Bonnie Aeschliman: Some cooking mysteries solved

03/20/2013 7:17 AM

03/20/2013 7:29 AM

Did you ever find yourself puzzling over an ingredient in a recipe? Or wondering why a technique works one time but not another? Or just curious about why eggs look different? Or perhaps you were in the middle of baking and realized you were missing a key ingredient.

There is no need to make a mad dash to the grocery store if you know how to make a suitable substitute.

These are the questions that have come in this week. If you have questions about cooking, ingredients or equipment, shoot me an e-mail. I would love to hear from you.

Q. What in the world is mesclun? It is an ingredient in a recipe I want to make. I looked for it at the grocery store and did not find it, and no one there had ever heard of it.

A. Mesclun is a salad mix of assorted small, young, tender lettuce leaves that originated in Provence, France. In our area, you will find it generally called baby greens, and it is located in the produce section of the supermarket.

Q. My neighbor who has chickens gave me some fresh eggs. The yolks are very dark yellow, not the light yellow yolks of store eggs. Are they from a different variety of chicken? Are they more nutritional?

A. The color of the egg yolk has nothing to do with the type of chicken; it has to do with the type of food the hens eat. Farm-raised hens, allowed to run free and graze in the pasture with a supplemental diet of cracked corn, typically have deep yellow yolks. Commercially raised hens are kept confined and produce a pale yellow yolk. The color of the yolk does not affect nutritional value.

Q. Could you discuss beating eggs whites? Sometimes they fluff right up, but other times they get a little frothy but don’t become light and billowy. Is it because the eggs are old, or would there be another reason?

A. Failure to whip usually is because fat is present in the whites. It is likely that some of the egg yolk, which contains fat, slipped into the whites. This is less likely to occur if you separate the eggs while they are still chilled. But let the whites stand at room temperature for 15 minutes as chilled whites will not whip quite as high. If you feel you do not have 15 minutes to wait, rinse the mixing bowl with very hot water and place the whites in it, whirl it around, and that will take the chill off the whites, and you can beat them immediately.

Another culprit that may cause the whites not to whip: oil residue on the mixing bowl and beaters. This usually happens if the mixing bowl is plastic that accumulates an oil film even though it has been washed.

Q. While in the middle of making a cake from scratch, I realized I did not have any buttermilk. So I stopped everything and went to the store to get it. By the time I got back, I had lost most of my excitement in making the cake and wasted quite a bit of time. Is there a substitute for buttermilk?

A. Yes, there is a very easy way to make a substitute that works well in baking: Place 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar in one cup of milk. Stir and let stand for a few minutes.

Also, you might consider buttermilk powder if you do a lot of baking. It is shelf stable and will keep several months in the pantry.

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