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A Few Pressing Questions

February 16, 2011

I admit, painful though it is, that I don’t know everything.   I am turning to you, my loyal readers, to help me find answers to these important questions.

  1. Preserved Lemons.  I understand the process of preserving them, but I do not understand how exactly they are used.  Do you rinse them off before using them? Do you peel them, or just chop them up whole and add to a recipe? Do they taste lemon-y, or salty/preserve-y?  So many show hosts and foodies extol the virtues of preserved lemons, but they just presume that everyone knows how to use them.

    These are preserved lemons. I have no clue what to do with them.

  2. Chicken Stock.  I must be doing it wrong.  Are you supposed to remove all of the chicken skin before simmering, or has it been predetermined that once refrigerated, your stock will transform into a gelatinous goo?
  3. Trussing a Chicken.  Is it necessary?  If so, how is it properly done?
  4. Deep frying.  Is it okay to use vegetable (soybean) oil in my deep fryer?  It so much cheaper than peanut oil, but I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
  5. Tipping.  What is the going rate for tipping these days?  I try to tip between 18-20%, but I’ve been reading lately that the acceptable percentage is creeping up into the 20-25% range.  Personal note: I truly resent the practice of tipping, because it has become my responsibility to pay the wages of a waiter, instead of the responsibility of his employer.  But, I also know it’s become so ingrained in our culture that it’s never going away.  So I tip.  Mostly because I really am cheap, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m cheap.
  6. I don’t like fish.  Or, more accurately, I don’t like most fish.  Am I really missing out on key nutrients, or am I okay with the occasional shrimp and maybe a fish fry?

    ...because they are slimy and gross

  7. Why would anyone buy this?
  8. And aren’t you glad I didn’t mention cupcakes at all in this post?
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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeanette permalink
    February 17, 2011 10:22 am

    Rinse the lemon under running water, removing and discarding the pulp. Once opened, refrigerate preserved lemons in covered jar up to 6 months. You only use the peel! They pair well with Bay Leaves, and mainly used in Mediterranean recipes! For example:

    Lemon-Bay Tortellini With Spinach & Wild Mushrooms
    Ingredients

    1/2 preserved lemon
    2 bay leaves
    1 package (12 ounces) cheese tortellini
    2 cups frozen leaf spinach, unthawed

    4 strips bacon

    1 medium shallot, finely chopped

    1/4 cup olive oil

    8 ounces sliced assorted mushrooms (find some you may not be familiar with in our Mushroom Glossary)

    1 teaspoon garlic, minced

    Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
    The pungent bay leaf and lemons combine into an aromatic mix of bitter, salty-tart and bright slowly coaxed flavors.

    Preparation

    Remove and discard pulp from preserved lemon. Rinse peel to remove excess salt. Coarsely chop peel (about 2 tablespoons). Set aside.
    Bring water and bay leaves to boil in large sauce pot. Stir in tortellini. Cook as directed on package, adding frozen spinach during last minute of cooking. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Discard bay leaves.
    Meanwhile, cook bacon in large skillet on medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels, reserving bacon drippings. Crumble bacon; set aside.
    Add shallots to bacon drippings; cook and stir 3 minutes. Add oil, mushrooms, garlic and preserved lemon peel; cook and stir 3 minutes or until mushrooms are tender.
    Stir in tortellini mixture and reserved cooking water; toss to mix well. Sprinkle with bacon.
    Serve with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

    Hope this helps!

    • February 17, 2011 10:33 am

      Thank you! That was incredibly helpful. Those talk show hosts just assume I know to discard the pulp, and until now I did not.

      And that recipe sounds amazing. I will definitely try it.

  2. February 17, 2011 10:37 am

    You can toss a whole carcass with skin & stray meat in a stock if you want. Ideally you’ll skim a few times while it’s cooking if you get any foam/scum, but when you let the stock cool the fat should rise to the top. After a stint in the fridge, you should be able to just lift the solidified fat off of the stock. You can optionally clarify your stock but I’m way too lazy and impatient for that.

    It’s not necessary to truss in the sense that you can roast a damn fine chicken without it. I never do it so I can’t tell you the proper way from experience but I trust this guy. I brine my chicken and stuff the cavity so I never have a problem with dry breast.

    Different oils have different smoke points. This is why you typically do not deep fry in, say, butter, aside from the fact that it would kind of a be a waste of delicious butter. 360-370’F is a good general purpose range, meaning you want an oil with a smoke point at least that high. Here’s a great list, notice peanut oil is WAY up there at 440′. Note that you can also deep fry in some olive oils but not extra virgin. Corn oil will probably be the best bang for your buck, but I like canola because it fits the bill (400′ smoke point), it’s not too expensive, and it’s pretty healthy considering you are deep frying and all. Note that pretty much everything you see on the shelves will be “refined” on that chart.

    I am really not going to get into tipping, but if you go to the same places frequently it’s in your best interest to be generous. You’ll know if you’re tipping too low.

    You are absolutely missing out on the awesomeness that is the sardine.

    Hope this helps.

    • February 17, 2011 4:08 pm

      I appreciate you taking the time to post such a detailed reply.

      Two things that I will try: switching to canola oil for frying, and brining a whole bird.

      One thing I will not try: sardines.

      Sorry.

  3. Shannon permalink
    February 17, 2011 11:12 am

    You know, there are certain foods that I cannot resort to low-fat or healthier versions of because it just ruins the food, (i.e. low-fat cream cheese or low-fat sour cream).

