Natalie R. by Natalie P., a Play in 12 Acts
Act One: Juniper Berries
Natalie R.: What's the largest amount of juniper berries that's safe to consume in one serving?
Natalie P.: If you'd like to eat a fair amount of juniper berries on their own, it would be best to check with your doctor to see how many you can eat at a time. They are medicinal, and eating too many can cause unpleasant side effects.
NR: I've asked my doctor about these sort of things and he never knows. Do you think adding four to a bowl of oatmeal every day would be too much?
NP: I doubt that would be too much, but see how you feel a few hours later and then adjust accordingly. Just be sure to check in with your body a few hours after trying the oatmeal with juniper berries.
Act Two: Peeling vs. Zesting
NR: I have a recipe that calls for removing the peel of a lemon and adding it to a jar of olives. If I zested the peel instead, would it matter?
NP: I don't see any major problem in zesting the lemon as opposed to peeling it. Zesting will release more flavor so be prepared for a super lemony punch!
Act Three: Boiled Chickpeas
NR: If a recipe calls for soaking one cup of chickpeas in one teaspoon of baking soda, should I do two teaspoons if I double the recipe and use two cups of chickpeas? When I cook them, should I double the amount of baking soda, too?
NP: Yes, that's right! If you'd like to double the recipe, please double all ingredients equally.
NR: I doubled the amount of baking soda for both soaking and cooking but it kept foaming. I removed some of the foam. When I cook the chickpeas am I supposed to skim the foam? Is that just baking soda? Could you tell me about how I'm supposed to cook chickpeas and beans in general? Should I be skimming the foam, or something, off the top?
NP: Skim any impurities that rise to the top once the chickpeas begin to boil. This method may be helpful for cooking beans in general, however, I am an avid canned bean user.
NR: I really need to know how to cook beans and skim them properly. My chickpeas were foaming quite a bit, especially when I put the lid on. There was white foam and then later a browner foam. Do I skim off both, or, is the white foam from the baking soda fine, but the brown foam from the chickpeas?
NP: The brown foam is the protein from the beans coagulating on the surface. The white foam is the air bubbles being produced while cooking!
NR: Should I skim both of those, neither, or just one?
NP: Skim them both.
Act 4: Storing Anchovies
NR: How do I store a can of salt-packed anchovies once opened? I've heard that they should be covered with olive oil, and will last for about a month after opening. But, I have also heard that they pretty much last forever. Should I cover the unused salt-packed anchovies with more coarse salt, or cover them with olive oil? How long do they last in the fridge?
NP: Salt is a natural preservative so in an airtight container they will likely last a very, very long time. Once opened, the trick is to keep the anchovies salted, oiled, and as airtight as possible to avoid bacteria getting in, and odor leaking out into your fridge or freezer. You may try putting them on a plate and freezing them in a ziplock bag, or, covering them in coarse salt and olive oil, sealing them in a jar, or other airtight container, and then covering that up in the fridge so that no odor leaks out!
NR: “Covering them in coarse salt and olive oil, sealing them in a jar, or other airtight container, and then covering that up in the fridge so that no odor leaks out.” How much coarse salt do I use? I remember reading a blog where the person said to put them flat in a large pan and layer them, then cover that all with plastic wrap. Do they really need to lay flat? For the container, can I reuse a glass honey or peanut butter jar?
NP: Definitely use enough salt so that they are submerged in it. They do not need to be flat opposed to upright. Any airtight glass jar will do.
NR: Won't the oil cause the salt to slip off the anchovies? Also, once covered with oil and coarse salt, how long do they stay good in the fridge? Some people say almost forever, some people say a month.
NP: Here's what I would do. I would fill a jar with room-temperature anchovies. Then, I would pour in the coarse salt and olive oil. What I'd end up with is a nice preservative brine. When I was ready to actually eat an anchovy, I'd brush off any excess salt, so I wouldn't worry about over salting. As I used them, I'd add coarse salt and oil as needed to keep them covered and fresh. The basic principle is to preserve them in coarse salt, or olive oil, or both, in an airtight container inside the fridge for approximately 2 months.
