Measuring Tools in the Kitchen

As fall starts to arrive, many people begin to bake more. If you live in Colorado, you already know baking can be a challenge due to our altitude. If you missed my Cooking Tips on baking at altitude, see this link. Because we start at a bit of a disadvantage, you want to make sure you are not sabotaging your efforts with other variables. In this Cooking Tip, I would like to discuss one of those variables – measuring cups.

Measuring CupsWhen I teach my cooking classes, I am always amazed that many people do not realize that there are different types of cups for measuring liquids and dry items. Liquid measuring cups are those that have a spout with measuring lines for different amounts of liquid. When you look at them, you will see the top line is below the very top of the cup. These are usually clear, which allows you to easily see the meniscus of the liquid to ensure an accurate measurement.

Measuring cupDry measuring cups are shaped more like a little tub and there are different sized cups for each measurement. The measurement indicated on the handle usually means when the cup is filled to the very top.

The first piece of advice is to use the correct type of measuring cup for the ingredient. When you use a dry measuring cup to measure a cup of flour, you fill it to the top and level off with a flat edge. Trying to use a liquid measuring cup to do this is very difficult. First, it is hard to gauge when you are at a cup since the line is below the top. Also, it is impossible to level it off as you can with a dry cup.

It may be a bit easier to measure liquid in a dry cup but you would need to fill it to the very top to get an accurate measurement and then it is very hard to move without spilling. Cook’s Illustrated did a test where they asked 18 people (cooks & non-cooks) to measure a cup of flour and a cup of water in both wet/dry cups. There was always some variance due to different techniques that people used. However, the variance was even more pronounced when using the wrong type of cup. Trying to measure the flour in a liquid cup led to differences of up to 26%. Measuring liquids in a dry cup resulted in a variance of up to 23%. These inaccuracies can spell disaster for your baking – especially when you are baking at high altitude.

Of course, the best way to measure anything is by weighing it with a food scale. I know that is a step too far for many people. And, most US recipes do not include weight measurements. Accepting that most of you will use measuring cups, you now know how important it is to use the correct type. However, can you just buy any brand and expect it to be accurate?

Unfortunately, the answer is No. A number of food sites have evaluated different brands. Let me summarize for you what they said. If anyone wants links to their actual testing, let me know.

When looking for good measuring cups, you want a number of things. First and foremost, you want accuracy. Other considerations are ease of use and durability. For dry measuring cups, Cook’s Illustrated rated OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel cups the highest. Among liquid cups, Cook’s Illustrated rated Pyrex as the best glass cup and OXO Good Grips Angled cup as the best plastic liquid measuring cups.

Serious Eats felt that Norpro’s Grip-Ez Stainless Steel Measuring Cups were the best dry measuring cups. One nice thing about this set is that it includes a 1/8-cup measure, something that OXO’s set does not. Serious Eats agreed with OXO as the best plastic liquid cup but preferred Anchor Hocking for the glass measuring cups.

A final site that does a lot of testing, The Wirecutter, had their favorite dry cup set as KitchenMade Stainless Steel Measuring Cups and liquid was Pyrex.

A new entry into liquid measuring cups is Euclid. According to the designer, “Euclid is the only measuring cup with a mathematically optimal, tapered design for consistent accuracy across amounts.” Designed by a mathematician, it is an interesting cup that I may just have to try.

While we are at it, what about measuring spoons? Cooks Illustrated found most of the sets they tested were about equal for accuracy but there were differences in ease of use and durability. Their favorite set was Cuisipro Stainless Steel set. For Serious Eats, they found that differences in accuracy to be more of a concern. Their favorite in a rectangular shape was the OXO Good Grips Spice Jar Measuring Spoons. A close runner-up was the RSVP International Endurance Spice Spoon Set. For rounded spoons, they preferred the Amco Advanced Performance Measuring Spoons set. Wirecutter found that Prepworks by Progressive was their choice although their second choice was Cuisipro, Cook’s Illustrated’s favorite.

No matter where you live, if you are a serious home cook, especially a baker, you do want to pay attention to little things such as measuring cups and spoons, which can work against your success. If you live at altitude, there are enough challenges without having to deal with inaccurate measurements. With the recommendations above, I hope you will be one step closer to all of that success in the kitchen!

