Kitchen Tip of the Week – Making Vinaigrette

11 11 2008


This week I’m going to discuss the basics of making your own salad dressings (or vinaigrettes, as they’re also called).  For years my fridge would be filled with bottles of different dressings, only to go bad before I had finished them.  Not only that, they can be full of additives and are typically expensive for what you get. Plus, as I’ve said before, fresh just tastes better.  Making your own allows you to control what goes in your dressing so you can customize it and have your own unique ‘house dressing’.

Vinaigrette Basics

I used to be intimidated by the idea of making my own dressings but if you remember a few basic proportions (see below), it’s very simple.  A few tips to remember:

  • Mustard helps keep the oil and vinegar from separating.  It also adds a subtle flavour.
  • Balance sweet with a bit of acid.  For example, if you add honey or maple syrup for sweetness, add a little bit more vinegar or lemon to make it less cloying.  Likewise, adding a touch of sweetness (a small amount of sugar, honey or syrup) can take the harsh edge off the vinegar.
  • Use the best quality ingredients you can.  While you don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy oils and vinegars, use ones that taste good to you.  They typically last a very long time so it’s a good investment for your pantry.
  • Dressing your salad: Add dressing a bit at a time and toss well.  You want it to just coat the greens but not weigh them down or make them soggy.  Remember, you can always add a little bit more but you can’t take it away!  If you do overdress the salad, add more greens.
  • Vinaigrettes can also be used to drizzle over cooked meat and vegetables, to marinate meats such as chicken or as a dressing for sandwiches.

Selecting Your Ingredients

Acid: There are many types of acid you can use such as lemon juice, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, white vinegar, white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, raspberry vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, fig vinegar, balsamic vinegar…. The list goes on.  Let your imagination run wild!

Oil: Use a neutral tasting oil as your main oil.  Olive oil can work as long as it’s mild – you don’t want the dressing to taste overwhelmingly like olives.  Other neutral oils such as canola, sunflower or safflower work very well and have a lighter taste (but unfortunately they are not lighter in calories).  More ‘exotic’ oils such as avocado, walnut or sesame oil can be added in small quantities for flavouring to make a dressing that is unique and different.

Mustard: Dijon style mustards usually work best.  Avoid using bright yellow ‘hot dog’ mustard – it’s a bit too harsh tasting for a vinaigrette.  I generally prefer a smooth mustard over a grainy style.

Additions: While optional, adding a bit of minced garlic, diced shallot or finely chopped onion can give your dressing depth.  Likewise, herbs and spices can help customize your dressing and make it more interesting. Add fruit juices such as orange or apple for a touch of sweetness.

Basic Vinaigrette – Proportions to Follow to Make a Custom Dressing:

  • 3 to 4 parts OIL
  • 1 part ACID
  • 1/6 part MUSTARD
  • A pinch of SALT, to taste
  • Optional ADDITIONS:  Suggestions include finely minced fresh garlic, finely diced shallots, finely chopped herbs, a splash of fruit juice, 1/3 part honey or maple syrup, etc.

Add ingredients to a small bowl and whisk together until combined.

Basic White Wine Vinaigrette:

  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons neutral oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced shallot
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Can be stored covered in the refrigerator for a few days.  If the ingredients separate, whisk until it emulsifies again.


Honey-Mustard Dressing

Makes approximately 1/4 cup – can easily be doubled

This makes a great salad dressing, particularly for chicken.  It can also be used as a glaze or dip for chicken, shrimp or pork (it’s really good with chicken fingers!).  The proportions of oil and vinegar are a little different for this recipe.

  • 2 Tablespoons dijon-style mustard
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower.   Tip: Use the same spoon to measure both oil and honey.  If you measure the oil first the honey will not stick to the spoon.
  • 1 Tablespoon liquid honey
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 clove garlic, very finely minced
  • Pinch of salt, to taste

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined.  Use as a dip or a dressing for your favourite salads.

Bon Appétit and Enjoy!


Kitchen Tip of the Week – Keeping Clean

5 11 2008


Keeping Clean

I’m practically obsessed with keeping my hands clean in the kitchen, especially if I’m working with meat.  I also need to clean my favourite knives and other utensils frequently as I’m cooking, using the dishwasher only for a large load at the end of the meal.  

