Monday, August 13, 2012

Back to "The Basics"

Reading my recipes

Don't be surprised if you occasionally see my recipes say "some of" this or that for certain ingredients. To me, cooking is all about intuition, feeling, creativity and inspiration. A recipe is just a guide. I leave some measurements off when they are "to taste" and I feel that it won't affect the recipe too much. When I cook the same dish, I don't always make it the same way every time--and I like it that way. Some days, I like it spicy, some days I like it more cheesy; it depends on my mood. Don't let the recipe limit you; feel free to add more or less herbs and seasonings, or even leave out some things if you don't like them. After all, you have to enjoy it!

When I read recipes, I never like having to look at a long list of ingredients or having to scan through the list in order to know which ingredients and quantities to use for each procedure. I can't tell you how many times I've accidentally skipped one or two ingredients and found out later (when it's too late!). For practical reasons, while cooking, I'm always trying to find ways to read as little as I can. Therefore, if the list is long, I've decided to group together ingredients that are going to be used at the same time. This way, you can mix them in advance and set them aside in one place, and when the procedure calls for it, you can just add them all at once. It's organized and time-saving!

Here's how I show my measurements:
C - Cup
T - Tablespoon
t - Teaspoon

Yvonne's Must-Haves

There are already sites and cookbooks that tell us what kinds of basic pantry items we should have in the household, so I won't go into that. Instead, have you ever wondered about what kinds of oil, salt, cookware.....etc, you should use? This was one of the frequent topics that my clients used to discuss with me when I was a personal chef in NY. What I would like to do is to focus on the use of some ingredients and gadgets for health reasons. Using the wrong cookware or oil and such can be unhealthy or even toxic. I'd like to share my knowledge and experiences to offer you the best advice I can. You'll notice that I repeatedly use these ingredients or items in my recipes. Please feel free to leave me comments, questions, or suggestions.

Stainless Steel Cookware and Baking Sheets
Non-stick pots and pans and baking sheets are convenient and cheap, but the surface can flake off in your food and can release toxins in high heat. Invest in a set of high quality stainless steel cookware and baking sheets that will last you a lifetime. Also, you can easily brown food and make sauces and gravies out of the browned bits without worrying about scraping off the surface.

Cast-Iron Cookware
Like stainless steel, cast-iron is a better option than non-stick and will last a lifetime if well cared for. You can get up to 20% of daily iron intake by using it, as well. The only downside is you have to season it. (You can get instructions and see a video here.)

Dutch Oven
Great for slow cooking. It conducts and holds heat better than standard pots. Find one that is coated with a non-reactive interior such as enamel (so your food taste isn't affected).

Parchment Paper
It's a great way to line your baking pans and is a much safer source than aluminum foil. Having your food in contact with aluminum foil can be toxic and it may be one of the causes of Alzheimer's disease.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
It's made from the first cold-pressing of the olive fruit without additives and is very good for your heart. However, it should not be used for cooking, since the smoke point is low (oil that is heated to its smoke point or higher will begin smoking and start to release a bitter taste to the food) and the heat can destroy the fats and transform them into trans-fats. Invest in high quality extra virgin olive oil and use it just for dressings, drizzling over bread, pasta.... The high quality one should taste slightly bitter and pungent, but fruity.

Olive Oil (refined)

Also called pure olive oil, it's often made with a blend of extra virgin olive oil and olive oil, and is refined for cooking. It is different than extra virgin olive oil and is able to withstand heat much better, which makes it a much better choice for cooking.

Grape Seed Oil/Canola Oil (refined)
Stir-frying involves high heat, and so you need an oil that can be heated to a high temperature without the fatty acids breaking down. These two oils have a high smoke point and can withstand the heat very well. They do not have a strong or distinctive flavor, which makes them excellent for stir-frying and sautéing. Canola oil especially has minimal saturated fats and is one of the least expensive.

Coconut oil
Besides being a more environmentally friendly option for baking, it's also a great substitute for butter. It's more capable of standing up to very high heat than butter, and since it's a plant-based fat, it's much easier for the body to break down as well.

Kosher Salt
It's a larger grain size salt as opposed to table salt, and unlike table salt, which is refined and heavily processed, it does not usually have additives, which makes it a healthier choice for cooking.

Sea Salt
Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and has little or no processing. Like kosher salt, it does not contain any iodine, and because it contains different minerals than kosher salt, it has a different flavor and color as well. Fine sea salt is great for baking, and the if you like a little crunchy texture, course sea salt makes an excellent seasoning.

Instead of cornstarch, I like using kuzu. It's a great thickener for sauce or dessert and it's non GMO, unlike regular cornstarch. A much healthier choice.

