Friday, April 19, 2013

Strange Kitchen Knowledge

There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge. – Bertrand Russell 

Here’s a list of kitchen tips and lore that I hope you find as fascinating as I do. A little enlightenment is a good thing. Just a little...

Photo: Pcasaweb.
Attribution: modest carrot chris-c
To keep blocks of cheese fresh longer, wrap them in aluminum foil instead of plastic wrap. It will help prevent mould, also helps keep them from drying out. This is a good trick to know for keeping expensive parmesan cheese. We’ve been doing it for a while now. I swear by it. 

To prevent a pot of pasta water from boiling over place a wooden spoon across the top. It may not work if your pot is too, too full. I’ve done this one myself. It works.

Break the stems off bananas when you get home from the store. They will ripen more slowly. Did you know banana trees are actually very large herbs? The banana fruit is its berry.

Acidic marinades don’t really help tenderize meat. In fact they can do the opposite. Acids cause the meat proteins to constrict, forcing water out – making tougher meat. On the flip side, if you don't marinate long enough the flavour won't go into the meat.

Braising tenderizes tougher cuts of meat through slow, low temperature cooking. But a difference of 20-30°F can make or break your meal. Simmer (the actual temperature is up for debate but most agree is around 180°F) and the meat is tender. It can take several hours. Boil and the meat will become tough. So if you don't have the time, don't do it. Turning up the heat does you no favours.

Pale veggies can have as much nutritional punch as brightly coloured ones. White beans have as much fibre and protein as red kidney beans, and cauliflower is packed with antioxidants, to name but two. Of course, different coloured veggies have different nutrients, so make sure you eat a rainbow.

For more flavourful tomatoes store them on your counter. The flavour enzymes continue to develop after they’re picked. Cold temperature inhibits this, so don't put them in the fridge. Sadly, many store-bought tomatoes have no flavour to develop...

Speaking of tomatoes, did you know they're botanically a fruit? In 1893 the US Supreme Court ruled they were a vegetable. At that time vegetables had an import tax, so the ruling protected US growers. Politics... always the same. Perhaps it would have been smarter to change the law than change the truth.

Brown and white eggs have exactly the same nutritional value. The egg colour is determined by the breed, and nothing else. So don’t pay more for brown eggs, unless they match your decor...

Cravings are NOT the body’s way of telling us we need a particular food or nutrient. The body doesn’t work that way. So if you want ice cream or chocolate bars, don't blame biology – blame your willpower..

To poach an egg with the white held together add a little acid, like vinegar or lemon, to the water. This is called acidulation. It helps keep the whites from flowing everywhere in the pan as they poach.

Never boil corn for more than 3-4 minutes. Just make sure you drop the cobs in boiling water before you start to time, with no salt. Corn doesn’t soften if cooked longer. It just looses its flavour. The corn tastes sweeter. Mmmm...

When substituting fresh herbs for dried (or vice versa) the rule of thumb is 4:1. Use 4 times the amount of fresh. For example, if a recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil, use 2 teaspoons of fresh. Outdoor herb growing season is coming. Keep this in mind...

Speaking of "rule of thumb" did you know it came from a law allowing a man to beat his wife with a stick no larger than his thumb? Wrong! No one has ever been able to find a codified statute that states this as permissible, although women were (and many still are, very sadly)  legally subject to many forms of barbaric acts by their husbands. Just not this one.

The majority of the nutrients in potatoes are just below the skin layer. It’s healthier to eat un-peeled potatoes than peeled. (Yay!!! I hate peeling potatoes...)

Carrots were almost exclusively purple until the 17th century. Dutch growers are responsible for breeding the mutant strains that occurred naturally into the world-dominating orange root so common now. So those odd coloured carrots you sometimes see in stores (that cost more...) are more close to what carrots were before we got our hands on them.

Why is a baker's dozen 13? History is a chronicle of people ripping each other off. Grain was a staple of survival. Many ancient and medieval societies had strict laws regarding baking, some with very nasty punishments. To ensure they weren’t accidentally breaking the law, many bakers included a 13th roll, or 13th whatever the baked good was. This way they would keep both ears, or hands, etc. (That’s how harsh some punishments were...)

And here’s a few creepy food facts, just for fun.

The USFDA allows 30 insect fragments and 1 rodent hair per 1/2 cup of peanut butter. Canada’s standards are no better, so stop being smug. Yum.

Carnauba wax is found in floor polish, car wax and gummy bears. It comes from the carnauba tree and is used in many foods to make them glossy. Think candies, gravies and sauces, and even pill coatings to ease swallowing.

Canada’s Food and Drug Act allows carbon dioxide, ethyl acetate and methylene chloride to be used to decaffeinate green tea and coffee. The last one is believed to be a carcinogen, although all are removed prior to packaging. “Swiss water decaffeination” (carbon dioxide only) may be something to look for the next time you’re shopping...

If you can’t tolerate corn, good luck. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes that more than 25% of the items for sale in the average grocery store contain ingredients that originated from corn. 

The above info was gathered from a multitude of sources, as well as some first-hand info. I can't fully vouch for some of its veracity, but the sources were ones I tend to trust. 

Believe it...or NOT!!!


You know, I really like comments... I really do.

Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks? Just ask! I’ll answer quickly and as best as I can. If you like this post feel free to share it. If you repost, please give me credit and a link back to this site.


  1. Love this! Aluminum foil also works for celery, making it last longer (make sure it's dry first).

    1. Thanks! I was amazed at how well foil works with parmesan. It usually ends up being so hard it's impossible to grate.