*Below you will find ingredients that I use often in my kitchen. Definitions, background information, suggestions, and techniques provided. I love these definitions. They're so informative and useful... I feel like an actual culinary student, YAY!
*Definitions taken from Epicurious's food dictionary. Click HERE to find definitions not included below.
The pea-size berry of the evergreen pimiento tree, native to the West Indies and South America, though Jamaica provides most of the world's supply (allspice is also known as Jamaica pepper ). The dried berries are dark brown and can be purchased whole or ground. The spice is so named because it tastes like a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. As with other spices, it should be stored in a cool, dark place for no more than 6 months. Allspice is used in both savory and sweet cooking.
Baking Soda- Also known as bicarbonate of soda , baking soda is used as a LEAVENER in baked goods. When combined with an acid ingredient such as buttermilk, yogurt or molasses, baking soda produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles, thereby causing a dough or batter to rise. Because it reacts immediately when moistened, it should always be mixed with the other dry ingredients before adding any liquid; the resulting batter should be placed in the oven immediately. At one time, baking soda was used in the cooking water of green vegetables to preserve their color. That practice was discontinued, however, when it was discovered that baking soda destroys the vitamin C content of vegetables.
Baking Powder- A LEAVENER containing a combination of baking soda, an acid (such as CREAM OF TARTAR) and a moisture-absorber (such as cornstarch). When mixed with liquid, baking powder releases carbon dioxide gas bubbles that cause a bread or cake to rise. There are three basic kinds of baking powder. The most common is double-acting, which releases some gas when it becomes wet and the rest when exposed to oven heat. Single-acting tartrate and phosphate baking powders (hard to find in most American markets because of the popularity of double-acting baking powder) release their gases as soon as they're moistened. Because it's perishable, baking powder should be kept in a cool, dry place. Always check the date on the bottom of a baking-powder can before purchasing it. To test if a baking powder still packs a punch, combine 1 teaspoon of it with 1/3 cup hot water. If it bubbles enthusiastically, it's fine.
Basil- Called the "royal herb" by ancient Greeks, this annual is a member of the mint family. Fresh basil has a pungent flavor that some describe as a cross between licorice and cloves. It's a key herb in Mediterranean cooking, essential to the delicious Italian PESTO, and is becoming more and more popular in American cuisine. Most varieties of basil have green leaves, but one — opal basil — is a beautiful purple color. Lemon basil and cinnamon basil have green leaves but their perfumy fragrance and flavor matches their respective names. Basil is a summer herb but can be grown successfully inside during the winter in a sunny window. It's plentiful during summer months, and available year-round in many markets. Choose evenly colored leaves with no sign of wilting. Refrigerate basil, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag, for up to 4 days. Or store a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves. Refrigerate in this manner for up to a week, changing the water every 2 days. To preserve fresh basil, wash and dry the leaves and place layers of leaves, then coarse salt, in a container that can be tightly sealed. Alternatively, finely chop the cleaned basil and combine it with a small amount of olive oil. Freeze in tiny portions to flavor sauces, salad dressings, etc. Dried basil, though it bears little resemblance in either flavor or aroma to the fresh herb, can be purchased in the spice section of most supermarkets. Store dried basil airtight in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
Butter- Made by churning cream until it reaches a semisolid state, butter must by U.S. law be at least 80 percent MILK FAT. The remaining 20 percent consists of water and milk solids. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades butter quality based on flavor, body, texture, color and salt. Butter packages bear a shield surrounding the letter grade (and occasionally the numerical score equivalent) indicating the quality of the contents. The grades, beginning with the finest, are AA (93 score), A (92 score), B (90 score) and C (89 score). AA and A grades are those most commonly found at the retail level. Butter may be artificially colored (with natural ANNATTO); it may also be salted or unsalted. Unsalted butter is usually labeled as such and contains absolutely no salt. It's sometimes erroneously referred to as "sweet" butter — a misnomer because any butter made with sweet instead of sour cream is sweet butter. Therefore, expect packages labeled "sweet cream butter" to contain salted butter. Unsalted butter is preferred by many for everyday eating and baking. Because it contains no salt (which acts as a preservative), it is more perishable than salted butter and therefore stored in the freezer section of some markets. Whipped butter has had air beaten into it, thereby increasing volume and creating a softer, more spreadable consistency when cold. It comes in salted and unsalted forms. Light or reduced-calorie butter has about half the fat of regular butter, possible through the addition of water, skim milk and gelatin. It shouldn't be substituted for regular butter or margarine in frying and baking. Storing butter: Because butter absorbs flavors like a sponge, it should be wrapped airtight for storage. Refrigerate regular butter for up to 1 month, unsalted butter for up to 2 weeks. Both can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Caramel- A mixture produced when sugar has been cooked (caramelized) until it melts and becomes a thick, clear liquid that can range in color from golden to deep brown (from 320° to 350°F on a candy thermometer). Water can be added to thin the mixture. Caramel is used to flavor soups, stocks and sauces — sweet and savory. It's also used in desserts. When it cools and hardens, caramel cracks easily and is the base for nut brittles. Crushed caramel is used as a topping for ice cream and other desserts. A soft caramel is a candy made with caramelized sugar, butter and milk.
Cayenne pepper- A hot, pungent powder made from several of various tropical CHILES that originated in French Guyana. Cayenne pepper is also called red pepper.
