MELISSA BLOCK, host:

For some of us, the kitchen is a happy place where everything we touch turns out perfect and delicious. But for others, it's an obstacle course full of pots, pans, doubt and vexation. So, it's for you, the doubters and the vexed, that we're bringing back Atlanta food chemist and cookbook author Shirley Corriher. Shirley, back by popular demand.

Ms. SHIRLEY CORRIHER (Cookbook Author): Hello, hello. I'm thrilled to be with you.

BLOCK: Well, we had you on the program last month to talk about ways to fix two common kitchen problems with rising and sticking, and we asked listeners to send in a bunch of their own kitchen quandaries. And we're going to run some of those questions by you today. We're going to focus on cooking. Next week we're going to talk about baking. So, here we go. You ready?

Ms. CORRIHER: I'm ready.

BLOCK: Okay. The first question is coming from listener Kayla Werlin. She posted this on our website, and she writes this: How do I saute onions and garlic without the garlic burning?

Ms. CORRIHER: Garlic burns very easily. The only way I've found to successfully do it is to saute the onions until they're almost done, and then stir in the garlic and just continue to saute for a few minutes. If you try to saute the garlic as long as it takes the onions to get soft, you'll burn it every time.

BLOCK: Every time. Okay. And if you throw it in at the end, you'll be okay.

Ms. CORRIHER: Right. Right.

BLOCK: Okay. Well, Shirley, now a question about some problem beans.

Ms. KRISTI MUHIC: My name is Kristi Muhic(ph). I'm calling from St. Helena, California. I cannot get beans to cook. I soak the dried beans, pinto or white beans overnight in warm water, and then bring them to a boil the next day. For the next many hours I simmer and simmer and simmer, and they never seem to get tender. I don't add salt or seasonings at this point while I'm cooking them. What am I doing wrong?

BLOCK: Shirley?

Ms. CORRIHER: I'm afraid you're not doing anything wrong. A lot of times you get last year or year-before-last crop of beans. They've been too hot in storage and too high humidity. And these things just won't cook. The technical people call it: hard to cook syndrome.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CORRIHER: And I think your only solution is try to buy them at another location, maybe pick a supermarket with a large turnover.

Now, there's another possible cause for this, too: minerals in your water. Now, calcium and/or sugar prevents softening of fruits and vegetables. You know how, say, if you take canned navy beans and cook them so long, they're mush, refried beans. But if you take the same navy beans and add molasses, which has calcium and sugar, and brown sugar, you can cook those babies for days and they hold their shape. They're Boston baked beans. That's because the sugar prevents the cells from falling apart and preserves the shape. So it could be that you have high calcium or high mineral content in your water.

BLOCK: And in that case, what would she do?

Ms. CORRIHER: I would use bottled water and that should take care of it.

BLOCK: Well, let's turn to our last question for today. This is actually more of a curiosity than a conundrum. Here we go.

Mr. JEFF ROTHMAN: Hi, this is Jeff Rothman(ph) from Shaker Heights, Ohio. I make a short rib recipe that's become a family favorite. The ribs are braised for about three hours in a mixture of barbecue sauce, beef stock, crushed tomatoes and a few other things. But the recipe directs me to brown them first, and I've always wondered, what's the purpose of browning them and how do I know when I've browned them long enough?

BLOCK: I think I want Jeff's recipe there. Shirley, okay, solve the mystery of the browning here.

Ms. CORRIHER: I know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CORRIHER: Doesn't it sound good?

BLOCK: It does.

Ms. CORRIHER: Browning - you know how wonderful caramel tastes. Well, when you brown something, you are making dozens and dozens of those same sugars that are in caramel. So this is a great way to start any meat dish.

BLOCK: And, Shirley, Jeff has a timing question there that I wondered a lot myself: how long are you supposed to brown them for?

Ms. CORRIHER: Oh, okay. Now, this is by color. Just keep your eyes on it. I like to get it really good and brown. I like to get it as brown as I can without burning, but strictly by color.

BLOCK: Shirley Corriher, thanks so much.

Ms. CORRIHER: Thank you, it's my pleasure.

BLOCK: Shirley Corriher is the author of the cookbooks "Cookwise" and "Bakewise." And she'll be back next week to answer some of your questions about baking. In the meantime, if you'd like to read the answers to a few more kitchen quandaries, or if you've got a question of your own, go to npr.org.

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