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Tips and Tricks

December 15, 2011

Debunk of Day: Potato Fixes Too Salty Soup

Seems like some old wive's cook's tales just won't die. Like the one about adding a potato to overly salted soup to remove salt and make it palatable. Old-cooks-talesIt shows up more than once twice three times four times in the first twenty of Babble's current list of how to fix food failures leading me to think that maybe people aren't actually doing the things they are suggesting.

I mean on the surface, it seems like it should work: the potato sucks up a little water and dissolved salt...why wouldn't it selectively suck all the dissolved salt out of the liquid. (Oh wait, see that's absurd on the face of it...)

Rather than calling bullshit on a crowded twitter—because that just makes people unhappy—I set out to test the theory. I wasn't sure I had a tool better than simply tasting it to check the water but it turns out that my refractometer, which lets me measure the sugar content of fruit, also measures salinity. Who knew?

Not to ruin the suspense but no, potato in oversalted soup does not work.

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November 19, 2011

8 Things You Can Do For Thanksgiving Dinner Right Now

If you are like many Americans, you are probably buried in Thanksgiving recipes and wondering why you bother to look at new dishes since the family will boycott if you don't make every traditional bit of dinner. Personally, I am a child when it comes to sweet potatoes (with marshmallows please) but I have never understood that green bean thing. What is up with that?

This weekend is a good time to check on some critical, and often overlooked, things so you have a chance to fix any problems you find before Thursday. You should actually get the dishes out and do this exercise; of course you think it all fits, I want you to know. Make notes as you go so you don't find yourself trying to remember what you figured out.

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October 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Containing the Flour Tornado

baking-mess

I am not sure which wise person told me this first, but this is the best tip I got with my Kitchen Aid mixer most of two decades ago

Drape a towel over your mixer before turning it on and you will not have a flour covered kitchen.

Simple but so incredibly helpful, to both me and the help.

March 06, 2009

PSA: Do You Have Backups of Your Recipes?

Losing your business in a fire is a tragedy but Archie Marlin, owner of Alps Candy Store in picturesque Leavenworth, WA has a much larger loss to contend with: 600 recipes. The original recipes, which represent 35 years of Marlin's work at the store, went up in flames along with the building. Fortunately, the building was insured. But there is no insurance for the years of work that those recipes represent.

Marlin has a great attitude about this. (Better than mine would be, I think.) Asked if he can recreate the formulas, he says, ""Sure, I can do it. They might not taste the same but they will have the same names — if I can remember the names." (Fire badly damages Alps candy store)

Having spent much of the last two decades as an IT consultant, I'd like to pass along the first question I ask clients who are having computer problems - it applies here as well.

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February 19, 2008

Quick tips to make you a better cook

A new cook has so many things to remember. All those terms (in French, no less); which tool to use for which task; how to take a whole, raw ingredient like a pineapple and turn it into pineapple slices; the difference between coarsely diced, finely diced and minced.

Lately, I have been recognizing how lucky I was to learn my way around a kitchen surrounded by a largish family of people offering tips along the way. I always had someone to ask leading questions ("The rice will be ready in half an hour, do you think the chicken should go in the oven?"), whisper reminders and correct bad technique. I have been saved from a large number of disasters, and the related discouragement, over the years by a well-placed bit of advice.

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June 14, 2007

question for my non-US readers

How do you measure ingredients for recipes?

I have been trying to include all of the useful variations on measurements in my recipes lately but there are so many options! Did you know that there are US, Canada, and metric "cups"? How is that even supposed to work? I can't recall ever seeing "cup (Canada)" in a recipe and I used to live right next to the place. Maybe it's because there is only a smidge of difference (about a third of an ounce vs Europe which adds over an ounce and a half!) but still. (and is it a "Canada cup" or a "Canadian cup"? like the geese are Canada geese, not Canadian geese - although some of them may live there...at least in the summer.)