Aluminum-Free Baking Powder
Baking Powder is a leavening agent that helps baked goods rise. There are mixed opinions about whether the intake of the aluminum would be harmful and if it's linked to Alzheimer's or other diseases, but as a personal choice, I prefer to bake with the aluminum-free one. Another reason to avoid regular baking powder is that the aluminum can sometimes leave the finished product tasting a little bit of bitter. If you can, try to find one also with non-GMO corn starch. Store it in a cool, dry place, but not in the refrigerator, where the moisture can make it lose its vigor.


Jessica wang said...


2sisterset1cat said...

妹,妳所問的這些問題都是大家常見的,謝謝妳! 先回應#2, 橄欖油又有分很多種,買的時候得仔細看輕楚,我之前説的是"特級冷壓橄欖油"(Extra virgin olive oil),品質好的通常顏色有點帶綠,必須放置在陰涼處,很適合用於沙拉,淋在麵包,pizza, pasta…等,但因為製造時未加工(Unrefined),不適合用來炒,煎,或炸,高溫會改變油的品質。我對台灣的產品不熟,但在國外有Pure Olive Oil或Olive Oil是以混合冷壓,初榨或品質較低的橄欖油加工 (Refined) 製成,若妳買的是這種,它可以承受高溫,用來炒菜沒問題的。基本上很多加工的油(如我上述的葡萄籽及菜籽油)或葵花籽油都適合高溫使用,它們的飽和脂肪度偏低,油質不容易被破壞。妳買的橄欖油有指名是哪一種嗎? 加工(Refined)混合式的油也可以用,但還是要小心看標籤選擇。

2sisterset1cat said...

關於#1, 放油後煙很大是因為妳用的油有可能是"特級冷壓橄欖油"(Extra virgin olive oil) 或其它未加工(Unrefined)的油,它的smoke point(抱歉,中文不知怎麼翻)不夠高的關係。當妳炒菜時的溫度超過妳油的smoke point的溫度, 它的油脂肪酸會分解,這時就開始冒煙。但是即使使用正確的油,也不要在高溫下熱太久,否則冒煙的情況也會出現,所以我不認為是不銹鋼鍋的關係。

至於鍋會焦黑,有可能是鍋子的品質不太好或是妳使用不正確,例如預熱時溫度太高之類的。不銹鋼鍋的種類非常多,隨著不同的廠牌,質料品質及價格也有所差異,我自己就有兩種不同廠牌,較貴的那套(第二張照片)又厚又重,但熱度保持很好很均勻,好清洗也不會黏食物。相反的,另一種鍋質料很薄又輕,熱的快但很會黏也易焦,不小心熱太久或溫度太高鍋會黑,又比較不好清洗。所以買的時候要小心選擇,大部分好的廠牌會給妳終身保修(lifetime guaranteed), 我的已用了快15年了,但是從來沒有任何的問題。確認妳的説明書,通常它會告訴妳正確使用溫度,確定妳使用的溫度不是太高或熱太久。希望我答覆妳的問題,我將會用英文上載這些資訊,謝謝妳!

2sisterset1cat said...

For those of you who cannot read Chinese, I just replied to my little sister in Taiwan in Chinese about some questions she had on the use of oil and stainless steel cookware. She asked me 2 very good (and common) questions that I've translated below:

1. "Is it all right to use olive oil to stir-fry food? How about blended oils, are they good for cooking as well?"

Because of her questions, I've updated the post, so please read above about the differences between extra virgin olive oil (unrefined) and olive oil (refined). About blended oil, as long as it's refined, it is fine for high heat cooking; if it's unrefined, it should mostly be used for salad dressing and maybe very light cooking (low heat).

2. "I have a stainless steel pan like yours (as seen above on the 2nd photo). I'm not sure if it's good for stir-frying, though, because every time the oil is heated, it gets very smoky! Plus the bottom of the pan also gets black every time after cooking. I really don't know why."

The smoke happens because the oil she uses might be a low smoke point oil; it is not necessarily caused by the stainless steel cookware. (Please read my paragraph above about extra-virgin olive oil for the smoke point.) But even if she uses the right oil, it should never be heated too long, otherwise the smoke would appear as well.

About the stainless steel cookware, it is certainly good for stir-frying. I suspect the cause for the blackened surface has to do with either the quality of the cookware, or the temperature she used might be too high for her pan. I have a set of All-Clad LTD myself, which is very heavy, but it conducts the heat very evenly, the food doesn't stick to it, and it is very easy to clean. On the other hand, I have another brand of pot that costs a lot less, is very lightweight, and heats up very quickly, but food sticks every time and the surface does get black if I accidentally heat it for too long or the temperature is a bit too high. So be sure to check your manual and see the usage and what temperature the manufacturer suggests to use.