Celebrity Chef Alton Brown

Apr 28 2016

As seen on “Good Eats,” “Iron Chef America,” and “Feasting on Asphalt,” Alton Brown has carved his way through the hearts of America, and is shown as a culinary visionary. Located in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, Alton began “Good Eats” and was debuted in 1998 on WTTW and then shown on Food Network. For over a decade, Alton has been filling minds with the science behind cooking, and the reasons to do so. After 14 seasons and 295 episodes, “Good Eats” came to a loving close on May 8th, 2011. His episodes consisted of a delicious meal, a makeshift cooking device, and a science lesson. In 2000, “Good Eats” was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the Best T.V. Food Journalism Award. It also received the Peabody Award in 2006.

In 2004, Alton Brown secretly arrived on Iron Chef America, in an attempt to bring Japan’s Iron Chef to American TV. Alton has been the TV host for Iron Chef America for four seasons as a play-by-play announcer, while Kevin Brauch reports from the kitchen. He’s also been the host of The Next Iron Chef.

Two series later, Alton Brown brought another show to the table known as “Feasting on Asphalt.” Crossing the United States on a motorcycle, Alton explores the history of fast food and eating on the go. This four-part miniseries brought on more series, “Feasting on Asphalt 2: River Run,” and then “Feasting on Waves.” Other than his own shows, Alton has briefly been shown in Disney’s “Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Spongebob Squarepants,” and “Secrets of the Furious Five.” Alton Brown has also been seen in many commercials, such as the display of GE Products, and promotion work for Dannon yogurt, Welch’s grape juice, and Shun knives.

Aside from his work, Alton Brown spends quality time with his wife, DeAnna, and daughter, Zoey in Marietta, Georgia. His wife is the co-executive producer of “Good Eats” but was only seen on the 10th anniversary episode along with his daughter. In his spare time, Alton enjoys riding his  BMW R1150RT and flying his Cessna 206 and Cessna 414. While filming “Feasting on Asphalt,” Alton got his second tattoo of a skull with a crossed knife and fork with “MMVII,” or 2007. His first tattoo is a honeybee on his left shoulder, which has been shown on Iron Chef America.

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Guide to Traditional Japanese Desserts

Apr 27 2016

Japanese do not eat what Westerners call desserts. Typically their meals end with fresh, seasonal fruit. This does not mean that the Japanese do not enjoy sweets. In fact, they like their sweets so much that they devote time between meals to sweets and tea.

Ingredients common in traditional Japanese sweets are rice flour, azuki beans, and sugar. Japanese sweets tend to be lower in fat than Western sweets because they rarely use milk and butter in their sweets.

Many traditional Japanese sweets are made with a sweet azuki bean paste called Anko. Two traditional Japanese sweets that contain Anko are Mizu-Yokan and Dorayaki. It is very easy to make Anko.

Anko

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups dried adzuki beans
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Water

Directions:

1. Place dried adzuki beans in a large pot.
2. Cover beans with water and let soak overnight.
3. Heat beans on high until they begin to boil.
4. Reduce the heat and allow beans to simmer for ten minutes.
5. Drain the beans and return them to the pot.
6. Add five cups of water to the pot and heat the beans back up to a boil.
7. Reduce the heat and allow beans to simmer for one hour.
8. Beans are ready when they will squish between your fingers when you squeeze them.
9. Drain the beans and return them to the pot.
10. Mash the beans and add the sugar and salt, mixing well.
11. Stir beans over medium heat until they have thickened, up to 30 minutes.
12. Remove from heat and cool.

Anko can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for three days; otherwise what isn’t used should be frozen.

Mizu-Yokan is a traditional Japanese sweet that is similar in consistency to gelatin. It is made from agar-agar which is a gelatin that comes from seaweed. It is a very light and refreshing sweet which is enjoyed during the summertime.

