2017 Tips from Stacie

March 9, 2017

During yesterday's class I had some questions regarding knife skills, so I thought I would offer a few thoughts on the subject.
First - the knife
What kind should you use?
My answer, depends on what you are doing.
I suggest that you invest some money in three basic types of knives.
1. Chef's Knife
2. Paring Knife
3. Serrated/Bread Knife
For most of the jobs in your kitchen these three will handle most jobs.
They also need to be sharp. Most accidents happen because the blade is too dull, not because it is too sharp.  The best way to test the sharpness is to cut through a tomato. If it slices easily, its sharp enough. If you have to "get the slice started" before cutting through - too dull!
Second - cutting
Here is a visual aid when it comes to cutting.  When you read through recipes, most will specify what type of cut they suggest to get the best results. This will insure the ingredients will cook evenly. 
An example, have you ever made mashed potatoes and upon taking the first bite notice some pieces are still rather undercooked and you do not have a smooth texture? This is probably due to multiple size potato chunks. When you pierced a piece to check for doneness it may have been smaller than others and cooked more quickly. Cutting them evenly will give you better results.

March 2, 2017

Food Labeling
Today the topic is food labeling...
When you are shopping, do you gravitate toward products that state
"all-natural" on the label. Many times these products will be more expensive, but are they really worth the extra money?
According to the FDA:
From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. For more information, see "Natural" on Food Labeling. 

So you may not be getting a a significantly better product. Unless the item you are buying is sourced "from the earth" there is no guarantee it is in fact "all-natural"! Compare labels and see if the extra $money$ is really worth it!

February 9, 2017

Season to Taste

What does "season to taste" really mean at the end of a recipe?
Salt can turn a bland dish into a delicious one!
You do not add salt to make the dish "more salty", but instead salt acts to
1.) Reduce bitterness
2.) Enhance the other flavors present in the dish
I encourage you to taste your food before you take it to the table. 

This last step will definitely improve your finished product.
What salt do I use? you ask...
For this finishing step, I recommend Kosher salt. Start with a "three finger" pinch of salt added to your dish and then taste it. This adds about 1/2 TSP. And remember, salt enhances flavor, while pepper changes the flavor. So add additional pepper sparingly.

March 30, 2017

Don't Overcook
Have you ever watched a cooking show and seen the chef start cooking on the stovetop and then place the pan in the oven to "finish". 
Why do they do that?
If you remember, this process is usually for cooking proteins.
They will get the pan scorching hot to sear the outside of the meat/chicken/pork, sometimes referred to as "sealing in the juices".
What is really happening is the carmelization of sugars.  You see this when you grill and there are grill marks on the steak or brown something in the pan. Many home cooks are afraid of burning the dinner so they start at a low temperature and increase as they go. This leads to overcooking! You need to start with a hot pan and then reduce the heat significantly to finish cooking. Carmelization occurs at 320˚F. Once the meat is browned then you reduce the temperature on the stovetop or if you are using an oven safe pan, put it in the oven like a pro to finish. Lastly, have you taken my advice and bought yourself a thermometer? Do you have a $1000 stove, but no thermometer?  You will be a better cook WITH ONE! Cutting it open to see if it is done lets out all the juices and it will be dry. 
So you left it on too long? Well you have gone past the done stage at 165˚F and let it cook to 212˚F which is the Evaporation of Moisture stage. Yes it's done, but it is also dried out now.
So remember, start Hot and then lower the temperature! 
You will be cranking out restaurant quality meals in no time!

August 24, 2017

How to select it:
Although you will see it in the store year round, the actual growing season runs from late spring to fall.

The rest of the year will be garlic that has been stored.
It is best to purchase the loose garlic bulbs so you can check for freshness.

First, squeeze it for firmness. It is better to have papery white skin that is unbroken. You want the head be heavy and the cloves tightly packed.

There are three main types available in the US:

​1.) pink - that is slightly sweeter 

2.) white garlic, the most common

3.) elephant garlic that is milder in flavor, similar to a leek.
Place the garlic in a cool dark place. Never place it in the refrigerator. The garlic will lose its flavor and become dehydrated when refrigerated. If your garlic starts to sprout before you use it, remove the green shoots with a paring knife and chop the rest up. It is still good to eat! 

2. Heavier is better - If it feels heavier than it looks it's a good bet since the melon is made up of mostly water.
3. Sound - Give it a good knock and it should sound hollow. Dullness could indicate that is not ripe enough.
4. Uniform shape - if there are bumps that is an indication it has not received enough sun or watering. 
5. Color - the darker the green the better!
I hope that helps on your next shopping excursion!

February 23, 2017

Squash It !!
Today's tip will focus on a squash! I try to occasionally add some new items to the menu just to keep things interesting. Living in Japan I was exposed to a whole new array of vegetables one of which was a lovely squash - kabocha.
Here it is

This squash is a cross between a sweet potato and a pie pumpkin. It is easily found at the Lotte grocery store. I love to serve it as a smooth, creamy puree.  So get out of that vegetable rut you have been in and try a new veggie!
Here is an easy recipe so you can cook it tonight!

​April 6, 2017

Steamy Eggs!

