One of the things that often baffles the cook-in-the-kitchen, non-professionals such as ourselves are rather simple conversion issues. You have ordinary white flour in the pantry – but the recipe calls for cake flour. What do you do? Go back to the supermarket to buy cake flour? Would you know how to convert regular flour into cake flour?
Or you are about to bake some chocolate chip cookies and you wonder how good your box of baking soda is. You wonder how long ago you bought the box of baking soda. Do you toss that box into the trash and go out to buy a new box of baking soda? Or do you know how to test the baking soda (or baking powder) to see if it’s still good?
You’re making up a batch of biscuits and the recipe calls for buttermilk, or sour milk. You don’t have either in the house. Do you go out and buy a container of buttermilk (all the while thinking that most of it is going to go to waste, because how often do you use buttermilk?)
Or you are planning to surprise your husband with an authentic Chinese dinner when you discover that Hoisin Sauce is a key ingredient. What do you do? Try to find an Asian market that has Hoisin Sauce? OR will you make your own?
Or you have a recipe that calls for blanched almonds—but all you have on hand are raw almonds with the skins on. Do you know how to convert the raw almonds into blanched – or would you go out and BUY an expensive small packaged of blanched almonds?
One of the most fascinating things about cooking, I think, is discovering how to convert one product into another, such as ordinary flour into cake flour or ordinary flour into self-rising flour (yes, it can be done!).
HOW TO CONVERT ALL PURPOSE FLOUR TO SELF-RISING FLOUR:
Measure 1 level cup of flour. Remove 2 tsp of the flour, and replace it with 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt.
HOW TO CONVERT ALL PURPOSE FLOUR TO CAKE FLOUR:
Measure 2 cups minus 2 TBSP flour. Add 2 tsp baking powder and 2 TBSP cornstarch. Sift all ingredients together. You now have two cups of cake flour.
TO TEST BAKING POWDER OR BAKING SODA TO SEE IF IT’S STILL GOOD:
You will need two small bowls and some white vinegar.
Pour 3-4 TBSP of vinegar into one of the bowls. Fill the other bowl with room temperature water. Add ½ teaspoon of baking soda to the bowl containing the vinegar. Add the same amount of baking powder to the water bowl. Each mixture should become fizzy. The one with baking soda and vinegar should produce a bigger fizz. If they both work, mark the baking soda and the baking powder containers with the date. Check again in 6-12 months if you haven’t used them up. If they don’t fizz, you need to buy a new box of baking powder or baking soda.
TO MAKE YOUR OWN HOISIN SAUCE:
You will need:
24 TBSP soy sauce
12 TBSP peanut butter
6 TBSP honey or molasses or brown sugar (I used molasses)
12 tsp white vinegar
¾ tsp garlic powder
12 tsp sesame oil
120 drops Chinese hot sauce, Habanera or Jalapeno
¾ tsp black pepper
Mix it all together; at first it may not seem to want to mix but stick with it until it all combines. Store in a tight fitting jar.
While you are at it, here’s how to make your own pickling spice mix:
You will need:
2 TBSP whole black peppercorns
2 TBSP coriander seeds
1 TBSP yellow mustard seeds
1 TBSP caraway seeds
1 TBSP fennel seeds
1 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp crushed bay leaves
1 tsp ginger powder
½ tsp cinnamon powder
Mix all ingredients; store in a tight fitting jar; store in a cool dark place.
HOW TO BLANCH ALMONDS:
Fill a medium size saucepan about halfway full of water and bring it to a boil.
Gently pour the whole skins-on almonds into the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Drain. Grasp the warm almond between your thumb and forefinger and slide the skin off the almond from the wide end of the nut. You will get the hang of it after you’ve done a few. Pat the almonds dry and store in the refrigerator.
When you need some sour milk or buttermilk for a recipe – and don’t have either on hand – you can add a small amount of white vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk; let it stand a little while – and voila! You have sour milk. (Personally, I like to keep a container of buttermilk on hand all the time—it makes the best biscuits).