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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine


Magnolia Bakery: 6 Ways to Ruin a Cupcake 


Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes

© Courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes

Last week, the confectionery geniuses at New York City’s Magnolia Bakery started offering their Sex and the City–approved cupcakes for national delivery. The company spent nearly two years testing out packaging before adding cupcakes to its lineup of cookies, brownies and bars already available online. (The cupcakes had a tendency to become less than pristine during the shipment process.)

 “I think my mother’s sick of me sending her cupcakes,” says Magnolia Bakery president Bobbie Lloyd. That’s not to say Lloyd will ever tire of America’s enduring dessert obsession. She served cupcakes at her wedding long before they became trendy. While Magnolia’s cupcakes can arrive literally overnight, Lloyd is happy to encourage baking at home. Here, she shares six mistakes that home bakers make when trying to create the perfect cupcake.

1. Skimming the recipe. Thoroughly reading the full recipe before getting started will help you avoid unwanted surprises midway through. Even as a professional baker, Lloyd admits to skipping this step: “There have been times where I’ve run out of vanilla extract, or sometimes my brown sugar will be as hard as a rock because I haven’t baked in a while.”

2. Using warm butter. Cupcake recipes often call for room-temperature butter, but what is room temperature? “For all intents and purposes, it should be 70 degrees,” says Lloyd, “but most people's home kitchens are too warm.” This is a problem if you want to make cupcakes from scratch, since butter is the leavening in those recipes. “When the butter is warmer than it needs to be,” she says, “you can’t whip it into the ingredients long enough, meaning the end result doesn’t come out as it should.” Her quick tip: If you take butter straight out of the fridge, then put it in the microwave on defrost for 10 seconds, it should reach the correct texture.

3. Forgetting to check the oven temperature. “Most home cooks never think to check this,” says Lloyd. It’s especially important when you’re working in a new or unfamiliar kitchen. “The first time I tried baking something in my new apartment, I burned a cupcake recipe I’ve been making for years. I went out and bought a thermometer, and guess what? The oven temperature was actually 75 degrees hotter than what I’d set it to!”

4. Substituting ingredients. Be careful how you alter a recipe. “A friend of mine once added cake mix instead of cake flour to a mixture of flour and baking soda, and her cupcakes ended up exploding in the oven!” says Lloyd. 

5. Watching TV instead of your cupcakes. It’s extremely easy to overbake cupcakes, so don’t lose track of the time. “If the recipe says 25 minutes,” says Lloyd, “go and test them in 20.” If the tester comes out clean at that point, go ahead and take them out to cool, since they’ll continue to bake for a few minutes outside of the oven.

6. Letting your cupcakes cool completely in the pan. After taking your cupcakes out of the oven, Lloyd suggests removing them from the pan after about 10 or 15 minutes. “The cupcakes will absorb too much moisture if you leave them in any longer,” she says. And soggy cupcake paper is never pretty.

Related: F&W's Best Cupcake Recipes
Beautiful Desserts
How to Make Layer Cakes
Best Pie Spots in the U.S.


