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
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
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?
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!