Culinary Savvy: Recent posts
How to make buttermilk
How to carve a leg of lamb
How to make homemade chicken stock recipe
How to slice an onion
Ingredient preparation

Ever felt like making a delicious dessert only to find that you have all the ingredients except buttermilk?  I have had this problem frequently in the past, especially since buttermilk has an expiry date similar to milk but has a much lower turnover rate in my fridge compared to milk.  To complicate matters, buttermilk is available in only one liter or half liter sizes, and most of the time I don’t use up all the buttermilk before its expiry date.

I’m glad to share with you a solution to all these ordeals pertaining to buttermilk.  I learned how to make homemade buttermilk using the milk currently in my fridge. The formula is simple:

Place 2 1/2 tsp lemon juice in a glass measuring cup and add enough milk up to 1 cup.  Stir and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes before using.  And voilà.  No more wasting unused buttermilk since you can make only the quantity you need!  Any level of fat content for the milk can be used (whole milk, 1%, 2%, or skim milk), but usually whole milk is used for baking.

I tried this homemade buttermilk and it works well for buttermilk pancakes, and chocolate cakes.  I don’t buy buttermilk anymore for my baking; it’s easier and less wasteful to just make my own buttermilk.  I found that it works just as well and only takes 5 minutes!

How does it work?  Buttermilk is just sour milk, which was made sour by increasing its acidity.  Commercially, the acidity is from adding bacteria that produce lactic acid for fermenting the lactose sugar in milk.  This type of buttermilk is more specifically known as cultured buttermilk.  In this formula, we are increasing the acidity by adding citric acid from the lemon juice to produce the type of buttermilk known as acidified buttermilk.  In both buttermilk types, when the level of acidity is increased in the milk, the milk protein casein will eventually precipitate.  This precipitation is what causes the curdling and thus thickening of milk.


Use this method on your favorite leg of lamb recipe.  It works every time.  Cutting the meat across the grain will give you the most tender slices of lamb.  This means that you will need to slice the meat perpendicular to the bone.

Use a sharp carving knife or chef’s knife.

Cut off a few slices from the underside of the leg to give you a flat surface to rest the lamb onto the cutting board.

Make vertical slices to your desired thickness, cutting down to the bone.

Carving a leg of lamb  how to carve a leg of lamb

Once you have made all the slices, turn the knife parallel to the bone.  Cut along the bone to free the slices and carve all the meat away from the bone.

carve lamb  Slicing lamb into desired thickness

Premium broth or chicken stock is used in soups, stews, braised dishes and thickening glazes to accentuate the real flavors of ingredients, particularly those ingredients which do not have a strong taste on their own.  Chicken stock is the flavorful base for so many soups and stews in all cultures of cuisines, so it makes sense that you use the best that you can.  The key to making a good pot of premium homemade chicken stock is on the cooking time and the control of heat.  It has to be brought to a boil over high heat and then gently simmered over low heat for a long time (typically 3 to 5 hours) to allow the thorough infusion of the meat without clouding the stock.

The good news is that when you set out to make homemade broth, most of it is hands-off anyway.  This chicken stock recipe requires a few hours of simmering and only 15 minutes of preparation beforehand.  You’ll taste (and smell) a huge difference from store-bought.

Be careful never to simmer the stock over medium or high heat, or the stock will become cloudy or murky.  Once the stock is first boiled, it is important to skim off the foam and the blood clots from the surface of the broth.  This will allow for a clear broth.  Then when the stock is done, skim off the fat.  The best result is if the stock is robust in flavor and clear with a hint of golden in color.

Blanching the meat before use helps to remove the blood clots and the fat.  Most stocks call for lean meats (pork, beef, or chicken) which constitute the key palate of the soups but it is best to blanch the meats first before using to prevent the stock from becoming cloudy and swamped with solid fats.  After blanching, the meats should be drained and then rinsed in cold water to prevent the loss of nutrients and taste.  When there are both vegetables and meat in the broth, it is important to add the meat first because it takes longer for the taste to infuse.  Some vegetables turn mushy and break down easily if overcooked in the soup, so you should only add them to the broth after the meat has been simmering for about 1 hour.

