Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

How to Load a Dishwasher

posted in Around the Kitchen by Kathy Maister

The first three apartments I lived in had no dishwasher — except for me, that is. For that matter, none of my early apartments had kitchen windows either.

I really felt like I had arrived by the time I owned my first dishwasher. Of course, saving quarters for the communal laundry machine in my apartment building went on for many more years to come!

If you have a dishwasher, I don’t need to tell you how wonderful they are!

However, it surprises some people to discover that there is a right and a wrong way to load a dishwasher. Do it wrong and you’ll end up with dishes not getting washed properly and possibly even breaking a few in the process.

Loading a dishwasher is easy as long as you follow a few simple rules:

First, quickly rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher in order to remove big chunks of food. Dishwashers can choke up unless you pay attention to this, and paying for a plumbers’ visit to unclog them can be expensive.

No need to fuss too much with this step (let the dishwasher do the washing!) but don’t leave it out.

Next, be sure to put glassware, coffee cups and plastic containers on the top rack, which was designed to hold them. If you have a lot of glasses that need washing, you may be tempted to put them on the bottom rack, but there is a higher probability that they will break there.

imgp1436_305

Since it’s generally hotter on the bottom than it is on the top, even dishwasher-safe plastic containers may melt on the bottom rack. Proceed with caution.

Plates, bowls, and anything that needs a stronger wash put on the bottom rack. Did you know that the top and bottom racks often have a different amount of water pressure? Who knew? You obviously need to exert less energy washing a water glass than a plate with dried-up tomato sauce on it!

imgp1433_305

Naturally, silverware and utensils go in the special holder. Some people clump spoons together, forks together, and knives together. Others say, no, “nesting” the utensils means they don’t get cleaned properly — mix them up. Be warned: how one does or does not put silverware in the dishwasher can break up a beautiful friendship or marriage!

imgp1432_305

It’s important, in my view, to put sharp, pointed things (like knives and forks) pointing downward. (There is nothing worse than being impaled by utensils while loading – or unloading – the dishwasher!)

You should never put your good knives in the dishwasher. Something that big and that sharp just should not go in there — and it’s easy to wash good knives by hand. Small, inexpensive paring knives are often dishwasher-safe.

Always empty the bottom rack first. The glasses and cups on the top rack will often drip as you are unloading them (so many seem to have those little crevices on the bottom that accumulate water.) You won’t get the plates on the bottom all wet if you have already unloaded them first.

Never turn the dishwasher on and then go to bed. You never know when there could be a leak or a problem with your dishwasher! Turn it on after dinner so that it has finished running before you go to bed. (That’s actually a tip from most fire safety experts.)

Many people don’t turn it on until every square inch of space is filled, but I turn the dishwasher on every evening. It’s just too icky (technical term!) to think of dirty dishes hanging out in a sealed box overnight. If it’s not full, I just use the light setting.

imgp1428_305

Many dishwashers have several settings. The settings on mine include: ‘pots & pans’, normal, light/china, quick/glass, ‘rinse & hold’, sani-rinse, and an ‘energy saver dry’.

The pots and pans cycle is the longest running cycle for really tough jobs.

The sani-rinse is a very hot rinse useful for really killing germs. I use it if someone in the house has a cold or the flu.

‘Energy-saver’ means the heating element to dry the dishes is not activated, and the dishes will take longer to dry on their own.

imgp1495_305

Inevitably, once you start the dishwasher you always find another glass or plate or spoon that needs to be washed. Generally speaking, in the beginning, while the water is heating, you can open the dishwasher and add that dirty dish. Then re-push the start button. Many dishwashers will have an indicator of some kind to tell you what part of the cycle it’s in. Some even have a pause button. If it’s already in the wash cycle then it’s too late to open the door, and you may flood the kitchen if you do. Alas, you may have to wash that last item by hand!

On a final note, here’s some personal advice if someone you really care about loads the dishwasher for you, but does it incorrectly. The first time, say nothing, thank them and turn out the lights. You want to encourage them to pitch in and help right?

By the third time they do it “not quite the way you think it should be done”, gently offer suggestions — with reasons. No-one likes being criticized, but if you use it as a form of education “By the way, did you know WHY they say you should…….?” You may get away with both your goals: getting it done right and keeping your relationship strong!

Does anyone else have any advice (or questions) about using dishwashers?

If you are new to startcooking, or are a regular visitor here, please consider subscribing for free.

How to: Wrapping Food

posted in Around the Kitchen, Kitchen Basics by Kathy Maister

This post will explain when and how you can use some of the more common storage wraps available at most grocery stores.

How we cover, wrap and contain our food plays a role in how well it fares in the cupboard, refrigerator or freezer.

Even when properly stored all food does have a diminishing shelf life after opening. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a very helpful chart on how long to store food in the fridge.

When it comes to food storage, the motto everyone should live by is – when in doubt, throw it out!

.

First, know your refrigerator

Refrigerators are not the same temperature throughout. The crisper drawers and the door are warmer than the rest of the fridge. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to store highly perishable foods, like eggs, in the door of the fridge. Keep them on a shelf!

http://startcooking.com/public/images/imgp2431_400_02.jpg

My Refrigerator!