NR: I read more about salt-packed anchovies and it seems like some people just transfer them to a glass jar and place them in the fridge. They don't add more salt or oil. Do you know if that's fine?
NP: That's an option; it's really a matter of preference.
NR: Well, I finally opened the can and now I've got the rest in the fridge.
Act 5: Hot Oil
NR: When a recipe says "Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a small pan on medium heat. Add the anchovy fillets and stir with a fork until they dissolve. Let bubble for just a minute and remove from heat" does it mean the olive oil should be heated before adding the anchovy fillets, or should I add the oil and anchovy fillets to the pan at the same time? Does it matter?
NP: You are being encouraged to heat the olive oil before adding the anchovies. The flavor of the olive oil will be better enhanced, and you'll experience a more even heating of the various elements of your dish if they are added in this manner.
NR: I made the recipe and it had a lot of anchovy flavor. How do I keep the oil from splattering and splashing so much?
NP: Unfortunately, whenever you cook with oil on a high heat, there will be some splatter. Though you cannot avoid this happening, you can try turning the temperature down a little.
NR: Could it hit my face and burn me? The splashing was very rapid, especially when pouring in the lemon juice.
NP: Cooking with oil at high temperatures can be a bit dangerous, you just have to be sure to monitor the temperature of the oil, carefully place items into the pan, and use tongs and splash guards when you can.
NR: Should the pan already be hot when I add the oil to the pan? If I add that much oil to a pan on high heat, won't it splash up at me?
NP: Anytime you're putting oil in a skillet, you should add the oil into the pan when both the pan and oil are unheated, heat up the oil in the pan, and then add the ingredients. You should not be adding oil to a hot pan, as it will splatter up at you.
NR: How do I know when the oil is hot enough? If I'm frying eggplant, would I heat the pan, add a little oil, then add the eggplant?
NP: It is usually hot enough when the oil is 'shimmering,' which means that it has thinned out a bit. There isn't an exact science to how long it will take, but it shouldn't take more than a minute or two. If you'd like to test it, just drop a small piece of whatever you are cooking into the pan, and if it sizzles, it's hot enough. For eggplant, that's correct.
Act 6: Pan-Seared Steak
NR: When it says to get the pan hot, for an electric stove, does that mean using high? Medium-high? Do you leave it that high the whole time? For steak, some people say to just put olive oil on the steak, season it, and put it in a hot pan. Then, put in butter later. Other people say to put lots of oil/butter in the pan after the pan is hot. I don't know what to do, I've never cooked steak before. How long would I cook two filets? The only cast iron skillet I have is the top of a Lodge dutch oven that doesn't have a long handle. Do you think that's fine to use or would I need a handle if it got too hot?
NP: For cooking steak, we recommend a skillet not a dutch oven, and it should be heated up on high as you want a very hot pan. Yes, you would leave it on high during the entire cooking process. The amount of oil/butter depends on what kind of steak you are cooking. If it has a reasonably high fat content, you will need to use less oil and butter. If it is leaner, you will need a bit more.
NR: I would only use the lid, which can be used like a skillet. My only worry was that it doesn't have a handle, but I shouldn't really have to move the pan around, right? Is it fine to use olive oil? It seems like most real chefs recommend olive oil or butter, but Lodge and non-cooks recommend canola oil.
NP: Then, sure, you can use the lid! It shouldn't matter that it doesn't have a handle, as you will not really need to move the steaks around. Canola oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil, which means it burns at higher temperatures. This is good for cooking steak, as the pan is very hot. However, olive oil should work just fine! I have successfully used olive oil with steaks and burgers.
NR: Does it matter if it's evoo or normal olive oil? I think I only have evoo right now.
NP: The type of olive oil won't make a huge difference. However, you should consider that olive oil has a low smoke point compared to canola or vegetable oil, so good ventilation is necessary when cooking a steak with olive oil. When using olive oil, I like to heat my pan up to the point where the olive oil just begins to smoke. Drop the steak in the pan and cook it on the first side without moving it for 2-3 minutes, or until you achieve a hard sear. Then, flip the steak over and allow it to cook for another minute or so. Then, drop a pat or two of butter in the pan and baste the butter over the top of the steak with a spoon until it is cooked to your desired internal temperature. If the steak is particularly thick, you may want to finish it in the oven at 350-400ºF so the inside cooks to your desired temperature without burning the outside.
