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Thumb_3218412362_1440318c74What does it mean to vandyke a lemon?

Thumb_3218412362_1440318c74What does it mean to vandyke a lemon?

Vandyke is the verb used to describe the process of cutting a zig-zag pattern around the circumference of a lemon to create decorative lemon half garnishes to dress up fish platters and other plates. The term is inspired by 17th-century painter Vandyke's portraits of men with pointy v-shaped beards. It's easier than it looks to vandyke a lemon and shows your guests that you care. Here's how: Trim the ends of the fruit so that your halves will sit evenly on the plate. Now use a small, sharp knife to carve zig-zag cuts through the skin and as far into the center of the lemon as possible. Once you've made it all the way around, carefully separate the halves, trimming any stubborn bits. You can also vandyke an orange, lime, tomato, or even a melon.

Thumb_mince shallotHow to mince a shallot

Thumb_mince shallotHow to mince a shallot

The flavor of a shallot falls somewhere between red onion and garlic, often without the pungency of either. The shallot's subtle flavor works in soups, stews, sauces, and pretty much anywhere else you'd use an onion or garlic. To dice a shallot, first cut it in half through the root. Next, cut the papery end (not the root end) off and discard it. This will make the skin easier to peel away. Make a series of vertical cuts through the shallot, without cutting all the way through to the end. Then just rotate the shallot 90 degrees, and slice across the vertical cuts to make a dice.

Thumb_534692881_f4fd8ad7dbCookthink PSA: Buy tongs!

Thumb_534692881_f4fd8ad7dbCookthink PSA: Buy tongs!

Tongs are the most useful tool in the kitchen.  Having a good pair of tongs is like having a heatproof robotic arm in the kitchen. Consider a partial list of things you can do with a pair of tongs: stir something in a sizzling pan; flip something in a sizzling pan; move something around in a sizzling pan; spear something in a sizzling pan; push something in a sizzling pan to check for doneness; hold something above a sizzling pan to taste it; take something out of a sizzling pan. And that's just around a sizzling pan. Standing around a grill or reaching inside an oven, tongs are critical. You can spend a small fortune on specialty tongs, but you don't have to. OXO's Good Grips stainless steel tongs are inexpensive and probably as special as you’ll ever need. So here's our public service announcement - buy tongs now.

Thumb_404911341_794ba9d403What is quinoa?

Thumb_404911341_794ba9d403What is quinoa?

Technically a fruit of the Chenopodium family, quinoa packs more protein than any other grain, yielding more than twice the protein of rice and five times more than corn. Quinoa is high in lysine, an amino acid widely deficient among vegetable proteins, and is a good complement to the amino acid structure of most legumes, being naturally high in both methionine and cystine. It has less carbohydrate than any other grain beside corn, and a 6% fat content which gives it a pleasant nutty flavor. In Peru and Bolivia where most of the quinoa in the world is cultivated and eaten, it is boiled whole, like rice, ground into flour for breads and cakes and simmered as a cereal. The leaves of the plant are eaten as a vegetable. The stalks are burned as fuel, and the water leftover from washing the grain before it is cooked is used for shampoo. The quinoa plant is extremely hardy, thriving in agricultural environments where corn and wheat normally perish. Cultivated in the U.S., mostly in Colorado, quinoa continues to grow year after year in the Andes despite low rainfall, sub- freezing temperatures, high altitude and poor alkaline soil. Its only drawback is the laborious processing it requires once it is harvested. The small round seeds of quinoa, which resemble something between sesame and millet, are covered with saponin, a bitter resin, which forms a soapy solution in water. In order for the quinoa to be edible, the saponin must be removed by washing the grain in an alkaline solution. By the time you purchase quinoa the saponin is largely gone, but it is a good idea to wash quinoa well before cooking to insure that no bitterness remains. Before processing, quinoa seeds are brilliantly colored raspberry red, dark violet, blue black or burnt orange, but once the saponin is removed all quinoa is a uniform pale yellow (with the exception of red quinoa). Each flat disk-shaped seed is framed with a white band around its periphery. During cooking, this band unravels into a tiny sprouted spiral, giving quinoa a beautifully textured appearance and a chewy resiliency.   Quinoa's mild flavor has an affinity to everything from onions and mushrooms to sugar and cinnamon. It is equally good as a side dish, a stuffing or baked into bread and is a good substitute for rice in rice pudding.

