“How-To” Cooking – All About Onions

onions

Onions are one of the most popular and widely used ingredients in cooking and with so many varieties available at the supermarket it can be confusing to know which kind to choose. Yellow onions are generally the most commonly used in cooking but knowing what else is available will certainly elevate many dishes. Take note that garlic is actually considered part of the onion family even though it has a very different and distinct flavor.

When buying onions choose ones that have a dry, papery skin and are nice and firm. Avoid onions that have any soft spots or powdery surface mold. Always store onions and shallots at room temperature away from light, a dark pantry is a good place to keep them. Delicate scallions however, should be stored in the refrigerator. Place them standing up in a tall glass filled with 1″ of water and cover them loosely with a plastic bag. Lastly, store onions away from potatoes as they release gases which can hasten sprout growth in potatoes causing them to spoil more quickly.

  • Yellow Onions – Strong flavored and maintain their potency when cooked. Also labeled as “Spanish Onions“. Most common onion used in cooking.
  • White Onions – Pungent and strong much like a yellow onion however, their flavor is less complex. Most commonly used in Mexican or Latin American dishes.
  • Red Onions – Crisp onion with a sweet, peppery flavor. Perfect for use in dishes where raw onion is needed. Most commonly used in salads.
  • Sweet Onions – Sweet, mild flavor. Texture can become stringy when cooked so these are best to use raw. These don’t keep as well as other onions so use them up quickly. Most common varieties are Vidalia, Maui, Bermuda and Walla Walla. 
  • Pearl Onions – Crunchy and small with a sweet, delicate flavor. Most commonly used in soups and for roasting. Peeling these tiny onions can be arduous so it’s recommended to buy them pre-peeled in the frozen aisle.
  • Cipolline – Sweet, Italian onion with a flat top and squat shape. Similar to a pearl onion. Ideal for creaming and roasting. Can be served whole.
  • Shallots – Complex, subtly sweet flavor. When cooked they become very soft and almost melt away. Most commonly used in sauces.
  • Ramps – Eaten raw it has a strong, almost garlic like flavor. When cooked it has a mildly, sweet flavor. The entire onion from top to bottom is edible and is often presented in dishes intact.
  • Scallions – Earthy flavor with a delicate crunch. Used in dishes that involve little to no cooking. Can be used interchangeably with ramps. Most commonly used in Asian cooking.

“How-To” Cooking – Chicken Cutlets

When done well, there are few foods that are quite as delicious as a crispy, golden, fried chicken cutlet. While seemingly simple to make, a few small mistakes can result in a cutlet that is soggy, lacking breading and bland tasting. Use these tips to ensure a crispy, flavorful, delicious chicken cutlet every time you make them.

The first step to great chicken cutlets is to properly prepare the meat. Ready made, thin cutlets are available in the supermarket however, they generally charge a premium for them. You can also buy chicken right from your butcher and ask them to pound it thin for you but since most people have boneless, skinless chicken breasts readily available at home, it is helpful to know how to prepare them yourself.

  • Trim the chicken – It is important to remove all of the fat, sinew and silver skin from the meat as this will allow the chicken to expand and become nice and flat.
  • Thinner is better – Pounding the chicken into thin cutlets allows the protein fibers in the meat to break down which makes the chicken more tender. For really thick pieces of chicken, it may be necessary to first slice the chicken in half horizontally before pounding. Place the chicken into a sealed plastic bag or between a piece of plastic wrap as this will keep any fragments of chicken or juice to be contained while pounding out the chicken. Aim to pound the chicken down to about a 1/4″ thick.
  • Season the meat – Unseasoned meat is bland and boring so be sure to add some seasoning before breading the cutlets. Kosher salt and ground black pepper are two great basics to use but any number of other spices (garlic salt, paprika, etc.) will all add delicious flavor to the finished cutlet.

Once the chicken is pounded thin the next step is to prepare it for frying. Proper dredging and breading are an essential component in making great chicken cutlets. If improperly executed the chicken will not hold onto to its breading, it will lack flavor and it will be greasy and soggy. The basic rule of thumb is: flour, egg, breadcrumbs in that order. The flour gives the egg something to adhere to and the egg gives something for the breadcrumbs to adhere to. They all work together to create a crispy, golden chicken cutlet.

