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By Chef Todd

The Butter Facts From Culinary School in Baltimore

There are a lot more butter facts than salted versus unsalted. This a question often asked of me. “Should I use salted or unsalted butter in my cooking”? Of course, it depends on the application, but there is so much more to consider when using this cooking staple than whether it has salt added to it or not.

Butter is a fatty substance produced by agitating or churning cream. It’s comprised of 80% fat, 5% milk solids and 15% water. Microscopic bits of butterfat are found in unhomogenized milk and cream. Membranes surround these globules that are comprised of phosphor lipids and proteins, which prevent the fat in milk separated.

Unless you live on a farm and drink straight from the udder, your milk is homogenized. It is subjected to mechanical treatment that holds the fat in suspension to make it drinkable. Without this process, you’d have a watery substance and a thick fat layer in your glass.

This would not be appetizing to too many people. If you had to spoon unwanted fats from your glass and drink a chunky substance, you might wonder why you “got milk” in the first place.

However, the butter facts are that this separation of elements in milk is just the way to make a household fat that is excellent for all cooking methods. Can you imagine sauté’ without butter? How about a grilled steak without a flavored butter on top? Just watching butter melt will make most people hungry.

Butter is produced by agitating cream. This physical churning damages the membranes that keep fats separated and allows the milk fats to join, leaving other parts of the cream behind.

The churning process creates small butter grains and a watery ingredient. This liquid is called buttermilk. The buttermilk most common today is not a by-product of butter making as in days of old, rather a fermented skimmed milk.

Free butterfat, butterfat crystals, and undamaged fat globules are the three types of fat found in butter. After the churning process, different proportions of these forms result in different consistencies within the butter. Thus, butters with more crystals are harder than butters with more free fats.

Butter is an excellent ingredient to cook with as well as spread on toast because it melts at about 93F, a temperature lower than the human mouth at 98F. That’s why butter melts in your mouth as opposed to vegetable and animal based fats and oils.

Butter is “clarified” when the water and milk solids are removed from it. This is a simple but delicate procedure that will result in butter “oil”. Indian cuisines use this ingredient and call it “ghee”, simply clarified butter.

Clarified butter has a higher smoke point and will not burn as easily as whole butter because of the removal of the milk solids. Milk solids in butter will burn long before clarified butter will smoke, making it an excellent ingredient for high-heat cooking.

To clarify butter, simply warm whole butter in a small sauce pan. Be sure to do this gently, softly, slowly and do not agitate or stir the butter during the process. Then, let it cool and you will see a clear separation of the water, milk solids and butterfat components.

From there, gently pour the yellow “oil” into a container, leaving the unwanted ingredients behind. One pound of whole butter will result in 12 ounces of clarified butter, giving you a 75% yield.

The real butter facts say that you can use this necessary ingredient in you cooking for much more than spreading it on toast. Once you can clarify butter like a pro, you’ll be experimenting with many ways to use it in all your daily cooking.

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By Chef Todd

What Everybody Should Know About Preparing Your Kitchen for Daylight Savings Time

If you have a love of cooking like I do, you’re excited about the days getting longer. Honestly, with the exception of cooking for the holidays, cooking in the winter seems more like a chore to me. However, cooking in the spring and summer is cooking for fun. In fact, I can't wait to start grilling outside! But, before we all explore our love of cooking in the spring and summer, we need to address the art of cooking and prepare the kitchen.

Daylight savings time is the perfect opportunity to review all of the items in your kitchen, especially the herbs and spices. Of course, you have herbs and spices because you hope that they will give you flavor for all the wonderful fresh ingredients coming your way. However, as we will see, that isn't necessarily the case.

So, let's get started.

First, you should review all your spices. Go to your spice rack, chances are there are spices that have been in your cabinet for years! If you can't recollect buying the spice within the last year, the potency of that spice has degenerated, so I would recommend that you throw it away. All of the spices that are left in your cabinet after this review, open them up and take a sniff. Does it still have some pungency or does it smell musty? Again, no point in putting stale spices on fresh ingredients! Get rid of it.