NR: What about just oiling the steak and not the pan? I have seen some people recommend that. The steaks I'm going to cook aren't very big, just filets. But, I've never cooked a steak before, so I am a little worried. Some people say flipping the steak every thirty seconds is best. What do you think? If I had to finish the steak in the oven, do you think it would be hard to move the hot pan to the oven, since it doesn't have a long handle just two little ones on the side? The fan over my oven stopped working recently.
NP: Unfortunately, there is no definitive 'best way' to cook a steak. In addition, different steaks will require substantially different cooking times based on the cut and thickness. However, I can offer a few tips for the best results. Make sure your steaks are as close to room temperature, and as dry, as possible before cooking. You can pat your steaks down with a paper towel before cooking them to ensure that they sear properly. Then, season both sides of your steak with plenty of salt and pepper. Then, before cooking, get your pan very hot. You want to be able to audibly hear a sizzle when you drop your steaks into the pan. Once the steak is in the pan, do not move it around too much. Flip it only once so each side is seared properly. After flipping the steak, you can add some butter to the pan and baste the steak for extra flavor. The cooking time for every steak is going to be different, so it requires some practice to tell when your steak is ready. But, if you have a probe thermometer, you can cook it to your desired temperature. Once the steak is done cooking, remove it from the pan and allow it to rest on a cutting board for 3-5 minutes so the juices can distribute and settle in the steak.
NR: What do you think of not putting oil in the pan and just oiling the steak? I have heard the pan can catch fire if there's too much oil, so I think just oiling the steak sounds better for me.
NP: You need to oil the pan and not the steak as this is the only way to be sure that the pan is at the right temperature. Oil is flammable, but in controlled conditions, such as a frying pan in the home, you should be fine.
NR: I also have a Lodge grill pan. Do the grill lines in a pan do anything other than make marks? Is the flavor or cooking process any different?
NP: A grill pan allows for a sear similar to what would get on a grill, where the juices in the steak will drip away, and may leave some grill marks.
NR: Does it change the flavor, or is it just about appearance?
NP: In this case it would be similar to a regular pan-seared steak!
NR: I just bought an induction cooktop. Is there anything I would do differently for searing a steak on an induction cooktop?
NP: Nope, not at all. Induction will work as well as gas or electric.
Act 7: Roasted Eggplant
NR: Do you know something I could place on an aluminum baking pan other than aluminum foil when roasting eggplant? Would parchment paper be fine? I have seen recipes calling for eggplant to be roasted under the broiler in the oven, but they don't give specifics.
NP: I really would not put anything other than aluminum under the broiler. If you oil a clean aluminum pan, you should be able to use that directly for roasting the eggplant as well.
NR: I have seen videos where people cover the aluminum pan in aluminum foil. Could I use parchment paper to cover the pan instead of aluminum foil? The eggplant in the recipe is cooked whole. I tried it today, and poked it with a fork in probably six or seven places. Should I have done less? The recipe calls for the eggplant to be cooked on a grill or gas burner, or under a broiler, but doesn't give specifics. I cooked it under the broiler but then it started to smoke, so I cooked it at 375ºF for about 30 minutes. I don't know if it was done or not.
NP: A whole eggplant under the broiler probably wouldn't cook through very well, and it would probably burn a bit before being done. If you are putting it under the broiler, I'd suggest using aluminum foil, as parchment can't take the heat of the broiler. You might try slicing the eggplant into quarters if it's going in the broiler, and I would check them every five minutes or so.
NR: I am using an electric oven. Can I still use this recipe, or do I have to modify it?
NP: You can use that recipe, Natalie! What's important is getting the eggplant close to the heat source in your oven so it gets that nice char on the outside with the perfect texture on the inside.
NR: Won't putting it under the broiler for 45-60 minutes just make it burn? Should I put it on the middle rack, or even higher than that? If it's too close to the broiler, won't it smoke? That started to happen last time I tried broiling the eggplant and then I decided to cook it at 375ºF. Is it fine if it starts to smoke?
