Facts & Fictions of Marinades

MarinadeFICTION: Marinades Penetrate Meat Deeply

FACT: Most Penetration is Superficial

Contrary to popular belief, marinades do most of their work on the surface of meat or just below. Some ingredients in a marinade do penetrate the meat—but only by a few millimeters (and oil-soluble herbs and spices in the mix merely add flavor to the exterior). To get better penetration, poke holes in the meat using a fork.

FICTION: Acids Tenderize Meat

FACT: Acids Turn Meat Mushy

Tenderizing meat you have to break down muscle fiber and collagen, the connective tissue that makes meat tough, thus increasing the meat's ability to retain moisture. While acidic ingredients like citrus juice, vinegar, yogurt, buttermilk, and wine do weaken collagen, their impact is confined to the meat's surface. If left too long, acids turn the outermost layer of meat mushy, not tender. To minimize mushiness, use acidic components sparingly and only for short marinating times.

FICTION: The Longer the Soak, the Better

FACT: A Long Soak is Pointless—Even Detrimental

Because marinades don't penetrate deeply, a lengthy soak is pointless. Furthermore, too long a soak in an acidic marinade can weaken the protein bonds near the surface so that they turn mushy—or worse, can no longer hold moisture and dry out.

FICTION: Marinades Add Flavor to Any Meat

FACT: Marinades Are Best for Thin Cuts

With their influence limited mostly to the surface of the meat, we reserve marinades for relatively thin cuts like chicken breasts, pork chops, steaks, cutlets and meat cut into chunks or slices for kebabs and stir fries. A large roast or turkey breast is never a good bet; a spice paste that will adhere to the meat is a better option.

FICTION: Enzymes Tenderize Meat

FACT: Enzymes Make Meat Mushy

Great American Blue Cheeses

blue cheeseClassic blue cheeses like Gorgonzola from Italy and Roquefort from France are both excellent for melting on croutons for onion soup but these days there are many excellent blue cheeses produced in the United States too.

Point Reyes Blue Cheese

From California, this is a raw cow's milk cheese aged at least six months. If you like a very sharp blue cheese this is the one to get. While it is very creamy, some find the sharp taste slightly bitter.

Hook's Blue Paradise Cheese

This is a pasteurized cow's mile double-cream blue chees3e from Wisconsin. It is smooth, creamy and mild with a pleasant sweetness. A similar cheese is Little Boy Blue made from sheep's mild, which is equally creamy and mild with hints of hay and caramel. Some find it slightly salty.

Great Hill Blue Cheese

From Massachusetts, this is a raw cow's milk cheese that some tasters describe as the quintessential blue cheese. It has earthy, mushroomy undertones and hits of Cheddar.

Oregon Blue Cheese

This cheese is from Roque Creamery in Oregon and is modeled after Roquefort. It is funky and sharp while Rogue's Oregon-zola, as the name implies, is modeled after Gorgonzola, and is gentle and bright with a crumbly texture.

Maytag Blue Cheese

Maytag is a blue cheese produced on the Maytag Dairy Farms outside of Newton, Iowa, the former home of the Maytag Corporation. It uses a process for making blue cheese from homogenized cow's milk instead of the traditional sheep's milk. Maytag Blue has a dense, crumbly texture. As it melts in your mouth it imparts a spicy flavor with a final bite.

Berkshire Blue Cheese

Best Method to Store Cheese

Storing cheese presents a conundrum: As it sits, it releases moisture. If this moisture evaporates, the cheese dries out. If the moisture is trapped, it encourages mold. Cheese, properly stored, keeps longer, and that means less waste and expense. The goal is to keep air out without suffocating the wedge in plastic.

Specialty cheese paper avoids this problem with a two-ply construction that lets cheese breathe without drying out. However, it is not readily available at most local markets.

