Facebook Cooking Tips

I’m currently undergoing a minor kitchen set remodel, so I won’t be posting any new shows for the month of January. However, in the meantime, I wanted to share the cooking tips that are available on the Cook With Tom Facebook fan site:

Pasta tip: the water in Utah is chock full of minerals that raise the pH of your tap water, causing extra pasta starch to dissolve into your water. Try adding 3 tablespoons of white vinegar to your pasta water. The lower pH will prevent the pasta starch (mainly amylose) from releasing into your water. The result – noodles that don’t stick together!

Holiday tip: Buying pans as a last minute gift? The best conductors of heat (in order of best to worst) are: silver (but when was the last time you saw sterling pans) copper (91% as conductive as silver), aluminum (55% as conductive), iron (18% as conductive) and stainless steel (4 % as conductive).

Although stainless is a poor conductor, when it’s sandwiched on top of thick aluminum or copper, the pan will perform as well, but resist acid etching (aluminum) and prevent unwanted copper ions from entering your diet. The thicker the aluminum or copper cladding, the more even the heat in your pan.

Soup Tip: Making a broth based soup this holiday season? Try adding some unflavored gelatin to the broth, it will dramatically improve the mouthfeel, and make your soup taste like it simmered for hours. (Be sure to soak the gelatin in cold water for at least 10 minutes before adding to your soup or else it will cause your soup to get lumpy).

Food tip: Didn’t get enough chocolate this holiday season? Pick up some cocoa nibs (available at Whole Foods) and put them in a pepper grinder. Whenever you want a little cocoa flavor, just grind the nibs over your food.

I should mention that cocoa nibs are so much more than just cocoa. They contain all the building blocks of chocolate, including cocoa butter, whereas the cocoa butter content of regular ole cocoa is pretty small.

Seasoning tip: You’ve probably heard of “umami,” also known as the savory reaction created on the tongue by glutamate in ingredients such as mushrooms, tomatoes and cheese. It has a sister chemical called inosinate that acts as a magnifying glass for glutamate. The next time you’re creating a savory dish, try adding inosinate rich foods, such as anchovy paste or minced sardines.

It doesn’t take much, 2 teaspoons for every quart of sauce adds a rich earthiness to the dish, without adding any fish flavor.


Chocolate tip:
Looking for a chocolate fix? Baking chocolate mixed with a little vegetable oil displays properties very similar to butter. Chocolate Bechamel anyone?

Chemically speaking, chocolate is pretty darn cool. The only time it fails as a butter substitute is baking as the high temps and chocolate don’t mix well.

Meat Roasting Tip: The higher the temperature you cook your roast, the more water it loses. However, too low of a cooking time won’t create browning on the outside of your roast. So, you can either start at a low temperature (300) and then finish the roast at a high temperature (400+) for the last 30 minutes, or start high and then finish on low.

In my opinion, going low then high creates a better crust on the outside of the roast.

One thing to consider, the conventional wisdom that searing/browning the meat up front seals the juices in is incorrect. Yes, it improves browning which ultimately improves flavor, but it does nothing to keep juices from escaping.

Meringue Tip: Sugar plays an important role in the structure of meringue while it’s in the oven. But, adding the sugar early causes the egg foam to take longer to whip and results in a lower volume of meringue. Wait to add your sugar until soft peaks just start to form. You’ll get the benefits of sugar, with none of the downsides.

In addition, use powdered sugar instead of granulated. It dissolves much quicker and eliminates the chance of a gritty meringue.


Boiling Tip
: The Salt Lake Valley average elevation is approximately 4200 feet above sea level. The boiling point of water drops 1.9 degrees fahrenheit for each 1000 rise in elevation. That makes the average boiling point of water 204 degrees (8 degrees below the frequently published 212). This impacts candy making as well.

For example, when figuring the soft ball stage, take the published number of 240, and subtract 8 degrees. The true soft ball stage for SLC is actually 232, and hard ball stage starts at roughly 242. Unless you’re dealing with a recipe built solely for a higher elevation, be careful when you’re trying to achieve a certain temperature.


