Sunday, July 08, 2007

Sherri's Helpful Hints

Food Preparation Techniques

Chicken Stock

In a large pot, cover 4 pounds of washed, raw chicken bones or parts with cold water - enough to cover them by 5 inches. Necks and backs are the most flavorful bones of the chicken, so they are ideal, but you can also make a wonderful chicken stock with a whole, cut-up, raw chicken. Bring water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, skim the fat and scum that have risen to the top with a ladle or spoon. Add 1 pound of a combination of chopped carrots, onions and celery, and the herbs of your choice. Cook chicken stock for about three hours - long enough for the full flavor to come to the fore. It is important to make sure that the bones stay covered during the entire cooking process, so add more water if needed. Strain the stock through a sieve or a colander before using, refrigerating or freezing.

Beef Stock

Heat oven to about 400 degrees F. Put cleaned beef into a large baking pot. Add any fresh vegetables you care to, including carrot tops, if desired. Carrots, celery, and bell peppers are good to use. Place in the oven and brown for about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Place roasted meat and vegetables in a stockpot. Add spices, as desired, such as garlic cloves, whole peppercorns, parsley, bay leaf, thyme and/or rosemary. Don't add salt, as you normally add this to the dish you are preparing which uses the stock. Cover the meat and vegetables with double their volume in water. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Leave the pot uncovered so that some liquid evaporates and intensifies the taste.

Beef should simmer at least several hours. Cook the stock until about one-third of the original liquid remains. Strain it, let it cool, and degrease it. The stock can be frozen in ice cube trays and cubes used as needed.

For vegetable stock, simply omit the meat from the above instructions.

Yeast Dough

Dissolve one package of dry yeast into 1/4 cup of water that is slightly cool to the touch, about 85 degrees F. Yeast is killed at temperatures of more than 105 degrees F, so while cool water may slow proofing time, it will avoid killing the yeast.

Add one teaspoon of sugar to feed the yeast. Yeast is a fungus that feeds on sugars and gluten in flour. It in turn multiplies and produces carbon dioxide as a by-product. Carbon dioxide bubbles cause dough to rise. Stir to dissolve yeast and sugar. It will take about ten minutes until the yeast begins to bubble or foam. If it does not foam, it is not alive and should not be used.

Combine the entire proofed mixture with the liquid ingredients in your dough recipe. Remember that rich ingredients such as butter, oil, honey and even salt slow the rising action of the yeast, so be sure to allow for enough rising time when baking with these ingredients.

Self-Rising Flour

To make, add 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt to each cup of flour called for in the recipe.

Ice Cream Cakes

If you use a loaf or square pan, spray the inside with nonstick cooking spray and line the pan with plastic wrap. Let the plastic hang over the edge by a couple of inches and be sure to press it into the corners.

Springform pans also work well, and there's no need to line them. To unmold, just run a knife along the inside edge and release the latch.

Bake the cake in the same pan in which you'll assemble the ice-cream cake, so the cake won't require trimming. Freeze all pans at least 15 minutes before filling them to help keep the ice cream from melting.

Choose a recipe for a cake that won't get too hard when frozen. Many cakes freeze solid, but an ice-cream cake should succumb easily to a fork or a bite.

Beat the ice cream before smoothing it onto the cake so it will spread evenly. This can be done in a bowl with a wooden spoon or a potato masher or in a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.

Whichever method you use, first place the bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes. Let the ice cream stand at room temperature for five minutes (fewer if your kitchen is very warm), then place it in the cold bowl and beat until smooth. This will take only a few seconds.

With a rubber or thin metal spatula, evenly spread the ice cream in the pan. If your cake has several layers of ice cream, let each layer freeze for about 30 minutes before adding the next flavor to keep the flavors from mixing together.

Freezing ice-cream cakes can take anywhere from six hours to overnight, depending on the temperature of your freezer. They'll keep at least a week in the freezer, so you can make them well in advance.

When it's time to unmold the cake, invert it on a cutting board or platter and remove the pan by gently pulling the plastic wrap away from the pan.

Cut ice-cream cake with a sharp knife. If the cake is very hard, use a hot, dry knife (between each slice, run a knife under hot water and dry it with a towel) or let the cake stand at room temperature for a few minutes to soften.

Garnishes for ice cream cake are abundant but optional. Depending on the ice cream flavor selected, use caramel and chocolate sauces, toasted chopped almonds or pecans, or fresh berries or sliced peaches.

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