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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There are those of us who cook because we love it, others because we have to, still others who just love to know how to cook or at least figure out what we're doing wrong.

So today we are whisking and blending our way into a batch of occasional conversations we're calling Kitchen Quandaries. And we've brought in some big-time help. Shirley Corriher is a food chemist, and she's the author of "CookWise" and "BakeWise," two books that explain the science of what can go terribly wrong in the kitchen.

And Shirley Corriher, we talked to you on the program, what, about two years ago. And a lot of listeners said bring back Shirley. So we finally brought you back. Welcome back to the program.

Ms. SHIRLEY CORRIHER (Food Chemist; Author, "CookWise"): Well, I'm thrilled to be back, Melissa.

BLOCK: And I want to start with my own personal kitchen quandary, which has to do with rising or the lack thereof. And I'll spare you the story of the flat and dense but delicious zucchini bread that I recently created and just ask you what you think I did wrong.

Ms. CORRIHER: Well, you've got a couple of options here. Number one, your baking powder or baking soda was old and totally gone and inactive.

BLOCK: No, it was new.

Ms. CORRIHER: Number two, you had very fresh, very nice baking powder or baking soda, but the recipe called for too much. Now, when you get too much leavening, the bubbles get big, they bump into each other, they get huge, they float to the top and pop, and there goes your leavening. And your zucchini bread is going to be heavy as lead.

BLOCK: Well, you would think just, you know, if you're worried about it not rising, just add some more leavening. You're saying that's just exactly the wrong thing to do.

Ms. CORRIHER: That's right. That's right. You know, if it's heavy, you think, ah, I just need more baking powder. But this is just totally the opposite.

You need one teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour in the recipe or one-fourth teaspoon of baking soda per cup of flour in the recipe. And you will be surprised. If you pull down a good cookbook off your shelf right now, I bet you you'll find a bunch of recipes that are over-leavened.

Now, some of these you've baked for years, and they work. But you will be amazed at how much lighter they are if you reduce the leavening.

BLOCK: Well, Shirley, let's move now to another kitchen quandary. We'll move on from rising and talk about when things stick. Say, I'm cooking chicken in a pan, and it's just sticking like crazy. What's going wrong there?

Ms. CORRIHER: Okay. Raw natural proteins, when you heat them, they pop open. They have bonds sticking out. This is when it sticks to everything.

BLOCK: It's sticking to the pan right there.

Ms. CORRIHER: Right there. So once they bump into another raw natural protein and join together, they don't stick.

Let me just give you an example with these chicken breasts. You're standing there. Now, the first thing to do is heat the empty pan first so you have a hot surface for the proteins to cook on, not in. And then you add a little oil, tilt it around. You add a couple of raw chicken breasts, and shhh, they sizzle. They are stuck. Now your instinct is to start chiseling, but no, no, no.

BLOCK: Oh, really?

Ms. CORRIHER: This is a Zen moment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CORRIHER: You have to be at peace with the universe. Think happy thoughts. Take a sip of zinfandel, do whatever you have to do, but don't touch the chicken.

BLOCK: Oh really, don't get in there with a spatula, which would be my inclination as an impatient cook.

Ms. CORRIHER: No, the chicken is stuck. Now, once those proteins join together, and that surface of the chicken is cooked and lightly browned, it will release all by itself, and you just slip the spatula under and flip it over.

Now you've got another Zen moment with the new raw side. You know, it's going to take 90 full seconds and this is forever and ever and ever when you're waiting on it, but don't touch the chicken. Once it's cooked on the surface and lightly browned, it just releases all by itself, and you lift it up and put it down on the platter.

BLOCK: Well, Shirley Corriher, thanks so much for helping us out, and you're going to be back with us in a couple of weeks. Here's where our listeners come in. You're going to answer questions from our listeners about their kitchen quandaries, what's really confounding them in the kitchen. So thanks for helping us out with that, too.

Ms. CORRIHER: Great, I look forward to it.

BLOCK: Okay. Shirley Corriher is the author of "CookWise" and "BakeWise." Now, if you have a recipe that just isn't working anymore or maybe a technique that never has in the kitchen, and you want to conquer this problem before the holidays, you can write to us at npr.org. Just make sure the words "kitchen quandary" are in your subject line.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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