The door shelving is meant for things like drinks and mustard. As a general rule, your fridge should be colder than 4 degrees C (40 F) and your freezer should be colder than minus- 18 degrees C (0 F).

Ways to cover, wrap and store food

Contact with oxygen damages food, which is why it’s important to keep food in air-tight packaging or containers.

Aluminum Foil:

Wrapping food in aluminum foil protects it from both light and oxygen. Foil is also the best material for keeping moisture out of food, so it’s great for freezing food. But keep in mind that it is reactive, so it can’t be used with acidic foods like tomatoes and berries. If it’s fairly clean after one use, foil can also be re-used after washing (unlike plastic wrap).

  • It’s a good idea to use foil around plastic wrap for things that are going in the freezer, to provide a double layer of protection. You can use regular foil or heavier-weight foil that’s meant for freezing.
  • In the fridge, use foil for wrapping sandwiches, pizza, bread and muffins. It’s great to use on anything that might be re-heated in the oven.
  • You can use foil to line baking pans, in order to protect them from stuck-on food.
  • Aluminum foil CANNOT be used in the microwave.

Plastic wrap.

Plastic wrap has the advantage of being transparent, so you don’t have to open it to find out what’s inside. Plastic wrap is good for making an air-tight seal on bowls or containers that don’t have a lid. However, plastic wrap typically can’t be re-used.

  • When it comes to the microwave, the plastic wrap should be at least one inch from the food that’s being heated. The heat from the food could cause the plastic wrap to melt
  • By the way, users of foil and plastic wraps may not have noticed that the boxes often have a handy tab at the end that you can press to keep the roll in place. (I had no idea, either, until I read about it on TipNut.)

Resealable Plastic Bags

These bags are very handy for keeping things like cold cuts or cheese fresh in the fridge. Heavier-weight plastic bags are sold for storing food in the freezer. These are particularly suitable for freezing batches of soup or saucy dishes. Try to squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before sealing it.

http://startcooking.com/public/IMG_6963.jpg

Frozen Mushroom Gravy, Chicken Gravy, Sweet Potatoes and Butternut Squash Soup

Air-tight Containers

Lidded plastic, glass or Pyrex containers are reusable, and hence are better for the environment than disposable wraps like plastic and foil. There are all kinds of clear containers that make it easy to keep track of what you’ve got. Invest in a good set of storage containers and cut down on use of foil and plastic!

http://startcooking.com/public/IMG_8577-2.JPG

Be sure to spray plastic container with cooking spray to prevent foods like tomato sauce from permanently staining the container.

Freezer Paper

This is plastic-coated paper that’s meant for wrapping foods that you want to freeze. The advantage of freezer paper is that it’s easy to write on, so that you’ll know what you’re freezing.

Waxed Paper

Waxed paper was developed as a moisture-proof wrapping material. It’s good to use for putting between layers of cookies or other baked goods in a tin. (I used it in my Crepe video )

Note, however, that it’s NOT meant for use while actually baking, and will smoke if used in the oven. It is, however, useful in the microwave as a splatter cover. Waxed paper will not heat up as much as plastic wrap in the microwave.

Parchment Paper

This multi-purpose paper has been treated to be non-stick and very resistant to heat. It is also often re-usable – the same sheet can be used like a baking sheet several times.

http://startcooking.com/public/IMG_5180.jpg

  • Parchment paper can be used instead of grease to line a cookie or baking tin. You can also very easily make a parchment paper sling for brownies or loaves – then all you have to do is lift the finished product out of its baking pan.
  • There is a great demonstration on how to use parchment paper to line a cake pan in my post on Chocolate Cake For Beginners.


    http://startcooking.com/public/IMG_5412.jpg

  • Parchment paper can also be used to separate foods that you want to freeze. Put a piece of parchment between hamburger patties, steaks or crepes, then wrap them as you normally would and freeze. When you want to use them, you won’t need a crowbar to separate them.

Vacuum sealers

Home cooks can buy an appliance that vacuum packs food, removing all the air from the packaging. These vacuum sealers can be used on foods that are refrigerated, frozen or stored in the cupboard. Vacuum packing can extend the life of stored food, and can eliminate the issue of freezer burn.

Just remember, when in doubt, throw it out!

Cheers!
Kathy

If you are new to startcooking, or are a regular visitor here, please consider subscribing for free.

Flour Power: How to Choose and Use Flour

posted in Around the Kitchen, Pantry by Kathy Maister

There are many different types of flour available in the typical grocery store or supermarket. This post includes a description of some basic flours, and how to measure and store flour.

Here in the USA the following flours are readily available at most grocery stores:

For most North Americans and Europeans, the word “flour” is synonymous with white wheat flour. But in India, chickpea flour is a cooking staple, in Latin America it’s more common to use maize flour, and in Southeast Asia rice flour is used in many foods.

All flour made from wheat contains gluten, which is the binding agent that gives bread its elastic texture. For anyone with gluten allergies, here’s a handy guide to some alternative flours. There are several great gluten-free cooking blogs on the internet. Here are just a few: Gluten Free Girl Karina’s Kitchen Gluten Free Mommy.

