Category Archives: Kitchen Matters

Recipes, menu planning, and food presentation ideas.

Instantly Fresh Herbs

I was skeptical when Litehouse Foods sent me a release touting their line of freeze-dried herbs. Were they really fresher tasting and more versatile than the other dried herbs on my shelf with the same nutritional value as fresh herbs?

So I called Litehouse to learn more, and they provided a point-by-point comparison and sent three jars of their products for me to sample: Basil, dill and garlic. It didn’t take long for me to become a believer.

I don’t even stock ordinary dried basil, since I consider it vile, nothing like the real stuff. But the Litehouse basil was so much like fresh that it even worked in an uncooked dish. And the garlic saved the day when I was bringing homemade guacamole to a party and forgot to buy fresh. I haven’t given the dill much of a workout, since my husband is not a fan, but I did taste a pinch or two and was favorably impressed.

After rehydrating the herbs by adding just a drop or two of water, you use them in the same proportions that you would fresh. One more advantage: Their texture is restored along with their flavor and volume, so they can be used to season broiled or grilled foods without turning into twigs.

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Cracking the Egg Code

“What’s the difference between these eggs marked AA and these marked A?” the woman standing next to me in the market yesterday wondered out loud. The two packages she was considering seemed the same in most respects. They claimed to be from cage-free chickens and contained no antibiotics, GMOs or pesticides. However, one was certified organic and the other wasn’t, although they were locally raised, which is as good and sometimes better, in my opinion.

The answer it turns out has nothing to do with organic certification, but is a rating by the USDA of the quality of the eggs based on certain characteristics visible through the shell when the egg is so-called “candled,” a process during which a bright light is directed at the shell so that the interior may be examined.

According to a site called Explain Like I’m 5, the process reveals cracks in the shell, which may be factored into the grading, and spots of blood or meat, but mostly an egg’s quality is graded depending on its age. The site goes on to explain that, “AA grade eggs are nearly perfect, with a clear, firm white, a slightly defined yolk, and no spots. The air pocket (usually at the large end of the egg) needs to be less than a certain size. All these qualities point to an egg that is very fresh.”

An A grade egg is slightly worse in all those categories, although it seems to be the most prevalent in stores. Eggs also may be rated B, but you won’t see those in the store, since they’re generally sold to manufacturers who process them to make powdered eggs and egg substitutes, so the quality issues are less important. Those graded Inedible cannot be sold.

It’s interesting to note that for hard boiling or devilled eggs, older eggs are better. It’s very difficult to remove the shells from eggs that are too fresh.

Asparagus Rules

I’m not referring here to the deserving popularity of asparagus at this time of year. I’m talking about the rules dictating their ideal thickness and the proper method for trimming them. I have no idea who came up with those dictates, but I beg to differ.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the pencil-thin stalks that are supposedly preferable, but to me (and many others, I’ve discovered), thick asparagus are superior, especially if you’re roasting them. Skinny stalks can’t remain in the oven long enough to develop a little color on the outside while the meaty insides soften.

As for trimming, when I attempt to remove the tough base of the stalks by holding them at each end and letting them break naturally, I lose at least a third of the stalk. Instead, I use a knife to chop off an inch (or a bit more, if the base is particularly thick) and then remove the sheath from another inch using a vegetable peeler. The result is deliciously chewable from top to bottom.