Kitchen Shrink: Tips and tricks of the culinary trade

catherine-kaufmanBy Catharine Kaufman

Inquisitive readers frequently ask me assorted questions on how to prevent culinary disasters, perform gustatory damage control or make their lives in the kitchen healthier, easier and less painful. Thanks for asking; now here are your answers:

I’m on a low sodium diet, but love the savory taste of salt. What can I use as a substitute?

Pucker up with lemons, limes, blood oranges or mandarins to give that acerbic, salty flavor without sprinkling a grain of sodium-laced salt. Fresh lemons whether Eurekas or Meyers are nature’s closest salt imposter, so squirt or zest to your heart’s content on your poached or grilled fish, fowl, veggies and grains. If you’re not a lemon fan, try an array of vinegars from balsamic, apple cider and malt to red wine, champagne or fruit infused versions like pomegranate or raspberry.

I am gluten intolerant, but don’t have Celiac disease. Could you please tell me the status of spelt?

Spelt even though an ancient grain is a more refined pedigree subspecies of wheat. Since it contains gluten (although a moderate amount) it’s a no-no for Celiacs, but has been found to be gentler on the gut than common wheat. So those with a gluten sensitivity might be able to tolerate spelt, aka hulled or dinkel wheat.

How do you cut an onion without a fountain of tears?

Different strokes for different folks. You’ll have to see what technique works best for you so the pesky chemical irritant in onions known as syn-propanethial-S-oxide won’t trigger the lachrymal glands from producing tears. Try rinsing the onion in cold water, keep a cold water tap running nearby when chopping the onion, or freeze the onion 15 minutes prior to chopping. Others have found that chewing gum or clamping a piece of bread between your lips will do the trick. And make sure the knife is razor sharp to lessen the spray of irritant into the air.

When I bake cookies, they frequently burn on the bottom even at moderate temperatures. Any suggestions?

You’ll have to experiment, but the best ways to prevent precious cookies from burnt bottoms is to line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Try also adjusting your oven racks to the top rung as a far away from the element as possible. Finally, since cookies continue to bake on the sheet even when they are removed from the oven, transfer the cookies almost immediately (and gingerly) to a wire rack to cool.

After chopping garlic my hands stink for hours. I wash them with soapy water, but they still smell. What gives?

That’s where this antiviral, immune-boosting powerhouse gets its nickname “the stinky rose” from. Try rubbing a stainless steel spoon on your hand, or salt, baking soda, even a half a lemon.

I do a lot of baking that requires separating the egg whites from the yolks. I always manage to get some yolk into the whites, and it spoils the recipe. Any foolproof techniques to prevent this?

When making soufflés, omelets, meringues, sponge or angel food cakes and other divine dishes the egg whites have to be pristine without a drop of yolk for perfect results. You can crack an egg on the lip of a bowl at its mid point; dump the egg contents containing the white into the bowl. Keep shuffling the yolk back and forth into the two shell halves, until all the white is in the bowl. Or, try the latest rage and crack an egg into a bowl, take a clean, empty water bottle and place the tip of the bottle over the center of the yolk. Suck the yolk into the bottle by squeezing the air at the midpoint of the bottle.

Incorporating some of the tips above, here is a low-salt lemon cookie, done to perfection (no burnt bottoms, please).

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Lemon Cookies 3Pucker Up Meyer Lemon Cookies

2 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 cup sweet butter, softened at room temperature

2 eggs

1 1/4 cups granulated white sugar

1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice

A few drops almond extract

1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Dash of salt

Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine butter and sugar and blend on medium speed. Add the eggs, juice, extract and zest, and blend on low speed. Add flour, baking powder and salt until well blended. Using an ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop cookies onto sheets.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until firm (but not burned on the bottoms). After 2 or 3 minutes transfer to wire racks to cool. Sprinkle with Confectioner’s sugar.