Dear readers, thank you all for your wonderful questions! Here is part two of the Tablespoon Q&A. --Sarah
How do you choose and cook steak so you know it will come out tender and flavorful? -- Anna Jones
Dear Anna, Choosing a good steak is largely a question of preference. Generally speaking, a good steak is one that is well-marbled (as is the case with a rib-eye, porterhouse and the like). Grass-fed, in my opinion, is more flavorful than grain-fed. But you have to find cuts that you like. My husband and I favor the less-fatty sirloin or New York strip (which, it should be noted, is a cut of sirloin). I also love the ultra-lean flank steak. When cooking steak, what's important is how it's seasoned, how long it's cooked and, in some cases, how it's cut. Here are a few suggestions:
- For lean cuts, such as London broil and flank steak, marinate the meat before you cook it. Try my Marinated Flank Steak recipe, for instance. Cook it to about medium doneness and then let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing. And this part is very, very important: London broil and flank steak should always be cut against the grain -- otherwise it will be chewy.
- Generally speaking, steak is best when cooked somewhere between medium rare and medium. Well-done can make the steak more chewy and dry -- even a really good cut. Always let a steak rest for about 10 minutes before cutting it so that the juices can absorb into the meat.
- For steaks like sirloin, rib-eye and porterhouse, sprinkle the surface of the steak (all over) with a mix of salt and pepper and let it sit for about 10 minutes before cooking. It does wonders for the flavor.
- Never, ever, ever pierce a steak with a fork or knife while cooking. This will cause it to lose its juices, and it may end up dry.
What can I substitute in recipes that call for wine and/or alcohol of any kind? Many say the alcohol is cooked off, but would rather not use it at all. Plus, don't want to buy a whole bottle for cooking if I don't drink at all. Some have suggested fruit juices, but I think I need more of an acid flavor. -- Beth Shapiro
Dear Beth, Although I do cook with wine, sometimes I find myself mid-recipe with no white wine in sight. In that case, I substitute an equal amount of chicken broth or stock. For red wine, I sometimes will use beef broth/stock or will use balsamic vinegar. It really all comes down to how much wine is called for though. If it's a component of a dish, no biggie ... but if it's the basis for the dish (such as in Coq au Vin), then you just aren't going to get the desired results with a substitute.
I am a good cook but I CANNOT cook rice....any help? - Lyn Rogers
Dear Lyn, I have a few friends who tell me how easy it is to cook rice on the stove. I just don't agree with them ... especially not when a good rice cooker can do wonders. It makes cooking rice a set-it and forget-it task, so you can focus on more complicated elements of a meal. So my suggestion? Buy one. If you aren't sure that you will like or use it, buy an inexpensive one to try it (even the $20 cheapies can make good rice). When preparing the rice, always rinse it in cool water before cooking to remove some of the starch. It will come out better if you do. By the by, I have a Sanyo electronic model that I adore (check the Betty Crocker Store online!). It was a great purchase. If you want to make rice in a pan on the stove, the key is to add the rice to the liquid, let it get to a boil, and then simmer it but never stir it. Stirring it at any point before it is ready will make it sticky and less fluffy.
I received a warning for pancake mix and/or Bisquick becoming old and having mold spores form in it. The last box of Bisquick I purchased said to store in the refrigerator, BUT doesn't the moisture in the 'fridge hasten or cause mold to grow? NOW, I don't know what's SAFE for storing pancake mix and/or Bisquick!! Please advise. THX! -- Rose Hershberger
Dear Rose, whenever I hear about a story like this, I turn to Snopes.com, which is a reliable source for detecting whether an email is fact or hoax. In this case, Snopes says it's a fact. However, it's important to note where this came from: a boy was served pancakes from a mix that was beyond its expiration date. The mix had developed mold spores, which he was allergic to. So, he got ill.
To answer your questions about the safety, just use basic precautions: always follow the storing directions of the product you are using. If the box says to store in the fridge, do it. Also keep track of how old products are. If the box has been sitting in the pantry or fridge for awhile, err on the side of caution and toss it. And finally, always be mindful of expiration dates -- they are there for a reason.
Sarah W. Caron (aka scaron) is a food writer, editor and blogger who writes about family-friendly foods and raising a healthy family at Sarah's Cucina Bella.