Nonstick Cookware

Do you have nonstick pots/pans in your kitchen? Most of us probably do. If you were to look in a professional kitchen, you would probably find only a few, if any at all. Why is that? What do professional chefs know that maybe we do not? That is the subject of this Cooking Tip – nonstick cookware.

When I first started cooking, I had a friend who sold Pampered Chef. My first cookware set, therefore, was a set of nonstick pots/pans from Pampered Chef. I used them for many, many years but as they aged and went to Cookware Heaven and I grew in my culinary knowledge, I replaced them with other types of pots/pans. The only nonstick pans I have now are a couple of small skillets. The rest of my cookware is a mixture: stainless steel, cast iron and enameled cast iron. Because I use induction for most of my cooking, I must take that into consideration when buying cookware. I love my induction cooktop but it does limit my cookware choices. (If you have never read my Cooking Tip on induction cooking, here is a link to it.)

One of the first things to be aware of is that nonstick finishes have different names. Trade names include Teflon, Radiance, Eclipse, Excalibur, Quantanium and Halo. Just because the pan isn’t called “Teflon” doesn’t mean it isn’t the same thing – it just has a different name.

There are some advantages to nonstick cookware.

  • Certain food items are best in nonstick cookware. Making a great omelet is easiest in a nonstick skillet. Flipping out your homemade crepes is a job tailor-made for nonstick. Many also prefer to cook delicate fish in nonstick.
  • They do not require much oil in which to cook, if that is a concern for you.
  • They make for easy clean-up although you do need to take care as I will discuss below.

There are also disadvantages.

  • They cannot withstand high heat. Do not cook above medium-high as at too high of a heat, the nonstick coating can vaporize, which is harmful to the pan and could possibly be bad for your health. (It is definitely bad for birds. According to the Cookware Manufacturers Association, CMA, fumes from a nonstick skillet that has been heated too hot can be harmful or even fatal to birds as they have a very sensitive respiratory system. It is recommended, then, that any pet birds not be exposed to these fumes.)
  • Although it is possible to brown meat in a nonstick skillet, you will not develop the fond that is so important to flavor and making a pan sauce. (What’s fond? – email me for a Cooking Tip on this subject.) Even though you can sear meat in a nonstick pan, I still do not recommend it as it is very easy to over-heat the pan.
  • They are not as durable and are easy to damage if you are not careful.
  • Some people are worried about the nonstick coating for health reasons. According to FDA’s 2017 Food Code “Perfluorocarbon resin is a tough, nonporous and stable plastic material that gives cookware and bakeware a surface to which foods will not stick and that cleans easily and quickly. FDA has approved the use of this material as safe for food-contact surfaces. The Agency has determined that neither the particles that may chip off nor the fumes given off at high temperatures pose a health hazard.” Others have more concerns both for our personal health and the environment. To minimize these issues, do not over-heat them, clean them gently and do not use utensils that could cause the coating to chip off the pan.
  • Concern has also been raised about perfluorooctanoic acid (known as PFOA, APFO or C-8). This was used in the manufacturing of the nonstick coating. There may be debate on whether this chemical is truly harmful but there was enough concern that as of 2015, producers of nonstick cookware in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to eliminate it from their products. An interesting note is that according to the CMA, “While used during the manufacture of the product and while there is a small amount in the finished non-stick liquid product when it is shipped to the applicator, all of the PFOA is driven off in the curing process following the application of the PTFE spray to the pan’s surface. The finished pan does not contain any measurable PFOA after proper curing. The consumer is never exposed to PFOA while using their nonstick pan.”

I feel there is a definite place in our kitchen for nonstick skillets. I do not think other nonstick pots are probably necessary. No matter which you have, be sure to follow the recommended care instructions. Besides the caution against over-heating the pan, here are few other considerations.