Easter is right around the corner and I am going to give you the best way to prepare those hard boiled eggs for coloring.
Steaming is the trick!
Pull out that rarely used steamer basket that hides in the back of your cabinet and make those Easter eggs with NO GREY YOLK! 
1. Place eggs in a steamer basket.
2. Fill a saucepan with 2" of cold water , just below the bottom of the steamer basket.
3. Put the steamer basket full of eggs in the saucepan.
4. Turn the heat on high and steam the eggs 11 - 13 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and submerge the eggs in cold water to stop the cooking. Let cool then peel and eat!

Kabocha Squash Puree

1, 3 lb kabocha squash

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup butter, room temperature

1/4 TSP cinnamon

2 TB brown sugar

3/4 - 1 cup heavy whipping cream

 Salt and pepper to taste

First, cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Turn the halves cut side down in a 13x 9 roasting pan, add 1/2 cup of water and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast it in a 450˚ oven for 35 - 40 min.  Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Scrape out the interior and place in a large saucepan. Add the butter, cinnamon, sugar and 3/4 cup whipping cream and stir, continue to stir until all the butter has melted and the other ingredients are incorporated.  Remove the pan from the heat.

At this point I use my immersion blender to puree the mixture until smooth. You can also use a potato masher or hand held mixer.  Season the puree with salt and pepper to taste and if you want the puree creamier, add an additional 1/4 whipping cream. Place the saucepan back on the stove and keep warm over very low heat, stirring occasionally


April 13, 2017

Keepin' it Fresh!
This week my tip is all about Spice Storage! Now that spring is in the air, many people take some time to do a little spring cleaning. How about looking in that pantry and evaluating what is in there?
Spices tend to stay
around for long periods of time. Often with months in between their use. Let's talk about how you know whether they are still useful or should be replaced.
We use spices all the time while cooking, but are you sure that you have properly stored them so that they best enhance your dish? They are also quite an investment. You may have $100 worth sitting in your cabinet right now!
Here are a few recommendations to keep your spices fresh.
1.) Herbs and spices should be kept in a cool, dark, dry place.
2.) It is best (but not mandatory) to store them in glass, air tight containers. This keeps their essential oils "in" the best. The oil is what is actually flavoring your dish.
3.) Keep them out of the refrigerator and freezer - once they start to come up to room temperature, condensation becomes an issue and moisture is an enemy!
4.) How long should you keep them? If you have kept them, remembering the first three tips, then...
 - Whole spices, dried herbs and dried flowers - 1 year possibly 2 if never opened (ex. whole nutmeg, parsley flakes, cloves, cinnamon sticks)
- Seeds up to 3 years (ex. fennel seeds, mustard seeds)
- Ground herbs and spices up to 1 year (cumin, coriander, chili powder)
- Ground roots up to 2 years (ex. turmeric, ginger)
Last tip - use your nose! The spices may last longer then mentioned above. The best way to tell is the smell. Shake the jar and then remove the lid. Is the aroma still potent? Is the color still vibrant? Then you are good to use it still!!

June 16, 2017

Watermelon Picking

Summer is nearly upon us and stores and farmer's markets are bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables. Watermelon is a summer staple and as American as Apple Pie on the 4th of July!  However, have you ever dragged home 15 pounds of melon only to be disappointed with the flavor? 
Here are some signs to help you select the perfect specimen.
1.) Color - Look for a large yellow spot. This indicates that the melon has sat on the ground to ripen on the farm.

March 23, 2017

Spicing it Up!
Happy Spring to you.  Last week our daughter was home from college for Spring Break. Whenever we have time, we like to go to Mosaic in Fairfax to shop and eat! We had a lovely French lunch at Le Pain de Quotidien, which is "daily bread" in French. Having lived in Paris for three years, I am always on the hunt for authentic cuisine! This place has it. I recommend you try it. Here is the website:


Next door there is an organic market called Mom's. Although I thought the prices were a little outrageous, I did come across one bargain...spices.
They have spices in bulk so you may purchase as much or as little as you need. Occasionally I will have a recipe that calls for a particular spice I use very infrequently. Don't you hate to purchase a $6 jar to use for a recipe and then it sits in the cabinet for a year?  However, at Mom's you can purchase small quantities with minimal investment. 

February 2, 2017

Chocolate Shows Your Love

The holiday of love  💗  will soon be here...
How will you show your love towards those you care about?
I know for me, cooking is an expression of love.
And what better way to say "I love you" than Chocolate!
This recipe is quick and easy to put together that I have used from Southern Living.

I hope you enjoy sharing it!

Easy Chocolate Cake with Ganache from Southern Living
1 package devil’s food cake mix

1, 5.9 ounce package chocolate instant pudding mix

1 ¼ cups water

½ cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided

½ cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt pan.
Combine cake mix, instant pudding, water, oil and eggs in a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer 2 minutes. Then stir in 2 cups of chocolate chips. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 – 55 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes. Then invert the cake onto a plate and let cool completely.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips and whipping cream in a large saucepan over medium-low heat.  Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted. Let the chocolate stand for 15 minutes to allow time to slightly thicken. Then drizzle the chocolate over the cooled cake.



May 4, 2017

Mother's Day Gift List!
Mother's Day is only 10 days away. 
I would like to give you some ideas if you would like to select a gift for your mom or if you need to give your family ideas to purchase a gift for YOU!
Please click on the link below and you can see my list of the top eight items every aspiring cook should own!