Monday, May 25, 2009

Well Butter my Butt and Call me a...

Dear Tricia, Is all butter salted? Most don't say either way and a few say "unsalted." So if the package doesn't say, can I assume it is salted?

Most don't say either way? Are you shopping in a grocery store near Canada where half of the products are snootily written in French and you can't read the ingredients? (Sometimes that happens to me, but in Spanish and not so snooty.) Honestly, the butter package will say either way whether or not it is salted, but it may not say right on the front where it seems most obvious. If you're not sure, or if you need to go back to eyeball school, then just check out the ingredients. It will tell you there if the butter is salted because it will list "salt" in the ingredients, and apparently people like to sue you if you put stuff in your food and don't tell them.
For those who don't know the taste difference, when you're baking, you want to use unsalted butter because your baking recipe will usually call for additional salt. But for cooking, you're fine to use salted butter.
In the meantime, for fun and crafty things to do with your Land-o-Lakes butter package, check out Amy Sedaris' entertaining book, "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence," for instruction on how to make a naughty naked Indian girl decoration to give as a gift to your loved ones.

What a Nice Set of Meatballs You Have There!

I wanted to take the time to post a thank you email that I got from one of my blog readers who asked for and got tips on how to make better meatballs. Please refer to the "That's a Spicy Meat-a-Ball... from the Fjords" post for some helpful hints to use on your own at your next meatball shindig.

Dear Tricia, I used some of your meat ball tips in something I cooked today and they are so good its hard to believe I made them with my own hands. I used delice de bourgonne brie as a special ingredient, but the melange of veal and lamb maybe what made them so bad ass. Anyways, thanks again!

Thanks for the email, Evert! And thanks for taking the time to read. Keep on keepin' on with your badass meatball self.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Your Home Schooling on "Sushi Grade" Fish

Dear Tricia, What is the difference between "sushi grade" fish and fish that is meant to be cooked? What gives it a better grade?

Not being home schooled, that's what gives it a better grade. No, I kid, I kid. I'm not trying to pick on home schooled kids, and I'm certainly not trying to pick on their Fundamentalist, Pentacostal wack job parents either.
So this was an interesting question to research because, as it turns out, there is no such thing as a standardized "sushi grade" requirement for raw fish. I've heard the term "sushi grade" thrown around in kitchens for so long that I've thrown it around myself before. And then I when I looked it up, I found out that its actually just an elusive idea that doesn't really exist, much like Gary Busey's career. What we do know is that the F.D.A. recommends certain standards to fish retailers that intend to sell fish that is meant to be eaten raw, and they also recommend the "parasite destruction gaurantee," which is when you freeze fish for up to 7 days at extremely low temperatures to kill any possible parasites. So while your sushi restaurant might say they use only fresh, never- frozen fish, its most likely that the seafood vendor they bought their fish from froze it beforehand to kill anything potentially hazardous.
What restaurants look for in fish that is meant to be eaten raw is fish that doesn't smell "offensive" (such a polite word. I prefer to use the word "stinky."), clean, bright-looking color without any kind of cloudiness, and isn't slimy, like my ex boyfriend.
If you're going to make your own sushi at home and want to buy fish from the grocery store, pick a clean, reputable specialty grocery store and make sure you ask the guy behind the fish counter if they have anything that they feel good about selling to be eaten raw. Hopefully they'll give you an honest answer, and if they don't feel confident in selling any fish to you, go somewhere else. If you're near a Japanese market, that's your best bet for finding sushi quality fish. Again, make sure you tell them that you're looking for fish to be eaten raw. You can also order fish online meant specifically for sushi, and the one that I keep hearing about online is Catalina Offshore Products.
To make sure you're keeping your risk of getting sick when eating sushi low, just keep a few things in mind:
1. Quality is often represented with price. Avoid "bargain" sushi restaurants. Seroiusly, that's just wrong for so many reasons. 2. Avoid eating raw sushi from anywhere that is fundamentally wrong: like a gas station, or perhaps a homeless shelter in Mexico.
3. Go check out the bathroom in your sushi restaurant: is it clean? The bathroom is a good representation of how clean they're keeping their kitchens, and that goes for any restaurant.
4. And last but not least, use your own judgement. If something tastes funny or smells bad, don't eat it. Send it back and stick to rolls that have cooked fish in them.
And one last thing: fish used for sushi will always come from the ocean, never fresh water. So if someone tries to serve you catfish sushi, get the hell out of there, pronto.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why Butter and Eggs are the Axl Rose and Slash of Baking

Dear Tricia, Why do baking recipes always tell you to have your butter at room temperature? Does that really make a difference? Would butter go bad if you left it out?

