Monday, February 28, 2011


If you're reading a restaurant menu, and you run across something like "in a red wine reduction," it sounds pretty fancy, doesn't it? Fortunately, reductions are uncomplicated and easy to achieve, because it's a fancy word for something pretty simple.

Water reduces flavour. So by getting rid of the water, you intensify the flavour. How do you get rid of the water? By heating something slowly, and letting the water evaporate. (Hence things like "evaporated milk.") To make a reduction, simply put something in a pan and put it on low heat. The shallower the liquid, the faster the evaporation--so if you put a liquid in a shallow, flat pan, the water will evaporate much faster than putting it in a tall, deep pan, because more surface area = more evaporation. Makes sense, right?

What can be reduced? Just about any liquid -- all those gorgeous pan drippings, beer, wine or liquors, juices, you name it. You can even reduce the last serving of leftover soup and make it into a sauce that way. Let your imagination take you where it will!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Liquor Infusions

If you've been spending money on flavoured vodkas, rums, etc., liquor infusions are easy to do yourself and can be suited to your own taste. If you think you'd like to try something exotic, all the better--all you have to do is go for it.

Liquor infusions need only a medium-value liquor (bourbon, rum, tequila and vodka work best) and something with flavour to put in it. Some tried-and-true flavours are orange, lemon, lime, cinnamon, and vanilla; try combining two or more of these if you want to be adventurous. Farther out are exotic spices, exotic fruits, and even bacon.

Pour out the liquor into an airtight jar. Add your flavouring ingredients and store in a cool, dark place. Seal the jar and check for taste every few days until you have the right flavour. Feel free to add something else if you want more complexity. Once you've tasted the result and are satisfied, you can pour it back into the original bottle and label it, or into a decanter.

If you really want to impress your guests, and you're using a decanter with a fairly wide mouth, you can suck a lemon or lime into the decanter this way: start with a clean, dry decanter. Roll the lemon or lime gently on a hard surface like a countertop or table until the pulp is crushed inside and the skin is flexible. The lemon or lime must be able to almost squeeze into the mouth of the decanter.

Light a match and put it in the decanter, then stop up the mouth of the decanter with the lemon or lime. The match will burn the oxygen, creating a slight vacuum, at which point it should be fairly easy to push the lemon or lime the rest of the way inside. Shake the decanter to empty out the match, rinse, and add your flavoured liquor back in. To remove the lemon or lime when you have emptied the spirits, turn the decanter upside down and cut the fruit into pieces with a knife.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I used to work at a liquor store, and on the back label of many liquor bottles there are recipes for making certain kinds of drinks. Now you may think that the most common question for a liquor store clerk is "Where is ______?" or "What kind of wine should I use for cooking _______?" Both are great questions, and your liquor store clerk should know the answers to them. But that's not the most common question I got. The most common question is "How much is a 'part'?"

You see, the liquor bottle recipes don't know if you are making a drink for a single person, or a crowd, or whether you want only a small-sized drink. So they give the proportions of drinks, and it's up to the consumer to decide what is the appropriate quantity.

So, a "part" is kind of like the x in your algebra book. First, off, when you are deciphering a recipe with "part"s, you need to see how many parts are included in the recipe. 5 parts? 10 parts? 35 parts?

Now envision the container for your final product: a double old-fashioned glass, a large beer stein, a punchbowl? Think about how much it takes to create the desired amount of your final product.

And now get out your measuring spoons or cups, and decide how many of those will fit into your container. When you get a close match between the size of your measuring equipment times the number of parts and your container size, that will tell you how much is a "part."

To make the equation work, then, you have a "part" which can be a teaspoon, a tablespoon, a cup, a pint, a gallon, or even more, or anything in between. Then you are going to use that measurement for everything that is a "part," whether you want one part, three parts, or twenty parts, or something else. It's all about how much of one ingredient in relation to how much of the other ingredient.

So if you have a recipe that calls for three parts soda to one part of rye, mentally divide your container (glass, pitcher, punchbowl) into four parts. If it's an eight-ounce glass you want to fill, you have four parts, so you'd divide that eight ounces by four, and you get two ounces (actually a little less as you'll need some room at the top). Then you take three two-ounce measures of soda, and one two-ounce measure of rye.

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Lisa Ven Vertloh

Why are proportions important in food? In many recipes, proportions are all you get, as we have seen in the liquor store examples. However, in any case, knowing the general proportions of recipes helps free you from the recipe books and from dragging out the measuring tools each time you want to make something, and that makes getting to the point where you're ready to dive into your food that much closer!

Monday, February 7, 2011


Those who didn't grow up with a European immigrant grandmother (as I did), may find stock an intimidating task when reading cookbooks. However, stock is not only simple, nutritious, and cheap, but a staple in every kitchen, and is one of the easiest things you can make (even easier than sorbet or pate!).

Take your kitchen scraps. Sort meats into poultry, fish, beef, pork, or lamb (don't mix the meats together). Throw one (or no) kinds of meat into a slow cooker. Fill the slow cooker three-quarters full with water. Add vegetable ends, peels, leftovers. If desired, add a light sprinkle of fresh or dried herbs. Turn on your slow cooker and leave for eight hours (I do this after preparing dinner and leave it overnight). Strain your stock and if desired, pick out pieces of meat and add back in. Now pour into a heatproof measuring cup, or use a ladle, and pour off stock into dedicated ice cube trays. Don't use those ice cube trays for any other purpose, and it's even better if you have dedicated ice cube trays for each kind of stock you will make. Take out the bones from the debris, and throw the rest onto the compost pile. When the stock freezes, pop it out of the ice cube trays and put the cubes into freezer-safe containers. Label the containers and use within four months.

So why should you make stock, and what is it good for? First of all, you will be turning into food that which would otherwise go into the trash. Second, stock is the basis for soups, stews, gravies and sauces, so it's always useful to have around. And, of course, we will be saving money not buying broth or stock, and keeping waste out of the landfill, and if you compost, you will have gorgeous fertilizer for your garden!