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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

More Helpful Hints

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1. Stuff a miniature marshmallow in the bottom of a sugar
cone to prevent ice cream drips.

2. Use a meat baster to "squeeze" your pancake batter
onto the hot griddle and you'll get perfectly shaped
pancakes every time.

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3. To keep potatoes from budding, place an apple in the
bag with the potatoes.

4. To prevent egg shells from cracking, add a pinch of
salt to the water before hard-boiling.

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5. To determine whether an egg is fresh, immerse it in a
pan of cool, salted water. If it sinks, it is fresh, but if it
rises to the surface, throw it away.

6. When boiling corn on the cob, add a pinch of sugar to
help bring out the corn's natural sweetness.

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7. Run your hands under cold water before pressing Rice
Krispies treats in the pan and the marshmallow won't
stick to your fingers.

8. To get the most juice out of fresh lemons, bring them
to room temperature and roll them under your palm
against the kitchen counter before squeezing.

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9. To easily remove burnt on food from your skillet,
simply add a drop or two of dish soap and enough
water to cover bottom of pan, and bring to a boil on

10. Spray your Tupperware with nonstick cooking spray
before pouring in tomato-based sauces and there
won't be any stains.

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11. When a cake recipe calls for flouring the baking pan,
use a bit of the dry cake mix instead and there won't
be any white mess on the outside of the cake.

12. If you accidentally over-salt a dish while it's still
cooking, drop in a peeled potato and it will absorb the
excess salt for an instant "fix me up."

13. Wrap celery in aluminum foil when putting in the
refrigerator and it will keep for weeks.

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14. Brush some beaten egg white over pie crust before
baking to yield a beautiful glossy finish.

15. Place a slice of apple in hardened brown sugar to
soften it.

16. Cure for headaches: Take a lime, cut it in half and rub
it on your forehead. The throbbing will go away.

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17. If you have a problem opening jars: Try using latex
dishwashing gloves. They give a non-slip grip that
makes opening jars easy.

18. Potatoes will take food stains off your fingers. Just
slice and rub raw potato on the stains and rinse with

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19. To get rid of itch from mosquito bites, try applying
soap on the area and you will experience instant

20. Ants, ants, ants everywhere ... Well, they are said to
never cross a chalk line. So get your chalk out and
draw a line on the floor or wherever ants tend to
march. See for yourself.

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21. Use air-freshener to clean mirrors. It does a good job
and better still, leaves a lovely smell to the shine.

22. When you get a splinter, reach for the scotch tape
before resorting to tweezers or a needle. Simply put
the scotch tape over the splinter, then pull it off.
Scotch tape removes most splinters painlessly and

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23. Don't throw out all that leftover wine: Freeze into ice
cubes for future use in casseroles and sauces.

24. Now look what you can do with Alka Seltzer!

  • Clean a toilet. Drop in two Alka-Seltzer tablets, wait twenty minutes, brush, and flush. The citric acid and effervescent action clean vitreous china.

  • Clean a vase. To remove a stain from the bottom of a glass vase or cruet, fill with water and drop in two Alka-Seltzer tablets.

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  • Polish jewelry. Drop two Alka-Seltzer tablets into a glass of water and immerse the jewelry for two minutes.

  • Clean a thermos bottle. Fill the bottle with water, drop in four Alka-Seltzer tablets, and let soak for an hour (or longer, if necessary).

  • Unclog a drain. Clear the sink drain by dropping three Alka-Seltzer tablets down the drain followed by a cup of Heinz White Vinegar Wait a few minutes, then run the hot water.

~Author Unknown~

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Few Kitchen Myths

Kitchen myth cooking urban legends...

Searing meat seals in the juices

This old myth has been around for ages, probably because searing meat that will be stewed, roasted, etc. does indeed give much better results. It has nothing to do with sealing in the juices, however. Careful experiments were performed in which identical pieces of meat were cooked with and without searing. If searing did seal in juices, then the seared meat would lose a smaller percentage of its weight during cooking than the unseared piece. In actuality, both the seared and unseared meat lost about the same amount of weight.

Searing, or more specifically browning, is important because of the Maillard reaction. When the proteins and sugars in meat are exposed to high heat (searing) a large number of chemical reactions take place, resulting in the creation of lots of new flavor elements. It is these flavors, both in the browned surface of the meat and in any pan juices that result, that make searing such an important step in some recipes.

Source: On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, Simon & Schuster, 1984.


