“The “best by” date printed on canned foods is not a hard-and-fast “expiration” date: It refers strictly to the manufacturer’s recommendation for peak quality, not safety concerns. In theory, as long as cans are in good shape and have been stored under the right conditions (in a dry place between 40 and 70 degrees), their contents should remain safe to use indefinitely.
That said, natural chemicals in foods continually react with the metal in cans, and over time, canned food’s taste, texture, and nutritional value will gradually deteriorate.
Dates aside, cans with a compromised seal (punctured, rusted through, or deeply dented along any seam) should never be used. And discard immediately.
Ingredients to avoid —> Hydrolyzed soy protein, miso, shoyu sauce, soy-anything, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, soy sauce, soybean, soybean granules, soybean curd, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, tofu.
Foods commonly containing soy —> Baby foods, baked goods (cakes, cookies, muffins, breads), baking mixes, breakfast cereals, packaged dinners like macaroni and cheese, canned tuna packed in oil, margarine, shortening, vegetable oil and anything with vegetable oil in it, snack foods (including crackers, chips, pretzels), nondairy creamers, vitamin supplements.
Substitutions —> There are no good substitutes for items like tofu and soy sauce, so choose recipes that don’t directly rely on soy-based products. Read labels carefully as soy is used in an astonishing number of commercial products, often in places that you wouldn’t suspect, such as pasta sauce.
Ingredients to avoid —> Peanuts, peanut butter, peanut starch, peanut flour, peanut oil, mixed nuts, crushed nuts, hydrolyzed plant protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, vegetable oil (if the source isn’t specified), and depending upon the severity of the allergy, anything that states “may contain trace amounts of peanuts.”
Foods commonly containing peanuts —> Baked goods, baking mixes, chocolate and chocolate chips (many contain trace amounts of peanuts), candy, snacks, nut butters, cereals, sauces (peanuts are sometimes used as a thickener), Asian food (stir fry, sauces, egg rolls), veggie burgers, marzipan (almond paste).
Substitutions —> If your dish calls for peanuts, you might be able to substitute with cashews or sunflower seeds. For peanut butter, you can use soy nut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, or sunflower butter. Of course these substitutions are only valid if you or your guest aren’t allergic to all tree nuts.
Oil and vinegar do not mix. The only way to combine them is to whisk them together so strenuously that the vinegar breaks down into tiny droplets. The two fluids are then effectively one homogeneous mixture, called an emulsion.
To enable an emulsion to stay stable, add an ingredient that acts as an emulsifier, in this case mustard. Emulsifiers form a barrier around the droplets in an emulsion, keeping them from recombining and separating out. The mustard might not be enough to affect the flavor of the dressing, but it can have a serious impact on the chemistry of the mixture.
Most home cooks don’t need a mortar and pestle very often, if at all. Instead of purchasing a specialty item you can use a sturdy, stoneware coffee mug and a heavy glass spice bottle next time you need to grind something.
You’ve probably heard that you should never, ever wash fresh mushrooms under running water. The thinking goes that they will soak up the water, making them soft and slimy in the final dish. But is that really true?
After tests of using a damp cloth to brush off the mushrooms and a quick rinse in a colander under running water, there is no difference in the texture of the finished dish.
One rule of thumb – Wash mushrooms right before cooking; if you let rinsed mushrooms sit around for longer than 10 or 15 minutes, the texture will indeed begin to suffer.
Even the small amount of salt included in most baking recipes makes an enormous difference. Salt-free cakes are overly sweet but also bland, they called it mild, flat, or dull, you can barely detect any vanilla flavor. Cakes that include salt are also sweet, but the flavors of butter and vanilla were much more balanced and pronounced.
Salt doesn’t just enhance flavors in foods; it also helps mask less agreeable tastes like bitterness. By suppressing bitterness, salt allows more desirable flavors—including sweetness and spices—to come through.
In bread baking, salt controls the activity of yeast, strengthens gluten, and accents the bread’s flavor; it should never be omitted. Adding even a small amount of salt to an egg dish keeps the proteins in the eggs from bonding to each other, thereby producing a weaker protein chain and more tender eggs.
Salt helps improve the texture and flavor of nearly every kind of meat. When salt is applied to raw meat, juices inside the meat are drawn to the surface. The salt then dissolves in the exuded liquid, forming a brine that is eventually reabsorbed by the meat. This brine acts to change the structure of the muscle proteins, helping them hold on to more of their own natural juices.
Vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant can also benefit from being salted to draw out their moisture before they’re used in a recipe.
Adding salt to pasta cooking water ensures that the pasta will be flavorful. The preferred ratio of 1 tablespoon of table salt to 4 quarts of cooking water per pound of pasta for the best-seasoned pasta of any shape or size.
Give or take a few milligrams of sodium, all the shapes (spaghetti, linguine, penne, rigatoni, campanelle, and orzo) absorbed about the same amount of salt: 1/16 teaspoon per 4-ounce serving, or a total of ¼ teaspoon per pound of pasta.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend less than 2,300 milligrams (1 teaspoon) daily for people under age 51 and less than 1,500 milligrams (¾ teaspoon) for those age 51 and older, so even if you’re watching your sodium intake, the amount that pasta absorbs is so small that it’s probably not an issue.
Adding salt to your pasta cooking water seasons the pasta from the inside out, but you can skip the oil. It will only coat the pasta when you drain it, and that prevents the sauce from adhering.
The best way to keep pasta from sticking is to use a large amount of water. Use 4 quarts of water to 1 pound of pasta. This means you should be cooking pasta in a 6- or 8-quart stockpot or Dutch oven. Stirring the pasta for a minute or two after you add it to the boiling water will also help keep it from sticking.
Throwing the cooked pasta at the wall won’t tell you anything about how done it is, but it will make a mess. Instead, take a piece of pasta out of the pot and taste it. Testing the pasta a few minutes ahead of the cooking time prescribed on the box is the most accurate way to determine the doneness as the boxes invariably instruct you to cook it until it’s overdone and mushy, and definitely not al dente, which is an Italian term meaning “to the tooth.”