For the spices that are left in your cabinet after this review, place a sticker on each one with the letters: DST. When you return to standard time, you can review the spice and know for certain when it was inspected last.

Some of the spices that are left in your cabinet can be combined into new flavor combinations. And why not? It's YOUR cabinet and your spices. Who said you can't combine them? You do when you cook! Be daring and have fun. you never know, you may just come up with your own secret spice! Once you're done, make a list of the spices that you need to purchase to refill your stock.

What else should you do?

  • Clean your oven
  • Remove the crumbs and brillo the racks
  • Review your plastic, Tupperware and utensils
  • Review serving wares for cracks and cleanliness
  • Have knives sharpened or sharpen them yourself
  • Clean pots and pans with brillo if needed
  • Clean cookie sheets for better reflection of materials
  • Clean out freezer of old items
  • Organize your pantry, throw away Christmas gifts

Beside turning your clock back, daylight savings time is a reminder of the art of cooking. Cooking should be fun, and if you are prepared for the season by turning your kitchen forward too, you will love and enjoy the fresh ingredients that the coming season will bring for your cooking pleasure!

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By Chef Todd

10 Minutes To Change Your Cooking
Without Any Experience At All!

It's time to eliminate the idea that you have in your head that you don't know how to cook and possibly can't even learn how to cook! In fact, I say that you already have some cooking knowledge and I'm going to prove it to you. How? Well, you are eating something at home right? We all have to feed ourselves at some point, even if it’s opening a can of soup and heating it up.

Opening up a can of soup, emptying it into a pan, mixing in some milk and heating it up was one of the first meals I was ever able to make for myself. When I was a kid, I used to love Campbell's Cream of Shrimp Soup and I played hockey. Somehow, along the way, I had convinced myself that eating Campbell's Cream of Shrimp Soup made me a better hockey player and I had to have a bowl before every game. (I know, some people think they play better with a new pair of shoes, I played better when I cooked myself something...go figure.)

Adding Variations
After some time went by, I realized that there really weren't that many shrimp in the soup, so I added some whole fresh shrimp. I didn't have the cooking knowledge at the time, but I was poaching the shrimp in the liquid. Then, I noticed that while I had more protein, now the soup itself seemed thin. So, I added some American cheese to thicken it and then some cayenne pepper for a little more flavor. Eventually, I put some sherry in the soup to give a little smoky flavor. I took something as simple as opening a can of soup to expanding on the method and created variations.

If you can open a can of mushroom soup and pour it over a  pan of chicken breasts, that's a method! Maybe you could do that with fish instead. Or you could decide that the cream of mushroom soup is a sauce and make the sauce better by adding different items. Add variations to a method that you already understand and you're increasing your cooking knowledge and learning how to cook.

Each time you make a new variation, you'll gain more confidence and as you explore, create and discover, you'll increase your cooking knowledge and be where you want to be as a cook.

Grilling Example
Let's say that you're great at grilling but you're not a good cook inside the house. So, here's what you do...pay attention and make a mental note of your grilling steps. Perhaps you heat the grill, put a burger on, look for grill marks. Now, go inside and put yourself in a zen-like state (you can do it!) and pretend as you look down into the sauté pan on the stove that it’s actually the grill. Perform the same steps or method as you would outside.

Really, this works! Grilling is a conductive heat method and sauteing is a conductive heat method as well. Because the transfer of heat is the same, you can simply try variations.

If your one dish is mac and cheese, you make it great, but you might say you can’t make a good alfredo sauce. If you examined the method, you’d see that making a white sauce and putting cheddar for mac and cheese is no different than adding parmesan for alfredo sauce.

