August 31, 2008

Seasonal Tips & Tricks Living | Martha Stewart


By Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

Why does baking often seem more difficult in summertime?

When it's hot outside, chances are it's hot in your kitchen, too. This spike in the mercury can wreak all sorts of havoc on baking. Ingredients such as butter and chocolate chips can melt prematurely and combine poorly with other ingredients. Softened dough spreads on baking sheets, resulting in flat, ill-formed cookies. Pie crusts are more difficult to shape and often turn out less flaky.

The best solution is to cook in an air-conditioned kitchen, or to reserve your baking for cool and arid days. If this is not possible, be sure to keep ingredients chilled before baking. Cookie dough and pastry dough can be prepared ahead of time, wrapped in plastic and stored in the freezer for up to three months.

What is fish sauce? How is it made and how should I use it in my cooking?

Fish sauce is a quintessential Southeast Asian ingredient. It's almost impossible to enjoy a dish from that corner of the world - whether Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, or Cambodian - that doesn't contain this salty, pungent liquid. Fish sauce is often likened to soy sauce in Chinese and Japanese traditions, or table salt in Western culinary culture.

Although fish sauce varies from country to country, depending on the choice of herbs and spices, its traditional base remains the same. Small fish, usually anchovies, are rinsed, drained, mixed with sea salt, and packed in wooden barrels or earthenware jars. After fermenting in the tropical sun for anywhere from three months to one year, the light-brown liquid is drained off, filtered and bottled. This process is often done more than once with the same batch of fish .

Fish sauce has a pungency that's apparent as soon as you open the bottle. But don't be turned off by the odor; it does not reflect the taste. Rather, when a few drops are stirred into soups, stir-fries, curries and marinades, the liquid provides a foundation for the surrounding flavors.

Once you get used to the complexities of cooking with fish sauce, experiment with it in salad dressings and dipping sauces, other common Southeast Asian applications. A bottle will stay fresh in the pantry for years, so you'll have plenty of time to use it.

My shiny new copper oven vent hood doesn't fit with my older, more rustic home. How can I give it an aged look?

You could try applying a darkening agent for metal to the hood. This will give the surface a beautifully aged patina in as little as 30 seconds. We tested a product called Jax Patina Solutions on my television show, and it worked very well. The agent comes in four shades - brown, brown-black, gray-black and black - and it can be applied to copper, brass or bronze.

Keep in mind that if your hood has been treated with lacquer or wax, those protective coatings will have to be removed in order for the solution to have its oxidizing effect. Also, be aware that the solutions are fast-acting, so you need to stop them right away with water once your metal turns the desired shade.

The process is reversible, so you can return the hood to its original color if you let the agent go too long, or if you decide that you want the hood to look new and shiny again. However, removing the patina will require some elbow grease, so it's best to test the solution first on a piece of scrap metal or on an inconspicuous section of the hood.

Some of my vegetables have stopped producing. Is there anything I can plant in their place that will be ready to harvest before winter?

There's still time to start new vegetables in the garden. The practice is known as succession sowing. It makes use of the space left in beds by plants that complete their life cycle before the end of summer; determinate tomatoes, for example, ripen early and all at once.

Vegetables that can be harvested at any stage of growth are best suited to succession sowing. Some classic choices include spinach, lettuces and arugula, because they thrive in cooler temperatures and less intense sunlight. Beets, carrots and radishes are often sown now as well since they can be harvested as "baby" vegetables or left to mature for as long as the weather stays warm.

For best results, sow seeds directly into your garden beds (as opposed to starting them indoors). And the sooner, the better. These warm days will get the plants off to a quick start, so some vegetables may be ready to harvest in as little as one month.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be e-mailed to: [email protected] Include name, address and daytime phone number. Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit

Originally published by BY MARTHA STEWART.

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