Comments by helenrennie

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Playing with fire by helenrennie on Jan 15, 2012 at 7:20 PM PST

Most ovens have one knob with temperatures (250, 300, 350, etc) and the same knob will say “broil.” If the oven is already preheated, just set it to “broil.” If you have multiple knobs, when you set one of the knobs to “broil” the broiling element will come on and the oven element will automatically go off. Of course, all ovens are different, so refer to your manual for more accurate info.

Sablefish with Balsamic Orange Ginger Glaze by helenrennie on Mar 14, 2011 at 4:57 PM PDT

the side dish in the picture is glazed carrots. this was a few years ago, but I think I cooked them in orange juice, honey, and ginger

Bake a lot? by helenrennie on Dec 15, 2010 at 5:39 PM PST

Hi Betty Algier,

I am with you on the thermometer! I forgot to mention it because I consider it such an essential cooking tool too that I wasn’t thinking exclusively about baking. I wish recipes would give you internal doneness temperature for cakes like they do for breads. It would make judging doneness a lot easier.

Bake a lot? by helenrennie on Dec 15, 2010 at 1:28 PM PST

I never laugh or shake my head at questions :) I teach cooking classes for a living, so there is no such thing as a bad question to me. Here is why you need a scale:

Flour is compressible, so if you want consistent results, the only way to measure it is to weigh it. Whatever baking problems my students encounter: dry cakes, cracked pie crust, no holes in the bread, etc. -- it almost always boils down to the wrong amount of flour.

Also, keep in mind that many people are perfectly happy with home-baked anything. If it makes their house smell good, they are happy. Can you bake without a scale? Yes. Can you make the best versions of a baked good without a scale? No. When it comes to baked goods, I am like Anton Ego from Ratatoille -- “if I don’t like it, I don’t swallow :)"

Bake a lot? by helenrennie on Dec 15, 2010 at 10:51 AM PST

no scale? you are kidding me! I think the biggest difference between fabulous home bakers and mediocre ones is knowing how to measure flour correctly.

Dough day by helenrennie on Sep 29, 2010 at 1:31 PM PDT

it’s 2 full sticks plus another half stick (20 Tbsp total)

Victoria’s secret lamb chops by helenrennie on May 12, 2010 at 12:44 PM PDT

I couldn’t help laugh as I was reading your story. I am a culinary instructor (used to write for culinate a while back). When I was pregnant with my daughter, I did just what you did -- stocked up my freezer and somehow never touched it when the baby was born. I just wanted to cook so badly :) I am now pregnant the second time and I am heading into this new motherhood with no prepped meals. Just like my daughter, the second one will be a summer baby and there is no way I’ll be passing on our short New England growing season to defrost those short-ribs.

Steamed up by helenrennie on Feb 24, 2010 at 12:27 PM PST

Hi Matthew,

Great post on rice cookers, but I think it’s unfair to compare them to stove top prep (because I honestly think it sucks ;) Have you tried the oven method though? Cook’s illustrated came up with it and it replicates rice cooker beautifully. It works for all types of rice (you just have to change rice to water ratio and cooking time). Here is my description of it for sushi rice:

It does take more thought than a rice cooker (you have to boil water first and remember to take the rice out of the oven), so maybe a rice cooker is still worth it.

By the way, most Asians would frown on this recipe because they hate turning on the oven. It’s more of a special occasion thing than an every day tool.


Miso mashup by helenrennie on Jan 20, 2010 at 12:34 PM PST

Hi Matthew,

I am one of those guilty people who has a year old (maybe older?) miso sitting in the back of my fridge. I use it in one or two recipes, but not as a condiment, which I’d love to try. My question is how perishable is this stuff? In theory, it shouldn’t go bad because it’s fermented, right? Any idea on whether I should go and buy a new jar, or just use my year old one?


Hungry Monkey by helenrennie on Jul 15, 2009 at 11:32 AM PDT

Hi Matthew,

The yogurt story was so funny and so familiar that I am still laughing :) One of Sammy’s first food words was yogurt too. She used to call it “yoguk,” though lately it mutated into “yogut.” I guess she is growing and starting to say things the right way now. But I really miss the adorable names she made up for food, like kiwi is a “wizi,” and gnocchi are “yucky” (in a really good way -- that’s one of her favorite foods).

Keep up the good work! A friend of mine just had a baby 2 weeks ago. She has so much stuff that I don’t know what to get her as a gift. This post reminded me about your book and I am thinking it would make a really great present.


The science of baking by helenrennie on Apr 29, 2009 at 12:00 PM PDT

Hi Kelly,

Great write up on the basics of baking! I am a cook at heart too, and one thing that made all the difference in my baking is weighing the flour. This will make WAY bigger difference than figuring out exactly how much protein your flour has. Get yourself a scale and try weighing a cup of flour 5 times. You’ll get different amount each time. Whatever you’ll get is likely not the amount the recipe writer had in mind either. A cup of flour can vary by as much as 25% from person to person. No one in US even agrees on what a cup is. Some say it’s 4.5 oz, some say it’s 5oz.

