Kitchen Basics

If It Ain't Buttermilk, What Is It?

 

I've heard it said that what we buy as buttermilk on the supermarkets now isn't the same as what buttermilk used to be.  Can you explain the difference to me?
--Strong

Back in the day, as my kids would say, buttermilk was the liquid that was left behind when butter was made.  The milk would be left stand for the cream to rise, and perhaps longer until enough cream was collected to churn.  During that time, the milk or cream would ferment naturally.  Once the butter was removed by churning the left over liquid, or butter milk, would continue to thicken.

Now buttermilk is plain milk, usually skim or low fat, that has been treated to make it into buttermilk.  With the advent of centrifugal cream separation the process of making butter could be sped up allowing more butter to be made in a shorter time.  Thus, the natural fermentation that occurred during gravity separation was short-circuited.  The resulting skim milk is heated and then inoculated with lactococcus and leuconostoc bacteria and left to ferment.

Buttermilk made by the old process is referred to as traditional buttermilk, while the newer process makes cultured buttermilk.

By the way, this also explains why traditionally made butters have a somewhat more tangy flavor, since they would carry some of the fermentation by-products that occurred during the cream separation.




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Time to Chill

 

Why do pie crust recipes tell you to refrigerate the dough before rolling it out?
--Linda

Refrigerating the dough after mixing has two main benefits.  First, it cools down the fat, usually butter and/or shortening, making it firm again.  If the fat becomes too soft, it will mix too completely with the flour.  To get a good crust, you need small bits of solid fat layered into the dough.  Re-solidifying the fat makes it roll into chips rather without blending it further into the flour.

Second, the resting period allows any gluten that was formed during mixing to relax.  This makes it easier to roll the dough and contributes to a softer, flakier texture.

Also, if during rolling the dough starts to spring back too much, it may help to refrigerate it again.  Put it on a cookie sheet between two layers of waxed paper or parchment paper and refrigerate for another half hour.




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Flour Sifting 101

How do you measure flour after it is sifted? I can only figure out how to measure it before. I'm sifting into a big bowl and it would be so messy to then put it back into the measuring cup!
-- Amy

Use two approximately square pieces of waxed paper.  Fold them both across their width to form a crease, and then lay them out flat beside each other.  To one side, place your flour container, and to the other place the mixing bowl you will use for the dry ingredients, depending on your recipe.  Have a flat knife or spatula handy.

The easiest way to measure flour after sifting is to sift onto a piece of (waxed) paper and then use that to transfer the flour to a dry measuring cup. This is likely how your grandmother would have done it.

  1. Use your measuring cup to scoop about a cup full of flour into your sifter, and then put the empty measuring cup onto the paper closest to the work bowl.
  2. Sift the flour onto the other piece of paper.
  3. Lift the piece of paper with the flour on it by the edges opposite the crease, hold it from underneath and, using the crease as a spout, pour the sifted flour into the measuring cup.  If all goes well, it should be a little over full.
  4. Use your flat blade to scrape across the top of the measuring cup to remove excess flour onto the paper below.
  5. Empty the measuring cup into the bowl.Sifting Flour 101 Image
  6. Swap the pieces of paper, so that the one with the excess flour on it can now be used for sifting, and the now empty piece of paper  is beside the work bowl.  Repeat steps 1 through 6 as needed until you have all of the flour required sifted.  If necessary switch measuring cups according to the amount needed in the recipe.

If you want to be environmentally friendly, you can use the waxed or parchment paper you will later use to line your baking pan or sheet, or you can use two flexible cutting boards (not creased), and then keep them on hand for next time.

Much easier, of course, is the "scoop-and-level" technique described on the post "Sifting Flour".




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Working the Odds

My husband cooked chicken breasts on the barbecue grill yesterday.  We put the remaining breasts into the refrigerator soon after pulling them off of the grill, around 3:00 pm.  At 4:00 am, my daughter pulled the chicken out of the fridge to make a sandwich and forgot to put the other breasts back.   My husband found them at 5:30 a.m. and put them back in the fridge.  Are they still good to eat?
-- Leanne

The accepted food safety rule is that food should not be held at a temperature within the so-called danger zone, between 140°F (60°C) and 40°F (4°C), for more than two hours.*

Assuming that the breasts were refrigerated immediately after being grilled, and that both your daughter and husband were accurate in their memory of the time, then you might be OK, especially if you are using them in something that will be thoroughly reheated.  If they sat out for an hour while you ate supper, and the time estimates for when they come out of the fridge and went back in are off by even just a little bit, then you may not want to eat them.

As I have said before, it is better to not risk you health or that of the ones you love just to save a few dollars.

* It seems whenever I write something about food safety, I get a note from someone who claims to regularly eat food that has sat out for days on end.  Interestingly, I have never gotten an e-mail from someone who died (or nearly died) from eating spoiled food.  I can attest that it ain't no fun, which is why I tend to be cautious.