Chive- Related to the onion and leek, this fragrant HERB has slender, vivid green, hollow stems. Chives have a mild onion flavor and are available fresh year-round. Look for those with a uniform green color and no signs of wilting or browning. Store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator up to a week. Fresh chives can be snipped with scissors to the desired length. They're delicious in many cooked dishes but should be added toward the end of the cooking time to retain their flavor. Both chives and their edible lavender flowers are a tasty and colorful addition to salads. Frozen and freeze-dried chives are also available in most supermarkets. Chives are a good source of vitamin A and also contain a fair amount of potassium and calcium.
Cinnamon- Once used in love potions and to perfume wealthy Romans, this age-old spice comes in two varieties — Cinnamomum zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon) and Cinnamomum cassia (cassia). Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. The bark is harvested during the rainy season when it's more pliable. When dried, it curls into long quills, which are either cut into lengths and sold as cinnamon sticks, or ground into powder. Ceylon (or tree) cinnamon is buff-colored and mildly sweet in flavor; cassia cinnamon is a dark, reddish brown color and has a more pungent, slightly bittersweet flavor. Cassia cinnamon is used and sold simply as "cinnamon" in many countries (including the United States). Cinnamon is widely used in sweet dishes, but also makes an intriguing addition to savory dishes such as stews and curries. Oil of cinnamon comes from the pods of the cinnamon tree and is used as a flavoring, as well as a medicinal.
Clove- 1. Considered one of the world's most important spices, cloves are the dried, unopened flower bud of the tropical evergreen clove tree. Reddish brown and nail-shaped, their name comes from clavus , the Latin word for nail. Cloves are sold whole or ground and can be used to flavor a multitude of dishes ranging from sweet to savory. 2. The term "clove" also refers to a segment of a bulb, such as in garlic clove.
Cocoa Powder- Both CHOCOLATE and cocoa powder come from cocoa beans that grow in pods on the tropical Theobroma cacao tree, which is found in Southeast Asia, Africa, Hawaii, Brazil and other South American countries. Once cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted and cracked, the nibs are ground to extract about 75 percent of the cocoa butter, leaving a dark brown paste called chocolate liquor. After drying again, the hardened mass is ground into the powder known as unsweetened cocoa. The richer, darker Dutch cocoa has been treated with an ALKALI, which helps neutralize cocoa's natural acidity. Cocoa powder is sold plain or mixed with other ingredients such as milk powder and sugar, forming an instant cocoa mix. Cocoa mixes should not be substituted for cocoa powder in recipes. Store cocoa powder airtight in a cool, dark place for up to 2 years.
Coconut- Malaysia is the motherland of the coconut palm, which now grows in parts of South America, India, Hawaii and throughout the Pacific Islands. This prolific tree yields thousands of coconuts over its approximately 70-year lifespan. Each coconut has several layers: a smooth, deep tan outer covering; a hard, dark brown, hairy husk with three indented "eyes" at one end; a thin brown skin; the creamy white coconut meat; and, at the center, a thin, opaque coconut juice. The smooth outer shell is usually removed before the coconut is exported. The coconut palm maximizes its potential by producing several products including food (coconut meat and buds) and drink (coconut juice, vinegar and toddy — the latter a potent fermented drink made from the tree's sap). Dried coconut meat, called copra , is pressed and used to make coconut oil, which is used in commercial frying and as a component in many packaged goods such as candies, margarines, soap and cosmetics. Coconut oil — one of the few nonanimal saturated fats — is used widely in the manufacture of baked goods such as commercial cookies. Certain major manufacturers have replaced it with the more expensive unsaturated fats with an eye toward cholesterol consciousness. The coconut palm's hard shells can be used for bowls, the fiber for ropes and nets, the wood for building, the roots for fuel and the leaves for baskets, hats, mats and thatching. The flesh of unripe coconut (usually not exported) has a jellylike consistency and can be eaten from the shell with a spoon. Upon ripening, the flesh becomes white and firm. Fresh coconuts are available year-round, with the peak season being October through December. Choose one that's heavy for its size and that sounds full of liquid when shaken; avoid those with damp "eyes." Whole, unopened coconuts can be stored at room temperature for up to 6 months, depending on the degree of ripeness. The liquid in a coconut is drained by piercing two of the three eyes with an ice pick. This thin juice can be used as a beverage, though it shouldn't be confused with coconut "milk". Then the meat is removed and the inner skin scraped off. Chunks of coconut meat can be grated or chopped, either in the food processor or by hand. One medium coconut will yield 3 to 4 cups grated. Grated fresh coconut should be tightly covered and can be refrigerated up to 4 days, frozen up to 6 months. Packaged coconut is available in cans or plastic bags, sweetened or unsweetened, shredded or flaked, and dried, moist or frozen. It can sometimes also be found toasted. Unopened canned coconut can be stored at room temperature up to 18 months; coconut in plastic bags up to six months. Refrigerate both after opening. Coconut is high in saturated fat and is a good source of potassium. Coconut milk and coconut cream are sometimes called for in recipes, particularly in curried dishes. Coconut milk is made by combining equal parts water and shredded fresh or desiccated coconut meat and simmering until foamy. The mixture is then strained through CHEESECLOTH, squeezing as much of the liquid as possible from the coconut meat. The coconut meat can be combined with water again for a second, diluted batch of coconut milk. Coconut cream is made in the same manner, but enriches the mix by using 1 part water to 4 parts coconut. Milk can be substituted for water for an even richer result. Discard the coconut meat after making these mixtures. Coconut milk and cream also come canned and may sometimes be found frozen in Asian markets and some supermarkets. Do not confuse sweetened "cream of coconut" — used mainly for desserts and mixed drinks — with unsweetened coconut milk or cream.
