Tag Archives: cooking tips

How to dress your salad AND make sure it doesn’t wilt

A little “insider” trick that keeps your salad from wilting.

The fact is, a slightly wilted salad isn’t bad for you. But, it looks terrible on the table and it certainly isn’t very appealing either. There’s nothing worse than a soggy salad to ruin a beautiful meal.  When you have guests over, not only do you want your food to be appetizing and tasty, but you also want your guests to be eager and happy to try every dish you serve – including the salad.

It should be no surprise that as a restauranteur for more than twenty years, I had the same goals. I was always on the lookout for tricks and ideas that made our food taste great and look the very best. Some of the “tricks” I picked up from my chefs (they always had the best ideas). Others were simply things that are passed along from one kitchen to another. In business terminology you’d call it “best practices.”

Well, here’s a “best practice” for serving salad to your guests. You’ll dress your salad before your party, and it won’t wilt before they’re ready to eat.

First, plan your meal well. When having guests over for dinner, I very often serve my favorite simple salad. The only exception is if the salad IS the center of the meal. Otherwise, keep it simple so that it doesn’t upstage the main course. Simplicity also helps solve the issue of wilting, which we’ll get to in a bit.

Second, think strategically. The biggest problem is timing: having the salad ready to serve but keeping the greens crisp and not EVER letting them wilt.  There’s nothing worse than making a fresh salad too early so the greens are soggy and wilted by the time your guests are reaching for the salad bowl.

Once you take care of those steps, you’ll want to follow this guideline to make sure your salad tastes as good as it looks. Here’s how to do it in five easy steps.

  1. Remember your “plan.” Keep the salad simple so it won’t fight with the rest of the beautiful meal you’ve prepared. The best simple salad I’ve found is just fresh Butter Lettuce and my champagne vinaigrette. Here’s the recipe and here’s a video that shows how easy it is to make.
  2. I recommend ‘living’ Butter Lettuce. Butter Lettuce has a very delicate flavor and is the perfect vehicle for a great vinaigrette. Living Butter Lettuce is the freshest I’ve ever found, and most people love it. Remove the leaves from the stem (it’s attached to a root ball – which is very interesting and why it stays fresh for an incredibly long time in your refrigerator).
  3. Rinse the leaves gently (Butter Lettuce is delicate) and shake them lightly to get most of the moisture off the leaves. Then lay them in a single layer on paper towels to dry. Once they’re reasonably dry, tear the leaves into the size of pieces that you like.
  4. Pour your champagne vinaigrette in the BOTTOM of your salad bowl and gently lay the lettuce on top of the dressing BUT DO NOT TOSS.
  5. Now comes the strategy. When you’re ready to serve dinner, and your guests are seated, that’s when you toss the salad. Tossing the salad bruises the leaves a bit and makes them wilt faster. This goes for just about any large green, not just Butter Lettuce. So, toss it when you’re ready to serve, but definitely not earlier. That way it won’t be soggy from the dressing either!

Your salad will never be wilted again, it’ll taste good and look great. Need more? Take a look at this week’s video on salads.

Simple Recipe for Champagne Vinaigrette

And so easy to make: Dijon Mustard, sea salt, champagne vinegar, and olive oil.

You know me. I love to turn even the simplest things into a conversation. One easy topic that has a great and colorful history: anything and everything about the culinary arts. In fact, each major culture from all over the planet has their own story about how a certain dish came to be or how a particular recipe started.

Interestingly, there is actually a long and lovely history of salad dressings. Seriously! Approximately 4,000 years ago, Babylonians may have been the first in Western Civilization to mix oil and vinegar for salads. Egyptians picked up the idea and added spices to the mix.

