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Cooking 101: Cooking Techniques

Select a Cooking Technique:

  • Asparagus has a high water content and dries out quickly at room temperature. Keep it moist by storing it upright with the butt ends in a small amount of water, or wrap the butt ends in a damp cloth. Store asparagus in a cool place, or in the fridge. If you can, cook it the day of purchase.
  • The best way to cook asparagus in the past was to stand the spears on the butt end, tips facing up, the butt end immersed in boiling water leaving the tips to cook gently in the steam. But this was when asparagus was preferred cooked until it was fork-tender, almost to a purée. Times have changed. Asparagus is not as tough as it used to be, and apart from the elderly, most people prefer asparagus with a little crunch. That makes asparagus cookers (tall cylindrical pots) redundant.
  • Asparagus can be steamed, but it will lose its vibrant green colour more easily when cooked by this method. To cook asparagus in water, bring a saucepan (or a frying pan) of water to the boil, salt it lightly, drop in the asparagus and cook without a lid for 2-7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus and your preferred degree of ‘crunch’. Drain the asparagus, splash with half a cup of cold water to halt the cooking, then serve, or first toss with butter or extra virgin olive oil.
  • If the asparagus is to be served cold, or if you want to cook it ahead so that it only needs a quick reheating (in a wok, for instance), cool the asparagus quickly by draining then plunging it into a bowl of icy-cold water. As soon as the asparagus is cool, drain, then dry it on absorbent kitchen paper. If you need to do this several hours ahead, wrap the asparagus in absorbent kitchen paper then place it in a container and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to reheat it.
  • Asparagus is great in a stir-fry, remaining crunchy and bright green. Cut them into short lengths and stir-fry in hot oil for a minute or two. Add ginger and garlic, a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper, and serve. For a nutty burst, splash in a little sesame oil, or finish with sesame seeds.
  • Plump asparagus spears are best for roasting. Trim asparagus and put them in a large, shallow ovenproof dish. Spray them with olive oil spray and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 15-25 minutes in a hot oven, until the natural sugars caramelize and the tips turn crunchy.
  • Asparagus were made to barbecue. Spray spears lightly with oil, add seasonings such as lemon zest, crushed coriander seeds, flecks of dried chilli etc., and cook them for several minutes on the hot plate or over the grill until they brown a little and smell irresistibly gorgeous. To make it easier to turn asparagus on the barbecue grill, and to prevent any of them falling through the grill, secure several asparagus in a line with two bamboo skewers.
  • Asparagus for risotto or pasta dishes must be cooked until tender. You cannot eat a crunchy chunk of asparagus in the same mouthful as an ‘al dente’ piece of pasta. The pasta will get munched up first every time and the asparagus and pasta will end up as two disparate ingredients. The same thing with risotto – the rice grains won’t cling sufficiently to something erect, and the dish will lack harmony.
  • Lemon, verjuice and flavoured vinegars can add a fresh taste to asparagus, which is particularly welcome if the dish contains cream or other rich ingredients. But be aware that these acids can discolour asparagus, so they should be reserved for dishes intended to be served straight away. Dress asparagus salads just before serving.