A box of baking soda in the fridge or freezer absorbs odors

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

This is a very clever and successful marketing ploy by the baking soda people, but the fact is that baking soda is very poor at absorbing odors. It seems to make sense, however, so lots of people have spent untold billions of dollars to put boxes of baking soda in their fridge or freezer to no effect. Activated charcoal would work much better but is expensive. Better to wrap your food and clean the fridge once in a while.



Use water instead of milk when making scrambled eggs and omelets

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

Some people will tell you that using milk when making scrambled eggs and omelets results in tough eggs - that you should use water instead. It's puzzling how this myth continues to propagate because it is so easy to disprove for yourself. But if you require the pronouncement of some authority, tests by Cook's Illustrated (the "America's Test Kitchen" people) revealed that scrambled eggs made with water are less flavorful, do not fluff as well, and are not as soft as those made with milk. Cream is better still, but that's another story!

By the way, this advice is for eggs cooked to be moist and creamy, the way they should be. I know some people prefer the dry, fluffy style but all we can do is feel sorry for them.

Source: The Best Recipe, Boston Common Press, 1999.


When you add alcohol to a recipe it all evaporates during cooking so there is none in the final dish

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

Here's another "common sense" myth that turns out to be false. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water so it should all evaporate first, right? Nope - that's not the way it works. The alcohol will evaporate faster than the water but there will still be some left after even extended cooking. The table below shows just how much is left after different periods of cooking.

Preparation Method Percent of Alcohol Retained
Alcohol added to boiling liquid & removed from heat 85%
Alcohol flamed 75%
No heat, stored overnight 70%
Baked, 25 minutes, alcohol not stirred into mixture 45%
Baked/simmered, alcohol stirred into mixture:
15 minutes 40%
30 minutes 35%
1 hour 25%
1.5 hours 20%
2 hours 10%
2.5 hours 5%

The bottom line is that no one is ever going to get tipsy from alcohol in a cooked dish, but people who want to avoid all alcohol for religious or medical reasons need to be aware that some alcohol will remain even after long cooking.

Source: US Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory

Hot pan, cold oil

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

This mantra is repeated by many people as the best way to prevent food from sticking to the pan when sautéing or stir frying. The idea is that you heat up the pan first then add the cold oil and almost immediately add the food. This works of course, so it is not a myth in that it is untrue. It is, however, false to think that this is the only or the best way to prevent sticking. What you really want is "hot pan, hot oil" and that's what you are actually getting because the cold oil heats up almost instantly when added to the hot pan. You'll get the same results if you heat the oil along with the pan rather than adding the oil at the last minute. In fact some cooks prefer this technique because the appearance of the oil in the pan can give you some indication of when the pan has reached the proper temperature.

Heating a pan prevents sticking by closing cracks in the metal

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

Most cooks know that you should start with a hot pan to prevent or minimize food sticking. You may hear a bizarre theory that goes something like this: food sticks to pans because it seeps into minute cracks and pits in the pan and then solidifies when heated, becoming stuck. If you heat the pan before adding the food, the metal expands and fills in the microscopic cracks and holes in the pan's surface or at least makes them smaller. With fewer or smaller surface defects for the food to grab onto it is less likely to stick.

Unfortunately whoever came up with this idea knew nothing about the physical properties of metals. When metal expands due to heating, each individual atom vibrates faster and faster and thus takes up more space. The result is the same as if each atom simply got a bit bigger, and the result is that the entire piece of metal, defects, holes and all, gets bigger. Thus, if you heat a donut-shaped piece of metal, the outer diameter gets bigger and so does the diameter of the hole. You have probably used this fact yourself when trying to get a metal screw lid off a glass jar. Running hot water over the lid expands the entire lid and loosens its grip on the jar, making it easier to remove.

Avoid aluminum cookware because of Alzheimer's disease

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

This myth got its start a number of years ago when medical researchers found elevated levels of aluminum in diseased tissue from the brains of Alzheimer's patients. One logical possibility (but not the only one) was that the raised aluminum level was responsible for causing the disease. Get exposed to too much aluminum, from your job perhaps or your cookware, and you would have a better chance of coming down with this awful disease. People started avoiding aluminum cookware, and some still are - unnecessarily it turns out. Subsequent research has failed to show any connection between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's, and it is believed that the elevated aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer's patients is a result of the disease process. In other words, high aluminum levels do not cause Alzheimer's, but rather Alzheimer's causes high aluminum levels.