After that, salad dressing became a standard for nobility with chefs from different houses competing for the most extravagant and delicious ones. The kitchens of every royal court from Italy to the English Isles to the Norwegian fjords did everything they could to exceed the previous delight. The competition between the courts was so fierce that in some cases, the very lives of the chefs depended on their ability to do better than the chefs of the other royal houses! They mixed exotic greens with flower petals, fish, herbs of all kinds, nuts, fruits and of course the standards like potatoes, celery, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and anything else that was palatable. In the hundreds of years of competition, I imagine that there were some pretty spectacular failures. But there also must have been some very memorable successes because I think those are the ones or modern versions of those that we enjoy today.

One survivor is this perfect recipe for Champagne Vinaigrette. The recipe was handed down from one chef to another. Nobody really knows who created it, but it is a favorite, and because it’s so simple, it is also portable and quick to whip up at a moment’s notice. All you need is some Dijon mustard, sea salt, champagne vinegar, and olive oil. When mixed together it becomes a perfect champagne vinaigrette that turns a simple salad into a perfect side for any meal. I recommend using just simple butter lettuce (my favorite) but it’s really perfect on any green.  This dressing is so delicious that you need nothing else but a simple green as a vehicle.

Everything is done to taste but it will end up close to the basis for all vinaigrettes –  1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil. There aren’t any real measurements more than this guideline.  Again, mix to suit your palette.

  1. First, drop a dollop of Dijon into a medium mixing bowl. Then add sea salt. Trust me, you will need much more than you think – so start with a couple of really big pinches.
  2. Next, add the champagne vinegar. The vinegar will dissolve the salt.
  3. Whisk to blend, and keep whisking as you slowly drizzle in the olive oil (remember 1 part vinegar, 3 parts olive oil). Just a note on the olive oil, this is one of those times that the flavor of the oil really matters. See my tips on picking a great bottle of olive oil. The Dijon mustard will act as an emulsifier and keep the oil and vinegar blended together.
  4. Very important: taste as you go. Salt is an essential part of the seasoning. You really don’t need anything else, but make sure you taste as you go so that you can add enough salt.
  5. If you have leftovers, it will keep for about 3-4 days in your refrigerator.

Watch my video. You’ll see that this preparation will only take a few minutes from start to finish. Now, go serve a meal suited for a baroness’s table.

Recipe for the Perfect Poached Egg

the Perfect Poached Egg

The mystery of poaching eggs is lifted.

I love poached eggs. My mom and dad used to have them with toast just about every Sunday morning. It’s a fond food memory for me.

I think more people would eat them at home were it not for all the mystery of how to actually make a perfect poached egg (and that most people think it’s almost impossible!). Ask a dozen people and you will get a dozen answers. The problem is a lot of people are just guessing and the reality is, there’s no real “recipe” for the perfect poached egg. It’s like boiling potatoes – you either do it this way or that.

I found this idea from Epicurious.com. They call it their “foolproof” method, and I have to agree. It’s so simple and works every time. Check my video to see how easy this is.

  1. First step, pour water into a large wide pan. Add salt to the water. I use Kosher salt because it’s not as salty tasting as table salt and it helps the white of the egg set a bit firmer.
  2. Heat up the pan of water—bring it to the point where there are small bubbles on the bottom of the pan. You want it not quite simmering – definitely not with any water movement. If the water is moving, the turbulence in the pan will throw wispy whites everywhere and, I don’t know about you but, I don’t want that.
  3. Hold a fine mesh spider (sieve) over a bowl and crack an egg into the spider. Tip- the fresher the egg the better it will hold together.  Let the looser part of the whites drain off. This will remove most of those unwanted wispy whites that you can get when you poach the other way (e.g., drop the egg into a pan of near boiling water). Scrape the bottom of the spider on the edge of the bowl to remove as much of the loose whites as possible.
  4. Gently lower the spider into the pan of water until the entire egg is submerged, but keep the egg on the spider.
  5. Set your timer to 3 ½ minutes. This will give you a perfectly runny yolk with whites that are tender soft, but firmly set. A little tip: as the whites start to set, gently scrape the white toward the yolk with a spoon to keep the egg loose so that it doesn’t stick to the spider.
  6. At about the 1 minute mark when you can really see that the white is setting up, GENTLY slide the egg off the spider so that it is fully immersed into your hot but not bubbling water. Gently move the egg around a couple of times with a slotted spoon as it cooks so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If the water is hot enough, it shouldn’t stick, but sometimes it does.
  7. When the timer goes off, lift your poached egg out of the pan with your slotted spoon and let the water drain away. If you want your egg to be free of water, carefully and briefly place it on a paper towel before serving. You’ll want it fairly dry it if you plan to serve your poached egg over toast.

