This Glossary contains terms, items, techniques, and places that may be new to you. If there is anything you don’t understand in my posts, please let me know and I’ll add the definition here!
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Alternating Dry and Wet Ingredients: In baking, when you add the dry ingredients first, the fat in the creamed mixture starts to coat the flour particles which helps avoid the development of gluten. Ending with dry ingredients helps absorb any excess moisture in the batter.
Amuse-bouche: (amooz-boosh) Literally “amuse the mouth” in French, it is a small bite of food, a gift from the chef, delivered as you sit down in a fine restaurant.
Andouille Sausage: (ahn-doo-ee) A pork sausage seasoned with peppers and garlic, it is usually smoked for hours over pecan wood and sugar cane, giving it a unique flavor. Depending on the producer, it can range from mildly spicy to screaming hot.
Braise: (brayz) A method of cooking where the food is first sautéed or seared in oil, and then liquid is added and the heat reduced. With the pot covered, the food cooks gently, preserving its flavor and nutrients, resulting in very tender proteins. Especially effective for tougher cuts of meat.
Bruschetta: (broo-skeh-tah) An Italian appetizer consisting of a toasted slice of bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with chopped tomatoes, slivered basil, salt, and pepper.
Capers: (cape-ers) Capers are the flower buds of a plant native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. They are dried and then pickled in brine. They have a naturally tangy lemon flavor, similar to green olives. They range in size from tiny (like petite peas) to the size of small olives. I prefer the smaller size. They can be used in salads, dressings, sauces, vegetables, and other dishes.
Carry-over cooking: Food continues to cook after it has been removed from the burner due to residual heat in the pan. You should take this into consideration so that your foods do not over-cook. This residual heat is the reason you shock certain foods in an ice bath, particularly vegetables, to stop the cooking process.
Chez Panisse: (shay-pan-eess) An internationally known restaurant in Berkeley, CA. Founded by Alice Waters, one of the leaders of eating local, organic, seasonal products. Chez Panisse has given us some of this country’s best chefs and pastry chefs including, Jonathan Waxman (Top Chef Masters contestant), Mark Miller (Coyote Cafe/Santa Fe), Suzanne Goin (Lucques and Top Chef Masters contestant), Paul Bertolli, David Lebovitz, Lindsey Shere, Mark Peel (Campanille), and Judy Rogers (Zuni Cafe).
Chipotle: (chih-poht-lee) A smoked and dried jalapeño pepper. When stored in a vinegar-based liquid it is called “en Adobo”.
Cilantro: (see-lahn-troh) A bright green herb, it is the leaves and stems of the coriander plant. Widely used in Asian, Caribbean and Latin American cooking, its distinctive flavor is often combined with spicy foods. Store in the refrigerator, upright in a jar with water, draped with a plastic bag.
Cocoa and Dutch Processed Cocoa: Cocoa is made from fermented, dried, roasted, cracked and unsweetened cocoa beans. Dutch-Processed cocoa has been treated with alkali to remove some of its acidity and is much darker in color and richer in flavor than regular cocoa. Never use cocoa mixes (used to make hot chocolate drinks) when a recipe calls for cocoa powder. For more detailed information, see the Chocolate FAQ page.
Colander: A perforated bowl used to strain liquids from foods.
Compound Butter: Softened butter than has chopped herbs and other seasonings mixed in. Used to add flavor and richness to dishes. Some additions you can add are rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, ground coriander, chile powders, and tandoori seasoning, etc.
Confectioner’s Sugar: Another name for Powdered Sugar, it can also be called 10X, 4X, Frosting or Icing Sugar. Quick dissolving, it is white granulated sugar that has been more finely ground and often has cornstarch added to help avoid clumping.
Coq au Vin: (coke-oh-van) A chicken stew made with red wine, onions, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf. Marinated for hours and cooked even longer, it is a great way to take a tough rooster or chicken and make it succulent and rich.
Crostini: (croh-stee-nee) A small piece of toasted or fried bread typically used either as a crouton or served with a topping as an appetizer. Bruschetta is an example of crostini topped with seasoned fresh tomatoes.
Deglaze: After sauteing vegetables or meats, use a liquid such as wine or stock to loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. These pan juices are full of flavor and add tremendously to the flavor of the final dish. Don’t throw this away, it is too delicious!
Desiccate: To remove the moisture from something, especially food, in order to preserve it. Most often used in conjunction with coconut.
Deveining Shrimp: Removing the “vein” which is actually the intestinal tract. Carefully slice down the back (rounded edge) of the shrimp and pull the vein out. Rinse well.