  • Use skinny asparagus in a frittata. Blanch 350g of asparagus in salted water (they can’t be too crunchy for a frittata or they will split it when it is cut). Refresh with cold water, and drain. Beat 5 eggs with salt and pepper and add a fistful of grated Parmesan. Carefully blend in whole asparagus, then tip into a pan of heated olive oil (use 2-4 tablespoons – the more you add, the crisper it will become, and the more delicious it will be to eat!). Cook until golden, slide frittata on to a plate, invert and return to the pan and cook second side until crisp and golden.
  • What's the point of peeling asparagus? There’s none, really. It does reveal a paler shade of green, and if that takes your fancy, peel away. The ends can be trimmed with a sharp knife or snapped off. Snapping the ends ensures you don’t waste any tender part of the asparagus, because it will only snap where it is tender. But sometimes snapped asparagus look shaggy and you have to trim them anyway!
  • Asparagus and new season’s Sauvignon Blanc comes on to the market around the same time. I reckon they make a striking match, although some wine experts disagree. I think muting the asparagus-ness of asparagus is a silly idea, and I prefer to build on it. Asparagus eats well with a gutsy, capsicum-asparagusy Sauvignon Blanc, a wine with a big whack of flavour. And it can cope with wines that have an herbaceous and cut-grass character, too Throw in some garlic, which Sauvignon Blanc loves anyway, and you’ve got the chance of striking the perfect match, according to me, that is!
  • White and purple asparagus first raised their heads on our local markets several years ago. The white are more expensive than the green because they are more laborious to produce. If spears are left to grow in the light, they become green. To keep them white, they need to be blanched (piled up with soil, or covered), during the growth period. In Europe white asparagus reigns supreme and green asparagus was cautiously introduced over the past two decades. Green asparagus smells more pungent when it is cooked and has a more intense flavour than white. Although I don’t have a breakdown for New Zealand asparagus, European green asparagus contains significantly more nutrients than the white.
  • There is plenty of research to support the inclusion of foods rich in antioxidants in our diet, but it may come as a surprise to learn how highly asparagus rates on the antioxidant chart. Watercress tops the chart, followed by kumara, with asparagus coming in third. The antioxidant levels drop by around 50% in canned asparagus, but it still beats many other fresh vegetables. There’s plenty of potassium, good amounts of calcium, and magnesium and phosphorous. Asparagus has practically no fat, but it loves fat (butter, cream, cheese, olive oil), it’s low in salt and has a good amount of fibre.
  • Serve cooked, buttered asparagus with fat slabs of ham sizzled in butter, and soft bread, or pillows of whipped potato.
  • Blanch asparagus and splash with a garlicky dressing made with balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately with crusty bread, and a selection of antipasti dishes.
  • Stack roasted asparagus and roasted yellow peppers with milky-fresh mozzarella. Garnish with rocket and drizzle with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
  • Make a spring salad with scrubbed new potatoes and blanched asparagus. Toss with vinaigrette made with Dijon mustard and garlic, or toss with a mint vinaigrette.
  • Stack roasted asparagus on top of garlicky bruschetta with slow roasted tomatoes and garnish of basil.
  • Serve blanched asparagus on buttercrunch lettuce leaves with smoked chicken and homemade mayonnaise.
  • Make a sensational warm spring salad with blanched asparagus, cooked and podded broad beans and chervil. Stir-fry shelled prawns, add vegetables, heat through, and serve, adding chervil.
  • Make the ultimate Xmas vegetable side dish with stir-fried asparagus. Just before turning them out into a dish, toss through a cupful of cherry tomatoes. Serve immediately.

