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December 2004

November 2004

Cappuccino Panna Cotta

This isn't supposed to be a recipe website (Lord knows, there are enough of those around!), but sometimes I'll find a recipe that is just so-o-o-o good that I want to publish it.  So, here is a great recipe for a tasty dessert:

Cappuccino Panna Cotta

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Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Salt [of the Earth?]

Q: There are so many varieties of salts available.  Which should I use?

I assume that you are referring to Sodium Chloride (NaCl), the stuff found in common table salt. As well as table salt, varieties include kosher salt, sea salt, and salts of various colors.  The question of which to use is not simple to answer.

When salt is used in recipes where it is dissolved amid a number of other strong flavors, most people can’t taste any real difference, but I always recommend trying for things yourself.

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Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


KitchenSavvy Kitchen Science

A frequent response I give when people ask me a cooking  question is, “Try it for yourself and see.” The problem with this reply, however, is that it is not always easy to do. I don’t mean that we don’t have the big science lab to test things out. What I mean is that human beings are naturally inclined to find proof in the face of little or no evidence. The problem is, we don’t structure our tests to find out what is really happening.

In science there is something called the scientific method that essentially says design an experiment, do the test, look at the results and figure out what happened. Try to keep everything else the same, except for the one thing you are testing. [My apologies to all of the real rocket scientists out there who are cringing at the over-simplification. My intention is to outline, not enforce.]

Take for instance the age-old belief that searing meat seals in juices. In his book  The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, Harold McGee describes an experiment done at home with a digital scale, a temperature probe, an electric skillet and slices of eye of round. The reading is interesting. The result is even more interesting: “By the time the meat had cooled down on the plate, the unseared slices had lost about 22% of their weight, and the seared slices about 25% of their original weight.” Exactly contrary to the common belief.

In fairness, he used a postal scale, which may be somewhat more accurate than a kitchen scale. My own kitchen scale is accurate to 2 grams. For a half pound steak (227 grams), that’s just less than one percent, so if I repeated McGee’s experiment with my own equipment, I might have read 23% loss for the unseared steak, an error of 2 grams on the high side, and 24% for the seared, an error of 2 grams on the low side. With only one percent difference between seared and unseared, I would still have concluded that searing doesn’t seal in moisture!

How about putting raw potato into soup an over-salted stew? When Robert Wolke tried that for his book What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, he found that “there was no detectable difference in the salt concentrations before and after being simmered with potato.” Being a chemist, Wolke has access to equipment that you likely wouldn’t have at home, but you could still do the same experiment, only relying on your taste buds

But that has a risk. If you expect to notice a particular result, you may fool yourself into finding it. That’s why scientists invented the blind test. No, you don’t necessarily have to be blindfolded. You just have to not know what sample you are tasting.

At home, the experiment would go something like this:

  • Make a stew as you normally would.
  • Divide it two-thirds, one-third. Set the two-thirds aside.
  • Over-salt the other third. Then divide it into halves. Set one half aside.
  • Put some fresh potato slices into the other half and simmer the stew just long enough to soften the potato but not enough so that it falls apart.  Remove the potato slices.
  • Now gather together some friends. Heat equal portions of the salty stew and the salty stew simmered with potatoes. Without telling them what your experiment is testing, let them each have a small taste of each kind and jot down their comments. No discussion until both kinds have been tasted.
  • See if they consistently said the stew simmered with potatoes was less salty.
  • Now, as a reward, let them eat the good stew!

If you think this is too complicated an experiment, you could just wait until you accidentally over-salted something and try it by yourself, setting aside a small sample before adding the potatoes. The problem, though, is that you need to be really, completely honest with yourself and taste with your tongue rather than your beliefs – a very hard thing to do.

Here is another example – in bread recipes your will frequently see something like, “2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of flour,” and further on, “the amount of flour will vary depending on the humidity.” To test that out, I put a kilo of all-purpose flour (1,000 grams, about 2 pounds) in a gallon ice cream pail. Each day over a period of a month, some sunny dry days and some wet and rainy, I weighed the flour. The relative humidity over the period ranged from below 40% to over 95%. The weight varied no more than 4 grams or less than one half of 1%. Remember, I said that my kitchen scale is accurate to within 2 grams, so a 4 gram difference was no surprise.

