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Archive for September, 2009

Here are more food preparation and ingredients tips I learned on Holland American’s Westerdam on our August cruise to Alaska. It was so much fun learning about cooking from some great chefs, while experiencing all the wonders of Alaska and cruising.

Here’s a way to analyze the quality of  honey, olive oil, and maple syrup. Take a flat plate, pour a couple of tablespoons onto the plate. Take your index finger and make a channel through the middle of the liquid. Watch how quickly the liquid flows back together. The more quickly, the lesser the quality of the liquid, whether honey, olive oil or maple syrup. This tip from Chef Phillip from the Westerdam, Holland America cruise line.

Here are some money saving tips regarding olive oil. In cooking with olive oil,  it is not necessary to use your precious, expensive Extra Virgin Olive Oil for sautéing or frying. A lesser oil will do just fine. Save your EVOO for pesto and salads. To further economize when cooking with olive oil, use a mixture of olive oil and canola oil for your frying and sautéing.  The proportions should be 1 part olive oil to 4 parts canola. The reasons behind this are that the olive oil can be too strong a taste in some cases, and also you can heat the oil mixture to a higher heat without smoking than what would be possible with olive oil alone. A final olive oil tip: buy it in a can, not a glass or plastic bottle for extended shelf life.

Now for a couple of tips concerning preparation of fish: one, don’t pepper salmon before frying or sautéing. Use only a little salt. The same advice holds for halibut. Put pepper on after cooking. The surprising reason is that pepper burns easily.

Second, when cooking fish, dry it first so you don’t wind up “poaching” the fish.

Third, you don’t have to marinate fish overnight because there is no connective tissue that has to be broken down by the marinade.

The final ingredients tip I got was that in making a recipe that calls for bread crumbs, consider whether it would be advantageous for the bread crumbs to absorb a maximum amount of liquid. If so, choose Panko bread crumbs: They are dried so that they soak up more of the liquid.

It was fun learning these tidbits. It made me realize that although I used to consider myself a good cook, my cooking is really pedestrian. That being said, I still love to cook for my family and they still appreciate my efforts. That’s what really counts.

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I promised you more tips I learned from the cooking classes and demonstrations I participated in during our cruise to Alaska on the Holland America ship Westerdam in August. The most incredible demonstration we saw was the use of a dough cloth in the making of an apple streusel. A dough cloth is all cotton, large, somewhat similar to a white cotton tablecloth, though it is a cloth reserved strictly to working with dough.

Alaska 2009 days 1-2 026It absolutely looked like a white table cloth spread out on the work surface. The chef liberally tossed flour about on the cloth. Imagine a farmer strewing chicken feed on the ground for chickens. It was that kind of motion. Next, he turned out from a large bowl a big round of risen dough. One of the biggest surprises in the ingredients list for the dough is the addition of a small amount of white vinegar. Apparently the vinegar makes the dough more elastic.

The chef began the preparation of the dough with a very large aluminum looking rolling pin. So the dough is being rolled out on the dough cloth. A couple of times, he would lift up the dough and add more flour to the cloth.

As the dough became more rolled out, he abandoned the rolling pin and actually had an assistant start to work with him in expanding the dough. Though we found it hard to imagine, the chef promised us that when finished the dough would be thin enough and translucent enough to read the menu card through it.

The way the two chefs worked the dough at this point was to slide their hands under the dough, fingers pointed down, knuckle sides up. Thus, it was the back of the hands that worked the dough. Imagine two people working a pizza crust, thrusting it upward and outward gently,  over and over again, working all around the surface of the dough. Little by little stretching the dough without tearing or piercing it.

In the end the dough was expanded to fill the whole work surface, probably 3×5 feet. And true to promise, we could read the recipe card that he placed below the dough.

The final use of the dough cloth was in helping to roll up the streudel. No hands touched the dough at this point, the simple grasping at each end of the dough cloth and folding it over allowed the dough to start to roll up on itself. It also allowed the chef to transfer the completed roll of dough to the baking pan without touching the dough. Very slick.

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