That's because it's essential to avoid crowding when deep-frying (it's important to avoid crowding whenever you want to brown food). The food must be surrounded by bubbling oil, and you must keep the temperature from falling too much. If you add a relatively large amount of food to a relatively small amount of oil, the temperature will plummet and the food will wind up greasy and soggy--and this holds true whether you are deep frying in a saucepan or in an electric deep fryer. So the basic recommendations: Use plenty of oil (although, to prevent the oil from bubbling over, never fill the pot more than halfway); dry the food well with paper towels before adding it to the pot, in order to reduce spattering; and add the food in small increments to keep the temperature from falling too much.


    The Basics of Cooking in Liquid: Braising, Stewing, Poaching, Steaming, and Parboiling

    Cooking in liquid is useful and easy, and it can perform just about any cooking task you demand of it except browning. No other technique is as efficient at tenderizing as moist cooking. There are several different ways to use liquid in cooking:

    Braising Braising begins like sautéing--you brown the food in a bit of fat. But it continues by adding liquid to the pan, covering it, and finishing the cooking over moist, low heat (you don't boil the food, you simmer it). It's the ideal way to cook larger cuts of meat, or big chunks, especially those that need tenderizing, such as certain lean cuts of beef or veal, or those that might dry out if cooked otherwise, such as chicken parts or whole fish.

    Many liquids can be used to braise foods, and it is that choice, along with the choice of herbs and spices, that provides much of the seasoning. The covered and relatively long, slow cooking ensures that not only will intrinsic flavors be preserved but that those of all ingredients will mingle and intensify. This is the magic of stews, daubes, goulashes, ragouts, and so on. Note that in many of my braising recipes I make the browning step optional; yes, it adds flavor, and without question improves the dish. But it is also a step that adds time and hassle, and it is not one that makes the difference between success and failure.

    You can also "reverse-braise"--cook the food in liquid until tender, then run it under the broiler to crisp it up a bit.

    Stewing Braising, but usually with no initial browning (although this is not an iron-clad rule) and with more liquid.

    Poaching/Simmering/Boiling Cooking food through in water (or lightly flavored water or even stock) to cover. Usually the temperature is moderated so that the water just bubbles during cooking; you want to start it at the boiling point, or a little below, but moderate it. It's very rare that you want to actually cook food at a rapid boil (pasta being one notable exception). Temperatures can be controlled not only by raising and lowering the heat of the burner but by partially covering the pot.

    Steaming Steaming, of course, is cooking over--not in--liquid; the liquid is usually water, and is usually not used in the finished dish, but there are exceptions. You can use a bamboo steamer, or a collapsible steamer insert, or simply elevate the food above the simmering water by building a little platform for it, using chopsticks or a couple of upside-down cups. In any case, keep the water simmering, not rapidly boiling, and make sure it does not boil away--add boiling water to the pot if necessary. Steaming, is usually (but not exclusively) used for quickly cooked foods.

    Parboiling/Blanching To parboil, or blanch, you partially cook food, usually vegetables, in boiling water to cover. This is an excellent technique for keeping vegetables bright and partially tenderizing them, detailed in "Vegetables" (pages 529-617).

     

    How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food
    Great Food Made Simple!
    Here's the breakthrough one-stop cooking reference for today's generation of cooks! Nationally known cooking authority Mark Bittman shows you how to prepare great food for all occasions using simple techniques, fresh ingredients, and basic kitchen equipment. Just as important, How to Cook Everything takes a relaxed, straightforward approach to cooking, so you can enjoy yourself in the kitchen and still achieve outstanding results.
    Buy this book at Barnes & Noble