Suppose, however, that my scale was absolutely accurate. Then I might conclude that the 4 gram difference was due to the humidity. In most recipes, the flour to water ratio is somewhere around three to one. For a recipe calling for three cups of all-purpose flour, about 1/3 of a kilo, the moisture difference in the flour, based on my test, would be about 1 1/3 grams or just over a 1/4 of a teaspoon. At a three to one ratio, that would mean that I needed about a teaspoon more or less of flour, not a whole cup. The instructions allow for an error about fifty times greater than what is reasonable.

So the next time you hear or read some food claim you are just not sure about, figure out how you can try it yourself at home. Design an experiment and test your results. You may just be surprised.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Grilling Steak

Q: How can I tell if the steak that I am grilling is cooked the way I like?

The best way to tell if a steak is cooked properly is with a quick-read thermometer. Following the manufacturer’s directions, insert the tip of the thermometer into the centre of the steak, at least an inch (2.5cm)  away from any bone. The temperatures you want are 145°F (63°C) for medium-rare, 160°F (70°C) for medium and 170°F (77°C) for well-done. The USDA recommends that steaks be cooked to at least medium-rare for food safety.

For a less scientific method, cook the steak by time or by feel. A one-inch steak placed over a very hot grill will take roughly three minutes per side to reach medium-rare, and will feel quite soft if you press in the center with your finger, being careful of the heat. It will take about four minutes per side for medium and feel springy to the touch. To avoid burning the outside while cooking a steak to well-done, cook each side for about three minutes, lower the heat and cook about eight minutes longer, turning once. A well-done steak will feel quite firm. Practice until your results are consistently good.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Dave Recommends #1

The New Joy of Cooking by Marion Rombauer Becker, Irma S. Rombauer, Ethan Becker

For the inaugural book recommendation in KitchenSavvy, how can I choose anything other than the foundational  "All New All Purpose" Joy of Cooking.

Originally self-published in 1931 as The Joy of Cooking: A Compilation of Reliable Recipes with a Casual Culinary Chat by Irma Rombauer, updated first by her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker, and now by her grandson, Cordon Bleu-trained Ethan Becker,  this dynasty publication covers the basics for the home cook.  While it may not, by itself, make you a gourmet chef, it is chocked full of the reference information and methods that have been the launch pad for many aspiring cooks.

If you are just starting a cookbook library, this is THE BOOK to get.

If you have an earlier edition, it may be time to upgrade.  The new Joy of Cooking has new chapters on grains, beans, and pasta that reflect changing culinary tastes and lifestyles.  The new "Rules" sections included in many chapters give essential cooking and ingredient basics.

More international recipes have been added, too.

The downside?  If you rely on your old copy of the Joy of Cooking as much as I did mine, you probably have it marked up with margin notes, comments, recipe variations and notes on who likes what.  The first thing you will want to do is go through them side-by-side and copy over what you want to keep handy.  You may also notice that a few of your old favorite recipes are missing in the updated version.


If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Seized Chocolate

Q: For our anniversary, I was planning to dip strawberries in chocolate. As I was melting the chocolate in my double boiler, it suddenly turned into a solid lump. What happened?

What happened is your chocolate got ‘seized’, and I don’t mean by the culinary police. Seizing happens when water gets into melted chocolate. Only a very small amount of water, a drop or two, is enough to seize the quantity of chocolate you were likely working with. The water may have been on one of your utensils or may be steam condensed from the lower part of the double boiler falling into the chocolate. It is important to have everything dry, and to use only a very low simmer for the water in the double boiler.

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Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


About KitchenSavvy

Me In Paris-smHi. I’m Dave Katz, creator of KitchenSavvy, which combines my life-long passion for food and cooking, my science background, and my analytical skills in research and writing, to answer questions about the “how” and “why” of cooking.