NP: It is supposed to char, so there might be a little smoke, but that's why you should turn it at least once while cooking, and keep an eye on it so that it isn't on fire! That char is part of the process.
Act 8: Storing Garlic
NR: Once I have opened a head of garlic, I put the remaining cloves in a jar and keep them in the fridge for a week. After a week, I throw them out if I haven't used them. Should I be storing it differently?
NP: Garlic typically needs to breathe. I would not recommend sealing and refrigerating fresh garlic. I typically peel off cloves as I need them, and keep the head of garlic out on a shelf, or in a breathable container, such as a wire basket, or a bowl with ventilation holes. Depending on how fresh the garlic is when you purchase it, it will last a while this way. You will know it goes bad if the garlic is too soft, or has brown spots. If you do notice any brown spots, you can usually just cut them away, or throw out that clove if it looks rotten.
NR: Once you have opened the head of garlic, how long do your cloves usually last that way? Before opening, I used to keep mine in a produce bag in a cupboard, but that probably isn't good either. I guess from now on I will keep them on the counter without any covering.
NP: Yes, I think leaving it on the counter would be best. It can last on the counter for several months, depending on how fresh the garlic is when you purchase it. You will know if it has gone bad if you see a lot of brown spots throughout the clove.
NR: Once the head of garlic is split open, how long should the individual cloves last on the counter? What if I just put them in a little clay or ceramic cup?
NP: There is no need to remove all of the cloves from the head of garlic, just take a clove as you need it. You will have to check the cloves as you use them for dark spots, as the shelf life of garlic varies. I keep my heads of garlic in a clay vessel, that should be fine!
NR: My head of garlic is usually broken apart because I usually use about 6 or 7 cloves, or more, and there are just 4 or 5 individual cloves remaining. But, if I don't use the remaining 5 for a month or so, as long as there aren't brown spots once I remove the peel, it's fine? And, if the brown spot is small, I can remove it and then use the rest of it? Would glazed ceramic be fine, too, not just clay?
NP: That is correct. You can cut away the small brown spots, or just toss the clove if it looks funky. Glazed ceramic will work just fine, as long as it's open and air can get in!
NR: Is it fine if it's by other jars with ingredients? There isn't a risk of botulism or anything? That's only when garlic is in oil, I think, right?
NP: It shouldn't be a problem at all! Botulism only occurs when infusing garlic in oil.
Act 9: Steaming Vegetables
NR: I tried to steam vegetables, but the veggies were a little wet and soft. Is that normal?
NP: It sounds like you may have over-steamed the vegetables slightly, as they shouldn't be totally wet and soft. They should still be quite vibrant and colorful, and just shy of crunchy. Are you able to try again with a shorter steaming time?
NR: They're not completely wet, just a little. I have tried steaming kale twice, each time for about 10 minutes.
NP: Seeing as kale does hold a lot of water it will be quite damp when steamed, which is normal. If you'd like, you can always push the kale through a sieve to extract excess water, or sauté it quickly after steaming to evaporate some of the liquid.
NR: I noticed the water below gets a little green after steaming. If I steam vegetables for one meal and then use the same pot again for another meal 4-5 hours later, do you think it needs to be cleaned before I use it the second time? It's a heavy pot, so I would prefer not to clean it twice unless I have to.
NP: I don't see any harm in using the same pot multiple times throughout the day!
Act 10: Toasting Seeds and Grains
NR: I rinsed some sesame seeds and tried toasting them yesterday. They kept jumping out of the pan, and it left my stainless steel pan brown/blackish. I was able to remove most of the burnt parts, but not all. Is it bad to cook in a pan with small stains? I didn't think stainless steel could stain. Do you have any recommendations for removing the stains? When toasting seeds on the stovetop, is it fine to use a lid to keep them from jumping out, or would that affect how they cook?
NP: The stains on your pan are definitely food safe, however, they should come off rather easily with an abrasive scrubber or a steel wool pad. You can also try Bar Keepers Friend. Stainless steel pans can handle a deep clean! You should not need to rinse sesame seeds, at least I don't! However, if you choose to rinse them, please make sure to dry them entirely before adding them to a pan. Any remaining moisture would cause the seeds to burn, which is probably why they started jumping around. I would recommend using a cast iron pan for this. Just make sure to keep an eye on them to make sure they don't overcook!
