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Kefir: What It Is, What It’s For, How to Make It

by Elizabeth Skipper October 22nd, 2014| Ask the Chef
kefir pdI’ve seen kefir in the yogurt section of my grocery store. As it comes in bottles, I assume it is thinner than yogurt.  Is it pretty much the same as the drinkable yogurt? Is it a useful ingredient for cooking?  It only comes in large bottles, so I’m hesitant to try it.

Yup, kefir is thinner than yogurt. It's similar, though I wouldn't describe it as the same as drinkable yogurt; the flavor's a little different. I'm spoiled, as I make my own kefir and prefer it to the store-bought variety. If you like drinkable yogurt, though, you should probably
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Salting Eggplant: Optional, But Often Good

by Elizabeth Skipper October 15th, 2014| Ask the Chef
aubergine-89044_640I was making eggplant parmesan for dinner the other night. I had a houseguest who was watching my preparations and was shocked to see that I didn’t salt the eggplant. I never have done that and think that mine comes out fine. Is there a reason I should add the salting step to my preparation?

Salting and draining watery vegetables like eggplant and zucchini is a time-honored technique. It's done for two reasons. One is to rid the vegetable of bitter juices, something that's not really necessary with the newer varieties. Heirloom varieties may still be improved by doing this.
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Coconut Oil: Healthy and Easy to Use

by Elizabeth Skipper October 8th, 2014| Ask the Chef
1493I have seen coconut oil in more recipes lately, touting its health benefits.  As you’re a chef, my question is directed at cooking. Are there culinary advantages to using coconut oil in recipes? 

Welcome to the world of cooking with coconut oil. I, too, became aware of its health benefits a few years ago and have been happily incorporating it into my cooking ever since. While I wouldn't say there are culinary advantages to cooking with it – it requires a little adaptation – it's certainly easy to work into your recipes.

Think of it as a stand-in for virtually any
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Lentils: Different Colors, Different Uses

by Elizabeth Skipper October 1st, 2014| Ask the Chef

I almost always use red lentils when cooking, making lentil cakes or lentil loaf. I don’t do a lot of cooking with lentils, so I was wondering if there a difference besides color in the different varieties of lentils. I may need to expand my lentil cooking, depending on your response.

Just as all tomatoes have different characteristics, so do the members of the legume family – beans, peas, and lentils. So there are definitely differences other than color among the various kinds of lentils. I was amused to go back through

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Plenty of Ways to Cook Peaches

by Elizabeth Skipper September 24th, 2014| Ask the Chef
processing-448526_1280I tried grilling peaches as part of our dinner.  I liked that we had warm, more tender peaches. However, I wasn’t crazy about the smoky flavor. To get the same results (minus the smokiness) would it be better to sauté or broil the peaches?

Ah, peaches – one of summer's fleeting wonders. Eaten outside or standing over the sink, a ripe, juicy peach is one of life's great pleasures. And as delicious as they are au naturel, they also take well to cooking. This is especially true if they're not perfectly ripe, because cooking softens them and concentrates their natural
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How to Bake Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

by Elizabeth Skipper September 17th, 2014| Ask the Chef
sweet-potatoes-996_640I love baked sweet potato fries. However, no matter what I've tried (high heat, tossing in olive oil/cornstarch/flour, greasing the pan), I don't get crispy fries. Is there a way to bake sweet potatoes and get crispy fries?

Good question! I usually simply bake sweet potatoes, so this required some research. I wasn't able to ascertain whether the starch in sweet potatoes and white potatoes is the same, although they're both high in starch in the form of carbohydrates. I was wondering if sweet potatoes have more natural sugars, which might explain your problem, as sugars caramelize rather than crisp.
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Basting Brushes, Classic and Modern

by Elizabeth Skipper September 10th, 2014| Ask the Chef
silicon brush pdI own a classic basting brush.  My question is two-part.  First, what are the bristles in a classic brush made of? Second, should I upgrade to a silicone brush? It isn’t a matter of cost, I know, but I figure if what I have works, why change?  Thoughts?

Classic basting brushes, at least those made in France, are made of boar bristles. If you've never been up close to a live pig, you may not realize that they're hairy creatures. And their coarse hair makes a great brush. It's stiff yet flexible, and holds onto the basting liquid so it's
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Salmon with a Crispy Outside

by Elizabeth Skipper September 3rd, 2014| Ask the Chef
pan-seared-salmon-belly-250866_640How can I cook salmon so that it has a crunchy exterior but it isn’t overcooked?

Methods of cooking fish which are amenable to making the exterior crisp or crunchy would be baking, broiling, or grilling, which are all forms of dry heat cooking. You must compensate for the dryness of these methods, though, as fish – even salmon, one of the fattier fishes – have little of the interior fat which keeps meats moist.

Leaving the skin on enables the cook to prepare it so the skin is crispy. Some people don't care for fish skin, doubtless because they've only
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Forming Hamburgers- Is There a Proper Method

by Elizabeth Skipper August 27th, 2014| Ask the Chef
burgers n flameIs there a correct way to form hamburgers? I have hand-formed them and used a patty maker.  I also have made patties that are flat and added a dimple to them to help with cooking. Are any of these methods better than another, or is there a totally different way that I should be trying?

Is there one correct way to form hamburgers? I wouldn't say so, although there are basic principles to follow. A good burger patty shouldn't be overworked and compacted, or it will be tough. Other than that, form them any way you like. And there's
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Ask the Chef- Keeping Leftover Avocados

by Elizabeth Skipper August 20th, 2014| Ask the Chef
avocadoI needed only half an avocado for a recipe. I spritzed the remaining half with lime juice and wrapped it in plastic wrap. When I went to use it two days later, it was brown. Is there an effective way to save unused avocado, or should I have just eaten it all in one sitting?

I'm surprised you were able to abstain from eating half an avocado; I can't.

There are many methods which claim to keep avocado halves or guacamole from oxidizing. I have yet to find one that I'd consider successful. But I'll tell you the most common ones if
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Lobster Tails vs. Claws- What’s the Difference

by Elizabeth Skipper August 13th, 2014| Ask the Chef
lobsterWhenever I eat lobster with a group of people, personal preference on favorite part falls into two groups: tail or claw. However, I have noticed that one can buy tails individually at the fish counter but not claws.  Is there a reason for this?  Is lobster tail meat different, more delicate, better for cooking?

It wasn't until a few years ago that I even thought about the difference between lobster tail and lobster claw meat. Someone asked me my preference, and I had to think about it. Until then, I'd just consumed as much of the beast as I could
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Pomelo Zest — Beyond Lemon and Orange

by Elizabeth Skipper August 6th, 2014| Ask the Chef
grapefruit-395345_640I have used lemons, oranges, and limes for zesting in an assortment of recipes. This has me wondering, can all citrus fruits be zested? In particular I was wondering if I could use pomelo zest? If so, do you have any suggestions for a recipe?

Here in NH, I seldom see pomelos available for sale, certainly not in the local supermarkets. Perhaps next time I'm in an Asian market I'll try to find one. You've aroused my curiosity. I seem to remember trying it once, wondering if it was like an ugli fruit. I also remember not being impressed –
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