A few serving tips. For one or two servings, take your dried/drained egg and place it on a SLIGHTLY oiled plate and hold it there to wait for another egg before moving it to a serving plate or toast.  Cooking for a crowd? Take your cooked egg straight from the pan and place immediately into a bowl with iced water (an ice bath) to hold until you’ve cooked all the eggs you need. You can keep cooked poached eggs in the ice water in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

To reheat your refrigerated eggs later, simply put hot tap water (as hot as your tap gets) into a bowl, transfer the eggs from the ice water into the hot tap water and let them sit for about 2 minutes.  They won’t cook more and will be warm for serving.

And now, you can enjoy perfectly poached eggs any time!

7 “Must-Have” items for a well-stocked pantry

The Well-stocked Pantry

You’ll be ready for just about anything if you keep these items in stock at home at all times.

I keep my pantry well-stocked at all times. I owe that habit to years in the restaurant business. One of the chef’s assistants always ran a thorough checklist of the pantry at the opening and closing of the restaurant. It would be unthinkable to open the doors with a ‘short’ pantry.

The reasons for keeping a well-stocked pantry at home are not so different than for a restaurant. At a restaurant, it’s a matter of efficiency. If you run out of ingredients, you’ll have disappointed customers. At home, let’s say you have guests coming over for lunch or dinner. Do you want to run out of groceries just as you start cooking?

If you keep these 7 items in your pantry you’ll be able to create all kinds of meals at the drop of a hat. Think about the times when the phone rings and – boom – a friend is on the way. You’ll be ready!

The first thing to remember is it should always be quality over quantity.  What I mean by that is, with these basics, you want the best you can find to ensure that your effort to be prepared is never in vain. I’m of the mind that if you’re going to go through the effort of cooking, why not start with the best possible ingredients.

So, here’s my inventory for your well-stocked pantry. Watch my video as I run through the items:

  1. I set this out separately from ‘seasonings’ because salt is used for so many things in the kitchen. But don’t rely on just any salt – it really should be sea salt. Sea salt is not as salty as production table salt and is a lot easier to control while cooking.
  2. Whole peppercorns are far better than regular ground pepper. Freshly crushed peppercorns bring complexity to any dish: texture, aroma, taste. Jars of whole peppercorns can be found in any grocery or kitchen store. You may be tempted to keep fresh herbs around. They’re always a great add to a recipe but it’s not always practical to keep them ‘just in case’.  That’s why I keep small jars of high quality dried herbs in my pantry. To be honest, in many cases, they’re just as good for adding a concentrated flavor to any dish. My go-to dried spices: rosemary, thyme, and basil from either Spice Islands or Spice Hunter (both are very good).
  3. It’s important to always buy produce in season to get the max flavor and that’s especially important with tomatoes whose growing season is really only from June 1 through mid-September. So, when it’s January and the fresh ones are not great I use the next best thing, a great can of tomatoes. Good canned tomatoes can make a huge flavor difference. I recommend Tuttorosso Tomatoes, Muir Glen, or Simpson Brands – you can make just about anything with these canned tomatoes, and they taste great even when a recipe calls for fresh tomatoes.
  4. Good wine. Resist the bottom shelves at the grocery store. It is definitely tempting to use a cheap wine to cook with. My rule is that you only cook with wine that you would drink. That doesn’t mean it’s the most expensive bottle you have – but an affordable one that pleases anyone’s palate. It will make all the difference in the world for your finished dish.
  5. Fresh Citrus. Among the citrus, you especially want to keep lemons. They add a brightness to any dish. But you can’t go wrong with keeping some limes and oranges as well.
  6. Dried beans are a great addition to so many dishes. Dried beans are also much better texture than their canned counterparts. Just remember to soak them overnight!
  7. Great olive oil (Extra Virgin if it’s in my pantry). If you want the full-bodied flavor that can make or break a dish, make sure your oil comes in a dark glass or metal container. You can’t go wrong with extra virgin olive oil from Mandranova, Long Meadow Ranch, or Davis Estates. Use “the good stuff” for cooking and to finish a dish – your taste buds will thank you.