Variations...Like Driving a Car
You do this already in other areas of your life. Let's take driving for instance. Think about it. You drive the same way to work everyday: start on Main Street, take a right on Jones St., left on Smith St. and you're at work. One day when you're driving, you notice a cool place that's closer to your home but it's on the way to work. Well, you may not realize that if you took Washington St. from work you would get there quicker, but if you don't know the route, you will take the route that you know and make a slight change to get to your destination. You will make a variation on the driving route or method that you already know.

You do know how to cook, eliminate the doubt, because you do know how. You might not have a wide range of cooking knowledge, but you have a start. Experiment, learn and build on it.

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By Chef Todd

Do you recognize the 5 signs of Mageirocophobia keeping you out of the kitchen?

If you have a fear of cooking, be assured, you are in good company. I have literally cooked for a 1000 people on many occasions and I've been fearful in those moments. But you don't have to let the fear of cooking keep you from learning how to cook like a chef. Honestly. In fact, learning basic cooking method can help you to eliminate your fear of cooking while you learn to cook!

The fear of cooking comes in different forms and one of the best ways for you to eliminate a fear is to understand the source of the fear. You may find out that your fear is much easier to overcome once it has a name. Overcoming your fear will not only help you to learn how to cook like a chef, but will allow you to eat better food. In my desire to help you to cook like a chef, I feel that it's necessary to explain the 5 sources of Mageirocophobia (fear of cooking).

Mage –iroco – phobia is the fear of cooking.

It can be the fear of cooking for a large group, which we all have, or cooking for two.

Fear of causing illness: The first fear of cooking revolves around the idea of how food may cause illness in those that you serve it to. Some of this has been accelerated out of proportion because of the "foodborne illness" stories that make headlines in the media. On the other hand, you may be someone that is actually more concerned about undercooking and poisoning someone. Please understand that this category of "fear of cooking" is easily overcome by understanding some basic cooking rules.

Fear of serving bad food: This fear of cooking is mainly associated with someone who is uncertain about their ability to cook like a chef in the first place. In fact, they may even doubt their ability to mix flavors or understand when an item is done cooking. This person will typically overcook or undercook dishes on a regular basis.

Over-perfectionist: This person's fear of cooking is a little less pervasive and less obvious. This person will fret about how their food looks or worry incessantly about how well their dish is received. They will sometimes display a heightened fear of dinner parties or providing enough variety for their family.

Fear of Cooking Process: This person is hypersensitive to the idea of potentially cutting or burning themselves in the cooking process. Their fear of cooking is obvious as they are also noticeably afraid of new techniques or techniques that they haven't ever used in their journey to learn to cook.

Fear of recipes: Recipes are complicated and full of ingredients that most home cooks don't use or have in their pantry which allows the fear of cooking to cripple their creativity in the kitchen. Another difficulty with recipes is having to have very precise measurements that may or may not work for the overall desired effect. What is the desired effect? Having people tell you that you cook like a chef.

The fears that are listed here are a big reason why I do what I do. I know that I can help someone to get rid of their fear of cooking by simply helping them learn to cook using simple cooking method. This method encompasses a more thorough understanding of how certain foods go together, how to create a meal without a recipe and stop worrying because you will cook like a chef!

By Chef Todd

Worst Cooks in America, Ep 4


The Flavors in Jennifer Cross' Head Saved Her Butt

Thank you, Food Network for proving that the Worst Cooks in America are those forced to follow recipes. I’ve been saying it for years! I’ve seen it in my cooking school, and I hear it from thousands that also know it’s true. I’m thankful to have the MTV of food finally admitting it in their programming.

Worst Cooks in America is starting to confuse me more than Jenn Vecchio with half a fig. “You’re reading it off a recipe card and just going blindly”, Jenn explains. It can’t be her fault that she doesn’t know what “done” looks like because she’s relying solely on the written recipe.

The show is supposed to be about duplicating a Chef Beau or Chef Ann dish to fool restaurant critics. If so, why the heavy reliance on written recipes? Why not teach them how to cook in the STYLE of Chef Beau?

