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Glossary: Food A-Z

Here is a short glossary of food terms to help you prepare any dish....

Baking can be as simple as putting some food in your oven and turning the dial to anything other than broil. If you put in some cake dough or muffin mix, you're baking. If you stick in a hunk of beef, you're roasting. The cooking method is the same. Inside your oven, dry heat circulates around your food causing chemical reactions to occur. These are what turn a pan of unappetizing, gloppy batter into a delicious pastry your date will want to sink her teeth into. (Had you worried -- you thought there'd be a chemistry lesson, didn't you?)

The two important things to remember about baking are:
1) If the recipe says pre-heat your oven, do it!
2) Use an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature inside your oven matches what it says on the dial. (If you have a new oven, it may already have one built in, in which case you don't need to do this.) But if you think you're baking at 300° and your oven's actually at 375°, you're gonna end up with burnt brownies. If you have a gas oven, often your gas company will calibrate it for you for free. Can't beat that.

The terms "barbecuing" and "grilling" are often used interchangeably, but they are two very different techniques. Barbecuing slow cooks a tough cut of meat over low heat with lots of smoke to both flavor and tenderize it. By contrast, grilling uses high heat and the food is cooked quickly. However barbecuing is done on a grill and that's probably how the confusion originated.

Basting is drizzling or pouring liquids over your food while it's cooking. This helps prevent a roasting chicken or ribs on the bbq grill from drying out. To baste, you can use that phallic-looking bulb baster, a spoon or even a brush. At Thanksgiving, roasting turkeys are often basted. Contrary to popular belief, basting juices don't penetrate to the inside of a roast, but they will keep the surface moist. Don't baste if you want a crispy skin.

Something that you drink while watching sports and when you cook. It's often used when boiling German sausages. Beer is in its own class and can be discussed further elsewhere. What you need to know about beer is that the stuff that is mass produced by those big breweries is a recipe that originated in Germany.

Blanching sounds like some sort of whipping fetish, doesn't it? However, blanching is actually a cooking process where foods (usually fruits and veggies) are plunged into boiling water for a few seconds, then dunked into ice water to halt the cooking process. It's kinda like jumping from the hot tub into the pool. Why would you subject the poor veggies to this temperature shock? Well, it helps enhance their flavor, without depleting their nutritional value. It also loosens the skins on items like tomatoes, nectarines, peaches and almonds, making them easier for the chef (that's you) to remove. Blanching also helps green veggies retain their color, flavor and some nutrients, which is pretty sexy.

Fill a pot with water and set it on a hot burner. When the water bubbles rapidly (it's hit 212° F), you're boiling. Guys, it doesn't get any easier than this. In medieval times, when knights were running around, they ate tons of boiled meats at their round tables. Boiling also means to cook foods in a pot of bubbling liquid, such as pasta, potatoes, carrots and lots of other veggies.

See also Parboil

Bong Water
Don't use bong water to cook any foods. You won't get high and your food will taste like- well, bong water. 'Nuff said.

Braising is cooking with moist heat, just the way I like it! The main item, usually meat, is browned in hot fat, then simmered in liquid inside a covered pot for a long time at a low temperature. This combination of moisture, heat and slow-cookin' turns tough meat tender by breaking down collagen, a protein found in connective tissues. Instead of roasting a tougher cut, such as a chuck roast, why not braise it to make it nice and juicy? When you're done, you can use the left-over liquid as gravy or further reduce it to become the base of a sauce. Don't braise expensive, tender cuts of meat - they have less collagen and will dry out.

Broiling means cooking foods directly under a radiant heat source. (It's the upside-down version of grilling, which is cooking directly over a heat source.) Broiling is a great method to use when you want your food to have a crispy, flavorful exterior and a moist, juicy interior. Broiling is a quick and wonderful method for cooking fish. Some gas ovens have a special drawer underneath the gas jets for broiling. If you have this kind of stove, make sure your food goes into the drawer and not the main oven, or you'll end up roasting, not broiling. Remember: broiling=food under flame.

Deep Fry
The type of frying where food is completely immersed in hot oil. It's commonly used for french fries, chicken and doughnuts, not exactly the kind of foods you'll want to serve your date if she says she's eating healthy. Deep frying can be dangerous, because if the oil reaches its smoking point it can catch on fire. Don't attempt if you are a kitchen novice.

You know those yummy bits of brown meat or fish that stick to the pan when you're done cooking? (Well, once you start cooking you will.) Don't let them go to waste! After you've removed the meat from the pan, add some liquid like wine or stock. Scrape up the tasty bits and stir to make a great gravy or the base for a reduction sauce. This process is called deglazing.

No gambling here- though dicing is cutting up food into small cubes that resemble dice. The cubes are usually between 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide, which is larger than mincing.

Frying is cooking foods in oil or fat over high heat.