    While I can feel my arteries hardening just thinking about it, it is my opinion that there is no good substitution for deep frying. You can taste the difference when you subsitute more heart-friendly oils in the deep fryer. As long as you don’t do it often, I say go for vegetable oil.

    Fish is good brain and heart food, and shell fish is a great source of iron. If you’re going to aschew fish product, as least try to get some shrimp in on a weekly basis for that iron intake. I push the iron thing because I am chronically iron-deficient due to my adversion to red meats in general.

    I DETEST tipping at the counter and really hate that there is a guilt-inducing tip jar at just about any counter place now (Dunkin Donuts, for example). Do I seriously have to tip you for turning around, getting my daughter a donut and ringing it up? Seriously? Nope, I won’t do it.

    I have no qualms about tipping a waitress or waiter. I know that their wages are pretty crappy. I know it sucks that they have to rely on the consumer for wages after we pay for the food, but it’s the way it is. After living with one who waited tables for supplemental income, I completely respect the profession and have no problem tipping….but I generally won’t go above 20%.

    Good question about chicken skin…I’d say remove it even though there is a lot of flavor there. There is much fat there too that probably causes said gelatinous goo. I’d like to hear a definitive answer on that because I would like to make my own stock at some point in an effort to make my own soup.

    That’s all I got…and no, not surprised that there is lack of cupcake mention here. 😉

    • Jeanette permalink
      February 17, 2011 11:34 am

      Alway keep the skin on – it imparts the best flavor, albiet, it does get gooey, but after it chills just scrap off the excess fat, but leave a tad for flavor, and use as you would supermarket stock. Personally, I have done it several times, and it’s an all day affair, compared to the best market brand “Kitchen Basics” stock, or the one I carry “More than Gourmet” at the shop, I don’t see a huge flavor difference, and most importantly alot less time and mess! But if you really need to do it yourself, good luck, and have at it 🙂 You’ll be at the market for the next batch lol.

      • February 17, 2011 4:12 pm

        Yeah, I do make my own stock from time to time and there is no comparison. I was mostly wondering if the gelatin that I was creating was normal. I guess it is. Thank you!

    • February 17, 2011 4:13 pm

      I will never tip anyone at Dunkin’ Donuts. They already earn at least minimum wage, and I don’t need to subsidize that. Plus they never do anything that warrants a tip, anyway.

  4. Marlene permalink
    February 17, 2011 11:42 am

    I would buy that for you, Wendy. Of course, that’s just because you questioned it. Maybe you could use it for pasta salad at a bachelorette party?

    • February 17, 2011 4:11 pm

      My sister *is* getting married in June…and I did hear talk of a bachelorette party…

  5. February 18, 2011 10:34 am

    Regarding tipping, I’m not sure how it started, but it is probably here to stay. If we did away entirely with tipping and gave all wait staff a $15 per hour raise to keep their income the same, then food and drink prices would have to rise accordingly to cover the payroll expense.

    In a good economy with everything going well, an upscale restaurant MAY make 10%-15% profit, tops, at higher-end restaurants, less. It isn’t a case of the miserly restaurateur being cheap. If labor costs are increased to pay such a huge wage increase, the money would have to come from somewhere. Simply telling a restaurant that they need to increase their labor costs by 75% and suck up the expense without raising prices would put most restaurants out of business.

    Ultimately, the cost of dining out would not get any cheaper by eliminating tipping.

    The best spin to put on it is that by a server relying on tips for their income, they have more incentive to give good service. If they have a guaranteed income, some of the incentive is gone. Of course a true professional waiter is going to give the best service that they can, all of the time. But there are very few professional waiters, most are part time, students, or waiting tables during some other passing phase.

    • February 18, 2011 10:43 am

      Good points. I do enjoy eating out, so I guess I’ll live with the reasonable restaurant prices and continue tipping.

      Question for you, Mitch: Is it ever okay to NOT tip a waiter? If the service is bad? I’ve heard stories of servers/managers stopping people on their way out of the restaurant because they failed to leave a decent tip. Isn’t it completely voluntary, and shouldn’t there be standards?

      I understand that the waiter is not at fault for kitchen issues (i.e., overcooked steak) and would never penalize them for such, but sometimes I feel a lot of guilt, and will tip even if I receive bad service. There shouldn’t be a guaranteed reward, like you said.

      And, when do you call in a manager to solve issues?

      • February 18, 2011 12:30 pm

        If service is bad enough for you to even consider leaving less than what you would consider a “normal tip,” Then the manager needs to be aware of it. As a restaurant owner it is so much better for me to be aware of a problem, and then be able to try and atone for any issues, than it is to remain ignorant of problems and wonder why a customer never returns.

        It is certainly ok to NOT tip a waiter if the service is egregiously bad, but it needs to be accompanied by letting someone in a position of authority know WHY there was no tip for that server, rather than a waiter just complain about “cheap customers” and the manager/owner be in the dark.

        Call a manager in when you aren’t happy. Otherwise, how can a problem be corrected? I tell my wait staff to let me know about any issues that arise, that way the are covering their asses, and I can decide what, if anything, additional needs to be done to please a customer.

        (of course, there really is no pleasing some people, but you do what you can.)

        Hmm, wonder if I am being to candid here…..

      • February 18, 2011 12:35 pm

        Thank you for that insight! I appreciate your candor, truly. I hope my readers do, too!

  6. February 18, 2011 12:31 pm

    darn it, can’t edit a comment. Of course I meant “too candid” in the last sentence.

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