There are constant recipe problems in week 4, but the contestants are left to figure it out themselves.
“I don’t know what to do”, laments Marque. “Why is it doing this”? It’s all critique from the chefs, there’s no help, no secrets of WHY something is happening or HOW it’s supposed to look. Yet, everything is about the written recipe, someone else’s’ opinion of how something should be cooked.

However, it all changed when the six survivors of sauté were told they could invent their own crostini.
Eyes widened, mouths smiled at the sudden freedom they were given. “I’m already thinking of great flavors in my head”, says Jennifer Cross, revealing the inspiration that would be her savior, despite a complete logistical and emotional boil-over.

The artistic interpretation of flavors in her head was the best dish of the day. Her problems came from the pressures of following a recipe under time constraints. She couldn’t hang with the time-task that’s mandated to increase the emotion for the cameras, but blew them away with her art.

For a moment, a small part of the show had realized a goal for me. In a blink of an eye, it showed the excitement, confidence, and superior results of making up your own recipes. It’s a message I’ve been trying to bring to a mass audience for years. Jennifer Cross proved it. Cooking is joyous expression, not jealous competition. It’s accomplished with full heart, not fast clock. Unfortunately, the message was only a blip on a show that doesn’t teach anyone to cook, Worst Cooks in America.

Previous posts about Worst Cooks in America:
Cooking is About Crying and Salt
Worst Cooking Instructors in America
Are You the Worst Cook in America?

By Chef Todd

Worst Cooks in America, Ep3

Cooking is About Crying and Salt.

Worst Cooks in America served up its third course last night, finally making it obvious that they have no intention to teach these contestants actual cooking methods. Rather, cooking comes down to crying and how much salt you use.

The focus of this week’s show was to be “Feelin’ the Flavor”
, skills in combining flavorings and seasonings to create a profile for your dish. Chef Ann was correct in saying this is one of the most valuable skills in the kitchen. However, in the critique of dishes, all the chefs seem to care about is how much salt is added. Even after Chef Ann admits that her, Chef Beau’s, and everyone else’s tastes are different, “too much salt”, or “not enough salt” was the only measure of flavor.

For the past two weeks, I’ve given the Food Network, (the MTV of food) the benefit of the doubt that they are actually teaching cooking methods off-camera. They’re not showing the actual instruction to give more time for the reality TV type competition.

I no longer think that. I believe there is no instruction at all. If they were taught knife skills last week, it wasn’t evident. If they were shown the first step in any cooking instruction – how to control heat – they’ve forgotten it already. If they were taught a basic sauté method that includes sprinkling water on the pan to see if it’s hot enough to start cooking, they would have had a much easier time with their grilling and side-dish sauté. If they were taught that you never add hot milk to a hot roux to create béchamel, there wouldn’t have been so much wallpaper paste sauces to criticize.


Learning to cook like a chef at home involves freeing yourself from recipes
by understanding the basic cooking methods behind them. Why did some items have grill-marks, and others didn’t? Water evaporates at 212f. Sugars caramelize at 320f, giving the nice brown color to a protein product. This is why the first step in sauté or stove-top grilling is to drip water onto your pan or grill and watch it evaporate. Now, you can QUANTIFY the temperature of the pan. To correctly teach cooking, a basis of “whys” and “hows” should always precede “what”.

Worst Cooks in America is the “sink or swim”
, “you should be born knowing this”, “just follow the recipe” type of cooking instruction that I despise. It continues the stereotype that cooking is very difficult, very stressful, and only professional chefs can do it. I can tell you from having taught thousands of people all over the world to cook, that it’s easy. You can do it, anyone can do it. You can do it without recipes if you know what to LOOK, SMELL, TASTE for in your pan, not in your written recipe. You don’t need to be a chef, and the only crying you should do in the kitchen is when you’re chopping onions.