  • Take care not to scratch the surface. Nonstick surfaces have gotten much more durable over the years, but rubber, silicone or wood utensils are better than metal ones to minimize the risk of scratching.
  • Store them carefully. Avoid stacking them if possible or, at least, put something like a paper towel or plate between your items to reduce the possibility of scratching.
  • Clean gently. Don’t use an abrasive sponge, which can create tiny scratches, and avoid harsh cleaners. It is best to handwash rather than putting them in the dishwasher, no matter what your instructions say. Also, let it cool before washing it so thermal shock doesn’t cause it to warp.
  • Season your nonstick pan. Before using it for the first time, wash it and dry thoroughly. Apply a thin layer of oil to the surface, heat it gently for about 2 minutes. Allow it to dry and wipe out any excess oil. You may also want to apply a small amount of oil prior to each use. This not only improves its performance, but also prolongs its life.
  • Do not use a nonstick cooking spray. This leaves a stick residue that is very difficult to remove. Rather, use a fat such as butter or oil.

Because of the concerns of the chemicals used in the manufacturing of nonstick pans, companies have been trying to make a “green” skillet. To date, none of these are as nonstick nor do they retain their nonstick quality as long as regular nonstick skillets.

My husband bought me a small Bialetti ceramic nonstick skillet. Although it was very pretty and worked great at first, I found it deteriorated very quickly to the point it lost all its nonstick qualities. This is the only one I have ever tried. What are your experiences with ceramic? Let me know.

I also purchased a “Black Cube” skillet manufactured by Frieling that is made without PFOA. The food cooks on raised stainless steel pixels. It is also advertised to be safe up to 500°F as well as 100% scratch resistant, even with m

My Black Cube Skillet
My Black Cube skillet

etal utensils. I purchased one of these and they do cook very well. You can get good browning, develop fond and even put it into the oven. In my experience, though, it is not nearly as nonstick as advertised. Have you tried other green pans? What was your experience? Let me know.

In summary, do not feel guilty about having nonstick cookware. Just be aware of what they are best for, how to minimize the risks and how to prolong the life of the cookware.

Should you try Coconut Aminos?

I was teaching a Thai cooking class for a bridal shower recently. (Thank you, Diane for booking it! If anyone is interested in booking a fun and yummy cooking party, email me for more information.) We were discussing some of the typical Thai ingredients such as fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind, etc. Someone asked what I thought of Coconut Aminos. This is an ingredient that although I knew about, I had never used. I decided it was time to learn a bit more about it and Voilà, this Cooking Tip!

Sushi with soy sauceAminos are liquid amino acids. Recall from your high school chemistry/biology classes that amino acids are the building blocks for protein. In recent years, consuming liquid amino acids has become somewhat of a health trend. There are two types: one is soy-based and one is coconut-based. Both forms contain all or almost all of the essential amino acids. This Tip will concentrate on the coconut version.

Coconut aminos is derived from the nectar (or sap) of the coconut palm blossom. It has added salt and undergoes a natural fermentation.

Proponents of coconut aminos claim the following:

  1. If you have a soy or gluten intolerance, coconut aminos could be for you as it is both soy- and gluten-free. (Be aware that non coconut-based liquid aminos are not soy-free.)
  2. These products are lower in sodium than soy sauce. Regular soy sauce is very high in sodium. There is lower sodium soy sauce but that is still higher in sodium than coconut aminos. Be sure to check the label, though, as the different brands of coconut aminos in my local market varied from 200 to 600 mg of sodium per 1 tablespoon. In comparison, my favorite soy sauce has 920 mg/tablespoon and a lower sodium variety has 575 mg. Soy-based liquid aminos may have as much sodium as regular soy sauce. (I wrote another Cooking Tip on how to tell a good soy sauce from an inferior one. If you wish to read it, let me know and I will send it to you.)
  3. Coconut aminos are free of MSG (monosodium glutamate). Some people may have unpleasant reactions to MSG. (  Here is a link to another Tip I wrote about MSG. Be aware that liquid aminos made from soy may contain MSG. I do not want to get too far in the weeds but some scientists say that coconut aminos does contain glutamate, a byproduct of the natural fermentation process. These scientists say that the glutamate in fermented coconut aminos is better tolerated in sensitive individuals. An exception is Braggs, as it is not fermented. However, Braggs coconut aminos is a bit different than the typical coconut aminos in that not only is it non-fermented, it also has added apple cider vinegar.
  4. If you are concerned about GMO ingredients, coconut aminos are made from coconut tree sap, something which is not genetically modified. In contrast, many soybeans are. As always, check the label to ensure it is non-GMO.
  5. It is approved for the Paleo diet.
  6. May will tout other health benefits but be wary of these claims. There is really no true scientific evidence for anything other than the above.

