Al dente: Italian phrase meaning "to the tooth," used to describe pasta or other food that is cooked only until it offers slight resistance when bitten into.
Au gratin: A dish that is topped with cheese or a mixture of breadcrumbs and butter, then heated in the oven or under the broiler until brown and crispy.
Au jus:French phrase describing meat that is served with its own natural cooking juices.
Au lait: French for "with milk."
Bain-marie: A water bath used to cook certain dishes.
Baking powder: A leavener (which helps a dough or batter rise or become light in texture) that contains a combination of baking soda; an acid (such as cream of tartar); and a moisture-absorber (like cornstarch).
Baking sheet: A flat sheet of metal, usually rectangular, used to bake cookies, biscuits, etc.
Baking soda: Bicarbonate of soda. Baking soda is used as a leavener in baked recipes. When combined with an acid like buttermilk, yogurt, or vinegar in a batter, it produces bubbles from carbon dioxide gas that allowing the batter to rise as it bakes.
Blackened: A cooking method in which meat or fish, usually rubbed with Cajun spices, is cooked in a very hot cast-iron skillet.
Broth/bouillon: A liquid made by cooking vegetables, poultry, meat, or fish. The flavored liquid is strained off after cooking.
Braise: A cooking method, on top of a stove or in the oven, in which food is browned in fat, and then cooked, tightly covered, in a small amount of liquid, at low heat for a long time.
Broil: To cook or brown food by placing it under the broiling unit in an oven. The broiling unit is usually at the top of the oven, but older ovens may have a broiler drawer underneath. Recipes often call for placing the food 4-6 inches away from the broiling unit.
Brown: To cook quickly over high heat, causing the surface of the food to turn brown while the interior stays moist.
Brush: To apply a liquid with a pastry brush to the surface of food.
Caramelize: To heat sugar until it liquefies and becomes a clear syrup ranging in color from golden to dark brown.
Convection Oven: An oven equipped with a fan that provides continuous circulation of hot air around the food.
Cut in: To mix a solid, cold fat (like shortening or butter) with dry ingredients until the mixture takes the form of small particles. It can be done with a food processor, a handheld tool called a pastry blender, a fork, or two knives.
Dash: A very small amount of seasoning added to food. It's somewhere between 1/16 teaspoon and a scant 1/8 teaspoon.
Dice: To cut food into tiny cubes (1/8 to 1/4 inch).
Dilute: To reduce a mixture's strength by adding liquid (usually water).
Dollop: A small glob of soft food, such as whipped cream.
Dredge: To lightly coat a food with flour, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs before frying or baking.
Dust: Lightly coating a food with a powdery liquid, such as flour or powdered sugar.
Egg Wash: Egg yolk or egg white mixed with a small amount of water or milk. It's brushed over baked goods before baking to give them gloss and color.
Pinch: The amount of dry ingredients you can hold in a pinch (between your thumb and forefinger). It's equivalent to 1/16 teaspoon.
Puree: To mash a food to a smooth, thick consistency.
Saute: To cook food quickly in a small amount of oil in a skillet or sautÃ© pan over direct heat.
Spatula: A flat utensil. Some are shaped to scrape sides of the mixing bowl; others are shaped to flip foods, or to stir ingredients in a curved bowl.
Sear: To burn or scorch a food with an application of intense heat.
Simmer: To cook food gently in liquid at a temperature low enough that tiny bubbles just begin to break the surface (around 185 degrees).
Steam: A cooking method in which food is placed in a steamer basket over boiling water in a covered pan.
Stir-Fry: To quickly fry small pieces of food in a large pan over very high heat while stirring.
Whisk: A utensil with looped wires in the shape of a teardrop, used for whipping ingredients like batters, sauces, eggs, and cream. The whisk helps add air into the batter.
Zester: A utensil with tiny cutting holes on one end that creates threadlike strips of peel when pulled over the surface of a lemon lime or orange. It removes only the colored outer portion of the peel (zest).