Melba toast is completely dry, crisp, thinly sliced, toasted bread and most often served with soup or pâté. History has it that the name was given to the toast by the world’s most famous hotel manager César Ritz. Melba toast was created by his equally famous chef Auguste Escoffier for the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, around 1897. During a stay in London, the singer was taken ill and when she requested something light to eat Escoffier delivered Melba toast.
Melba toast is available commercially but is not difficult to make and a great way to use up excess sliced bread and you will find the results much better. It can be made up to a couple of days before you need it and stored it in an airtight container, then crisp it up for a short time in the oven.
Sliced white or brown bread as required
Preheat the grill to high and toast the bread lightly on both sides. Cut off the crusts, then holding the toast flat, slide the knife between the toasted edges to split the bread.
Place the toast cut side down onto a food preparation board and gently rub it over the board surface. This removes any loose crumbs and snags of dough which will burn when you toast the underside and produces a professional finish.
Place on a baking tray untoasted sides uppermost, then toast under a moderate grill until golden and the edges curl.
When required crisp for a short time in the oven at 170 °C / 325 °F / Gas 3 before serving.
Mirepoix, a trio of aromatic vegetables, became popular in 19thcentury French cooking and is named, in the fashion of so many French culinary terms, after a Duke who was a regarded as a pretty incompetent Field Marshall and Ambassador, and who owed much to Louis XV affections towards his wife. Mirepoix is a small, fine dice normally of onions, carrots, and celery roughly in the proportions 2:1:1. It is the base flavour of many classic sauces and stocks and slow-cooked casseroles and stews. Mirepoix can vary from recipe to recipe and region to region and include garlic, leeks, mushroom stalks and tomatoes.
Mirepoix au gras has the addition of finely diced ham or streaky bacon. Similar base vegetable mixes are to be found in German cooking called suppengrün or soup greens. There is also the holy trinity of Creole cooking; onions, green bell peppers and celery and soffritto an Italian soup and sauce base of vegetables, garlic and parsley stewed in olive oil.
Matignon is traditionally a finer dice of aromatic vegetables including onions, carrots, celery, leeks and garlic which is sautéed in butter and flavoured with a pinch of thyme and perhaps some crushed garlic. It is usually finished with salt, sugar if required and a splash of Madeira wine. The result can be used as a stuffing or a base to present poultry and meat on.
When you are cooking with real vanilla pods using the seeds to flavour whipped cream or crème Anglais reserve the empty pods. If they have been used to infuse their flavour into milk, remove them and pat dry. The reserved pods can be placed in a plastic container or jar filled with caster sugar. Any remaining essential oils will infuse the caster sugar with a delicious vanilla flavour which can then be used in cakes or as a topping for freshly baked biscuits.
This a technique in baking where sugar and fat are blended together and mixed to a creamy consistency. During the process, small air cells are formed and then incorporated into the mix. The mix then becomes larger in volume and softer in texture. Creaming is affected by the fats involved, the temperature of the fat and the force involved. During the second stage, beaten eggs are carefully incorporated.
Top Tips for Creaming
If the butter or margarine is too cold it will be difficult to beat in enough air as the fat is not elastic enough. Using a mechanical food mixer, the friction can cause the temperature to rise to high and the fat will be too soft. The ideal temperature is around 21°C.
Sugar and butter should be creamed at a medium speed until soft and light. High-speed mixing tends to destroy or reduce the number of air cells that are formed and incorporated during the early stages of mixing.
During the second stage, beaten eggs should be added in several small batches. Adding the eggs too quickly will result in the mixture splitting or curdling. Adding a small portion of the flour at the start of the mix and when you add more egg will help to eliminate curdling in mixes with high liquid content.
Virtually every home now has a Wok. They are incredibly versatile, useful pans and you can certainly cook an amazing variety of dishes in one. The classic stir fry, deep fried, boiled and with a bamboo basket steamed dishes, are all staples of Wok cookery. There are two main differences between a western Wok and the authentic Chinese item.