Thumb_404911160_f4692a38a7Root Source: Quinoa

Thumb_404911160_f4692a38a7Root Source: Quinoa

what you should know Are we less inclined to warm up to foods we're not sure how to pronounce? That's the only reason we can think of to explain why quinoa ("KEEN-wah") has yet to take off in the U.S. A "pseudo cereal" native to the Andes, quinoa is mild and slightly nutty, with a beautiful, pillowy texture that's a little like couscous. It's a farmer-friendly crop that grows easily in many different climates and at high altitudes. It's simple to process and prepare. It's gluten-free. It's easy to digest. Quinoa has all the goods that grains and seeds are supposed to have (dietary fiber and so on). The real kicker though? Quinoa has the highest protein levels (up to 20%) of all the cereals -- pseudo or otherwise. the case for quinoa This nutritional profile has led normally sober people to rhapsodize about the promise of quinoa. (Its potential as a hangover remedy was the subject of our first blog post.) saponin warning Raw, quinoa is coated in a toxic, bitter substance called saponin. Almost all commercially available quinoa has been de-saponinized. Still, go ahead and rinse your quinoa a couple of times before you use it. what you need Rebecca Wood loves quinoa so much that she wrote a whole book about it. If Wood's Quinoa the Supergrain is too narrow a study for you, pick up her award-winning The Splendid Grain, one of the very best single-subject cookbooks out there. (Wood has recipes and tips at her website.) Five years ago, Corby Kummer wrote in the Atlantic (sub. req'd) about a company called Inca Organics. The company works with thousands of quinoa farmers in Ecuador to supply worldwide food distributors. IO has a list of online retailers. Brys buys his quinoa from White Mountain Farm, one of the first large-scale quinoa operations in the U.S. what you do As with rice and pasta, it's next to impossible to make just the right amount of quinoa. We like to use leftover quinoa in burritos, stir-fries, salads and really anything that could use some texture. But leftover quinoa also shines as a breakfast grain. Try this quinoa with dried cranberries, toasted walnuts and honey. Once you try quinoa in the place of pasta for this ham, cabbage and sage dish that Brys assembled out of the ether one day, you may never go back. If you're a newcomer to quinoa, start with the basic preparation and go from there. One of Chip's favorite afternoon snacks is simply steamed quinoa mixed with sour cream and hot sauce.

Thumb_233_How to prep asparagus

Thumb_233_How to prep asparagus

Asparagus is one of the easier vegetables to prep. Still, there are a few good tricks to know. Here’s my usual approach for just about every asparagus dish: First I rinse and dry them well. When I have some time and want a nice presentation, I’ll cut off and discard the bottom inch or so of the thick fibrous stem. Then I’ll peel the bottom 2-3 inches of the stems with a vegetable peeler. Peeling exposes the tender flesh inside.When I have less time, I discard the entire bottom part. To figure out where to cut, I take one spear and, using both hands, break it in two. It will naturally break at the right spot.Then I line the spears up and cut off the bottoms at that breaking point.If I’m broiling asparagus or serving it drizzled with a sauce or vinaigrette, I leave the spears whole. For other dishes — sautés, stir-fries, soups, papillotes — I like to cut the spears on the bias into pieces 1-3 inches long.Aside from making them look nice, the angled edges tend to catch onto the surrounding food and keep the asparagus from sinking to the bottom of the serving dish.

Thumb_572440916_f83ef03bb2What exactly is feta cheese?

Thumb_572440916_f83ef03bb2What exactly is feta cheese?

Feta cheese is the most famous Greek invention since democracy. Traditionally made from sheep's (or goat's) milk, commercial producers now also use cow's milk to make the bright white, rindless cheese. Feta is cured and stored in a salty whey brine and has a distinct tangy taste and crumbly texture. Feta is made by draining curdled milk in molds or cloth bags. It is then cut into slices, salted, and these days, packed in whey brine-filled barrels or plastic tubs, although the best feta is salted and aged rather than drowned in brine. The flavor and level of moisture in the cheese depends on the cheesemaker. Feta-like cheese is now made in many parts of the world. In Europe the cheese is produced from Bulgaria to Denmark and France. But authentic Greek feta is now protected in Europe with an AOC designation of origin label, like Champagne or Bordeaux. Real feta must contain at least 70 percent sheep's milk and be made using traditional methods and in just seven regions of Greece. Feta cheese sold in the U.S. does not have to comply with these rules.