NR: I saw a video where a woman recommends soaking quinoa and then toasting it. She doesn't dry the quinoa off, and just puts it all in a hot pan. I noticed her pan has stains around the edge like mine did. If I was going to try soaking quinoa and then toasting it, do you think doing it like in the video would cause the seeds to burn? Would I need to first get the quinoa completely dry and then toast it?
NP: For quinoa, as opposed to sesame seeds, soaking and then toasting is a totally fine method. Seeing as quinoa is a grain and not a seed (i.e. it is intended to be cooked and not eating raw, like sesame seeds) you can follow her direction. You will not need to dry quinoa out completely before toasting it. This method won't work for sesame seeds. Sesame seeds will not need to be soaked, and can just go directly into the pan for a dry toasting.
NR: Same people say sesame seeds should be soaked and some say they should be rinsed. What would the be harm of doing so?
NP: There is no harm is soaking or rinsing. Soaking and/or rinsing can help clean off any excess detritus, and also makes them slightly easier for the body to absorb. It's really your personal preference if you choose to soak or rinse them!
NR: If I soak the sesame seeds, do I need to dry them completely before toasting? The woman in that video soaks her quinoa and toasts it without drying….
NP: No, you do not need to dry them completely, but the reason that they were jumping up at you last time may have been because they were wet. Drier seeds will do this less, so that's something to consider.
Act 11: Pesto
NR: How long should homemade basil pesto keep in the fridge? The ingredients are garlic, basil, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil.
NP: It will last about a week to ten days. You can also freeze some of the pesto if you make a large batch. This will keep for several months!
NR: Should I pour a layer of olive oil on top if I put it in the fridge? If I store it in the freezer, is it fine to just place it in a glass jar? Do I need to place it in the fridge before I use it if I freeze it?
NP: You can dribble a bit of olive oil on top if you like. You do not need to refrigerate it first before putting it in the freezer, however, I would not recommend putting glass in the freezer. Try a plastic container instead.
NR: I meant, after the pesto has been in the freezer, how do I get it so it's usable? Won't it be frozen?
NP: If you take it out of the freezer in the morning, it will be defrosted by dinner time and ready to use!
NR: So just set it out on the counter, even in summer? Also, as far as putting glass in the freezer, I avoid plastic. When I freeze my tomato sauce I use glass and it's fine. If I did that with basil pesto, why would it be any different?
NP: The hotter it is, the faster it will defrost so you can just plan accordingly. Or, have it defrost in the fridge instead of the counter if you're concerned about the summer heat. I've had glass containers crack on me in the freezer, however, if you haven't run into any problems in the past, go for it!
Act 12: Expiration Dates
NR: I have some Colby cheese that's been in the back of the fridge for over a year. Should it still be good? It's never been opened. It doesn't look like it has mold or anything.
NP: I'm in no way an expert, but most cheeses won't be good anymore after a few months, so I probably wouldn't eat it.
NR: Do you know how long cocoa powder lasts? I have some cocoa powder that I only used once that I bought over a year ago.
NP: The cocoa powder should be fine to use; it will be good for around two years.
NR: If I add freshly brewed coffee to yogurt and mix it together, how long should that keep in the fridge?
NP: I would base this off of the expiration of the yogurt, which, once opened, will last up to a week. That being said, I always smell any perishable item to determine if it's safe to eat!
NATALIA PANZER is from Auckland, New Zealand; she currently lives in Brooklyn, NY as a resident alien of the United States; she builds, edits, and contributes to okcook.co, a gastro-poetic website of art, writing, and data; she runs a home-based gallery space called Refresh out of her apartment in Sunset Park; she co-runs Glass Press with L.A. Warman, LAYM with Theodore Cale Schafer, and Lynn with Michael Squeo; she writes about contemporary music for Tiny Mix Tapes under the name Cookcook; she has work forthcoming in the second issue of Your’re magazine. npanzer.com.