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What does the word ‘Frenching’ mean?

The latest culinary verb is ‘to French’ as in ‘Frenching’ cuts of meat, meaning baring the bone and trimming of unwanted tissue. A succulent piece of meat is left on the end.

The term ‘Frenching’ as it is applied to vegetables is to slice the vegetables in long thin strips.

Is water or milk the preferred ingredient to add to beaten eggs when making a mixture for omelettes?

Water is the preferred ingredient as it produces a lighter, more delicate mixture.

Some cooks add milk, or milk and water. This produces a heavier, richer mixture.

The French do not dilute the eggs at all. They rely on the quality of the pan, the quantity and distribution of the excellent quality of the Normandy butter and eggs they prefer, as well as a special knack in the making. A good French cook will always succeed in having the centre of the omelette moist, whether or not they use Norman butter and eggs.

A plain French omelette appears flatter than its English counterpart and some French chefs recommend beating the yolks and whites separately to obtain a lighter and foamier omelette.

What does ‘Al Dente’ mean?

This is an Italian expression (meaning literally ‘to the tooth’) meaning cooking until just done, but not soft. It is indicative of the correct degree of cooking for pasta, which must be removed from the heat and drained while it is still firm enough to bite into.

The expression may also be applied to certain vegetables, such as green beans, which are served while still retaining their crunchiness.

What is a ‘Bouquet Garni’ and how is it used?

A bouquet garni is a selection of aromatic plants used to flavour a dish you are cooking, such as stews, sauces or stocks. The herbs are normally tied together in a small bundle to prevent them from dispersing in the liquid. They are placed into the dish you are making and removed before serving.

A simple bouquet is composed of parsley, bay leaves and sprigs of thyme and tied with twine to facilitate the removal from the dish. A mixture of dried herbs can also be placed in a little square of cheesecloth or muslin.

The composition of a bouquet garni may vary according to local resources, and the requirements of local dishes. Bouquet garni can also be bought ready made.

What went wrong with the meringues?

Weather : Meringues do not succeed in humid weather, so in hot weather make meringues very early in the morning.

Utensils: The bowl and whisk should be spotlessly clean and completely dry.

Ingredients: The eggs must be fresh and at room temperature. They will take too long to whisk if they are too cold and will not achieve a greater volume.

The eggs must be carefully separated allowing no yolk or blemish or odd piece of shell into the whites.

Other gremlins present themselves when a clean syrup runs out of the meringues during baking.

This will happen if the meringue is not baked immediately.

There might have been moisture in the oven during baking.

The sugar might have been added too quickly or too much at once, so that it did not have time to dissolve properly.

Granulated sugar is not preferred as it is too coarse and does not dissolve as well in the mixture as castor sugar.

Meringues are baked in a very low oven and if they are still moist in the middle, they were not allowed to dry out in the oven for long enough.

Ideally snowy-white meringues should be slowly dried in a very cool oven (110ºC 225 ºF or gas mark ¼) for one and a half hours. If they are over- baked, they will turn a light toffee colour and have a lovely chewy consistency.

What are the techniques for removing oil from the surface of soups and stews and other dishes that appear oily and fatty?

Excess oil has been proven unhealthy, and it is wise to remove it when cooking.

There are a few ways to remove oil. You could dip a soup ladle or spoon into cold water, shake it dry and put it into the pot of hot stew or soup just below the surface and skim off the layer of oil.

Another way of skimming off excess oil is to run an absorbent paper towel over the surface of the dish.

You can also cool the soup or stew in the refrigerator – overnight if you wish, until the fat has hardened and lift it off. All these methods require time and patience, but the end result is worthwhile and presents a much healthier and attractive dish.

What does M.S.G. stand for and what is it?

M.S.G. stands for Monosodium Glutamate.

This is a sodium salt found in wheat, beets and soybean products. It is used extensively in Chinese cookery and thought to help accentuate the flavours of certain foods.

Many people suffer allergic reactions to M.S.G., so widespread use has been reduced in the commercial food industry.

It is also advisable to read labels where ingredients are listed, if M.S.G. is to be avoided.

Which side of aluminium foil should you use?

The correct side of aluminium foil to use for roasting and indeed generally is with the shiny side inwards and the dull side on the outside. The shiny side attracts and retains more heat so your roast is cooked evenly. Aluminium foil does not absorb moisture or grease and food cooked or stored in foil, does not lose its flavour and moisture. Food stored in foil stays fresher longer as foil is resistant to bacteria and mould.

What is the traditional French wedding cake?

The name of the traditional French wedding cake is ‘Croquembouche’ which means ‘crisp in the mouth’. It is a grand confection made up of cream puffs that are dipped in caramel and assembled into a large pyramid shape on a circular base usually made of nougat. It is elaborately decorated with spun sugar, crystallised fruit and nuts or sugar flowers.

This confection can also be served at first – communion meals.

What is the difference between a soup and a chowder?

Chowder is the American term for a soup that has substantial chopped ingredients and is halfway between a soup and a stew in consistency. Shellfish is most often used in a chowder. Clam chowder is most well known. Chicken chowder is also popular. It is most often prepared as a milk-based soup.

How should table cutlery be set?

Work from the outside inwards according to the courses of the meal. The places are laid symmetrically with forks on the left and knives and spoons on the right. The cutting edge of the knives should point towards the plate and the spoons should be on the outside of the knives. The setting is the same for both left and right-handed people.