Bread tip
: Ever wonder why commercial bread tastes different than bread made at home? The proofing method for a home loaf produces less acetic acid than the method used by commercial bakers. To compensate, try adding 1 tablespoon of white vinegar for each loaf of bread your recipe calls for. Like this tip, then suggest Cook With Tom to friends.

One other substitution to consider, home bread making doesn’t typically allow the yeast to create the typical flavor compounds that come from a long fermentation process. To compensate, you can substitute up to 1/4th of your liquid with good ole American lager style beer (think “Bud”). With a little vinegar and some beer you’ll have a full flavored/delicious loaf of homemade bread.

Planning on indulging in sweets tonight? If you can’t make it to a toothbrush right away grab a piece of cheese. The cultures in cheese act as a defense shield against cavity causing/sugar eating bacteria. But I make no guarantees on the impact on your waistline.

Taste Tip: Foods containing tannins (apricots, wine, coffee, dates, pomegranates, walnuts and chocolate) literally make your mouth water due to chemical reactions. This allows the flavors of food to linger on the palette for a longer period of time. There’s a reason walnuts end up on a salad, -anything consumed after that will be savored for a longer period of time.

I should note that the amount of saliva in your mouth affects the way that odorant molecules (the molecules that tell you brain what the food tastes like) linger in your mouth/nose. Studies show it also lengthens the average time you chew your food, releasing more of those wonderful odorant molecules, which means more flavor.

Salad Dressing Tip: Homemade vinaigrette is easy. Remember 3 parts oil to one part flavored water (lemon juice for example). In order to help the vinaigrette stay mixed, include things with tensioactive molecules (molecules that bind to both water and oil) such as: shallots, garlic, mustard, or gelatin, and slowly add the oil to the water while mixing rapidly.

One of my favorite vinaigrette’s is a Cocoa Nib vinaigrette.

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 minced shallot sauteed until tender
3 Tbs cocoa nibs
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt to Taste

Add the shallots, vinegar and cocoa nibs to a food processor and mix well. While the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil.

Turn off the food processor, and then add salt to taste.

Both the shallots and the cocoa nibs have tensioactive properties, so the resulting dressing tends to hold up well for at least an hour.

Veggie tip: When cutting vegetables with an end that will get thrown away (carrots, zucchini, onions, cucumber…) leave one end on the vegetable and use it as a handle. That way you can avoid the dreaded “hold both sides of the veggie while I run a knife between my fingers” cut. Like this tip, then suggest “Cook With Tom” to friends.

Salt Tip: I’m frequently asked the difference between kosher and table salt. Table salt contains iodine and has smaller, more uniform crystals. Kosher received the name because its larger/irregular crystal size stick to meat better during the koshering process. These crystals are what make it so great to cook with. It stays on the meat!

For what it’s worth, sodium chloride is not subject to kosher dietary restrictions. Well, unless you include Bacon Salt into the salt category, then all bets are off.

When you’re cooking meat on the grill, under the broiler or in a fry pan, sprinkle the meat liberally with kosher salt at least 15 minutes prior to cooking. This will draw some of the moisture out of the meat due to that pesky desire of cell walls to maintain a balance of sodium between cells (osmosis). The result will be a nice crust on your meat. Delicious!

Have you noticed that gravy thickened with flour looks creamy and opaque while gravy thickened with cornstarch is clear and glossy? Flour has a higher protein content, and since protein is not water soluble, it reflects the light.

Of further interest, the starch that swells when immersed in water is called amylose. Amylose is an interesting starch in that it doesn’t become water soluble until the water reaches approximately 150 degrees, where it creates chemical bonds with water. That’s why sauces thickened with amylose turn clear as they get hotter, the starch is combining with water. Cornstarch is much higher in amylose, so you can get the same thickening properties with less, about 1 to 1.5 parts cornstarch to 2 parts of flour.