...but i digress...

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November 08, 2005

Baking Tips and Musings

I've been baking a lot lately — figuring out how to make a couple of things and developing my own versions of a few others — and while I'll be writing about those soon, I am not quite ready. Until then, let me offer a few things I've learned along the way.

Those thin plastic "cutting boards" that you can pick up in multi-packs for a few dollars, although far too flimsy for my cutting needs, are a baker's dream. I've been using mine as rolling surfaces lately. It's easy to figure out how to roll out dough  — I just do the math to figure out what size empty border I need and go for it. (It's really easy to eyeball a one inch border, whereas figuring out 11x13 on an empty counter is tough!) I buy mine in a threepack and need more for those days when I have a ton of baking going on. You can even stack them with dough on them for resting periods so you free up counter space. If you use them for rolling dough, remember the untextured side sticks less. I even used one to roll out a danish dough that gets folded several times with alternating resting periods in the refrigerator. When the dough needs resting, I roll the plastic "board" around the dough, slip it all in a plastic bag, and slide it onto a shelf in the fridge. It's so easy! 

Pizza stones radiate heat that can be used to give rising bread a kickstart. I discovered this recently when I had a coolish kitchen, too many stones in the oven (I stack two 18" square unglazed floor tiles on a rack and leave them in almost all the time.), and bread that was being slooooow. After I pulled the stone out, I placed a wooden rack on top of the stone and the pan with bread doug on top of that. It was apparently the perfect distance, the dough rose perfectly and was oven-ready in about 45 minutes.

Sourdough starter makes anything better. Yeah, yeah, this is a duh. I've been working on an english muffin recipe this past week or two and, while I haven't gotten to the "great big holes" stage...yet, I have improved the taste greatly with the addition of sourdough starter. Next on the sourdough list is pitas. Stay tuned.

Made some of these almond danish the other day and have a few thoughts. First, I am not so impressed with the dough recipe. Don't get me wrong, it's tasty and reasonably flaky for the blitz-style dough, but I ended up adding 15-20% more flour to get it to resemble dough rather than mush and it took five turns to get it pastryable. I was still adding bits of flour on the fourth set of turns! I am not sure if it's me or the recipe —  it's a Nigella and I've not been so impressed with the reliability of her recipes — but next time I am just going for the real thing with a layer of butter. It can't possibly be that much more work and I really do have to master the technique. Also, the recipe calls for all bread flour, which strikes me as just plain wrong. However, even given all of that, the danish were really good. They rose to about two inches at the high spots and were reasonably flaky, the filling was good, and if I'd bought them at a neighborhood bakery I'd have been okay with it. But my standards for my own baking are high so I'm still working on this one too.

And while I've been busy in the kitchen, River has been busy too. Remember the tethermouse? Look what she can do!
Snarl003

August 24, 2005

NTS: weigh all the empty bowls

One handy thing about having a kitchen scale is the ability to reset (or tare) the scale to 0 between additions of ingredients--this lets me grab an empty bowl, toss it on the scale, hit 0, add butter, hit 0, add sugar, hit 0, and so on. Each ingredient gets weighed individually even though they are in the same container. Pretty cool, huh?

My downfall is that I keep finding myself with a bowl that already has something in it that I need to weigh. Like now, I am making a chocolate mint torte and have a bowl of broken chocolate to which I just added melted butter. Butter that was being infused with mint. Butter that stuck to the mint. And I don't know how much butter stuck to the mint. It's like doing an algebra problem with more unknowns than knowns. beats head on keyboard

Which is why I need to weigh all my bowls when they are empty. And put a list on the inside of the cupboard door above the counter where the scale lives. It'll make the math so much easier. (and really, I only use about 10 different bowls for mixing things, so how hard could it be?) I'll do it today, just as soon as the sourdough bread and torte are done...and the chutney is canned...and I get back from the store...and clean things up a bit...and...and...

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