Cream- n. Upon standing, unhomogenized milk naturally separates into two layers — a MILK FAT-rich cream on top and almost fat-free (or skimmed) milk on the bottom. Commercially, the cream is separated from the milk by centrifugal force. Almost all cream that reaches the market today has been pasteurized. There are many varieties of cream, all categorized according to the amount of milk fat in the mixture. Light cream, also called coffee or table cream, can contain anywhere from 18 to 30 percent fat, but commonly contains 20 percent. Light whipping cream, the form most commonly available, contains 30 to 36 percent milk fat and sometimes stabilizers and emulsifiers. Heavy cream, also called heavy whipping cream, is whipping cream with a milk fat content of between 36 and 40 percent. It's usually only available in specialty or gourmet markets. Whipping cream will double in volume when whipped. Half-and-half is a mixture of equal parts milk and cream, and is 10 to 12 percent milk fat. Neither half-and-half nor light cream can be whipped. Ultrapasteurized cream, seen more and more in markets today, has been briefly heated at temperatures up to 300°F to kill microorganisms that cause milk products to sour. It has a longer shelf life than regular cream, but it doesn't whip as well and it has a slight "cooked" flavor. All other cream is highly perishable and should be kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Pressurized whipped cream, contained in cans under pressure, is a mixture of cream, sugar, stabilizers, emulsifiers and gas, such as nitrous oxide. It's not really "whipped" but, more aptly, expanded by the gas into a puffy form. Aerosol "dessert toppings," which are usually made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, have absolutely no cream in them . . . and taste like it. Read the label — the fat content of real cream mixtures must be indicated on the product label. See also CLOTTED CREAM; CRÈME FRAÎCHE; SOUR CREAM. cream v. To beat an ingredient or combination of ingredients until the mixture is soft, smooth and "creamy." Often a recipe calls for creaming a fat, such as butter, or creaming a mixture of butter and sugar. When creaming two or more ingredients together, the result should be a smooth, homogeneous mixture that shows neither separation nor evidence of any particles (such as sugar). Electric mixers and food processors make quick work of what used to be a laborious, time-consuming process.
Cream of Tartar- A fine white powder derived from a crystalline acid deposited on the inside of wine barrels. Cream of tartar is added to candy and frosting mixtures for a creamier consistency, and to egg whites before beating to improve stability and volume. It's also used as the acid ingredient in some baking powders.
Cumin- Also called comino , this ancient spice dates back to the Old Testament. Shaped like a caraway seed, cumin is the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. Its aromatic, nutty-flavored seeds come in three colors: amber (the most widely available), white and black (both found in Asian markets). White cumin seed is interchangeable with amber, but the black seed has a more complex, peppery flavor. Cumin is available in seed and ground forms. As with all seeds, herbs and spices, it should be stored in a cool, dark place for no more than 6 months. Cumin is particularly popular in Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean cooking. Among other things, it's used to make curries, chili powders and KÜMMEL LIQUEUR.
Widely used in Indian cooking, authentic Indian curry powder is freshly ground each day and can vary dramatically depending on the region and the cook. Curry powder is actually a pulverized blend of up to 20 spices, herbs and seeds. Among those most commonly used are cardamom, chiles, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek, mace, nutmeg, red and black pepper, poppy and sesame seeds, saffron, tamarind and turmeric (the latter is what gives curried dishes their characteristic yellow color). Commercial curry powder (which bears little resemblance to the freshly ground blends of southern India) comes in two basic styles — standard, and the hotter of the two, "Madras." Since curry powder quickly loses its pungency, it should be stored, airtight, no longer than 2 months. For information on specific spices used in this blend, see individual listings.
Evaporated Milk- This canned, unsweetened milk is fresh, homogenized milk from which 60 percent of the water has been removed. Vitamin D is added for extra nutritional value. It comes in whole, lowfat and skim forms; the whole-milk version must contain at least 7.9 percent milk fat, the lowfat has about half that and the skim version 1/2 percent or less. As it comes from the can, evaporated milk is used to enrich custards or add a creamy texture to many dishes. When mixed with an equal amount of water, it can be substituted for fresh milk in recipes. Evaporated milk is less expensive than fresh milk and is therefore popular for many cooked dishes. It has a slightly caramelized, "canned" flavor that is not appreciated by all who taste it. Canned milk can be stored at room temperature until opened, after which it must be tightly covered and refrigerated for no more than a week. When slightly frozen, evaporated milk can be whipped and used as an inexpensive substitute for whipped cream.
Fish Sauce- Popular throughout Southeast Asia, fish sauce can be any of various mixtures based on the liquid from salted, fermented fish. This extremely pungent, strong-flavored and salty liquid can range in color from ochre to deep brown. It's used as a condiment and flavoring, much as SOY SAUCE would be used. Fish sauces may be flavored variously — such as with chiles or sugar — depending on the use. Asian markets carry a wide variety of these pungent sauces including NAM PLA (Thai), nuoc nam (Vietnamese), PATIS (Philippines) and shottsuru (Japanese). Fish sauce is also referred to as fish gravy.