Mizu-Yokan

Ingredients:

1 stick kanten (agar-agar)
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup Anko

Directions:

1. Put the kanten is a dish and cover with water.
2. Soak the kanten for an hour.
3. Squeeze as much water as you can from the kanten and tear it into small pieces.
4. Put the pieces of kanten into a saucepan.
5. Add the water and heat on low until the kanten has completely dissolved.
6. Add the sugar and stir until it has completely dissolved.
7. Add the Anko and mix well while allowing the mixture to come to a boil.
8. Reduce the heat and simmer while constantly stirring until the mixture has thickened.
9. Pour the mixture into a flat, rectangular container (size based on how thick you want your Mizu-Yokan).
10. Cool until set and then cut into small squares to serve.

Dorayaki would remind you of pancakes that have been put together with a filling, similar to a sandwich. They can have different fillings, but the traditional filling for Dorayaki is Anko. Dorayaki is meant to be enjoyed at room temperature and is typically served with tea.

Dorayaki

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups Anko

Directions:

1. Beat sugar, eggs, and honey in a mixing bowl.
2. Sift flour with baking powder into a separate bowl.
3. Slowly add flour mixture to the egg mixture.
4. Add water and mix until smooth.
5. Heat a griddle to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and pour small amounts of the batter onto the griddle. You want the pancakes to be about 3 inches in diameter.
6. When the pancakes start to bubble turn them over and brown the other side.
7. Continue until all the batter has been used.
8. Spread Anko onto half of the pancakes and cover with the other half, forming sandwiches.

Mizu-Yokan and Dorayaki are only two of the traditional Japanese sweets using Anko, but they are both very popular and easy to make.

Enjoy!

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How to Fold Wontons

Apr 26 2016

In order to fold a wonton you need to have your filling ready and a supply of water nearby to use to moisten the edges of the wonton. Since my children enjoy helping me fill wontons there are two methods of folding wontons that we use in our home. One is easy enough for my youngest children to do on their own. The other is more advanced and can be a challenge for my older children. Both methods of folding wontons will result in a product that resembles a nurse’s cap.

Easy method for folding wontons:

1. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of a wonton wrapper.
2. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with your fingertips that you have dipped in water.
3. Fold the wonton in half diagonally to make a triangle.
4. Press along the edges to seal the filling inside the wonton and to remove any air bubbles.
5. With the flat edge of the wonton facing you, moisten the bottom edge of the wonton.
6. Fold the two points inwards so that they overlap.

Advanced method for folding wontons:

1. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of the wonton wrapper.
2. Moisten the edges of the wrapper with your fingertips that you have dipped in water.
3. Fold the wonton in half lengthwise to make a rectangle.
4. Press along the edges to seal the filling inside the wonton and to remove any air bubbles.
5. Make sure that the filling remains in the center of the wonton.
6. Fold the wonton wrapper over one more time making a narrower rectangle.
7. With the long edge of the wonton facing you, fold the ends upwards and moisten the edges.
8. Overlap the two ends and press together to seal.

Wontons can be cooked in a variety of ways with a variety of fillings. They can be steamed, fried, and poached. My favorite uses for wontons are for Crab Rangoon.

Crab Rangoon

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese
12 ounces fresh crabmeat
1/3 cup chopped water chestnuts
3 minced scallions
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Wonton wrappers
Cooking oil

Directions:

1. Thoroughly mix all ingredients except the wonton wrappers and cooking oil.
2. Choose your preferred method of folding wontons and fill and fold the wrappers.
3. In a large, heavy pot heat 2 inches of cooking oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Cook 6 to 8 Crab Rangoons at a time. It should take about three minutes for these to cook and they should be turned at least twice while cooking to ensure that they cook evenly.
5. Using a slotted spoon remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
6. Repeat until all are cooked.

Enjoy!

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Afghan Kofta and Challow Recipe

Apr 26 2016

Kofta challow is a comfort foods, much like meatballs and spaghetti.  Kofta is a Middle Eastern and Indian term to refer to meatballs or legumeballs.  They are usually served simmering in a sauce on a bed of rice, or on skewers alongside flat bread.  Challow is rice, plain or flavored.  Basmati or jasmine rice is usually paired with the kofta and it’s flavorful sauce, much like how one would serve meatballs with pasta.  In Afghanistan and neighboring countries the use of meat is an important sign of wealth, though the same dish served on the Indian subcontinent will likely be made with besan (chickpeas) instead of meat.  Next time you’re in the mood for spaghetti and meatballls, try this instead.  It is perfectly suitable for those who are looking for a gluten free dinner, too.