See also Pan fry, Deep fry, Stir fry

There's nothing quite like the smoky aroma of juicy steaks grilling over hot coals. Grilling is simple to define; it's cooking food quickly over high heat. It's the hottest and oldest of all the cooking methods. You can grill practically anywhere: in the woods over a campfire, in your backyard on a gas grill, in your dorm room, even in the dead of winter in your kitchen, using a specially ridged stovetop grilling pan.

Grilling, like roasting, is dry cooking. It's so popular because the high heat causes all sorts of wonderful chemical reactions to occur, which caramelize the outside of your food, giving it a delectably crispy coating. The trick to successful grilling is learning the right time to remove your food from the heat, before it begins to dry out. Always clean the grilling rack of your gas or charcoal grill with a wire brush as soon as you're done. Once it cools, the cooked-on food won't come off without a fight. And don't even think about using your tongue to lick the rack clean.

Even though the words are often used interchangeably, grilling and barbecuing are not the same thing.

See also Grilling,Two Stage

Grilling, Two Stage
This is a technique where half a charcoal grill is filled with the normal amount of charcoal briquettes and the other half gets only a single layer. This way, you can begin grilling over high heat, then move your food to the cooler side to finish cooking. Meats cooked this way have a crispy exterior and a fully cooked, moist interior. Two stage grilling can be done on a gas grill by turning one burner to high, and the other to low or off.

Julienning is cutting an item, often carrots, into thin, matchstick-sized strips, about 1/8 inch wide. The length will depend on what your recipe calls for.

Get it wet baby. To marinate is to soak food in flavorful liquids (called a marinade) before cooking. This is a simple way to add flavor to your meat, poultry and fish, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn't make them more tender.

An easy way to marinate is to place your meat and marinade into a resealable plastic bag and keep it in the fridge for as long as the recipe specifies (usually 4 hours to overnight.) Dispose of the baggie and uncooked liquid as soon as you take the food out. Never use the uncooked marinade on your finished meat because it can harbor dangerous bacteria. (It was touching your raw meat for all those hours!)

Mincing is basically a fancy word for cutting food into tiny pieces. It's smaller than dicing. Herbs are often minced, which allows their flavors to permeate the entire dish. Garlic and onions are two veggies commonly minced. If you don't like mincing garlic, I recommend getting a garlic press.

Pan fry
Pan frying is cooking food in a pan (duh) in a small amount of oil or fat, over high heat. If you're pan frying a breaded chicken cutlet, you'll have to flip it at least once to make sure both sides are cooked. Proper pan frying shouldn't dry your food out and can give your entrée a crispy, crunchy exterior. The words "pan frying" and "sautéing" are often used interchangeably, but pan frying is the term typically applied to cooking larger food items, such as a chicken cutlet, while sautéing usually refers to smaller foods, such as chopped onions.

See also Stir-fry

Parboiling is similar to boiling, except the food is removed from the liquid before it's fully cooked. It's then finished off using another technique such as sautéing.

Pinch is the amount you can hold between your thumb and forefinger, or for you specific types, about 1/16 teaspoon. Also called a dash. We cannot be held responsible if you decide to pinch your gal.

Poaching is cooking foods such as eggs, fish or fruit in a simmering liquid. Water is typically used, however you can also poach in stock or wine. To simmer liquid, heat it to just below its boiling point. You'll see tiny bubbles rising softly up to the surface. The words poaching and simmering are often used interchangeably. When poaching, make sure your liquid doesn't run out or you'll end up with burnt fish and a pot that needs scrubbing!

The easiest way to purée is to dump your ingredients into a blender or food processor and turn the sucker on. When your food reaches a smooth consistency without lumps or chunks, it's done. Soups and sauces are often puréed.

No, reducing isn't a trendy new diet. It's boiling a liquid and waiting for a portion of it to evaporate. You're done when you're left with the amount of liquid the recipe calls for. This is done to create a thicker consistency and more intense flavors. Don't be tempted to stir while reducing, it lowers the temperature and makes things take longer.

The process of roasting is as simple as putting food in your oven and setting it to a specific temperature. Roasting is the word we use when cooking savory foods such as meats, poultry and vegetables, instead of breads and sweets. If you've got buns in the oven, you're baking. Roasting is typically done at higher temperatures than baking. It uses dry, indirect heat to cook your food, which allows the skin of a chicken to get nice and crispy while the inside cooks slower and stays moist and juicy. Some foods like coffee beans and cocoa (chocolate) are always roasted.

Sautéing is cooking food in a wide, shallow pan, using a small amount of oil or fat, over high heat. Often the words sautéing and pan frying are used interchangeably, but sautéing typically refers to cooking smaller foods in this manner, such as string beans or chopped onions,

The word "sauté" is one of the sexiest sounding cooking techniques, probably because it comes from the French word "sauter," meaning "to jump." This is because chefs usually shake a sauté pan back and forth to keep the food "jumping." Sometimes they'll launch the food into the air and recatch it. Think how impressive this can be in front of a girl. Just be sure to practice first with cold food until you've got the technique down. Burning yourself or your date while trying to show off with flying food is not sexy!