What sex is YOUR asparagus?
Julie speaks about asparagus, including how to tell the difference between male and female asparagus and which sex is better for Frittatas! Also, do know what you shouldn't keep it next to in your refrigerator? Watch this video and become an asparagus expert!

>Watch the video

Strictly speaking, the methods used to cook a braise and a stew are distinctly different, but the lines between the two are often blurred. I'm not hung-up on the culinary correctness of it all - I just want delicious, inexpensive food which is easy to prepare and cook - and whether it's a braise, a stew, or a bit of both, doesn't worry me.

The old braisiere had a concave lid in which was put a mound of hot charcoal, or more latterly, boiling water. The pot, set over a fire, therefore had top and bottom heat. These days, although some braises are started on the element, the majority of the cooking is done in the oven; stews can be wholly cooked on the element, or in the oven.

For the records, then, in a classic meat braise, the piece of meat is kept whole to keep it moist; often joints used for braising are on the lean side. Stewing meat is different. It's the cheaper cuts, the bits you have to treat kindly to get an edible result from, which make the best stews. The meat should have a good marbling of fat through the lean. This is not a good investment for our health, but it's been the basis of good stewing meat for centuries. The marbling keeps the meat succulent. You want a bit of gristle too, because this melts during the long slow cooking, thickening and enriching the gravy. The meat is cut into large cubes which enables the fat marbling and gristle to run free, but the cubes must not be too small or they will dry out and become 'chippy'.

For a braise, the meat and vegetables may be browned or not. The vegetables are often diced and sweated (cooked gently with the lid on) to release flavours and the joint of meat is put on top of them. Stock or other liquid is poured in but it shouldn't come more than a quarter of the way up the meat. The braise is covered with a tight-fitting lid and cooked in the oven. The meat cooks in the steam from the liquid. This is probably the most adhered to principle in braising - little liquid is used and cooking is by steam.

In a stew, the meat is immersed in liquid, along with any vegetables or accompaniments. The liquid should only simmer, because boiling defeats the purpose of stewing - it toughens the meat.

The meat can be marinaded before braising to improve flavour and texture, but if the meat is going to be browned, it must first be thoroughly dried with absorbent kitchen paper.

Some very lean joints of meat used to be barded before cooking. This meant that little strips of bacon or lard were stitched onto the meat surface to provide succulence as the joint cooked. I don't know any cooks who do this now - it's very English, very Cordon Bleu-ish, and although I had it drummed into me for years during my training, I'd prefer to quickly wrap a piece of lean meat in a few rashers of bacon if I thought it was going to suffer during cooking.

The vegetables give their flavour to the juices or gravy during the long slow cooking and are not usually served as an accompaniment because they're squishy-soft, but sometimes they are sieved and added to the gravy to thicken it.

Meat braises are the most common, with some top cuts being used in classic braise dishes; they are cooked for a shorter period and the vegetables are served with the meat. But whole fish should be considered. Cooked by this moist method it is excellent, and vegetables such as celery, onions, cabbage and witloof are also good.

A stew can be white or brown. For a white stew, the meat is not browned and is usually more delicate in flavour. Generally the meat used is not from the best cuts, but those that require long slow cooking to make them tender and to bring out their flavour For a brown stew, the cubes of meat are browned in hot fat in batches - don't crowd the pan or the meat will steam and not brown. The stew is thickened after the meat and vegetables have been browned. It's important to get this bit right. Pour off excess fat, then sprinkle in the flour. You should leave about a tablespoon of fat clinging to the casserole, and add just enough flour to absorb it. If all the fat is not absorbed by the flour, and held in its emulsion, it'll float to the top at the end of cooking - a grease slick on top of the stew is never a good look. If you add too much flour, it'll stick and clump and you'll need to whisk it furiously to make it smooth. It's all rather easy once you're doing it! Meat, fish, vegetables or fruit can all be stewed.
Cooking Green Vegetables
Vegetables that grow above the ground have been exposed to light and the changes in the weather and don't need such cosseted cooking. They're plunged into boiling, salted water, which shortens the cooking time, ensuring they can be cooked until tender, yet maintain structure and flavour without becoming water-logged. The vegetables are cooked with the lid off, at a gentle boil (a fierce boil could cause vegetables with a delicate structure to disintegrate). Cooking greens, such as beans and broccoli, with the lid on can cause the vegetables to discolour. Vegetable acids, which would normally be driven off in the steam, sit on the inside of the lid, dripping back into the vegetables, causing discolouration and often an unpleasant odour or taste. To halt the cooking process (particularly useful if the vegetables are not to be served hot but are to be served in a salad or reheated), splash a cup or two of cold water over them (this is called 'refreshing'). It also helps maintain a good green colour. If you want to refresh the vegetables to keep the fresh colour, but you want to serve the vegetables hot, return them to the dry pan after refreshing, with a knob of butter and a grind of pepper and heat gently until hot (be careful not to fry them).