Previous posts about Worst Cooks in America:
Worst Cooking Instructors in America
Are You the Worst Cook in America?

By Chef Todd

The Worst Cooking Instructors in America

The Worst Cooks in America continued on the Food Network last night. Last week’s premier episode had such promise, and I'm still anticipating the cutting edge of culinary instruction from the MTV of Food. The point was to teach the contestants to cook, right?

Accurate and safe knife skills are always the start to any cooking instruction, and Worst Cooks in America starts off correctly this week. “Hooray for the Food Network!” I thought. They’re going to teach by building on basic cooking methods, not recipes! My excitement didn’t last until the next commercial break. Perhaps it’s the editing of a one hour show, but the criticism and crying took the place of teaching very quickly.

Instead of instruction on Worst Cooks in America, the contestants are just told to “do it”, placed under time constraints, and criticized as if they were already professional chefs. It’s obvious that they haven’t been taught any actual cooking methods from their reaction to the chefs erasing the blackboard recipe in the middle of their challenge, total chaos.

The contestants were taken to a Japanese restaurant
and told to cook scallops and steak on a flat-top grill that Chef Beau said was “like 800 degrees”. This is like taking someone that doesn’t know how to drive, putting them on a NASCAR track, and yelling at them for not going fast enough.

“Actors practice lines, chefs practice recipes,” Chef Beau scolded the contestants. I don’t agree. Actors practice acting method, then interpret their lines. Chefs practice imparting heat to food, then interpret with ingredients.

So, it’s time for me to take over. In my online cooking classes, as well as my DVD series, the focus is on basic cooking methods, not recipes. The essence of cooking is how you control the transfer of heat to food. This should be the second step, knowing the difference between direct conductive heat, and indirect convective heat.

Rather than giving the contestants delicate and difficult products like scallops and duck breast, I would start with a simple sauté of a chicken breast. Saute’ method is the best start for anyone learning to cook. Here, you can watch all that happens as you transfer heat to food. You can combine flavors quickly, drop the temperature of the pan with a cold liquid, and make a sauce. The best way to learn anything is to start with simple procedures and expand upon them.

The chefs on this show have missed the opportunity to start at the beginning with explanations of what actually happens when we cook food. This would empower the contestants with skills and knowledge that will help them over the next 4 episodes. Maybe this is another piece of entertainment about chefs who make people cry. If that’s it, they’re doing a great job.

Previously about Worst Cooks in America

I promise, I won't yell at you or make you cry.

By Chef Todd

Goat Farm on Hawaii

If you want to see how goats cheese is made, go to a goat farm. If you go to a goat farm, you might as well go to one in the “upcountry” of Maui, Hawaii.

My trip to the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm in Hawaii was a great education and a fun day. The goats are treated very well, and their milk is treated even better. Plus, I found out there’s 50 females to one male goat on the farm. Not baaaaaaad. (sorry)

I’m always curious to find out exactly where my food comes from and a trip to a local farm is the way to do it. I’m a big fan of goat cheese, or chevre, because of its soft, spreadable texture, creamy but sharp flavor, but mostly for its melting abilities.

I often use goat cheese as a thickener for sauces.
My “South of France” chicken video that the members of WebCookingClasses enjoy is a perfect illustration how goat cheese can add flavor and texture to pan sauces.

The South of France Chicken starts with a basic sauté procedure. Pan hot first. A little bit of water in the pan evaporates so I know it’s at least 212f. Then, I add a very small amount of olive oil, and let that heat until convection begins. This is an indicator that the oil is just about to smoke. A chicken breast is cooked 75% on one side, watching the coagulation of proteins, then finished on the other side.

After sautéing shallots and mushrooms in the resulting pan fond, the pan is deglazed with white wine, and then mounted with goat cheese and whole grain mustard.

When you return the chicken to the pan, it bathes in a creamy white sauce that didn’t need roux or a slurry to make it stick to your fork.

