I recently got an e-mail from Virginia saying, “All my roasts come out tough; any help would be appreciated.” This is a great question and there isn’t a simple solution. I am not sure whether she is referring to pot roasts or more tender cuts such as rib roasts that are cooked in an open pan in the oven but my first response would be that the secret is shopping not cooking. You have to hunt for meat that is generously marbled with fat. This is easier when you are selecting a roast such as a standing rib roast or a whole tenderloin that you are going to cook in the oven in an open pan with dry heat. The trick in that case is to cook the roast to the proper internal temperature and to let it stand 5 to 10 minutes before carving it. It is a lot harder to find a pot roast to braise or cook in a pressure cooker; they are all very lean these days. They look beautiful in the market, but dry out when cooked with moist heat. I used to always choose a tri-tip (silver-tip is its New York name) but they are very hard to find any more. Lately I have switched to short ribs; they are not a pot roast but they have enough fat to be tender and juicy after braising. Larding is a technique that used to be done to help a dry pot roast remain tender and juicy. Strips of fat would be inserted through the roast with a long needle, usually by the butcher before the roast was sold. This is still worth doing but it isn’t easy to find someone who will do it for you.
I am pleased to address an email I received from Joanne Cambell:
“I have a lemon bread recipe which was given to me from a family friend. Every time I make the recipe it sinks in the middle. Do you have any suggestions as to what I might be doing wrong?”
Well, I consulted with my answer lady, mentor and cookbook author, Jean Anderson (who has a section in one of her cookbooks, The New Doubleday Cookbook, on just such thorny issues). Her first guess is that there is too much sugar in the recipe. Other possible causes include too much shortening, too little baking powder or just underbaking. Try cutting down on the sugar and see what happens.
Your turn. Send me your peskiest culinary problem and I’ll do what I can to help you solve it.
Pam recently e-mailed the Kitchenshrink to ask, “When I make a cheese sauce starting with a roux of flour and butter then adding milk and cheese it sometimes gets a gritty texture. What causes this?” I thought perhaps it was caused by overheating but wasn’t sure so I asked my friend Jean Anderson for some help. Here’s what she said:
“I think some kinds of cheese just do this but it could be that overheating the cheese has denatured the protein. Some cheeses are improperly aged and in addition, contain emulsifiers or coagulants that break down when heated causing a gritty texture. I would urge cooks to use top-quality cheeses, PURE CHEESES and NOT “CHEESE FOODS” that glut supermarkets. READ THE LABELS and if the list of additives is long, avoid that particular cheese. Well aged, unadulterated top-quality Cheddars melt smoothly if NOT overheated. I also like the Italian Fontina and Parmigiano Reggiano. Something else: Grate the cheese yourself instead of using pre-grated — in my experience, these rarely melt smoothly. Rule of Thumb: Add cheese only after a sauce has thickened, use lowest heat, stir constantly, and remove from the heat the instant the cheese melts – but if the sauce is bubbling before you add the cheese, pull the pan off the heat altogether, add the cheese, and stir until smooth. Overheating cheese will curdle and/or “string” it every time. Easy does it!” For more kitchen wisdom, visit Jean’s website, http://www.jeanandersoncooks.com/.
I recently got an e-mail from Sandy asking if there is an easy way to peel an egg. She said, “I lose most of the egg when I do it.” Well, actually it has more to do with selecting the egg than peeling it. Very fresh eggs never peel well when hard cooked. As an egg ages, air comes through the shell and creates a layer separating the membrane that surrounds the egg from the shell. If you select an egg that is a week or so old, that air space makes it easier to peel the egg. Peeling it under running water helps as well.
Each year around the holidays I get lots of questions about making gravy.
There are many ways to make smooth gravy, but the easy one that I learned from my grandmother is to reach for the instantized flour (Wondra.) It can be whisked into either hot or cold broth and dissolves easily making a smooth gravy. It also makes a good coating for fried foods. I have no personal interest in the company but the flour has been in my family’s kitchens for three generations. And, no matter how you make your gravy, if lumps appear, just pour the gravy through a large strainer and no one will know.
If it is a dry day and you have headed all the warnings about meringue making (no yolk in the whites, no salt in the mixture, impeccably clean bowl and beater, the correct ratio of sugar to whites, and sugar added very gradually checking before each addition to see that the mixture is not gritty) it is possible that you are over-beating the whites which can break the structure of the foam but it is more likely that you are not allowing the crust to dry out long enough.
Hard meringue should have 1/4 cup sugar per egg white and should be beaten just until it is glossy and forms tall peaks that do not curl at the top. The crust is really put into the oven to dry out rather than to bake. The process starts with 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a 225°F oven. When you think the crust is thoroughly dried, insert an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part to make sure it has reached 160°F then turn off the oven and allow the crust to continue to dry out in the oven for several hours or overnight. You can find more information on meringue and meringue pie shells on the American Egg Board’s web site.
Helen asked the Kitchen Shrink how she can keep a single pie crust from shrinking when it is baked without a filling.
The first step in preventing pastry shrinkage is to make your pastry with very cold fat, very little water, and a gentle touch. You will find a lot more about this in the Kitchen Shrink archive. Be careful not to stretch the pastry when you press it into the pan and build the pastry edge so that it extends above the top of the pan. Pierce the pastry well and chill it before baking. If you wish, you can line the pastry with aluminum foil and fill it with pie weights, a pie chain, or dried beans for the first half of the baking time given in the recipe.
I recently got an e-mail from Carol saying, “I’ve made cinnamon rolls for more years then I can remember,but lately they seem to shrink after I take them out of the oven. By shrinking I mean they get wide spaces between the layers. I’m wondering if maybe I’m letting them raise too long after I shape them. Any tips?”
It is perfectly normal for yeast breads to shrink a bit after they come out of the oven. Steam from the liquid in the recipe causes part of the increase in volume the bread experiences in the oven. When the bread cools, the steam disappears, and depending upon the stability of the dough, the bread will shrink some.
Many things affect the stability of yeast dough but if you experience unexpected results from a recipe you have made before and you haven’t changed the flour or yeast or increased the butter or sugar in the dough, technique is most likely responsible. Over kneading and over raising during either the dough preparation and first raising stage or the shaping and second raising stage of the process can cause the dough to shrink after baking. Over kneading will over develop the gluten in the flour making a tough structure that will pull the dough together once the steam is gone from the loaf. Knead only until the dough is smooth, shiny, and pliable. Over raising will make the bread’s framework too fragile and it will collapse as it cools. Raise only until an indentation pressed into the dough holds its shape.
Also, that delicious layer of butter that you spread on the dough before it is rolled up insures that the layers won’t stick together and support each other making them free to shrink. You might try your recipe without the butter and sprinkle the dough with sugar or brown sugar and cinnamon before rolling it into a log.