Dear Barbara: How come slow cooking meat, such as pot roast, can turn out dry and kind of stringy when it is cooked in liquid? — Sue from Lodi
Dear Sue: Long, slow cooking is called “braising,” and will make even the toughest meat very tender. The two most common reasons that will make the meat turn dry and stringy are: 1) adding too much liquid (you only need a small amount); and/or 2) the temperature is too high. Try browning the meat in the pot, using a little oil, over a med-high heat. This will help to seal in the juices. You should also use a pot or roaster that is barely larger than the roast and has a tight fitting lid. You then need to add the liquid and turn that heat down to low, or put it in a low temp oven, 275 to 300 degrees. If the temperature is too high, it draws the juices from the meat into the liquid. Good for gravy, bad for meat!
Dear Barbara: I have a pitting problem! I purchased some assorted Greek olives without thinking whether they were pitted or not. They were not pitted. The pit is so tight to the flesh that I had to use a paring knife to peel the flesh from the olive pit. It was very time consuming, and then I just had a large amount of little tiny olive pieces. Is there a better way? I don’t own an olive pitter. — Bonnie from Elk Grove
Dear Bonnie: What a hassle that must have been for you! If you use a lot of olives (with pits), it would be worthwhile to invest in an olive pitter. I called Lodi Cooks and they carry two kinds: the Snocciolatore olive pitter and the Leifheit pitter (which can be used for cherries or olives.)
An easy alternative for a pitter: find something rather heavy and flat. I used to use the smooth side of my aluminum meat mallet. Give the olive one decent whack, and it will split the olive into two pieces and separate it from the pit. I would not advise this if you are looking for a pretty presentation, but it works great if you are using them in cooking.
Dear Barbara: Why can I bake a russet potato in 1 hour and it is perfectly done, but when I use the same size red potato, it is not done in the same amount of time? — Annie from Lodi
Dear Annie: It is the type of potato that you are using. Russet potatoes are great for baking, but not for dishes that they are cooked in liquid for longer periods of time. They will fall apart if boiled to long. Russets have a very high starch content, and very low moisture content. That is why they crumble apart and is nice and fluffy when you open them. Your red potato is just the opposite. It has a very high moisture content and a very low starch content. This creates a much firmer potato that is better for cooking in liquids and holds its shape. They are fine for roasting, but because they are denser, they takes a little longer to cook. That type of potato is referred to as being a “waxy” potato.
I have read that Yukon Gold potatoes are the best “all purpose” potatoes because they have medium water and medium starch, so they are good any way you want to cook them.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.