Dear Barbara: Do you have any tips on how to remember how many cups or teaspoons, etc., that you have in the bowl when you have an interruption? I come back and wonder if I have added two cups or three cups. It is so easy to lose track.
— Eileen from Lodi
Dear Eileen: I personally use something referred to as "mise en place" meaning everything in its place. So before you start a recipe, you gather all your ingredients. I use paper plates and styrofoam bowls and sometimes coffee filters for the next step. It is very handy and there are no extra dishes to wash. Measure your ingredients and put the containers like canisters and jars away. You absolutely cannot make a mistake if you have measured ingredients properly from the start! It just makes cooking and baking easier.
Dear Barbara: I have seen and made a lot of recipes that say to put fruit in water with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown. None of them say for how long; one hour, over night, how long?
— Emma from Lodi
Dear Emma: I didn't really think about it, but you are right. They don't say how long to keep the fruit in the acidulated water (water with an acid added to it, like lemon juice). I'm guessing, but I think the assumption is that you would only leave it in the water for as long as it takes you to prepare the rest of the recipe. You don't want to keep the fruit in the water more than twenty minutes. That is plenty of time for the acid to do its thing. The fruit doesn't really have to absorb anything, just wet the surface.
Dear Barbara: I love baking bread, but I'm never really sure when the bread is done. Is there some way to tell for sure if the bread is cooked all the way through?
— Louise from Lockeford
Dear Louise: The first thing you should check is your oven. Is the temperature correct? You definitely need an oven thermometer. Once you know that it is right, there are several things you can look for. You want the crust to be a dark golden brown. If it looks pale to you, give it a little extra time. Also, if you think it might be done, take it out, turn the loaf pan upside down so the loaf falls out and with your finger or thumb, thump the bottom of the loaf. It should sound hollow. If you're still not sure, use an instant read thermometer and check the internal temperature of the loaf. If you check from the side or the bottom, no one will see where you had the thermometer. It should read around 190 degrees. If it is has a lot of butter, eggs or milk, it should read closer to 200 degrees. Baking bread is very satisfying, especially in the winter. The house smells wonderful with bread baking in the oven!
Dear Barbara: I am trying to stay away from dairy and processed foods including flour and granulated sugar. I make a lot of soups and love creamy soups, but I don't know how to make them without cream or flour. Do you have any suggestions?
— Erin from Lodi
Dear Erin: The first thing that comes to mind is what I use, which would be arrowroot. It has no flavor or smell and is an all natural product. If you don't want to use that, you can take some of the soup and puree it in a food processor and then add it back to the soup. You can also use bread, but then again, that is a processed product.
Tip of the week! If you keep your knives in a wooden knife holder, store them with the cutting edge up. The knives will stay sharper longer because they don't touch the wood.
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 email@example.com. Please include your first name and city.