Flour- n. The finely ground and sifted meal of any of various edible grains. Giant steel or stone rollers are used to break and grind the grain. Most supermarkets carry steel-ground flour, meaning it's crushed with huge, high-speed steel rollers or hammers. The heat that is generated with these high-velocity machines strips away the WHEAT germ and destroys valuable vitamins and enzymes. The more naturally nutritious stone-ground flour is produced by grinding the grain between two slowly moving stones. This process crushes the grain without generating excess heat and separating the germ. Stone-ground flours must usually be purchased in health-food stores, though some large supermarkets also carry them. A flour can range in texture from coarse to extremely soft and powdery, depending on the degree of bolting (sifting) it receives at the mill. Wheat is the most common source of the multitude of flours used in cooking. It contains gluten, a protein that forms an elastic network that helps contain the gases that make mixtures (such as doughs and batters) rise as they bake. All-purpose flour is made from a blend of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat. It's a fine-textured flour milled from the inner part of the wheat kernel and contains neither the germ (the sprouting part) nor the bran (the outer coating). U.S. law requires that all flours not containing wheat germ must have niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and iron added. (Individual millers sometimes also add vitamins A and D.) These flours are labeled "ENRICHED." All-purpose flour comes in two basic forms — bleached and unbleached — that can be used interchangeably. Flour can be bleached either naturally, as it ages, or chemically. Most flour on the market today is presifted, requiring only that it be stirred, then spooned into a measuring cup and leveled off. Bread flour is an unbleached, specially formulated, high-gluten blend of 99.8 percent hard-wheat flour, a small amount of malted barley flour (to improve yeast activity) and vitamin C or potassium bromate (to increase the gluten's elasticity and the dough's gas retention). It is ideally suited for YEAST BREADS. The fuller-flavored whole-wheat flour contains the wheat germ, which means that it also has a higher fiber, nutritional and fat content. Because of the latter, it should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity. Cake or pastry flour is a fine-textured, soft-wheat flour with a high starch content. It makes particularly tender cakes and pastries. Self-rising flour is an all-purpose flour to which baking powder and salt have been added. It can be substituted for all-purpose flour in yeast breads by omitting the salt and in QUICK BREADS by omitting both baking powder and salt. Instant flour is a granular flour especially formulated to dissolve quickly in hot or cold liquids. It's used mainly as a thickener in sauces, gravies and other cooked mixtures. Gluten flour is high-protein, hard-wheat flour treated to remove most of the starch (which leaves a high gluten content). It's used mainly as an additive to doughs made with low-gluten flour (such as RYE FLOUR), and to make low-calorie "gluten" breads. All flour should be stored in an airtight container. All-purpose and bread flour can be stored up to 6 months at room temperature (about 70°F). Temperatures higher than that invite bugs and mold. Flours containing part of the grain's germ (such as whole wheat) turn rancid quickly because of the oil in the germ. Refrigerate or freeze these flours tightly wrapped and use as soon as possible. Other grains — such as BARLEY, BUCKWHEAT, CORN, OATS, RICE, rye and TRITICALE — are also milled into flours. flour v. To lightly coat a food, utensil or baking container with flour. Flouring food to be fried facilitates browning, and coating foods that tend to stick together (such as chopped dried apricots) helps separate the pieces. Flouring a pie, pastry or cookie dough will prevent it from sticking to a work surface; flouring your hands, rolling pin or work surface prevents dough from sticking. Dusting greased baking pans with flour provides for easy removal of cakes, breads and other baked goods.
Garam Masala- Garam is the Indian word for "warm" or "hot," and this blend of dry-roasted, ground spices from the colder climes of northern India adds a sense of "warmth" to both palate and spirit. There are as many variations of garam masala (which may contain up to 12 spices) as there are Indian cooks. It can include BLACK PEPPER, CINNAMON, CLOVES, CORIANDER, CUMIN, CARDAMOM, DRIED CHILES, FENNEL, MACE, NUTMEG and other spices. Garam masala may be purchased in Indian markets and in the gourmet section of some supermarkets. It's also easily prepared at home, but should be made in small batches to retain its freshness. As with all spices, it should be stored in a cool, dry place for no more than 6 months. Garam masala is usually either added to a dish toward the end of cooking or sprinkled over the surface just before serving.
Ginger; Gingerroot- A plant from tropical and subtropical regions that's grown for its gnarled and bumpy root. Most ginger comes from Jamaica, followed by India, Africa and China. Gingerroot's name comes from the Sanskrit word for "horn root," undoubtedly referring to its knobby appearance. It has a tan skin and a flesh that ranges in color from pale greenish yellow to ivory. The flavor is peppery and slightly sweet, while the aroma is pungent and spicy. This extremely versatile root has long been a mainstay in Asian and Indian cooking and found its way early on into European foods as well. The Chinese, Japanese and East Indians use fresh gingerroot in a variety of forms — grated, ground and slivered — in many savory dishes. Europeans and most Americans, however, are more likely to use the dried ground form of ginger, usually in baked goods. Fresh ginger is available in two forms — young and mature. Young ginger, sometimes called spring ginger, has a pale, thin skin that requires no peeling. It's very tender and has a milder flavor than its mature form. Young ginger can be found in most Asian markets during the springtime. Mature ginger has a tough skin that must be carefully peeled away to preserve the delicate, most desirable flesh just under the surface. Look for mature ginger with smooth skin (wrinkled skin indicates that the root is dry and past its prime). It should have a fresh, spicy fragrance. Fresh unpeeled gingerroot, tightly wrapped, can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks and frozen for up to 6 months. To use frozen ginger, slice off a piece of the unthawed root and return the rest to the freezer. Place peeled gingerroot in a screw-top glass jar, cover with dry SHERRY or MADEIRA and refrigerate up to 3 months. The wine will impart some of its flavor to the ginger — a minor disadvantage to weigh against having peeled ginger ready and waiting. On the plus side, the delicious, ginger-flavored wine can be reused for cooking. The flavor of dried ground ginger is very different from that of its fresh form and is not an appropriate substitute for dishes specifying fresh ginger. It is, however, delicious in many savory dishes such as soups, curries and meats, a sprightly addition to fruit compotes, and indispensable in sweets like GINGERBREAD, GINGERSNAPS and many spice cookies. Ginger is the flavor that has long given the popular beverages GINGER ALE and GINGER BEER their claim to fame. In addition to its fresh and dried ground forms, ginger comes in several other guises. Crystallized or candied ginger has been cooked in a sugar syrup and coated with coarse sugar. Another form called preserved ginger has been preserved in a sugar-salt mixture. These types of ginger can be found in Asian markets and many supermarkets. They are generally used as a confection or added to desserts. Melon and preserved ginger are a classic combination. Pickled ginger, available in Asian markets, has been preserved in sweet vinegar. It's most often used as a garnish for Asian dishes. The sweet red candied ginger is packed in a red sugar syrup. It's used to flavor dishes both sweet and savory.
