Archive for the 'Cooking Information' Category

Kitchen Safety and the Sliced Finger

This past Sunday, I was helping make dinner. I decided to make the Japanese cucumber salad with sugar and rice wine vinegar (recipe here). Rather than get the food processor out, I  got our plastic chef’s mandolin, pealed the cucumbers and started slicing away.
As luck (or unlucky) would have it, my hand slipped off the cucumber and I cut an 1/8th-inch slice off the end of my middle finger. Worst accident I have ever had cooking.
So, what happened?
First, I did not use the guard.
Lesson learned: always use the guard.
Second, I tried to cut the long cucumber without cutting it down to size first.
Lesson learned: cut vegetables down to manageable size before slicing on the mandolin.
I know this sounds like common sense, and it is. It’s just when you do not use a piece of equipment often, remember to review the safety procedures and think about what you are doing before you start.
Oh yea, watch out for the edge of the blade on the food processor. It is really sharp, too.
So, think before you start and work  safely in the kitchen.


Tip # 11: How to make cookbook ribbons

What the heck are cookbook ribbons? I first ran into cookbook ribbons when they came on our first copy of The Joy of Cooking (Photo 1). Two red ribbons were glued into the spine of the book and they were included so you could bookmark two recipes and find them easily. I loved the idea.
One day I was using one of my favorite cookbooks and making two recipes from it. I got very frustrated about losing my place as I went from recipe to recipe and back again.
Then the light bulb went on. Why not put cookbook ribbons in this book?
Gluing ribbons into the spine was not an option. So, I decided to add them to the back of the book. Here is how to do it step by step (this is more difficult to write out than actually do!):


  • One spool of 1/4-inch red ribbon. I got mine at Jo-Ann Fabrics. The spool holds 10 yards and the ribbon is made from 100% polyester. It works just fine.
  • Good quality packing tape
  • Scotch tape or you can use small pieces of packing tape
  • Scissors


Photo 2:
Cut two pieces of ribbon. To figure the length of the ribbon, open the back of the book and put about two inches of ribbon into the gutter of the book between the last page and the inside back cover. Holding the ribbon in place, run the ribbon down the top of the book to the front cover and slide the ribbon in between the front cover and the first page. Now run the ribbon diagonally to the lower left-hand corner of the book (the top of the book is up). Leave about two inches hanging out of the corner. Hold this spot on the ribbon and spool off enough ribbon to double the length. Cut the ribbon at that point. Hold the two ends together and cut this long length into two equal pieces.
Photo 3:
Using a small piece of Scotch tape or small pieces of packing tape, stick the end of the one of the pieces of ribbon two inches into the gutter of the cookbook (from the top) with the tail of the ribbon extending out the top. Repeat with the second piece of ribbon. Make sure that the two pieces of ribbon are slightly separated so both of them are secured by the tape in the next step. The reason for using the small pieces of tape is to keep the ribbons in place while you tape them down in the next step.
Photo 4:
Using a three-inch to three-and-one-half inch long piece of packing tape, tape down the two ribbons. The packing tape should be placed down on the last page of the book first, pressed down on that page over the ribbons, pressed tight against the gutter and then up and over to the inside back cover of the book. Half of the packing tape width should be on one side of the ribbon and half on the other. You can see the shinny tape on both sides of the tape in this photo (4). Be sure to keep the tape inside the top edge of the cookbook. You do not want the tape sticking out the top of the book. Also, make sure the tape is long enough so it extends about an inch beyond the ends of the ribbons.
Photo 5:
Now, take the ribbons and run them over the top of the book and between the front cover and page one of the book, running the ribbons diagonally to the bottom left-hand corner of the book. Grab the ribbons at about 2 inched from the corner of the book. Trim the ends of the ribbons on a slight diagonal as shown in the photo.
Photo 6:
This is how the book looks with the ribbons placed on two different recipes.

All of my favorite cookbooks have ribbons.