Source: Alzheimer's Society


You must use a serrated knife to slice ripe tomatoes

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

You certainly can use a serrated knife for ripe tomatoes but there's no need to. If you find yourself always turning to a serrated knife for this task it is probably because your straight-edged knives are not sharp enough. A well-sharpened regular knife will make paper-thin slices from a ripe tomato - in fact, many people use this as a test for a knife's sharpness.

You cannot deep-fry in olive oil

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

Olive oil has a lower smoke point that most other oils and as a result many people think you cannot use it for deep frying. Balderdash! This would be news to many Italians including the famous TV chef Mario Batali. Olive oil's smoke point is about 375of and most frying is done below that. Also, just because an oil smokes a little does not mean it is ruined. Using olive oil for deep frying is undoubtedly expensive. The least expensive olive oil is, in my experience, about twice the cost of other oils that are used for frying such as peanut or canola. Plus you should discard the oil after a single use because the low smoke point means that the oil degrades more during that first use. So, you may never actually want to use olive oil for deep frying, but it is most certainly possible - and can give terrific results for some recipes!.

You must scald milk before using it in certain recipes

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

This myth has some basis in fact. Raw milk (milk that has not been pasteurized) contains enzymes that can interfere with the thickening action of milk and the rising of bread. The scalding destroys these enzymes. Today, almost all the milk that is sold has been pasteurized, a process of heating the milk to destroy bacteria. This has the same effect as scalding the milk, so by the time you buy the milk those nasty enzymes are already gone. Unless you milk your own cow, you can skip the scalding.

Scalding can however be beneficial if you are making yogurt or other cultured milk products. Even pasteurized milk contains some bacteria, and they can compete with the yogurt culture and affect the result. By heating milk to 180 degrees you eliminate most of these other organisms and give the desirable culture bacterial a clean slate to work with.

Source: Kitchen Science, Revised Edition by Howard Hillman. Houghton-Mifflin, 1989.


You can make a baked potato in the microwave

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

The microwave oven certainly has many legitimate uses, but baking potatoes (or anything else) is not one of them. Sure, you can cook a whole potato in the microwave, but what you get is a steamed potato. The crispy skin and fluffy interior of the genuine baked potato require a long cooking in dry heat.

You cannot do serious cooking in a microwave

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

This is one of the very silliest myths but it refuses to die out. There are a lot of people who use their microwave for nothing but boiling water and reheating leftovers and they are really missing out on a lot. I suspect that this myth got its start when microwaves were a new tool and a lot of awful microwave recipe books were published. Some people tried to use their microwave as a general purpose stove and oven replacement rather than as a more specialized tool that is well suited for some jobs but not at all useful for others. For example you would not want to use a microwave for a roast beef, fried potatoes, or baking bread, but it works just great for things like rice, poached fish, and steamed veggies. I find it particularly handy for making polenta and risotto, with results that are every bit as good as the stovetop with much less work and worry. If you want to expand your microwave repertoire I highly recommend The Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka. Another excellent book is The Moghul Microwave by Julie Sahni (Indian dishes).

If you put the pit in the bowl, guacamole won't turn brown

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

The surface of guacamole turns brown by reacting with oxygen in the air. The guacamole that is directly under the pit won't turn brown because the pit prevents air from getting to it. Otherwise, the oxidation process turns the exposed surface brown, just as it does on apples and other fruits. You'll have much better luck protecting the surface from air by pressing aluminum foil or plastic wrap on it.

Cold water boils faster than warm water

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

This is another myth that falls into the "suspend the laws of physics" category. That hasn't happened yet in my kitchen, and if it has in yours then you can probably get on TV. Seriously, to illustrate how ridiculous this idea is without getting into physics and formulas, think of it this way. If you put cold water on to boil, at some time before it boils the water will have become warm. Let's say it takes time "A" for the water to go from cold to warm. Then after some additional time it will boil - call the time it takes to go from warm to boiling "B". So, the time it takes the cold water to boil is "A + B" and the time it takes the warm water to boil is "B." If this myth were true then time "A + B" would be less than time "B" and there's just no way this could be no matter how many martinis you've had.

A variation of this myth claims that cold water boils faster than warm water if it has been boiled previously and then cooled off. The "explanation" in this case is that the first boiling drives dissolved air out of the water, which is true enough. However, dissolved air does not affect the boiling of water, at least not in any significant way, so this one is nonsense too.

Apparently this myth has its origins in the fact that cold water heats faster than warm water. A pot of water at 40o will reach 60o faster than a pot of 70o water will reach 90o, given the same heat source. This is because the rate of heat transfer is proportional to the temperature differential between the heat source and the item being heated. But the cooler water will always take longer to boil.

