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Good Questions

Good questions from our readers.

Gladys asks, apropos the piece about Janet Hazen, whether her 2001 book is a cookbook.  The full title is Girlfriends Get Together: Food, Frolic, and Fun Times (Wildcat Canyon Press), and her co-authors are Tamara Traeder and Carmen Renee Berry.  The publisher’s blurb says:

From crisis times, birthdays, and TGIF days, to showers and hallelujah lunches, these 15 girlfriend get-togethers include quick and easy planning ideas, succulent recipes, and innovative ways to create unforgettable memories with the gals.

So it does include recipes but has a broader scope than most cookbooks.

Joan asks, apropos the piece about new cuts of meat, “I don’t think I understand this. Now the muscles are sold as 39 separate different cuts of meat instead of being mashed into hamburger?”

Exactly right.  If  hamburger is, say, $2.99 a pound and people will buy one of the new cuts at $5.99 a pound, the new cut more than justifies the costs of retraining slaughterhouses and butchers; doing the publicity and marketing; developing new recipes; educating and enticing the public.

She also asks, “I need a brief review of what braising is. You don’t mention adding a liquid; I thought braising req’d a small amt of liquid. Is there liquid blurbling?”

Oooh, good one.  No, I didn’t add any liquid, but the mushrooms throw off so much that nothing else is needed.  (Most vegetables and fruits contain enough water so they can braise in a small amount of fat with no additional liquid.)

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Shirley Recipe #1 Questions

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Our dear Joan had such good questions about our first posting in the Shirley Project that we decided to start a new thread to answer them.

Joan:  When you tell us about the 1st recipe, “Which you’re not supposed to make,” who is “you”? All of us?

M-C:  Right, it’s all of us.  The 1st recipe is there just to serve as the basis for comparison with the 3rd recipe.

Joan:  I don’t get it.  Why would she give a recipe and tell you not to make it?  And if she wants you to compare it with another recipe, why is the other recipe the 3rd recipe?  Why isn’t it the 2nd recipe?

MB:  Good question.  One we’ve been asking ourselves since we figured out that Shirley included it as an example of what not to make.  Trust us, she’s really great, just not necessarily at conventional exposition.

Joan:   What are the 3 recipes? The 1st is the sweet, moist one; the 3rd is her improvement on the 1st; and the 2nd is the dry one?

M-C:  Nope, she never gives us a recipe for the original pound cake.  I plan to make it as soon as I have a day when I’m not baking something else.

Joan:  So what’s the 2nd recipe?

M-C:  We’ll get to that in our next Shirley project report, but the point is that the 2nd recipe is the one from which she got the idea for making the 3rd recipe.

MB:  The 2nd recipe is basically a classic pound cake but with a little bit of innovation (whipped cream mixed into the batter).

Joan:  Well, I’ll wait and see. When you say “the math,” the math about what? Measurements and proportions and their consequences?

M-C:  Yes, there are several proportions that must obtain in order for a cake to come out OK.  The idea is that if you understand them and you understand how to plug your ingredients in you will be able (a) to judge other people’s cake recipes without having actually to bake them and (b) to invent your own cakes, which would be a lot of fun.

MB:  I know I’m supposed to be the baking expert and all, but this is something I have absolutely never been able to do.  No clue how to.  Maybe, just maybe, Shirley will be able to help me figure it out.

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Joan:  I don’t get the vanilla sugar substitution. How do you know how much sugar to add? The same exact measurement as for the extract even though sugar is dry?

M-C:  Oh, sorry, I didn’t explain well enough.  You use the vanilla sugar instead of plain sugar, cup for cup the same.  And then because the recipe accommodated such-and-such an amount of liquid for the vanilla extract, which you’re not using, you can substitute some other more interesting liquid, like rose water or bourbon.  The other liquid can’t be an acid, like lemon juice, and it can’t be fatty, like milk, but otherwise the sky’s the limit.

Joan:  Hunh.  And that works out?

MB:  It does work out, though personally I still add vanilla extract.  Although a lot of that is due to financial reasons, because buying vanilla beans is WAY more expensive than buying vanilla extract.

Joan:  Why is the shortening still sickening if it has no trans fat? I think I am supposed to know this basic nutritional fact, but I can’t remember.

M-C:  Oops, I failed to notice that “sickening” was ambiguous in that context.  It’s sickening in the sense of flavorless, disgusting, nasty; but no, it’s not unhealthful like a trans fat.

MB: Such good questions!  As always, we are eternally grateful to readers who ask questions and help us improve the blog.  It’s more helpful than you’d ever believe.

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