Tips and Tricks

Degas Dried Beans

by Nancy on February 28, 2012

in Tips and Tricks

Cooked dried beans are a healthy addition to your diet but some people avoid them because they produce gas in our intestinal tract. You can easily eliminate all or most of the gas by adding just one step to the cooking process and it doesn’t even increase the preparation time. Gas is produced in the large intestine from a sugar present in dried beans that is too large to be absorbed through the small intestine wall. The good news for us is that this sugar is water soluble.

Place the beans you want to cook in a large pot and fill it with water. I put 2 cups of beans in a 3 quart pot of water. The more water relative to beans the better. Bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid and let sit until cool – at least 1 hour. The beans will continue to cook as the water cools. Drain the water (and the gas producing sugar dissolved in it) from the beans and your degassed beans are ready to use. I use the same pot to make bean soup so I rinse the pot to remove any bean cooking liquid from it. Some beans like Anasazi beans will cook completely or nearly so as the water cools. Other beans may need more cooking time but the 1 hour cooling counts as part of the total cooking time. It’s that easy!


Prepare Coconut

by Nancy on August 30, 2011

in Fruit,Tips and Tricks

Most grocery stores only carry one kind of dried coconut. It’s very fine and very sweet. It doesn’t taste much like coconut either so about all I buy it for is making tinted Easter grass for decorating cookies and cakes. When I want coconut with real coconut taste, I go to a store that carries bulk foods (Whole Foods where I live). I can usually find a large-flaked, unsweetened coconut in the bulk bins. You can also order this large-flaked coconut from Bob’s Red Mill who is a supplier of bulk ingredients and who has been a sponsor of Kuchen Together supplying us with some ingredients for our recipes (although I bought my last supply of large-flake coconut from the store). The 3.5 lb. mail order size is pretty big but you can freeze dried coconut to keep it fresh.

Sometimes the large-flaked coconut still isn’t large enough for what I want. In my trail mix I want coconut chips! I’ve never seen chips in a store so I have to make them myself. I do live in a culturally diverse area where fresh coconuts are available in the supermarkets year round. Preparing your own fresh coconut isn’t hard but it is a little time consuming. Plan half a day to complete the process. Select an “old” coconut. Recently I’ve seen “young” coconuts in the stores along side “old” coconuts. Young coconuts are not fully developed and the coconut meat inside is still in a jelly stage. Some people will split open a young coconut and eat the insides with a spoon like pudding.

With a large nail and hammer, pierce two or three of the eyes in the coconut.

Turn coconut upside down over container to drain. You have to leave at least one hole a little “up” from the others so air can get into the interior of the coconut as the liquid drains out. If the liquid doesn’t drain, make the holes larger.

Place coconut in 300 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. If you are lucky, the shell will split.

Use a hammer to break into the coconut if it didn’t split and then to break it into smaller pieces.

Wedge a thick-bladed knife between the shell and the meat working around the inside of the shell until the meat comes free.

Peel the skin from the outer surface of the meat with a potato peeler.

Slice or grate the meat to the size you want. For my trail mix I cut the meat into 1″ wide strips and then slice it about 1/16″ thick.

Fresh coconut can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer.

For dried or toasted coconut, place sliced or grated coconut in a single layer on a flat tray. Bake at 200 degrees (or as low as your oven will go) checking and stirring every 15 minutes for grated coconut or 30 minutes for sliced. The coconut will dry and then brown. Remove when it is as dry as you like. Store as for fresh coconut.

For my trail mix the coconut slices (or chips) need to be very dry or moisture from the coconut will melt the candy coating on the chocolate pieces. Dry and toast the coconut until it is brown over at least half of the chip’s surface. Check for dryness before adding to trail mix by placing coconut in a container with a few chocolate pieces. Leave 1 day and see if the candy coating melts or not. If it does, place the coconut back on a tray in the oven and dry some more.



When you’re making cookies with cookie cutters, it can be tricky to move the unbaked cookies on to the tray without damaging them.

To avoid this problem, cut out your cookies on your cookie sheet:

  1. Roll out your dough on your cookie sheet.
  2. Cut your cookies out, leaving space around the edges for them to spread a little when they bake.
  3. Collect the dough scraps from around the edges of your cookies and roll them out again on the next sheet.


Pie Crust

by Carrie on November 2, 2010

in Desserts,Pies,Tips and Tricks

There are about a zillion different pie crust recipes out there but this is the one that consistently works to best for me. I’m not really sure who came up with the phrase “easy as pie” because before I found this pie crust recipe I constantly struggled with pie. Once you find the pie crust recipe that works for you, stick with it – any pie crust will work for any pie.

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

Pie Crust

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 5 T cold water
  • 1 T white vinegar
  1. Combine flour and salt.
  2. Add shortening. You can use a pastry cutter, a couple forks, or a food processor.
  3. Beat the egg with a fork and add it to the dough.
  4. Add water and vinegar and mix until combined.

This recipe makes enough for two pie crusts so either make two pies or halve the dough after it’s mixed up and pop half in the freezer for later. Take it out and thaw it in the fridge for a day or so before you plan to use it.

How to Roll Out a Pie Crust

  1. Put down some waxed paper and then flour the waxed paper.
  2. Shape the dough into a round.
  3. Flour the top of the round.
  4. Roll it out.
  5. Hold your pie pan over the dough to see if it’s big enough.
  6. Once it’s big enough, flour the top again.
  7. Place your rolling pin at one edge and lift up the waxed paper to roll the dough around the rolling pin.
  8. Unroll the dough over your pie pan.