    The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More than 100 Recipes for Fast Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining
    Back with another splendid collection, America’s most popular cooking authority and author of How to Cook Everything, presents more than 100 fast, sophisticated main courses for home cooks of every skill level.
    The Minimalist Cooks Dinner showcases Mark Bittman’s signature ease and imagination, and focuses on center-of-the-plate main dishes. And, in this new volume, he also provides recipes for classic, versatile side dishes as well as recommendations for wine and food pairings. With a majority of its main dish recipes taking less than thirty minutes to prepare, this is truly the book every busy cook has been waiting for. Every recipe in The Minimalist Cooks Dinner is big on flavor, drawing on the global pantry and international repertoire that sets Bittman apart.
    This inventive collection offers a refreshing new take on standards, along with ideas that will inspire both novices and experienced home cooks to branch out, making it the perfect solution for weeknight after-work meals or elegant weekend dinner parties. From Steamed Chicken Breasts with Scallion-Ginger Sauce to Korean-Style Beef Wrapped in Lettuce Leaves to Roast Fish with Meat Sauce, Bittman banishes the ordinary with an exciting range of choices. Also covering hearty pasta dishes, steaks, pork, veal, lamb, chicken, and a wide assortment of seafood, The Minimalist Cooks Dinner is the answer when you’re looking for “satisfying dishes with a minimum of effort.”
    About the Author: Mark Bittman is the creator and author of the popular weekly New York Times column “The Minimalist,” and a frequent contributor to the newspaper’s Dining InDining Out section. His previous books include The Minimalist Cooks at Home (winner of an IACP Award), How to Cook Everything (a four-time award winner, with more than 400,000 copies in print), Fish (winner of an IACPJulia Child Cookbook Award) and, with Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef (winner of a James Beard Award) and Simple to Spectacular. He lives in Connecticut.
    Buy this book at Barnes & Noble

    Mark Bittman's Quick and Easy Recipes from the New York Times : Featuring 350 Recipes from the Author of how to Cook Everything and the Best Recipes in the World
    Mark Bittman’s New York Times column, “The Minimalist,” is one of the most frequently clipped parts of the paper’s Dining section. For Bittman’s millions of fans who regularly pore over their clippings, here is reason to rejoice: A host of Bittman’s wonderfully delicious and easy recipes, 350 in all, are now available in a single paperback.
    In sections that cover everything from appetizers, soups, and sauces to meats, vegetables, side dishes, and desserts, Mark Bittman’s Quick and Easy Recipes from The New York Times showcases the elegant and flexible cooking style for which Bittman is famous, as well as his deep appreciation for fresh ingredients prepared with minimal fuss. Readers will find tantalizing recipes from all over, each requiring little more than basic techniques and a handful of ingredients. Cold Tomato Soup with Rosemary, Parmesan Cups with Orzo Risotto, Slow-Cooked Ribs, Pumpkin Panna Cotta—the dishes here are perfect for simple weeknight family meals or stress-free entertaining. Certain to appeal to anyone—from novices to experienced cooks—who wants to whip up a sophisticated and delicious meal easily, this is a collection to savor, and one destined to become a kitchen classic.
    Buy this book at Barnes& Noble
    The Best Recipes in the World: More than 1,000 International Dishes to Cook at Home
    In this highly ambitious and accomplished work, which spans the globe, Mark Bittman gathers the best recipes that people cook every day on every continent in the world. And when he brings his immensely popular no-frills approach to dishes that might previously have been considered “exotic,” cooks gladly follow where they once feared to tread.
    Bittman, in more than one thousand recipes, shows American cooks that there are so many other places besides Italy or France to turn to for inspiration. Asian food now rivals European cuisine’s popularity, and this book reflects that: it’s the first to give equal emphasis to European and Asian cuisine, and the easy-to-follow recipes for such favorites as Stir-Fried Vegetables with Nam Pla from Vietnam, Pad Thai from Thailand, Salmon Teriyaki from Japan, Black Bean and Garlic Spareribs from China, and Tandoori Chicken from India will be a hit with home cooks looking to add exciting new tastes and cosmopolitan flair to their everyday cooking. In addition, other less-familiar cuisines such as Turkish, Spanish, and Mexican are also explored in depth.
    Shop locally, cook globally–Mark Bittman makes it so easy: • Many recipes can be made ahead or prepared in under thirty minutes
    • More than one hundred line drawings
    • Sidebars and instructional drawings make unfamiliar techniques a snap
    • 52 international menus, information on ingredients, and much more make this an essential addition to any cook’s shelf

    The Best Recipes in the World is destined to be a classic that will change the way Americans think about everyday food.It’s simply like no other cookbook in the world.
    Buy this book at Barnes & Noble

     

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