How should you use it? While coconut aminos will add an umami punch to your dishes/sauces, it is not a perfect substitute for soy sauce. Although it is still savory, it will also add a touch of sweetness. If you do not like coconut, do not worry about coconut aminos. It really has no coconut taste. It will also be thinner in consistency.

Are there any downsides to using Coconut Aminos?

  • Some say it is too sweet and is not as savory as soy sauce.
  • Although it is lower in sodium than soy sauce, it is still not a low-sodium product. As always, read the label and follow your doctor’s advice for your sodium intake.
  • It is also much more expensive than soy sauce. Whereas a good soy sauce may be as little as $.25 per ounce, coconut aminos are usually upwards of twice that.

One last comment – If you are just looking for a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce, consider Tamari. Although it is made without wheat, it is still soy-based and has a high sodium content.

Have you tried Coconut Aminos? If so, let me know what you thought. I am going to try it in the near future. If you are interested in my impressions, just email me.

Tomatoes — canned or fresh?

20190815_180834aDespite being summer when fresh tomatoes are at their best, I suspect every one of us has canned tomatoes and tomato products in our pantry right now. If you don’t, email me and let me know why not. For the rest of us, we probably have at least some (if not all) of the following: whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, fire-roasted tomatoes, tomato puree, tomato paste and tomato sauce. These products are the subject of this Cooking Tip.
 

What is the difference between the different canned tomato products and what are their best uses?

Whole peeled tomatoes – this product is what it says on the label – whole peeled tomatoes. They are usually packed in tomato juice and are great for soup and marinara, where you want the tomatoes to break down. Many feel that their taste is the closest to fresh in-season tomatoes.

Diced tomatoes – these have a firmer texture and hold their shape better. They are generally packed with tomato juice, citric acid and calcium chloride, which helps the tomato pieces to retain their shape. Check the label as they may also have added salt and other seasonings. Use them when you want the texture of the tomatoes such as in salsa.

Fire-roasted tomatoes – these are known for their smoky flavor. Some are actually charred while others are just treated with smoke flavor. The smokiness will vary from brand to brand. Use whenever you want a bit of smokiness in your dish such as chili or salsa.

Crushed tomatoes – The texture of these will vary greatly by brand from thick & sauce-like to chunky. Crushed tomatoes can also have a great fresh tomato flavor. It may be better than fresh as tomatoes that are destined for cans are picked ripe and processed quickly. On the other hand, fresh supermarket tomatoes are picked while still green and hard so they can withstand shipping. They are turned red by spraying with ethylene gas but the flavor is often subpar. Another consideration is that some canned tomatoes are heated to 200-plus degrees (a hot break) while others are only heated to 160 to 185 degrees (a cold break). The lower heat yields a fresher flavor. The problem is that manufacturers do not disclose which method they use. Cooks Illustrated recommends looking at the liquid in the can. If a deep red, it is most likely a hot break while a golden liquid means processing took place at a lower temperature. Crushed tomatoes have multiple uses but are great in pasta sauces.

Stewed tomatoes – these are cut up and cooked with seasonings before packing. Check the label carefully for what seasonings are present. They can be made into a side dish or used in chilis or stews.

Tomato paste – this is made by cooking skinned, seeded tomatoes until most of the water has evaporated. It adds a great savory, umami punch to many dishes.

Tomato puree – this product is made by briefly cooking tomatoes, pureeing and straining them. They have a texture between tomato paste and crushed tomatoes but generally without added seasonings. It is great for adding body and color to your dish but will not have a pronounced fresh tomato flavor.

Tomato sauce – this tomato product is not as cooked down as tomato paste. In fact, it can be made by thinning tomato paste with water. It may be surprising to you to know that almost all tomato sauce is seasoned, usually with garlic and onion. Therefore, just diluting your own tomato paste will not give you the same taste as purchased tomato sauce.
 