Cooking Root Vegetables
Root vegetables, or those which grow under the ground, usually have a firmer, denser structure than vegetables that grow above the ground, like beans and zucchini/courgette, which contain more water. Root vegetables and tubers are usually cooked by being placed in a saucepan of cold, salted water, brought to the boil, then cooked with the lid on, or partially on. This method is chosen as it is a gentle controlled way of cooking, heating things up slowly and allowing plenty of time for the heat to penetrate the denseness of the vegetables, and ensuring even cooking (fast boiling would soften the exterior before the centre was cooked). The lid stays on, or partially on, to trap in steam and to prevent the water level from dropping. If the vegetables are not kept immersed in the water, they will cook unevenly. Sometimes the water froths over if the pan is covered; angle it slightly to allow some steam to escape. When the vegetables are tender, drain them immediately.

Steaming Secrets
There are many ways to steam food, but the principle remains the same: food is cooked by moist heat. The food does not sit in the boiling water, but above it, and cooks in the vapours. It's a very kind way of cooking in that food can be steamed without added fat and is therefore good for you. It is fast, efficient on fuel and doesn't create much mess in the kitchen. The food is easily digested, and an added bonus is that steamed food retains more of its water-soluble vitamins than boiled food.

The items to be cooked can either be directly exposed to the steam by placing them in a steaming basket or on a rack in the steamer, or they can be put on a plate or material such as foil or banana leaves, which will catch the juices, and the steam can pass around the food.

A basic requisite for steaming is ample water, but it's easy to get caught out. I've been alerted more than once to an about-to-explode steamer by that tell-tale hissing sound as the last bubbles of water burst into froth on the sides of the steamer. The water should never be allowed to go off the boil. Have extra boiling water (or just-boiled water), at the ready, in an electric jug, to add to the steamer when you need it. If you add anything but boiling water during the steaming process, cooking will be halted until the water reboils.

There are many types of steamers. One of the most useful is a wok with a lid. The lid should fit inside the wok. Choose one which is shaped like a high dome which will allow big items to be placed in the wok for steaming (whole chickens etc,). The lids are usually made from very light aluminium and they dent easily- be careful. If the wok does not come with a rack, and you need to rest the food on something, improvise and use a round cake rack

A basic bamboo steamer is a beautiful and functional object. The cracks in the bamboo lid allow a little steam to escape which stops condensation building up on the inside of the lid. The bamboo baskets can be stacked one on top the other, the food requiring the longest cooking being placed in the bottom basket, and cooked over the one lot of steam.

Some saucepan sets come complete with a metal steaming insert for one of the pans, and are a worthwhile investment. Top-of-the-line brand, the Italian Le Pentole, has a stacking steaming system which is a thing of beauty and functionality; the system will cost you a pretty penny, but it will serve you for decades. For mere mortals, you can always fall back on those neat cleverly designed piece of metal, the expandable metal steamer, which can be shaped to fit most saucepans. However, improvisation is the key. I've steamed many dishes in make-do steamers. The important things to remember are: allow room for the steam to circulate, keep the water topped up and have a tight-fitting lid.

Lift the lid on the steamer only when necessary. When you lift the lid, quickly invert it, so that the water condensed on the inside does not drip onto the food being steamed. (Whole artichokes, for instance; if you pour the water from the lid back onto them, they'll fill up with water and become water-logged.)

Steamed food used to be associated with invalids, and I guess this is where the major turn-off occurs. If you can banish the thoughts and think about light foods with delicate flavours, food which leaves you feeling satisfied but without an overburdened stomach, steaming has much to offer.

Cooking Spinach
Leafy vegetables, like spinach, can be cooked with just the water left clinging to them after washing. Put the spinach in a saucepan, set it over a medium heat and stir the spinach often until it has wilted, or is cooked to your liking. Salt added to the spinach as it cooks will minimise the chalky taste it sometimes possesses.