Nutmeg- When Columbus sailed from Spain looking for the East Indies, nutmeg was one of the spices for which he was searching. Native to the Spice Islands, this seed from the nutmeg tree (a tropical evergreen) was extremely popular throughout much of the world from the 15th to the 19th century. When the fruit of the tree is picked, it is split to reveal the nutmeg seed surrounded by a lacy membrane that, when dried and ground, becomes the spice MACE. The hard, egg-shaped nutmeg seed is grayish-brown and about 1 inch long. The flavor and aroma are delicately warm, spicy and sweet. Nutmeg is sold ground or whole. Whole nutmeg freshly ground with a NUTMEG GRATER or GRINDER is superior to that which is commercially ground and packaged. Nutmeg is excellent when used in baked goods, milk- or cream-based preparations like custards, white sauces or eggnog and on fruits and vegetables — particularly potatoes, spinach and squash.
Oats- According to a definition in Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary of the English Language , oats were "a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but which in Scotland supports the people." Since oats are by far the most nutritious of the cereal grasses, it would appear that the Scots were ahead of the rest of us. Today, whole oats are still used as animal fodder. Humans don't usually consume them until after the oats have been cleaned, toasted, hulled and cleaned again, after which time they become oat groats (which still contain most of the original nutrients). Oat groats can be cooked and served as cereal, or prepared in the same manner as rice and used as a side dish or in a dish such as a salad or stuffing. When steamed and flattened with huge rollers, oat groats become regular rolled oats (also called old-fashioned oats ). They take about 15 minutes to cook. Quick-cooking rolled oats are groats that have been cut into several pieces before being steamed and rolled into thinner flakes. Though they cook in about 5 minutes, many think the flavor and texture are never quite as satisfying as with regular rolled oats. Old-fashioned oats and quick-cooking oats can usually be interchanged in recipes. Instant oats, however, are not interchangeable because they're made with cut groats that have been precooked and dried before being rolled. This precooking process so softens the oat pieces that, after being combined with a liquid, the mixture can turn baked goods such as muffins or cookies into gooey lumps. Most instant oatmeal is packaged with salt, sugar and other flavorings. Scotch oats or steel-cut oats or Irish oatmeal are all names for groats that have been cut into 2 to 3 pieces and not rolled. They take considerably longer to cook than rolled oats and have a decidedly chewy texture. Oat flour is made from groats that have been ground into powder. It contains no gluten, however, so — for baked goods that need to rise, like yeast breads — must be combined with a flour that does. Oat bran is the outer casing of the oat and is particularly high in soluble fiber, thought to be a leading contender in the fight against high cholesterol. Oat bran, groats, flour and Scotch oats are more likely to be found in health-food stores than supermarkets. Oats are high in vitamin B-1 and contain a good amount of vitamins B-2 and E.
Onion- Related to the lily, this underground bulb is prized around the world for the magic it makes in a multitude of dishes with its pungent flavor and odor. There are two main classifications of onion — green onions (also called SCALLIONS) and dry onions, which are simply mature onions with a juicy flesh covered with dry, papery skin. Dry onions come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and flavors. Among those that are mild flavored are the white or yellow Bermuda onion, available March through June; the larger, more spherical Spanish onion, which is usually yellow skinned (but can be white) and in season from August to May; and the red or Italian onion, which is available year-round. The stronger-flavored globe onions can have yellow, red or white skins. They can range from 1 to 4 inches in diameter and in flavor from mildly pungent to quite sharp. Among the special onion varieties are three exceedingly juicy specimens. The Maui onion, hailing — as its name implies — from the Hawaiian island of the same name, is sweet, mild and crisply moist. It can range in color from white to pale yellow and is usually shaped like a slightly flattened sphere. The Maui onion's season is from April to July. Vidalia onions are the namesake of Vidalia, Georgia, where they thrive. At their best, these large, pale yellow onions are exceedingly sweet and juicy. They're usually available from May through June only in the regions where grown or by mail order. The state of Washington is the source of Walla Walla onions, named after the city of the same name. Large, round and golden, they're in season from June to September but are usually available outside their growing area only by mail order. Oso Sweet onions hail from South America and, as their name suggests, are extremely succulent and sweet and, in fact, contain almost 50 percent more sugar than Vidalias. They're available in specialty produce markets from January through March. Another import is the Rio Sweet onion, which is predictably sweet and available from October through December. Tiny pearl onions are mild-flavored and about the size of a small marble. They can be cooked (and are often creamed) and served as a side dish or pickled and used as a CONDIMENT or garnish (as in the GIBSON cocktail). Boiling onions are about 1 inch in diameter and mildly flavored. They're cooked as a side dish, used in stews and pickled. When buying onions, choose those that are heavy for their size with dry, papery skins with no signs of spotting or moistness. Avoid onions with soft spots. Store in a cool, dry place with good air circulation for up to 2 months (depending on their condition when purchased). Humidity breeds spoilage in dry onions. Once cut, an onion should be tightly wrapped, refrigerated and used within 4 days. Most onions cause tearing (caused by sulfuric compounds) to some extent — some just watery eyes, others giant crocodile tears. Freezing the onion for 20 minutes before chop-ping helps, but then so does wearing safety goggles. Dried or freeze-dried onion by-products include onion powder (ground dehydrated onion), onion salt (onion powder and salt), onion flakes and onion flavoring cubes. Onions are also sold canned or pickled (usually pearl onions) and frozen (whole or chopped). Onions contain a fair amount of vitamin C with traces of other vitamins and minerals.
