Archive for the 'Information' Category

How to cut up a bunch of strawberries the easy way

This sounds easy, and it is. And, in the past I’ve cut up pounds and pounds of strawberries. I’ve sliced them, diced them, and chopped them. And usually they leave red berry stains on my cutting board, on my counter and on my hands.
Well, no more.
Here is an easy way to cut up strawberries that is also fast:

  1. Using a paring knife, cut the stem and core out. The core is sightly bitter and it’s a good idea to get rid of it. You don’t have to go very deep, about 1/4” to 3/8” should do it.
  2. Place the cored strawberry on the cutting board sitting on its fat end.
  3. Do all the strawberries this way (see photo above)
  4. Next, take each strawberry and cut twice vertically from the top end to the bottom cutting the berry into quarters (see photo above).
  5. Grab the whole strawberry near the base and throw it into a bowl.

Once you get the hang of this technique, it goes really fast.
Because of the way they are cut, the berries stick together and you do not have to handle the cut edges of the berries so everything stays cleaner. Especially your hands.
Now, go cut up some strawberries and make some great strawberry short cake!


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.

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’

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.

Kitchen Tools #12: The Cookie Scoop

If you like to make cookies, you should consider getting a cookie scoop, aka an ice cream scoop.
But, a cookie scoop is usually smaller. I have three sizes of cookie scoops and usually I use the smallest one.
My family likes to eat two smaller cookies instead of one larger one. Go figure.
What a cookie scoop does is make each cookie the same size.
Thus, all the cookie bake at the same rate and all finish baking at the same time.
As with the digital scale, the cookie scoop gives you consistency. And that makes your baking better and more enjoyable.
So give the cookie scoop a try. It’ll make you a better cook.