How to Bake Blind
To bake blind, the pastry is first lined with paper and filled with baking beans then baked. I use tissue paper, well crinkled, because it molds easily into the pastry and stays soft making it easy to remove and posing less chance of cutting the pastry as it is removed. Pasta shapes, rice or dried beans can be used to weight the pastry down; cool after use and store air-tight.

Old Wive's Tales: Corn
Traditional advice, to put the water on to boil before going down to the corn patch to pick the corn, has plenty of merit. As soon as the sweet corn is cut from the plant, the sugar starts turning to starch, so the sooner you get it in the pot, the sweeter it's going to be. New varieties of corn retain the sugar longer before it converts to starch, but speed is still essential; no amount of care and gentle massaging is going to resurrect withered corn cobs. Another adage that is also true is don't salt the water until the corn is cooked; salt it at the table, because if added during cooking, salt toughens the kernels.

Photo Credit: Ian Batchelor

The Magic of Meatballs
Meat with some fat makes better mince for meatballs than 95% fat free mince - the fat helps keep the meatballs tender. If you want to cut out as much animal fat as possible, and you prefer fat-free mince, add some extra virgin olive oil to the meatball mixture to ensure the meatballs aren't dry and like sawdust (extra virgin olive oil lowers cholesterol and is a monounsaturated fat).

I'm a stickler for freshness when it comes to mince. Minced meat does not keep as well as joints of meat or sliced meat because more parts of it have been handled and exposed to the air. Use it the day of purchase if possible, or within two days (or freeze it), and always check the 'packed on' date, not the 'best before' date. You don't want to keep mince that was packed two or three days ago for another two or three days - it will not be fresh. Beef mince will keep freshest the longest, and chicken mince for the shortest time.

The perfect meatball need not be round. If the mixture is light it will invariably flatten a little after rolling. I don't worry about that because a light odd-shaped meatball is much more enjoyable to eat than a heavy perfectly formed one.

To keep the mixture light, add breadcrumbs and eggs to the mince and give a vigorous beat once you've added all the ingredients. Breadcrumbs loosen the mince and beating adds air which helps keep the balls light. Rolling the balls can be a bit of a pain because they stick to the hands. To stop this happening, have a saucer of water by the bowl and wet the palms of your hands every two or three balls. It works a treat. Once the balls are rolled, put them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (and up to several hours in advance, or overnight, providing the mince was very fresh). This makes them firmer and they lose their stickiness - they are then much easier to fry. Meatballs must be cooked through - they should not be served rare or medium-rare, but take care not to overcook them because that will make them dry.

All of the above makes it sound much more complicated than what it is - they're just meatballs after all - but if you get them right, you'll have everyone coming back for seconds.
More on lamb
Lamb Tips
I buy the racks with the fat removed and peel off the silverskin, the thin stretchy sheath that is to be found under the fat and on top of the meat. One of the attributes of lamb is the sweetness provided by the fat. It's a fine line between removing enough to satisfy the health police, and leaving enough for gustatory pleasure. That aside, lamb has plenty of the B group vitamins and iron. Iron helps carry oxygen to the whole body including the brain. Serving the lamb with a grain such as burghul or couscous is a smart idea as it helps the body use the iron from the plant foods.

Something different
Serve with a burghul pilaf, or couscous, and blanched spinach whipped with yoghurt and sautéed lemons. To sauté lemons, cut three lemons into thick slices, dry off on absorbent kitchen paper then dredge with a little caster (superfine granulated) sugar. Have ready a small frying pan set over a medium-high heat. Drop in a good knob of butter and when sizzling hot add the lemon slices. Cook until golden and sprinkle with salt. Serve hot as a garnish with the lamb racks.