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Blow-by-Blow

In a comment on your post regarding how to peel a hard-boiled egg, it says,"Another way to peel eggs to put a small hole in one end of the hard boiled egg. Cup the egg in one hand and then blow into the hole, the shell should come right off. Only use this method for eggs you are going to eat yourself."

I'm guessing that what is meant is that after you blow into the hole, you actually peel it, not that the blowing itself blows the shell right off the egg.  If you mean the latter, that's something I'd certainly have to see to believe.

I have never tried this method myself but if you search the internet for videos on how to peel a hard-boiled egg, the latter is exactly what it means!  For this trick to work, it probably helps a lot if you crack both ends of the egg, and if, on the end you are blowing on, you are able to tear the membrane that lies just under the shell.  With those two tips, what happens is that blowing actually inflates the membrane like a balloon, pulling it away from the egg and the peeled egg flies out the opposite end.

The reason, of course, that you should only do this if you are eating the egg yourself is hygienic.  There are commercial products such as the "Eggstractor" that purport to do the same thing without having to blow on your food.


 

 

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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
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Old Tales Die Hard

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I noticed in your recipe for Salade Niçoise,that you say to put all of the dressing ingredients into a mini-blender and whiz until smooth.  I thought when making a vinaigrette or mayonnaise that you had to drizzle the oil in a drop or two at a time!

When making a vinaigrette or mayonnaise by hand you need to drizzle the oil in slowly while stirring constantly in order to make an emulsion that doesn't break.  An emulsion is a homogenous mixture of two or more liquids that normally don't usually mix together, in this case oil and water. This is achieved by breaking one of the liquids into very small drops in the other liquid.  To keep the drops from separating back out, you need an emulsifier.  Egg yolks, mustard and honey are all common emulsifiers that can be found in most pantries.  Some health food or specialty stores sell soy lecithin which also works.

To understand how an emulsifier works, imagine two villages.  One village, lets call them "O", will only shake hands with their right hand.  The other village, "W", will only shake with their left hands, so "O" and "W" can never get along.  They never trade, or make friends because they can never shake hands on anything.  The people from 'the other village' are just strange, so they never mingle.

One day a bunch of people from "E" comes along.  They can shake hands either left-handed or right-handed.  By shaking with "O" with their right and "W" with their left, they broker peace and friendship.

OK, a little far fetched, but that is kind of how emulsifiers work.  They are molecules where one end likes to hang around with oil and the other end likes to hang around with water.  Once the oil in your vinaigrette or mayo is broken into small droplets, they get coated by emulsifier molecules that keep them from separating from the surrounding water, and forming back into big globs that will rise to the surface.

The reason for pouring the oil slowly in the traditional hand method is to have as much of the oil as possible in small drops.  If you don't, then the small drops will bump into the bigger drops and merge with them, making bigger and bigger puddles that will make the dressing separate.

When you use a blender, the blade of the blender chops the oil into tiny drops faster than you could ever achieve by hand.  I have seen lots of recipes for blender sauces that still insist on drizzling the oil in, but really there is no need.  Put everything in, crank it on high for a few seconds and you are done.  I almost always use this method, unless I'm showing off making a Caesar Salad, with no trouble.  Occasionally, a few drops of oil may surface if I make the vinaigrette a long time in advance, but another quick buzz is all it takes ot solve the problem.

The only exception is if you are making blender hollandaise or anything like it, that uses egg yolks and melted butter.  In that case, if you just throw everything into the blender, the protein in the egg yolks may scramble from the heat of the butter before the sauce is blended.  Drizzling the melted butter in will temper the eggs while the sauce is being made.




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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
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What Makes Double Acting Baking Powder Double Acting?

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I am reading your article about the baking powder.  Mine contains monocalcium phosphate, sodium bicarbonate and cornstarch.  Since the monocalcium phosphate is listed in your article as available for both the fast and slow acting components, is this particular brand I am using (Rumford, aluminum-free) considered 'Double'?  It bubbled up right away on mixing and had a decent rise with the heat.
--Marcy

Double acting baking powder is called that because it has two reactions, one at room temperature when the wet ingredients come into contact with it, and a second in the heat of the oven.  To get the double acting part, two different powdered acids are typically used -- one for each reaction.

Some people mistakenly think that because a batter increases in volume during cooking that this is means the baking powder they used is double acting.  While that may be true, batter made with a single action powder will also increase in volume while in the oven.  This is due to the thermal expansion of the carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles in the batter.  Double acting only refers to the release of more carbon dioxide when heated and not to the expansion caused solely by heat.

Fast acting, or quick acting, or single action baking powder is usually made with only one acid that reacts when mixed with liquids.  In theory, it might be possible to make a baking powder that only has a delayed action, but I have never seen that.

