It is alarming that not every question can be answered by the interwebs. Or it can be answered, but with several startlingly different answers, some very wrong answers, or some answers that don’t make sense.
What is a body to do? In many cases the answer seems to be “Ask Julie”. Since I love to answer questions (no math questions, mind you), that’s fine with me.
Q: I’ve used monk’s sugar to replace regular granulated white sugar in baking for health reasons, but the texture isn’t quite right. It’s almost crispy or grainy when you eat the baked good that it helped produce. Is there something I can do with the monk’s sugar to make the texture different? I thought of dissolving it in some hot water, but that can really change a recipe – like cookies that don’t use water.
A: Monk sugar (made from the juice of monk fruit) is problematic in baking because it is much sweeter than cane sugar and does not have the same chemical properties. You’d better look for recipes that require liquid sweeteners like honey or maple syrup and then make or buy monk syrup. You could also try atomizing it in the food processor to break it down into a finer powder so it doesn’t get so gritty. Unfortunately, monk’s sugar doesn’t work in recipes like chocolate chip cookies that are based on the texture created by melting sugar.
Q: I like spiders, but my house seems to be overrun with them right now. What’s the best way to keep them at bay?
A: It’s a constant joke that all Davis spring recipes start with “remove the spider from the pan.” This is generally a short-lived problem as the animal kingdom is red-toothed and clawed – you can encourage this by growing dad long legs to sit quietly high up and eat the others, or by buying lizards for the kids. Otherwise, frequent sweeping and dusting is your best defense, as spiders will find it annoying if you disturb them.
You can also try lavender or peppermint in places you really don’t want them, although I’ve never had great success with them – rosemary is on the spider repellant list, but in Davis all rosemary beds are covered in cobwebs.
Q: Which works better, dry yeast or block yeast?
A: What a great question! No matter what form you buy it, yeast is a living organism. (I said this once in a cooking class and was later rounded up by a mother to convince her vegetarian child that it was okay to eat bread.)
Active dry yeast is in a kind of floating animation that breaks when the yeast gets wet and warm and ingests food. Cake yeast is alive (albeit slowed down by the refrigerator) and therefore perishable – about two weeks at best. You should always waterproof your cake yeast (by getting it wet and warm and feeding it to see if it grows) as it can die in storage. By the way, I always check my dry yeast – who has the time to bake bread only to find out that the yeast isn’t doing its yeasty thing?
Q: I hate s’mores. The endless marshmallow toasting process with disappointing results (burnt or not toasted and melty enough), the mediocre chocolate, the dry and breakable graham crackers. But other people seem to love them. Is there any way I can do a s’more that I’m going to like?
A: This question sparked a lively discussion on Facebook! I can’t do anything with s’mores because I don’t like desserts that much and I especially don’t like marshmallows. However, I remember this morning that I like more of a bitter chocolate pudding and I suspect the s’mores people would be very happy with the recipe below. It’s a great opportunity to break out the little kitchen torch! (If you don’t have a kitchen lamp, you can roast your marshmallows separately and add them to the pudding. If you don’t like marshmallows, there’s always whipped cream.)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of butter
4 cups of milk
6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons of cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mini marshmallows to taste
Put something together:
Make the streusel: melt butter in a non-stick pan and stir in graham cracker crumbs and ¼ cup sugar. Cook gently, stirring constantly, until it begins to smell roasted. Take off the stove (seriously, don’t leave it on the electric burner or it will burn) and keep.
Make the pudding: Put the chocolate and milk in a large bowl (at least 8 cups). Microwave on high 1 minute; stir. Continue microwave in 1 minute increments until the chocolate has melted. Mix the sugar and cornstarch and add to the milk. Mix well. Place in the microwave for 1 minute on the highest setting and stir gently. Continue microwave in 1 minute increments until the pudding becomes very thick and no longer looks grainy. Stir in vanilla. Let cool for 20 minutes or so. (Don’t like the microwave? Do the same steps in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly.)
Prepare the parfaits: alternate layers of pudding and crumble in 4 heat-resistant containers. Chill for at least 4 hours.
