Category Archives: Housewifery

On Measuring Shortening

Measuring shortening is a messy, horrible experience.  I hated it, and routinely either bought exorbitantly expensive 1 cup sticks of shortening, or avoided recipes containing shortening altogether.

Then I bought a kitchen scale.  And guess what?  You can measure shortening straight into your bowl with a kitchen scale!  And the only thing you get dirty is the spoon you use to scoop it!  One more “I Hate This” moment of cooking was removed from my life and there was much rejoicing.

For your convenience, here is a list of volume to gram conversions of shortening.

  • 1 cup shortening = 192g
  • 3/4 cup shortening = 144g
  • 2/3 cup shortening = 128g
  • 1/2 cup shortening = 96g
  • 1/3 cup shortening = 64g
  • 1/4 cup shortening = 48g
  • 1 Tbsp shortening = 12g

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Tool Tuesday – How To Use a Peel

Once upon a time, a group of friends gave me a very generous gift certificate to Sur La Table for my birthday.  And one of the things I bought was a wooden peel, for moving loaves of bread and pizzas to and from my baking stone.

After the first time I spilled a homemade pizza on the floor of my oven, I gave it up as a bad job.  And maybe cried.

See, the fresh dough is just too sticky, it grabs the peel and hangs on tight, leading to disasters such as my original pizza à la oven.

But I hate having tools in my kitchen that I rarely use, much less tools that I never use.  (My kitchen just isn’t big enough to accommodate cool looking but unused things.  That’s space wasted on things I could be using!)  But I was loath to get rid of it since I’d spent a good thirty bucks on it.

I practiced with bread, since I make bread relatively frequently and the drama of a loaf of bread on the floor of my oven isn’t near as bad as that of a spilled pizza (although still tear-worthy).

Many, many fallen loaves of bread later, I mastered it.

1.  Dust your pizza peel with cornmeal.  Use at least a tablespoon, two if necessary.  One should be sufficient though.  And rub that cornmeal in well.  Work it into the wood from edge to edge if you’re making pizza, the center will suffice for bread.  But don’t use too much, or you’ll be dusting the inside of your oven with cornmeal and it will smoke.  Start at a tablespoon.  Don’t use more than two.

2.  Place your shaped dough on the cornmeal coated peel.  (I’m using pizza tonight, but it’s mostly the same for bread.)  Moving pizza safely into the oven is harder, I recommend you start with bread.  If you’re making pizza, add your sauce, cheese and toppings.  If you’re making bread, cover it and let it proof until doubled.

3.  Open up the oven and pull the rack with your baking stone out so it’s accessible.  You don’t want to burn yourself.

4.  (Important!)  Holding the peel horizontal above your counter, shake it back and forth gentle, until the pizza/bread starts to move a little.  Even with all that corn meal, it’ll stick a little, the horizontal shake loosens things up a bit.  This is especially important for pizza to avoid spilling toppings all over the inside of your oven.

5.  Place the far end of the pizza peel touching the far side of the baking stone and give it a very gentle shake to start the pizza sliding off.  Once it hits the stone, the hot stone will grab the dough and keep it from moving.  When you feel that happen, you can pull the peel back gently, leaving the pizza behind.

6.  Your pizza/bread is now on the hot baking stone.  I hope you like how it’s positioned, because there’s no moving it now!  It’s stuck where it is until the bottom crust cooks, which releases it from the stone.

We’ll do pizza tomorrow.  It’s one of our favorite meals.

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How to Cook Beans

Dry beans are much, much more economical than canned beans.  One pound of dry beans makes six cups cooked (roughly 3 drained cans worth) and that pound of dry beans will cost less than one can.  Excess cooked beans freeze nicely and keep for several months.  But there is a trick to getting tasty, tender beans that most people don’t know, and that trick is salt.

There is an old wives tale that says adding salt toughens beans therefore you shouldn’t salt until they’re cooked.  This is entirely false.  It’s actually been studied and disproven, but the myth persists, even perpetuated by such authorities as the National Dry Bean Council.  What makes a dry bean cook hard is its age.  The older a bean, the longer it takes to cook.  If beans are really old, they won’t ever soften.  So, use fresh beans.

I salt my beans before cooking with abandon.  If I’m soaking the beans ahead of time, I brine them.  If I’m using the quick soak method, I salt the boiling liquid in the same proportion.