Hot pepper tip: Contrary to conventional wisdom, the seed of a hot pepper has the least amount of capsaicin (the stuff that makes your mouth burn) in the whole fruit. The highest concentration is actually found in the white pith that holds the seeds to the inside of the pepper. Get rid of the pith, and you eliminate most of the heat.

For example, if the pith contained 100 parts of capsaicin, the flesh of the pepper would contain 6 parts. The seeds? They would only contain 4 parts.

Either way, don’t rub any sensitive body parts while you’re handling hot peppers until you’ve washed your hands thoroughly.

Better yet, wear food safe gloves.


Balsamic vinegar tip
: Reducing a cheap bottle of balsamic vinegar turns it into a rich and thick sauce filled with deliciously complex flavors. When reducing, try to keep from boiling the vinegar, the aggressive bubbling action releases more odorant molecules into the air (and out of your sauce) than reducing it just shy of a simmer. Be patient and you’ll be rewarded! Like this tip, suggest Cook With Tom to friends.

The balsamic reduction is by far my favorite sauce. I even put it on ice cream. The bitter vinegar taste goes away and is replaced by a sweet caramel flavor with a strong sour finish. Next time you’re making a salad, try ditching your dressing and reduce 1 cup of balsamic down to 1/4th it’s original volume. It’s delicious!

Roast Tip: The most important steps in a juicy roast is the rest that follows baking. As the temperature of the meat evens out, the proteins that sit inside the roast “uncook” slighty. Essentially, they reabsorb some of the moisture released during the cooking process, creating a juicier roast. Wait 10-15 minutes for a 5 lb and under roast, and up to 30 minutes for 5 and up. Like this tip, suggest Cook With Tom to friends.

The best way to let meat rest is an aluminum foil tent placed loosely over the top of the roast. This will keep the outside of the roast from cooling, but still allow the inside time to reabsorb moisture. Studies have shown that a roast given proper time to rest will reabsorb as much as 10% of its weight in liquid.

Bitter Tip 1: Dislike bitter flavors? Studies have shown that salt acts as a chemical barrier for the taste buds that sense bitterness, thereby reducing the intensity. Try adding a coarse salt to that bitter brussels sprout, roasting it in the oven at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes. You’ll only taste the rich sweetness of a delicious veggie. Like this tip, suggest Cook With Tom to friends.

The coarseness of the salt is important, as it will not dissolve in the natural juice of the brussels sprout. The undissolved salt will cling to the vegetable, and hit you tongue prior to the vegetable, and prime your taste buds.

Coincidentally, this also works for bitter foods like coffee and dark chocolate.

Bitter tip 2: The proteins in milk and cheese have an incredible ability to bond with tannins, making them unavailable to your tongue. This reduces bitterness and allows you to focus on the other flavors in the food. There’s a reason people add milk to coffee and eat cheese with wine.

4 comments to Facebook Cooking Tips

  • Kim-the-girl

    Very interesting tips. I have one more question about salt… (and thanks for the description of kosher vs. table… I never knew that). Let's throw sea salt into the mix. What differences are there? And would a coarse sea salt work when roasting brussels sprouts or the like? Thanks! You're awesome and can't wait to see the remodel. Exciting!

  • Cook with Tom

    A coarse sea salt may work, it all depends on the way the crystal is formed. One of the beauties of kosher salt is the crystals tend to have longer flatter sides, as well as more irregular crystal shapes, this allows the salt to stick to food better than salt with standard crystal shapes. In addition, the larger size means that the salt won't completely dissolve and will instead hit your tongue before anything else.

    If you do use sea salt, play around with it to make sure it sticks to the food, and has a large enough crystal size to not dissolve while the food is cooking.

    One point I didn't make on facebook, it never hurts to toss the brussells in a little olive oil as this will promote browning.

  • G'pa and G'ma Woody

    SO interesting!!! I love and admire what you are doing!!! love, mom

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