To make the spinach and yoghurt salad, cook and drain 700g (1 1/2 pounds) spinach. Wring out excess water once spinach is cool and chop coarsely. Mix 2 cups Greek yoghurt with 1 crushed clove garlic, a good sprinkling of salt, black pepper to taste and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Cover and chill for 1 hour, then beat lightly before serving.
Grilling: Skewers
Metal Skewers Metal Skewers Metal Skewers Metal Skewers
Metal skewers conduct heat and so are good for chunky food and thicker pieces of meat.

Use bamboo skewers for vegetables, fish and for satay made with thin strips of meat. To prevent bamboo skewers from scorching at the ends, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes before use.

Rosemary stalks make excellent skewers as well as flavoring the food they are skewering. Choose firm stalks; remove most of the leaves other than a little cluster at the tip of each, then let them dry and harden for a day. If you find it difficult to pierce the food with a rosemary stalk, use a pointed metal skewer to make the hole, then skewer with the rosemary stalk.

Lemon grass stalks can also be used and are particularly good with seafood and chicken.

Seasoning a soup

Some cooks claim that the secret to a good soup lies in using a good stock. I think it lies in using salt.

While the earthy and sweet but delicate flavours of a chicken soup can be emphasised by using a stock made from the chicken carcass, and a prawn chowder will benefit from the flavour boost a stock made from the sautéed prawn shells will bring it, many soups call for no sophisticated additions, they're simply the sum of their parts. All, however, are dependent on salt to lift them from insipid to saporous.

Leek and potato soup is a clear example. It's got that good home cooking aura about it - you know, smells wonderful while it cooks, is full of gutsy taste and somehow seems restorative. It contains very few ingredients, yet the slow cooking of the vegetables draws out an incredible depth of flavour. The key in unleashing that flavour is SALT, not stock.

An underseasoned soup, particularly one based on a starchy vegetable or ingredient, will be dull and uninteresting. Sometimes I feel like yelling it from the rooftops USE SALT WHEN YOU COOK , but a practical example is probably more useful. Make a pot of leek and potato soup, without salt (say, 4 medium leeks, 4 medium potatoes and 1.500ml liquid). Enjoy the aromas as it cooks. Anticipate the rich flavours, the nourishing goodness of leeks and potatoes. Then taste it. Then hang your head in disappointment. It tastes of nothing, insipid, just a warm fuzzy floury wishy-washy mildly leekish sort of liquid. Stir in salt – plenty of it (about 1/2 teaspoons of salt), let it settle 5 minutes, stir again and taste. It's a revelation isn't it?

When clear, flavourless liquids, like water and milk, or bland, starch ingredients, like potatoes or rice, or vegetables with a high water content, like courgettes and leafy greens are used, more salt is required. Add the salt in stages, stirring it in well, then wait a few minutes, stir again and taste. No soup should taste bland or be tasteless; continue seasoning and tasting until the flavour is more pronounced or drawn out.

Make stock for soup when you need to, or when leftover ingredients (bones etc) are available, but more importantly, learn about salt. Learn what it does to food (taste food without it, add it, then taste again) and how to use it; you’ll find the flavour of the dishes you create greatly enhanced.

Shaping Hot-cross Buns

Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roughly form into a sausage. Cut into pieces a little larger than an egg. Flatten out each piece of dough one at a time. Fold in all the edges to the centre, lift piece of dough up from the centre in your left hand (or reverse if left-handed), turn your hand over and cradle your right hand over the dough and jiggle it until it is smooth and roundish in shape. This gives buns a smooth uncracked top. If the top of the bun is split, simply repeat the process. Try to keep the buns tall rather than squat so they will rise rather than spread.


Tamarillos may be South American in origin, but we've certainly taken them to our hearts.

When I grew up tamarillos were called tree tomatoes, no strange coincidence as they do belong to the same plant family as tomatoes but New Zealand growers opted for a more exotic name in 1967.

Tamarillos are oval or egg-shaped, like a plum tomato, with either a rounded or pointed tip. In home gardens it's possible to find trees bearing red, purple and golden skinned fruit. NZ was the first country to grow tamarillos commercially, the red being the most common. The gold is the sweetest.