A wide variety of candies from fudge to lollipops use a sugar syrup base. You want sugar syrup to do two things for you.

  1. You want to make a syrup that gets thicker/harder as it cools so the the candy holds its shape.
  2. You do not want the sugar syrup to crystalize when it cools. This makes your candy grainy, it just doesn’t feel right in your mouth. Crystallization also causes clear, hard candies like lollipops to turn cloudy.

To make sugar syrup, you dissolve sugar in water and then boil the mixture. As you boil the mixture, some of the water evaporates and the boiling temperature rises. The syrup gets hotter than boiling water alone. The more water you boil off, the hotter the boiling temperature becomes and the thicker/harder the sugar syrup will be when it cools. The exact boiling temperature determines exactly how hard or soft your candy will be when it cools.

You can measure the temperature of your sugar syrup two ways. The most accurate is to use a candy thermometer. Check that the candy thermometer reads 212 degrees F when you place it in plain boiling water (or whatever the temperature for boiling water is at your altitude). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, you can use the cold water test. To do a cold water test, you dribble a few drops of boiling syrup into a glass of water to cool it and then look at and feel the syrup in your fingers to determine how thick/hard it is. You may also notice that as the syrup reaches different boiling temperatures, the nature of the boiling changes. First it looks like boiling water, then it becomes foamy, then the bubbles become small as the syrup thickens. You can use these observations to know when to do your cold water test.

Here is a table of the different temperatures, the names candy makers use for the temperatures, and the cold water test.

Temperature   Stage              Cold Water Test
degrees F

234-240      soft ball       syrup can be shaped into ball but flattens when removed from water
244-248      firm ball      syrup can be shaped into ball that holds its shape when removed from water
250-266      hard ball     syrup forms hard ball that can be flattened when pressed
270-290      soft crack    syrup separates into threads that are pliable
300-310      hard crack   syrup separates into threads that are hard and brittle

Preventing crystallization is your other concern. You start out with a mixture of granulated sugar and water, boil the mixture to the temperature you need, remove it from the heat and it begins to cool. Because you boiled off some of the water, there is now more sugar in the mixture than the water can dissolve by itself at room temperature. The excess sugar wants to form crystals again. You don’t want this to happen because sugar crystals make your candy grainy, it’s like eating sandpaper. Also, sugar crystals aren’t transparent and will make candies that are suppose to be clear turn cloudy.

There are several different substances that we group together under the name sugar. We need to consider three of them here: sucrose, fructose and glucose (also known as dextrose). Generally when making sugar syrup we start with granulated sugar because it is cheap and readily available. Granulated sugar is sucrose. Each crystal of sucrose is composed of two smaller sugar crystals, one of fructose and one of glucose. When you boil granulated sugar in water, the sucrose breaks down into fructose and glucose. This happens very slowly with perhaps only 5% breaking down in 20 minutes. The glucose crystals that are released form long but weak chains that prevent sucrose crystals from reforming as the sugar syrup cools. But if anything can break up the glucose chains or there aren’t enough of them, sucrose crystals will reform.
There are three things you can do to prevent sugar crystals from forming.

  1. Eliminate any stray sucrose crystals that might start crystallization in the syrup.
  2. Add acid.
  3. Add glucose.

Even one stray sucrose crystal that drops into the syrup as it cools may cause the syrup to crystalize. Such a crystal is usually either stuck to the side of the pan or is on the utensil that you stir or scrape the pan with.

  • Start by buttering the sides of the pan you use to boil the syrup.
  • Next, slowly pour sugar into center of pan. Don’t let any sugar crystals get on the sides.
  • Then, slowly pour in the water so that it does not splash.
  • Add remaining ingredients, place pan on heat and gently stir until all of the sugar is dissolved. Don’t stir the syrup anymore after it starts to boil.
  • Do not use the utensil that you used to stir the syrup again. It may have an undissolved sugar crystal on it.
  • If any sugar, dissolved or solid, made it onto the sides of the pan wash the sides of the pan down with water. Either use a pastry brush or turkey baster to apply the water. The extra water won’t hurt anything, it will just take a little longer to boil off the extra water that you added and for the syrup to reach the desired temperature.
  • Add the candy thermometer after the syrup is boiling. Use a clean spoon every time you put a spoon in to do a cold water test.
  • Use a clean spatula to remove the syrup from the pan or better yet just pour the syrup out and any that doesn’t come out readily just don’t use.

Acid accelerates the process of sucrose breaking down into fructose and glucose. With acid, you get more glucose forming in the short time you cook the syrup. Use either cream of tartar (tartaric acid) or citric acid (sour salt) as your acid. Cream of tartar doesn’t have much taste and is available in most grocery stores. Citric acid has the strong taste of citrus fruit so should be used only with fruit flavored candies. It is sometimes available in grocery stores as sour salt. You can also increase the acidity ever so slightly be boiling your sugar syrup in a copper lined pan. The effect isn’t as great but is preferable for some candies especially those that include milk such as fudge. Milk products will neutralize any acid that you add and the acid might cause the milk to separate.

Finally, you can add extra glucose to your syrup before you start boiling it. The cheapest way to do this is to add corn syrup which is a mixture of fructose and glucose. The most common corn syrup available in grocery stores in the US is Karo syrup. You can use either light Karo (which has some vanilla added) or dark (which has some molasses flavoring and caramel color added) depending on your recipe. They are interchangeable regardless of which your recipe says to use.

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