Paprika- Used as a seasoning and garnish for a plethora of savory dishes, paprika is a powder made by grinding aromatic sweet red pepper pods. The pods are quite tough, so several grindings are necessary to produce the proper texture. The flavor of paprika can range from mild to pungent and hot, the color from bright orange-red to deep blood-red. Most commercial paprika comes from Spain, South America, California and Hungary, with the Hungarian variety considered by many to be superior. Indeed, Hungarian cuisine has long used paprika as a mainstay flavoring rather than simply as a garnish. All supermarkets carry mild paprikas, while ethnic markets must be searched out for the more pungent varieties. As with all herbs and spices, paprika should be stored in a cool, dark place for no more than 6 months.
Parsley- In ancient times parsley wreaths were used to ward off drunkenness — though proof of their efficacy in that capacity is scarce. Today, this slightly peppery, fresh-flavored herb is more commonly used as a flavoring and garnish. Though there are more than 30 varieties of this herb, the most popular are curly-leaf parsley and the more strongly flavored Italian or flat-leaf parsley. Fresh curly leaf parsley is widely available year-round, while Italian parsley must sometimes be searched out in gourmet produce markets. Parsley is sold in bunches and should be chosen for its bright-green leaves that show no sign of wilting. Wash fresh parsley, shaking off excess moisture, and wrap first in paper towels, then in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for up to a week. Dried parsley is available in the spice section of most supermarkets but bears little resemblance to the flavor of fresh. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamins A and C.
Rice Vinegar- There are Japanese as well as Chinese rice vinegars, both made from fermented rice, and both slightly milder than most Western vinegars. Chinese rice vinegar comes in three types: white (clear or pale amber), used mainly in SWEET-AND-SOUR dishes; red, a popular accompaniment for boiled or steamed crab; and black, used mainly as a table CONDIMENT. The almost colorless Japanese rice vinegar is used in a variety of Japanese preparations, including SUSHI rice and SUNOMONO (vinegared salads). Rice vinegar can be found in Asian markets and some supermarkets.
Scallion- The name "scallion" is applied to several members of the onion family including a distinct variety called scallion, immature onions (commonly called green onions ), young leeks and sometimes the tops of young shallots. In each case the vegetable has a white base that has not fully developed into a bulb and green leaves that are long and straight. Both parts are edible. True scallions are generally identified by the fact that the sides of the base are straight, whereas the others are usually slightly curved, showing the beginnings of a bulb. All can be used interchangeably although true scallions have a milder flavor than immature onions. Scallions are available year-round but are at their peak during spring and summer. Choose those with crisp, bright green tops and a firm white base. Midsized scallions with long white stems are the best. Store, wrapped in a plastic bag, in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Scallions can be cooked whole as a vegetable much as you would a LEEK. They can also be chopped and used in salads, soups and a multitude of other dishes for flavor.
Sesame oil- Expressed from SESAME SEED, sesame oil comes in two basic types. One is light in color and flavor and has a deliciously nutty nuance. It's excellent for everything from salad dressings to sautéing. The darker, Asian sesame oil has a much stronger flavor and fragrance and is used as a flavor accent for some Asian dishes. Sesame oil is high in polyunsaturated fats ranking fourth behind safflower, soybean and corn oil. Its average SMOKE POINT is 420°F, making it excellent for frying. Sesame oil is particularly popular in India as well as in the Orient.
Sesame Seed- History tells us that sesame seed is the first recorded seasoning, dating back to 3000 b.c. Assyria. It grows widely in India and throughout the Orient. The seeds were brought to America by African slaves, who called it benné (pronounced BEHN-nee) seed , and it subsequently became very popular in Southern cooking. These tiny, flat seeds come in shades of brown, red and black, but those most commonly found are a pale grayish-ivory. Sesame seed has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor that makes it versatile enough for use in baked goods such as breads, pastries, cakes and cookies, in confections like the Middle Eastern HALVAH and in salads and other savory dishes. The seed is available packaged in supermarkets and can be found in bulk in Middle Eastern markets and health-food stores. Because of a high oil content, sesame seed turns rancid quickly. It can be stored airtight in a cool, dark place for up to 3 months, refrigerated up to 6 months or frozen up to a year.