It is also ideal if ones table allows sufficient elbow and legroom for the guests – about 60 cm (2 ft) is a useful benchmark.

What is a Globe Artichoke?
How to choose a globe artichoke for cooking.
What are the rules of etiquette when eating a globe artichoke?

The word artichoke is shared by 3 unrelated plants; the globe artichoke, the Jerusalem artichoke and the Chinese (or Japanese) artichoke. The globe artichoke, considered the true artichoke is a perennial vegetable related to the thistle. The edible immature flower head is formed on a fleshy base (fond) and a heart surrounded by scaly leaves or bracts. The base is eaten after the inedible hairy central core (choke) has been removed. The bases of the leaves cradle a small portion of tender flesh that is also edible.

They are best in summer. Choose one that is firm and heavy with stiff tightly packed leaves. Because the artichoke is a flower bud, open leaves indicate that it is overripe, and will therefore be hard and have too large a choke. If kept too long after picking, the tips of the scales go black. Individual recipes give specific instructions for preparation.

The globe artichoke is eaten leaf by leaf; the leaves being detached with fingers dipping the base in a sauce. The tender edible part is nibbled off, before the rest of the leaf is discarded. At formal meals only the hearts are served, garnished or stuffed.

How does one get the best results when cooking with wine?

It is very important to use a decent wine for cooking and marinating, not your absolute best, but one that you would not hesitate to drink or serve to guests.

When adding wine to a sauce or hot dish, let it cook to allow the flavours to mellow and to cook off the alcohol.

Meat and poultry are very often marinated in wine to add flavour. The acid in the wine also acts as a tenderiser. A subtle flavour is achieved by using wine in moderation when cooking.

Vinegar, stock or juice can be substituted for wine in recipes.

How does one succeed in cooking tender and succulent calamari?

Calamari is the Italian word for squid.

There are 2 ways of cooking calamari. It should either be cooked very quickly, literally plunged into boiling water for a few minutes and when the colour changes, it is done. The other method is long and slow, as when one stews calamari.

Calamari can also be tenderised by marinating it before cooking. Leave it for an hour or so in lemon juice, vinegar or wine, the acid helps break down the tough connective tissue. Adding a little wine or lemon juice when stewing calamari can also help.

Is the term ‘slow food’ anything like fast food?

Slow food is an international food and wine movement set up to counter the effects fast food has had on society and to put the heart and gastronomical delight and style back into eating and drinking. The founder of the movement, Carlo Petrini, wants people to eat better and to resist the haste and pace that has been introduced by today’s world of hectic fast food. In 1986 a small group of people demonstrated at the opening of a McDonalds in Rome’s magnificent Piazza di Spagna and the fast food movement was born.

What does it mean when a recipe calls upon you to ‘sweat’ the vegetables?

Sweating is a common preliminary step in vegetable cooking, particularly for onions and leeks. This process, which is essentially a form of steaming, draws out the juices and develops the vegetable’s flavour.

Be sure the pan you use for sweating has a heavy base that will conduct the heat evenly, so the vegetables don’t stick or burn. It is also important that the lid be tight fitting to keep in moisture.

The first step is to heat fat (usually butter or olive oil) over low heat. Add vegetables and stir to coat with melted fat.

Cover the pan tightly and cook gently until the vegetables are softened but not brown, onions will be translucent. This can take 10-15 minutes or longer. Stir occasionally during the cooking.

Sweating is a popular alternative to sautéing or frying as a low-fat cooking method.

Two Quick questions and answers.

How many Kilojoules to 1 calorie?

4.2 kilojoules to 1 calorie.

What is the usual proportion of oil to vinegar for a salad dressing?

3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar.

How does one use dry beans?

Pulses must be soaked before cooking to soften them and thereby reduce the cooking time. Soaking also allows the skins to rehydrate and the beans to plump up, preventing both from separating during boiling. Before soaking you should spread them out flat and check for little stones and other foreign particles.

Rinse them under running water in a sieve or a colander. As most pulses double their size during soaking, cover the beans with twice as much water as the amount of beans used. Overnight soaking in cold water is best.

Beans should not be left in warm water or in a warm room and they should not be soaked for more than 24 hours as they may ferment and produce poisonous substances. For this reason always use fresh water for cooking.

Boil beans rapidly to destroy natural toxins, and then reduce the heat to just simmer the beans.

Don’t add salt when you begin cooking pulses, as it will prevent them from softening. Add it towards the last half hour of cooking time, when they have already begun to soften.

Acidic foods like tomatoes, acidic fruits or vinegar prevent the beans becoming soft.

There are a variety of dried beans available in South Africa. Each is used with different food and has different cooking times. All are nutritious and highly delicious.

What is Bulgur wheat?

Bulgur is also known as burghul, cracked wheat or kibbled wheat. It is wheat that has been hulled and parboiled/precooked until the hull splits, then dried and cracked to different degrees of coarseness. As bulgur is precooked, it needs very little or no cooking – in some recipes like the Lebanese Salad, Tabbouleh, it is only soaked to rehydrate the grain and no cooking is required. This salad is made of softened bulgur tossed with vegetables and seasoned with lemon and mint.

When Bulgur is cooked, boiling for 5-10 minutes is sufficient.

Bulgur can be used as the starch portion of a meal and is a good substitute for rice.