To make things easy, I fill an old hand soap dispenser with dish detergent.  This allows me to pump a small amount without getting my dirty hands all over everything (particularly important when working with raw poultry).  I keep it in a small container along with a fresh sponge or two so I’m not searching all over for a clean sponge when I need one.  The container keeps things neat so there aren’t soapy drips all around the sink.  Fancier hand soap pumps are often sold at kitchen and bath stores but you can easily re-use an old dispenser.  I prefer a clear one so I know when it’s time for a re-fill.  

Sponges should be replaced frequently, as they can harbour a lot of bacteria.  To help keep them clean, you can soak them in bleach that has been diluted with water. Another popular method is to microwave damp, metal-free sponges for one to two minutes at full power.  However, this must be done with caution because sponges can catch fire if heated too long.  Luckily, sponges are very inexpensive so the best way to keep things clean is replace them often.  


A soap dispenser filled with dish detergent makes kitchen clean up easy

A soap dispenser filled with dish detergent makes kitchen clean up easy





Kitchen Tip of the Week – Removing Sausage Casing

29 10 2008

Sausages are great to use in recipes.  Of course they’re delicious grilled on their own but they’re also versatile for use in sauces, meatballs, meatloaf, pastas, casseroles and more.  All you have to do is remove the meat from the casing and use it in your favourite recipes.

For some reason, when I used to remove the meat from sausage casings, I would squeeze it out the end, as though it was a tube of toothpaste.  However, this isn’t the easiest way to do it.  The following method is very simple (and probably obvious to most people but it was a revelation to me!):  

How to Remove Sausage Meat from the Casing (Efficiently!)


1. Slice the sausage lengthwise down the middle, making sure to pierce the skin but not cutting all the way through the sausage

1. Slice the sausage lengthwise down the middle, making sure to pierce the skin but not cutting all the way through the sausage




2. Peel back the casing as though you are removing the jacket of a small child for them

2. Peel back the casing as though you are removing the jacket of a small child for them


Et voila!  Discard the casing and you have sausage meat, ready to use.

For a great recipe using Italian sausage meat, check out my latest entry for Suite  It features rapini, which is also known as broccoli raab or rabe:

Orecchiette with Rapini, Sausage and Crisp Garlic Crumbs


Orecchiette with Rapini, Sausage and Garlic Crumbs
Orecchiette with Rapini, Sausage and Garlic Crumbs


Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Kitchen Tip of the Week – Common Ingredient Substitutions

20 10 2008

Even cooks with well stocked pantries occasionally find themselves missing a key ingredient.  This usually occurs when you’re in the middle of making dinner, with guests on the way and no time to run to the store to get what you need!  This week I’m making a list of common substitutions that you can use if you ever find yourself in such a situation.

Of course, using a substitute isn’t going to yield exactly the same results as using the original ingredients. Use common sense (and your eyes and tastebuds!) – you may have to adjust moisture content or seasonings so everything will work together properly.  

Common Ingredient Substitutions

  • For 1 cup Buttermilk SUBSTITUTE: 1 Tablespoon lemon juice OR white vinegar + milk to make 1 cup.  Let sit 5 to 10 minutes before using.


  • For 1 teaspoon Baking Powder SUBSTITUTE: 1/4 teaspoon baking soda + 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar + 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch


  • For 1 oz. Unsweetened Chocolate SUBSTITUTE: 3 Tablespoons cocoa powder (not Dutch processed) + 1 Tablespoon shortening OR unsalted butter OR vegetable oil


  • For 1 Tablespoon Cornstarch, for thickening sauces SUBSTITUTE: 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour


  • For 1/2 teaspoon Cream of Tartar SUBSTITUTE: 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar OR lemon juice


  • For 1 cup Half-and-Half SUBSTITUTE: 1/2 partially skimmed milk (1% or 2%) + 1/2 cup whipping cream (35%)


  • For 1 cup Sour Cream SUBSTITUTE: 1 cup plain yogurt OR 1 Tablespoon lemon juice + whole milk to fill 1 cup.  Let stand 10 minutes before using.


