Goo is good

I bought this product at a Trader Joe’s the other day (cell phone for size comparison).


Let me now just say the following, to quote a Whitney Houston song: It’s not right, but it’s OK.

We “chefs” are not supposed to do it, right? If a recipe calls for chicken broth (or stock), it’s hoping that we’re going to use homemade chicken stock. We start with a mirepoix (carrots, onion, celery), brown that up (caramelization … extra flavor), then maybe add some thyme, parsley, a bay leaf, salt, then a whole chicken, water, and cook it for an hour – preferably more, depending on how full-flavored you want it to be. That’s just for the broth.

Do you have time for this?

Most of us need to use the canned stuff, which is, admittedly, a rather weak substitute for homemade, but certainly acceptable when time is of the essence. Now there’s this product, a broth concentrate with the consistency of goo (And who doesn’t love goo?). When I saw it in the store, I wondered: are my days of lugging around canned chicken broth over forever? Not an unappealing thought!

Among the advantages this product has over the canned stuff is that the package is smaller and lighter, and it gives you more control over how much you want to use. With the concentrate, you can make as little as a cup (8 oz.) of broth, while a can forces 14.5 oz. on you (an awkward measurement as well). The canned (at least, the supermarket brand) and the concentrate are about the same price – 4 cents per ounce. The canned will be slightly more expensive if you go for a name brand, such as Swanson’s, though it will offer a better taste.

My panel of expert taste testers (me) thought that the goo broth had more authentic chicken flavor than the canned market brand, though you will have to squeeze the goo into hot water, which I suppose is slightly more work. Cook’s Illustrated prefers Swanson Certified Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, which was not on my tasting panel today, but I’d say go with it, if you need to impress somebody, and impress them in a hurry.

So all the broths have their merits. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how we can kick pre-made broth up a notch, and test out some recipes with it over the next couple of days.


A low-fat experiment

Last night, I was looking for a cookie. Show me someone who isn’t usually looking for a cookie, and I’ll show you a liar. Now, this is not my style (it was not my house, either), but there was some Toll House cookie dough in the refrigerator and, even though it was clearly past its prime, I thought maybe I could get away with it (pre-made cookie dough – you know the kind in the plastic tube – is what I affectionately refer to as “slice-and-shove” … you slice the tube of dough into a cookie shape, and shove it in the oven), but I checked the use-by date, and it was something like July (!). So no thanks.

I realized I had the ingredients for peanut butter cookies. A basic recipe includes the PB, flour, sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs, baking soda, and salt. I had all those things. But the butter I had was “light” butter, and the peanut butter was reduced fat. I’m used to baking with full-fat versions of these ingredients, and I suspected this little experiment could go wrong, but I threw caution to the wind and made the cookies anyway.

They were not the greatest peanut butter cookies ever made. Why not? Well, “light” butter has less butterfat and more water than real butter. With less fat, the flavor of the product won’t be as pronounced, and it will not be as moist or tender. The butter was salted as well, and this can be a problem too, because many baking recipes call for salt as an ingredient, and too much or too little salt in the recipe can throw off the product’s flavor or texture. Using unsalted butter lets you control the amount of salt.

Reduced fat peanut butter, according to Cook’s Illustrated, replaces about 25% of regular peanut butter’s fat with stabilizers such as corn syrup solids. This will not affect the product’s outcome as much as light butter, because the PB is a flavorant and not a base ingredient, and you’re not using as much of it (if you do want to use reduced fat PB, Cook’s Illustrated recommends the Skippy brand).

It appears that using these ingredients in tandem is not such a hot idea. My suggestion: if you’re baking, try to use the real stuff, and if you’re concerned about the calories or the fat … hands out of the cookie jar!