• I have totally destroyed more mangos than I care to remember.  However, this is a simple method to avoid the doom...
    The reason that preparing mangoes is so difficult is all because of the shape of the stone.  It is a large flat stone, unlike most other fruit where it is round and easy to extract.

    1. Start by working out which way the stone lies.  Mangoes are (subject to some distortion) oval.  The stone always goes with the length of the oval.
    2. Using a serrated fruit knife cut down the length of the fruit starting at the narrow end; parallel to where you think the stone is.  You need cut as close to the stone as possible; use the blade to find your way.
    3. Repeat the above cut on the other side of the fruit.
    4. Now take one side of the fruit; cut in diagonals into the flesh (be careful not to cut the skin).
    5. You should now have diagonal cuts through the flesh.
    6. Pick up the fruit and apply even pressure to the skin to turn the fruit inside out.  This inversion will separate out the fruit, you can now simply cut the fruit off the skin.
    7. Result; beautiful cubes of delicious mango.
  • Sometimes you need to prepare avocados and keep them on standby before using them.  There is a super simple way to deal with this problem.  Prepare the avocado and then brush with lemon or lime juice.  Make sure you brush (not just drizzle), you need to cover all the surfaces to stop the brown from appearing.

  • I wrote a post a while ago about bananas being able to ripen each other because of the esters they emit.  It is the same with avocados; to ripen hard avocados simply place them in a bag with a super ripe banana.  Come back 24 hours later and whammo, ripe avocados. It works so well that you can plan meals around it.

    1. When rolling out the dough use as little flour as possible to avoid drying
    2. Never roll out the dough more than once (I don’t understand this one, but it does work).
    3. Use very flat baking trays; if they have any edge at all it will affect the evenness of cooking.
    4. Often times I make biscuits in batches. Sometimes though I screw up the mixture so I always cook the first of the batch separately and test it.
    5. When you take the tray out of the oven do not attempt to take the biscuits off the tray right away; they need time to set. Wait 60 seconds and not a second more!
    6. Use a wire rack to guarantee even cooling, and store in an airtight container.
  • Freezing food makes the water content turn into ice crystals.  Ice is physically bigger than the equivalent quantity of water; so within the food the water expands and breaks the structure that holds the water.  Any food with a high water content is more vulnerable to spoiling when frozen.  Here is a list of food items that do not freeze particularly well...

    Yoghurt/Milk and Cream - these are only really freezable if you have whipped them first.  Even then, when thawed they are never quite the same.

    Emulsions - Mayonnaise/Hollandaise because they owe their flavour and consistency created by blending water and oil.  When the mixture defrosts the water and oil are separated...not good.

    Eggs - In the shell they just burst and leak everywhere.  However, interestingly if you separate the eggs first you can freeze the egg whites, or yolks.  Never freeze a boiled egg (i.e. on that has already expanded with cooking) it goes weirdly rubbery.

    Jelly or Jello - it separates in the same way as an emulsion.  The water breaks out and the texture goes nuts (kinda spongey).

    Tomatoes - High water content leaves them mushy and awful.  Unless you want to peel the tomato, in which case running hot water over the surface of a frozen tomato will make the skin really easy to remove.  If you need to freeze tomato think about why.  Freezing a sauce or puree is much easier, so why not freeze after preparation?

  • Berries can easily be stored in a refridgerator for up to 3 days from picking.  They can be stored in their original packaging or punnets; but in my experience I find that if you space them out a bit more then they tend to last longer.  Never, ever, upon pain of death prepare berries before storing them.  As soon as you break the skin of the berry it will start to soften and lose structure.

    You can always freeze berries; but please please do not just shove the punnet in the freezer.  When you defrost and then attempt to use you end up with a whole ‘brick’ of fruit.  Use this method called ‘open-freeze’ to ready your fruit for the freezer.

    1. Take a baking sheet and place the berries evenly on the tray (no touching).
    2. Then place the whole tray in the freezer.
    3. Once frozen the berries can be gathered up and put in a plastic bag for longer-term storage.
    4. Then later when you need some berries you can pick them out individually without grabbing the whole ‘brick’.

    Did you know?  You can store berries for up to 1 year in the freezer!

  • Blackberries - August-October (frozen all year)
    Blueberries - Available via import most of the year, but Europe can get them Fresh in July and August
    Cherries - May thru July
    Cranberries - October thru December
    Currants (Red, Black, White) - July-August
    Gooseberries - June-July
    Mulberries - July-September
    Cape Gooseberry - Imported all year
    Loganberries - July-August
    Raspberries - Imported all year, but fresh in Europe July-August.
    Strawberries - Imported all year, but fresh in Europe June, July
    This is a great book on the seasonality of food...

  • Bananas are of course available pretty much all year round thanks to massive import and production methods.

    Choosing bananas is a bit of an art, you need to know when you want to eat them because they ripen very quickly.  But did you know it also depends on how you want to cook the banana?

    Baking - If you want to bake bananas then you want the brownest and softest banana.  As bananas age they release sugar an and aroma, which is exactly what you want in cooked bananas.

    Eating Right Away - This is totally a personal preference thing, BUT, you should be aware that bananas have more flavour the browner they are.  A green banana can taste almost watery.

    Always store bananas at room temperature - never put them in the freezer unless you want to use them for baking.  Bananas release 'esters' which trigger chemical reactions in other bananas.  If you put a super-ripe banana next to a green one the esters will make it ripen much faster (particularly in an enclosed space like a bag).

  • In the northern hemisphere we are fast approaching the perfect time of year to start making Summer Pudding - a delicious melange of Fruit Rouge - sharp but sweet, it is the perfect desert in the garden.