What is the difference between butter and margarine? And which is better for you?

Well first, butter is a natural product and margarine is manmade. Margarine was invented in 1869 by Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès. Butter has been around since the cows came home.
Nutritionally they are almost identical. And, they are very similar in many other ways too. Alan Davidson, author of The Oxford Companion to Food (Canada, UK), says, “Margarine, of the kind intended to resemble butter, can be among the most realistic of ‘imitation’ foods. [It] spreads, melts, and combines with other ingredients in just the same way as butter. Only a slight deficiency in flavor and a small difference in texture and ‘mouth feel,’ discernible when it is eaten as a spread on bread, give it away.”
Butter is made by churning cow’s milk until it coagulates. It has a fat content by law of 80 to 85 percent.
On the other hand, margarine also has 80 percent fat and is made from blends of vegetable oils, such as corn, soybean, safflower or canola. They use a chemical process called hydrogenation which replaces the double chemical bonds in those oils with single chemical bonds, making the liquid oils solid at room temperature.
However, that replacement process is never complete and we are left with what are called partially hydrogenated oil, also known as a trans fat. Trans fats are what make margarine solid instead of liquid at room temperatures. As we now know, trans fats are bad for you because they have been found to increase total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lower HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol).
Then again, you do not get away scot free with butter either. Because almost all butter is made from cow’s milk (an animal product) it is loaded not only with saturated fat but also contains cholesterol – something margarine doesn’t contain. And, as we know, saturated fat and cholesterol are bad for you.
So, the answer to the question is that you get to pick your poison: trans fat or saturated fat and cholesterol.
To me, it comes down to taste and butter wins every time.
Your taste may vary.

Mom’s Fabaulous Caramel Corn

Makes about 10 cups

My Mom used to make caramel corn. We loved that caramel corn. We don’t make it very often these days because we gobble it down faster that you can shake a stick. But, boy is it good.
Making caramel for this recipe involves heating sugar on the stove to achieve a hard-ball stage. This requires you to use a candy thermometer to keep the temperature of about 255 degrees F. This will put the caramel just into the hardball range. The different stages of heating sugar for candy making are listed below for reference:

Stage                       Temperature                      Sugar   Concentration

(degrees F)

Thread                    235 to 240                                        85%

Soft-Ball                  245 to 250                                        87%

Hard-Ball                250 to 265                                         92%

Soft-Crack               270 to 290                                        95%

Hard-Crack             300 to 310                                        99%

Tips for popping popcorn: Place three tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottom pot and drop in several popcorn kernels. Put a lid on loosely and wait for a few kernels to pop. When they do, take the pot off the stove (leave the burner on), remove the lid and dump in the popcorn all at once. The amount of popcorn kernels you use should cover the bottom of the pot or less in just a single layer.  Let the pot rest off the heat for one minute. Immediately put the pot back on the burner and adjust the burner to medium to medium high depending on your burner and how hot it gets. Place the lid on the pot so there is an opening for the steam to escape from the pot (a tight lid will lead to soggy popcorn). Several times during the popping, shake the pot.  The popping will be very vigorous at first and then will slow down.  When the popping almost stops, take the pot off the heat and let it rest for a minute or two.  Some of the last kernels will pop during this time.  This method results in almost all the kernels popping.
I learned this from a chef a long time ago and it works every time. And, yes, I have not idea why it works, just that it does work.
This recipe is easy and straight forward. Just watch yourself as you dump the caramel sugar mixture into the bowl with the popcorn. The caramel is very hot and it is easy to get burned if you are not careful. As the recipe states, feel free to add salted peanuts or other nuts to this. About a cup to a cup and a half of roughly chopped nuts should do it.

Recipe follows.

Continue reading ‘Mom’s Fabaulous Caramel Corn’

Is it done yet? What’s the best internal temperature?

