Stupid Questions Volume 10

Dear Home Ec 101:

I know Kathy T usually sends you stupid questions, but I have a few for you, too.

1. What does salt do? I used to feel snottily superior about leaving it out of all my recipes, trying to be healthy, but realized that didn’t work when I tried to bake bread. So what are some of the top uses of this wonder seasoning? (It’s a seasoning, right?)

2. What is the best way to clean cast iron and stoneware? It’s my understanding that one should not use soap on these porous materials, but I’m a bit of a germophobe, and not using soap seems really gross.

3. Say I go to the store to buy bananas. They already are bundled in bunches of 6 or 7, but I only want four bananas. Can I separate a bunch, or am I supposed to leave them as they are? Same goes for grapes in the bag…..

Signed,

~Curious in Clarksville

Heather says:

We love stupid questions, always feel free to send them our way. Kathy T has been pretending to be busy, because publishing a book isn’t time consuming or anything. If we don’t already know the answer, we will do our best to find it.

1. What does salt do?

In bread baking salt is essential for flavor in simple breads, helps control yeast growth, and plays an important role in gluten formation.

When cooking meat under high heat, salt aids in the carmelizing process. (It’s a beautiful thing.) Salt also affects the moisture content of meat through osmosis. Yes, even here, Biology rears its ugly head.

Salt enhances the flavor of food, like MSG, but without most of the side effects.

Salt raises the boiling temperature of water, this aids in the cooking of some foods.

Salt is vital to good health, but in our world overconsumption is much more common than under.

Judiciously seasoning prior to cooking will help stop you from reaching for the shaker at the table.
If you want to be smart about cutting out sodium avoid most canned and other prepackaged foods. Many soft drinks often contain a surprising amount of sodium.

While researching to double check my opinion I found this interesting tidbit, “Only 20 -30% of  total dietary sodium consumption is discretionary– or consumer-controlled– through the addition of salt to food after it’s preparation.”  Read your labels, if you have been warned about sodium intake.  No, I’ll take that one further.  If you are hypertensive it is crucial to avoid processed foods.  If you are healthy, with normal blood pressure, restricting salt intake is typically unnecessary.  As always, check your health care provider.

Part B) Is salt a seasoning?

Yes, anything added to food to enhance or alter the flavor can be considered a seasoning.   This includes: salt herbs, spices, and condiments.

2. What is the best way to clean cast iron and stoneware?

With hot water and a nylon scraper. If you are terrified of germs you can kill any lurkers by sterilizing the pieces by heating them in your oven.

3. Can I separate a bunch, or am I supposed to leave them as they are?

Grocery stores are businesses, their goal is to make as much money as possible. What? You thought they only wanted you to feed your family nutritious, economical meals. Ha!

If you only want two bananas, take two bananas, just try not to damage the remainder of the bunch.

The same with grapes*, if you don’t want a huge bag, carefully remove some and place them in a neighboring bag. You can choose how much you want to purchase, unless there is a sign denoting otherwise.

*As proof of how dedicated I am to y’all. I called my neighborhood Piggly Wiggly. Ms. Rebecca assured me the grapes are just packaged for convenience.

Thank you for submitting your questions.



8 Comments

  1. Margo on October 31, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Heather: about the cast-iron lid in self-cleaning oven: have you ever left anything IN your oven while it was on self-cleaning cycle? My owner’s manual says to take everything out, even the racks. I’m willing to try if it doesn’t damage my oven or something!

  2. boogiemum on October 31, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Ooh, those were good questions! I always leave the salt out when I bake bread (which is every week) and now I am going to leave it in. Thanks 🙂

  3. HeatherG on October 30, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    Margo, try putting the lid in your oven and put it through a self-cleaning cycle. It should burn the stuff off. Then you might need to season it, but since it’s just a lid that might not be crucial. Be forewarned, it won’t be black anymore unless you reseason it.

  4. JRae on October 30, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    It makes me cringe to think of her cooking without salt… no offense but it must’ve been terrible. 😛

  5. JRae on October 30, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Oooh, good tip about the bananas and grapes!

    It annoys me that salt=unhealthy somehow these days. I’m glad to have Heather confirm that it’s only a health issue if you have high blood pressure- otherwise, salt away!

    Read some Alton Brown or watch the Salt episode of “Good Eats” to understand just HOW important salt is to making a bad meal turn good!

    I myself have a bunch of “health” cookbooks that always skimp on the salt. One recipe I thought was just bad and bland until I added salt on my own- suddenly it was delicious and flavorful! It does more than add “salt-flavoring”- it enhances the flavors that are already there.

    You should also mention how salt needs to be added as early into the cooking process as possible, before (or during) any heating occurs to get the maximum results.

    Pepper should be added last since it can burn.

  6. Margo on October 30, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    I never knew you could separate grapes!! I usually just resign myself to more than I wanted!

    About cast-iron: I’m devoted to mine (I have 2 skillets, a griddle, and a dutch oven). I always heat mine up after rinsing, and then rub lightly with oil.
    I do have a question though: the lid of my dutch oven has caked on stuff and I’ve tried scrubbing it off several times with steel wool and I can’t get it off. Any suggestions? I’ve simply been using a regular pan lid instead of the cast iron one while I stew on the problem. ha.

  7. Milehimama on October 30, 2007 at 10:50 am

    I always check out the bottom of the bag and pick out any shrivelly or squishy grapes at the bottom too. I only pay for what I can actually eat!

  8. Kathy T. on October 30, 2007 at 9:43 am

    Stupid Questions! The problem is you’ve answered so well so often that I’m running out! But I’m sure given my propensity toward Home-Ec type issues (or lack thereof) that you’ll be getting more one of these days. Especially since my parents are coming this week and I haven’t cleaned house in three months (I exaggerate..ha).

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