Whoa whoa whoa... slow down! You've reached your 3 question limit and I'm not getting paid to write this blog. (Yet.)
While its not life and death, it definitely helps to have your butter at room temperature, mainly because when you add the eggs, you want them to emulsify with the butter, not separate or "break."
Basically butter is almost all fat and some water, and eggs have a pretty high fat content too. (It's a good type of fat, but it's fat.) When you add fat to fat and there's also water hanging out at the fat party, it doesn't really want to mix together well, or emulsify, which is when the water is literally suspended like a little Cirque du Soleil show inside of the fat and somehow it magically remains stable. Ideally, at least. This is hard to do sometimes: that's why people are scared of making Hollandaise sauce from scratch. (Either that, or they would rather just go to a restaurant and have someone else make it. I'm usually in that category.) There are a couple of things to do to emulsify the butter and eggs when you're mixing up your batter.
Temperature is the best way to manipulate butter and eggs into an emulsified, stable mixture. When they're too cold, they absolutely, under no circumstances, will ever come together. Ever. Never ever. Got it? Seriously, imagine cold butter and cold eggs being like Axl Rose and Slash. That magical Guns n Roses reunion will never happen in our lifetimes. So room temperature is a good. That goes for eggs too.
When you've creamed the room temp butter and sugar together and its time to add your room temp eggs, add them one at a time and let each one fully mix itself into the butter before you add more. The speed at which you add fat to more fat is the other key element to making things emulsify. Add it too fast and it will separate immediately. (I could totally make reference to the GnR song "Patience" here, but that's just too easy.) You'll know when this happens because the butter/egg mixture will start to look like it has little curds it it. While its no reason to start over again, it does affect the texture of the final product, so you want to try and avoid the weird little curds of failure by adding things sloooooowly. (And if it does separate, add a little bit of flour.)
And for your third question: no, butter won't go bad if you leave it out of the refrigerator. I'm a fan of leaving butter out all the time, actually, because its easier to spread on toast. Eventually, if you leave it out for like months and years and its August in Florida, then yes, it would eventually go rancid. But fat is a natural preservative and the butter will be safe to use in the time it takes you to use an entire stick, just make sure you keep it covered.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

What are you smoking?

Dear Tricia, Is there a better oil to use for frying as opposed to sauteing? Can I just use olive oil all the time?

Glad you asked, because this is a question that I didn't have to do much research on, which is great because I'm pretty lazy in the morning time.
Canola oil, olive oil, safflower oil... how are you supposed to tell which one is better for cooking? Well the difference between them, besides what plant they come from, is that they all have different "smoking points," which is the point at which the oil burns. Burnt oil smells and tastes like crap, so you want to avoid it. Certain oils are better for frying because they can hold their own against high temperatures, and others just metaphorically curl up in a little ball and surrender like big babies.
So if you're frying, you want to use the following oils, which are the oil equivalent to an American Gladiator: safflower, peanut, soybean, grapeseed, sunflower, corn, canola, or extra light (not extra virgin!) olive oil.
When you're using oil to saute something, you're pretty safe using extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, or butter.
To dress salads, or use an oil that will stay uncooked, go for an unrefined oils, or something like flaxseed. That's another thing to touch on: unrefined oils. What that means is that the oil isn't filtered to take out the extra flavors and nutrients, which is good for your health, but lowers the smoke point and makes it easier to burn.
Don't ever combine oils. Seriously, if you do, you're just asking for it. It's like when you use sunscreen: you can't combine SPF 20 and SPF 40 and think you're getting a combined SPF 60. So if, for example, you're using unrefined olive oil (which has a low smoke point) mixed with peanut oil (which has a high smoke point) to fry something, its going to burn up pretty quickly because the smoke point for the unrefined olive oil is so low.
Happy Frying, friends!