    Ingredients

    150ml Water
    150g Caster Sugar
    900g Mixed Berries (Fruit Rouge) such as Blackcurrants, Raspberries, Redcurrents, blackberries (all prepared and ready to eat)
    2 Tablespoons Creme de Cassis
    A little oil
    6-9 Slices of stale white bread, crusts cut off
    300ml Double Cream (or healthier, Creme Fraiche)

    Method

    1. Dissolve the sugar in  the water by heating in a large frying pan.
    2. Add the berries (now you see why it needs to be a large pan!) and cook for max 10 minutes to soften the fruit.  When the juices start to run you are ready to add the creme de cassis and shut off the heat.
    3. Lightly oil a pudding basin and line with clingfilm.
    4. Cut the bread into strips (or soldiers as some may know them) and dip in the juice.  Now place the soaked strip into the pudding basin using the wet side to stick to the side of the bowl.  Continue until the bowl is well lined.
    5. Drain the fruit (retain the juice)
    6. Spoon the fruit into the lined bowl.
    7. Tamp the fruit flat with the back of a spoon.
    8. Cover with a slice of bread and make sure the seal is complete.
    9. This bit is tricky - cut a disc of cardboard the same size as the top of the bowl.  Place this disc on top of clingflim over the bowl.  Add weight to the top (an empty jam jar is perfect).
    10. Refrigerate overnight.
    11. Simmer the juice you retained in step 5, until you get a thick syrup (do not burn).  Store in the fridge too.
    12. The next day when you are ready to serve, spoon a little cream and the red sauce.
  • Basil Pungent and slightly peppery (inspires hints of cloves in the nose).  A super common ingredient of Mediterranean food.  Be careful how you use it; any dish with Basil runs the risk of being typecast.

    Bay LeavesAdds 'age' and 'maturity' to any dish with its earthy and arboreal flavour.  Always remove the leaves before serving (so do not cut them up), and give it plenty of time to infuse through the dish.  Stews and soups are brought to life with this flavour.  I think a lot of people claim not to like Bay from smelling the leaves, but love the resulting infusion.  In leaf form, it's just too much (personally I love the smell).

    ChervilAniseed with parsley overtones.  Used often in French cuisine for lighter flavoured dishes with Chicken, Fish, Eggs.

    Chives I would describe Chives as tasting like the smell of onions on a spring breeze.  Goes great with earthy potato, eggs.  The purity and simplicity of the spears of chive make it ideal for use as a garnish to a number of dishes.  Go careful though, chive can make too much of itself like basil and take over the flavours of a dish.

    CorianderAmerican readers of my blog know this as Cilantro.  Pungent citrus and lemon notes both hit the nose and tastebuds.  Many many Asian, particularly Thai, dishes use Coriander in their sauces.  Unusually both the leaves and the stem contribute flavour, so use the whole green part of the plant.

    Dill - Scandinavian favourite with its strong aniseed flavour; and essential ingredient for many fish, potato and egg dishes.

    Lemon GrassStrong citrus/lemon taste and aroma from this woody/fibrous stem.  Like Bay it tends to be removed from the dish before serving.

    MarjoramAn underestimated herb in my opinion.  It is a Mediterranean classic similar in flavour to oregano but with a bitterness that is quite seductive.

    MintMore than just toothpaste and chewing gum, when used correctly mint compounds well with base flavours.  It does not play nicely with other herbs.  Once you see mint in your mixing bowl, do not add any other herbs (it just goes weird!).  Potatoes, Lamb, Chocolate, Tomatoes all play nice with Mint.  Sometimes you might be able to get your hands on wild mint; when you do it will be strong and super intense, boil with water to create an incredible mint tea.

    Oregano Peppery and rounded oregano was born to blend with tomato.

    ParsleySimilar to Bay in my mind that some people think they do not like it; when tasted alone it can be a bit too strong.  But when blended correctly with other herbs is forms a great base to build other flavours on.  Grassy and salty somehow at the same time (uniquely savoury).  The Flat Leaf variety has a much stronger flavour than the curly type.

    RosemaryPungent and resin-like, to inhale this scent is to dive head first into a forrest.  Goes particularly well with Lamb.  Fresh varieties will release a sticky oil that tastes incredible when added to dishes.

    SageCamphor and balmy goes very well with poulty and pork.  Sage has natural antiseptic properties too which means a sage tea will help a sore throat.

    TarragonAniseed and dry grass/hay this herb adds dimension to other flavours.  Goes very well with creamier sauces, leeks, soups and egg based dishes.  To my mind it has an aristocratic feel about the taste.  Never buy Russian Tarragon (it has no flavour).

    Thymne - Lemon and mint combined with the down to earth woodiness of Rosemary.  Holds it own very well against other strong herbs so can survive the long cooking of stews and stocks.  Preparation can be tricksy, this is one that I do buy dried and pre-processed.

  • This is a simple Classic Pesto Recipe that I use...

    Ingredients

    2 Cloves of Garlic (Crushed)
    2 Cups of Basil Leaves (must be fresh)
    50g Pine Nuts
    50g Parmesan
    150ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    Salt/Pepper to Season

    Method

    Using a small liquidizer, blend together the garlic and basil.  Once you have a smooth paste you can go ahead and add the pine nuts and parmesan.  Be careful not to over blend the mixture at this point.  If it goes oily then you went to far.

    With the liquidizer blades spinning fast, poor in the olive oil.

    Tip: If it gets too liquidy/greasy add just a few drops of water; the water will emulsify the oil and thicken immediately (think like a milkshake).

    Use immediately (or at least within 48 hours to maximum flavour impact).

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