Saturday, January 01, 2011

A piece of cake

I recently spotted an ad that proclaimed, "Show off Your Baking Skills. Shop Brand Name Bakeware Online Now!"

Baking skills and baking equipment are two entirely separate things. Baking can be done in or on just about anything: cookie sheets, clean terra cotta flower pots, mason jars. Baking can occur in brick ovens, on barbecue grills, in toaster ovens, in a pan on the stove (tortillas, pancakes), in a crock pot, and even in the microwave.

Given a functional heat source, everything else in baking matters more than the equipment. If you don't bake often or don't have much experience, here are a few pointers that I promise will make more difference to your baking than all the "Brand Name Bakeware" in the world.

  • Use fresh ingredients. Stuff like flour and baking powder will keep for a good long time in the pantry, but not indefinitely. Using up your baking ingredients regularly is the best way to keep them fresh.
  • Follow a recipe and measure exactly. There are tons of recipes online, and many have ratings or comments that will guide you in choosing a good one.
  • Do not over-mix quick breads (anything with baking powder or baking soda in it). Mix only enough to blend the dry ingredients with the wet. Ignore the lumps, unless they're huge.
  • Fat and salt are in baked recipes for a reason. Don't omit them because they might be Bad For You. Besides adding flavor and (in the case of fats) improving texture, they are often necessary for the chemistry that makes baking work.
  • Preheat the oven. Place what you are baking inside (don't crowd too many things), and then keep the oven door closed until the end of the cooking time.
  • Practice. Even with a recipe, there is such a thing as a "feel" for baking. This feel is how you will eventually judge if your batter is a bit too wet or dry, how long to knead yeasted breads, and when your bread has risen enough. It is also what will eventually let you adjust and experiment.

Happy baking, with whatever equipment you prefer.

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Thursday, October 21, 2010


My company recently moved to a new office, so there are now billboards along my commute. One particularly prominent notice trumpets a brokerage firm with the headline, "My confidence went the same way as my portfolio."

Naturally, I read this to mean that both plummeted.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just putting a Band-Aid on the problem

I was doing a bit of mending and I happened to have a little round scrap of band-aid colored fabric sitting around. I couldn't resist. I did do a proper job of the mending after presenting this little, visual gag to the owner of the shorts.


Monday, March 08, 2010

Someone needs HEEP

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Gotta watch that oxygen

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Mothers' advice

I don't think I'm giving away any big secrets here, but in case I'm letting the cat out of the bag, my apologies to the cat.

One of my mother's pieces of advice to me (which I've never much used, nor needed to use) concerned cooking. If a hungry husband was hanging around, asking about dinner, she advised frying an onion. This makes it look and smell as though something is going on, and gives the cook a couple of minutes more to think about what is for dinner. The onion can then go into just about anything.

Another mom I've talked to offered advice concerning small specks of matter that occasionally appear out of nowhere in food. If it's small enough to be inconsequential and difficult to fish out, add pepper to disguise it.

My great-grandmother's advice to my grandmother, though still about kitchen counter self defense, was of a very different nature. In an earlier era, she advised buying everything on the best possible sale, but telling him you paid full price, and keeping the difference tucked away for a rainy day.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Algunas palabras

I spent a lot less time than I should have speaking Spanish in Bolivia, but I did learn some new words. Some are regional or have regional meanings. Here is a sampling:

  • chamarra - a jacket
  • chompa - a pullover sweater. The word is derived from the English word "jumper".
  • llajwa or llajhua - a very spicy salsa
  • polainas - leg warmers
  • wawa - a baby. This is a Quechua word that has entered the regional Spanish.

I also learned two expressions. I knew the words before, but I didn't have the full context for the phrases.

  • gracias / provecho - This is the greeting and reply at the end of a meal, said before leaving the table. Although it amounts to saying "thank you", it is not directed towards the cook, at least not anymore. It is said to anyone and everyone dining with you. A couple of people asked me what the English equivalent would be, and I don't think there really is one, at least nothing quite the same.
  • cuando floresca el chuño - There is a song by this title, which I had heard before my visit. Literally, it means "when the chuño blooms". What I had missed was that the chuño is a dried potato and does not grow or bloom. (I got a chance to taste some, finally. They taste much better than they look.) Thus, this expression means "never", something akin to "when pigs fly".

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