Dear Barbara: What is the purpose in flambéing foods? Does it change the flavor? — Celia from Lodi
Dear Celia: Restaurants will flambé a dessert like baked Alaska or cherries Jubilee, which have been around for years. Bananas foster is another one. This is done mostly for the drama. They pour liquor such as rum or brandy over the top of the dessert and light it. Since it only needs to flame for a minute or so, very little liquor is used. If the chef flames a sauce, usually more liquor is used and flamed to burn off most of the alcohol but leave the flavor of the liquor, such as brandy, to enhance the sauce.
You need to know what you are doing and how much liquor to use. My husband and I were once served a baked Alaska that flamed too long and slid off the cake stand onto the tablecloth! Never try to light it with a match, and stay away from people with long hair.
Flambéing is impressive, and who doesn’t like a little drama with dinner? However, it is best left to the professionals.
Dear Barbara: My tomatoes this year are the best I have ever grown. Since there are far more than I can use, what other way can I preserve them besides sauce or canning? I want to be able to use them in any dish that would benefit by them. — Alice from Lockeford
Dear Alice: Oven-dried tomatoes, or rather partially oven-dried tomatoes, intensifies the rich tomato flavor and can enhance most any dish.
Cut out the core and cut the tomatoes in half. Gently squeeze out the juice and seeds. You can use parchment paper to cover a cookie sheet, but a Silpat or silicone sheet works best. Lay them cut side up, brush lightly with oil, salt and pepper and put them in a preheated 250 degree oven for 3-5 hours. This removes about half the moisture in the tomato, so you still have to refrigerate them.
If you want to freeze some of them, let them cool to room temperature while still on the cookie sheet. Set the whole thing in the freezer and when they are completely frozen, you can remove them to freezer bags so you can just take out what you need. I’ve done it with regular tomatoes, but have heard that it is even more fabulous to dry heirloom tomatoes. I can only assume that is true since each type of heirloom tomato has its own distinct flavor. I am definitely going to try the heirloom oven dried tomatoes!
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.