Flour can be made from all kinds of grains, and even fruit and vegetables! Ever heard of banana flour or sweet potato flour?

Flour is used to bake bread, cookies and cakes and also to thicken sauce and gravy, and to coat meat before frying.


All Purpose White Flour

All-purpose white flour is made from processing wheat, leaving out the nutritious germ and bran. It is sold both bleached and unbleached and can be used interchangeably. It is bleached mostly for aesthetic reasons, as flour has a natural yellowish color. The bleaching process also preserves the flour for a longer period of time. Commercial bakers often use unbleached flour.

White flour is also available in organic versions, meaning that it comes from wheat that hasn’t been exposed to pesticides. If you want to substitute all-purpose flour with a different kind of flour, or a non-wheat flour, take a look at this guide.


Enriched Flour

In the USA, the law require that all flour not containing wheat germ must have nutrients added back into the flour. Niacin, riboflavin, thiamin and iron are typically added. Some manufacturers also add Vitamins A and D to the flour as well.


Whole-wheat Flour

Whole-wheat flour is produced from the whole wheat grain, making it more nutritious and fiber-rich than white flour. It also contains more oils than white flour. Consequently, it can go rancid more quickly than white flour. It is best to store whole-wheat flour in the freezer, in a sealed container. Be sure to bring it to room temperature before using it.

You can also buy wholewheat pastry flour at specialty stores or on line. It produces lighter results than regular wholewheat flour, but still not as light as pastries made with white flour.

White wholewheat flour does sound like a contradiction! Nutritionally speaking it is almost the same as whole wheat flour, but lighter-colored and sweeter tasting. Plus you can substitute it for white flour, ounce for ounce and no one would be the wiser.

Photo source: Perfect Pantry


Bread Flour

Bread flour is unbleached flour with a high protein levels and high gluten strength.

Whoa! What does that mean?

Basically when you use it to make bread it gives the bread a better texture than just plain white flour as it reacts really well with yeast.


Self-rising flour (biscuit mix)

This variety of white flour was developed as a time-saving product for cooks. It’s flour that already has baking powder and salt added to it, to help baked goods rise. The baking powder will lose its effect the longer the flour is stored. If you don’t have self-rising flour, you can make it by combining one cup of all-purpose flour with 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon of salt.


Cake and Pastry Flour

Cake flour is white flour made from soft varieties of wheat and contains very little gluten. This means that it’s well-suited for cakes, producing a light, airy crumb. Cake flour is usually found in the baking department of the grocery store.

There is also pastry flour, which is used for pie crusts, cookies and other baked goods. It’s not as fine as cake flour. Pastry flour may be available at health food stores.

Measuring flour

Flour is not one of those ingredients that you should eyeball or approximate. If you’re baking, too much flour will make the finished product tough and dry.

In the USA the most standard method to measure is the “dip and sweep” method.

http://startcooking.com/public/images/IMG_9035.JPG

Using a measuring cup, scoop the flour out of the bag or container and then level it off with the straight, dull edge of a knife. Don’t pack it down.

Measuring by weight and not by volume is a much more precise way to measure. All of the recipes here at startcooking.com are based on the “dip and sweep” method as it is what is standard here in the USA.

The following flour weight chart (from The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum) is a handy reference for baking:

Flour

Ounces/

cup

Grams/

cup

All Purpose Flour

Bleached

Sifted

Lightly spooned

Dip and Sweep

4

4.2

5.2

114

121

142

All Purpose Flour

Unbleached

Lightly spooned

Dip and Sweep

4.5

5.2

130

148

Whole Wheat Flour

Sifted

Lightly spooned

Dip and Sweep

4.2

4.5

5.5

121

130

157

Bread Flour

Dip and Sweep

4.5

130

Cake Flour

Sifted

Lightly spooned

Dip and Sweep

3.5

4

4.5

100

114

130

Sifting Flour

Sifting flour incorporates air into the flour and removes any lumps from the flour.

If a recipe says 1 cup of flour, sifted – measure the flour and then sift it.

If a recipe says 1 cup of sifted flour – sift the flour and then measure it.

Storing Flour

If flour is stored in its unopened original package, or in an airtight container, it lasts about eight months. Once it’s open, it’s best to keep it in an airtight container or resealable bag. If you store flour in the fridge, it’s even more important to keep it airtight so that it doesn’t absorb moisture or odors from other foods. The shelf life of the flour will depend on its variety; flours made from whole grains always have shorter shelf life than refined flours. If the flour doesn’t look or smell right, don’t take a chance.

If you’d like to try incorporating wholewheat flour into your baking, here are a few recipes to get you started:

Wholewheat Raspberry Almond Thumbprint cookies are those great little cookies that have a blob of jam in the middle. Thanks, Pinch My Salt!
The Way the Cookie Crumbles demonstrates Wheatmeal shortbread cookies, based on a Martha Stewart recipe.
Here’s a recipe for Whole Grain Bran Muffins, from Farm Girl Fare. Farm Girl swears that they don’t come out tasting like sawdust!

Enjoy!

If you are new to startcooking, or are a regular visitor here, please consider subscribing for free.