You are correct as far as you go in noting the previous post on Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder lists monocalcium phosphate for both double acting and fast acting types, but you failed to notice that one is monocalcium phosphate monohydrate (Ca(H2PO4)2 • H2O), while the other is anhydrous monocalcium phosphate (Ca(H2PO4)2).  The difference is that little "H2O" at the start of the first one.  That is a water molecule attached to the monocalcium phosphate, which allows it to react once it is mixed with liquids.  The anhydrous version is less water soluble and won't react until it is heated.

In theory the manufacturer could be using both kinds, but chances are that what you have is baking powder made with sodium bicarbonate and monocalcium phosphate monohydrate, so it would be fast acting, not double acting.  The cornstarch, by the way, is just a filler to make up volume so that it can be used measure for measure with other kinds or brands.


 

 

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How to Calibrate a Thermometer

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I got a new quick read probe thermometer, but I'm not sure it is reading accurately.  Is there an easy way to check it?
-- Dan

There are two temperatures that are very easy to check a thermometer for in the home kitchen -- the freezing point of water, and its boiling point.

Water freezes at 32°F (0°C).  If your thermometer will read that low, then fill a glass half full of cold tap water and then add as many ice cubes as will fit.  Allow to sit for a few minutes for the temperature to even out and then take a reading, locating the tip of the probe about in the center of the glass.  You may need to watch and wait to see if the temperature is still dropping, but as long as there is still a fair amount of ice left, it will stay at the freezing point.

Checking the boiling point is a little harder.  Water boils at 212°F  or 100°C, at sea level under normal conditions.  If you are at higher altitude, however, the boiling point drops by about 2°F (1°C) for every 1,000 feet (300 meters) of elevation.  This is the reason why some recipes need to be adjusted for higher elevations (see High Altitude Cooking).  So if you live in Saskatoon, as I do, the elevation is 1,579.7 ft (481.5 m).  That means that water here boils at around 209°F  or 98.5°C.  Depending on the day, there may also be some atmospheric effects due to air pressure, but these are more difficult to calculate.  If you don't know the elevation where you live, you may be able to Google it, or find out be calling the reference department at your library.

To test for the boiling point, again assuming your thermometer is designed to read in that temperature range, place a pan about three quarters full of water over medium heat and bring it to a rolling boil.  Once it is boiling, carefully read the temperature, locating the tip of the probe well under the surface but away from the sides and bottom of the pan.  If the probe touches the bottom of the pan, you will be reading the temperature of the metal, not the water.  The temperature should read the boiling point of water corrected for your elevation, if necessary.

Water hardness shouldn't have a significant effect on these reading, but if you are compulsive you can use distilled water in both tests just to be sure.

Once you have determined how accurate your thermometer is, you may be able to adjust it.  For mechanical probe or bi-metal thermometers you should either find an adjusting screw or hex nut on the back.  While holding the body of the thermometer you can turn the screw or nut to move the dial the number of degrees that need to be corrected.  If the thermometer is off by the same amount in the same direction for both boiling and freezing, then adjust by that amount and re-check.  If the amounts vary then you can split the difference or adjust to the temperature closer to the environment in which you will use the thermometer -- ie. if it is for checking the temperature of roasts, then set it so the boiling point is more accurate.  If it is a fridge thermometer, set it so that the freezing point is right.

Electronic thermometers are not usually adjustable at home.  If yours is, follow the manufacturer's directions.


 

 

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Tales from an Old Salt

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I recently learned that all white salt is processed and devoid of some 80 minerals. Is that why iodine is added?
--Name Withheld

Salt, whether of the table salt variety or harvested by vestal virgins under a full moon in October contains almost no iodine, unless it is added.  According to M. G. Venkatesh Mannar, Executive Director The Micronutrient Initiative Ottawa, Canada, and John T. Dunn, Professor of Medicine, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.A.1:

"Since iodine is a constituent of sea water, it is often incorrectly assumed that sea salt contains sufficient iodine for nutritional purposes. The total dissolved salts in seawater contain less than 2 micrograms of iodine per gram of salts, equivalent theoretically to about 3 micrograms of iodine for every gram of recovered sodium chloride (3 parts per million). Even this small quantity of iodine is mostly lost in the residual mother liquor that is drained out during the production process and should be disregarded in calculations to establish the level of iodine supplement."

Mother liquor is the liquid part of a solution that is left over after crystallization.  In other words, when salt is made by evaporation of sea water, the small quantity of iodine that was in the water stays there and does not precipitate out in significant amounts when salt crystals drop out of solution.

The main dietary sources of iodine are seafood, sea vegetation, such as kelp, and until recently dairy products.  With recent changes to sanitary practices at dairy operations, the amount of iodine found in dairy products is decreasing in some parts of the world2.  It is also found in foods supplemented with iodine and in vegetables grown in iodine rich locations, typically close to the ocean.

