Spice support: Sichuan peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns provide a mouth-tingling, warming sensation and are a vital ingredient in the cuisine of its eponymous Chinese region. America's Test Kitchen explores the history and culinary applications of the tiny berries, which aren't related to black peppercorns at all. Sichuan peppercorns are the berries of the prickly ash shrub, which belongs to the citrus family.  While most people… read more

Just give it a rest

Whether it's a need to shorten meal prep due to physical limitations, hectic work schedules, or just to avoid spending all day in the kitchen, people often look for ways to minimize the time spent in preparing foods. One of the biggest lessons I've learned in my quest to reduce kitchen time due to a medical issue is that time… read more

You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs

carton of eggs
In cooking or baking, sometimes the smallest action provides the biggest challenge. As I discovered when watching my husband make an omelet, one of these actions is cracking an egg. His approach is to crack the egg on the sharp edge of the mixing bowl, and his method almost always results in small shards of eggshell that he has to… read more

Cookie baking tips just in the nick of time

If you are an avid baker you probably have a list of all of the cookies and treats you will be making for the holidays. Even people who rarely bake will whip out a batch of decorated sugar cookies or family favorites this time of year. No matter where you fall on this spectrum, good baking advice is always handy… read more

A spoonful of sugar

I grew up far north (and west) of the Mason-Dixon line, the historical demarcation between North and South in the United States. I married a Southerner and lived in the South for many years, so I absorbed a lot of Southern cooking culture (although I never developed a charming accent, much to my chagrin). One thing my husband noted as… read more

Why butter temperature matters

As someone who loves to bake, I find that many of my favorite recipes begin with at least one stick of butter. Whether the butter is straight from the freezer, needs to come out of the fridge, or should be tepid depends on what I'm making, as the temperature of the butter will greatly affect the outcome of the baked… read more

A lazy person’s guide to smoking

My husband is one of those old-fashioned "lump-hardwood-charcoal-is-king" kind of barbecue smoking dudes. There is no denying that his old-school methods turn out wonderful smoked chickens, turkey breasts, ribs, briskets, and pork butts. However, the work involved is not insignificant, there is a lot of fussing and fiddling to be done, and that means we do not get to enjoy… read more

Keep your edge in the kitchen

Keeping your knives sharp is one of the best things a home cook can do to make their cooking tasks faster and more precise. For instance, a sharp blade will allow you cut thinner slices of onion and help keep you from crying (because fewer cells that release the pungent aroma are crushed). With all of the gadgets available and… read more

Tips for baking with chocolate

I will never forget the first time I had chocolate seize - a couple of errant drops of water on a silicone spatula was all it took to turn a creamy, smooth bowl of dark chocolate into a lumpy, grainy, blotchy mess. It took a lot of effort to correct that situation, and I learned my lesson. Baking with chocolate… read more

Best cooking hacks of 2021

I must admit that I'm a sucker for cooking hacks, and if they seem remotely plausible I am game to give them a whirl. They do not always live up to their hype, but I find enough new shortcuts and improved methods to keep me willing to try more. BuzzFeed's Hannah Loewentheil also enjoys experimenting with kitchen hacks, and she shares… read more

Whip it good

When a problem comes along / You must whip itBefore the cream sits out too long / You must whip itWhen something's going wrong / You must whip itDevo - Whip It (1980) The lyrics from the post-punk band Devo always make me think of the cook's conundrum about the best way to whip cream to keep it from weeping.… read more

The science of cocoa powder

Not all cocoa powders are made the same. You might be familiar with the terms Dutch-process and natural, but beyond those two main characteristics lies another world of nuance. There are different "dutching" processes, as well as differences between the cacao bean varieties used to create the cocoa. Throw in divergent fat percentages and your head can spin trying to… read more

What’s the shelf life of spices?

