Katie Learns to Cook: Chapter 7 cont’d, Kitchen Staples

September 2, 2012

Oh man, this chapter continues on and on!  We’re (hopefully) away and having fun at our friend’s enjoying a cookout, but I wanted to catch up on some of the things I’ve been reading about in my behemoth of  a chapter.  Today we’re looking into a little bit about salt, nuts, oils, frying fats, vinegars and malts.  Since there’s a lot to go through (again), I’ll try and keep it short, it is a holiday weekend, after all 🙂



As usual, lets start off with a little bit of vocab that popped up throughout the different sections.

Smoke point – this is the temperature where oils start to break down and begin to smoke.  Smoke points are super important when it comes to choosing what oils you want to use in your cooking.  For instance, choosing olive oil to deep fry something, probably isn’t a good idea, since it has a much lower smoke point than something like shortening.

Rancid-  Did you know oils can go bad?  When an oil goes rancid, its actually a chemical change in the oil itself, brought on by exposure to air, light or heat.  While it may not produce the obvious signs of mold, it can lead to some funky flavors and smells.

Hydrogenation – This is a process that manufacturers may do to help keep their deep-fryer fats more resistant to chemical breakdown.  Its a chemical process that turns hydrogen to oil in the fats, which makes your liquid fat go solid (like margarine, a hydrogenated vegetable oil).

Now that I’ve grossed you out, lets look at some these guys a little more closely?  Like last week, I won’t make a list of all the nuts, vinegars, etc., that they’ve made a point to include.  I’ll try to highlight some of the more interesting parts.


Most people can look at something and identify that as a nut or not.  But what is it really?  A nut is an “edible, single-seed kernal of a fruit surrounded by a hard shell”.   Although, now a-days most people just toss the “single-seed” part of the definition out the window.  Example?

true nut: a Hazlenut is a true nut.  They have a single seed (the nut) and are covered by a hard smooth brown shell.  These guys come from a tree in the northeastern/upper midwestern states.  Yum!

– new nut:  A peanut (which is actually a legume) and walnuts are examples of a nut under the “new age” definition.  Peanuts grow underground (i.e. not the seed of a fruit) and walnuts have 2 seeds.

Most of us know, that nuts  are pretty healthy for us.  They have a lot of protein and Vitamin B, but their high fat content (albeit, mostly good fats) place them firmly in the “in moderation” category.  But! Remember what I said about rancidity up there?  Because they’re so high in fat, these guys are pretty susceptible to going bad, or rancid.  So you SHOULD keep them stored in airtight containers and in a nice cool/dark place.  Secret?  I am only NOW just starting to get better at this (Ball Jars are the BEST).  But I still have one or two bags just half open.  My roommate from grad school though, she was Mediterranean and storing nuts properly was almost a religion for her.  So do it.  Store your  nuts! 😉

One of the things the chapter focused a lot on, was the Coconut.  More specifically, the difference between coconut water, coconut milk, coconut cream and lastly, cream of coconut.  So.

Coconut water – This is the liquid from inside the coconut itself.  Its having its day in the health world these days as a good way to rehydrate.  I still haven’t found one that I enjoy drinking yet – anyone else?

Coconut milk – This is a coconut flavored liquid, that’s made by pouring boiling water over shredded coconut (sweetened or not, your choice).    Ahem.  Am I the only one thought maybe there was some magic machine that squeezed the juices out of the flesh itself?  womp womp.

Coconut cream – Made exactly like coconut milk, but with less water.  OR its the fatty portion that separates and rises to the top of canned or frozen coconut milk.   Note neither coconut cream or coconut milk should be substituted for cream of coconut.

Cream of coconut –  this is a commercial product, that’s canned and a thick, sweet coconut flavored liquid.

moving on!


This is a fat that remains a liquid at room temperature.  Oils are typically refined from seeds, plants and vegetables.  Shortening is a fat that is white, flavorless and solid and typically used for baking and deep frying.

You guys already know about smoke points and oils going rancid, so lets keep moving on.  I thought this little tidbit about vegetable oils was pretty interesting

Vegetable oils are extracted from a variety of plants, by pressure or chemical (my mom always buys pressed safflower oil, because she isn’t a fan of the chemical processing).  They are cholesterol free (no animal products).  Here’s the interesting part – If the oil is labeled as pure  it should only contain one type of oil, however, if its labeled as vegetable oil it is a blend of different sources.

The other interesting tidbit I wanted to talk about was Olive Oil and their different designations, which refer to the oil’s acidity and processing.

Virgin – This is the first cold-press of the olives, it is 100% pure and unadulterated oil.  But the quality can vary, because of differences in acidity.

Extra Virgin –  Extra virgin is like virgin, only it cannot contain more than 1% free acidity (oleic acid).  Virgin oil can have up to 3%.

Pure – This olive oil is processed from the leftover pulp of the first press with heat and chemicals.  Its flavor is lighter than the first two and is cheaper as well.


Whew, are you guys still with me?  This chapter is nuts (haha, i’m so funny…)  To make things alittle less intense, I’m just going to give the definition of the last two sections.

Vinegars – a thin sour liquid, made from the fermentation of alcoholic liquids (usually wine or otherwise).  The vinegar should take on the color and flavor of its parent liquid.   These are a great way to add flavors to a dish…or a french fry 😉

Condiments – These are a technically “any food added to a dish for flavor”, but the definition has been expanded to include things like cooked or prepared flavorings as well, such as mustards, relishes and sauces.  A daily “ew” moment for you:

Fish Sauce:  a common ingredient in Asian cuisines, is the liquid that is drained from fermenting salted fish.  …   ew.

And so friends, I will leave you with your lovely information – go ahead, break it out at your local Labor Day picnic! Sure to be a hit 🙂


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