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Thumb_2848537201_051413b803What is extra-virgin olive oil?

Thumb_2848537201_051413b803What is extra-virgin olive oil?

Extra-virgin olive oil is the precious unrefined first result of cold-pressing olives to make a fruity liquid that contains less than one percent acid. Extra-virgin olive oil is the most expensive olive oil variety, and it is best appreciated in salads or as a garnish to give preparations a final flourish. If you are using olive oil to cook, it's fine to use regular olive oil. Greece is the #1 consumer of olive oil in the world and also the leading producer of extra virgin olive oils, which account for 82 percent of their olive oil production. The U.S. is not a member of the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), which regulates olive oil standards worldwide, and the IOOC does not recognize the U.S. standards for extra-virgin oil. There is much controversy in the olive oil world, with accusations of corruption and adulteration smearing consumer confidence and shedding doubt on the purity of so-called virgin olive oil.

Thumb_346092095_d6b3034d3fHow to prep fennel

Thumb_346092095_d6b3034d3fHow to prep fennel

Florence fennel, the bulbous variety found in most American stores has a subtle anise (mild licorice) flavor and delicate celery texture. The bulbs are often sold with the feathery fronds lopped off. Get the ones with some fronds attached if you can -- they’re the perfect raw finish to a fennel dish, sprinkled on as a bright green top layer to echo the anise flavor. You can thinly slice fennel crosswise for sautés, pastas, and salads, or cut it into wedges lengthwise to roast, braise, or gratinee. First, rinse the bulb and fronds well and pat them dry. Cut off the the stalks close to the bulb. If you want to remove some of the slightly stringy outer layer, peel bulb with a vegetable peeler. To slice for salads or quick cooking, just cut across the bulb as thick or thin as you like. For longer cooking methods like braising and roasting, cut the bulb lengthwise into wedges of any size. Slice through the core, leaving some of it attached to each wedge to help keep the wedges together. The core will become tender with cooking. If you want to cook wedges briefly, like on a grill, it's best to remove the core. Cut the bulb into wedges lengthwise, then sliced down along the core at an angle. Then just slice the quarters crosswise to any thickness. Now that you know how to prep fennel, try cooking it - there are lots of fennel recipes at Cookthink.com.

Thumb_garlic minceHow to mince garlic

Thumb_garlic minceHow to mince garlic

When you want a dish to have quintessential garlic flavor that permeates each bite, mince it. You can mince with a knife, or a garlic press. Either way, you need to free the individual cloves. To do that, press down on the head with the heel of your palm. Apply firm, even pressure so the cloves don't fly all over the place. To peel an individual clove, cut of the hard stem end where the clove attached to the bulb. Either stop the cut just short of the skin on the other side and peel the skin around to remove it, or make the cut all the way through and squeeze out the clove. The older the clove, the easier the skin releases. You can also peel it by setting the side of your knife blade on the clove and pressing down until you feel the skin release, though not hard enough to pulverize it, or the skin will get mixed in with the garlic. To mince with a knife, smash the peeled clove with the side of the knife. Then just run your knife back and forth across the smashed clove, chopping as you go until it's as fine as you like. If you don't want individual little pieces of garlic and have a press, just put the whole peeled clove (or cloves, if you can fit them) in the press and squeeze. Use your knife to trim away any clinging garlic.

Thumb_1366623276_26d7d1ba7eWhat is bouillabaisse?

Thumb_1366623276_26d7d1ba7eWhat is bouillabaisse?

Ancestor of gumbo, bouillabaisse is a fast-cooking French fish stew that was invented in Marseille and is a staple of provençal cooking. Originally a fisherman's meal cooked up on the beach, dozens of fish varieties may end up in a so-called authentic bouillabaisse, but everyone agrees that it must contain rockfish. This aromatic soup also includes shellfish like muscles and crabs, plus aromatics and vegetables such as fennel, carrots and tomatoes, as well as olive oil, saffron and orange zest. Normally the ingredients are marinated for a few hours, then boiled quickly to cook the fish. The fish and broth are eaten separately. Bouillabaisse broth is either poured over dried bread or served with garlic-rubbed, rouille-topped croutons.

Thumb_1366623276_26d7d1ba7eWhat is cioppino?

Thumb_1366623276_26d7d1ba7eWhat is cioppino?

Cioppino is an Italian-American fish stew. The dish is said to have been invented by Italian immigrants from Genoa in San Francisco in the late 19th century. Based on popular Italian and French seafood stews, cioppino was traditionally made with the catch of the day. This includes white fish and shellfish like mussels, clams and shrimp simmered with white (or red) wine, garlic and tomatoes. Shellfish are left unshelled for extra flavor. Restaurants catering to tourists on Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco often serve cioppino with a bib.

Thumb_1337445837_8be9281055How to clean clams, mussels and other mollusks

Thumb_1337445837_8be9281055How to clean clams, mussels and other mollusks

Cleaning your Shellfish: Before mussels and clams are cooked, the shells must be scrubbed in cold water with a stiff brush to remove any barnacles and sand. Reduce the amount of interior sand by soaking them in cold water mixed with a few handfuls of cornmeal for 30 to 60 minutes.  Debearding the Mussel Wild mussels (mussels are also farmed) require an additional cleaning step -- debearding. Protruding between mussels' shells is a small bristle or beard, by which the mussel attaches itself to rocks or pilings.  Shortly before cooking, remove the beard by tightly grasping the hairs near their base and giving a sharp tug. The beard should snap off along with a tiny bit of mussel flesh.

Thumb_2921934931_793e26d23eWhat is saffron?

Thumb_2921934931_793e26d23eWhat is saffron?

Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice by weight, comes from the stigmas of the purple saffron crocus (a member of the iris family). Each flower contains three stigmas, which are harvested by hand and then dried. One pound of dried saffron requires a minimum of 50,000 flowers to be picked, which helps explain the elevated cost. Native to Asia minor, Iran and Spain now lead the world in saffron production. Saffron can be purchased ground into a powder or whole as threads. Buying the threads ensures the spice’s purity, since powdered saffron may be watered down with additional spices like turmeric or safflower. The threads tend to have a stronger taste than the ground, and must be steeped in milk or water, or roasted, before being added to a dish to release their flavor. Saffron has a bitter taste, an earthy, hay-like smell, and a golden-red hue, which gives food a deep yellow color. When cooking with saffron, it must be used sparingly; too much can produce a harsh, medicinal flavor.

Thumb_2942250284_a8f469f607Root Source: Saffron

Thumb_2942250284_a8f469f607Root Source: Saffron

  what you should know  Richly flavored and intensely aromatic, these golden-orange threads are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus. Harvesting saffron takes some doing: each thread is picked by hand. An acre of flowers yields only about 10 pounds of saffron, making it worth more than its weight in gold (and, ounce for ounce, the most expensive spice in the world). not mellow yellow A little saffron goes a long way. Just a few strands -- which can smell hay-like or brightly medicinal -- add a distinct color and flavor to a dish. to dye for Saffron has a history as a dye, both for clothing and for food. If you want to give a dish that telltale color, soak the threads in warm water for 10-20 minutes and then cook with the infused liquid. toasty warm If you're going to use saffron threads without soaking them first, lightly toast them to enhance the flavor. blooming Saffron crocuses are blooming right about now. If you are very industrious, you can grow your own -- Andrea from Andrea's Recipes is just about ready to harvest hers. what you need Saffron threads are absolutely crucial if you're making paella. You can make do with a wide saucepan or Dutch oven, but it's much simpler to go from stovetop to table in a pretty paella pan. Joyce Goldstein explores the wide-ranging traditions of Jewish cooking in the Mediterranean in her book Saffron Shores. If you decide to grow your own saffron, White Flower Farms offers a variety of bulbs. And if your thumb is not as green as you'd like, a copy of Gayla Trail's You Grow Girl (and regular visits to her wonderful blog) will set you on the path for prosperous gardening. what you do Persian chicken and rice glistens with golden beets and saffron. Saffron is the star of a Provençal-inspired seafood stew. Broil them, grill them, serve them on ice cream -- no matter how you serve them, saffron-infused pineapples are bright and delicious. An elegant presentation of tapenade and saffron aioli makes pan-smoked tomato bisque a beautiful main course. Cook and Eat created an elegant soup for any season, pairing saffron with citrus and a cranberry-balsamic meringue. Try a Sardinian take on paella from Efisio Farris' Sweet Myrtle & Bitter Honey. Featured: A fall-perfect featured recipe for this week's Root Source Challenge -- gorgeous saffron-pumpkin macarons. Congratulations to Helen of Tartelette! Find more saffron recipes at Cookthink.com. And if you haven't yet signed up for a free account at Cookthink, do it now!

Thumb_tomatosauceTomato paste vs. tomato purée vs. tomato sauce

Thumb_tomatosauceTomato paste vs. tomato purée vs. tomato sauce

Do you sometimes get these confused? Tomato paste is made from tomatoes that have been cooked for a few hours, strained and reduced into a rich, sweet paste. Tomato paste is most commonly used in pizza sauce. A dollop of tomato paste adds a dark, savory flavor to soups and stews. Tomato purée consists of tomatoes that have been cooked briefly and strained to produce a thick, tangy liquid. Tomato purée is used in soups, stews and sauces to add the tomato flavoring without the texture. We use it as the flavor base in certain recipes, this Indian chicken stew, for example. Tomato sauce refers to any sauce made out of tomatoes. That includes the ubiquitous Italian tomato sauce with all its variations, as well as Indian and Thai curries that have a tomato base. Tomato sauce can be canned, jarred or fresh. Time-willing, we prefer to make our own. Try this lasagna with homemade Italian tomato sauce.

Thumb_prawnWhat is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

Thumb_prawnWhat is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

In some culinary circles, the word "prawn" is used to describe a large shrimp. In other circles, "shrimp" is used exclusively to describe both shrimp and prawns. And to further complicate matters, in other circles, "prawn" is used exclusively to describe both shrimp and prawns. So is there a difference between the two? Yes, there is a difference. Technically, shrimp and prawns are separate species, with mildly different gill structures and tastes. The saltwater crustacean known as a shrimp is found in warm water (like the Gulf of Mexico) or cold water (like the Atlantic). Much of the shrimp we eat is pond-raised. In general, the colder the water, the smaller the shrimp. Marketed according to size, shrimp are named based on the rough number of them that make up a pound. "Miniature" shrimp are so small that it take roughly 100 to make a pound, while just 10 "colossal" shrimp make a pound. A prawn is a different kind of crustacean that resembles a miniature lobster and has sweet, succulent meat. The French langoustine, Spanish langostino and Caribbean lobsterette are all prawns, as is the Italian scampi (which shouldn't be confused with the dish known in the United States as "shrimp scampi"). Freshwater prawns like the Hawaiian blue prawn look like a shrimp-and-lobster love child, with thinner bodies and longer legs than shrimp. Since in most recipes one can be substituted for the other, at Cookthink, we prefer to say "shrimp" when referring to shrimp and prawns. Using our synoynm feature, you can search for shrimp or prawns and we'll know what you're talking about.  Recipe: For recipes using shrimp and praws, take a look at the "related recipes" box on the left