Local Asian supermarkets are famous for the low prices on 14.5 oz (412 mL) canned chicken broth.  It seems so convenient to keep the kitchen pantry stocked with cans of chicken broth to use in cooking.  I tried an experiment where I made Asian beef noodle soup and French onion soup with canned chicken broth and homemade chicken broth for comparison.  My husband and his family were the judges.  By unanimous decision, we encourage you to make your own broth for the best-tasting soups and stews.

Since it takes so many hours to make a pot of broth, you might as well make more than you need for one meal and save the rest for later use.  When the broth is done, it can be cooled to room temperature and stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator for 1 month.  I also freeze my broth into ice cubes and store them in the freezer for those recipes that only require small quantities of broth.  I simply drop the broth ice cubes into the recipe and let it melt!  Even better, the solid ingredients are still flavorful and can be boiled to make a second stock after adding half the amount of water and simmering for half the time.  After all, it seems too wasteful to discard these solid ingredients after just one use, so I store it in the fridge to make a second stock with it.  I’ve found that the second stock can still be used as a soup base for a noodles and stews.

How to make homemade chicken stock

Grocery list

1 chicken, excess fat removed, plus extra necks and backs/rib cages
2 medium onions, halved
2 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery including the leaves, chopped
1 leek, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
6 sprigs fresh parsley
Kosher salt

Vegetables for chicken broth  Parsley

Rinse the chicken and extra parts and drain well.  If desired, and for easy handling later, cut the chicken into quarters.

Whole chicken and extra necks and rib cages

Blanch the chicken and the extra parts in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain well and rinse with cold water.

Boil chicken and extra parts first  Bring chicken to a boil first

Put the chicken and extra parts in a large stockpot (at least 8 quarts) and add cold water to cover by 2 inches.  You may have to add at least 5 1/2 quarts (about 5 liters) water.  Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Simmer gently, uncovered, for 1 hour, skimming any foam or blood clots from the surface with a large serving spoon.

Boiling chicken for homemade chicken broth  Skimming the foam that rises

Add the onions, carrots, celery, leek, thyme, and parsley and bring it to a low and gentle boil over low heat.

Add vegeables after 1 hour of simmering chicken  Add vegetables to stock after one hour

Simmer, partially covered, for another 3 to 5 hours, skimming as needed until the broth is as rich as you like.

Simmer stock partly covered

You can let it reduce to half the original volume if you like it very rich and full of chicken taste.  You can also add a bay leaf and a couple cloves of garlic if you desire.

Stock will be reduced after simmering

When the stock is done, turn off the heat and skim off the extra grease on the surface.  Season with salt if needed.  With a slotted spoon or spider skimmer, remove the vegetables and set aside on a large plate.

Straining homemade chicken broth

Lift the chicken and extra parts out of the pot, allowing the soup to drain back into the pot.  Set aside; you can reserve the cooked chicken meat and vegetables for another use if you desire.  Set a fine sieve over a pot or container big enough to hold the broth (at least 4 quarts).  Strain the broth through the sieve and chill it uncovered in the fridge.  When cool, cover and continue to refrigerate until the fat congeals on the surface.  Scrape off the fat with a soup spoon.

Before serving or using in another dish, simmer for at least 10 minutes and season with salt to taste.  Some deliciously flavorful soups, and wholesome meals I’ve made with my homemade chicken stock include:
French onion soup
Seafood chowder
Beef noodle soup
Tomato-basil noodle soup
Mare Nostrum lasagna
Lasagna Bolognese

Homemade chicken stock

The onion is an important basic ingredient with a wide variety of culinary uses and methods of preparation.  They have a distinctive bulbar shape surrounded by a delicate brittle skin that is yellow, red, or white.

yellow onions  red onions

They are available commonly as mature onion bulbs or in the immature pre-bulbing stage when they are known as scallions.