Although all these different products undergo different processing and are best in varying dishes, I would suspect most of us have a variety of them in our pantry. One expert, though, recommends only buying whole tomatoes. Her reasons are as follows:

  1.  You can turn whole tomatoes into almost any other tomato product whereas diced tomatoes cannot be magically transformed into whole tomatoes.
  2.  Whole tomatoes come packed either in juice or puree, giving you more choice. She recommends packed in juice if you want a fresher tomato flavor and packed in puree for a deeper tomato flavor.
  3.  Diced tomatoes have calcium chloride added, which helps the diced tomatoes retain their shape. This may be what you want in a salsa but whole tomatoes will cook down better. Most American whole tomatoes also have calcium chloride added but Cooks Illustrated found that it mostly acts near the surface, leaving the interior very tender. You can find whole tomatoes without calcium chloride but you will need to look at the Italian imports. I looked at the whole tomato products at my normal market. They carried their own store brands, Muir Glen, Hunts and Kuner’s. The only one that did not have calcium chloride was a higher-end store brand. Although my store didn’t carry them, the Cento brand does not have calcium chloride listed as an ingredient. A quick perusal of Amazon showed that if you want to stay away from calcium chloride, imported is going to be your choice.
  4.  No seasoning is added, thus giving you more control over the seasoning in your dish. Tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes are going to have a number of things added to them. If you have looked on your grocer’s tomato shelf, it is getting even harder to find any diced tomatoes without some added seasoning.

 
What about substituting one type of canned tomatoes for another? For example, if your recipe calls for diced, will your can of whole tomatoes work? It depends – if you want the tomatoes to hold their shape, whole tomatoes will not do this well. If you do not care about the shape/texture, feel free to substitute. Another caution about substituting is to remember that some of these canned products contain added seasonings, which you may or may not want in your dish.
 
I’m sure most of you have heard that the best tomatoes are San Marzano, the name coming from the region of Italy where they are grown from specific seeds. Today, you can find tomatoes grown elsewhere from the same seeds. Cooks Illustrated did a taste test and found they did not live up to the hype. If you want to read their entire results, here is a link although you will need a membership to view it. For purposes of this Cooking Tip, I will tell you that they preferred Muir Glen, an American brand that was very acidic with a high sugar content. Their runner-up was Hunt’s. Serious Eats agreed that the San Marzano designation wasn’t necessarily a winner. Their preference was for Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Finally, just to show you how much an individual’s taste matters, a taste test from TheKitchn put Cento at the top, Muir Glen at #3 and Trader Joe’s last at #9. Who do you agree with? San Marzano or not? Let me know.
 
Tomato products are one of those pantry staples that are a boon to a cook. With this Cooking Tip, I hope you will take a minute to read labels to ensure you get the right product for your dish. Happy Tomato Cooking!

Making a Great Burger!

In last week’s Cooking Tip, I discussed how to understand ground beef labeling and what would be best for the dish you will be making. Since burgers are one of the main reasons that people buy ground beef, in this Cooking Tip, I would like to give you some advice on cooking that perfect burger.

As we learned in the prior Cooking Tip, you will want to use either ground chuck or a mixture of ground chuck and ground sirloin for your burgers. If you cannot find that in the store, opt for a ground beef with at least 20% fat (labeled as 80/20). The next step is seasoning that meat so it tastes even better. For a classic burger, all you will need is salt and pepper. But, when do you salt the meat? Does it make a difference?

Cooks Illustrated is a proponent of salting the meat before shaping it into patties. They recommend putting the meat in a bowl, gently breaking it up, adding 1 teaspoon table salt for 1½# of meat and then gently mixing it in as you shape them into patties.

A contrary view is voiced by SeriousEats.com. One of their staff did a testing of this. They salted burgers in three ways: seasoned only on the exterior just before cooking, seasoned by tossing the ground meat with salt (like Cooks Illustrated recommends), and seasoning the meat by salting cubes of beef and then grinding it yourself. They used 1 teaspoon kosher salt (equivalent to ½ teaspoon table salt) per 5-oz patty. Other than the salt difference, the burgers were all treated the same.