The best home method to store cheese is to use waxed or parchment paper which is loosely wrapped with aluminum foil. Both papers wick moisture away, while the foil cover traps just enough water to keep the cheese from drying out. Wrapped this way, even super-perishable goat cheese keeps for about a week, and brie and cheddar were can last potentially for more than a month. Cheese paper extends the life of these cheeses by only maybe a few days more.

But if you want to splurge on the best...

Secrets to a Perfect Pie Crust

Perfect Pie CrustMany bakers believe making their own pie crust as too challenging and difficult to make. Follow these secrets and you'll have a perfect pie crust every time.

Secret #1: Use a glass pie dish. That way you can clearly see when the pie is browned properly on the bottom.

Secret #2: Pie crust get most of its flavor from the fat you use. Use a combination of butter and shortening.

Secret #3: All ingredients should be very cold. That goes for fats, dry ingredients, and liquids. The reason pie crust is flaky is that as you work the fat into the flour, the flour coats the fat, then the fat melts leaving a little air pocket, hopefully in layers upon layers.

Secret #4: The amount of liquid used will vary each time you make a crust. This is because weather varies, particularly humidity.

Secret #5: Use half vodka and half water for the liquid. Using vodka will reduce the amount of gluten produced, thereby making a flakier crust.

Secret #6: If at any time the dough becomes too sticky or soft, transfer it to the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm it up.

Secret #7: For a golden brown crust, whisk an egg with a little water or milk and brush it over the top crust before you put it in the oven. Then sprinkle the crust with sugar if its for a desert.

Egg Whites 101 - Best Way to Whip Egg Whites

Egg whites should be whipped immediately before needed, as their delicate structure necessitates their immediate use—particularly if beaten in a mixer. There are also two ways to futher help stabilize the egg whites: a copper bowl and cream of tartar.

To a lesser extent, sugar also helps to stabilize egg whites because it delays water evaporation by attracting moisture, giving the eggs protein structure more time to set up. The whites can then be beaten longer without harmful consequences.

Egg whites are finicky and demand optimal conditions for whipping. A mere speck of yolk, oil, butter, or other fat captured in the whites will markedly reduce the maximum volume the foam can attain, as fats obstruct the formation of the whipped eggs to the desired consistency and volume. It is essential to keep egg whites and all equipment that will come in contact with them—bowl, whip, spoons, and spatulas—fat-free. If fat is to blame when a batch of egg whites refuses to whip up, the damage done is irreversible. There’s nothing to do but clean everything up and start over.

Separating the eggs is the next important step. Eggs separate most easily and cleanly when refrigerator-cold because the yolk is firmer and so less likely to break. It is best to take the chill off the whites before whipping.

Your choice of mixing bowl will also affect your success with whipped whites. Bowls made from plastic, a petroleum product with a porous surface, retain an oily film even when washed carefully and should not be used for whipping egg whites. The foam will never reach its optimal volume, no matter how long it is beaten. Glass and ceramic should be avoided as well, as their slippery surfaces make it harder for whites to billow up. Aluminum, which tends to gray whites, should also be avoided. The two best choices are stainless steel and, for those who have it, copper.

What is the Difference Between Club Soda, Selzer and Sparkling Mineral Water?

Club soda and seltzer are both made from water charged with carbon dioxide to give them their bubbles. Mineral water gets its delicate effervescence from naturally occurring springs and, as the name suggests, contains more minerals than the other water types In contrast, club soda often contains sodium bicarbonate and its bubbles less delicate. Club soda will generally have a saltier taste due to the sodium salts it retains.

Sipped from a bottle, seltzer has a neutral taste, club soda has a slightly acrid bite and saltiness, and mineral water has a subtle salty earthiness that tasters preferred for drinking. In the tempura, club soda and seltzer both make a crisp, perfectly light crust that evenly coated shrimp. Mineral water, however, produces a thin, weak batter.

Bottom-line, club soda and seltzer can be used interchangeably in recipes, while sparkling mineral water is better for drinking.

What is the Difference Between Apple Cider and Apple Juice?

