Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baking is different

Of course, baking is a different animal. There often are precise
ratios that must be followed if a cookie is to come out tender or if
pizza dough is to rise properly. Baking is less forgiving if you have
too much flour for the amount of salt or leavening. Add a bit of
cinnamon or more lemon zest if you like, but some other ratios are
critical, such as the amount of butter, sugar or egg. Substituting
margarine for butter can make an entirely different product. It's even
worse if you substitute "whipped" or "soft" margarines, which contain
a lot of water and vegetable oil.

When you bake, follow the recipe exactly the first time. If you want
to experiment, then do it with flavorings, nuts or other less-critical
ingredients. Keep the ratios of flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and
other "basics" intact. And don't substitute unless you know what
you're doing or you're prepared to have a less-than-perfect result.
For instance, whole wheat flour will not substitute exactly for white
flour, if at all. Brown sugar is not the same as granulated sugar, and
granulated sugar is not the same as powdered sugar, which has a lot of

Donna Maurillo, Food for Thought

Friday, September 9, 2011

Food labels full of booby traps

Q: I often read labels when I'm grocery-shopping, but I find many are
confusing. Is there something I'm missing?

A: With so many claims plastered on labels, things can get really
confusing. Food companies use these claims to make you think products
are healthier than they really are. We've rounded up the top 10
food-label booby traps:

1: Natural

The term "natural" is not well-defined by the FDA, so when you see the
term "natural" on the label, just ignore it.

2: Cholesterol-free

All foods that come from a plant -- such as fruits, veggies, grains,
nuts and seeds -- are free of cholesterol. So "cholesterol-free"
labels on those foods mean nothing.

3: Trans-fat free

Be aware that trace amounts of trans fat can be hidden in many foods.
Look for words such as "partially hydrogenated" on the ingredient

4: Organic

Organic foods cost a pretty penny, but aren't always worth it. Be
strategic about splurging your hard-earned cash on organic products.

5: Sugars: Added vs. natural

Check the ingredient list.

6: Omega-3 fats

Not all omega-3s are created equal. Those from flax (called ALA) don't
have all the benefits (like helping with heart health) when compared
with the omega-3s derived from fatty fish such as salmon and tuna
(called DHA and EPA).

7: Fiber

Some fiber is added to food products and may not be as healthy as
fiber that's naturally occurring.

8: Reduced fat

In some cases, "reduced fat" may mean more sugar was added to replace
the flavor.

9: Serving size

The most common mistake: Thinking the calories on the label are for
the entire product. Check the serving size.

10: Added vitamins and minerals

Just because a product has 100 percent of the daily value for vitamins
and minerals doesn't mean it should be in your shopping cart.

Food Network Kitchens
Wednesday, June 1, 2011 in the Charleston Post & Courier

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hot cocoa, hot chocolate are not the same but are both delicious

There is something about cupping your hands around a steamy mug of
hot chocolate that is soothing before a sip is ever taken. Maybe it's
the heady fragrance or the fact that it promotes solitude and quiet.
Maybe it's the fact that it requires sipping that tends to slow us
down and chase away the blahs.

For some reason, a good cup of hot chocolate is frequently hard to
find. Too many people confuse hot chocolate with hot cocoa and you
often see the terms erroneously used interchangeably. They are
equally delicious when prepared correctly, but are two very different

Hot cocoa made from scratch is delightful and a marvelous cup of
comfort. In the simplest form, it is mixture of sugar, cocoa,
occasionally a tiny bit of salt and milk. It is wonderfully void of a
long list of unwelcome additives. Hot cocoa is frequently enhanced
with a few miniature marshmallows or one large one.

Hot chocolate, by definition, is made with melted chocolate and milk.
It has a rich, extravagant taste that is thick and satisfying. It
doesn't need any embellishments, although some like to add peppermint
sticks, grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon, citrus zest or whipped cream.

Always use milk

I have a serious problem with any recipe for either that is made with
water as opposed to milk. You have instantly taken this treat down to
an ordinary, generic warm liquid rather than a deeply drenched in
chocolate sensation. A comparison would be to brew coffee or make
instant, with one being preferred over the other.

Start by scalding milk, which is easier than it sounds. Select a
heavy saucepan and place the milk over low heat. Milk is considered
scalded at 180 degrees. I don't use a thermometer, but instead, use
visual clues to tell me it's ready. You'll notice the formation of
tiny bubbles around the edge of the pan. Watch it carefully because
it can quickly become a scorching boil.

Powder vs. mix

In shopping for cocoa powder, you'll soon discover that many brands
are labeled "Dutch-processed." This means an alkaline agent has been
added to darken the powder and make it more soluble. It really
doesn't do a thing to the flavor of the cocoa, so don't expect to
taste differences.

Cocoa powder is most often used as a baking ingredient, and it is not
sweetened. In fact, it is just chocolate liquor with the fat removed.
This makes it a stable product that requires no preservatives.
Because it doesn't contain any sugar, you must always add sugar when
making hot cocoa or it will be very bitter.

The instant cocoa mixes you see on the market have cocoa powder
combined with sugar, starches and powdered milk. These products have
to contain preservatives because while the cocoa powder itself is
stable, the other ingredients are not.

Mexican hot chocolate is made with Mexican chocolate, which can be
found in specialty stores. While it is not good for eating purposes,
it is excellent in hot chocolate. It is almost gritty and contains
cinnamon, ground almonds, sugar and vanilla. After melting, you beat
the mixture vigorously with a whisk until it is thick with foam.

Cocoa powder may be used in almost any recipe that calls for baking
chocolate. The substitution is three tablespoons cocoa powder and one
tablespoon of shortening for one square (or one ounce) of baking

The Tennessean
January 13, 2010