  • For 1 cup Mascarpone Cheese SUBSTITUTE: 3/4 cup cream cheese + 1/4 cup whipping cream beaten together.


  • For 1 teaspoon Allspice SUBSTITUTE: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon + 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves


  • For 1 Tablespoon chopped Fresh Herbs SUBSTITUTE: 1 teaspoon dried herbs OR 1/2 teaspoon ground herbs.


  • For 1/2 cup Maple Sugar SUBSTITUTE: 1 cup maple syrup


  • For 1 cup Brown Sugar SUBSTITUTE: 1 cup granulated sugar + 1/4 cup molasses


  • For 2 cups Fresh Chopped Tomatoes SUBSTITUTE: One 16 oz. can tomatoes




Kitchen Tip of the Week – Melting Chocolate

14 10 2008

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I’m in recovery mode from a weekend of cooking and good eating so I’m keeping things simple. Today’s tip is one that can be used for baking and dessert preparation throughout the year: melting chocolate.  Plus, I’m including a delicious recipe for chocolate pudding that is low in fat! Or at least lower in fat than regular pudding, which usually calls for eggs and cream.  Cornstarch is the secret ingredient, making the pudding taste thick and rich with out excessive amounts of fat.  Perfect for those of us who had too much turkey and pumpkin pie over the weekend!

Tips for Melting Chocolate

Chocolate will burn very easily if exposed directly to heat so you can’t just throw it in a pot and turn up the burner.  It has to be melted with indirect heat, which can be done in the microwave or with a double boiler.  Chopping the chocolate first helps it melt faster.

Microwave Method: Chop your chocolate into chunks and put into a microwave safe bowl.  On medium power (5), heat for 1 minute.  Check chocolate and stir.  Return to microwave and heat on medium for another minute and check again.  Repeat until chocolate is shiny and melted (the length of time will depend on how much chocolate you have and how powerful your microwave is).  Note: it is possible to burn chocolate in the microwave so don’t just put it in for 5 minutes without checking on it!

Stove-top Method: If you have a double-boiler pot, that’s great but it’s not necessary. You can easily improvise using a regular saucepan and a metal mixing bowl.  Pour about 2-1/2″ of water into the saucepan and heat until it is simmering gently (not a hard boil).  Place a metal mixing bowl over the boiling water and put your chopped chocolate into the bowl.  Make sure the bowl isn’t touching the water. Stir chocolate until it melts, holding the bowl steady if necessary (wear an oven mitt – the bowl may get hot!). Watch the steam – water will ruin your melted chocolate (see below).

An improvised double-boiler, using a saucepan and metal bowl

An improvised double-boiler, using a saucepan and metal bowl

You can use your favourite chocolate for melting but avoid using chocolate chips if you want your chocolate to melt smoothly. They are designed to keep their shape while baking in cookies and contain an ingredient to keep them from melting completely.

Make sure no water gets into your chocolate as it’s melting.  It will ‘seize’, meaning it will turn lumpy and grainy.  If water does accidentally get into the chocolate, you can try to save it by adding vegetable oil or vegetable shortening to it and stirring until combined.

‘Tempering’ the chocolate is a technique that prepares the chocolate for dipping or coating items so it retains a gloss.  For detailed instructions on tempering chocolate, check out Tempering Instructions from Godiva Chocolatier.

Chocolate Pudding

This is a great alternative for people who can’t eat eggs, as well as anyone who wants to avoid the high fat content in traditional custard-based puddings.  It’s so creamy and chocolate-y, you won’t even miss the eggs and cream!

Makes 4 servings

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups milk (low fat is ok)
  • 1 Tablespoon strong coffee OR coffee liqueur such as Kahlua
  • 1/2 cup melted chocolate (about 5 oz. before melting)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  1. In a large saucepan on medium heat, whisk together sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, flour and salt with 1 cup of the milk.  Whisk hard until all of the cocoa powder has dissolved.
  2. Stir in the remaining 1 cup of milk, coffee, melted chocolate and vanilla.  Whisk briskly so the melted chocolate stays smooth and is thoroughly incorporated.
  3. Simmer the pudding mixture on medium-high heat, stirring continuously until it becomes quite thick, about 5 minutes.  At the last minute, whisk in the butter. Pour pudding into individual cups (see below for serving suggestions).  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Serving suggestions:

