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Danilo Alfaro

Danilo's Culinary Arts Blog


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How to Braise Duck Legs

Thursday May 22, 2014
When you're working with cuts of meat that are tougher or from older animals, braising is an excellent cooking method. The long, slow application of moist heat ends up breaking down all the tough bits, while the muscle fibers absorb moisture from the cooking liquid. The result: a tender, juicy piece of meat.
Video: How to Braise Duck Legs
Video: How to braise duck legs.

You might not think of poultry when you think of tough cuts of meat, but duck legs can be very tough. Anything older than 6 months is considered a mature duck — as opposed to a duckling, which is what you'd look for if you wanted to prepare a roast duck. You wouldn't braise a duck breast, however. Duck breasts are best prepared with dry heat cooking methods, like sautéed, pan-fried or grilled.

As with most braised items, it's important to brown your duck legs before you braise them. This adds flavor and color, and it lets the excess fat render out of the legs. Here's a video that will show you how to braise duck legs.

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How to Cook Duck Breasts

Wednesday May 21, 2014
Duck breasts are wonderfully flavorful and a nice change of pace from the standard chicken breast. They're also surprisingly low in fat. The skin has a bit of fat underneath it, but if you cook a duck breast properly, you can get rid of almost all of that fat and just be left with a thin layer of very tasty, crispy, duck skin.
Video: How to Cook Duck Breasts
Video: How to cook duck breasts.

The way that's done is by scoring the skin, which means just making little cuts part-way through the skin, in a cross-hatch pattern. This allows the fat to render out, leaving the skin nice and crispy.

A large cast iron pan is great for pan-searing duck breasts. The cast iron gets really hot, which is useful for getting the heat to penetrate the breast and help melt out all that fat. And the bigger the better — you don't want to overcrowd your pan. Check out this video on how to cook duck breasts.

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Video: How to Make Mayonnaise

Friday May 9, 2014
Making your own mayonnaise is one of the most basic culinary arts skills, and you can see the technique demonstrated in this short video that shows you how to make mayonnaise.
How to Make Mayonnaise Video
How to make mayonnaise.

It's a pretty good clip, but I should point out that the guy in the video calls for four egg yolks and a single cup of oil. Note, however, that a single egg yolk can actually hold a cup of oil by itself — though there are risks involved: a single-egg mayonnaise is not very stable. Two egg yolks, though, should be plenty for a single cup of oil. Maybe it's just me, but I think four egg yolks will produce a mayonnaise that's a bit too on the eggy side.

It's just a matter of taste, though, and everything else about the video is pretty sound. You might also enjoy this video on making flavored mayonnaise. And here's more about making emulsified sauces: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Video: How to Make Pastry Cream

Thursday May 8, 2014
Vanilla pastry cream, or crème pâtissière, is a classic French recipe that's used in dessert and pastries like profiteroles, cream puffs, éclairs and many more.
How to Make Pastry Cream Video
Vanilla pastry cream video.

Pastry cream is basically a form of custard, which means that it's very similar to crème brûlée — cream, eggs and sugar. It's the addition of starch (usually flour, corn starch or a mixture of both) that makes a custard into a pastry cream.

In this video, the lovely Elaine Lemm, About.com's Guide to British Food, shows how quick and easy it is to make vanilla pastry cream. And here are a few more resources to do with desserts and baking: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

How to Make Biscuits

Monday May 5, 2014
If you want to make a perfect batch of biscuits, light, flaky, airy and fluffy, you'll want to make sure you use the right kind of flour and don't overwork the dough. Because the more you work the dough, the tougher the biscuits are going to be.

And by the way, for my readers outside of the United States, for whom the word biscuit means something else, I'm referring to the kind of biscuits which are a type of quick bread, in the same family as scones, muffins, corn bread and so on.

Anyway, if you've ever made homemade biscuits, you've probably rolled out the dough and then cut out the biscuits with a pastry cutter. However, if you're trying not to overwork the dough, rolling out the dough is exactly the wrong thing to do. It turns out there's a better way. Read more about How to Make Biscuits. Also see: Flaky Pie Crust Recipe and Flaky Pie Crust Tutorial Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

What is Gluten?

Saturday May 3, 2014
Gluten is a combination of the natural proteins found in wheat, and to a much lesser extent, in rye and barley. Gluten is activated when flour is moistened and then either kneaded or mixed. When this happens, the gluten molecules literally stretch out.
What is gluten?
What is gluten?
Photo © Silvia Jansen/Getty Images

Then, the gases produced by yeast or another leavening agent inflate these gluten molecules like little balloons, which is what permits doughs to rise. Finally, when the dough is baked, the gluten hardens, giving the bread its structure.

