Tag Archives: cooking technique

Recipe Cooking Times Can Be Deceiving!

cooking times

Often, they’re just a suggestion.

Recipe writers can’t always be quite as precise as they’d prefer when they list cooking times in a recipe.  So many variables enter into the equation.

This Spring, a friend’s daughter was making her first brisket for a dinner party.  She had preheated her oven, browned the meat on both sides, added all the ingredients to the roasting pan and then carefully put it in her oven for the listed 2 hours of cooking time.

She called me in a panic at the 2-hour mark – she had placed the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the brisket and the temp on the thermometer was correct.  But to her horror, the meat still appeared a bit pink (brisket is cooked all the way through) and it wasn’t tender at all!  She had eaten brisket many times at other friends’ homes and it was ALWAYS fork tender.  Hers was tough.  She was almost in tears and she couldn’t understand what she’d done wrong.

I calmed her down, told her that she’d done nothing wrong and then, because I’ve cooked more brisket than I’d care to think about, gave her this advice: ignore the cooking time and meat temp and put it back in the oven until a long-tined fork goes into the thickest part of the brisket with the greatest of ease.  Then, and only then, it would be cooked perfectly.  She needed to cook to the indicator – tenderness – not the time in the recipe.  Needless to say, her brisket was a success.

Here’s a good rule to follow:  Always cook to the indicator and not the time on the recipe.  The listed time is basically a suggestion unless you’re talking about how long to boil eggs and then it’s quite specific!

Recipes will always tell you what something is supposed to look or feel like.  It might be ‘cook until the skin is crispy and brown’ or, ‘when the spices start to stick to the bottom of the pan’ or, as in my favorite salmon recipe, ‘until the color has changed half to two-thirds the way up side of the filet and the skin releases completely from the pan’.

The reason you can’t go by an exact time on most recipes is because kitchens vary.  The oven temperature could be ‘off’ (even though you set your oven temp to what is in the recipe that doesn’t mean that your oven and the recipe writer’s oven are calibrated the same), the moisture in the air can be different from your kitchen to theirs, the material of your pan can be different from the writer’s, or any other number of small differences that can all add up to the listed cooking time in a recipe being not quite right to get the hoped for result.  Medium on an electric range is completely different than medium on a gas range.

So, remember, the cook times to achieve a ‘doneness’ are suggestions (we all taste pasta while it’s cooking, don’t we?).  If after the suggested cook time has expired and it still doesn’t look like what it’s supposed to – keep cooking.  Remember my brisket story.

If you remember this tip, pay attention to the process and don’t blindly follow the cook time on a recipe, you will have a much better result.  Patience!

How to deseed and chop a jalapeño

Fran Berger chopping jalapenos

If you love cooking, then technique matters: the right way to prepare jalapeños for your recipe.

One of the things I’ve learned about home cooking: you don’t have to actually be a chef to cook excellent meals. But, I have so many chef friends that I have cooked with that I’ve been able pick up a trick or two. One of the most important culinary techniques I have learned from them is that the little things really count.  “Details detail details!” as a chef-friend often says in her kitchen. And some details are easy to miss, but once you see it, you’ll never forget.

For instance, deseeding and chopping jalapeño peppers. Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe you just thought that if a recipe calls for jalapeño peppers that it was going to be spicy. So, you washed them and cut them like anyone else. Perhaps that’s okay for a Super Bowl party dip, but let’s say you found a recipe that calls for jalapeños and you want to include the dish in a nice dinner for a special friend, or a special occasion?

Here’s the deal. Most of the time, when a recipe calls for jalapeño, the taste you want is from the pepper itself, not the heat that you often think of. The flavor of a jalapeño is surprisingly subtle, maybe a bit tart, not at all hot. The famed spiciness or heat actually comes from the ‘capsaicin’ that’s contained in jalapeño seeds and the white material that surrounds them.

For that reason, deseeding and chopping a jalapeño pepper the right way can be very important. All we want to do is keep those little seeds and the white stuff around them from joining our mix and changing the flavor of our meal.

My video gives you a very detailed demonstration of how this works:

  1. First things first, pick your peppers the way you choose fruit (freshness, firmness, aroma). Then select for size and color depending on your recipe.
  2. Bring your peppers home and then wash them (common sense step), and damp dry.
  3. Use a sharp knife (essential). In my video, I use my santoku. Cut and turn just the sides off. Cut each side, one at a time.
  4. You’ll have the stem core, with the seeds intact. They’re okay to eat, but they’re spicy. Some recipes may call for adding them.
  5. Remove the ‘ribs’ or any white parts left over from the core. Just lay your knife sideways on top of the pepper and slide across to trim off.
  6. It’s easier to cut into strips if the skin side is facing the cutting board instead of facing up.
  7. Then cut each section into ‘julienne’ or thin strips (skin side down).
  8. Gather the julienne strips together and then cut across to create cubes if you want.

As I said, it’s so easy. Now even your jalapeño game day dip will taste that much better. Happy cooking!

4th of July Party? How about a tasty recipe for marinated olives and feta?

Marinated Olives and Feta

Sophisticated but incredibly easy: smash some olives, crush a bit of garlic, shred some bread, and you’re good to go!

Want to bring something different to your 4th of July party that DOESN’T need refrigeration or special care? A while back, I found something genuinely fabulous in my favorite place to find fabulous things – Bon Appétit Magazine. It’s a perfect recipe for things like 4th of July parties where light, savory snacks with friends really hit the spot.

There’s only one part of this recipe that needs a bit more explanation – smashing olives and crushing the garlic. I know that there are all sorts of ways to do this, but my video gives you some easy ways that work for me. The rest is that simple.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 ounces of drained green (I prefer Castelvetranos for their flavor) unpitted olives
  • 3 medium-sized cloves of garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil – essential to get the “good stuff” for this recipe.
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 ounces of crumbly feta cheese. I use President Cheese.
  • 1 loaf of crusty bread

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees F
  2. Rip up your bread into bite-sized pieces and place them on a baking sheet. When the oven is ready, bake the pieces of bread for 5-8 minutes, or just long enough to make the them a bit crispy and golden.
  3. Lightly smash (by pressing the side of the knife blade directly on top) the olives to just break apart the skin and flatten slightly.
  4. Smash (using the same technique as for the olives – you don’t want them completely flat!) and peel 3 cloves of garlic.
  5. Use a vegetable peeler (this will give you nice wide strips) to peel the zest from the lemon. Remember – only the yellow, not the white which will be bitter.
  6. Place lemon peel, smashed olives, crushed garlic, ½ cup of good Extra Virgin olive oil, and ½ tsp of red pepper flakes into a small saucepan over med-low heat. Swirl every so often and cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the garlic is golden around the edges.
  7. Crumble feta cheese into a shallow serving bowl.
  8. Pour the olive oil mixture over the feta and let it sit at least 10 minutes. Longer if possible, perhaps an hour or more, before serving.
  9. Serve together with your crisped bread pieces.

You can always double or treble this recipe for a larger crowd.

Some last DO’s and DON’Ts – DO remind your guests that the olives are unpitted, but DON’T worry about letting this sit out for as long as your guests are nibbling. It will go fast!  A Negroni is the perfect adult beverage to accompany this appetizer.

Happy 4th of July, America!