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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ask Rula! Authority on Everything, Expert on Nothing

Time to answer some questions!
Hello, my people! Just because I am off the radio, and not doing my weekly column, does not mean there are no questions to be answered. Wherever I go, people ask me stuff, some questions about food, some about etiquette, and some just plain rude! Frankly, I love them all. If you have a question email me! I thought I would answer a few questions today, because without constantly acquiring knowledge we would all just be stupid, and that would get boring, don't you think?

The first question is from Pickled Patty and she writes:
Dear Rula,
What is the difference between capers and caper berries? Are they relatives? I have noticed caper berries are becoming more popular and one even showed up in my martini the other day! Do you use them in different ways, hot or cold, cooked or raw? Thanks Rula, I need answers and you are my go-to girl!
Pickled Patty

Dear Pickled Patty,
Capers are a yummy addition to any salad, pasta, or seafood but they are such a mystery to so many. Let's let Mr. Wiki help us out. Wikipedia says:
The salted and pickled caper bud (often called simply capers) is often used as a seasoning or garnish. Capers are a common ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. The mature fruit of the caper shrub are prepared similarly and marketed as caper berries. The buds, when ready to pick, are a dark olive green and about the size of a fresh kernel of corn. They are picked, then pickled in salt, or a salt and vinegar solution, and drained. Intense flavor is developed as mustard oil (glucocapparin) is released from each caper bud. This enzymatic reaction leads to the formation of rutin often seen as crystallized white spots on the surfaces of individual caper buds.

Capers are a distinctive ingredient in Italian cuisine, especially in Sicilian and southern Italian cooking. They are commonly used in salads, pasta salads, meat dishes and pasta sauces. Examples of uses in Italian cuisine are chicken piccata and spaghetti alla puttanesca. Capers are known for being one of the ingredients of tartar sauce. They are often served with cold smoked salmon or cured salmon dishes (especially lox and cream cheese). Capers and caper berries are sometimes substituted for olives to garnish a martini.

Capers are categorized and sold by their size, defined as follows, with the smallest sizes being the most desirable: non-pareil (up to 7 mm), surfines (7–8 mm), capucines (8–9 mm), capotes (9–11 mm), fines (11–13 mm), and grusas (14+ mm). If the caper bud is not picked, it flowers and produces a fruit called a caper berry.
The fruit can served in salads and they are also lovely just as a snack, especially when dangled into your mouth by a tall stoic man in a toga.

Next we have a question from Hershey Harry and he writes:

Dear Rula,
In your last post you talked about tempering chocolate for your chocolate sculpture but I still don't understand why you go through all that trouble. What does tempering actually do?
Hershey Harry

Dear Hershey Harry,
You know those expensive sexy truffles you see at high end chocolate boutiques? Notice that the chocolate is shiny, firm enough to tap with your fingernail, and will break with a sharp snap. That's because it's tempered. Tempering is a process that encourages the cocoa butter in the chocolate to harden into a specific crystalline pattern, which maintains the sheen and texture for a long time. When chocolate isn't tempered, it can have a number of problems: it may not ever set up hard at room temperature; it may become hard, but look dull and blotchy; the internal texture may be spongy rather than crisp; and it can be susceptible to fat bloom, meaning the fats will migrate to the surface and make whitish streaks and blotches which makes the chocolate look old — and nobody likes an old sweet. Anytime you need chocolate to be firm at room temperature and to have a glossy sheen and a crisp texture, you must temper the melted chocolate which is done by taking the chocolate up and down to certain temperatures. Best to do a little internet research to find out the correct temperature for your specific type of chocolate. Be patient and use an accurate thermometer and the results will speak for themselves!

If you have any questions for me, send me an email or leave a comment! Well, that's all for now — I have a fitting for my "Easter" Bunny outfit. Ciao!

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