Veal Cheeks, Soy Sauce and Cheap Choppers
There were lots of extra unanswered questions from yesterday's What's Cooking discussion. Below, a sampler, plus a lil' extra sumpin' from a cherry-loving reader...
Silver Spring, Md.: Are veal cheeks exactly what they say they are? I always assumed so (though I've never ordered them, nor do I plan to), but others told me recently that they were a different cut of meat.
If the word cheeks is a facial reference rather than a posterior, one then yes, you're on the right track. Just like human mammals, cows (baby cows) have two cheeks on each side of the face, a muscle responsible for controlling the action of the mouth. Because it is a muscle, the cheek requires slow cooking on low heat (also known as braising) to coax it into rich, tender meat. Usually, you'll find them on menus during colder menus, when people are hankering for stews.
Arlington, Va.: What is the difference between light and dark soy sauce, and which is more commonly used in Asian cooking? Also, what can I use as a substitute for fish sauce for my vegetarian guests at a South East Asian feast this evening?
I know, it gets confusing, as there are so many soy sauce choices.
"Light" soy sauce is also known as "thin" and sometimes labeled as "premium." Do not confuse this with "lite" or reduced sodium soy sauces, which most Asian cookbook authors tend to steer away from.
Light/thin soy sauce is the kitchen workhorse, used commonly in the cookery of China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. In other parts of the region, fish sauce is used in its place, but that's another story for another time.
"Dark" soy sauce is also known as "black" and you may even see some labels refer to it as "soy superior." Darker, thicker, richer and slightly sweeter -- I've read that dark/black soy sauce is sweetened with molasses. Don't confuse this with "sweet soy sauce," a mixture of palm sugar and soy sauce that is used like a table condiment in Indonesia. Totally different beast. Although dark/think soy sauce is used less frequently, it still has its place in certain sauces.
As for a vegetarian-friendly fish sauce, you can try using a thin sauce in its place, but I'm told you'll be missing out on some of the fermented characteristics of fish sauce. I'm still looking.
Appliance: I am a recent grad who cannot afford to spend tons on her kitchen just yet...specifically, I don't have a food processor, though I do have a hand held mixer. Do you have any suggestions for ways to compensate? Typically, I just avoid recipes that require food processors, which is a bit of a bummer.
If the hand-held mixer is a beater you use for cakes, you're out of luck in the pureeing department. The good news is that there are lower-cost alternatives to a food processor, but knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide which suits you best.
First, you can always go with a regular old blender, which is helpful for making veggie purees, and of course, the all-important fruity cocktail. With it come a few caveats: Blenders are not really meant for chopping, and they do a just-okay job at pureeing. Because of the blender's tall, narrow shape, food gets stuck at the bottom by the blade, and you'll have to stop and dig the stuff out (with the blender in "off" position, naturally). The funny shape also makes cleaning the bowl an interesting challenge, and if you don't get that blade clean, it starts to get funky.
If less fuss and muss is more your thing, consider the hand-held immersion blender, a baton-looking thing with a blade on one end that does a bang-up job of pureeing -- right in the middle of a pot or bowl. That's right; you can stick that immersion blender in a pot of boiled potatoes and leeks to make a zippy potato-leek soup, for instance, and it takes all of a few minutes. Caveat: Spattering, which can be highly unpleasant if the mixture is hot. Like the blender, it too is limited to pureeing, so if you're looking for a chopper...
Consider the mini-chopper, essentially a "Mini Me" of a standard food processor, at a fraction of the size and price. Many home cooks like the mini-chopper to save time on large amounts of onions and garlic, but its utility is limited to... chopping.
If you've got 75 bucks to spend, you probably can get both a hand-held immersion blender and a mini-chopper. This will cover both your pureeing and chopping needs and more importantly keep you inspired in the kitchen.
And the final word on pitting cherries...
When I was newly married close to 40 years ago, we visited my grandparents-in-law and went cherry picking in Door County, Wis. I pitted about a bucket of cherries using the paper clip method.
Take a standard size paper clip and take the inner J and bend it up to that the clip is S-shaped. Insert the large loop in the stem end of the cherry and hook the pit and pull it out. I don't want to suggest it's easy or not messy but it works. I have never had pies as good as from that batch of cherries. Heavenly.
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