What Does Cream Of Tartar Do? And Other Food Questions Answered

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WASHINGTON (WASHINGTON POST)  The Washington Post Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: I was given a large bag of oranges, but I’m not a big orange fan. I do find the occasional recipe that uses them in a way I don’t find overwhelming, but I don’t have plans to use them before they’d spoil. If I zested and juiced them (separately), would each bit freeze well? Or is there a better preserving method?

A: Yes, the easiest thing would be to freeze the juice and the zest (separately).

- Joe Yonan

Q: What does cream of tartar do for baked goods?

A: Cream of tartar shows up in retro baking recipes because, as an acid, it helps activate baking soda. (Baking powder combines the two.) Of course, it also helps stabilise egg whites (and aquafaba, for those of you who know what that is)!

- J.Y.

Q: I have found some very, very old WearEver aluminium pans. One is thoroughly stained on the outside with decades of cooking evidence, shall we say. What would be a good way to clean the worst of it, while not tearing the surface up? There’s no coating on it, just the aluminum. I’m thinking of steel wool, baking soda and elbow grease.

A: I’ve had good luck with this stuff called Dip-It (and now also labeled as Lime-Away).

- Bonnie S. Benwick

Q: In a recipe for scones: “Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Rub in the butter.” How does one rub butter into flour?

A: It means use your clean fingertips – just forefingers and thumbs might do it. What you’re doing there is coating the flour with fat, which will help produce a tender flaky crumb. Keep the step quick and chilled (I like to use flour straight from the freezer for my scones), so the butter doesn’t get warm. After that step – before any liquid goes in, you’ll probably want to have a crumbly mix with flour and coated bits of butter no larger than pea-size – as the recipe writers like to invoke.

- B.S.B.

Q: I like to pre-soak dried beans to have them ready for cooking but I am unsure of how to store them. Should I cook them then freeze?

A: Yes, cook them and freeze them in their cooking liquid. I like to do that in quart-sized zip-top bags, so I can freeze them flat and they defrost more quickly.

- J.Y.

Q: I read and hear about putting a parmesan rind into minestrone – but what really happens when you do? Does the cheese melt into the soup and make it thicker? Does it just impart that salty, parmy taste? Do you have to fish out the remaining rind before serving? I have several Jarlsberg rinds in my freezer (saved from wedges), thinking I might use them the same way. Can I?

A: Generally, there’s not a lot of melting/thickening action – I guess that depends on how big the piece of rind is and how long it simmers. It’s about a depth of flavour, and the natural/edible rinds are optimal for this purpose. Your Jarlsberg rinds are most likely waxed, so you might want to trim them or at least fish them out before serving. Jarlsberg is really a semi-soft cheese, and I think in general the rinds of hard cheeses are also preferable for a soupy-stewy treatment.

- B.S.B.

Q: I am wondering what would be the best way to cook a turkey or chicken in one of those disposable metal trays. I assume the same instructions do not apply as a cast iron pot, so I am curious if a lower temperature or higher would be appropriate. Also, would a pizza stone or something equally hot underneath be helpful here?

A: I almost always put the disposable aluminium pan on a rimmed baking sheet, for easy moving in and out of the oven. (Even for the heavier-duty pans with exterior wire framing and such, which sometimes tear when you move them across a less than pristine oven rack.) Temps do not have to be adjusted but some bottom browning may occur, which is another reason to use the baking sheet underneath. Very thin aluminium feels hot to the touch but it’s not a super great heat conductor – especially for low-and-slow cooking.

- B.S.B.