Friday, December 4, 2009

Eat these words!

Eat these words - BWG7756CZ3X8

Monday, November 23, 2009


I'm in the process of writing a cookbook.  It's a compilation of recipes I've collected from six generations of my family.  I expect it to be ready in time for Christmas gift-giving.

As I'm working on the book, I'm finding that I'm using the word simmer quite a bit.  I've noticed, by looking over shoulders, that many people don't know what a simmer actually is.  This may be one reason recipes burn or take too long to cook.

A simmer occurs when water temperature is between 205 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit but you don't need a thermometer to tell the temperature of hot water.  You can tell just by looking.

Between 185 and 205 degrees, tiny bubbles rise from the bottom of the liquid to the top, especially around the edges of the pot, but there's not much else happening.  These tiny bubbles are ideal for poaching, especially delicate foods such as fish, eggs, and some vegetables.

When the bubbles get larger and more robust along the outer edge of the pot, gently gurgling away, water temperature is between 205 and 212 degrees.  Your pot is simmering.  Dishes that take a long time to cook, such as stews, soups, beans, and braised dishes, work best at a simmer.

When the bubbles get very active from the edges all the way to the center of the pot and the gurgling becomes louder, your pot is boiling.  Water has reached the boiling point, 212 degrees.  Boiling is too harsh for most foods; in fact, some chefs say boiling isn't even a recognized cooking method.  You may notice that many recipes call for bringing a pot to a boil, to quickly build heat, then to lower heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the food is done.

At 220 degrees, water turns to steam.  Capture that steam and meats, fish, and veggies are sublime.

It may seem like a watched pot never boils but, with a little training of the eye, you can watch it happen.  Notice how it goes from cool to poaching to a simmer and then, before you know it, you'll have that pot boiling.  And it all happens under an informed, watchful eye.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Soybean, Tofu, Edamame

Soy, in its many forms, is a hot topic these days.  It's said to be a very healthful choice for some people although others shun it.  It's instrumental in feeding the world's livestock but we humans often enjoy it as soy sauce on our Asian-inspired foods.  Soybean is the basis for tofu, enjoyed in Asia for millennia but gaining popularity in the Western world as well.  It's also an important agricultural stimulant, planted as part of a crop rotation system to increase the soil's nitrogen content.

The soybean is a legume, often written as soyabean or soya bean.  The bean itself is enjoyed in Japan, where it is known as edamame.  This way of eating the bean (as a bean and not a bean product) is also becoming more popular in the United States as the bean's healthful benefits are becoming more well known.

Soybeans are one of the only plant foods that contain all eight essential amino acids required for optimum health.  The protein from most meats and eggs have these eight essential nutrients and plants usually have some, but not all, of them.  It's the absence of all eight essential amino acids that makes a vegetarian diet so tricky.  Proper food-combining strategies are required for optimum health for vegetarians.

These amino acids are said to be essential because the human body does not manufacture them from the foods we eat.  Therefore, it is essential we consume them from outside sources.  Substituting soybean products for animal-based foods will better ensure a vegetarian diet provides maximum nutritional value.

The full spectrum of the eight essential amino acids makes soybean-based infant formulas ideal foods for babies who are lactose intolerant.  Soy milks, sour creams, and other dairy products can be enjoyed by older children and adults who suffer from lactose intolerance.

The soybean is high in omega-3 fatty acids, is thought to be helpful in reducing the risk for colon cancer, and many women rely on it to relieve the symptoms of menopause.  Soybeans contain small amounts of phytoestrogens, or chemical compounds found in plants that mimic the estrogen humans produce.  Normal consumption is generally safe for everyone but some people are particularly sensitive to any hormone fluctuations, no matter how small, and should consume soybean products with caution.

About 35% of all the soybeans consumed in the world are produced in the American Midwest.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Ingredients are, of course, a very important part of any written recipe. So important that the success or failure depends on exactly how those ingredients are listed.

Let's use nuts for example. Many recipes call for nuts, sometimes whole but often chopped, sliced, diced, or minced. It's those descriptions that will make or break the recipe.

One cup of walnuts tells me to use walnut halves, in tact. Later on, within the text of the instructions, I may be directed to chop, slice, dice, or mince that one cup of walnut halves. Or I may be directed to leave them as they are, in nice pretty halves.

One cup of chopped walnuts in the ingredients list is a whole different ball game, though. One empty measuring cup will hold lots more chopped walnuts than it will hold of halves left whole. And the finer / smaller those nuts are chopped, the more will fit into the measuring cup. That means I'll have to start out with a lot more walnut halves if the ingredients list specifies chopped walnuts, by volume such as one cup's worth, than if it calls for one cup of walnuts.

The same approach applies to all recipes - apple pie, chopped liver, whatever. Whenever the ingredients list specifies a particular handling of the individual ingredient, make sure to prepare the ingredient accordingly before assembling the recipe.

In our example, one cup of walnuts is definitely not equal to one cup of chopped walnuts.

Monday, July 6, 2009

One Cup Does NOT Equal 8 Ounces

Most people assume a recipe calling for one cup of an ingredient means the same thing as eight ounces of that ingredient. Or recipes calling for eight ounces can always be measured by filling a measuring cup to the full line. In most cases, this works but, in other cases, it's the reason a recipe fails.

Eight ounces of lead do not take up the same space as eight ounces of goose down. I've never seen a recipe calling for either lead or goose down but I use those two substances to illustrate the point.

Eight ounces of water at room temperature at sea level will fill that measuring cup just fine. That's the standard from which the connection comes. But not every ingredient used in every recipe has the same density as water. Not every ingredient starts out at room temperature and there are millions of people cooking at altitudes different from sea level.

Most liquids weigh about the same as water but, when I was a pastry chef, I often used sweetened condensed milk. This luscious goo is much heavier than water. A cupful of it weighs 14 ounces, not eight. One can of it, the size you usually see at the grocery store, weighs 14 ounces. One can of this stuff does equal one cup.

All-purpose flour is a bit heavier than cake flour. Most cooks wouldn't notice the difference but pastry chefs rely on precision. A difference of one ounce per cup isn't much when a recipe calls for one cup of either but every baking perfectionist will notice a textural difference, lighter or heavier, in the finished product. The more servings a recipe or batch makes, the bigger the difference.

A cupful of chopped nuts weighs more than a cupful of the same nut measured whole. A cupful of whole pine nuts weighs more than a cupful of whole walnuts.

It's these weight differences, and many more, that send me to professionally written recipe sources because I know the testers behind the recipes will have known the difference and the recipes will use accurate weights, measures, and terms. Some recipes written by home cooks or passed along from friends, family, and co-worker were written by cooks assuming everything that fits in a measuring cup weighs eight ounces. Since the measures aren't always interchangeable, be mindful of this common error when trying a new recipe. If your own version doesn't come out as good as someone else's version, this may be the reason.