When It’s Sticky, Does It Taste Icky?

When it’s sticky, does it taste icky? Your first response is probably, NO! Who doesn’t love a sticky bun or maple syrup or a toasted marshmallow? But I don’t really mean the food itself. I mean the weather. Due to high humidity and hot temperatures, we have lots of sticky days here in the summer. And humidity, whether low or high, affects both the making and perception of food.

If you’ve always lived in a humid region, there’s no reason to notice this. The same is true if you’ve always lived in a dry climate. But those of you who have moved around may have seen the results of your baking change.

You can use the very same ingredients and technique but find it impossible to exactly duplicate the results you got in your previous home. When the humidity is high, you may notice that it’s easier to prepare soft breads than crusty breads or that baking takes longer.

Humidity level also affects our perception of taste. The ideal humidity in a house is around 50%. In my house, it ranges from 50 – 60 percent in warm weather. It can even climb higher if I don’t use the dehumidifying feature on my air conditioner. At this level, food tastes good.

When you fly in an airplane, the humidity drops under 30%. At that level, your perception of taste will not be as acute. Airline food vendors may attempt to compensate for blandness, but few of us have every had a satisfying meal on board. Fighting both low humidity and high altitude makes it difficult to create the ideal culinary experience.

Commercial bakeries often employ humidity control devices to improve the consistency of their product. At home, there are a few things you can do to prevent icky food:

  1. When it’s too humid, turn the air conditioner to a lower temperature before you begin to bake. You can also use a fan to dry the air.
  2. Make sure to use your exhaust fans.
  3. Store ingredients in moisture proof containers with a good seal. For more extreme conditions, place the containers in the refrigerator or freezer.
  4. Reduce the moisture in your recipe slightly.
  5. Use the convection feature if your oven has one.
  6. Make sure there’s a vapor barrier over dirt basement floors.
  7. If conditions are often extreme, purchase and use a dehumidifier or humidifier or explore alternate heating and cooling systems.
  8. Don’t use the drying feature on your dishwasher. If you need more humidity, open the dryer door while it’s hot and the dishes are wet.
  9. You can also increase humidity by simmering pots of water on the stove or making soup.
  10. An indoor dryer vent will pump moisture (and heat) into your home.

If conditions are not extreme, go with the flow. Experience will help guide you to add baking time or increase liquid in the batter.

Enjoy the slightly altered density or moisture in a muffin or cake. Savor the differences in your experience of each food. As long as it’s not icky when it’s sticky, it’s all good!

Wine Isn’t the Only Option for Deglazing

Wine isn’t the only option for deglazing a pan. None of us want to miss that tasty brown crust lining our skillet or pan. Some of the most complex flavors lie there just waiting to add flavor to the dish. Deglazing is the process of adding liquid to the hot pan to release those delicious morsels. It’s common to use wine to deglaze, but it isn’t the only option.

While I don’t mind using wine if I have a bottle open, I don’t want to uncork one just to deglaze. Other suitable liquids are chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, pot likker, milk, cream, nut milk, coconut milk, coffee, and water. I try to use something that will complement the flavors of the dish or sauce I’m preparing. I might even use peppermint tea when cooking lamb.

One way to approach this is to choose a liquid that will be included in that or a similar dish. Coconut milk is excellent to use after stir frying chicken for curry. Of course, chicken stock would work as well since the base of the dish is chicken.

I often use pot likker from Cooking2Thrive Killer Beans to deglaze beef I’m cooking for tacos, burritos, or enchiladas. The beans are seasoned with chile peppers and cumin so I’m enhancing the flavors that I’ll use to season my dish.

There are some combinations that may be best to avoid. I wouldn’t use coffee with chicken, but I don’t hesitate to use it with red meat and in brown gravy. And I can’t think of a time I’ve ever used vinegar as a deglazing liquid. If you’re unsure which flavor profile will work best, use a tool like “The Flavor Bible” or do a quick internet search.

Since the goal is simply to remove the caramelized food that is stuck to the pan, use a minimal amount of liquid. I usually pour in a little, stir with a spatula, then add a little more liquid if needed to dislodge any remaining remnants.

When making a sauce, you may desire more liquid in the end, but I deglaze first, remove the main dish ingredient, and allow any remaining deglazing liquid to evaporate before adding a thickener. From that point, I stir the thickener into the fat until it’s smooth and then add the liquid that forms the base of my sauce. After that, I allow my sauce to simmer and reduce. If I add all of the liquid when I deglaze the pan, I end up making my job more difficult.

If your dish doesn’t require a sauce, but needs a little something, something you can add a can of Rotel® Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies and use the liquid to deglaze. When I do this, I don’t treat it as a sauce, I just dump them in and stir to deglaze. The same can be done with tomato juice, tomato sauce, or strained tomatoes when making chili.