  • Start with flour – Plain, all-purpose flour is fine to use in this step however, it can be a little bland. Add a little Kosher salt and ground black pepper to it for an extra flavor kick. Also, try cutting some of the flour with cornstarch which helps to make a crispier, crunchier cutlet. Dredge the cutlets through the flour to coat both sides.
  • Thin the egg – You don’t want to dip the cutlets into thick, gelatinous egg so thin it out first with a little water. Use about 1 tbs of water per egg and whisk until the eggs are nice and smooth. You can add more seasonings in this step as well, I like to add parsley to my egg mixture.
  • Coat with breadcrumbs – You can be creative with this step, plain breadcrumbs are a fine coating however, seasoned breadcrumbs are even better as is a mix of breadcrumbs and panko breadcrumbs which make the chicken cutlets super crunchy. Add some grated Parmesan cheese to the breadcrumbs for a little extra flavor. Other things to try as a coating are crushed salted pretzels, saltine crackers or even chips such as Doritos®. I prefer a nice panko and seasoned breadcrumbs mix for my coating but you can get as creative as you like with this step.

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The last step in making chicken cutlets it to fry them up. You can bake them as well but they won’t be quite as crispy and flavorful as when they take a quick dip in some hot oil. I generally use vegetable oil when frying but any neutral oil with a high smoke point (peanut, corn etc.) will work fine too.

  • Flavor your oil – While the oil is heating up throw in a few smashed garlic cloves or some fresh herbs. This will impart delicious flavor to your cutlets as they fry up. Remove the garlic and/or herbs as soon as they start to bubble up and brown so they don’t burn and ruin the cooking oil.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan – Add the cutlets one a time to the frying oil leaving space between each one. Overcrowding the pan decreases the cooking temperature and allows too much moisture to be released which prevents browning. Fry the cutlets a few at a time allowing the oil to come back up to heat in between batches.
  • Season one last time – As soon as you remove the cutlets from the oil season them with a little Kosher salt. The heat from the cutlets will allow the salt to melt and be pulled into the meat.
  • Serve – You can serve chicken cutlets hot right out of the fryer or at room temperature. They are even really delicious the next day, cold, right from the fridge.

**NOTE** – I love to fry in my Presto® Electric Skillet. Because it is lidded it contains the splatter from frying, it frees up space on my stovetop for other things that I am cooking and cleanup is a breeze. For more information on this skillet, click here .**

“How-To” Cooking – Different Types of Cream

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The main difference between the various creams that are available is the amount of fat content contained within them. The higher the fat content in cream the easier it will be to whip into stable peaks which are needed to achieve a nice, luscious whipped cream. Creams that are higher in fat are also less likely to curdle so they are the best choice for use in hot liquids such as soups or sauces.

  • Half-and-Half – As the name would suggest, this cream is composed of half milk and half cream. It has a fat content of 12% which is less fat than light cream but more fat that milk. It is most commonly used in coffee as it adds a nice creaminess however, half-and-half is not suitable for whipping as it is too low in fat. It is also more likely to curdle when added to hot liquids.
  • Light Cream – With a 20% fat content it is slightly creamier than half-and-half but still lighter than a whipping or heavy cream. It is suitable as an addition to coffee, scrambled eggs, or drizzled on a dessert. Due to the lower fat content it is not a good choice for whipping or to be added to hot liquids.
  • Whipping Cream – As the name would suggest this is the perfect choice for making whipped cream. With a fat content of 35% it will be heavy enough to create stable peaks when whipped and it will not curdle when added to hot soups and sauces. Whipping cream has just slightly less fat than heavy cream however, it is a perfectly acceptable substitution if heavy cream is not available.
  • Heavy Cream – At 38% fat this is the creamiest and most rich of the creams. It is nearly identical to whipping cream, less the slightly higher fat content, so they can be used interchangeably. It can be churned into ice cream, whipped beautifully and it will not curdle when added to hot liquids.

 

“How-To” Baking/Cooking – Measuring Dry and Wet Ingredients

It is extremely important in both baking and cooking to measure your ingredients accurately and the only way to do that is to use the correct vessel. Using the wrong vessel for measuring can drastically alter the accuracy of the measurement. While cooking can be a little more forgiving, it is essential in baking to be as accurate as possible.

For dry ingredientsALWAYS measure dry ingredients using DRY measuring cups or spoons. The most accurate method is to lightly spoon the ingredients into the measuring cup and then sweep off the excess with a flat utensil. This will ensure that not too much of the ingredient gets packed down into the cup. The ONLY exception to this method is brown sugar which, unless otherwise noted, is measured by packing it down into the measuring cup.

measuring cups

For wet ingredientsALWAYS measure liquids using either a glass or plastic WET measuring cup. The most accurate method is to place the vessel on a flat surface then pour in the liquid in until it reaches the desired marking. Check for accuracy by bending down so you’re at eye level.

measure cup plastic

Please note, the most accurate way to measure ANY ingredient is by using a digital food scale. They are very inexpensive but absolutely invaluable in the kitchen, especially for baking.

Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale Multifunction Food Scale, 11 lb 5 kg, Silver, Stainless Steel (Batteries Included)

“How-To” Cooking – Compound Butter

Compound butter is nothing more than softened butter that has sweet or savory ingredients whipped into it. It’s typically rolled into a log, chilled and then sliced into pats that can be used to flavor food such as steaks, fish, vegetables, chicken, toast, waffles or even scones. The flavor combinations, both sweet and savory, are endless.

To make compound butter, take softened butter and mix in the sweet or savory ingredients. Transfer the compound butter to either parchment paper or plastic wrap and gently roll into the shape of a log. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before slicing into pieces for serving.

Cinnamon Maple ButterServe with pancakes, waffles, muffins or sweet potatoes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Brown Sugar Cinnamon ButterServe with toast, pancakes, or French toast

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tbs dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Berry ButterServe with muffins, scones, waffles or pancakes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cups berries, diced (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries etc)
  • Dash of granulated sugar

Garlic Herb Butter Serve with steak, fish or vegetables

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbs fresh chopped herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary etc)
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Cilantro Lime ButterServe with Mexican inspired dishes

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Zest of 1/2 a lime

White Wine and Herb ButterServe with chicken, pasta, or fish

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbs herbs, chopped (basil, thyme, tarragon, etc)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Splash of white wine

“How-To” Cooking – Roasting (Vegetables)

Roasting is an excellent way to bring out an extra depth of flavor in most vegetables. The slight crisp to the edges that roasting gives also adds a nice textural component to the vegetable as well. Root vegetables such as potatoes and parsnips are traditional choices for roasting however, other vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, onions, and peppers are also excellent choices. The best thing about roasting is that it is super easy and requires very little effort.

To roast vegetables, first cut up the vegetables into bite sized chunks. Then toss them in a good olive oil until they are nicely coated and glossy. Season the vegetables liberally with Kosher salt and fresh black pepper and then spread them out on a cookie sheet leaving some space between the vegetables. Roast the vegetables at 425ºF until they pierce easily with a fork and there is some charred bits on the edges. The charred bits are what make the roasted vegetables taste so good therefore, don’t hesitate to roast the vegetables a little longer to get that char even though they might already be tender.

For more information on roasting, click here .

“How-To” Cooking – Sweating

Sweating, similar to sautéeing, is a French technique of cooking food (usually vegetables) in a little fat, over low heat, in a covered pan. Sweating causes the food to release its juices and cook without browning which in turn, concentrates the flavor of the food. This technique is often used in recipes where the vegeatables/aromatics are not the main ingredients of the dish but rather the background flavor base.

“How-To” Cooking – Studding

Studding means to decorate and/or flavor food by inserting seasonings into the surface of the food. Common ingredients used in studding are garlic, spices (such as cloves), or nuts. Whole hams are commonly studded with cloves, pork roasts are commonly studded with slivers of garlic and/or apple slices, and even breads can be studded with raisins or other dried fruits. Studding enhances the presentation of food and imparts another layer of flavor as well.

“How-To” Cooking – Butterflying

Butterflying is a cooking technique whereby food is cut all the way down the middle, almost all the way through, so that it can be opened up to lie relatively flat. Butterflying allows for fast, even cooking of food and it also makes it easy to stuff and roll up meat.

To butterfly:

  • Beef Filets – First, lay the meat flat on the cutting board. With a chef’s knife, make short, smooth strokes horizontally down the middle of the filet. Avoid cutting the meat so that one side is thicker than the other, both sides need to be about the same thickness so they cook evenly. Cut almost all the way through the meat, stopping right before the two halves are completely severed. Open up the two halves like a butterfly.
  • Chicken Breasts – Lay the breast on the cutting board, smooth side down. First, remove the inner filet known as the chicken tender and set aside. Then, flip the breast over and cut the meat horizontally, just as you would with a beef filet, and follow the same procedure to butterfly. Save the chicken tenders to use for another recipe.
  • Seafood – Shrimp is an easy piece of seafood to butterfly. Using a smaller knife slice shrimp down the curved part of the tail, open it up, and lie flat to butterfly.

“How-To” Cooking – Nonreactive Pans

A nonreactive pan is one that is made of or lined with a material that will not react with acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, citrus juice or vinegar. When using a pan that is not nonreactive it will result in an “off” flavor and an unappealing, but harmless, darker coloring of of the food. This is why a nonreactive pan is essential when cooking certain foods.

The most common nonreactive pans are made of anodized stainless steel but they can also be made from enamel or glass. On the flip side, reactive materials include nonanodized stainless steel, unlined copper or cast iron. Cast iron is the least problematic of the three as it can be used to prepare acidic foods only if the food is not left in the pan for an extended period of time.