For both apple cider and apple juice, apples are cored, chopped, mashed, and then pressed to extract their liquid. Most cider is pasteurized before sale, though unpasteurized cider is also available. To make apple juice, manufacturers they also filter the extracted liquid to remove pulp and sediment. Apple juice is then pasteurized and a preservative is often mixed in to prevent fermentation. Finally, apple juice is sometimes sweetened with sugar or corn syrup.

When it comes to cooking apple cider and apple juice are not good substitutes. Apple is often much sweeter and does not have the complexity of flavors present in cider.

Best Coffee Brewing Tips

Coffee BrewingFor perfect coffee, here are tips to ensure ideal extraction and flavor.

1. USE FILTERED WATER

A cup of coffee is about 98 percent water, so if your tap water tastes bad or has strong mineral flavors, your coffee will too. We found that the test kitchen’s tap water masked some of the coffee’s complexity, compared to coffee made with filtered water. Don’t bother buying bottled water—just use a filtration pitcher.

2. HEAT WATER TO THE PROPER TEMPERATURE

The most desirable flavor compounds in coffee are released in water between 195 and 205 degrees. A panel of our tasters judged coffee brewed at 200 degrees as having the fullest, roundest flavor. Once water has boiled (212 degrees), let it rest 10 to 15 seconds to bring it down to this temperature.

3. USE A GREAT COFFEE BEAN

Carefully select your favorite beans. Professional coffee tasters, known as cuppers, look for acidity or sharpness of flavor, body or mouth feel, aroma or fragrance of the roasted beans and flavors such as spicy, fruity or mellow tastes. Also, store them well in air tight containers after use.

4. USE THE RIGHT GROUND, BREW FOR THE RIGHT TIME

These two components go hand in hand. Brewing time will dictate how you grind the coffee. In general, the longer the brewing time, the coarser the grounds should be. As a rule, brewing should take 4 to 6 minutes. Don’t try to adjust strength by changing the grind; grounds that are too fine for your brewing method will result in over-extraction, while grounds that are too coarse will be under-extracted.

5. ADD THE RIGHT AMOUNT

How do you know when buttermilk has gone bad?

ButtermilkSince buttermilk always smells sour, how does one know when it has gone bad? Buttermilk should be consumed within five to seven days after opening. However, guidelines from agricultural programs at various universities extend that period to two weeks. It might last longer, maybe 3 weeks. That it can last this long is not surprising, since buttermilk is high in lactic acid, which is hostile to the growth of harmful bacteria. However, as time passes, the buttermilk continues to ferment and becomes more acidic. The abundance of acid kills off virtually all of the bacteria that produce buttery-tasting diacetyl. The bacteria in buttermilk produce lactic acid and diacetyl, a flavor compound that gives buttermilk its characteristic buttery aroma and taste (diacetyl is also the dominant flavor compound in butter). So three-week-old buttermilk will retain its tartness (from lactic acid) but lose much of its signature buttery taste, giving it less dimension. The good news is that there is a way to prolong the shelf life and preserve the flavor of buttermilk: Freeze it.

In Cooking, Time is Unreliable, Temperature Always Matters

Your oven temperature may vary by quite a bit. Variations in equipment may and where food is placed in the oven matter too. Food temperature and sensory cues are the most reliable factors to tell when a step in a recipe is complete. Times are only guidelines. One thing never do, don't cut into the food to determine doneness.

Use an instant-read thermometer to check temperatures. It's a much more reliable way to ell if your food is properly cooked through. You can always check the calibration of your thermometer by testing boiling water, which should register 212 degrees F.

Using the instant-read thermometer, slide the probe deep in the center of the food making sure it does not exit the other side. Avoid bones an cavities. For thinner foods, take the item off the heat and slide the probe through the side. Always take more than one reading, especially with larger foods like turkey or roasts. One last point, large meats will continue cooking for a few minutes and will rise in temperature by about 5 degrees. It's important to remove the food from the heat 5 degrees early.

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