Southern Biscuits: Soft or Crunchy?

If a soft or crisp exterior is desired selecting the proper baking pan is paramount.  For a soft exterior, use an 8- or 9-inch pan or oven-proof skillet (preferably cast iron) where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking.

For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and creating a crisper exterior, and brush the pan with butter.

Culinary Fun Fact: How To Use Gelatin

Gelatin is a protein that dissolves in hot liquids and gels when cold. It is used to set light custards such as panna cotta among various other uses both sweet and savory.

The natural gelatin contained in meat and bones is what causes cold broth consommé or aspic to set.

Many of home cooks don’t like gelatin because if overused, it makes things rubbery. It’s best used in the smallest amount needed to get a liquid to set, about half the amount specified on the package, which says that one packet will set 1 cup liquid. In fact, one packet will barely set, which generally what you want, 2 cups of liquid.

When using powdered gelatin, soften it in about 3 tablespoons cold water per packet before adding it to hot or warm liquids.

Some recipes call for sheet gelatin, which happens to be the preferred form in Europe. When using sheet gelatin, soak it first in cold water until it becomes soft. It’s difficult to arrive at equivalents between sheet gelatin and powdered gelatin because different brands of sheet gelatin contain different amounts of gelatin per sheet.

Culinary Fun Fact: What is a Moderate Oven?

Oven Temperatures

                                      ºF                     ºC                      Gas Mark
very cool                     250–275           130–140                ½–1
cool                              300                    148                         2
warm                           325                    163                         3
moderate                    350                    177                         4
moderately hot         375–400           190–204               5–6
hot                                425                     218                        7
very hot                      450–475             232–245               8–9

Culinary Fun Fact: How to Wash Lettuce

1. Fill a large bowl with cold water and gently put in the leaves.

2. Stir them around gently and then let them sit a couple of minutes. Transfer them to another bowl.

3. Feel the bottom of the first bowl. If you feel any sand or grit, rinse it out, refill the bowl, and repeat the soaking.

4. Most lettuce requires only one soaking, but some greens, such as arugula or basil, are sandy and require as many as three soakings.

Culinary Fun Fact: How to Polish Copper

Let me stress don’t buy any of the copper polishing products available at your grocery store or specialty food market.

Use the Chef method, a method which is actually much easier than store-bought products.  Make a watery paste of coarse kosher salt and white vinegar and begin rubbing it on the copper. As you apply the paste, the tarnish will just disappear. Rinse off the pan and dry.

Culinary Fun Fact: Should you eat oysters only in months whose names contain the letter R?

The “R” rule may have been true 30 or 40 years ago, but thanks to advances in aquaculture it has fallen by the wayside. It used to be fishermen dug for oysters only in the colder “R” months (September through April) to avoid the spawning season. 

Warm waters (above 60 degrees) encourage spawning, rendering oysters bland, soft-textured, and small. Once the spawning season is complete, oysters are generally plumper and better-tasting, thus commanding a higher price tag.

Today’s oysters are more likely to be farmed than found, with farmers having more control over the conditions in which they are grown, harvested, and stored. This means that oyster cultivators can plant oysters in cold waters, thereby staggering spawning and keeping their product available year-round. So forget the “R” rule—any time is fine for eating oysters.

Culinary Fun Fact: Soy Alergy

Ingredients to avoid —> Hydrolyzed soy protein, miso, shoyu sauce, soy-anything, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, soy sauce, soybean, soybean granules, soybean curd, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, tofu.

Foods commonly containing soy —> Baby foods, baked goods (cakes, cookies, muffins, breads), baking mixes, breakfast cereals, packaged dinners like macaroni and cheese, canned tuna packed in oil, margarine, shortening, vegetable oil and anything with vegetable oil in it, snack foods (including crackers, chips, pretzels), nondairy creamers, vitamin supplements.

Substitutions —> There are no good substitutes for items like tofu and soy sauce, so choose recipes that don’t directly rely on soy-based products. Read labels carefully as soy is used in an astonishing number of commercial products, often in places that you wouldn’t suspect, such as pasta sauce.

Culinary Fun Fact: Salmon Pin Bones

Food Scientist Harold McGee tells us in “On Food and Cooking,” (Scribner 2004) that fish in the herring, salmon, and related families have these pin bones to “help stiffen some of the connective-tissue sheets and direct the muscular forces among them.” Other members of the salmon family include steelhead, trout, whitefish, and Arctic char. Basically, the pin bones allow the fish to swim faster.