It is true, however, that warm water sometimes freezes faster than cold water. This happens only under very specialized conditions, and has nothing to do with boiling water.

Source: Scientific American

Note, however, that many people generally avoid using hot tap water for cooking on the theory that the hot water is not as clean from sitting in the water heater or from leaching substances from the pipes (a worry in houses with old plumbing).

Myths about dried beans

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

There are three "facts" you'll often hear about cooking dried beans, such as kidney and great northern beans. It turns out they are all myths.

  1. You must soak beans before cooking. You can soak beans of course but the only advantage it provides is to shorten the cooking time. There's no reason not to start cooking dry beans directly as long as you have the time to simmer them long enough.
  2. You must not add salt to beans during cooking or they will not soften. Tests show that the only difference between beans cooked side by side with and without salt is that one is salty and the other is not. Some people feel that salting during cooking gives better flavor because some of the salt ends up inside the beans.
  3. You must not add acid, such as tomatoes, to beans during cooking or they will not soften. Acid does in fact have an effect on beans, tending to keep the skins intact, while alkaline substances (baking soda) help the skins to break down. In both cases however the beans cook perfectly well. You can use this to your advantage, adding tomatoes during or after cooking depending on whether you want whole beans or mushy beans.

However, soaking can help reduce the "gas attack" effect that some people experience after eating beans. Bring dry beans and water to a boil, remove from heat, and let sit for an hour. Drain, add fresh water, and continue cooking. This removes some of the chemicals in the beans that cause the gas.

Source: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, Macmillan, 1998.

Don't salt meat before cooking

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

The idea behind this one is that the salt will draw out juices from the meat, removing flavor and preventing the surface from browning properly. In theory salt can draw out moisture, but in the real world it does not seem to make any difference. I have salted meat before cooking innumerable times, including steaks for pan frying or grilling, roasts, and briskets headed for the smoker. I have never once seen any juice being drawn out by the salt. In addition, there are innumerable cooks ranging from at-home amateurs to professional chefs and cookbook authors - including the super-fussy people at Cooks Illustrated - who direct that salt be put on meat before cooking. It's impossible to believe that if the myth were true, all these people would be blind to the supposedly dire effects.

If you use enough salt and let it sit long enough you will draw out moisture. But the real question is: does this reduce the quality of the final product? Not in my experience. Of course you must pat off the accumulated misture with a paper towel before cooking if you want the meat to brown properly. In fact, drawing off some moisture may well concentrate the flavors and lead to a better result.

Stock is made from bones, broth is made from meat

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

This old saw has been around for ages, and self-appointed experts love to bring it up to show how smart they are. Unfortunately for them it is not correct. You will see this distinction made in a few cookbooks, so it's not a total fiction, but it is certainly not universally correct or accepted. I've seen other definitions as well, such as that stock is homemade and broth comes in a can, or that stock will gel when cooled but broth will not. And what would you call something made from meat and bones - stroth or brock, I suppose! In reality the terms are used interchangeably.

Foods such as chicken salad made with mayonnaise are prone to quick spoilage

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

Another old wives' tale. Mayonnaise, because of its relatively low pH (in other words, it is acidic) will actually help prevent spoilage. When chicken salad or something similar spoils it is the other ingredients spoiling, not the mayo. When going on a picnic or setting out a buffet it is important to keep foods cold, but there's no reason to avoid mayo. This is true of commercial mayos; homemade mayo may have less acidity and therefore be more prone to spoilage.


Never put bananas in the refrigerator - they'll become inedible

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

The skins will darken, but refrigeration slows ripening of bananas the same as it does other fruits. The insides will be fine.

Source: Chiquita Banana web site and personal experience

You can't make a good cup of tea in the microwave

kitchen myth cooking urban legend

Some people claim that you cannot make really good tea by boiling your cup of water in the microwave and then putting in the tea bag. The problem is that only the top layer of water is boiling - water in the lower part of the cup is not hot enough yet and so the tea will not infuse properly. Perhaps - but the problem is easily solved by letting the water boil for 5-10 seconds before removing it from the microwave and adding the tea bag. This ensures complete mixing and heating of the water and your tea will be just fine.

However, be aware of a potential safety issue. Water can get superheated in the microwave. In other words, its temperature goes above the boiling point but it does not actually boil. This is usually the result of using a container with a very smooth surface that lacks the minute rough spots that trigger boiling. When you then pop your teabag into the water it boils all at once and can leap out and burn you. Of course if you wait for the water to boil in the MW, as I have advised, this will not be a problem but you should be aware of it.