Aaron Hutcherson & Becky Krystal
THE WASHINGTON POST – Every week, Aaron Hutcherson and Becky Krystal answer questions and provide practical cooking advice in a chat with readers. Aaron and Becky write and test recipes for Voraciously, The Washington Post’s team dedicated to helping you cook with confidence. Here are edited excerpts from a recent chat.
Q: I love making zucchini bread and cakes in the summer, but I’m never sure if I’m supposed to squeeze out the liquid or not. Recipes don’t usually say. I’m not sure if unsqueezed will add too much liquid or squeezing will make the finished product too dry. What do you recommend?
Becky: When developing my recipe last year, I tried so hard to get it to work without squeezing out the liquid. Even with thirsty whole-wheat flour, it was a no-go. I guess it’s harder when a recipe doesn’t specify, because it does make you wonder. It’s hard to generalise when each recipe is different. I guess I lean more toward wringing out, and if the batter is looking really dry, you can add back some of the water you removed.
Q: Not a how-to question but a question for you guys personally. It’s the middle of summer – what’s your favourite meal to put on the grill and why? I personally grill out year round (yes, even in the snow). The possibilities are endless so anything from mains to deserts.
Aaron: I love grilling ribs. For the longest time, I didn’t have outdoor space for a grill so I’d take advantage of it whenever I got the chance on vacation and such. I love the satisfaction of being outside for a couple of hours, tending to a rack and then enjoying it with friends.
Q: Back when I was in college and in my early working years, smaller groceries and huge supermarkets sold single bars of butter. Even if the single bars cost more than a quarter the cost of a four-bar box, that still beats paying for four if three will spoil before I get to them. But I never see single bars of butter (or butter substitute) anymore. With food prices soaring, probably there are other products, too, that shoppers would rather buy in smaller portions – at least those of us whose freezers are already full or undependable. Your thoughts?
Becky: I don’t think I’ve ever seen that! In my experience, butter does tend to last a while, but I suppose I churn through it (wow, didn’t even mean to make that pun) fairly quickly. Maybe find a like-minded friend or two to split a pound? Otherwise, perhaps a little butter corner in the freezer would make sense!
Q: Why do recipes where something needs to be simmered say to bring to a boil first then lower the heat? Why not just bring to a simmer and leave it there? Is the extra step really necessary?
Aaron: It’s usually quicker to crank the heat up on a burner to bring something to a boil and then reduce to a simmer rather than just keeping it on a moderate heat until it starts to simmer.
Becky: I’d say it probably gives you better control over the heat, too.
Q: I make a good butter pie crust and am a confident baker but I have an issue. Whether it is peach, apple, blueberry or chocolate cream pie…my filling tastes great but doesn’t stay solid enough when I cut a slice. It oozes out. I use arrowroot as my thickener not flour or cornstarch. Is that why? It works pretty much the same as the others but is healthier. Any advice?
Becky: A few thoughts. Is the pie filling getting hot enough? Like cornstarch, arrowroot needs to reach a fairly high temperature to gel – 140 to 187 degrees Fahrenheit. So maybe you need a longer or higher bake. And are you letting the pies cool and set long enough after baking? Those are the two things jumping out at me, other than wondering whether you just need a bit more.
Q: I’ve been frustrated because the peaches and lemons I just bought over the weekend were completely molded through this morning. I left them in the fruit bowl on my counter – am I doing something wrong? Should you refrigerate organic produce? If I’m going to spend a little more money on better tasting items I want them to stay fresh long enough to eat them.
Aaron: First of all, citrus is best stored in the refrigerator, regardless of whether it’s organic or not. It can last for a month in a zip-top bag in the fridge versus only a week or so on the counter.
More directly to your question, it may be the case of one bad apple (or peach, rather) spoiling the bunch. Peaches are best kept at room temperature until ripe and then transferred to the fridge once they are ready to eat. Otherwise, they can turn bad quickly if left at room temperature. As such, you want to check on them every day or so to determine ripeness.
Q: My garlic crop this year was fantastic. Can I separate the cloves from the head, put them on a tray, place them in the freezer, then bag when completely frozen? Also, a local produce shop has beautiful dill at a very good price. Can I freeze that whole to use later to make pickles?
Becky: Yes, I think you should be able to freeze separate cloves of garlic. The dill, though, is not really going to hold up in the freezer, for something like pickles. It will probably wilt and maybe turn black. You can make a dill paste with some olive oil for other dishes or maybe even freeze minced in ice cubes, but frozen herbs really don’t work like fresh ones.