If you are like me, your spice cabinet/drawer overfloweth, the natural result of a large cookbook collection and an insatiable appetite to try new and different cuisines. You may have purchased a jar of spice for a particular recipe and the rest sits unused, patiently waiting until you find another recipe that calls for it. In this instance, patience is… read more

The path to better fried foods

A few years ago when I wrote a post about the secrets to better frying, I briefly thought about titling the post 'Fear of frying' but thought the title was too esoteric, as not that many people would get the reference I was making. A couple of days ago, I received an email from The Bittman Project where Mark Bittman… read more

Chefs share their family kitchen secrets

Ayubi Family at Parwana (photo by Alicia Taylor)
Many, if not most, of the world's chefs started out their culinary career in their home kitchens, learning the ins and outs of their regional cuisine from their parents or grandparents (most often women). Just like the rest of us, they still keep their family kitchen tips close, sometimes even bringing them into their restaurants. Gourmet Traveller recently polled nine… read more

How to keep bread baking consistent through the seasons

As spring moves toward summer here in the northern hemisphere, atmospheric changes can wreak havoc on your baked goods, especially those involving yeasted dough. The smooth, supple bread dough you made in January may suddenly become shaggy and sticky in June, even though you made no other changes. The change in humidity levels is likely the culprit, says PJ Hamel… read more

Getting to know gluten

We all know that gluten formation is needed to make bread, but how much do we understand about its formation or what conditions are needed for it to thrive? While having a rudimentary grasp of gluten allows us to bake acceptable cakes and breads, a deeper understanding of it will greatly improve our baking, says Annelies Zijderveld. Knowing the conditions… read more

When it’s okay to be in hot water

The phrase "you're in hot water" usually implies a negative circumstance, but there are occasions when hot water is just the ticket. We are not talking spas and hot tubs, either: water just off the boil comes in handy in many cooking and baking applications, as The NYT's Rachel Wharton explains. Topping the list is hot water pastry, essential for… read more

Save time and hassle with this nut-toasting technique

I used to cringe whenever I saw a recipe that called for toasted nuts, having flashbacks to all of the blackened-beyond-hope nuts I had to throw in the trash. Too many times I forgot about the nuts in the oven or I turned my back on a hot skillet, and in both scenarios I ended up with scorched almonds, pecans,… read more

Small cakes make a big impression

I'm known as the office baker, and pre-pandemic I would bring in a cake, cookies, and other treats on a weekly basis. Having dozens of eager recipients helped me maintain my waistline while still indulging in my favorite hobby. For the past year, however, visits to the office have been few and far between as we have been fortunate enough… read more

Why is 350 degrees such a common oven temperature?

Arguably the most common oven temperature for baked goods like cookies, cakes, and enriched breads is 350°F (~180°C). For most of us, it's the default setting on our oven's control panel. How did bakers land on this as the 'magic number' for so many items? Speaking with Vox, award-wining Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis provides the answers. The key criteria for… read more

All in the (allium) family

Popping out to the grocery store to pick up a single item you needed for a recipe seems like such a luxury these days. Most of us make do with what we have, even if it means finding another dish to make instead. Thankfully there are substitutes for many ingredients, and when it comes to onions, shallots, and leeks, you… read more

The last two weeks: Brussels sprouts, gift guides, cookbook giveaways and EYBD Previews

Your eyes are not deceiving you. I am going to write about Brussels sprouts - the one vegetable that my 16-year-old son and I fight over at the table. We fight over who gets the last sprout. Every time I make them, my son and I half-heartedly attempt to get my husband (his father) to try them. We want Jim… read more

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – cookie time!

'Tis a bit early to start the holiday baking posts but I needed a wee break from the October new cookbook review. (I have no idea where the 'tis and wee came from, I blame it on Cookbooktober). As I was clearing my head in preparation for returning tonight to finish the epically long review, I glanced at the small… read more

Do you really need to rinse rice before cooking?

Whether you are a fan of Uncle Roger or not, there is no denying that for some people, washing rice is necessary while others view it as heresy. You might ask 'What does the science say?' and if that is your response, look no further than Nik Sharma's latest article appearing over at Food52, where he tackles this question head-on.… read more
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