1. Food
Send to a Friend via Email
Danilo Alfaro

Culinary Arts


Follow me on:

How to Roast a Leg of Lamb

Thursday April 17, 2014
Roast leg of lamb is a classic holiday dish, and you can get a 6-8 pound semi-boneless one that will feed anywhere from 8 to 12 people.
How to Roast a Leg of Lamb
How to Roast a Leg of Lamb.
Photo © Ben Fink / Getty Images

Semi-boneless means that it's had the hip and tail bone (which is also sometimes called the H-bone) removed, as well as the hinged end of the shank bone. These bones are great for making stock, so your best bet is to have the butcher do this for you from a whole leg of lamb so that you can take the bones home with you.

Here's an article that describes How to Roast a Leg of Lamb. Also check out this Roast Leg of Lamb Recipe. Finally, here are a few related resources: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

How to Cook Asparagus

Friday April 11, 2014
Asparagus is in peak season right now, and every time I eat it I'm reminded of a book I had to read for homework many years ago. Or more specifically, about 30 minutes after I eat asparagus.
How to Cook Asparagus
How to cook asparagus.
Photo © Danilo Alfaro

In the book, the narrator describes how eating asparagus "transforms my chamberpot into a flask of perfume."

Interestingly, only about 40 percent of the population know what he's talking about — at least firsthand. But briefly, a sulfur-based compound in asparagus (which is related to the substance in asparagus' cousin, the onion, that makes your eyes water when you slice it) causes your pee to smell like — well, like a flask of perfume.

And since no more than about 40 percent of people notice the effect themselves, it was originally thought that asparagus only reacted this way in certain people's bodies. But it turns out that asparagus turns everyone who eats it into a perfume factory. The difference is that only 40 percent of the population are capable of smelling it.

Asparagus is one of the most versatile and flavorful veggies, and it's definitely one of my favorites. Not everyone feels the same, though, and I don't know if it's because of the pee thing, which to me is certainly remarkable, but not necessarily unpleasant. Instead, I suspect it's because asparagus is so often overcooked. Boiling it too long is the biggest culprit here.

Not that boiling isn't a good way to cook asparagus; you just have to be careful. Still, possibly my favorite way of cooking asparagus is to grill it. Roasting is also a great technique, and so is sautéeing. So check out How to Cook Asparagus. Maybe you're one of the lucky 40 percent. And here are a few more asparagus recipes: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Chocolate Mousse

Friday April 4, 2014
Chocolate mousse should be rich and creamy, like pudding, but also light and airy. It should almost want to float off your spoon. The way to achieve both qualities is by using egg yolks, butter and cream for the rich and creamy, and beaten egg whites to make it light and airy.
chocolate mousse
Chocolate mousse.

And of course, you should use the best quality chocolate you can afford. You'll really taste the difference, and it'll be worth every cent.

There are a number of tricks to help make sure your egg whites whip up properly. For instance, your egg whites shouldn't be too cold. A pinch of cream of tartar will also help. (Cream of tartar is a great thing to have around, and you can use it to make your own baking powder.)

Here's a simple chocolate mousse recipe. And here's some more about chocolate and eggs: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Cheese Quiche Recipe

Wednesday March 26, 2014
If you want to make a quiche, the simplest type is a basic cheese quiche, which is traditionally made with Gruyère cheese and flavored with seasonings like nutmeg and cayenne pepper.
Easy Quiche Recipe

The custard itself is a standard egg and cream custard that's baked in a pastry crust made of tart dough. Tart dough is slightly different from pie dough because with tart dough, we want the blobs of butter to be about the size of corn meal so that the bottom doesn't get soggy while you bake the custard.

Beyond the basic cheese quiche, I like a simple quiche with maybe one or two additional ingredients. Mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes and onions are nice ingredients to feature in a quiche. And of course the classic Quiche Lorraine is made with bacon (traditionally) or sometimes ham.

Here's an easy cheese quiche recipe. And here's more about baking and custard: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

How to Poach an Egg

Friday March 21, 2014
Poached eggs are a breakfast favorite, whether it's in the classic Eggs Benedict, over corned beef hash or just served on toast. They're tasty at other times of day as well, like served atop grilled asparagus with a drizzle of Hollandaise, or on a bed of rice pilaf.
How to Poach an Egg
How to poach an egg.
Photo © Danilo Alfaro

And while the perfect poached egg isn't overly difficult to make, it's easy to get it wrong. Either the egg comes out all rubbery, or it falls apart in the water. Both results might be enough to send you reaching for one of those microwave "egg poachers." But don't do it!

The trick to making perfect poached eggs is ensuring the egg stays compact and holds its shape. This is accomplished by using the freshest eggs possible, since the older an egg gets, the more it tends to flatten or spread out. (On the other hand, for making hard-boiled eggs, week-old eggs are better since it makes them easier to peel.)

But not everyone has access to farm-fresh eggs. If you shop at the supermarket rather than the henhouse, just add a little bit of vinegar or lemon juice to the poaching water. The acid helps the egg hold its shape.

Also, the water should be simmering, not boiling. Too vigorous a boil will break up the eggs. But if the water's not hot enough, the egg is more likely to fall apart before it cooks. For poaching eggs, the ideal water temperature is around 180 to 190F. Read more about how to poach an egg. And here's more about cooking eggs: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Corned Beef Hash Recipe

Sunday March 16, 2014
I was practically raised on corned beef hash from a can, and it remains a guilty pleasure to this day. But there's a difference between a guilty pleasure and a real pleasure, just like there's a difference between canned corned beef hash and real corned beef hash.
Corned Beef Hash
Corned beef hash.
Photo © Danilo Alfaro

Corned beef hash is easy to make from scratch. You need some leftover cooked corned beef as well as some potatoes, onions and garlic. And I know what you're thinking. You've already tried my corned beef recipe and you can't imagine having any leftovers. It's a good point. So next time, you'll make extra.

