I swear it tasted great when I took it out of the oven? Tips to surviving your kitchen this season!

Ever make those cookies from scratch and they don’t puff up, instead they lay flat on your pan like a medal of the failure you’ll get to where around?

Or maybe you’ve been cooking all day only to have your house hot and now your opening up the windows in February to cool off the house after spending all that money to run your oven and heat your house?

One of my favorites is spending time cooking a meal only to end up serving it cold because life and family happen. This piece is about those moments and some tricks to serve up a meal worth the effort you put forth. Often times we learn the hard way, or a bit to late, this way you can put your best foot forward.

What happened to my cookies?

Usually when your talking about cookies there are three culprits that prevent you from being “the best cookie” at the gathering. Temperature, time and the elusive baking soda/baking powder that we often forget and misuse. It’s amazing how quickly a perfect recipe can turn ugly because of a simple mistake, and sadly there is no restart or app to fix it.

First thing we’ll go over is one issue we see a lot not only from rookie chefs but that of experienced cooks because it can be taken for granted and that’s baking soda/powder related issues. There is the issue of the baking soda as it pertains to expiration and effectiveness (www.armandhammer.com/FAQ/BakingSoda.aspx) and this happens to all of us, even when we track it as best we can it can lose it’s effectiveness. When using baking powder or baking soda in a recipe, make sure to sift or whisk with the other dry ingredients before adding to the batter to ensure uniformity. Otherwise the baked good can have large holes cause from them doing there job but in larger ineffective quantities.

Baking powder consists of baking soda, one or more acid salts (cream of tartar and sodium aluminum sulfate) plus cornstarch to absorb any moisture so a reaction does not take place until a liquid is added to the batter. Most baking powder used today is double-acting which means it reacts to liquid and heat and happens in two stages. The first reaction takes place when it is added to the batter and moisture is introduced (reacting with the baking soda producing CO2). The second takes place once in the oven (heat source) where the gas cells expand Causing your cookies to rise.

Too much baking powder can also cause the batter to rise rapidly and then collapse. (gas bubbles in the batter grow too large and break) Cakes will have a coarse, fragile crumb with a fallen center. Too little baking powder results in a tough cake that has poor volume and a compact crumb.

There is plenty more on this all over the place online, utilize it. Next up we will talk about is simply stated as oven temperature. Rarely if ever do we as home chefs calibrate our oven, and this lack of true temperature can cause us to doubt our ability to cook. We recommend using a simple guide like the one on ehow.com (http://www.ehow.com/how_2199721_calibrate-an-oven.html). I your baking at 380 and your oven is really running at 415 your going to burn everything, and waste al that hard work.

The last tip is a favorite of ours for many dishes, remember when cooking in the oven the pan/dish you are cooking on is going to retain heat long after you take it out of the oven. This means when baking cookies we have at least two options: remove early and allow to finish cooking on the sheet to firm up base and keep cookie soft, or to remove the cookies and quickly place on a cooling rack.

If you utilize these tricks you can master the perfect cookie for your next get together.

How to utilize the heat in your kitchen?

Though we cannot go on nearly as long as we did about baking soda/powder having the right environment and temperature is paramount to serving a great meal. If you half to cool off the room fast, your food will pay the price. If you can manage it as you go along your food, friends and wallet will all benefit.

Do you have a ceiling fan in your house, close to the kitchen, then your in luck. If not don’t worry we can still utilize an old fashion box fan (any fan) t circulate the air from your kitchen. Not only will this help you keep cool in the kitchen it will spread the heat throughout the house (we understand if your lucky enough to be in a warm climate this winter you have a different problem). Regardless of external temperature keeping! the airflow consistent and even as much as possible will help you cook and serve properly.

Did you know that ceiling fan goes two different directions for a reason? It’s to distinguish how you want to circulate the air in that room; from cold air up to warm air down. Make sure and utilize the best option for your house and weather.  What can temperature do to my kitchen and food, other than cool it off or make me sweat?

The environment and temperature of your food play a huge role in food safety (www.servsafe.com), quality and ability to cook properly. Whether prepping in an environment that will aid in putting your food into the danger zone (41-140F) to over cooking foods from excess heat, moisture and impatience from a stressed out over heated cook. Thinking these items through and planning for them (no matter how minor) will help you conquer the biggest meals on these days.

It tasted perfect 20 minutes ago!

Similar to our notes on cookies, one issue we come across is people keep the food they cooked in the container they cooked it in, continuing the cooking process leaving your food dry, burnt and below par.  Unless you are cooking your dish in a very thin aluminum chafer pan that you can put into a different pan to hold the heat it allows you to keep the dish from overcooking.  If you make sure to separate as quickly as possible the dish from the surface you cooked it in you control the temperature. This control of temperature allows you to ensure the dish you cooked holds true when serving, also be aware of the items you are cooking and how long they hold temperature.

If you’re not sure you can always try your best to use the internet for searching, or trial an error.  We’re more fans of the scientific approach, where you focus on the density or mass of the food and how much water is in the dish (such as pasta or stew) versus more dense foods like meat or mashed potatoes.

Overall Tips:

  • When you can move the food you cooked (quickly, unless resting to finish cooking) from the dish it was cooked in, to a serving dish.
  • Don’t forget to calibrate your oven
  • Be sure the ingredients you use (baking soda) aren’t expired.
  • Leftover Tips
    • Allow food to cool properly before putting it in a closed container or refrigerator
    • Taking hot (or warm) food and sealing, then cooling will increase moisture changing the overall structure of most foods.
      • Its Science
    • When reheating foods, use a pan or the oven (toaster oven works great for small portions) make sure to add a little bit of water.
      • Heating food will release moisture, add it back in.
      • When microwaving food make sure to increase moisture in the dish
    • Parchment or wax paper is your friend, separating food into smaller portions allows for better reheating and separating once cold.

Remember this holiday season to take your time, plan accordingly and prepare your food ahead of times as much as possible.  Male sure to get all the prep work out of the way (cutting, cleaning and separating) to allow you more time to multitask while you cook the dishes. Don’t forget to calibrate the tools you work with; if your oven doesn’t heat properly, then you can’t cook properly.  These tips (and more if you have the time online) will help you maximize your dinner, party and everyday cooking.  Take care of your kitchen and the way you cook will improve; think of it like a sport. You can’t expect to hit a baseball if you never take batting practice.  Don’t make major holidays and parties the only time you cook, or the problems will show up more than you wish them to.

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