Quick Tip: Don’t Burn Your Bottoms

November 5, 2014

THE PROBLEM: It always used to happen that my biscuits and cookies would have over-baked bottoms. Using parchment paper helps a little (and helps a lot with cleanup) by insulating a little from the hot baking sheet. The bottom-line is that all ovens heat from below. So even with my oven’s convection fan, the part of the oven below the baking sheet is always hotter than the top. Previous, the only tool in my tool chest to prevent it was to lower the overall oven temperature. But the recipe calls for a specific temperature for a reason, and lowering the oven temperature will almost always have unwanted consequences. For example, “oven spring” usually calls for higher temperatures to cause rapid rising of the leavening agent (yeast or baking soda/powder) before the flour sets. A lower temperature will result in denser biscuits and cookies.

Allows the tops and bottoms to brown perfectly

Allows the tops (left and top) and bottoms (center) to brown in unison

THE SOLUTION: Half-way through baking, put a large Pyrex casserole dish filled with 1/2″ to 1″ of hot tap water on the shelf below whatever your baking. (See photo below). This technique allows time for the “oven spring” to occur, but then prevents the metal sheet pan from overheating and burning the bottoms. The exact timing will depend upon the characteristics of your individual oven, but I have found that half-way is the general rule for my oven.

It’s definitely a balancing act; too soon and the bottoms wont brown, and too late and the bottoms will overcook. If your oven requires you to include from the beginning, be sure to include the water during the entire preheating cycle. The idea is not to lower the overall oven temperature, but rather to even out the temperature in the top and bottom of your oven.



Stir-Fried Shrimp with Garlicky Eggplant, Scallions, and Cashews

November 2, 2014

Chris Kimball says that this recipe has two secrets that make it delicious. First, cooking the vegetables and shrimp separately allows you to cook the shrimp using lower heat. Not only can you cook the vegetable for longer, but the higher heat allows the eggplant and scallions to brown which adds a lot of flavor. Second, Chris Kimball says that soaking the shrimp for 30 minutes in salt, oil, and aromatics will yield tender (and deeply flavored) shrimp. Be sure to use the time that the shrimps is soaking to prepare all your vegetables. Overall, the recipe is delicious and takes less than an hour. The recipe did not yield enough sauce. I didn’t realize how delicious the sauce is until I tried to supplement it with plain soy sauce. If you are serving with rice, then you should increase the sauce. 4-stars.

Delicious combination of shrimp and vegetables

Delicious combination of shrimp and vegetables

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $13.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 4:00 PM. Ready at: 5:00 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here.  The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

6 medium garlic cloves (used in two ways)
1-lb 21-25 sized shrimp
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
2 Tablespoons dry sherry or Shaoxing wine
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cornstarch
6 large scallions
1/2 cup unsalted cashews
1 medium eggplant (about 3/4 pound)

  1. Peel (and devein) the shrimp and remove the tails. Peel and mince 1 glove of garlic (or pressed through garlic press). In a medium bowl, add shrimp, minced garlic, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1/2 teaspoon table salt. Allow to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  If serving with steamed white rice, begin to cook it now.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, add soy sauce, oyster sauce, sherry, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch. Whisk to combine. Thinly slice 5 cloves of garlic , and thinly cut scallions whites.  Combine sliced garlic with scallion whites and cashews in small bowl. Cut the scallion greens into 1″ pieces and set greens aside separately. Cut eggplant into 3/4″ dice.
  3. Add 1 Tablespoon sesame oil to a 12″ nonstick skillet. Set over high burner and pre-heat until just smoking. Add eggplant and saute for 3 to 6 minutes until lightly browned. Add scallion greens and continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes until greens begin to brown and eggplant becomes fully tender. Empty vegetables to a medium serving bowl.
  4. Add 1 Tablespoon sesame oil to now-empty skillet and pre-heat until just begins to smoke. Add garlic-scallion-cashew mixture and saute for 30 seconds until it just begins to brown. Add shrimp, and turn down burner to medium-low. Cook for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes, while stirring frequently, until shrimp turn lightly pink on both sides.
  5. Whisk soy sauce mixture to recombine and add to skillet. Turn up burner to high, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, continuing to stir constantly, until sauce is thickened and shrimp are cooked through. Return vegetables to skillet to heat through, toss to combine, and serve onto individual plates or re-using the vegetable bowl.
Ready to serve

Ready to serve

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