Corned beef hash is one of those classic breakfast dishes. You can serve it with whatever style of eggs you prefer. And for a real treat, substitute corned beef hash for the ham in Eggs Benedict. Enjoy this easy corned beef hash recipe. And here's more about corned beef: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Peach Pie Recipe

Wednesday March 12, 2014
As you might've heard, there's something called "Pi Day" coming up on Friday. So named because the date (3/14) happens to share the same first three digits as the mathematical constant 𝛑, Pi Day is either a day to celebrate mathematics, or a day to celebrate pie.
Peach pie recipe
Peach pie recipe.

Or both. Pi represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. And pie is round. Maybe we're on to something here.

One of my favorite pies is peach pie. And I know it's not quite peach season yet, but in a way, I feel like the off-season is the best time to bake a peach pie anyway. The truth is, I feel guilty making peach pie in the summer. When fresh peaches are around, I just want to eat them. Baking them seems wrong somehow. Plus, I don't like to use the oven during the summer.

Fortunately, you can get really good quality frozen peaches these days, and frozen peaches are great for peach pie. So there's that, plus the added benefit of being able to make peach pie all year round — without the guilt. Here's a great peach pie recipe. And to help you celebrate Pi Day, here are a few more pie recipes: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Chocolate Ganache

Monday March 10, 2014
Chocolate ganache is a really simple icing or pastry filling that you can make using nothing but chocolate and heavy cream.

I'd describe ganache as an icing or glaze rather than a frosting, because it's generally poured rather than spread, but that's not necessarily a meaningful distinction, nor is it always in any case true.
chocolate ganache
Chocolate ganache.

For instance, it's easiest to work with ganache when it's warm, because you can pour it over a cake or torte dip pastries in it (like a chocolate eclair). You can let it cool for a bit and spread it with a baker's spatula, but if you're frosting a cake, a buttercream frosting might work better.

You can also cool ganache and pipe it onto cupcakes, but again, buttercream might be better. Ganache is also used quite a lot for making candies, and you can cool ganache, roll it into balls and dust it with cocoa powder to make chocolate truffles.

Moreover, you can control the thickness of ganache by controlling the proportion of cream you use. More cream makes a softer ganache, while less cream makes it harder and less spreadable.

Still, depending on whether it's a hot day, you might want to make your ganache a little stiffer. But in general, the ratio is four parts chocolate to three parts cream.

Finally, the best way to think of ganache is to remember that it's an emulsion, just like mayonnaise or Hollandaise, so if you've ever made either one of those, the way you incorporate the cream into the chocolate when making ganache will be familiar to you.

Here's a simple chocolate ganache recipe. And here's some more about desserts and pastries: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Cure Your Own Corned Beef

Sunday March 9, 2014
With St. Patrick's Day coming up, corned beef is going to be on a lot of people's minds. And while you can buy a prepackaged corned beef, already cured, where's the fun in that? Curing your own corned beef is really easy. Plus, you get to select your own meat, which means you're more in control of the whole process.
Cure Your Own Corned Beef
Cure your own corned beef.
Photo © Danilo Alfaro

Curing corned beef simply involves soaking a brisket of beef in a brine solution for several days. Basically, you're pickling the meat. All you need to do is mix up the brine, which is water, sugar, salt, plus other seasonings and flavorings, and then soak the meat in it (in the fridge, of course) for about five days. The one obscure ingredient you'll need is something called Prague Powder, which is a kind of curing salt, and it's what gives the corned beef its characteristic pink color.

Once the meat is fully cured, you're ready to cook the corned beef. Just remove it from the brine, rinse it off and simmer it in a big pot for a few hours. To make corned beef and cabbage, you'd add the cabbage, and maybe some baby potatoes, about 30 minutes before the end of cooking. Because the meat is already fully flavored from the brine, you can cook it in plain water and it will come out perfectly flavorful and tender. Here's a simple guide to making your own corned beef. And here's more about corned beef: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Making a Flaky Pie Crust

Thursday March 6, 2014
One of the secrets to making flaky pie crust is making sure you have pea-sized lumps of fat distributed evenly throughout the flour. And you've got to keep all your ingredients ice cold so that the lumps of fat remain solid.
How to make flaky pie crust
How to make flaky pie crust.

The traditional fats used for pie crust are butter, shortening and lard. Shortening (e.g. Crisco) works really well, but it doesn't have any flavor. Lard is also excellent, but some people have a hang-up about using it.

Butter has terrific flavor, of course, but it's prone to melting. Soft warm butter isn't any good for making flaky pie crust because when butter gets warm and soft, it doesn't form lumps. And it's those lumps that help form the crust's flaky texture.

In the past I've recommended using a combination of butter and shortening — shortening for the excellent flaky texture and butter for flavor.

The usual technique for getting the fat into the flour is by cutting it in using a pair of knives or a tool called a pastry blender. Some bakers just kind of smush the fat in by hand, but it takes skill to do that without warming it up too much.

Anyway, there's another technique. A friend and baker who runs a pie company here in Portland called Pie to the People demonstrated it for me recently, and it was pretty mindblowing.

I've tasted several of his pies, and I've found the crusts to be sublimely flaky and buttery and generally superb. So when I found out about the alternative method he uses, I wanted to see it for myself.

The genius of this technique is that it ensures the lumps of butter are exactly the right size, and guarantees that the ingredients will be ice cold. Check out this demo on How to Make a Flaky Pie Crust.

And if you happen to be in the Portland area, check out Pie to the People. Their pies are available in about five stores across the city, and they'll even deliver a pie right to your door. Finally, here's some more info about pies and pastry: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.