deciphering boiling times

July 10, 2011 | 1 comment

So the question has popped up on several occasions if you should time boiling when your food goes into the water or when the water returns to a boil. And really I think it is a different answer for what you are trying to achieve. If you are blanching a vegetable, you should start counting the minutes as soon as you plunge your vegetable into the boiling water. The goal is not to cook but to soften slightly while still being crisp and tender. If you start counting when the water returns to a boil, your food will be overcooked. For foods to be cooked all the way through, like pasta or potatoes you should start counting once the water returns to a boil. Of course, when something must be cooked completely it is safest to start checking early to prevent overcooking.

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cocoa powder: natural versus dutch process

February 9, 2011 | 0 comments

Natural unsweetened cocoa powder is very bitter and gives an intense chocolate flavor to baked goods. It is acidic and when used with baking soda, it creates a leavening reaction causing the batter to rise when baked.

Dutch processed cocoa is mild in flavor and reddish-brown in color. It is treated with an alkali to neutralizes it’s acidity and will not react with baking soda. Instead it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder, unless there are other acidic ingredients (like buttermilk) being used.

For more information, David Lebovitz has comprised a FAQ about natural and dutch process cocoa powders. You can find the answers to questions like “Can I use cocoa powders interchangeably in recipes?” or “What is the best brand of cocoa powder?” over here.

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soften ingredients quickly

September 8, 2010 | 0 comments

Forgot to stick your butter on the counter to soften? Perhaps you just don’t feel like waiting before you start your cookies – I mean, it is that time after all, I need my warm, gooey triple chocolate cookies. When running short on time (or patience) don’t be tempted to throw your butter in the microwave to get a quick 30-second softening session. The heat from the microwave will cause the butter to heat unevenly and can tend to over-soften or even melt the butter in places. Instead, throw your butter into a ziplock bag and submerge it in a bowl of cold tap water. (Not ice water, which will prevent softening, yet not lukewarm or hot water which will have the same effect as the microwave.) It will take about 5 – 10 minutes for your butter to become soft and pliable and ready for use.

You can also use this technique on other cold ingredients that need to be brought to room temperature such as cream cheese.

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parchment paper versus wax paper

July 7, 2010 | 0 comments

Is there really a difference between parchment and wax paper? They’re both non-stick and wax paper has the benefit of being waterproof. Does this mean I can use them interchangeably? No. Wax paper is great for food storage as it keeps water out or in. But when heated to high temperatures it will smoke and the wax will melt into your food. Parchment paper, on the other hand, is coated with silicon which is ableĀ  to withstand very high temperatures and almost eliminates the need to grease your pan. You can always substitute parchment for wax paper, but never the other way around.

Now if parchment paper is so great why keep wax paper around? Wax paper is great for use in the microwave. Since microwaves are not strong enough to heat the paper to the point of smoking and melting it can be used to prevent spills and splatters. This makes it more functional than plastic wrap which can melt from the heat and, of course, it is safer than aluminum foil which should never be used in a microwave.

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