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Knife Sharpening

by Elizabeth Skipper December 17th, 2014| Ask the Chef
knife (400x400)I was thinking about buying this handheld knife sharpener. You put the blade of the knife in the device and simply pull it through to sharpen it.  Is a device like this useful, or should I just stick with having my knives professionally sharpened?

You ask as if getting your knives professionally maintained is all that’s required to keep them sharp. Unless you’re getting this done often (commercial kitchens have it done weekly or bi-weekly), even in a home kitchen, your knives are getting awfully dull between sharpenings. So you need to be doing something at home.

Here are two questions
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Make-ahead Christmas Breakfast

by Elizabeth Skipper December 10th, 2014| Ask the Chef
quiche (400x400)I like serving a hearty breakfast on Christmas morning, but I don’t like having to take time out of presents to get some food ready. I was thinking about making an overnight egg dish. We have a few picky eaters, so I don’t want a lot of veggies in it, but ham would work. Any suggestions?

Right off the top of my head, quiche, a frittata, and stratas come to mind. All have eggs, can be prepared ahead, and usually appeal to a wide audience. I have some other ideas, too, although you mention a few picky eaters, so it’s
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All About Self-Rising Flour

by Elizabeth Skipper December 3rd, 2014| Ask the Chef
flour (400x400)I’ve seen a handful of recipes that call for self-rising flour. Is there any real purpose to buying this type of flour?  I am pretty sure that I’ve seen shortcuts for making your own at home.

I’m sure you have seen shortcuts; making your own self-rising flour is pretty straightforward.  It’s nothing more than flour with baking powder and salt added. There is one little twist, though, you may not be aware of. Popular brands like White Lily in the south, and King Arthur in the north, aren’t based on all-purpose flour. They’re made of flour with a lower protein
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Cooking Wheat Berries

by Elizabeth Skipper November 26th, 2014| Ask the Chef
wheat (400x400)I just cooked with wheat berries for the first time. Following the recipe, I cooked the wheat berries for almost 2 hours (simmering in broth).  They were excellent!  I was wondering if there is a quicker way to cook them or if I could put them in a crock pot, so I don’t have to spend hours waiting for them in the evening.

 Two hours seems like an awfully long time to cook, even for a hard grain like wheat berries. There are a few possibilities as to why your wheat berries took so long, and some remedies.

 Do you know
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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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