"I suppose there are people who can pass up free guacamole, but they're either allergic to avocado or too joyless to live."— Frank Bruni

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I had another share-worthy ACS webinar last week. As you recall, I shared some of what I learned from another webinar in a Thanksgiving post and this one is just as fun -  chemistry tips for the kitchen!  Given by Dr. Guy Crosby, a professor of nutrition and science advisor to America's Test Kitchen, the webinar was pretty informative for the home cook. Since I missed a List Wednesday, I will present these tips in a numbered List. Happy cooking! (Bonus point to whoever can name the famous chef who signs off saying that!)
  1. Preserving salad greens: If you blow into the bag of greens, it preserves the freshness of the greens twofold. Blowing into the bag increases the CO2 in the bag. 
  2. Baking soda makes potatoes crispy: I had a call during the webinar but caught something about coating potatoes in baking soda to make them crispy when using them to make home fries (?). It wasn't so clear -  I think this may help explain this tip further (or just watch/listen to the webinar below).
  3. Quicker way to make broth/stock: Add gelatin directly to sauces, beef stew, and/or broths and stocks. This gives your sauce or stock the mouthfeel that is provided by cooking bones for a long time. That's because the collagen in bones, when cooked for long period of time, breaks down into gelatin. Well to skip this time-consuming step, you can just add gelatin. I'm going to guess that for most, though, this sidesteps the whole point of making your stock in the first place, so I would just try this in stew or sauces.
  4. How to stale bread: Some recipes, such as bread pudding or panzanella, require stale bread. Well apparently it matters how the bread was staled, because if it just got stale sitting on your kitchen counter, there is still some moisture retained in the bread (somewhere) and this can make your pudding or bread salad soggy/mushy. But if you stale the bread by drying it out in the oven, all the moisture is removed from the bread, giving you a better end product.
  5. How to make chewy brownies: It all depends on the fat crystal structures of your batter - there are alpha crystals, beta crystals and beta-prime crystals (the ones responsible for chewiness). To accomplish the perfect chewiness, you need to have the right proportion of saturated and unsaturated fats in your batter. Crosby recommended a 3:1 ratio - 3 parts unsaturated oil (vegetable oil) to one part sat fats (butter or cream cheese).  This can also be applied to sugar cookies and chocolate truffles.
  6. Just some facts regarding the Maillard reaction (aka browning): It happens when you have sugars and proteins. It's different from caramelization, which only involves sugars. The actual reaction is one of breaking down sugars with amino acids (such as pyrazines). The human nose is very sensitive to the aromas released, hence, explaining why we perk up dog-to-squirrel style when we smell the browning of meat, food being pan-seared or bread baking. To accomplish perfect browning, the surface of the food should be at least 300 degrees, very dry and the pH should be neutral (5-7).

(Tips above were taken down as notes from Guy Crosby's presentation; any inaccuracies in what's above are due to my crappy notetaking.)

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