New on FineCooking.com: Beans and Salt Water

Another Thursday, another mystery solved. This week, I answer a question from twitter about a common bit of advice in cookbooks: should you avoid putting salt in the cooking water for beans? Although I love writing these, I need more questions from readers. Please comment, tweet, or send me feedback to let me know what questions you may have about food or cooking. I can't do it without you.

Vanilla Salt Cookies

vanilla_salt_cookies.jpg This entry is stolen… er, used under Creative Commons License from umami.com. I have made these cookies several times and love them ever so. They are my favorite cookies to make at Christmas, because they are easy and tasty and a bit more sophisticated than your average Christmas cookie. I have not made any alterations to the recipe because the license of the site does not allow for derivative works. And although, as a recipe, I could alter it and make it my own, it's a very good recipe without any change. Other than the salt on the top, as I have used fleur de sel instead of the pink Himalayan stuff.
These cookies were made using from the recipe for Vanilla Wafers in the "Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking". Instead of sugar crystals as suggested in the book, which I did not have on hand, I pressed some pink Himalayan salt crystals on the top just before baking. The salt accentuated the sweet vanila butteriness of the cookies, intriguing those who tasted with its familiar yet novel sensation. The recipe calls for one whole block of butter, and makes over 60 cookies. For a small household like mine it makes sense to freeze part of the dough. The ones above were from one of the frozen portions, slightly overbaked and crumbly, but still really rather scrumptious. Next time I might increase the quantity of flour. 250g butter 1/4 tsp salt (or if you are like me, omit this and use slightly salted butter) 125g sugar 2 large egg yolks 1 tbsp vanilla extract 315g plain flour Beat the butter, salt and sugar at medium speed untill smooth. Add egg yolks and vanilla and beat at low speed until blended. Add flour and mix until a dough forms. Divide dough into three or four equal portions. Roll each portion into logs about 1.5 inches in diameter. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and freeze or refridgerate till firm. Before baking, unwrap log and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. At this point you can op to sprinkle crystal sugar, crystal salt or chopped nuts on the surface. Bake at 180 C for 12-15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Easiest, Least Expensive Way to Make Your Coffee Taste Better

Why is my coffee bitter? It doesn't make any sense. I mean, sure, it's got a lot of bitter flavor compounds in it, and sure, the tongue supposedly has those taste receptors just for bitter flavors so that we don't eat poisonous things or something, but my coffee can be tastier. I've had tastier coffee. What am I missing? Salt. That's it. A tiny bit of salt in the coffee. Did I just blow your mind? I found this one though Ideas in Food, who found out about it through Shirley O. Corriher. So, what's going on here? As mentioned before, we've been taught in elementary school about the taste receptors in our tongues that handle sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Perhaps even umami, though we probably weren't taught that in elementary school. Well, I wasn't. But we know that food is far more than the combination of those flavors. Flavor compounds combine in strange ways and float up through the nasal cavities and coat the tongue in more subtle variations to the simple way taught in schools. When I drink coffee, I'm not really all that interested in the bitter. Therefore, I'll use the espresso machine and make a double ristretto, which is effectively a full espresso's worth of water over two espresso's worth of beans. This extracts lots of flavor and not that much bitter. Still, the double ristretto uses a lot of beans. What if there were some magical substance that made flavors more noticeable? What if a simple, two-atom molecule could turn bland foods into taste explosions? Wouldn't the world be a better place if it existed? Wouldn't we all be happier? Yes, yes we would. Because we have salt, all of our lives are more fulfilling. Magic does exist in the world. And, if you sprinkle a little bit of this magical fairy dust into an espresso, so 10-15 flakes of kosher salt, for example, all of the flavors that aren't bitter are amplified. A single, normal cup of espresso tastes like a double ristretto. Seriously, how cool is that? The folks over at Ideas in Food will now be going crazy with experimentation on standard beverages with the addition of salt. I'm sure we'll hear new things as time goes on. Personally, I couldn't be more pleased learning about this one, except insofar as I did not think of it, nor even think to think of it.