They come in different sizes, from jumbo softball sized, to regular tennis ball sized to pearl onions that are marble sized.

pearl onions  Shallots  Yellow onions

Regardless of the color, maturity, or size, all onions are made up of concentric rings that run from top to the root ends of the onion.  If you slice any onion horizontally (relative to the top and bottom root ends), you will see the concentric circles that are the meat of the onion by design.

sliced onion to see the rings

Have you ever wondered why onions cause so much eye irritation and tears?  Onions contain certain enzymes that catalyze a reaction to produce specific sulfur-containing acids.  (These enzymes are common to all plants in the same genus as the onion, such as garlic, leeks, scallions, and chives.)  When onions are cut, their cells are broken, and enzyme is released and free to produce this sulfur-containing acid.  This acid is then quickly transformed by another enzyme to make a volatile gas known as the lachrymatory factor, a name that implies watery eyes (since lachrymal glands are the tear-producing parts of the eyes).  This gas diffuses through the air easily, and when it reaches your eyes it activates sensory neurons that receive it as an irritation.  As a result, your eyes will naturally produce tears to try and flush out the irritant.

Many recipes call for thinly sliced onions.  This may feel like a chore because of the irritation that comes when dealing with onions.  And unfortunately, the onion chopper does not give you thin slices!  I used to dread working with onions because I hated them so much.  As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, I tried using all sorts of remedies to minimize eye irritation.  But because we effectively substitute onions with another ingredient or omit them altogether, we should learn proper ways to prepare them.  Thinly sliced onions are key ingredients to hearty meals, French onion soup, salads, sandwiches/burgers, and a variety of Chinese dishes.

I know there are quite a number of onion slicing methods out there, but I will share with you my method which has served me well over the years.

  1. Before you begin, be sure you have a good sized cutting board (preferably wooden) and a very sharp chef’s knife.  A sharp knife will allow you to cut an onion cleanly with faster strokes limiting the amount of juice that is squeeze out of the onion when cutting.
  2. Hold the chef’s knife by placing your thumb and index finger on the blade, and curling your other fingers firmly around the handle.  This is good practice whether you are left handed or right handed:
    hold chef's knife left hand  hold chef's knife right hand
  3. Practice fast and confidant cutting.  Use fennel bulbs at first.  They are shaped and layered like onions and they don’t give you eye irritation.  Practice makes perfect!
  4. Start by cutting the onion in half vertically through the center
    cut onion halfway vertically  onion cut in half vertically
  5. Cut off the top and root ends of the onion halves and peel the onion.  An onion is easier to peel once it is halved and the tops and roots are removed.
    cut off onion tops and roots
  6. Position one of the onion halves so that it is resting flat on the cutting board with the two cut ends pointing up and down (away from you and towards you, respectively).
  7. Hold the onion half with a firm grip pressing it against the cutting board.  Holding your knife at a low angle, your first slice will be lengthwise on one side of the onion.
    slice onion at a low angle
  8. Follow the natural curve of the onion by adjusting the angle of your knife as you slice.  The knife should be 90 degrees with the cutting board when you reach the middle of the onion half.
    follow onion's curve as you cut  knife is at 90 degrees at the middle
  9. Once you get to the middle, flip the onion half over and repeat.
  10. Then repeat steps 6 to 9 for the other half of the onion.  And then as they say, Bob’s your uncle!

I like this method because it allows for good control of the knife, and since the onion is halved it will not slip when you cut.  The onion slices turn out perfectly perpendicular to the onion’s natural surface without too much curvature as you would get if you cut them in cross-sections.  If you want thicker slices, simply adjust the angle of your knife as you make the next cut.

Ingredient preparation

The ingredients list of a recipe gives you information on how each ingredient should be prepared before cooking, as well as how much of each ingredients you need to measure.  If you read the ingredients list carefully, you will notice that wording is very important.  For example:

1 cup of walnuts, finely chopped

means that you first measure out 1 cup of whole walnuts, then chop them finely.  However,

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

means that you measure out 1 cup of walnuts that are already finely chopped before measuring.  These two phrases call for a very different amount of walnuts since more walnuts will fit into a cup after it’s been finely chopped.

I have used consistent abbreviations and assumptions when writing my recipes.

  • “tbsp” means tablespoon and “tsp” means teaspoon
  • butter is unsalted butter
  • eggs are large eggs, which is important in baking
  • all-purpose flour is plain and unsifted
  • sugar is granulated
  • onions refer to yellow onions