  • Pour into individual martini glasses, wine glasses or other attractive glassware.
  • Pour into small bowls or ramekins.
  • You can layer pudding with crumbled cookies in a glass serving dish for an attractive presentation.
  • Sprinkle with chopped nuts, shaved white chocolate, your favourite fruit or berries, a dollop of whipped cream, etc.
  • Instead of coffee or coffee-liqueur, use orange-flavoured liqueur such as Grand Marnier.  Garnish with a tangerine or clementine slice.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

Chocolate pudding garnished with chopped nuts and hazelnut biscotti

Chocolate pudding garnished with chopped nuts and hazelnut biscotti

Kitchen Tip of the Week – Garlic 101

7 10 2008

Garlic is one of my favourite recipe additions.  I even own a couple of cookbooks dedicated to garlic, including ‘Garlic, Garlic, Garlic’ by Linda and Fred Griffith.  Garlic is very versatile:  from roasting it to bring out its sweetness to rubbing it raw on bruschetta toasts, it can be used in an endless number of dishes. There are even dessert recipes that use garlic, although they’re a bit extreme for my tastes!

Garlic is closely related to the onion family.  It is used around the world for both culinary and medicinal purposes.  China is the world’s largest producer of garlic, growing over 20 billion pounds a year, which they export worldwide.  Garlic is also grown in Canada and the United States and can often be found at farmer’s markets in the summer.  It keeps well in a cool, dry, open place but do not refrigerate or freeze it.  I keep mine in a basket in the kitchen so it’s always accessible.

Here are some garlic facts and tips you can use in your kitchen:

Garlic 101

To separate a head of garlic into cloves, peel off the papery outer layers and smash the top of the garlic head with the heel of your hand.  It should separate, allowing you to pull apart the individual cloves.


To peel the cloves, use the flat side of a large knife to lightly smash the side of the clove.  The skin will easily peel away.  The fresher the garlic is, the more the skin will stick to the cloves.


To chop garlic, peel the clove.  Using a sharp knife, cut into thin slivers and then chop up the slivers.


A microplane grater can be used if you need to mince garlic finely.  Just run a peeled clove over the microplane and put the grated garlic into your dish.


Another way to mince garlic is as follows: Put a pinch of salt on a cutting board. Place a peeled garlic clove on its side and smash hard with the side of a large chef’s knife.  Use the knife to chop it finely.


Avoid using a garlic press if possible.  A lot of people swear they change the taste of garlic.  This is debatable but they are definitely a pain to clean.  It’s much easier to use a knife or microplane.


Avoid pre-minced garlic that comes in a jar.  Compared to fresh garlic, it’s very expensive and will not have the same pungent flavour as fresh.  Likewise, don’t use garlic powder or salt – fresh is better!


If you’re following a recipe that calls for garlic powder or garlic salt, you can make the following substitutions:  1/8 teaspoon garlic powder = 1 small fresh garlic clove.  1/2 teaspoon garlic salt = 1 small fresh garlic clove.  


Garlic burns very easily which can ruin a dish.  Watch it very carefully when sauteeing.  If I’m also browning onions, celery, etc.  I will add the garlic toward the end.


It’s difficult to get garlic off your breath but chewing on a sprig of parsley can help.  There are also parsley oil capsules you can take that will help with garlic breath.  


To get garlic smells off your fingers after working with garlic, rub your fingers on something stainless steel, such as the blade of a knife.  You can buy stainless steel ‘stones’ that have been marketed specifically for this use but you can save yourself some money by using what you have on hand.


Roasting garlic mellows and sweetens its flavour.  It can be used in a number of ways, such as spreading on fresh bread, mixing with mashed potatoes and mixing with mayonnaise to make a delicious spread for sandwiches.

Roasted Garlic

  • Whole heads of garlic (as many as you need)
  • 1 Tablespoon neutral oil OR olive oil per garlic head
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Peel the outer layer off the garlic heads.  Slice the top 1/4 off each head, revealing the cloves.  Place them in an oven-proof dish and drizzle each head of garlic with oil. 
  3. Cover the dish with a lid or foil and roast for about 1 hour.  Check on after and hour and spoon any juices over the cloves.  Return to the oven and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the cloves are tender. 
  4. Let cool and squeeze garlic out of the cloves and use as desired.


Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

Kitchen Tip of the Week – How to Cook Perfect Pasta

30 09 2008

Dried pasta is an excellent option for dinner: it’s quick, delicious, versatile and very economical.  It has suffered from a bit of a bad reputation in recent years as people steered away from carbohydrates in favour of low-carb, meat-heavy diets but in moderation, pasta can be incorporated into most diets.  There are also high fibre pastas made with whole wheat and grains that are a welcome option for many people.

The key to a successful pasta dinner is to cook the noodles properly.  At the Italian table, the pasta is the star, not the sauce.  The pasta should not be drowned out in sauce – it should merely be dressed with enough to compliment it.  Therefore, it is important that we cook the pasta properly.

How to Cook Perfect Pasta

The following pointers apply to dried pasta (spaghetti, penne, etc), as opposed to fresh. Fresh pasta has a much shorter cooking time and the texture is quite different from dried.

What You’ll Need:

  • Dried pasta – any type, such as penne, spaghetti, bucatini, etc.  See below for tips on what types of pasta to use.
  • Lots of water
  • Salt
  • A large stockpot with a cover
  • A strainer
  • Large spoon
  • Kitchen timer

Select your pasta.  There are literally hundreds of kinds of dried pastas available and they are all made of the same basic ingredients (flour/durum semolina, water and sometimes egg).  The shape you choose will depend on what type of sauce you’re serving with it.  For example, chunky sauces work well with pastas that can catch the sauce, such as rigatoni or orecchiette.  For a creamy sauce, you might want to choose a penne or macaroni so the creamy goodness gets inside the tubes of pasta.  For more information about pasta shapes, check out The National Pasta Association’s website.

Add water to stockpot.  The amount you will need will depend upon how much pasta you’re using.  However, it’s important that you use enough.  Some guidelines are as follows:

  • For each pound of pasta, use 4 to 6 quarts of water.  The rough metric translation is about 4 to 5-1/2 litres of water per 450 grams of pasta.  Adjust amounts according to the amount of pasta you are cooking.

Salt the water – generously.  Salt will help flavour the pasta.  Again, the amount of salt will depend upon how much pasta you’re making but the water should be almost as salty as seawater.  For the proportions given above (6 to 8 quarts) add about 2 Tablespoons of salt.  

Don’t add any oil to the water!  This is a kitchen myth that persists.  There is a belief that if you add oil, it will keep the pasta from sticking together.  The truth is, if you use a pot that is the correct size and enough water, the pasta shouldn’t stick together.  Adding oil to the water will only make the pasta oily, keeping any sauces from sticking to it.  

Bring water to boil on high heat with the stockpot lid on.

Add pasta to boiling water and turn down heat to medium-high so it doesn’t boil over. It should still be a gentle boil.  Stir pasta to separate it.  If you’re making long pasta, such as spaghetti, it will cook down so it’s fully submerged in about 30 seconds.  Cook with the lid off.

Using the cooking time on the package as a guideline, set your kitchen timer for 2 minutes less than the recommended time (which is usually between 9 and 13 minutes). Test a piece of pasta at this point. Properly cooked pasta is called al dente, which is Italian for ‘to the tooth’.  This means that the pasta has a little bit of a bite in the middle of it.  It’s not crunchy but it’s not completely limp and soggy either.  If it is not ready, cook for another minute and test again.  Cook until desired tenderness.

Once pasta is ready, carefully scoop out about 1/4 cup of the cooking water and set aside.  Add a cup of cold water to the pasta pot to stop the water from boiling and turn off heat.

Carefully drain pasta into a strainer in the sink.  Do not rinse!  (Note: if you are making a cold pasta salad, it’s ok to rinse the pasta to stop the cooking and cool the pasta for dressing).


In a separate pan, heat your sauce.  Add pasta and a few spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water you set aside. The cooking water contains starch and will help pull your sauce together.  Pour pasta into sauce and toss to coat.  Serve immediately. Enjoy!