Monday, December 26, 2011

Cooking Q & A

By: Christy

Aristotle once said, "What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing." And while food and cooking are part of human functioning ,this quote still applies greatly to cooking and mastering the kitchen. During the holidays everyone tends to cook a little bit more... Between Christmas goodies and family/friend gatherings, the holidays often bring out the inner homemaker in people. Over the last couple weeks I have been asked and approached about many different questions about cooking so I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about some interesting Q & A about cooking that I've (and I am sure many others) have wondered about one time or another when they were searching through the grocery store, attempting to follow a recipe, or attempting to get creative in the kitchen.

  • Is light brown sugar and dark brown sugar interchangeable in a recipe?
    • Yes... Basically brown sugar is made by adding molasses to white granulated sugar. Dark brown sugar is just made using more molasses and has a stronger, more intense flavor. Depending on your personal preference they can be used interchangeably.
    • I generally always use light brown sugar, but I do love a strong brown sugar flavor in my chocolate chip cookies so I use that occasionally.

  • When do eggs really expire?
    • "Eggs stay usable for a surprisingly long time as long as they are refrigerated.  The best way to tell if an egg is still usable without cracking it open is to put it in water–at least 4 inches of water.  If it stays on the bottom, you’re good to go.  If it’s a floater, toss it away Why this works: All eggs have a membrane between the shell and the albumin (the clear, viscous liquid inside).  There is no air between the membrane and the shell in a freshly-laid egg, but as the egg ages, the air pocket inside gets larger and larger due to osmosis through the permeable shell. Once the egg has enough of an air pocket to float, it has definitely passed its prime."
    • "Prolong egg life by storing eggs in the containers they came in on the bottom shelf of your fridge.  Don’t store them in those cute little egg holders that come in some refrigerator doors.  It’s warmer in the doors because of all the opening and closing."
    • For the whole article on this topic visit  Reluctant Gourmet website.
    • There is an expiration date on the egg carton itself. If it doubt, just follow that date. Luckily, eggs are fairly inexpensive!

  • Is there a difference between "liquid" and "dry" measuring cups?
    • In my opinion liquid and dry measuring cups are interchangeable in general unless baking. Baking is a more exact science so you have to be a little more careful with your measurements.  If you are just cooking or fooling around in the kitchen then it really wont matter.
    • One of the best answered I found for this question came from Yahoo! Answers. "Wet and dry ingredients have different volume measurements, so they require different measuring cups for accuracy. Using a liquid measure for dry ingredients and vice versa may alter the outcome of a dish, especially in something like a cake or cookies, where ingredients mix in a precise chemical reaction to produce a predictable result."
    • "Liquid measuring cups are most commonly available in one, two and four-cup measures. They are almost always made of a clear material, such as glass or clear plastic, so the cook can see the level of the liquid rise as he pours. Most liquid measuring cups also have pouring spouts, distinguishing them from dry measures.Dry measuring cups usually come in sets, with individual measures for 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup. Dry measuring cups may be made of clear or opaque plastic, glass, metal or even wood. Most have handles and are flat on the top and bottom to ensure accuracy in measuring. The lip of dry measuring cups is even, also, so a cook can level off ingredients at the top of the measure."
  • Should I grease cookie sheets when baking cookies?
    • In general no (for instance if you are making chocolate chip cookies) because there should be more than enough butter and oil in the cookies to keep them from sticking. If you do choose to grease the pan it will make the cookies kind of "melt" and look more flat and be more crispy. If you don't grease a cookie sheet when making cookies it will make them taller and fluffier.
    • A good alternative all together for baking cookies is to buy a silpat. Mom uses those for baking cookies (you can see it in some of her pictures)

  • What is the difference in baking with butter, margarine, or shortening?
    • Each ingredient will slightly alter the taste, texture, and final outcome. So how do you choose? Frank Carter wrote an article to help explain this controversy. Here are some of the article's highlight
    • "Shortening is 100% fat. Butter and margarine contain 80% fat. The advantage of shortening over butter or margarine is its smoke point (higher temperature before burning). Another advantage is its has a higher melting temperature. During the baking process of cookies it helps dough hold its shape longer. This allows the flour and eggs to set, keeping the dough from spreading too much."
    • "Margarine is better than butter when it comes to our heart, but falls flat in the flavor department. Butter also adds a creamy texture. Shortening helps to keep your cookies from deflating or spreading out, but again it does not enhance the flavor. In fact shortening has no flavor. If you are a fluffy cookie fanatic use half shortening and half butter. You get the raised cookie with the buttery flavor.When it comes right down to the decisions between shortening, margarine, salted butter or unsalted butter is a personal preference."
    • When I'm making cookies, my favorite recipes usually include a combination of both butter and shortening.

  • Should I use salted or unsalted butter?
    • Frank Carter's article also helped with this question. "Salt in butter acts as a preservative, so butter won't turn rancid when left out at room temperature. The down side is you are adding extra salt to your recipe. The problem with reducing salt in a recipe to substitute for salted butter is different brands of butter has different salt contents. The rule of thumb is when using salted butter reduce the salt added ½ teaspoon per cup of salted butter. The purist baker will always use unsalted butter. That way they can be in control of the salt being added to the recipe. Salt in butter is also believed to add flavor, overpowering the sweet butter taste, and mask butter odor."
    • Personally, I always bake with salted butter. I believe the salt in the butter blends better than the granules of salt called for in a recipe because the granules don't melt into the mixture as well. If I do choose to use salted butter, I do cut down on salt I add to the recipe. While salt isn't really good for us I think it really does make a difference in flavor. My cake decorating class instructor would dissolve the salt in the water she added to the recipe to make sure the salt was distributed evenly in the batter... I thought it was an in genius idea.

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