Differences in Salts: Table salt is very finely ground, typically contains iodine, and melts easily. Kosher salt is very popular these days. It has a cleaner taste, the flakes don’t melt as quickly as crystals do, and because the surface area is greater, it is more efficient at drawing liquids out of meats and other foods. (Think of salting eggplant or cabbage to release their liquid.) But the most important point in my opinion is that it contains less sodium than regular table salt. Nearly 3 to 1! A teaspoon of table salt is the same as about 1 tablespoon kosher salt. When you see chefs liberally salting foods, most of the time they are using kosher salt and though it seems like a lot, it is actually less sodium. There are two varieties commonly sold in the United States. Diamond Crystal has less sodium than Morton’s and is my recommendation. Sea salts, as the name implies, are formed by the evaporation of seawater. Their flavors vary widely because they have the mineral composition of whatever body of water they are taken from. Sea salts are perfect for sprinkling over the top of foods when you want the crunch and flavor to be prominent.
Different Types of Measuring Cups: Nested (graduated) measuring cups with straight sides and flat tops are used for dry ingredients. They come in 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup and 1 cup sizes. For liquid ingredients you need a clear glass or plastic cup with a spout. They typically come in 1 or 2 cup sizes.
Folding: Gently combining two mixtures by dragging a rubber spatula straight down through the center to the bottom of the bowl, and rolling it back up one side, dragging what was on the bottom to the top. Turn the bowl 1/4 turn and repeat until completely incorporated and no streaks remain. This is typically done to mix beaten egg whites into another substance while not deflating the egg whites any more than necessary. Usually you will mix in 1/3 of the whites to lighten the mixture and then fold in the remaining whites. The mixture will lighten in color and consistency.
Fork Tender: When you can easily pierce a cooking piece of food with a regular table fork.
Galette: (gal-et) A casual form of pie where the crust is folded over the contents, usually fruits, with the center left open. It is baked on a flat baking sheet instead of in a pie plate.
Ganache: (Gah-nosh) Typically made by heating heavy cream and pouring it over chopped chocolate. The chocolate melts and a sauce or frosting is born! Ganache is also often used as the base for truffles.
Granulated Sugar: Another name for regular white sugar. It can be made from sugar beets or sugarcane. Always buy cane sugar for baking. It has fewer impurities and will give you consistent results.
Gratin: (grah-tan) A layered dish, often made with potatoes, that has a lightly browned crust of breadcrumbs or melted cheese on top. It is usually prepared in a shallow dish – commonly referred to as a gratin dish! Potatoes au gratin is an example.
How to Measure Dry and Wet Ingredients: Using a whisk or spoon, stir your flour to loosen it and then using a spoon, scoop flour into the measuring cup until it is mounded. Using a knife or the handle of your rubber spatula, sweep across the top of the cup, leveling the flour. Next to weighing your ingredients this is the most accurate way to measure dry ingredients.
How to Read Ingredients: The way an ingredient is listed changes how it is measured. For example, 1 cup of pecans, chopped vs. 1 cup of chopped pecans. In the first example, you measure a cup of pecans, then pour them out on a board and chop them. In the second example you chop the pecans first and then measure. This may seem excessively careful, but in some circumstances it can radically alter the results – and can sometimes ruin your recipe!
Infusing Flavors: (in-fuse-ing) The flavor extracted when adding ingredients to a liquid and heating them slowly, then letting them sit or “steep” while cooling. Some examples are garlic-infused milk for mashed potatoes, adding a vanilla bean to cream, or making raspberry simple syrup. Once the flavor has been extracted, the solids are removed and discarded. Tea is an infused liquid.
Instant-Read Thermometer: A thermometer that doesn’t take a long time to register the temperature. With a sharp point, you can insert it in meats or breads, or use to regulate hot oil. Look for a small notch on the stick – this is the part that actually measures the heat. The location varies by manufacturer. Make sure you insert it past the mark for the most accurate measurement.
Julienne: (joo-lee-en) Cutting foods, usually vegetables into small, matchstick-size pieces.
Kuglehopf/Brioche/Baba/Savarin: (koogle-hoff) A kugelhopf is a rich, delicate yeast cake, related to Brioche, Baba, and Savarin. They are baked in a deep round, fluted pan with a center funnel. Brioche is a rich, buttery bread; Baba or Babka is a sweet yeast cake even richer than brioche. Savarin, also called a rum baba or Baba au Rhum, is a traditional baba saturated most often in rum.
Mirepoix: (meer-pwah) A French term for a combination of chopped onions, celery, and carrots. When sautéed together, it forms the foundation for many dishes, adding a depth of flavor that is invaluable.
Mise en place: (meez-ahn-plahss) The practice of assembling and preparing all the ingredients before starting to cook. Chopping vegetables, measuring out liquids, sifting dry ingredients … having everything ready to go.
Muddling: Crushing or bruising an herb to release its essential oils. Most commonly used in making Mint Juleps or Mojitos.
Old Bay Seasoning: A blend of spices including dry mustard, paprika, celery seed, salt, pepper, and allspice, it originated in the Chesapeake Bay region. Specifically known for its use with crab, it adds a distinctive flavor that enhances any seafood.
Pancetta & Slab Bacon: (pan-chet-ah) Pancetta is a non-smoked Italian bacon from the belly of the pig. Use it when the smokiness of bacon would overwhelm the flavors of your dish. It is sold in a roll and can be cut to any thickness. Slab bacon is a solid piece of bacon before it has been sliced. This gives you the opportunity to cut cubes of bacon, used in many dishes.