KitchenSavvy has answers to readers' food and cooking questions, opinion pieces, reviews, recommendations, and recipes.

It all started at a young age, when my mother decided that all of her sons would need to fend for themselves at least sometimes, so she taught us all the basics of cooking. When I was maybe 14 or 15 years old, Mom started offering cooking classes. My older brother and I were “lab assistants” and also helped with kitchen prep behind the scenes. Mom was a very talented and diverse cook. As she would describe herself, “I cook in 27 different languages.”

My father was founding director of the Linear Accelerator Laboratory and head of the Physics Department at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. While he was a lover of the arts and connoisseur of good food, Dad also believed in the doctrines of science and knowledge. If, around the dinner table, one of my siblings or I claimed some detail, or stated an opinion, we would be expected to back it up with facts, figures and sources. Questions almost always led to exploration and discovery. Curiosity was encouraged. Rigor was expected.

So, these were the early forces behind my interest in what actually happens in the kitchen – an amazing cook and cooking teacher, and a world-class scientist.

My interest and abilities in cooking became stronger when I went to university, myself. I soon learned that being able to cook was a prized skill among roommates and that I could always trade with starving students, tired of Macaroni and Cheese, the making of meals for all other chores.

In 1970, I was offered the chance to train to become a chef at the private school of an internationally renowned restaurant chain, after making supper for one of the major shareholders. It all started with a bet on whether or not I could actually cook! This is the road not traveled.

Then, in 1974, I married. Our initial agreement was that we would take turns making meals, and whoever didn’t cook would do the dishes. Sound familiar? Well, about a year into that, my wife “tried to poison me with a salmon loaf”, as I so lovingly put it. This led me to offer to do all of the cooking, which only increased my responsibility and interest in fine cooking, now a lifelong passion.

My credo? “Much of what happens in the kitchen, whether you are kneading bread or boiling an egg for breakfast, depends on chemistry and science. Success in the kitchen relies on a basic understanding of how and why things happen, of ingredients, and of the terms and techniques used in cooking. This knowledge, combined with the artist’s talent, is what makes great food.”

I have long been the “Go To Guy” amongst friends and colleagues, and sometimes even total strangers, who wonder what went wrong in a recipe, or how to make a technique work. My extensive knowledge of food, gained from years of hands-on experience, curiosity and research, and a sensible attitude to ingredients, is now available through the KitchenSavvy blog site.

And yes, after over 40 years, I am still happily married, the Dad of two wonderful kids and 'Zeyda' to two equally wonderful grandsons!




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


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If you have food or cooking questions, send them to Questions@KitchenSavvy.com
Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered.
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward



Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


The "Dave Recommends" Collection

The New Food Lover's Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating by Walter C. Willett
Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf by Sara Mansfield Taber

Continue reading "The "Dave Recommends" Collection" »




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward


Privacy, Copyright and Disclaimer

KitchenSavvy does not collect contact information. We will not forward email or other contact information received to any third party, except as noted for comments, below.

Name, email address and URL information provided by readers on comments is optional, however if it is provided it will appear on the site. KitchenSavvy reserves the right to edit or remove any comments submitted, at its sole discretion.

Readers submitting comments or other material agree to its publication on the KitchenSavvy site, as well as in any derivative products.

While every effort is made to assure the reliability and accuracy of the information on this site, the author is not a medical professional nor a trained nutritionist.  Always consult with your doctor before making any changes to diet or exercise.

The KitchenSavvy Store is provided as an affiliate of Amazon.com Inc.  Materials ordered and shipped from Amazon.com are the sole responsibility of that company.  Please contact Amazon through this link.

KitchenSavvy and KitchenSavvy Recipes are creations of Lost Hobbit Enterprises.  Neither the author, nor Lost Hobbit Enterprises assumes any liability with respect to damage or loss resulting from the information contained on the site.

All contents copyrighted Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward.




Due to the volume of questions received, not all can be answered, nor can we guarantee we will answer questions immediately
© Lost Hobbit Enterprises 2004 onward