That’s my 7. You may think of others to keep in your pantry that work with your favorite recipes. The goal is to keep yourself well-stocked with enough basics that you can cook up just about any dish at any time and you’ll always be ready for that last-minute party!

Food Tip – Keep your herbs fresh for up to a week!

fresh herbs

A quick and easy way to save your refrigerated herbs – they’ll keep for a week!

We depend on the excellent flavor of our herbs to enhance our cooking.  I have many friends who wait until the day before they need them to purchase fresh leafy herbs like cilantro and parsley. The reason is sensible – you want them as fresh as possible.

The problem with leafy herbs is that they tend to dry out in the refrigerator. After about three days – not so good. But even if you’re a flavor nut – as I am – going out shopping every time you need a bit of parsley is not at all practical. We’re all so busy these days – right? I mean, if you have the time, great! But if you don’t, what are your options?

A friend once remarked that you should take care of your leafy herbs as you would a bunch of flowers. That makes sense. Bon Appetit goes a bit further with a few very sensible tips about the care and preparation for your herbs.

The first big tip: rinse your herbs as soon as you get them home from the market. Resist the temptation of tossing them into the crisper and then forgetting about them until you need them for dinner! To be honest, you should never do that with any of your greens. It’s always best to wash your veggies before they go into the fridge. That way, everything is ready to eat! Washing also helps rehydrate veggies so that they stay fresher longer.

Next, trim the stem ends of your herbs with a sharp knife.  Like with flowers, freshly cut stem helps the bunch absorb water better. Think also about the fact that while your herbs are still green, they’re still living. Trimming helps them stay moist, crisp, alive and green longer.  Be sure to pick out any that are brown, very wilted, or look like they’re already too far gone.

Place your trimmed leafy herbs in a salad spinner; rinse, drain the dirty water and repeat enough times until the water is clear.  Then spin them dry to remove as much excess moisture as possible.  Or you can do it the old-fashioned way – in a bowl with a colander. But I find that the salad spinner is the far gentler method, especially with delicate herbs. You end up with fewer broken stems and bruising.

Gently gather the herbs back into a bunch then wrap the stem ends a damp paper towel. Take the whole thing and ease it into a plastic bag large enough so that the bunch isn’t crammed in there. I recommend Ziploc bags because they’re handy for this kind of work.  Seal it and you’re done!

When using this method, you’ll find that you can refrigerate your herbs and keep them green and fresh for up to a week. All you have to do is pull off leaves whenever you need them!

Food Tip – The best croutons for your summer salads!

home-made croutons

Add a kick to your salads with home-made croutons – and it’s so easy.

I love crunchy carbs, don’t you? The specific carb that’s on my mind right now are croutons. Okay – so not exactly health food. I think of home-made croutons as a sort of “love food” – for the love of cooking and entertaining friends. They can be used so many different ways – perfect for topping salads and crumbled over grilled asparagus just to name a few.

Diving back to my restaurant days, croutons originate from France, early 19th Century, when an unknown chef had an idea to put small pieces of toasted bread crust into food. It was such a great idea that fragments of croûte (crust) found its way into all sorts of recipes, and eventually salads.

Now, of course, we can buy croutons in all shapes and sizes; ready and prepared for soups, salads, or whatever. Some are okay, but the best is home-made. I picked up a recipe from my favorite magazine and website, Bon Appetit. I loved it so much that I recreated the recipe in this video.