In the past few days, I’ve deglazed numerous pans and I haven’t had to open a bottle of wine. I’ve used chicken stock (already open & in the refrigerator), coconut milk (already open and in the refrigerator), and water instead. And there were other workable options in my pantry.

 So, if you’d rather have your wine in a glass, you’re in luck. Wine isn’t the only option for deglazing.

Navigating a Loss of Taste and Smell

Many people are currently navigating a loss of taste and smell. For some the cause is COVID-19. For others it may be chemotherapy or a different virus. I experienced such a loss following a virus a few years ago. It took almost a year for my sense of smell to return to mostly normal. I say mostly because I still encounter days when things seem just a little bit off. Although they’re now rare, it is still disconcerting when it happens.

For those of you who are not regaining these senses quickly, there are treatments available and one of those can be done at home. Olfactory training is a treatment used to encourage smell fibers to start working again. You can begin it at any time.

Choose items already in your home and smell them, slowly mastering each smell and then moving to another. I’d probably start with coffee, vinegar, vanilla, and oil of oregano. I might also bury my nose in the autumn scented candle I can’t get enough of. This process stimulates the olfactory nerve and hopefully encourages the body to create new neural pathways.

Don’t be alarmed if some things smell wrong or foul for quite some time. This is the symptom that lingers for me. Certain items sometimes smell spoiled when they’re not. For some people, everything may taste like bananas for a day. There’s really no predicting the exact experience. Just know, you’re not losing your mind.

And if not being able to taste is causing you to lose your appetite, there’s a new cookbook from Life Kitchen called Taste & Flavour. Those with a keen eye may have noticed the u in Flavour and already guessed that the chefs who developed these recipes live in the UK. But don’t worry about converting currency. The book can be downloaded for free.

The chefs consulted with scientists, researchers, and patients to create recipes that add sensory excitement. Part of that formula is to appeal to the eyes by using bright colors. They also use texture and foods like pineapple that stimulate the trigeminal nerve. Other foods like soy sauce and mushrooms are included to stimulate saliva and boost other flavors in a dish.

You may have to alter the way you cook for a while. Or you may find that your preferences have changed. Any changes bring an opportunity to explore a variety of new food combinations you might not have considered before.

For most, the senses of taste and smell will return eventually. Until they do, olfactory training and specialized recipes can help you navigate the twists and turns that come with an altered sense of perception. We may not have normal, but we’re continually gaining new resources and I love that!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Let Me Be Clear

I’ve been compiling a list of phrases I want to retire next year and “let me be clear” is right up there near the top. How many times per week can I listen to that phrase followed by a statement clearly intended to muddy the water and not lose my mind? If you said, 10,472 you’d probably be close.

There’s nothing wrong with the words or an intent to be clear. My problem is that the phrase is rarely used to mean the speaker wants to be clear. More often it means the speaker wants you to pay attention to a half-truth or full-fledged lie that creates the illusion they desire for you to see. So enough with deliberate misuse, misrepresentation, and misdirection already. Please stop!

Let’s all be clear!

Clarity is important. It’s crucial for a recipe. Without clarity, you may not end up with the intended result. But we all speak using unique turns of phrase. What’s crystal clear to me may not be clear to you. That’s where consistent format, industry-specific terminology, and formulaic rules can help – think grammar for instance. But no matter how carefully we craft, what content we create, which words we write, and how we verbalize sentences, our communication is subject to each consumer’s context.  

Clarity is even more important for health guidelines. It’s critical when writing conclusions drawn from data. And each time we pull back, hedge, or try to soften the message, we run the risk of confusing people.

So how can we communicate clearly?

I cannot possibly outline a way to avoid all misunderstanding, but I will give you five tips for drafting clear communication.

  1. Determine the scope and purpose of the communication.
  2. Identify and research your audience. Communication must be delivered in language that will be easily understood using an accessible method.
  3. Assume nothing. Draft every document, policy, and procedure as if nothing has preceded it and nothing will follow it. Write it as if it must stand on its own. Once the draft is done, document any overlap with other relevant documents. Keep a log of this overlap. Reference other existing documents and remove duplication when possible.
  4. Put all pertinent facts that live in your head in the draft. Once that all-inclusive version is written, review and pare down to essentials. It’s tempting to pare down first, but this creates one of the most common errors I see – critical information is left out. Since the information is known to you, you are less likely to recognize its omission upon review.
  5. Stick with the facts. Do not embellish or diminish them. Resolve conflicting statements prior to publication. Be conscious of word choice, but recognize that you may not please everyone. It is best to be concise and straightforward.

I realize this topic may be a stretch for this blog, but I feel really hungry for clear, concise communication that I can rely on for facts. I don’t think I’m alone in that. And, if you follow these tips, there should be no reason to say, “Let me be clear….” And not hearing that will work very nicely for me.