First the flat bottom, the principle of the Wok and its concave construction is to concentrate and evenly distribute the heat allowing quick cooking, extremely valuable in fuel poor environments. The flat-bottomed Wok is a modification to simply allow the Wok to sit on modern hobs, a concave Wok is best. The second innovation is Teflon or similar non-stick coatings. A correctly prepared Wok itself is non-stick and you can save money on buying a traditional cast iron or lighter carbon steel Wok rather than a non-stick version. When purchased a cast iron Wok is porous, seasoning seals the surface before any cooking.
Seasoning your new Wok
It will be best to season your Wok in a well-ventilated kitchen with the window open as the process can get a little smoky. Be careful of smoke alarms. You will need some cooking oil, plenty of paper kitchen toweling and a pair of tongues. Wash any of the manufacturers shipping oil from the pan, this is the only time you should wash your wok in soapy water. Place your wok over a high heat and watch as the metal heats up. It will shimmer and change through a rainbow of colours silver, red, purple and brown. The Wok will become very hot and start smoking. Drizzle some oil onto a very thick wad of kitchen paper. BE VERY CAREFUL AND DO NOT POUR ANY OIL INTO THE PAN AS IT CAN CATCH FIRE.
Using the tongs wipe the Wok with the oiled paper. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting and replace the Wok on the heat. ‘ Cook ‘ the Wok for fifteen minutes, at first as some of the oil burns off this will create some smoke. This process allows the oil to soak into the steel. After fifteen minutes the surface should be a burnished black colour. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Wipe off any excess oil.
When you have used your Wok just rinse in warm water and clean with a non-metal scourer. Dry and wipe with a little clean oil. If you use soap or an abrasive scourer you will need to repeat the seasoning process. The seasoning technique can also be used for cast iron sauté pans.
When you panné, you coat your meat, fish, shellfish or vegetables in breadcrumbs, recipes such as crispy, deep fried mushrooms or whitebait, pan fried fillets of plaice or the classic dishes Weiner Schnitzel and Chicken Cordon Bleu. The breadcrumb coating protects the enclosed foodstuff when it is cooked most often in the oven or deep fat fryer. Like recipes with food cooked in batter the result is a quicker cooking process and juicy final product.
The process is simple but you need a reasonable amount of free worktop space available and if you don’t like getting your hands dirty some thin food grade disposable gloves. You can purchase prepared breadcrumbs or make them by blitzing stale dry bread in a food processor. You can add garlic, herbs, nuts and Parmesan to the breadcrumbs for extra flavouring.
Once you have prepared the item you are going to panné you need to prepare three trays containing the following; sieved seasoned flour, a mix of beaten eggs and milk or buttermilk and your fine breadcrumbs. Many chefs and restaurants use Panko, it is a variety of flaky bread crumb from Japanese cuisine and the special way it is made results in a very crisp, light coating that absorbs less oil during cooking than convention crumb. You can also use cornmeal.
Dip and coat the prepared item first in the seasoned flour and shake off any excess. Then dip in the egg mix and hold over the container to allow to drain for a few seconds. Take the flour and egg coated item and thoroughly coat in breadcrumbs. If you are preparing dishes such as Chicken Cordon Bleu or deep fried Brie or any dish where part of the filling may liquefy during the cooking dip in the egg and breadcrumbs for a second time. Place on kitchen paper and repeat the process until all your recipe items are coated then cook as required.
A piece of greaseproof paper cut to the shape of the pan or casserole and placed on top of a sauce, soup or stew to prevent a skin forming during cooking, reduce evaporation and keep ingredients submerged in the cooking liquor.
Cut a square of greaseproof paper, slightly wider than your dish or casserole.
Fold in half across the diagonal and repeat the process…..
Until you have a narrow triangular wedge of greaseproof paper.
Using scissors cut a curve through the paper layers just under half the width of your dish or casserole and unfold.