A friend of mine uses this recipe for her fried chicken breadcrumb spice mix. Not exactly health food either, but that’s a recipe that defines “love food.” I showed this recipe to another friend who loves to snack on them with a glass of red wine on “down time” nights when she binges on her favorite streaming video programs. To each her own, right?

The recipe indeed starts off simple enough, with a loaf of day old bread from your favorite baker. I love the Röckenwagner Farmer’s Market brand. It’s where I can find my favorite loaf of bread – rosemary olive oil. But your bread can be anything – a pure sourdough, a French loaf – it doesn’t matter.

Next step, preheat your oven to 375°F.

Take your loaf of day-old bread and trim off the crust all the way around. You don’t have to be careful with the trimming, because after you’re done, you’re going to take the whole loaf and tear it into irregular, jagged pieces. The pieces should be about the size of your thumb leaving behind plenty of nooks and crannies.

In a single layer on a baking sheet, pour a few glugs of good extra virgin olive oil over your pieces of bread. I’m a little particular about my olive oil – I wrote a whole explanation you may want to read. In this case, I use Terra di Brisighella that I brought back from Italy. It’s real Italian, extra virgin and has an excellent taste.  But, as long as it’s good olive oil and you like the taste it’s the perfect one for your recipe.

Sprinkle salt generously. I use sea salt because it’s not as salty tasting as table salt. It’s perfect for this kind of preparation.

Next, squeeze all of the pieces of bread with your hands to help them absorb the olive oil and salt. Then spread the pieces out again.

Slip the baking sheet into the oven for about 10 minutes.  Watch the oven (not all ovens heat the same) and make sure you take them out before they burn!

Then enjoy some tasty croutons, made by your own hands!

How to pick olive oil – read the labels!

olive oil fran berger

Want a great olive oil? Here are 6 tips for reading labels and looking for signs.

I went to dinner at one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Beverly Hills with a group of friends. My history buff friend was there. I told you that he’s never without some interesting anecdote or interesting factoid. He calls it an occupational hazard of being a university professor.

Well, this time we were commenting on the olive oil that the chef used; a stand-out flavor that made my Braciole di Manzo (beef rolls with prosciutto and tomato sauce) scream out amo l’italiano! (I love Italian!) In a break in the conversation, our history buff told us that the reason we use olive branches as a sign of peace is that it takes several years to grow an olive tree mature enough to produce olives. During war, ancient armies went straight to the olive tree groves and burned them down.

It takes years to produce a good crop and decades to form a legacy of taste. That’s why good chefs do not fiddle with cheap olive oil. It just doesn’t happen.

I love olive oil. It’s great to cook with – sautés, sauces, salads, even just for dipping great bread – not just for Italian food, but for almost any dish you can imagine where you want to add that wonderful and timeless flavor. And like many of my friends who are chefs, I am a little picky when it comes to selecting my bottle of olive oil.

There are big differences in brands, and it’s actually easy to tell which ones are better – if you know what to look for! And just like wine, you just need to know how to read the label:

  1. ‘Extra Virgin’ is the highest quality given to olive oil – it means it’s unrefined, free of chemicals and other ‘defects’ like rancidity and never treated with heat. There’s still quality variations within ‘extra virgin’ but it’s the best way for an overall guarantee of purity.
  2. My recommendation, if true flavor is what you want, then stay away from any bottles of olive oil that say “light.” Oil is always 100% fat – it can NEVER be “light.” What the label really means is that the oil has been distilled and treated in such a way that strips away the true odor and color of olive oil. If all you need for your recipe is a common cooking oil, then buy an inexpensive neutral oil like peanut or grapeseed.
  3. If the bottle is inexpensive and still labeled ‘Product of Italy’ then there’s a pretty good chance that the olives weren’t grown or pressed in Italy. The label may mean that’s where the product was placed in the bottle – which is a whole other thing, right? They can still claim it’s a ‘product of Italy’ if it was only bottled there.  So, the oil could come from just about anywhere. Look carefully on the back of the label for “IT” (Italy) or “GR” (Greece) or “SP” (Spain) as the source of the olives.  If you can, buy one that comes from one farm or collective but at the very least from one country.
  4. Not all great olive oil comes from Italy. Some of it comes from California. One hint: if the oil comes from somewhere that also produces good wine, then there’s a good possibility they have great olive oil too!
  5. Let’s end an old fable right now: just because the olive oil is darker and greener doesn’t mean it’s a higher quality oil. Some very high quality olive oil is light yellow. So, color doesn’t really matter. Like wine, good olive oil has a great aroma and taste. It all depends on what you like personally.
  6. One thing that is not a fable: good olive oil never come in a clear plastic or clear glass bottle. Ever. The ‘good stuff’ usually comes in an opaque or dark glass, or metal. The reason is that good olive oil goes bad fairly quickly. Exposure to light and heat speeds up that process.

One last point, good olive oil doesn’t HAVE to be used with Italian food. Find a flavor you like for the dish you want to prepare – could be continental, Americano, or even Asian – and love it!

 

How to dice an onion – the easy way.

Fran Berger dicing onions

This trick will make dicing onions quick and so very simple.

Onions get all the grief. They stink up our kitchens and they sting our eyes and make us cry. Yet, onions are in so many recipes, all kinds of dishes: soups, sauces, salads, fried, broiled, and baked bringing their own special flavor to your recipe. It’s hard to cook without this veggie!

I even know someone who eats onions raw! With salt! Seriously. He told me the other day that when he was a small kid, his mother told him that onions were brain food. He’s been eating them raw ever since. He IS smart, but I don’t think onions are the reason!

There are so many different varieties of onion, each with their own unique color, aroma, and flavor. I’m going to focus on the full round varieties. The most common type of these is the “yellow” onion. This is the full-flavor variety that you’ll find many recipe authors call out in all kinds of preparations. You’ll find “white” onions in Mexican dishes. They give off a sweeter flavor when sautéed with proteins like chicken, beef, and pork. Red onions are generally milder in flavor and are awesome raw, so you find them in lots of salads and some soups.

With these three most common varieties, you’ll often be asked to dice. I’ve tried all kinds of ways to dice “full round” onions. Have you ever sliced an onion then restacked the cuts to slice again? You know how clumsy that is, right? Well, there’s only one way that really beats all of them. I’ve been using this method for years – it’s one of the best lessons I learned from a chef friend. It’s the method I’m going to show you now. Check out my video so that you also see how it’s done in seven easy steps:

  1. Cut ½” from the stem end – this is the top of the onion where the stalk grows.
  2. Turn the onion around and cut into the root about half way. Don’t cut the root off completely. You’ll see why in a minute.
  3. Lay the onion on the stem end and cut the onion in half, vertically through the top to the root end. Then peel the onion. Remove the outer most ‘paper’ layer and one more ‘onion’ layer.
  4. Lay one half of the onion on the flat side and make vertical cuts. Keep your fingers curled under to protect them and be careful to NOT cut all the way through the root end.
  5. With your hand flat on top of the onion (keeping your fingers far from the knife) make two (or more) horizontal cuts. Again, be careful to not cut through the root end because we need the root to hold the onion layers together for us.
  6. Slice across your previous cuts, all the way through, till you reach the root end. Now you have a diced onion!
  7. The closer together your horizontal cuts and vertical cuts are the smaller your dice will be. This method can also be used if you need larger pieces for skewers – just make your cuts about ½” apart and the onion pieces will separate into perfect larger pieces.

One last little tip: use your knife to chop your diced onion on the board if you want a finer dice.

Enjoy!

How to zest citrus for your recipe

fran-berger_zesting

My Three Tips to get the best of your ‘zest’.

A friend of mine and I were looking over a drink recipe. When we got to the part about adding “zest” to the drink, she wondered, “what kind of zesting do they want?” That’s actually an excellent question because the author of the recipe didn’t say.