Pearl Onions: Tiny onions that can be white or tan, more delicately flavored than full size onions. Delicious but tedious to prepare, frozen pearl onions are often substituted in recipes, especially where long cooking is involved.
Pinot Noir: (pee-no nwar) A medium to light weight red wine, usually grown in cooler coastal areas.
Piping: (pie-ping) To put a decorative line or pattern on a cake or similar dish, using frosting, whipped cream, etc.
Plumping Dried Fruit: Dried fruits are full of flavor but can be tough and dry, especially when added to baked goods. To combat this and return moisture to the fruit, you can plump them in a hot liquid. Bring water, a liqueur, or alcohol (such as rum, brandy, or vodka) to a boil, add the fruit and take off the heat. Let it steep for up to 30 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Preparing Baking Pans: You butter and flour pans for easy removal of baked goods. Always do this before you begin mixing the batter. Start by evenly coating the inside of your baking pan with softened butter. Butter both pans first and then coat them with flour. Add about 1 tbsp of flour to the buttered pan. Tip it so that the flour is in one corner and then tap it to make the flour scatter across the surface. Continue turning the pan and shaking/tapping the flour until the entire pan is coated. Turn it over and tap out any excess flour. The pans are now ready to fill with batter.
Protein: (pro-teen) When the term is used in cooking, it typically refers to a portion of meat, fish, or poultry. It can also be used to describe other vegetarian protein sources such as beans and legumes.
Provençal: (proh-ven-sahl) An area of Southern France on the Mediterranean bordered by Italy, where olive oil rather than butter is the choice for cooking. Many dishes utilize locally prolific tomatoes, garlic, herbs, eggplant, artichokes, and almonds.
Repertoire: (rep-eh-twah) A set of skills that a person uses regularly.
Rotisserie: (roh-tiss-uh-ree) A method of cooking food, usually meats, on a spit over a fire. The food rotates slowly, cooking evenly and self-basting with its own juices.
Separating Eggs: Is separating the yolks from the whites and placing each in a separate bowl. The easiest way to do this with the least risk of breaking the yolks is while holding your hands over a bowl, to break an egg into one hand and gently toss the yolk back and forth between your hands, letting the whites drip through your fingers into the bowl. Drop the yolk into a separate bowl.
Shallot: A member of the same family as onions and garlic, shallots taste like a blend of the two. Sweeter and milder than either, shallots are often used in French cooking, especially delicately flavored dishes like eggs and fish.
Shocking foods: In order to avoid over cooking delicate foods, particularly vegetables, you can transfer them directly from steaming or boiling into an ice bath. This shocks the vegetables, immediately stopping the cooking process. Reheat them gently when ready to serve if desired.
Simple Syrup: Equal parts of sugar and water boiled together until sugar is dissolved. Because granulated sugar is difficult to dissolve in cold liquids, use simple syrup to sweeten cold drinks such as iced tea and cocktails.
Soffrito: (so-free-toh) Italian mixture of onions, celery, green peppers, garlic, and herbs sautéed in oil. Used as a flavor-base for many dishes.
Smashing/Peeling Garlic: The easiest way to peel garlic is to smash it with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Set the clove on a cutting board, hold the knife flat over it with the tip of the knife touching the board, and with the heel of your hand, smack the knife! It may take a couple of whacks, but you’ll see how fun it can be! The skin will come right off and you can use the garlic as is or mince finely.
Sweating Vegetables: To slowly cook chopped vegetables in a small amount of oil over low heat so that they release their own juices and soften.
Tempering: To slowly introduce a hot liquid into a cool one, bringing the two to a moderate temperature. This is most often done when adding eggs. If you stir eggs into a liquid that is too hot, they will scramble and you’ll have pieces of cooked egg that need to be strained out.
Thickening Sauces: There are several ways to thicken a sauce beyond reducing it. You can mix cornstarch or flour with water, stir in tapioca or gelatin, or combine flour with a fat like butter and cook slowly to make a roux. In each case, you must carefully stir the thickener into the liquid and heat in order for it to thicken the liquid.
Turbinado Sugar: A coarse sugar, often called raw sugar. Light blonde crystals, it has a delicate molasses flavor and a nice crunch. It can be used to create a crispy topping on baked sweets. A darker version is called Demerara.
Whipping Egg Whites: Using a whisk or the whisk attachment of an electric mixer gives you the best results. If you have a copper bowl, the chemical reaction will make the lightest whites imaginable and they will beat up more quickly than if you use other types of bowls. Recipes talk about degrees of “stiffness” when referring to how long to whip egg whites. A “soft peak” will create a peak when the whisk is lifted out of the batter but it will immediately fall over, a “medium peak” will hold its shape a little more firmly but bend in the middle, and a “stiff peak” will be firm enough that you can turn the bowl upside down without the egg whites falling out. Be careful not to beat so long that they lose their shine and start to look dry.