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Making the Best Mashed Potatoes

by Elizabeth Skipper November 19th, 2014| Ask the Chef
mashed potatoes (400x400)We keep skim milk at home, so whenever I make mashed potatoes I use that. However, I was wondering if whole milk or cream might make them better. Or would cream be too rich? I also use butter. I want to make the tastiest mashed potatoes possible; any help is appreciated.

Good mashed potatoes rely on more than simply the kind of liquid used, although, yes, I do think  whole milk vs. skim milk will improve them. (I remember my dad marveling that when they removed the cream – the good stuff – from the milk, they raised the price.
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French Toast – It’s About the Bread

by Elizabeth Skipper November 12th, 2014| Ask the Chef
homemade bread (400x400)When I make French toast, I usually just dip it into the egg batter quickly and then cook it. However, I have been told that the bread should soak in the egg batter to absorb as much as possible. My question is: How do you make sure that the French toast is thoroughly cooked with that much egg?

When I shared this week’s question with my daughter and gave her a quick rundown of the answer, her response was, “So that’s why my French toast comes out so crappy!” So I guess your question puzzles more than some.

Let’s go back
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Simple Flavorful Ways to Cook Scallops

by Elizabeth Skipper November 5th, 2014| Ask the Chef
00760I don’t cook scallops often at home. When I do, I always just sear them.  That’s the only method of cooking that I know I can use and have good results. Are there other ways to prepare scallops that are simple and flavorful?

First off, good for you for searing scallops successfully. That’s tricky to get right; you’ve got to get the pan sufficiently hot and then get those babies seared on both sides and out of the pan quickly before they overcook. You should be able to go on to other methods easily.

Scallops can also be poached, steamed, sautéed,
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Crabapples: Not for Eating, But Good for Cooking

by Elizabeth Skipper October 29th, 2014| Ask the Chef
file0001610962557We just bought a house that has a crab apple tree in the yard.  Are the fruits just decorative, or could I use them for any sort of cooking/recipes?

The mention of crabapples reminds me of a beautiful Christmas-time display I saw at the Concord History Museum years ago. The museum has since changed names and been substantially renovated, but in those days it was rustic. The image which has stayed with me was of a Colonial home decorated for a winter dinner, and in the middle of a plain pine table, amid table settings of pewter, was a wooden
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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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