Take a look at what the dictionary says for the word “zest,” and you’ll probably find words like “interest” or “excitement.” That about sums it up when it comes to home cooking and mixing drinks – you want interest and excitement?  Add citrus or acid and you add a whole new layer of flavor to what you are creating.

You’ll run into “citrus zest” as an ingredient for both cooking and drink mixing from time to time. It’s the easiest way to capture an interesting aroma and add excitement for the taste buds. It’s not a trick – it’s a long-standing culinary technique. But even if you’re familiar with it, there are different ways to zest, depending on your goals.

The basics of “zesting” are straightforward. But I have collected some handy tips that I’ve picked up over the years that could make your zesting just a bit easier.

Zesting adds some of that fresh citrus flavor (orange, lemon, lime, even grapefruit) to whatever you are preparing. The best flavor and aroma comes from the outermost color layer of the rind (not the pith or bitter white layer). There are three different ways to zest citrus fruits that I show in my video. Each one is easy, but they work best when you have a specific goal in mind:

  • Microplane is the finest sized grate and it’ll give you lot of flavor. I typically see fine zest as an essential flavoring ingredient for batters, deserts, and sauces. Remember – a little goes a long way!
  • Five-hole zesters will give you a much more significant and rougher zest that’ll produce lots of aroma, but a little less flavoring than a microplane. You probably won’t see this type of zesting as a cooking ingredient, but you may see it in drinks or as a colorful curly aromatic garnish in a finished dish like a salad or for fish and poultry.
  • Veggie peelers are really useful zesting tools. You can use them to create wide strips of zest that can be sliced into narrower strips that look and smell great in drinks. You can also dice the slices as an aromatic garnish. I’ve seen a few cooked dishes that call for sliced zest – mainly in middle eastern and Asian dishes. Or, you can leave the wide strip just as it is as a great ‘twist’ for your martini!

One more comment about zesting ‘types.’ When you run into a recipe that calls for zesting, the author will probably tell you which one is needed. If the recipe doesn’t specify the zesting type (which happens on occasion), my recommendation is to use the microplane only when the zest is needed as a cooking ingredient. Use the five-hole zester and veggie peeler when zesting as a garnish.

On to my Three Zest Tips that will make the best of whatever zesting you need:

FIRST, Wash the fruit rind (peel) thoroughly. You’re using the rind in the final preparation of whatever you’re drinking or eating. Sometimes there is a thin wax coating on the fruit so I use soap and water and give it a good scrub without damaging the skin.

SECOND, pick the zesting you want (see list above). Remember that the finer the zesting, the more powerful the flavoring you’ll get.

THIRD, use only the colorful outer layer of the fruit – that’s where you’ll find most of the aroma and flavoring. Try to avoid the bitter pith of the fruit, the white part that makes up most of the rind.

For the Zest of your life. Have fun!

We love our Guacamole FRESH

keep your guacamole green

Use this method to keep your guacamole fresh looking – even after you prepare it the night before!

You have guests coming at noon tomorrow, and you want to make a guacamole dip. But NOBODY wants to eat brown guacamole, right? So, you do what any expert home entertainer would do – you prep the guacamole just before guests arrive – right?

Wrong.

There is a way to make your guacamole the night before! Let’s face it. We love fresh and green guacamole that much. But it really is an incredible hassle trying to get your home ready for guests and be literally preparing food as they walk through the door.

Believe me when I say, chefs have been testing all sorts of different ideas for years. Over the years as a restaurant owner, I tested all sorts of tricks. There are a few that are “iffy” – they work, but only for a few hours.

The problem is an enzyme called “polyphenol oxidase” that occurs naturally in avocado. The first thing it wants to do is turn our favorite avocado dip into a bowl of unappetizing brownish muck as soon as it is exposed to air.  So, what do you do?

simple way to keep guacamole green

VIDEO: a simple trick to keep guacamole green – even overnight!

