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Volume III
September 27, 2013

Weekly Home / Cook'n & Eat'n

5 Common Cooking Questions

By Alice Osborne

It just so happens, we're all pretty much alike, as are our cooking questions. Read on to see there isn't a question you've asked amongst these 5. These and their answers come from Not sure who Caroline is, but I am sure grateful for her cooking expertise!

How do you keep pasta from clumping?

You don't want your pasta to stick together so plenty of salted water (4-6 quarts per pound of pasta) in a large enough pot is the trick. And don't overcook. Follow the cooking time on the package; pasta should be al dente, or still slightly firm. Do not rinse after boiling unless you're using it in a cold dish. [Alice speaking: Huh! I always thought you were supposed to rinse your pasta, no matter what. See why it's good to read up on stuff?] If you're not otherwise saucing it, toss with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff).

How do you know if cheese has gone bad?

It seems a little counterintuitive, as mold is essential to cheese, but if you see mold on your cheese (fuzzy, green, lichen-looking stuff—not the blue veins in your Gorgonzola)—it's gone bad. It also should not feel slimy or oily. And while some cheeses start out smelly, if a normally non-smelly cheese, like provolone or mozzarella, starts stinking up the fridge, it's probably time to let it go.

Which part of the green onion (scallion) do you use?

You can use both. The white bulb part toward the root has a deeper, more oniony flavor. The dark green part is milder but adds nice color. (Don't forget you eat with your eyes first.) With a leek (it looks like a scallion but much larger), you will only use the white part. The green ends are bitter.

What's the difference between a boil, a rolling boil, and a simmer?

Let's explain it this way: Imagine the pot is a hot tub and the bubbles are (scantily clad, highly attractive) people. A simmer is when the water is warm and the bubbles are just hanging out around the sides of the tub. A boil is when the water is so hot that people are kind of jumping around the tub. A rolling boil is when the people are trying to leap out of the tub for fear of being burned alive.

Finally, an issue I've been struggling with for years and have found no help with, despite the chocolate chip cookie recipe I use:

How do you keep your cookies from spreading too thin?

The culprit is likely your butter. Softening butter in the microwave is a surefire way to flatten cookies into pancakes. Instead, let the butter sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. To speed the softening process, cut it into tablespoon-size pieces. It should be yielding to a finger but not melted. [Alice speaking: OK, so this answer implies I need to plan ahead 30 minutes. Sheesh-who knew!]


Alice Osborne
Weekly Newsletter Contributer since 2006

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