1. Wash and dry your herbs before storing
2. Soft vs Hard Herbs
- Basil (special treatment)
Lamb is not the kind of meat that everyone would like to cook at home. Its strong flavour and not quite knowing how to cook it makes many of us pass it up for more familiar and popular cuts. If you are a lamb lover, don’t let this unfamiliarity deter you from cooking a succulent piece of lamb. Because if you think about it, cooking lamb chops is no different from cooking pork chops and braising a lamb stew is pretty much the same as braising a beef stew.
For all meats, whether they come from a cow, a pig or a lamb, the types of cuts are very similar because these animals all have 4 legs and move in the same way. Therefore the muscles and parts of their bodies that are used (or not used) are pretty much the same. The tenderest cuts will be the loin chops and tougher cuts will be their shoulders, legs or shank area. For example, lamb chops can be quickly pan fried just like pork chops or steaks. Tougher cuts such as leg of lamb or brisket area are best to braise slowly for 2-3 hours.
The strong flavour (gamey flavour) of lamb that some people don’t like mainly comes from the fat. You either love this taste or you hate it. There is really no in between. So if you want to try lamb but cannot stand the strong flavour, try trimming away as much of the fat as possible. The strong taste of lamb is also more subtle if you cook the lamb to about a medium to medium-well, with just a touch of pink in the middle. Another way to slowly incorporate lamb into a dish is to use mince lamb, where you can start with mixing minced lamb with minced beef, pork or chicken to make meatballs or burgers.
Lamb is actually a very versatile meat when it comes to flavour combinations. With lamb having such a rich and meaty taste, it is best to season the meat with fresh herbs and spices that will bring some freshness and contrast. Rosemary, mint and lemon zest are classic combinations. Aromatic spices such as curry, cumin, cinnamon and black pepper are good choices for warm stewing dishes. Lamb also goes very well with fruits such as apricots, pomergrante and any sweet chutneys.
If you are still not convinced, take a look at one of my July cooking videos here – “Summer Roast Rack of Lamb with Vegetables and Fresh Mint Sauce”.
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I am completely guilty for always leaving the last few bananas sitting there one day too long and letting them turn into the wrong shade of brown. A perfectly ripened banana has a good firmness and it’s not too sweet. It is the perfect snack between meals or before you hit the gym as bananas are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. They also keep your blood sugar level stable (which will make you feel less hungry between meals) and give you the energy for your workout.
Before we get into different ways to use over-ripe bananas, let’s talk about some health benefits and reasons as to why you should include bananas in your diet. Bananas are rich in potassium, which is important as this mineral helps maintain fluid levels in the body and regulates the movement of nutrients and waste products in and out of our cells. This fruit is also very high in fibre, magnesium, vitamin C and B6 which aids in digestion and promotes heart health. Eating banana will improve your mood and reduce PMS symptoms because it regulates blood sugar and helps produce the “happy hormone” serotonin.
So let’s get into a few ways of using those over ripened bananas!
Bananas act as a healthy sweetener in a number of recipes, which means you can cut back on the sugar and feel good about your snack.
Morning Banana & Mixed Berries Smoothie
If you have one banana and a handful of berries, you are minutes away from a delicious and healthy breakfast. I usually put almond milk or soy milk into my smoothie but you can use milk as well as yoghurt. There are also many superfoods that you can add to your banana smoothie to turn it into a super shake to start your mornings such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and wheat germ. If you are like me who cannot start your day without coffee, but don’t want to drink so many things in the morning, try adding a shot of coffee into your banana smoothie. You’ll barely taste the coffee but still get your caffeine and energy boost all in one glass!
Other flavour combinations with bananas: mango, peach, papaya, pineapple, raw nuts such as almonds or hazelnut. And feel free to add some honey to sweeten your smoothie.
Easy & Quick Banana Ice Cream
Chop up your ripe bananas and freeze them on a tray. Once they are frozen, put the bananas in a blender with 3 – 4 tablespoons of cold milk. Blitz away and you’ll get a frozen treat right away. No fancy ice-cream machine required! My favourite toppings to add to this delicious frozen dessert are drizzling of honey, chopped almonds, sliced strawberries, and if I feel indulgent, some chocolate chips or chocolate sauce. You may also add more milk and turn this into a cold frothy banana milkshake.
Making pancakes for breakfast is a great way to start a lazy and relaxing weekend. And of course, one of my favourite pancakes to make is banana pancakes. Instead of just slicing up the bananas and placing them on top of pancakes, try to intensify the sweet banana flavour by mashing them into the pancake batter. Bananas are already naturally sweet, therefore you can cut back on the sugar that you normally would add to your pancake batter. You will also probably end up using less syrup when eating the pancakes, making this breakfast dish much healthier.