Well? Is it done yet? That’s the question I am asked by my wife when I am cooking meat or poultry either in the oven or on the grill.
You don’t want to cut into an expensive piece of meat to check if it is done because all the juice will run out. So an instant read thermometer is the best way to check the meat. The one I recommend can be found here.  An inexpensive alternative is the CDN ProAccurate Quick Tip Digital Cooking Thermometer DTQ450. You can find out more about this thermometer here.
Now that you have a thermometer, at what temperature is the meat cooked? I have scoured the Internet and as usual I found different answers to that question. Generally I have found that the federal government wants you to over cook your meat to be on the really safe side. I have landed somewhere in between.
You do need to cook meat to a temperature at which certain bacteria are killed. The chart below lists the temperatures I use for various cuts of meat and poultry. To be on the safe side, you should develop your own list of temperatures to follow (this sentence is designed to keep me out of jail. LOL)

Internal Temperatures in Degrees F
Eye of Round …………………..125
Roast ……………………………… 130
Leg/Thigh ……………………….185
Med Rare ………………………..130
Medium ………………………….. 145
Well Done………………………..160
Pork Chop……………………….140
Pork Loin……………..135 to 140
Prim Rib Roast
Med Rare:………………125 to 130
Medium…………………..135 to 140
Med Rare…………………..125 to 130
Medium…………………….130 to 135
Whole Turkey
Thigh……………………170 to 175
(reading in thickest
part of thigh)
Yeast Bread……….190 to 205

Kitchen Tools #13: Reynolds Non-Stick Aluminum Foil

There’s a new helper at MuirFood: Reynolds Non-Stick Aluminum Foil.
This stuff is amazing. I recently made Chocolate Crinkle Cookies from a recipe by Shirley O. Corriher’s new book Bakewize (recipe to come, they’re delicious by the way).  In the recipe, she recommended using this product so I gave it a try.
Nothing sticks to this the dull side of this stuff.
It is easier to use than parchment paper because it conforms to the pan without curling up.
And, it is less expensive than parchment paper:
Parchment paper: $0.1130 per square foot
Non-stick aluminum foil: $0.0997 per square foot.
I will still have parchment paper in my kitchen for sliding bread off a wooden peel and into a hot oven, bread parchment paper and all.
But, for lining cookie sheets to protect them from sticky stuff oozing out of pies or to keep cookies from sticking, non-stick aluminum foil it is.

How much does an egg weigh or a cup of rolled oats or a cup of honey for that matter?

On this blog, there has been a lot of interest in the weight of a cup of flour. So I thought I would follow that post up with the weights of various other baking ingredients. The original post can be found here.
Remember that weighing your ingredients on a digital scale increases accuracy and makes you a better baker. The digital scale I recommend in here.  Precision in baking is key.
The following table was built based on research I did on the Internet and in my cookbook collection.  And, a funny thing happened on the way to the digital scale.  No one seems to agree on what ingredients weigh!  Amazing.  How long have we been baking around the world?
What I decided to do is show you the results of my research while at the same time listing what I use in my kitchen.  You will have to make up your own mind as to what a cup of corn syrup weighs or any other ingredient for that matter.
I hope this helps in your quest to be a better baker.

Weight (ounces)
Ingredient Vol
Buttermilk 1 cup 8 8 8 8
Cornmeal 1 cup 4.8 6 5.3 5
Corn syrup 1 cup 11 8 12 11
Egg, whole 1 large 1.75 1.67 1.6 1.6
Honey 1 cup 12 11 12 12
Milk 1 cup 8 8 8.5 8
Oats, rolled 1 cup 3.5 4 ~~ 4
Oil, vegetable 1 cup 7 8 8 8
Raisins, loose 1 cup 5.25 6 5.3 5.5
Sour cream 1 cup 8 8 8 8
Sugar, granulated 1 cup 7 8 8 7
Sugar, powdered 1 cup 4 ~~ 5.3 4
Yogurt 1 cup 8 8 8 8
KA = King Arthur Flour
PR = Peter Reinhart
FS =
Bill: What I use