Ingredients

Koftas (Meatballs)
1 pound of ground beef, lamb or combination of the two, moderately lean*
1 medium onion, finely grated
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped cilantro (coriander) leaves
*For a vegetarian version substitute 2 cups mashed chickpeas, 1 cup mashed potatoes, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 cup ricotta or other fresh cheese for the ground meat. *

Korma (Sauce)
Oil for frying (about 3 to 4 tablespoons)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 Afghan short pepper, minced and seeded (use a jalapeño or Hungarian wax if short pepper is unavailable)
1 clove of minced garlic
32 ounce can of diced tomatoes, or 2 pounds diced fresh tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablesoon ground coriander seed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 cup broth, plus additional broth or water as necessary
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Challow (Rice)
1 cup brown basmatti rice
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ghee, butter, or olive oil
2 whole cloves
1 whole cardamom pod
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Mix together the kofta ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.  Use the mixture to make 2 inch balls, and place on a plate.  Let the koftas rest in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before frying.

In a deep skillet or French pot heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions.  When the onions start to become translucent add the peppers, garlic and koftas.  Move the koftas gently around the pan with the vegetables, until they are golden brown on the outside.  Once the koftas are browned, add the tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, ground coriander, and broth to the pan.  Add additional broth or water until the koftas are at least half way covered by liquid.  Turn the heat down to a simmer, and cover.  Cook for 15 minutes, then gently stir.  Recover and cook for another 15 minutes or until the kofta are cooked through.  Stir in chopped cilantro, and remove from heat.

While the kofta are cooking, prepare the rice.  Add all the ingredients at once to the rice cooker and then set.  If not using a rice cooker, add all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed pan over high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Turn heat down to medium, and cover.  Cook until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and fluff with a fork before serving, remove cadramom pod and whole cloves if desired, before serving. 

To serve, place a large scoop of rice in the middle of the plate.  Ladle two or three koftas and a generous amount of the korma over the center of the rice.  Serve with some flat bread or boulanee to make a complete meal.

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Is all Spanish Food Spicy

Apr 25 2016

Many Americans think that Spanish food is similar to Mexican food. They are not similar in any way. The majority of Spanish food is not spicy. Spanish food refers to the food of Spain. Just because a country speaks Spanish doesn’t mean it serves Spanish food. In Mexico, they serve Mexican food. In Columbia they serve Columbian food. They speak Spanish in both countries and many others. And, in Spain, they actually speak Castillano, and 3 other languages!

Spain is in Europe and the food of Spain is European. At times some of it is similar to German food. Many Spaniards enjoy German sausages as Spain has a wide variety of sausages. Both countries also share a love for ham. Sometimes the food is similar to French food. Both countries enjoy a wide variety of cheeses and stews. Spaniards have a fondness for potatoes like their Irish friends. I am sure there are many other similarities to other European countries.

There are only two foods that I can think of that are spicy in Spain. One would be Patatas Bravas, which are French fries cut very thick and fried and served with a spicy sauce. Another food that would be spicy would be a Piquillo pepper that is sometimes grilled with salt. Some of those Piquillo peppers are spicy, and some are quite mild. I never could find any spicy enough for my tastes!

Most of the Spanish food is cooked with olive oil and lots of garlic. Spaniards love to eat lentils, stews, tortilla (similar to a potato omelet) and plenty of fish and ham. Spain was at one time the third largest consumer of fish and seafood. I am not sure if they still hold this rank.

Spaniards are also known for their tapas. Tapas are a light snack-type food eaten with a beer in the evenings. The name is said to come from men eating olives and nuts with their beers. They would cover (tapar) the beer with a lid and put their nuts and olives on top.