Gluten provides structure and chewiness, but it's also the only way to create light, airy baked goods. That's because without gluten, breads won't rise. This is why, if you've ever tried gluten-free breads, they're so heavy and dense. They're really just lumps of starch. Read more about gluten.

Also, here's more about flour and baking: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Video: Cuts of Pork

Wednesday April 30, 2014
Pork is the most popular meat on the planet, and with good reason: juicy, flavorful and versatile, what's not to love?
Cuts of pork: pork primal cuts
Video: Cuts of pork.

Pork is divided into large sections called primal cuts. Pork primal cuts have all kinds of peculiar names, like the Boston butt, which is nowhere near the butt, and the picnic shoulder, which you would never bring to a picnic. These primals are then broken down further into individual retail cuts — the roasts and chops you buy at the store.

Anyway, here's a great video that illustrates the various pork primal cuts, including where each one comes from, along with some ideas for how to prepare each one. You'll even find out what to do with the head. And here's more about cooking pork: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

What is Quinoa?

Monday April 28, 2014
We eat a lot of quinoa at my house, and we also enjoy trying out various products made with quinoa, like quinoa pasta and quinoa flakes. So we bought some quinoa cookies last week, and on the back of the box I read this surprising statement:
Quinoa Salad Recipe
Quinoa salad recipe.
Photo © Danilo Alfaro

"More precious than gold, this powerhouse grain has now been re-discovered by the world marketplace because of its delicious flavor and high nutritional value."

Now, a pound of quinoa will set you back about five bucks, while the price of gold is currently around $1,300 an ounce. Thus, quinoa is demonstrably not more precious than gold. I'm not sure why they even brought gold into it. I mean, while they're just making stuff up, why not platinum? Diamonds? Bitcoins?

On another occasion, I noticed that the cooking instructions on a package of quinoa would, if followed, produce a soggy and altogether dreadful mass of mush. Which is surprising, because the correct method is really simple, and after all, quinoa's been around for 5,000 years, so it's not like no one's had a chance to perfect the recipe.

Anyway, if you want to know all about quinoa, including the right way to cook it so that it turns out light, fluffy and slightly crunchy, see: What is Quinoa?

Also see: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

Two French Classics

Monday April 21, 2014
Here are a couple of French classics: Beef Bourguignon and Steak au Poivre. They might sound fancy, and they are definitely impressive dishes to serve, but they're relatively simple to make.
Beef Bourguignon
Beef Bourguignon.

Beef Bourguignon is a rustic beef dish made by braising beef in red wine and beef stock, along with button mushrooms and pearl onions. The traditional wine is Burgundy, which is where the dish gets its name.
Steak au poivre
Steak au poivre.

Steak au poivre is another bistro classic in which a steak is crusted with cracked black peppercorns and then pan-fried in butter and served with a creamy sauce flavored with cognac.

Check out the recipes for Beef Bourguignon and Steak au Poivre. And here's more about cooking meat: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

How to Hard Boil Eggs

Friday April 18, 2014
Easter is the number-one hard-boiled egg holiday of the year. What turkey is to Thanksgiving, hard-boiled eggs are to Easter. (To be sure, plenty of people serve a roasted turkey for Easter, but that's another story.)
How to Hard Boil Eggs
How to Hard Boil Eggs
Photo © Danilo Alfaro

Hard boiled egg are used in all kinds of recipes, like in salads or sandwiches, and they're a nearly perfect snack on their own. Unfortunately, making hard boiled eggs is one of those obscure skills that few people seem to have mastered. How long do I boil it? Do I start with cold water, or do I boil the water first and then drop in the egg? And why are they so hard to peel?

Fear not, faithful reader. I've got a simple technique that will help you make a perfect hard boiled egg every time.

One thing to know about a good hard boiled egg is that you should never see a greenish ring around the yolk when you cut it open. When you see that it means the egg is overcooked. It's the sulfur in the egg that causes that greenish hue, and it appears when the egg has been overheated because it was boiled for too long. It doesn't smell amazing, either, as you've no doubt experienced at one time or another. With this technique, you can say goodbye to those greenish, overcooked egg yolks.

As for boiled eggs being hard to peel, that's a function of how fresh the egg is, not how you cook it. Fresher eggs will be harder to peel. So if you've got some older eggs in your fridge, those would be a better choice for making hard boiled eggs than ones you just grabbed from the henhouse. Check out: How to Hard Boil Eggs.

(Oh, and about that roasted turkey. Check out this roast turkey breast.)

Finally, here are a few more articles to help with your Easter preparations: Connect with Me: Google+ | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

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