Chef's Center

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the Chef's Center's most frequently asked questions. If you have a question to submit, click on the "E-Mail" button, and send your question to "FAQ". We look forward to hearing from you!

How far should I place food from the broiler's heat source?
Most foods are cooked between 3 - 6 inches from the broiler, measured from the electric coil to the highest point of the food. Generally, the thinner the food, the closer to the broiler you can place it. Also, if you prefer your meat on the rare side, you can place it closer to the broiler.

What gives sliced ham that iridescent sheen?
The shiny, greenish, rainbow like color on sliced ham is a sign of oxidation that occurs when the meat is exposed to the metal on a knife or slicer. The nitrate-modified iron content of the meat undergoes a chemical change that alters the hams pigmentation. This effect can also be seen in sliced beef, such as roast beef. It is not an indication of spoilage.

How can I alleviate the discomfort that occurs after eating beans?
To help reduce some of the problems with flatulence (or gas) that many people experience after eating beans, try the following when cooking dried beans: soak the beans in sufficient water overnight; pour off all the water and add fresh water prior to cooking; bring the beans to a gentle boil, cook for 5 minutes, then pour off this water; add fresh water one last time and cook as normal. In addition, several commercial products are available over-the-counter in the supermarket pharmacy that can be taken orally or added to the beans to reduce the incidence of gas formation in the GI tract.

Why is it not advisable to cook green vegetables with baking soda?
Baking soda was once commonly added to green vegetables because it helps maintain their vivid color. However, it also destroys vitamins, particularly Vitamin C and Thiamin. The vegetables will also have a mushy texture as baking soda softens the cell walls of the vegetables. If boiling or simmering, cooking without a lid will better retain color.

Which is healthier to eat -- a corn or flour tortilla?
A 6" corn tortilla has approximately 70 calories and 1 gram of fat. A 6" flour tortilla has about 85 calories and 2 grams of fat. The fat in the corn tortilla is from the natural oil found in the corn itself, whereas lard is traditionally added to flour tortillas (Remember, however, that different manufacturers may use different fat sources). So while corn tortillas have less fat than the flour versions, both would be better choices than tortilla chips, which are deep fat fried.

How can you tell when a pineapple is ripe?
Pineapples are harvested ready to eat. While they may soften and lighten in color as they sit, they will not ripen once they have been picked. Look for one that is large with fresh, dark green leaves. Avoid those with brown leaves or a shriveled-appearing shell. Dark soft spots on the bottom indicate that the pineapple is over mature.

How do you prevent barbecued chicken, especially the breast portions, from becoming too dry?
Lower fat meats, such as chicken, will become tough and dry if exposed to too much wood smoke or overcooked. One method to keep chicken flavorful, yet juicy and tender is as follows: Prepare fire by piling charcoal or lava rocks on each side of grill, placing a drip pan in center. When the coals are medium-hot or the temperature is 350 to 400 degrees fahrenheit, arrange the chicken (whole or parts) directly over the coals to sear. When the outside has browned and formed a caramelized crust, turn and grill until the other side has developed the same brown crust. Next, rearrange the chicken over the drip pan, away from the coals, and cook until the internal temperature of the chicken is 170 degrees. This combination of direct and indirect cooking results in the sauces caramelizing on the outside of the chicken, encrusting a juicy, tender inside.

What is meant by the term fruit-vegetable?
This is a term to describe tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and pumpkins. A botanist would technically define these foods as fruits because they are the ovary of the plant -- that section of the plant that contains the seeds. However, cooks, grocers and officials of the United States Department of Agriculture refer to plant foods eaten as part of a meals main course as vegetables. (Fruit is usually served as a dessert or a sweet between-meal snack.) Thus the term fruit-vegetable was coined as a descriptive term for fruits eaten as vegetables.

Why are fruits and vegetables like apples and cucumbers sometimes coated with wax?
A coating of wax helps seal in moisture and thus extend storage life. It also gives the fruit or vegetable a glossy sheen that is considered more attractive. While the wax is safe to eat, harder foods can be scrubbed with a good vegetable brush to remove most of the wax if the peels are to be eaten.

Does baking powder lose its potency over a period of time?
Yes. If you are one of those people who only bakes for holidays or other special occasions, it might be a good idea to check your baking powder before using it. If an expiration date is not stamped on the can, a simple experiment will tell you if the baking powder is still active. Pour 1/4 cup hot tap water over 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder. If the baking powder is fresh, the mixture should bubble. The fresher the baking powder, the more active the bubbles. If no reaction occurs or if the bubbles are weak, the baking powder is not strong enough to raise whatever you are planning to bake.

Why do most recipes for cooked fruit include sugar in the recipe?
Cooking fruit in a sugar syrup helps maintain the shape and keep the flesh firm. When cooked with a sweet syrup, the water in the fruit is drawn to the more dense syrup. With the cells of the fruit slightly dehydrated, sugar is then absorbed into the fruit, making it firm. Sugar also interferes with the softening of pectin. Pectin keeps the cell walls of the fruit together and if weakened, the fruit becomes soft and limp.

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