Visiting the goat farm in Hawaii was a great inside look at what great care our local farmers are taking to provide the most wholesome ingredients for us to enjoy.


See how Hawaiians open a coconut from the Maui Tropical Plantation HERE

“Burn Your Recipes” and Cook Like a Chef at Home with my cooking DVDs!


The Complete cooking DVDcollection for cooking without recipes.

By Chef Todd

Christmas Cookies - My #2 Holiday Sweet

The Holiday Sweet: My 5 favorite Sweet Christmas Dishes

I’m spending way too much time contemplating my favorite holiday sweet, especially when there are so many savory Christmas dishes to celebrate. I’ve totally disregarded the memories that can be brought back from recalling smell alone. An oven roast, coated with the warm floral aroma of thyme, rosemary, sage, with hints of garlic and sweet onions permeating your family home is Christmas cooking to many people who don’t care for holiday sweets.

I have many smell memories of holidays past. The poultry seasoning, the steaming turkey pan drippings just from the oven brings a family reunion smell to my mind, but holiday sweets bring back the strongest memories to me.

It seems we allow ourselves greater indulgences in holiday cooking.
Halloween to New Years, we deserve real butter on our bread, some real cream in the coffee, and a festive holiday sweet that brightens our mood, ends a family meal, or is an expression of creativity and gratitude.

Spritz cookies
are just this combination of sweet holiday bliss with artistic creativity that makes them beautiful enough to give as gifts. My second favorite holiday sweet is the melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies that are pressed into holiday cookie shapes and decorated in myriad ways.

The German Spritzgebäck cookie is the grandfather of our modern spritz cookie, they are four simple ingredients, butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and made into a dough that can be pressed or piped into shapes as a traditional holiday dessert.

Once you’ve created the wreaths, trees, bells, snowflakes, reindeer, santas, or stars from your spritz cookie dough and baked them until just barely beginning to brown, you’ll get the most childhood fun from decorating. Edible glitters, sprinkles, or dusting sugars make a Christmas cookie winter wonderland in a bakery box. That’s the reason spritz cookies are my second favorite holiday sweet.

 




Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

By Chef Todd

My #3 Favorite Holiday Dessert

The Holiday Sweet: My #3 Favorite Holiday Dessert

Everyone has a favorite holiday sweet, the trouble for me is deciding which of my favorite holiday sweets is number one. In previous discussions of Christmas desserts, I’ve ranked Linzer Tart Cookies, my favorite cookie for Christmas as number 5. Croquembouche became a contemporary favorite of my holiday sweets after culinary school, and I’ve ranked it number 4 on my list of sweet Christmas dishes.

When it comes to holiday cake, none beats Bouche Noel in my opinion. The Yule log holiday cake can be decorated in so many unique ways and really take your imagination further than a round, two-layer cake for the holidays.

Bouche Noel looks more difficult to prepare than it is.
It’s a jelly roll cake laid on its side and arranged to look like a fallen tree limb. I’ve demonstrated the French genoise sponge cake method in videos before. It’s a very thin, pliable cake that’s created using the sponge mixing method.

This holiday cake isn’t round and flat. It’s iced and rolled into a long tube. 45 degree cuts can be made in the roll and placed at an angle to resemble branches coming off the tree. Using a star-tip pastry bag, you can pipe your icing onto the cake so it looks like tree bark.

Here’s the most fun holiday cake garnishing tip I know
. Try to find interesting leaves outside. Wash and dry them, and paint them with tempered chocolate. When the chocolate re-sets, peel the leaf back and get all the natural texture from nature in a piece of chocolate garnish for a holiday cake.

Bouche Noel is a different type of holiday cake to consider this year.
It makes a fantastic visual appeal before and after it’s sliced. It’s my number three favorite holiday sweet.

 




Turn Holiday Cooking Stress into Holiday Cooking Success this year.

 

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