Soy Sauce- This extremely important ingredient in Asian cooking is a dark, salty sauce made by fermenting boiled soybeans and roasted wheat or barley. Although there is essentially one main type of soy sauce widely made in the United States, China and Japan produce a number of varieties ranging in color from light to dark and in texture from thin to very thick. In general, light soy sauce is thinner and saltier than its dark counterpart. Its flavor and color is also lighter and it may be used in dishes without darkening them. Dark soy sauce is slightly thicker than light soy sauce but generally not as salty. It has a richer flavor and color (which is usually darkened with CARAMEL). Chinese black soy is extremely dark and thick, a result obtained from the addition of MOLASSES. The Japanese tamari is very similiar — thick, rich and extremely dark. Unless otherwise indicated on the label, soy sauce may be kept for many months in a cool, dark place. There are also many low-sodium or "lite" soy sauces available on the market. Soy sauce is used to flavor soups, sauces, marinades, meat, fish and vegetables, as well as for a table condiment.
Spices- Pungent or aromatic seasonings obtained from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stems of various plants and trees (whereas HERBS usually come from the leafy part of a plant). Spices were prized long before recorded history. Though they've always been used to flavor food and drink, throughout the eons spices have also been favored for a plethora of other uses including crowning emperors, making medicines and perfumes, religious ceremonies and as burial accoutrements for the wealthy. Over 3,000 years ago the Arabs monopolized the spice trade, bringing their rare cargo back from India and the Orient by arduous camel caravans. During the Middle Ages the demand for spices was so high that they became rich commodities — a pound of mace could buy three sheep and the same amount of peppercorns could buy freedom for a serf. By that time Venice had a tight hold on Western commerce and controlled the incredibly lucrative European spice trade. That Venetian monopoly was an important catalyst for the expeditions that resulted in the discovery of the New World. Today, the United States is the world's major spice buyer. Among the more popular spices are ALLSPICE, CARDAMOM, CINNAMON, CLOVES, GINGER, MACE, NUTMEG, PAPRIKA, PEPPER, SAFFRON and TURMERIC. Spices are also sold in blends, such as CURRY POWDER and SPICE PARISIENNE. Many spices are available in both whole and ground forms. Ground spices quickly lose their aroma and flavor, so it's wise to buy them in small quantities. Whole spices can be ground as needed. Store spices in airtight containers in a cool, dark place for no more than 6 months. Spices are used to enhance a wide variety of food, both sweet and savory. They should be used sparingly so they don't overpower the foods being seasoned.
Sugar- Once a luxury only the extremely affluent could afford, sugar was called "white gold" because it was so scarce and expensive. Although Persia and ancient Arabia were cultivating sugar in the 4th century b.c., the Western World didn't know of it until the 9th century when the Moors conquered the Iberian peninsula. Early sugar wasn't the granulated, alabaster substance most of us know today. Instead, it came in the form of large, solid loaves or blocks ranging in color from off-white to light brown. Chunks of this rock-hard substance had to be chiseled off and ground to a powder with a MORTAR AND PESTLE. Modern-day sugar is no longer scarce or expensive and comes in myriad forms from many origins. Sugar cane and sugar beets are the sources of most of today's sugar, also known as SUCROSE (which also comes from maple sap — see MAPLE SUGAR — and SORGHUM). Other common forms of sugar are DEXTROSE (grape or corn sugar), FRUCTOSE (levulose), LACTOSE (milk sugar) and MALTOSE (malt sugar). The uses for sugar are countless. Besides its sweetening value, sugar adds tenderness to doughs, stability to mixtures such as beaten egg whites for MERINGUE, golden-brown surfaces to baked goods and, in sufficient quantity, it contributes to the preservation of some foods. Granulated or white sugar is highly refined cane or beet sugar. This free-flowing sweetener is the most common form both for table use and for cooking. Granulated sugar is also available in cubes or tablets of various sizes, as well as a variety of textures. Superfine sugar, known in Britain as castor (or caster ) sugar, is more finely granulated. Because it dissolves almost instantly, superfine sugar is perfect for making meringues and sweetening cold liquids. It can be substituted for regular granulated sugar cup for cup. Confectioners' or powdered sugar is granulated sugar that has been crushed into a fine powder. To prevent clumping, a small amount (about 3 percent) of CORNSTARCH is added. Confectioners' sugar labeled XXXX is slightly finer than that labeled XXX but they can be used interchangeably and both may need to be sifted before using. Because it dissolves so readily, confectioners' sugar is often used to make icings and candy. It's also used decoratively, as a fine dusting on desserts. One and three-quarters (packed) cups confectioners' sugar equals 1 cup granulated sugar. Confectioners' sugar is called icing sugar in Britain and sucre glace in France. Decorating or coarse sugar (also called sugar crystals or crystal sugar ) has granules about four times larger than those of regular granulated sugar. It's used for decorating baked goods and can be found in cake-decorating supply shops and gourmet markets. ROCK CANDY is an even larger form of sugar crystals. Colored sugar, also used for decorating, is tinted granulated sugar and can be found in several crystal sizes. Flavored sugar is granulated sugar that's been combined or scented with various ingredients such as cinnamon or vanilla (see VANILLA SUGAR). All granulated sugar can be stored indefinitely if tightly sealed and kept in a cool, dry place. Today's brown sugar is white sugar combined with MOLASSES, which gives it a soft texture. The two most commonly marketed styles of brown sugar are light and dark , with some manufacturers providing variations in between. In general, the lighter the brown sugar, the more delicate the flavor. The