Here’s a recipe from DayDayCook for an easy and delicious banana pancake: http://www.daydaycook.com/daydaycook/hk/website/recipe/details.do?id=34151
And lastly, who could resist a moist and delicious slice of banana bread? I love making this whenever I have the chance as I love the aroma of freshly baked banana bread. To clarify, what I bake is not really a ‘bread’ but more of a cake. (They are just in the shape of a loaf of bread). There are so many different versions out there, so find a recipe that gives you the result you want. I prefer to use olive oil or coconut oil for my banana breads, but you can of course use butter if you wish.
Try out my healthier version of banana bread where I use olive oil (or coconut oil), honey as a natural sweetener and whole wheat flour. This is a moist banana bread so if you want to keep it longer, store it in air tight container in the fridge for a week or freeze it up to 3 months.
80ml olive oil or coconut oil
115ml honey or maple syrup
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
200g white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
Drizzle of chocolate sauce (optional)
If you want another version of the banana bread, stay tuned for my July video on Chocolate and Banana Bread on my Facebook page!
For more cooking tips, recipes and kitchen ideas, visit my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/charmainecooks
A well-equipped kitchen is very important for any home cook. There are so many gadgets and cooking tools out there to choose from, it is tempting to get a lot of them. However, some of these items are very specific and can only do one job. With limited space in the kitchen (especially in Hong Kong!!), we need to shop smart and only get the most useful and practical tools. Here is a list of my top five utensils every kitchen should have.
Every chef will tell you that the most important piece of equipment you can own if you want to be a good cook is a good quality chef’s knife. This is the one tool that is worth your investment. A knife is the most used utensil in the kitchen because almost every dish you make involves some cutting, chopping and slicing. A good chef’s knife should feel good in your hand, as some chefs would say, the knife should be an extension of your hand. Choose a chef’s knife that does not feel too heavy and is well-balanced in your hand. The grip should be comfortable and you should be able to rock the knife back and forth with ease. Make sure you always keep your knife sharp as cutting with a sharp knife is much safer than cutting with a dull, cheap knife because it is less likely to slip and cut you. If you are on a budget, there is no need to buy a whole set of knives. Get one good chef’s knife and you will be able to cut, dice, slice and filet with it.
I like using wooden spoons and heat proof spatulas (usually made from silicone) when I cook as these are gentle enough tools that won’t scratch the surface of your pots and pans. They are also great for mixing batters when you want to bake cakes and cookies. And spatulas are great for lifting and flipping foods such as fish. Get a spatula with a thin front edge rather than a thicker one so that it can easily slide under the food.
A good durable sieve is a very important tool in the kitchen. It helps you strain your cooked pasta and boiled vegetables, allows you to make smooth sauces and soups and also sifts your flour to get rid of the lumps. Sieves are made of a fine wire mesh with a long handle. I prefer the ones that are made entirely of metal, even the handle. A good sieve should have a hook on the side so that it can rest on the rim of a pot or bowl.
For beginner cooks, nonstick skillets and frying pans are great tools to get you started cooking in the kitchen. But make sure to never use metal utensils on nonstick pans as this will scratch the nonstick surface. Stainless-steel frying pans and skillets are wonderful to have because aside from being able to cook on the stove tops, you can put these pans in the oven. Make sure the pan handle is also stainless-steel and not coated with plastic if you want to put your pans in the oven. A good size frying pan is a 30cm wide pan (12 inches). It is wide enough for a one-pan supper dish but also good for pan searing steaks or making frittata for brunch. Make sure you invest in some good quality frying pans and ones that feel good in your hands (nothing too heavy and with a good grip handle) as they can last you a very long time.
Cookbooks and online recipes are created (hopefully) so that you can cook the dishes as close to what the authors intend their dishes to taste and look like. This is where correct measurements of ingredients come in. Proper and precise measurements are extremely important if you love to bake. Therefore, it is worthwhile to keep one set of measuring cups, measuring spoons and a liquid measuring cup in your kitchen as all recipes will give you some sort of measurements and you will have to know how to get them right. Do consider investing in an electric scale as well since a lot of the cookbooks out there these days give measurements in weight (usually grams). If you are like me, who likes to create your own recipes, having the correct measurements for your recipes is extremely crucial!
If you want to know more cooking tips and kitchen’s know-hows, don’t forget to like and follow me on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Charmainecooks.
Also check out my other blog posts (translated to Chinese) on the DayDayCook’s website!