Iodine is added to table salt not to make up for it not being found in salt deposits, but because in some places there is not enough iodine from local dietary sources to prevent the occurrence of goiters, an enlargement of the thyroid gland visible as a swelling of the front of the neck, and cretinism in infants from a deficiency of iodine in the mother's diet during pregnancy.  The Great Lakes, Midwest, and inner mountain areas of the United States were once called the "goiter belt" because a high number of goiter cases occurred there3.  Usually this is caused by iodine-poor soil.

The dietary requirement for iodine is about 150 micrograms (μg) daily for adults, less for children and more for expecting mothers4.  Iodine is added to table salt, in the form of potassium iodide (KI) or potassium iodate (KIO3), in most, if not all, developed countries.  In some coutries it may be added to flour also.

As for the rest of the 79 or so minerals, supposedly found in sea salt, the question isn't really what is there, but rather a) can you really taste a difference, and b) are any of those minerals essential for human health and otherwise absent from normal diets.  If you are a frequent reader of KitchenSavvy, you have likely heard me riff on before about claims that you can taste the difference.  If you have a really good sense of taste and a really mild food, then maybe.  For most cooks in most recipes, I would hazard a guess that in a controlled, blind tasting of something like stew, you probably would never know what kind of salt was used.

So, this is the problem I have.  Star chefs spout off recipes calling for sea salt, or flaky kosher salt, or salt harvested from the dark side of the moon.  Readers and viewers happily follow the advice, paying exorbitant prices to buy specialty salts and the salt companies laugh all the way to the bank.  Meanwhile, there is a very real risk to health, due to iodine deficiency, that is completely neglected.  Combine that with a food fad like the 100 Mile Diet and you have a recipe for disaster!

For most foods, plain old boring table salt is all you need.  As a garnish, or maybe in a few special cases, fancy salt may add something, but most of the time, it is just money down the drain.

Oh, and by the way, much of the time the colors in specialty salts are either impurities such as clay that are found in the water where the salt is harvested and have no nutritional value, or coloring agents, such as finely ground charcoal, that are added at the processor to make the salt look exotic.

_________

1 Salt Iodization for the Elimination of Iodine Deficiency; V. Mannar and J. Dunn; International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, 1995; pp 10; an ICCIDD/MI/UNICEF/WHO publication; ISBN 90-70785-13-7; http://www.micronutrient.org/resources/Salt_CD/4.0_useful/4.1_fulltext/pdfs/4.1.1.pdf
2 Iodine Facts; Nutrition Australia website; http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/iodine-facts
3 Goiter - simple; MedLine PLus, National Institutes of Health website; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001178.htm
4 Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Vitamins; Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies, USDA Food and Nutrition Information Center website; http://iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/RDA%20and%20AIs_Vitamin%20and%20Elements.pdf

 

 


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Cream of Tartar vs Tartar Sauce

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Are Cream of Tartar and Tartar Sauce the same thing?
--Helen

Seeing this question made me think of a Before and After category puzzle on Wheel of Fortune where the answer is "Cream of Tartar Sauce."

No, they are not the same thing.  Cream of tartar is a dry white powder that is actually finely ground tartaric acid.  The chemical name is potassium bitartrate and the formula, for those who care, is KC4H5O6.  It is found as a sediment in the making of wine (see Crystals in Wine).  Cream of tartar has three main uses in the home kitchen -- to stabilize egg whites when they are whipped (see Beating Egg Whites - How Cream of Tartar Helps), in candy making to help reduce the formation of crystals in boiling sugar, and as a leavening agent when combined with baking soda (see Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder).

Tartar sauce is a mayonnaise-based condiment most frequently served with seafood.  Typical ingredients, other than the mayonnaise are chopped dill pickles, capers, lemon juice, vinegar, onions or shallots, and various herbs and seasonings.  Here is my recipe for homemade tartar sauce which I like to serve with crab cakes:

Homemade Tartar Sauce

  1/3 c Mayonnaise
1   tsp   Lemon Zest
1   tbsp   Fresh Lemon Juice

1/2 clove 
Garlic, minced
 1 1/2 tbsp Chopped Caper Berries, rinsed and drained
 1 1/2 tsp    Chopped Fresh Chives
 2   tsp   Chopped Fresh Cilantro or Tarragon

    Salt and Pepper, to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together and refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour for the flavors to meld.  Quantities can be adjusted to suit your taste.

I like to zest the lemon and mince the garlic using a micro-plane since that way they mix right in without any chunks or stringy bits, but both can be done with a knife if you prefer.  Also, I prefer the larger caper berries to the non-pareil size, although any size would work.


 

 

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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
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