very dark or "old-fashioned" style has a more intense molasses flavor. Brown sugar is usually sold in 1-pound boxes or plastic bags — the latter help the sugar retain its moisture and keep it soft. Hardened brown sugar can be resoftened by placing it with an apple wedge in a plastic bag and sealing tightly for 1 to 2 days. A firmly packed cup of brown sugar may be substituted for 1 cup granulated sugar. Both granulated and liquid brown sugar are also now available. Neither of these forms should be substituted for regular brown sugar in recipes. Though similar in color, brown sugar should not be confused with raw sugar, the residue left after sugarcane has been processed to remove the molasses and refine the sugar crystals. The flavor of raw sugar is akin to that of brown sugar. In this raw state, however, sugar may contain contaminants such as molds and fibers. The so-called raw sugar marketed in the United States has been purified, negating much of what is thought to be its superior nutritive value. Two popular types of raw sugar are the coarse-textured dry Demerara sugar from the Demerara area of Guyana, and the moist, fine-textured Barbados sugar. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned. The coarse turbinado crystals are blond colored and have a delicate molasses flavor. Other sources of sugar include maple sap, palm sap and sorghum. Almost 100 percent of sugar is carbohydrate. Granulated white sugar contains about 770 calories per cup, as does the same weight (which equals about 2 cups) of confectioners' sugar. A cup of brown sugar is slightly higher at 820 calories. It also contains 187 milligrams of calcium, 56 of phosphorous, 4.8 of iron, 757 of potassium and 97 of sodium, compared to only scant traces of those nutrients found in granulated sugar. ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS such as ASPARTAME and SACCHARIN are essentially calorie-free and are used as a sugar substitute both commercially and by the home cook. Sugar also comes in syrup form, the most common being CANE SYRUP, CORN SYRUP, GOLDEN SYRUP, HONEY, MAPLE SYRUP, MOLASSES, SORGHUM and TREACLE.
Sweetened Condensed Milk- A mixture of whole milk and sugar, 40 to 45 percent of which is sugar. This mixture is heated until about 60 percent of the water evaporates. The resulting condensed mixture is extremely sticky and sweet. Unsweetened condensed milk is referred to as EVAPORATED MILK. Store unopened sweetened condensed milk at room temperature for up to 6 months. Once opened, transfer the unused milk to an airtight container, refrigerate and use within 5 days. Sweetened condensed milk is used in baked goods and desserts such as candies, puddings, pies, etc.
Vanilla Extract- a vanilla-flavored product made by macerating chopped vanilla beans in a water-alcohol solution to extract the flavor; its strength is measured in folds.
Yeast- Yeast is a living, microscopic, single-cell organism that, as it grows, converts its food (through a process known as fermentation) into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This trait is what endears yeast to winemakers, brewmasters and breadbakers. In the making of wine and beer, the yeast's manufacture of alcohol is desired and necessary for the final product; and carbon dioxide is what makes BEER and CHAMPAGNE effervescent. The art of breadmaking needs the carbon dioxide produced by yeast in order for certain doughs to rise. To multiply and grow, all yeast needs is the right environment, which includes moisture, food (in the form of sugar or starch) and a warm, nurturing temperature (70° to 85°F is best). Wild yeast spores are constantly floating in the air and landing on uncovered foods and liquids. No one's sure when these wild spores first interacted with foods but it's known that the Egyptians used yeast as a LEAVENING agent more than 5,000 years ago. Wine and other fermented beverages were made for millennia before that. Today, scientists have been able to isolate and identify the various yeasts that are best for winemaking, beermaking and baking. The two types commercially available are baker's yeast and brewer's yeast. Baker's yeast, as the name implies, is used as a leavener. It's catagorized into three basic types — active dry yeast, compressed fresh yeast and YEAST STARTERS. Active dry yeast is in the form of tiny, dehydrated granules. The yeast cells are alive but dormant because of the lack of moisture. When mixed with a warm liquid (105° to 115°F), the cells once again become active. Active dry yeast is available in two forms, regular and quick-rising , of which the latter takes about half as long to leaven bread. They may be used interchangeably (with adjustments in rising time) and both are available in 1/4-ounce envelopes. Regular active dry yeast may also be purchased in 4-ounce jars or in bulk in some health-food stores. It should be stored in a cool, dry place, but can also be refrigerated or frozen. It should always be at room temperature before being dissolved in liquid. Properly stored, it's reliable when used by the expiration date, which should be stamped on the envelope or jar label. One package of dry yeast is equal to 1 scant tablespoon dry yeast or 1 cake of compressed fresh yeast. Compressed fresh yeast, which comes in tiny (0.06-ounce), square cakes, is moist and extremely perishable. It must be refrigerated and used within a week or two, or by the date indicated on the package. It can be frozen, but should be defrosted at room temperature and used immediately. One cake of fresh yeast can be substituted for one envelope of dry yeast. The use of compressed fresh yeast has been primarily replaced by the more convenient active dry yeast. All baker's yeast should be given a test called PROOFING to make sure it's still alive. To proof yeast, dissolve it in warm water and add a pinch of sugar. Set the mixture aside in a warm place for 5 to 10 minutes. If it begins to swell and foam, the yeast is alive, active and capable of leavening bread. Brewer's yeasts are special non-leavening yeasts used in beermaking. Because it's a rich source of B vitamins, brewer's yeast is also used as a food supplement. It's available in health-food stores. Brewer's yeasts are also marketed in specialty beermaking equipment shops, with different strains used for different beers.