Well, you can try adding citrus juice to the dip. It works, but only for a few hours. And what if you don’t want the lemon/lime taste? Adding the avocado pit in the dip does absolutely nothing once the pit has been separated from the fruit. You can add a fresh onion to the dip, and that seems to control the browning, but you’re back to the same taste problem as with the citrus juice.

The solution I learned is so easy that you’re going to laugh. This one goes back when I owned my restaurants – so you know this is a good one, right?

Place the guacamole in the bowl – could be the mixing bowl or the one you use for serving. Polyphenol oxidase is chemically “reactive” – and apparently metal makes it react faster. That’s why I always use glass, ceramic, or plastic where possible.

Smooth the top so that the surface of the guacamole is nice and flat. Then, very very gently (I recommend using a small measuring cup), pour enough water over the guacamole to cover the entire surface. Add enough water to give it a depth of about ½ inch. Then lay plastic wrap over the top of the water, press it gently across the surface of the water and around the edges to push out as much air as possible. Then place the bowl into the refrigerator.

Check out my video to watch me remove the plastic, and gently pour out the water. All you should do is “fluff up” the guacamole for serving. Amazingly, the dip does not absorb the water, and it’ll taste as great as when you made it.

Enjoy your fresh and green guacamole!

We love our Avocados GREEN

You love green avocados

An easy to remember trick to keep your cut avocados from turning that unappetizing brown.

If you have been following me for a while, you know that I collect little stories about this and that. I think that’s one of the skills that a home entertaining expert should have: being able to dole out a quick story for any moment or situation. It’s better than trying to crack the ice at a party with talk about the weather. Right?

Here are a few tidbits about avocados.

If you haven’t heard, the avocado is actually a fruit. Botanically, they belong to the same plant group as do laurels. So, basically, we eat what amounts to an enormous berry that has a single large seed.

Originally, avocados were thought to have come from Mexico. A while back, a friend of mine who is an anthropologist (yeah, I have one of those too), told me that there was some new evidence that suggests that avocados started off as several distinct varieties that came from Peru, the Guatemalan highlands, and along the Central American isthmus. They’ve even found the remains of an avocado plant that they think is 15,000 years old!  It’s crazy that avocados have been around for that long.

Now for the practical part.

I love avocados. They’ve always been one of the staples in my home – ready to slice and eat at a moment’s notice. They’re a great “go-to” easy snack for friends who drop by and perfect for salads, sliced with veggies, or as guacamole (more on that later).  Don’t forget the ever popular avocado toast that you find in almost every restaurant and that is so incredibly easy to duplicate at home!

The downside for avocados – they have an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase that causes our tasty fruit to start browning almost immediately after cutting. This is really inconvenient when you want to save half in the fridge for tomorrow’s snack. I mean, who wants to spread brown avocado on toast? Seriously.

Everyone has their own little trick to keep their avocados from turning brown. Twenty years in the restaurant business – I’ve heard them all, seen them all and tried them all!

One of the most popular tricks is my least favorite: drip lime or lemon juice on the cut parts, which is the same trick we use on cut apples. It works but, in my honest opinion, not very well. They still turn brown after about 4 hours and then the avocado has an extra flavor that you might not want.

Then there’s the one about keeping the pit attached. I don’t know why, but it seems to work for about 4 hours or so, and then the oxidization starts. The big downside is that the pit has to be attached to the uncut half. You can’t add the pit back to an avocado that’s been sliced.

The fact is, many of us will eat an avocado that’s been stored in the fridge and has browned a bit, but not for company consumption.  So, a near miss just doesn’t cut it for me. If it’s going to work, it has to work really well.

The best method – tested in my own kitchen – place the cut half of an onion into an airtight container with your cut avocado. The onion releases sulfur dioxide which is a natural preservative – which puts a full stop on the browning. The great plus for this method is that it’ll keep cut avocados nice and fresh (cubed, sliced, peeled) for about 24 hours! And now you have a little onion to add to that toast.

See my video on this method. And enjoy your avocado!