One of my most enjoyable times in Spain was going to the center of Madrid to the cuevas -some restaurants under the Plaza Mayor-for tapas. My favorite tapa was a mushroom stuffed with lemon, garlic and chorizo (type of dried sausage) and grilled. In Mexico, chorizo is eaten as well, however, the chorizo in Mexico is spicy. The chorizo in Spain is not spicy.

So, if you are going to Spain and think you will be eating spicy food, you better get your taste buds ready for something much different. Expect great bread, lots of garlic, fabulous wine, wonderful coffee, and most importantly slow meals with enjoyable conversation. Also, remember that Spain is divided into regions and every region has their own specialties and some even have their own language!

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Mexcan Spices for Dummies

Apr 24 2016

Mexican cuisine is an eclectic combination of dishes and cooking styles that have roots in various regions of the country.  Some tastes were influenced by the Spanish, but there are also dishes that owe their existence to the native peoples of Mexico. Like many countries, the cuisine varies from area to area, and there is not just one generic type of Mexican food. There are however some spices that can be found in food from different regions.

Many people think “spicy” when they think of Mexican cuisine, and while that can be true, it is often more about a depth of flavor than just heat.  

Chili

Chili is used in Mexican cooking in form of the peppers themselves either fresh or dried and also in the form of chili powder. Chili peppers are usually the heat that you find in a Mexican dish. The amount of heat in a chili pepper can vary from mildly warm to blow the top of your head off hot. As a matter of fact, new and hotter peppers are being created all the time. Some of the names that may be familiar are ancho, jalapeno, Aleppo, Scotch bonnet, poblano, habanero and cayenne. Chili powder combines the ground chili peppers with other spices which may include paprika, cumin, oregano, garlic powder and salt.

Cumin

Cumin is a seed that is ground and is one of the main ingredients in many blends of chili powder. It can be a very strong spice and has been popular around the world for literally thousands of years. The flavor most associated with a bowl of chili is actually cumin. The flavor is described as nutty and peppery and behind black pepper it is the second most popular spice in the world.

Cilantro/coriander

Cilantro is a fresh green herb and coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant. This spice looks a little like parsley in its fresh form but has a very different flavor, it has citrus undertones. This is one of the primary ingredients in the typical salsa that is served in Mexican restaurants and stands worldwide. It is often added to dishes that use tomatoes.

Garlic

Garlic has found its way into a variety of Mexican dishes. It can be used fresh, jarred or dry. It can be added to taco and tamale fillings as well as bean and rice dishes.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is used in Mexican cooking but primarily in drinks and desserts.

Azafran or Mexican saffron is used to give rice the beautiful yellow color. It comes in threads and can be very expensive. The flavor can be very bitter and it is used sparingly. Other spices that you should have in the house if you are going to be making some Mexican food are allspice, paprika, cloves, oregano,  mint, nutmeg, sage and thyme.

Since the cooking of Mexico incorporates many different styles and regions, there are variations from one region to another. Much of the Mexican food we eat in the United States has been Americanized to appeal to a greater number of diners. For an authentic Mexican cookbook, check out Rick Bayless. His cookbook is a good place to start learning about the food and spices of Mexico. 

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Food of Bangladesh

Apr 23 2016

Are you planning a trip to Bangladesh, or maybe just interested in learning about the Bangladeshi culture? If so you’ve come to the right place; I’ve put together an introduction to the foods of Bangladesh, a guide that should help you to understand the most common foods and delicacies eaten in Bangladesh.

Rice, dahl (split dried beans devoid of their outer huls), and fish are staples of the Bangladeshi cuisine that can be found in all regions of the country.

Atta, a whole wheat flour made from hard wheat, is also very common, and is used to make the breads popular in Bangladesh: chapati (a thin, unleavened, flat bread), naan (a round flat bread), puri (an unleavened bread commonly served for breakfast), and roti (an unleavened flat bread often eaten with curries or cooked vegetables).

Pulses, otherwise known as legumes, are also very important in Bangladeshi cuisine, with the most common being chana, mung, toor, and urad.

The most popular spices used in flavoring foods are: cardamom, cinnamon, chili, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, and turmeric.

