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Absurdly, stupidly basic cooking questions (Part 1)


jhlurie
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"don't crowd the pan". sure, but how, then, to fry more than 3-4 steaks at a time, even in a big (say, 12") frying pan?

Get a second pan.

Seriously. There is no way around it. If you crowd your pan, you won't get a good sear on your steaks, and how fun is that?

but...i've only got one burner that's powerful enough to drive some real frying.

Do batches. First batch goes on a plate or a sheet in a warm (whatever the bottom temp on your range is) oven. Bring all up to heat at the same time by roasting at a higher temp.

yes i've seen that suggested before, but won't the poor steaks then bleed their precious juices?

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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There can be a marked difference in pasta cooked in plain vs salted water. Think of it as part of the flavor 'layering' process - it's just another componant in the dish, and you would season all componants in each dish.

Do you salt the water that you boil potatoes in? Same idea...

Or else overseason your sauce to make up for the fact that the bulk of the dish (pasta) is unseasoned... :wink:

The weird thing, though, is that I also don't salt the water when I boil potatoes, either. Or very much in sauces. Actually, I just tend to use very, very little salt in general -- a knee-jerk reaction instilled in me by my mother -- and, honestly, don't miss it very much.

I'm willing to just shrug and assume the reason I don't understand the whole concept of salting pasta water is because I'm just weird.

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What is the difference between spanish paprika and the stuff you get in an indian grocery store? I realize buying an ancient jar of hungarian from the supermarket would be not so great, but at a high-turnover indian place freshness isn't as much of an issue. Is there really a big flavor difference all other things being equal?

There are differences in the flavor of the various paprikas.

Here is an eGullet discussion on paprika initiated by a confessed paprika addict.

While the paprika in the Indian store may be fresh due to high turnover, it doesn't necessarily mean you should use it in all dishes that call for paprika since the flavors of paprika can vary from one type to another and will influence how your dish will turn out.

Experiment, if you can, so you can taste the differences yourself.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Sorry for the double post but I have a (stupid) question about those decorative bottles of vinegars, peppers & oils that you can buy. Are they made to be used? Or just to look at?

I received as a gift about 5 or so years ago a rather large bottle of olive oil with peppers and such inside. It's never been opened. The bottle is sealed with wax. The oil inside is now a more golden brown color that when it started out. Should I assume it's rancid and just never open it? I almost cracked it open one evening when I ran out of regular olive oil, but didn't.

Also, what about flavored vinegars? Again, the bottle is sealed, it looks very pretty but I've had it for a couple years. It still looks nice, but I'm worried about the herbs and such inside decomposing.

Am I better off just not using them?

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Recipes almost never say, so I put a generic "Marsala" on my shopping list. Then I get to the wine shop, and I can choose between sweet or dry. (Or dry, very dry, Amontillado, etc., if it's sherry).

I rarely drink this stuff, so it's just for cooking. I get sweet Marsala for Zabaglione, but that's the only thing I'm pretty sure of.

Is there a Fortified Wine Rule?

Dry Marsala for cooking. Sweet Marsala for baking.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I'd like to hear about the salt=dead yeast thing, too, please.

Salt doesn't kill the yeast, except in high enough concentrations to dehydrate it, and then it would be so salty as not to be easily edible (Marmite, maybe).

What salt does is jam the amalyse reaction that breaks starch down into the sort of sugars that the yeast can feed on. So adding salt to normal flour will reduce the rise, and it is why many bread recipies leave the dough for half an hour between adding the yeast and adding the flour, so that enough sugars can be produced. However many bread flours, or sweet recipes, and instant yeasts have enough amalyse (often as diastatic malt) or sugars to overcome the usual amount of salt, so for many domestic recipes it doesn't matter.

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There are differences in the flavor of the various paprikas.

Here is an eGullet discussion on paprika

Thanks! I think I will have to buy some of the Spanish stuff and experiment a bit this weekend. I am brilliant at coming up with ways to procrastinate...

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Regarding Marsala, I was going to make Rachel Perlow's Chicken Marsala and needed Marsala. Who knew there was a sweet & a dry to choose from? The store I went to only had one kind of Marsala, which fortunately turned out to the the dry version. Whew! I think I lucked out on that one...

By the way, the recipe turned out great.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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I think the idea is that boiling in the saltwater somehow gets the flavor inside the pasta as opposed to simply on top of it.

I always thought it was good to add salt, not only for flavor which I find imperceptable, but to lower the boiling point so the water boils quicker.

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When you make risotto, you add the liquid to the rice a ladleful at a time. Why not dump most of it in at once?

Maybe it's obvious, but not to me ... maybe it's something to take your mind of all that stirring.

Stephen

Stephen

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The weird thing, though, is that I also don't salt the water when I boil potatoes, either. Or very much in sauces. Actually, I just tend to use very, very little salt in general -- a knee-jerk reaction instilled in me by my mother -- and, honestly, don't miss it very much.

I'm willing to just shrug and assume the reason I don't understand the whole concept of salting pasta water is because I'm just weird.

I never salt the water when boiling potatoes but always do when cooking pasta. My water is definitely not salty like the sea but the small amount of salt I do use seems to help the flavor of the pasta. The exception of course, is a local summertime favorite in this area (central NY), known as salt potatoes.