What they discovered was salting the burgers right before cooking led to the best burger with a loose, tender, open structure. They found this result meant the burger breaks down into small pieces in your mouth while still allowing the burger to hold onto juices. Salting ahead of time caused the burgers to be more sausage-like with a tighter and bouncy texture. If you want to read the entire study, here is the link.

Here are some things that everyone (almost) agrees with:

  • Don’t overwork the meat as you will end up with dense and rubbery burgers.
  • Shape your patty a bit wider than the bun. Then, make a shallow indentation in the center of the patty before cooking. This helps to prevent your burger expanding into a large ball. One caveat, this step is less necessary if you are pan-frying them rather than grilling or broiling.
  • Don’t overcook. This may be a bit controversial for food safety reasons. According to the USDA, ground beef should be cooked to 160°.   If you are sure about the safety of your ground beef, others recommend the following internal temperatures, checked with a food thermometer. (This is my favorite and one of the best on the market.)
    • Rare – 120°
    • Medium-rare – 125-130°
    • Medium – 135-140°
    • Medium-well – 145-160°
    • Well-done – 160 and up°
  • Keep your ground meat cold until right before forming the patties. You do not want the fat to start melting before cooking.

Once they are on the grill or in the pan, another debate occurs. Many say that you should only flip them once and never press down on them as it squeezes out flavorful juices. Or, as my husband likes to quip, “What has that burger ever done to you to treat it like that?”

Once again, SeriousEats.com begs to disagree. Their testing showed that gently flipping the burgers as often as every 15 seconds resulted in a quicker and more even internal cooking. They found this decreased the cooking time about 1/3.

Once your burger is cooked, you can make it your own by your choice of bun, sauce and toppings. What is your favorite burger? Let me know and have a wonderful Labor Day Weekend!

Is all ground beef the same?

Are you planning a Labor Day cookout? If you are, I’m sure burgers are on the menu. When you go to the supermarket to get your ground beef, which kind do you buy? Which kind should you buy? In this Cooking Tip, I wish to discuss the different types of ground beef and their best uses.

According to butchers, ground beef is made out of “trimmings”. These are pieces of beef trimmed off a larger cut of beef. The particular type of ground beef will be made from trimmings from that specific primal cut. For example, ground chuck comes from the chuck area (aka shoulder). See this illustration for the primal cuts. It is interesting to note that these trimmings may come from multiple animals.

When you are shopping for ground beef, note the following terms..

Ground beef – this is a general term for ground beef that can be from any cut or combination of cuts. According the USDA, it can have up to a maximum of 30% fat. Because of the high fat content, it can have nice flavor but also tends towards being greasy and mushy. It is usually the most affordable.

Ground chuck – this is cut from the chuck (or shoulder) and ranges from 15-25% fat. It is the best choice for burgers because of its rich flavor, its tenderness and moistness. The most typical fat/meat ratio on the label is 80/20 – meaning 80% meat and 20% fat.

Ground sirloin – this is cut from the short loin, the midsection near the hip. The fat content is only 7-10%. Despite its low fat content, sirloin is a very flavorful cut. It is also very tender but can be a bit dry. It is also more expensive than other cuts. Many, but not all, ground sirloin is labeled 90/10. If it is used for burgers; it is often mixed with ground chuck to give it more flavor and moisture. A mixture is also great for chili and similar uses.

Ground round – this comes from the rear upper leg and rump. With a fat content of 10-15%, it tends to be less juicy, can be gristly and often lacks a robust beef flavor. Ground rounds are often sold as 85/15. Burgers made with ground round tend to be a little dry from the lack of fat content. It is best used in soups, stews or spaghetti. Adding ground round to dishes with other liquids helps to compensate for the lack of moisture in the fat.

Hamburger – this is another generic term and is a mix of whatever is left over from other cuts. It is usually not labeled with the fat content or which cuts were used. The USDA allows beef fat to be added to “hamburger” whereas no fat is added to “ground beef”.

I took a look at the ground beef available in my local supermarket. If I went to the meat counter, they had what was labeled “ground chuck” and “ground sirloin”. However, in the refrigerated meat section with the prepackaged packaged products. Every single package there was labeled “ground beef”. It did have the fat content listed but not the cut. I spoke to the meat department manager and he confirmed that all his products labeled “ground beef” could be a mixture of many different cuts but there was no way for the customer to know which cuts. Is it the same in your market? Let me know.