Fruits are commonly eaten as they are generally widely available, especially bananas, coconut, watermelon, mangoes, papayas, lichees, pineapple, jackfruit, and oranges.

Beef is also a very important meat used in Bangladeshi cooking, especially in special dishes served as a part of feasts and banquets.

Three drinks that are commonly served in Bangladesh are: chai (a milky, sweet tea), lassi (a refreshing, yogurt drink), and green coconut water. There are many others, however these are three that you could find and most any region of the country.

Desserts vary by region, however, the most commonly found sweet delicacies are: halua (made with eggs or carrots, wheat cream, and nuts), misti dhohi (sweetened yogurt), firni (rice flour cooked in milk, sugar, and flavoring), ros malai (round sweets floating in thick milk), sandesh (a milk-based dessert), zorda (sweetened rice with nuts), and pitha (cakes or pastries available in many assorted varieties).

There are four main regions in terms of cuisine in Bangladesh: the South, the Northeast, the West and Northwest, and Dhaka (a cosmopolitan city with a great deal of history and Western influence). The following explains what makes the cuisine of each region distinct from others:

South Region: Sea fishes are commonly used in dishes, especially Shutki, a dry fish. The use of coconut milk is also very popular.

Northeast Region: Lake fishes are widely consumed as are fruits and pickles found in the hill country, such as shatkora and satkora

West and Northwest Region: River fish, vegetable curries, and the heavy use of spices define the cuisine of this region.

Dhaka Region: Fried rice and a great deal of meat are eaten in this area, along with a great deal of historical dishes, and dishes with Western influence.

Although this guide to the foods of Bangladesh is very concise, I hope it helped you to gain a better understanding of the foods that are most popular in this country. Some foods are found in all areas of the country, while others are specific to a particular region.

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Coronation Chicken is a Fine example of Celebratory British Cuisine

Apr 22 2016

The name of coronation chicken actually contains a significant clue to the dish’s origins. It was for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and the magnificent banquet that would help to commemorate the occasion that coronation chicken was invented. There is a theory that it was adapted from an earlier dish, created for the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, King George V, called jubilee chicken. The dish is prepared with precooked and cooled chicken and is usually served cold.

In its original form, coronation chicken was a simpler dish than some current variations of the dish such as the Coronation Chicken recipe outlined by the Telegraph. This was largely due to the availability or otherwise of certain potential ingredients in post-war Britain, particularly exotic herbs and spices. Whole chickens were firstly poached in water then left to cool in the liquid to keep them moist and tender. The meat was then carefully picked from the bones in slightly smaller than bite sized pieces and mixed with curry powder, tomato paste, mayo and a few other simple spices. It was served with a side order of vegetable rice.

Coronation chicken today will often be a much grander affair, due both to the wider availability of particularly flavorsome spice ingredients and the development of cooking techniques in the intervening decades. Occasionally, coronation chicken is taken to such new levels as to make it all but unrecognisable from its original form. The chicken may even be fried or roasted rather than simply poached, while the basic curry powder may be substituted either for a homemade curry powder or paste. Nuts, dried fruits such as raisins, lemon or lime juice, mango chutney and green onions or scallions are further popular additions.

Coronation chicken as it is found in the supermarket sandwiches of today or in lower end of the scale delis by the tub is more likely to be closer to the original version as this means it is both quicker and less expensive to prepare. If you want to try making it at home, it is an excellent way of using up leftover roast chicken from dinner one night for lunch sandwiches the following day, given that the most basic ingredients can already be found in many refrigerators or larders. Try adding some salad greens to one slice of bread before spooning on the coronation chicken, scattering over some freshly chopped cilantro and crowning it with a second slice of bread, for a refreshingly different but simple meal for your family.

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Everything but the Kitchen Sink

Apr 21 2016

Tacos do not have to be made with the same old chili filling.  Tacos can be filled with anything from breakfast food to dessert food.  Creative ideas are easy to come up with and if you can stretch your imagination, you’ll end up with some delicious meals.

Breakfast filling for tacos can be anything from scrambled eggs to sausage patties.  For scrambled eggs, choose toppings that you would normally put on regular tacos: shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa and chopped onions.  Hash browns with sliced cheese is another breakfast idea which would work well.

