These are some basic points of knowledge I believe every cook should know.
Knowing how to do these things can make your food more flavorful, easier, cheaper and lots of fun.
In no particular order:
Make your own creme fraiche, yogurt and sour cream
The procedure is basically the same for each.
Yield: 1 quart
1 quart heavy cream or half and half (for sour cream and creme fraiche) or milk (yogurt)
1/3 cup starter culture:
Creme fraiche – buttermilk
Sour cream - sour cream
Yogurt - yogurt, plain
Place the dairy product into a non-reactive pot and bring to 185°F. Remove from heat and cool to below 75°F.
For yogurt, add 1 cup dry milk powder and 1 tbsp honey or other liquid sweetener such as agave syrup or maple syrup while heating.
Add the starter cultures after cooling; stir it in well.
Cover and leave in a warm spot overnight or for 12-18 hours. The product is ready when it has thickened.
To make a Greek style yogurt, pour the thickened yogurt into a quadruple folded cheesecloth. Tie the corners so the yogurt can hang from a wooden spoon suspended over a bowl to catch the dripping whey. Overnight is usually sufficient to thicken the yogurt to “Greek” style thickness. The key to a thicker yogurt consistency is using dry milk powder.
Refrigerate and use within 2 weeks.
Learn to make Half Sour Pickles
These are considered a “fresh” pickle
Yield: 1 quart
1 quart wide mouth canning jar with new 2-piece lid. Sterilize the jar in the dishwasher, NOT the 2-piece lid
2 pounds pickling cucumbers, cut into spears or leave whole if desired
1/4 oz dill sprigs
2 cloves fresh garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 quart water (32 ounces)
3 ounces salt
4 ounces white vinegar
Boil enough water to cover the 2-piece lid. Place the 2-piece canning lid in a mixing bowl. Pour boiling water over the canning lid.
Set aside until ready to use.
Place the dill, garlic and bay leaf into the bottom of a 1 quart wide mouth canning jar. Pack the cucumbers on top.
Bring the water, salt and vinegar to a boil and pour directly over cucumbers. Place the canning lid on the jar; turn upside down and cool. Refrigerate.
Allow pickles to steep 24 hours before eating.
They are good until they are gone, which won’t be long.
Make your own “signature” butter
1# butter (European style preferably)
1/4-1/2 cup of your favorite combination of high quality dried herbs. Using dried herbs, garlic and onions are essential here due to a food safety standpoint.
Mix the butter (soft, of course) and the herbs all together in a mixer. Begin with the lower amount and add more, adjusting to the taste level you like.
Form into a log using parchment paper. Wrap in cellophane or package into small plastic food storage containers and refrigerate.
Use the butter for saute, on bread, rolls, over vegetables, gnocchi, pasta, potatoes, steaks, seafood and so much more.
This alone will give your food character and a flavor profile that will identify you!
For food safety reasons, please use dried herbs and spices for this. However, you can use fresh citrus zest but keep the product cold!
Make your own Seasoning Salts
Use 1 cup of salt. The kind of salt does matter. Do NOT use iodized table salt. That kind of salt should be used for driveways in the winter. There are so many better choices. Not sure about what kinds of salt there are? See my article on Salt.
To make your seasoning salt: Choose your favorite herbs, spices or citrus zest. Mince them fine and stir them into the salt. Allow to mellow a day before using. The salt will “dry out” the seasonings so it is alright to use fresh flavorings here, but not in your butter.
Use these seasoning salts as finishing salts, to top your loaves of bread or rolls, to season a crisp radish or to top a grilled steak or baked potato.
Simple, easy, and the flavor enhancement really goes a long way. Don’t spend the money on gourmet salt blends when you can make your own, have better quality and all that is much more friendly on your wallet.
Make your own unique fresh ground pepper blends
Every serious cook has a pepper grinder to use for fresh pepper, right? If not, go get one. Fresh ground pepper is necessary.
Instead of just adding plain black peppercorns to your grinder, add whole allspice, white, green, pink and Szechuan peppercorns. Add broken cinnamon sticks, a clove or 2 or 3, fennel seeds, whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds to the mix as well.
This will create a wonderful complex flavor enhancement whenever you crank a few rounds from your grinder.
Grow your own fresh herbs
Having access to fresh herbs is not only wonderful, but a great time and money saver as well. See my article about growing your own herbs here. There is a lot of information and links to buying herbs and other products from trusted sites.
Make perpetual vanilla extract
I posted an article about how to do this recently. You can access “How To Make Vanilla Extract”here.
Doing this is so easy and the flavor of this extract is far better than anything you can buy, even the best vanilla extract out there.
Just be sure to start with quality ingredients and be patient for 6 months. You will then have a lifetime supply.
Coming in Basic Knowledge Part 2:
- Learn to make a simple loaf of bread
- Make flavored vinegar and infused oils
- Create your own favorite Fresh Vinaigrette to use for salads, marinades, or dips
And much more.
Is there anything YOU want to learn about? Leave a comment and let me know.