Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Food Questions That Make Me Laugh…and Sometimes Weep

November 17th, 2011 · 3 Comments

Cooking can be puzzling to those who don’t do it much, or haven’t kept up with ingredients or techniques. Some, however, make me think, “What the…?”

At The Post, I took calls every week from 3-6 p.m. on Thursdays – the day the food section came out. I’d get tons of questions that mostly made sense – recipe clarification, how long to store foods, finding an odd ingredient, or maybe explaining a technique.

I still take calls from readers – see my hotline number in the top left of the page.

These hotlines, and now my email, generate some curious questions from inexperienced cooks, however. I’ve recently gotten these:

Question: How long do you melt butter? (Answer: Till it’s melted? OK, maybe they want to know if it will burn, or maybe they’re clarifying butter. No – they just want to know what “melted” really means. I talk them through it: Over low heat on a stove, put in the butter. Stir slowly. When you don’t see any lumps, it’s melted. Remove from heat and use it and pour it over the popcorn.)

Question: How much is 1 tablespoon of milk? (Answer: 1 tablespoon equals 3 teaspoons, or 1/2 ounce.) No, I mean what kind of tablespoon is a tablespoon? (Ah: A lesson in measuring spoons vs flatware. Not the same – always use a measuring spoon, sold at cookware stores.)

Question: The recipe calls for 2 cups of half-and-half. Half-and-half of what?? (Answer: This caller simply read the recipe wrong, but I didn’t know this till I already clued him to the fact that half-and-half is half cream and half milk, sold next to the milk in carton at the store – and yes, it’s a dairy product.) Caller: Doh! I knew that!

Other food editor friends remember questions like:

If a recipe calls for 1 whole egg , am I supposed to use the shell and all?

The recipe calls for the oven to be preheated to 350 degrees – should I do that before I put the food in it?

The recipe says to wash the chicken well before cooking. How much soap should I use?

I wanted to age my own meat so I put it in the oven for 3 days on a rack like it says. (Note: Recipe says in the refrigerator…). It smells kind of funny. (Please oh please eat it – and help clean the gene pool. No!!! They really didn’t say that!! But I’m sure they thought it….)

My two favorites remain questions that I tell folks who need to laugh when they feel pretty dumb. There’s always someone who’s more clueless, I say.

Caller No. 1 – Powdered wine

Burgundy wine powder - for saucemaking - does exist

Caller: I need help with one of your recipes. I want to know what powdered wine is.

Me: Powdered wine? In one of my recipes?? (I’m mortified, thinking I’ve dropped a line of type or ran two lines together or made some other typo.)

Caller: Yes – it’s in The Post. I have it right here.

Me: Could you please read it to me? (Quaking.)

Caller: OK, it’s the Chicken with capers and white wine….page 4.

Me: Please go ahead….

Caller: Ok: the recipe calls for 1 chicken, cut up; 1/4 oil for sauteeing; 1/4 cup flour, salt and pepper to taste, 1/2 pound of mushrooms, sliced; 2 shallots, minced; 2 tablespoons capers – and here it is! 1/2 cup DRY white wine.

Me: ….. (speechless).

Me: (recovering). Can I please put you on hold? (I do, and try madly to stop laughing.)

Me: I’m sorry – I’m back now. You really had me stumped for a moment….May I assume that you don’t cook much with wine?

Caller: I’ve never cooked with wine, actually.

I go on to explain what a dry white wine is, as opposed to a sweet white wine. Both liquid, both in a bottle.

The caller sounds mildly confused, not at all amused, but thanks me and hangs up.

I shared this with a wine salesman who has never stopped teasing me about it whenever I see him: “Got any powdered wine?” is his favorite greeting.

I have since found out there is such a thing as a powdered wine, sold in the Middle East where alcohol is prohibited; and another version for simply flavoring sauces (see photo and link to the sale site) – but why not use the liquid? I haven’t tried it, nor do I want to, but OK.

Caller No. 2: High altitude baking

High Altitude Baking chart from EveryDayFoodStorage.net - a great reference site

I answer a call from a reader who asks for help with high-altitude baking.

Me: (Knowing my stories go out on the wire, and can be picked up in Colorado or anywhere, really – so it’s a fair question:) What are you baking – and where are you calling from?

Caller: I’m making brownies from a box mix, and it says to adjust for high altitudes on the box. I’m calling from Manalapan.

Me: (speechless, sort of.) Manalapan – FLORIDA?

Caller: Yes.

Me: Is it possible that you can see the Atlantic Ocean from where you live? (Almost all of Manalapan, Fla., is oceanfront property.)

Caller: Why, yes, I can see it from my living room.

Me: (Really trying to hold it together.) Well, that means you’re at SEA LEVEL! Our altitude here in FLORIDA is probably no greater than 3 feet above sea level, at most. There is NO altitude to deal with in baking.

Caller: (Perplexed for a moment….) Oh, but I’m different! I am on the 14th floor of a condo.

Me: (banging head on desk; recovering enough to finally speak.) I don’t think you have to worry about a thing – you’re still at sea level, trust me – even on the 14th floor. But please take my friend’s name and number if you have further questions – she’s even more of an expert on these things. (I proceeded to give her the name of the food editor at my competition. Sorry, Deb!)

I really am a patient person, and really never make fun of anyone unless I know they can laugh at themselves. It’s a fine line, though, and I thank the phone gods I had a hold and a mute button to push.

You gotta laugh, really you do!

Tags: Ask Jan

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mark Golden // Nov 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    What is there left to say. your “readers” have said it all. Truth is stranger than fiction!

  • 2 Kathy // Nov 18, 2011 at 9:08 am

    I remember you telling the story of the cook who washed her chicken in clorox to kill salmonella. She called you to find out how to get the clorox taste out of the chicken! That has always been my favorite.

  • 3 creed // Nov 22, 2011 at 11:15 am

    THESE ARE hilarious… and you should share them in a book or send them into the food network or “The Chew”.. my new fave show for foodies!!

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