While steak can be thought of as a traditional filling for tacos, change up your toppings, use diced, cooked potatoes or mashed potatoes for a different taco experience.  Add gravy on top of the potatoes and you’ve got something interesting and different.  Sliced roast beef is another idea, topped with mayo and diced jalapeno peppers. 

Chicken sliced thin, think deli meat, can be layered with lettuce, tomato and feta cheese to make a semi-Greek taco.  Ground lamb cooked with mustard or lemon to make another variation on a Greek taco.  Top with Greek olives, feta and cinnamon for an unusual taco.

Spaghetti and mini-meat balls is a fun change of pace for tacos.  Just make sure that you don’t overdo on the sauce or you’ll end up with a mess.  Toppers can include grated Parmesan and Romano cheese. This can be a messy meal but it’s kind of like a Sloppy Joe in that respect.  Kids will probably adore this idea.

Try cooking winter squashes with savory spices and stuff them into taco shells.  Croutons and shredded cheddar cheese can be your toppings for squash tacos.  Ratatouille with croutons and Parmesan cheese would be great, too.

Dessert tacos can be a lot of fun.  Sliced wedges of ice cream with chocolate chip topping or fruit salsa topping, fresh fruit with chocolate sauce topping or stewed fruit with whipped cream can end a meal with a surprise element.

Tacos do not have to be the same-old, same-old.  Basically, anything you can make as a sandwich (and beyond) can taste good in a taco. With a little imagination and trial and error, you can come up with lots of unique filling ideas that will please almost everyone.  The best way to come up with unique taco fillings is to experiment.  See what you’ve got in the fridge and try out something new and different!

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The Differences between Simmering and Boiling

Apr 21 2016

Heating water has its boiling point which will be at 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit under normal and average conditions at sea level.  Unknown to many, the boiling point of water and other liquids actually depends on the oxygen content and atmospheric pressure.  This could mean how high or below you are from sea level.  Higher altitudes require lower temperature at which water boils and this means probably less than 100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit!

Now this would be just for water.  What about other liquids?  Different liquids would have different boiling points and therefore would have different simmering temperatures.  So differentiating simmering and boiling point with different liquids and mixtures would be difficult.  The best way to determine boiling point will be through visual observation.  Boiling, as most would know is the ‘violent’ bubbling activity of any liquid.  Under this condition it is normally accepted as boiling.

The biggest question is when do you determine that the liquid is simmering?  Again for water it is quite easy to observe.  The water gently bubbles hardly emitting forceful steam even with whistling kettles.  For other liquids, it depends on the ‘acceptability’ of gentle bubbles being observed.  For thick liquids such as those made of tomato paste or sauce, frequency of very mild erupting bubbles should be the basis without the aid of a cooking thermometer.

Thick liquids such as those with mostly tomato sauce or paste will show up gentle bubbles for every two to three seconds.  The liquid should be simmering at that state.  Anything more frequent than that will ‘cook’ firm what is at the bottom.  It is best then to have the liquid come up with gently erupting bubbles at three-second intervals to avoid ‘over-cooking’.  This would also be the same consideration of ‘simmering’ thick soups or recipes that would have at least two-thirds solids, like meat and vegetables, in the pot.

To reiterate, liquids have different boiling points and different simmering points at the different levels from sea-levels and different atmospheric pressures.  Unless you would have a graduated scale for different liquids and sauces with corresponding thermometer to monitor them, then it should be good.  Other than that, keen observation of bubbles coming from the cooking process should help and be sufficient to determine the simmering.

A barometer could help in determining atmospheric pressure for some cooking techniques.  Abrupt weather changes though could also change readings drastically in the process where food needs to be cooked for more than an hour or two.  A good example for this would be cooking beans to soften up.  It usually takes two hours to cook beans to attain the softness or suppleness desired.

Having your television or internet on, while cooking, might just help in being aware of the atmospheric conditions.  It is still wise and best to train your eyes in observing when your cooking is at the simmering point.

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