Finishing: top parfaits with a layer of mini marshmallows. Use a kitchen lamp to roast marshmallows to the perfect degree of doneness.
Q: Why do hot dog rolls come in packs of eight when most hot dogs come in packs of six?
Probably to get you to buy more hot dogs, possibly in case you burn a few buns while toasting (with butter please and face down in a hot pan) but * really * so that you can be able to make cheese bread regularly!
Two hot dog buns
2 tablespoons of soft butter
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
2 tablespoons of processed cheese – Fontina, Jack, etc.
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
Put something together:
Mash the butter, cheese and garlic. Divide the hot dog buns and coat the flat side with the mixture. Grill until the cheese bubbles and begins to brown.
Q: What can be used to lighten or lighten a china sink with tea and cocoa stains?
A: A good peeling with baking soda is often enough. You can also use a commercial product like Comet that contains bleach. If all else fails, find any towels in the kitchen that need lightening as well, then bleach your sink and towels with a color-safe bleach solution. (Yes, you could just bleach the sink, but why waste it?) Follow the directions for your brand of bleach.
Q: When we approach “Holy Moley, it is” hotWeather and looking to move to outdoor cooking, what are your favorite grill-friendly meals that fall outside of the expected platters of marinated meat and vegetables? The dishes that many people wouldn’t even think of cooking on a BBQ grill?
A: Almost anything can be cooked on the grill if you have a roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil! I love grilled bread (lightly oil it, place directly on the grill until it’s charred on both sides) topped with grilled paprika (put the whole paprika lightly oiled on the grill and turn as needed until all sides are charred, then the lid close softly for a few minutes.)
Grilled peaches (half and core, oil lightly, grill on aluminum foil until soft) with a scoop of mascarpone or blue cheese in the middle make a fine salad or dessert. Sandwiches filled with any combination of cheese, meat, and vegetables can be wrapped in foil and left on the grill until they melt nicely.
Apricot bourbon smash
I promised a regular reader a new simple cocktail every month. Since the apricot harvest has arrived en masse, let’s use up the excess!
1 ounce apricot puree (recipe follows)
1.5 ounces bourbon
0.5 ounces of fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup or to taste
Put something together:
Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker (or a Hello Kitty thermos, whatever your boat floats) with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into your favorite glass.
* If you prefer a tall drink, do not strain, but pour into a tall glass and add sparkling water to top it up. Stir before serving.
* If you like mint, you are welcome to mix in a little or garnish with a sprig of mint.
Prepare apricot puree: Remove the kernels from ripe apricots. Put the apricots in a heavy pan with a lid and add about a tablespoon of water to prevent the base from burning before the fruit gives up the juice. Cover and cook until the apricots are soft, about 10 minutes depending on their ripeness. Let cool, then press through a food grinder or sieve.
When it comes to drinks, I like to strain twice, with the second strainer being very fine. Smart move – cook as many apricots as you have and use some of the puree mixed half and half with good yogurt for your breakfast.
The readers write:
A correspondent suggested that I clarify the vermouth that was used in the Neroni recipe last month. In this recipe he prefers sweet vermouth. I use dry vermouth in mine. You probably know what you like!
Another correspondent mentioned that they make strawberry campari every year: fill a jar with as many clean strawberries as you can, halved or quartered according to their size. Pour Campari on top and chill for 5-7 days, tightly closed. Turn the glass over or shake it when you think of it. Strain and compost the strawberries. Keep Strawberry Campari in the refrigerator. Use it in cocktail recipes or add an ounce to a tall glass of seltzer for a low-alcohol spritzer.
Finally, a follow-up question on the discussion about baking powder and baking powder from last month:
Q: Are baking soda and baking soda interchangeable, if not why
A: They are not! If you run out of baking soda, you will have to choose another recipe or go to the store. When you run out of baking soda, you can substitute ½ teaspoon of tartar plus ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for every 1 teaspoon of baking soda.
– Have a question? Visit Julie on Facebook at The New Home Ec or send an email [email protected]