Besides checking the name of the cut as well as the fat content, you want your ground beef to be as freshly ground as possible. Look for something that was ground the day you are buying it. It should be bright red-pink in color with visible flecks of meat and fat in it. If you have a butcher, you could ask them to grind it or you could also learn to grind your own beef. However, the USDA cautions against this saying “In a USDA-inspected plant, trimmed beef destined for grinding is tested for the presence of E. coli. However, primal cuts, such as steaks and roasts, are usually not tested. When stores or consumers grind these primal cuts, it’s possible that pathogens may be present on the raw beef, and neither you nor meat market employees can see, smell, or taste dangerous bacteria. In addition, USDA-inspected plants have Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures that cover policies such as the cleaning of grinding machines and the handling and chilling of ground beef. Consumers and stores might not follow such stringent sanitary procedures.”   

Whether you are having burgers for your Labor Day meal or not, I hope the information in this Cooking Tip will help you choose the best ground beef for your dish. In a subsequent tip, I will help you turn that ground beef into the best burger possible. Stay tuned!

Cooking with Honey

I recently had a booth at our town’s Honey Festival where I showcased five different goodies make with honey as well as Honey Ginger Lemonade. I was humbled by so many of you who stopped by, sampled these goodies and signed up for my emails. In honor of that, I thought I would write this Cooking Tip on how to cook with honey.

Honey is a delightful sweetener and is lovely to have in your arsenal. Because honey attracts and holds water, it can add great moisture to your baked goods. It can also act as a binder and thickener for sauces, dressings, marinades and dips.

There are, however, some cautions about cooking with honey. You cannot make a 1-to-1 swap from your recipe’s current sweetener (such as granulated sugar) to honey.  With so many wonderful recipes that were created with honey as an ingredient, I encourage you just to find this type of recipe. Someone has already done all the experimentation to come up with the right mix and amount of ingredients.

If you would like to convert a recipe from it is current sugar to honey, here are some guidelines.

  • Begin by only substituting half of the amount of sugar in the recipe with honey. You might be able to up this as you continue experimenting but if you do it all at once, your recipe is likely to fail.
  • Because honey is a liquid sweetener, reduce the liquid in your recipe by ¼ cup for each cup of honey used.
  • In cookie recipes where the only liquid is eggs, increase the flour by 2 tablespoons per cup of honey.
  • Honey is an acidic ingredient. Therefore, add about ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of honey used.
  • Reduce your oven temperature by 25-75° to prevent over-browning as honey browns faster than sugar.
  • Choose your honey carefully. Very strongly flavored honeys should be used judiciously and are best in items such as spice cakes, spicy marinades and glazes (jerk spice, spare ribs, BBQ sauce). For a lighter dish, choose a lighter honey.

One wonderful characteristic of honey is that it is its own preservative. Therefore, it keeps for years although the flavor is best within a year of harvesting.

Store it at room temperature in your pantry. If you put honey in the refrigerator, it accelerates crystallization. Speaking of that somewhat irritating aspect of honey, what do you do with your honey when it has crystallized? Do not throw it away; it is not an indicator of spoilage, impurity, age or quality. Rather, it is a natural process that occurs when the glucose molecules align into orderly arrangements known as crystals.

You can reverse crystallization by any of the following methods.

  • Place the honey in a jar in warm water. Allow it to sit until the crystals dissolve.
  • Bring a pan of water to a boil, turn off the heat, place the honey container in the water with cap open & leave until both have cooled.
  • Microwave it in 10-second increments until the crystals dissolve.
  • For a more permanent solution, you can add corn syrup (assuming you have no objections to this ingredient). Because crystallization can only occur if all the sugar molecules are of the same structure, by adding something different (such as corn syrup), it will not crystallize. You do not need much – stir in 2 teaspoons of corn syrup per cup of honey.

Honey is such a wonderful ingredient and I would suspect we all have some in the pantry. It is great to spread on your bread or drizzle in your oatmeal. It is also an ingredient that has so much more to offer. Go someplace where you can taste all the different varieties, choose what you enjoy and have fun!

o