See also pan fry, deep fry

Searing is a technique where you brown meat or fish in some oil in a hot pan. Searing is a quick process and doesn't cook your food all the way through. It's done to form a tasty brown crust on the surface and to caramelize the sugars in the meat, which gives it great flavor. The meat is then fully cooked using a different method, unless it is being served partially raw as in tuna tataki, which I love ordering at my local sushi restaurant. Searing can also be called browning.

Seasoning is often what gives your dish most of its flavor. To season is to add flavorful elements such as salt, pepper, herbs and spices to your food. Sometimes, you'll see the phrase "season to taste" in a recipe. This typically means add the amount of salt and pepper that you like. Salt is used to bring out the natural flavor of a food and to tenderize meat.

To simmer liquid, heat it to just below its boiling point. You'll see tiny bubbles rising softly up to the surface. Often simmering is achieved by bringing a pot of liquid to a boil, then lowering the heat. The words poaching and simmering are often used interchangeably.

To shock Is to put a hot product in a bath of ice water in order to stop the cooking process.

Steaming is a great way to prepare healthy food, because fewer nutrients are destroyed by this gentle cooking method. To get your evening off to a steamy start, place your food, let's say some veggies, in a covered pot over some simmering water. This is easy to do if you have a steamer basket, which nestles inside your pot and provides a platform for the veggies to rest on. Make sure the water level is low enough that it doesn't touch the food in the basket. The steam from the water will rise up and cook your veggies to perfection.

A water bath, is another type of steaming method.

Stewing is cooking items such as meat and veggies in a simmering liquid until they're moist and tender. It's very similar to braising, except you don't brown the meat in fat first and you use a bit more liquid. Stews can be cooked on the stovetop in a large covered pot, or in your oven inside a covered casserole pan. A hearty stew can be just the thing to warm up your date on a cold winter evening.

Stir Fry
Stir-frying is an Asian technique, very similar to sautéing. Small pieces of food are quickly fried in small amounts of oil, typically over high heat in a wok. But don't worry, you don't need a wok to stir fry. In fact, unless you have a wok ring (which supports the wok) and a 12,000 btu gas burner, it's often better to stir-fry in a large, deep-sided skillet (a 12-inch pan works well.) This is because the typical burner is designed to heat the flat bottom of a pan and the heat doesn't travel up the sides of a traditionally shaped wok evenly. Food for a stir fry should be cut up and ready to go before you begin, because it's a very quick process. Often liquids such as soy sauce will be added towards the end of the frying.

Yes, you'll often get sweaty in the kitchen, but if you don't sweat when you're passionate about your activity, then you're not doing your job! The cooking term "sweat" means to cook your ingredients in a pan in a small amount of butter or oil at low heat. You don't want to brown them, like you would if you were sautéing, only soften them. Typical foods cooked in a sweat are onions and garlic. Don't worry, human sweat isn't an ingredient in any of our recipes.

Toast, Nuts
Toasting is a technique used to enhance the flavor of your nuts. Well, maybe not your nuts, but it works great on edible ones. (Get your mind out of the gutter, I'm talkin' cashews, almonds or walnuts here!) Spread the nuts to be toasted on a metal baking sheet or your toaster-oven tray. Pre-heat your oven or toaster to 375° F, then add the tray of nuts. Start checking them in 3-4 minutes to make sure they don't burn. If some burn, they'll turn bitter and you'll have to toss the whole tray. The nuts are done when they begin to release a nice aroma and look slightly darker than when you put them in. Get them off the baking sheet as quick as possible (or they'll keep cooking) and leave them out to cool.

Water Bath
No it's not makin' it in the bathtub. Water baths are often called for when baking cheesecakes and custards. To create a water bath, put your cheesecake pan inside a larger pan that is partially filled with water. This pan-inside-a-pan combo is then baked in the oven, where the water keeps the sides of your cake cool. This works because water can only get as hot as 212° F before it converts to steam. If your oven is set to 350°, 212° is a lot cooler. The added humidity from all the steam created keeps the top of your cake nice and moist too. Tempt your sweetie with some decadent cheesecake and perhaps she'll invite you to share her bubble bath.

Whipping foods by beating or whisking them vigorously traps air bubbles inside, making them light and fluffy. Warning: whipping your date will not have the same effect. Whipped cream, however, is perfectly acceptable for use on your date. If a recipe says to whip the cream until stiff peaks form, stop occasionally and raise up your whisk or beater. If firm, pointy mounds remain on the surface, you're done. (Use whipped cream on your date and you'll probably reach some stiff peaks of your own-sorry, couldn't resist.)

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