To avoid the protein content being all over the place for AP flour, Rose Levy Beranbaum suggests only using King Arthur, Pillsbury, and Gold Metal instead of generic brands. I find that her advice on baking gets me perfect results the first time around -- it boils down to being extremely precise with measurements, temperatures, and ingredients. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Reinhart. His book is great at explaining the theory, but the recipes need too much adjustment to work on the first try. The only way you’ll learn to adjust with baking is to make the same thing 20-30 times changing only one variable at a time (just like a proper science experiment). If your temperament is anything like mine, that’s never going to happen. That’s why I like meticulous recipes when it comes to baking -- I want something decent on the first try.


Blanching answers by helenrennie on Apr 22, 2009 at 11:30 AM PDT

Hi Hank,

I love your column! What a great explanation. I give cooking classes and it’s always a hurdle to get people over the exact measurement and timing of the recipes. They often listen to them too closely when it comes to cooking and not closely enough when it comes to baking. It’s a shame you don’t live in the Boston area. I am looking for good culinary instructors.


Steaking a claim by helenrennie on Mar 14, 2009 at 11:31 AM PDT

Hi Joe,

This sounds very intriguing. I have a question that I couldn’t find the answer to on their site. They claim that moisture can escape from the bags, but oxygen can’t get in. If I understand correctly, moisture is water (H20 molecules) and oxygen is O2 molecules. Wouldn’t oxygen molecules be smaller than the water molecules? How can water get out if oxygen can’t get in?

Any material science or chemistry folks out there?


Looking sharp by helenrennie on Oct 22, 2008 at 2:08 PM PDT

Thanks Matthew! If you have any ideas about stuff sticking to knives, but don’t think they belong here, would you mind e-mailing me? Or it might make a good follow up story :)

Looking sharp by helenrennie on Oct 22, 2008 at 10:49 AM PDT

Hi Matthew,

Great write up on buying a knife. You got me intrigued about Togiharu knives. The website said that it can be converted to be a left-handed knife for $25. I am actually a righty, but I am curious what makes it right vs. left handed. Is this knife not symmetrical? I am also curious if it has the same issue with a sharp corner on the handle where your index finger is supposed to go like Henckels does. That’s one of the reasons I really don’t like Henckels knives. They give me a callus, like you mentioned.

One more question. I’ve never done a side by side comparison of chef’s vs. santoku knives. Did you notice any difference in how much the slices (or dice) climbs up the knife with santoku? Do those little hollows really work?

Thanks :)

Small fry by helenrennie on Sep 24, 2008 at 5:13 PM PDT

I don’t think I’ll ever learn everything there is to know about fish. For example, I picked up a really awesome fish grilling tip from Cook’s recently, and I learned that you can cook and eat the smelts whole, heads, guts, and all from you. Fish is also very regional. I can’t even recall if I’ve ever seen smelts with heads and guts around here. I think they are usually sold already cleaned, but I might be wrong because I don’t usually cook them. When I want small fish, I usually go for the fatty sardines and anchovies, so even I am guilty of discriminating against some fish. I am also not sure whether the east coast and west coast smelt is the same thing. So there is always more to learn, that’s why I am always so nosey :)


Small fry by helenrennie on Sep 24, 2008 at 11:22 AM PDT

Hi Matthew,

Great story! You just made me really hungry for sardines :) I have a question. You seem to only mention gutting when you talk about filleting them. Do you mean you eat them with the guts when eating them whole? I haven’t tried that. I usually rub the scales off and gut them before cooking. Do the guts affect the taste? I haven’t cooked smelts in a long time, so maybe it’s different for them because they are so small, but would you do that with sardines too? Actually, how big are the west coast smelts roughly?


Slice and dice by helenrennie on Sep 10, 2008 at 1:29 PM PDT

Hi Kelly,

I love the oven mitt idea :) I use my benriner all the time and have never cut myself, but giving it to students is a whole other story. No matter how many times I warn them to pay attention and go slow, people still cut themselves. I hate the plastic guard for exactly the reason you mentioned. It doesn’t work on any vegetable I would actually use benriner for. Hopefully, the oven mitt will solve the problem.


Giving up Rachael Ray by helenrennie on Jul 30, 2008 at 12:52 PM PDT

I swear, this is the first time food writing brought tears to my eyes.

Are there other real cooks out there who don’t watch Food TV (or any TV)? I’ve never seen Ina or Alton or Iron Chef or Top Chef. I’ve seen Rachel Ray without sound because she is always on when I go to the gym. Even without sound, she turns my stomach.

I run a small cooking school and my students are always surprised when I can’t tell they what I think about the last episode of Top Chef.

Everything I’ve seen my students pick up from Food TV is wrong stuff. It’s all the non-sense and trendiness that doesn’t matter. No matter how many episodes they watch, they still can’t sharpen a knife or slice an onion quickly or add enough salt to the dish to make it taste good.

If only we spent as much time cooking as watching TV -- what a food nation we would be.

Thank you for this fabulous post, Sarah!

Steaking a claim by helenrennie on Jan 16, 2008 at 2:26 PM PST

Hi Matt,

I know this is a bit late, but I am behind on my food reading as you can expect with a 6 month old kiddo. I was just wondering if you ever did that story on beef and sure enough -- here it is. What a great article! I am totally on board with you about dry-aged beef. It’s fabulous. I actually think it makes a huge difference in tenderness as well as flavor, so it’s a great thing for cuts like hanger. Unfortunately, I only found dry-aged hanger once and that was in San Francisco on vacation.

I am teaching a Meat class this weekend. I’ll have to tell my students about your column.


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