  • 1 lb. beans
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt per quart cold water

And that’s all.  Pick over your dry beans, removing any that are shriveled or discolored and any foreign matter (small pebbles, etc.).  Rinse them in cold running water.  If you’re soaking, add your beans and salted water to a bowl and soak them 6-8 hours.  If you’re using the quick soak method, add your beans and salted water to a large pot and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat, cover, and soak for an hour.  When beans are finished soaking, strain and rinse them and use in any recipe requiring beans.  They still need about an hour of cooking time on the stove, or 6-8 hours in a slow cooker on low.

Charro beans are my one exception to this rule.  Those I pick over, rinse, and then cook straight in the pot until they’re done, adding more (hot) water if necessary to keep the liquid levels up.  They’re just better that way.

If I need cooked beans for a recipe, my normal modus operandi is to brine them overnight and cook them the next day in a slow cooker.  But there’s one very important exception to this rule:  kidney beans.

Kidney beans contain high levels of a toxin called phytohaemaggluttinin.  This compound is found in lots of bean varieties, but is especially concentrated in red kidney beans.  Even a few improperly prepared beans can make you quite ill.  You should always soak dry kidney beans, discard the soak and rinse, and cook at a boil for ten minutes.

But I’ll be honest – I avoid the issue entirely by not using kidney beans very much.  When I do use them, I buy them canned, as the canning process degrades the toxin.

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Tool Tuesday – Kuhn Rikon Ratchet Grinder

I bought a Kuhn Rikon Ratchet Grinder two Easters ago, not for pepper, but to grind whole mahleb for Greek Easter cookies. I chose it over an electronic spice mill because they were all expensive, and many reportedly have problems with the motor burning out after only a few uses.  But this doohickey looked like it would work, and as it was relatively cheap, I bought one.

The instructions say it’s not good for grinding oily spices, but I forged ahead recklessly.  And it worked great!  It ground my 4 tsp worth of mahleb with ease (although with a certain amount of wrist strain, 4 tsp is a lot). The mechanism cleaned easily by running a quarter cup of minute rice through it. I liked it so much that I immediately repurposed it for its intended purpose of general pepper grinding.  It was every better using this on pepper.

This gadget makes it easy to grind the quarter/half/whole teaspoon of ‘freshly ground black pepper’ so many recipes call for. You can change the coarseness of the grind via the standard screw knob in the bottom of the grinder.  It’s easy to fill when empty – no taking it apart.  It really does make grinding pepper fast and easy.

The only bad thing about it is that the ratchet feels a little fragile compared to the forces you can accidentally exert on it.  There have been some reports of users snapping the ratcheting mechanism – this hasn’t happened to me.  I’m not entirely convinced this is a design flaw so much as an unfortunate side effect of physics.  Either way, I consciously reign in the violence of my pepper grinding and my grinder is still intact after a year of heavy use.

For cooking, when you want to grind larger quantities of fresh pepper, it’s the best grinder I’ve ever used.

Highly recommended.

The link is an Amazon Associates link.  If you order something from Amazon after clicking over via that link, I earn a few pennies on the sale.

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Some Important Information Concerning Eggs

Normally, when a baking recipe says “eggs” it means large eggs. Large eggs are the standard of the baking world.

I don’t use large eggs. I use extra large. This is entirely determined by HEB only selling 18 counts of their good eggs in the extra large size.

For the most part this doesn’t really matter. I use this lovely and informative egg chart to determine how many eggs I ought to use.

Egg Size Equivalents

Large is the standard, and normally extra large are used in a 1:1 ratio for large. But they are still slightly bigger, and a little more egg is a little more moisture and fat in a recipe. Recipes that call for whites will whip up bigger. Recipes that call for yolks will be more tender. I don’t know how much real difference it makes. One day I should do some comparisons.

Less useful, but still interesting is this other chart, which tells you how many whole eggs, whites, or yolks are necessary to make a cup for all the different sizes of eggs. Not many recipes list their egg requirements in cups, but occasionally you come across one that does.

# Eggs to Make a Cup

Finally, one large egg white normally equals ~2 tablespoons and one large egg yolk normally equals ~1 tablespoon. There are always outliers here though. I’ve seen some mighty small yolks.

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