Chat Leftovers: Tamarind, Baking Stones, First Set of Pots/Pans
Bethesda, Md.: Can you recommend a substitute for tamarind concentrate? I found a yummy sounding recipe for a soba noodle salad with papaya and shrimp that calls for one-third cup. Where would I find tamarind concentrate and is it worth the effort? I don't want to make an investment in something I won't use again.
For those who are just getting acquainted, tamarind is the podded fruit of a tree native to Asia. The long barky-like pods (pictured, right) contain seeds and a pulp with a sweet-and-sour flavor. It’s dried into concentrate, either as a brick (usually frozen) or as seedless pulp, from a jar. Either way, the pulp needs to be diluted in water, as the flavor is intensely sour.
Tamarind figures into Asian, East Indian, Middle Eastern and Latino cuisines, which means it’s readily available at any number of ethnic grocery stores in the D.C. area. Although you can substitute lemon or lime juice mixed with either brown sugar or molasses (according to Cook’s Thesaurus), I do think it’s worth tracking down just for the sensory experience.
Kate over at Global Gourmet does a fine job of explaining how to soften up a hunk of frozen tamarind, so as to extract the liquid and leave behind the sinewy pulp and seeds.
Over at Thai Kitchen, a supermarket brand of Asian sauces and condiments, Worcestershire sauce is considered a worthy substitute, which makes sense since it consists of tamarind, molasses and anchovies, to name a few.
U Street, Washington, D.C.: Here's another pizza stone question for you, Kim. I have one that I received as a gift and have really enjoyed using. The problem is that I never really know how to wash it properly -- maybe I'm being paranoid, but I always feel like it's not fully clean. Any suggestions?
Stoneware is porous, which means soap, as tempting as it may be, will be absorbed by the stone and make the next pizza pie a soapy pie. Much like a cast-iron skillet, all you need is hot water and a scrubbing sponge, with more emphasis on the sponge than the water. I’ve also heard of cooks making a paste of baking soda to help remove stubborn stuck-on bits. Whatever you do, wash your stone when completely cool!
San Francisco, Calif.: I'm learning to cook for the first time (even though I'm now 32 years old) and am starting to learn about the different types of pots and pans. I'm confused about whether or not I need an iron-clad pan. I was told that it's good to cook food in an iron-clad pan because it instills some iron in the food. But it seems so heavy -- and I don’t know how one bothers to clean it. Any advice on must-have pots and pans?
First thing’s first, San Francisco: Give yourself a high-five for embarking on your new adventure. It’s never too late to learn! As much as I love my cast-iron pans, I’m not sure that’s what I’d start out with as a newbie cook. Unlike other pots and pans, iron cookware requires a different kind of relationship, one of special care rather than uncommitted wash-and-go. Unless an iron skillet has been passed down to you in good, unrusted condition, it will need to be “re-seasoned,” which usually some scrubbing (and rust removal) and a hot oil treatment. But there’s more; to maintain its nonstick sheen, you must wash with hot water and a scrubber only, then dry on top of the stove and finish off with a thin layer of oil EVERY TIME YOU USE THE PAN.
For a first timer, this may sound overwhelming, but a cast-iron skillet, if well looked after, is a friend for life, and loves you back with the most wonderful non-stick finish (and without all those chemicals).
As for equipping your baterie de cuisine (that’s French for pots ‘n’ pans), I always recommend mixing and matching rather than buying a set. Different brands have different strengths, and it’s best to shop around for the pieces that speak to you and the kitchen projects you have in mind. You’ll want a pot deep enough for pasta, for example, and another lidded deep pot for soups, stews or beans, if those are of interest. I’d get maybe 3 or 4 pieces to start, try them out for a while, then expand if you’re still feeling jazzy about cooking and want to keep going.
Food Safety?: Are there ways to "fix" some safety issues, i.e., if food doesn't get refrigerated, does it help to then freeze it for a few days? Or to boil it for a while? Or should it just be pitched? (This obviously isn't foodstuff for sale/non-family consumption.) Are there guidelines somewhere you could refer us to? Right now I'm seen as "hypersensitive," "controlling" and "hurtful" in voicing my concerns and objections to food safety/handling. I'd like to be able to point to reference materials so it feels like information sharing rather than personal attacks on someone's cooking.
Generally speaking, there’s no “fixing” food that’s been stored improperly, regardless of the circumstances. A good place to start reading up on the basics of proper food handling is the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service site.
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