Dear Barbara: I was trying to melt some chocolate for a recipe, and it looked great. Suddenly it turned into a dull, thick paste. I didn’t know what I should do, so I threw it out. What should I have done? — Connie from Lodi
Dear Connie: You did exactly what you should have done! What happened to your chocolate is called “seizing.” It can happen for several reasons. The most common cause of seizing is moisture getting into the chocolate. Even one drop, even a damp spoon, can make a whole pan of chocolate seize up. It is very sensitive to moisture.
The chocolate can occasionally be saved if you add about a tablespoon of vegetable oil right away and stir quickly, but it has never worked very well for me. You just have to start again.
Liquid can be added to chocolate if you warm the liquid to about the same temperature as the chocolate, and add at least a quarter of a cup to about 6-8 ounces of chocolate.
I personally feel that the safest and quickest way to melt chocolate is in the microwave. You can use any microwave- safe container. Heat it very slowly (50 percent power) for about a minute, take it out and stir. Keep doing this in intervals until it can be stirred to a melted state.
It is a good idea to keep a “back up” box of baking chocolate in the cupboard, just in case!
Dear Barbara: I am having some friends over for dinner next week, and I found a great sounding pasta recipe I would like to serve. My questions is this: Since I have a very tiny kitchen, is there a way to cook the pasta noodles ahead of time so I can just heat them up and add the sauce? I am making the sauce a day or two before the dinner. — Tony from Lodi
Dear Tony: You are wise to plan ahead. You don’t need to be steaming up the kitchen the day of the party! Yes, you can cook the noodles ahead of time quite successfully.
Cook the noodles according to directions, but just until al dente — or until the noodle still has a little bite to it — about half of the way through. Drain the noodles and immediately rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain them again, and spread them out on a baking sheet to cool completely. Toss them with a couple of teaspoons of olive or vegetable oil so they won’t stick together. The pasta can then be put in a covered bowl or a food storage bag and refrigerated. You can keep the pasta in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Reheat it in the sauce, or separately in the microwave, tossing the pasta about halfway through heating time. Three minutes or less should be enough.
Dear Barbara: Whenever I sauté mushrooms, they get watery. How can I stop this? — Carla from Lodi
Dear Carla: Mushrooms absorb liquid. Clean them with just a damp paper towel to wipe off any dirt. When you sauté them, you need a relatively high heat to brown them quickly. If they still lose their liquid, just cook them longer and the liquid will evaporate.
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.