The skin of tamarillos is bitter but is easily removed. Drop tamarillos into a saucepan of boiling water, leave for 1 minute, then remove a tamarillo to check whether it can be easily peeled. If the tamarillos are ready, drain and transfer to a bowl of cold water; if the skin is not easily removed, leave them in the hot water for another 1 minute. When cool enough to handle, peel the tamarillos and remove stalks.

Sweetened with sugar or honey, tamarillos can be included in a wide range of desserts, but they're a different beast altogether when used in savoury dishes. Think of them like an acidic tomato. They can be roasted around meat, make a fabulous chutney and an interesting salsa, and are great in casseroles, particularly beef, pork, chicken, duck and lamb.

Sweet bites
  • Peel and cut tamarillos into quarters down the length. Sprinkle with brown sugar and leave for 30 minutes, then grill.
  • Make a crumble with tamarillos and apples, and a desiccated coconut and hazelnut topping, and serve with coconut ice cream.
  • Use brown-sugared tamarillos in pavlova in place of kiwifruit, and let all the gorgeous red juices ooze through the pillows of whipped cream.
  • Serve peeled and sugared tamarillos with sweetened ricotta on toasted brioche
  • Make a winter version of Summer Pudding with apples, tamarillos and brioche loaf.
  • Puree chopped tamarillos, then sieve to catch seeds, and use in smoothies.
  • Halve skinned tamarillos, place in shallow baking tin, splash with brandy and sprinkle generously with brown sugar, then bake until bubbling. Serve with ice cream.
Hot bites
  • Make a biting salsa with green chilli, diced tamarillos, pinch of sugar, grated lemon zest, sultanas, coriander and mint. Serve with lamb.
  • Serve tamarillo chutney on crackers with cheese or tomatoes, with cold meats, with barbecued lamb cutlets or roasted pork, or with crispy roast duck. Also try it in a BLT with avocado.
  • Sprinkle peeled, sliced tamarillos with balsamic vinegar and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with meat dishes.
Tamarillo tips
  • Don't store them next to bananas, apples and citrus, which all give off ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening process too quickly.
  • Eat as much of them as you can during their season, which runs from April through to October, because they're an excellent source of Vitamins C and A.
  • Always use stainless steel or enamel saucepans and stainless steel knives when preparing tamarillos to avoid discolouration.
  • Use within a week of purchase. They're perishable and will rot if you don't get to them quickly.
Great crumble tips
  • If using firm fruits such as apples, slice them thinly to ensure they will cook down by the time the crumble topping is ready.
  • Use any type of sugar you like, adding extra for tart fruit, and less for sweet fruit.
  • Nuts, coconut, spices, lemon, lime and orange zest can all be added to the crumble topping for interest, and spices such as cloves, cinnamon, allspice, crushed cardamom seeds (just one or two) and nutmeg, can be added to the fruit.
  • Don't cut back the amount of fat in the crumble, it needs to be there to stop the crumble turning hard.
  • It is wise to put ramekins in a shallow roasting tray to catch spillages.
  • Cook fruit crumbles in a moderate oven – if the temperature is too hot, the crumble will cook, then may scorch before the fruit is tender.
  • If the crumble is browned, but the fruit is not tender, drape a piece of aluminium foil over the top of the crumble to deflect the top heat, lower the temperature and keep cooking until the fruit is tender.
  • Crumbles are done when you can see the fruit is bubbling up around the edges of the dish.
  • To my mind, the worst sort of crumble is one with watery fruit (think sweet flabby apples) with a hard crumble crust which is overly sweet. The best is one with tender fruit, juices bubbling up around the edge of the crumble, fruit which has a slight tang or bite to it, and a tender crumble crust, not excessively buttery, but not powdery, with crunchy nuts. And lashings of custard or yoghurt.

   © 2010 Julie Biuso
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