Dissolve one pound of salt into a quantity of water large enough to boil four pounds of small new potatoes (1" to 2.25" diameter). Boil the potatoes and serve with drawn butter for dipping. They are ridiculously salty but addictive in an odd way.

I do happen to agree with you that salt is often overused but even very small amounts, too small to detect, have a way of bringing out the flavors in other foods or helping a disparate collection of flavors meld together.

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Here's my dumb question...

Eggs, hard boiled. How do you get the shell to come off easily? How about keeping the yellow and white in good color (no green/grey)?

What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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When you make risotto, you add the liquid to the rice a ladleful at a time. Why not dump most of it in at once?

Maybe it's obvious, but not to me ... maybe it's something to take your mind of all that stirring.

Stephen

There's a Cook's Illustrated article on this somewhere... they claim that you can actually add about half the liquid right away, but the second half still needs to be incorporated a little at a time. I don't remember why... can anyone else?

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I never have the green/grey. Hot eggs get a cold bathing until the shell is cool. Then you can peel or hold for later in water in the fridge. I don't salt the boiling water, and once cool use it for plants for the trace calcium . They get happy!

Edited by Mabelline (log)
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When you make risotto, you add the liquid to the rice a ladleful at a time. Why not dump most of it in at once?

Maybe it's obvious, but not to me ... maybe it's something to take your mind of all that stirring.

Stephen

If there's too much liquid in the pan the rice starts to fall apart and it won't get a nice creamy texture - I've got no idea why, but I've screwed up enough risotto that way to know what happens.

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Risotto: You probably COULD add the liquid more at one time, but the big deal is the stirring. You want to gently dislodge the surface starch and dissolve it in the liquid -- that's how you get that creamy feel.

Hard-cooked eggs: Surely this was dealt with in eGCI? Well anyway: the key to beautiful eggs is to NOT OVERCOOK THEM. I prefer the Julia Child method: put in a pot with cold water, bring gently to a boil, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. As for peeling them: I drain them immediately and run cold water over them, cracking the shells slightly. By the time the eggs are completely cool, the shells are easy to remove. (There's also something about whether fresher or less-fresh eggs peel more easily, but I forget which. Sorry.)

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I've heard three reasons for adding stock slowly to risotto

a) Tradition

b) Texture: You need to keep the texture fairly thick so that the rice grains rub against each other as you stir, shedding starch into the liquid

c) Control of hydrocolloid chain length: Starch, when heated, forms long chain molecules trapping and gelling all available liquid - think of making a bechamel (white sauce) or a veloute, where it is easier to make a lump-free sauce by adding all the liquid at once. By adding a little liquid, the starch gells that, then adding more and stirring breaks up the gell, and you get a creamier result.

I don't believe the temperature difference is significant.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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More tips on hard-cooked eggs, if you follow the above ideas and still have trouble:

Use older rather than newer (supermarket eggs = older, no matter if you just brought them home from the store)

Add 1/4 cup table salt to the cooking water

Prick rounded end--as opposed to pointy end--of egg before cooking. Use a push pin or such.

The egg shells here in PA are the strongest, toughest ever. This is the only way I can have a prayer of success.

Another suggestion: eggs cooked in one of those electric steam cookers peel more easily.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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Eggs, hard boiled. How do you get the shell to come off easily? How about keeping the  yellow and white in good color (no green/grey)?

This is covered somewhat in eGCI course on Hard-cooked eggs.

The only aspect of hard-cooking eggs not covered completely there was the green tinging of the yolk. The discoloration occurs when the yolk temperature rises to 80C or higher. At this point the egg is overcooked and effectively ruined. The yolk is runny at 63C, begins to gel at 73C and hardens at 77C. How can you tell the cooking time needed to bring an egg yolk to a desired temperature? From the following formula:

t=0.0015d**2loge[(2(Twater - T0))/(Twater - Tyolk)]

wheret is the cooking time in minutes, d is the diameter of the egg in millimeters, T0 is the initial temperature of the egg in C and Twater the temperature of the water in C. Reference is Dr. Williams, Exeter University, first published in New Scientist 1996.

Whoa! The implication of this is that the cooking time of an egg is proportional to the square of the diameter of the egg. A small egg (40mm) takes 60% of the time of a large egg (50mm) and an egg from the fridge takes 15% longer to cook than an egg at room temperature.

If you can maintain a water bath at a constant 70C, you can cook a medium egg (45mm) in 8 minutes. This will produce a firm white and runny yolk at 63C. Longer times in a warmer bath will produce a more even cooked hard boiled egg as another poster has already pointed out.

Edited by rbm (log)
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From the following formula:

t=0.0015d**2loge[(2(Twater - T0))/(Twater - Tyolk)]

wheret is the cooking time in minutes, d is the diameter of the egg in millimeters, T0 is the initial temperature of the egg in C and Twater the temperature of the water in C. Reference is Dr. Williams, Exeter University, first published in New Scientist 1996.

Proof that even the "absurdly simple" can be a lot more complicated than you'd ever guess. :biggrin:

I work with/design pretty complicated research instruments all day and I can't remember the last time I've used a natural log - now I'm supposed to use one for boiling an egg?!? :biggrin::laugh:

I guess if you break it down enough, cooking is all about chemistry, heat transfer, and materials science. Not exactly real simple stuff. It just seems that way because we're familiar with the results.

...
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