Tips on How to Deep-Fry a Turkey


© © Con Poulos
Soy-Sauce-and-Honey-Glazed Turkey

As amusing as it was to watch William Shatner’s dramatic tale of a fried turkey gone wrong for State Farm this month, we thought it might be useful to provide some grounded tips this Thanksgiving. Deep-frying a turkey can yield incredible results: a glistening bird with golden-brown skin that’s cooked perfectly in minutes. But anyone who’s watched a YouTube video in which a deep-fried turkey goes up in flames should understand that the technique is no joke. Done right, you could be filling your plate in an hour. Done wrong, you could be eating Jell-O at the ER. Here, Food & Wine’s deep-fried turkey tips (use at your own risk!).
1. Test to see how much oil you really need. Do not fill the pot with oil yet. Using cold water, measure how much liquid should be put in the pot to cover the turkey without overflowing onto the burner.
2. Go outside. Turkey frying should only be done outdoors, on a flat and level surface—not in an enclosed area (like a kitchen or garage) or on a wooden structure (like a deck)! Also, remember that oil is also hard to clean off of concrete. Make sure to clear the area of children, pets and intoxicated relatives.
3. Use a fresh bird, or fully thaw a frozen one. The minute any moisture from the turkey hits hot oil, the oil will start to splatter and can cause a spillover effect, starting a fire.
4. Skip the stuffing. You’ll have to keep the stuffing on the side when frying a turkey. Michael Symon’s stuffing muffins with lemony mushrooms and pine nuts, or butternut squash with corn bread, are fantastic. Also, remember to remove the giblets from the bird’s cavity before frying.
5. Lower the bird slowly into the oil. Do not drop the turkey into the deep-fryer.
6. Do not move the pot. Are you Homer Simpson? Adjusting a vat of hot oil is incredibly dangerous.
7. Stick around. Never leave the turkey unattended. It can only take a moment for something to go wrong.
8. Don’t start drinking until after the oil has cooled. Better to be alert until this bird is cooked.
9. Wait to carve. Let the cooked turkey rest for at least 30 minutes, in order to retain the hot juices.
10. Keep heavy blankets nearby for emergencies. Water will not extinguish an oil fire, it will only spread the ignited oil. A wool blanket will help put out flare-ups.

Related: 30-Minute Thanksgiving Recipes

20-Minute Thanksgiving Recipes

10-Minute Thanksgiving Recipes


5 Easy Ways to Ruin the Thanksgiving Turkey


Soy-Sauce-and-Honey-Glazed Turkey

© © Con Poulos
Soy-Sauce-and-Honey-Glazed Turkey

You’ve reserved a beautiful bird, found a big enough pan (that fits in your oven!) and purchased an instant-read thermometer to roast your Thanksgiving turkey to a perfectly moist 160–165°F—but there's still room to go wrong. Here, F&W’s Senior Recipe Developer Grace Parisi reveals the biggest turkey mistakes made by home cooks.


What Not to Do:

1. Overstuff the cavity. By the time the stuffing reaches a safe temperature (165 °F) in an overstuffed bird, the white meat will be totally dried out. Parisi’s rule of thumb: Cook no more than five cups of stuffing in a 15-pound bird and bake the rest in a separate dish. She also stuffs the neck, which won't increase overall cooking time.

2. Crowd the oven. Like a teenager, a roasting turkey likes privacy and space. Baking casseroles and other foods with the bird disrupts oven temperature and alters your turkey’s expected cooking time. Also, if the bird is placed too close to the top of the oven, the breast will dry out and the skin will burn; you should remove some of the higher oven racks to make room.

3. Check the bird obsessively.
Opening the oven door cools down the oven so much that you’ll end up increasing the cooking time by a lot.

4. Carve the turkey immediately.
Turkey needs to rest for at least 30 minutes to keep the juices from flowing out of the bird and drying out your meat. Resist the urge to carve right away and go freshen up. If guests aren't already waiting for you, they'll certainly be there soon.

5. Brine a kosher turkey.
Since a kosher turkey has already been treated with salt, brining it will yield an overly salty turkey.

Related: Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes (pictured)
100 Fast Thanksgiving Recipes
Thanksgiving Recipes
Thanksgiving Appetizers
Thanksgiving Side Dishes
Thanksgiving Desserts



John Besh: Stop Beating Up Fish


Chef John Besh

© Courtesy of John Besh Restaurant Group
Chef John Besh knows fish.

New Orleans–based chef John Besh released his second cookbook this week: My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking, a collection of simple, comfort-food recipes. The longtime Louisiana booster has also been making moves to support Gulf seafood. In the New Year, Besh will open his ninth restaurant, Borgne, which emphasizes the region’s coastal cuisine. He shared recipes for shrimp bisque and swordfish picatta in this month’s Food & Wine, and even features a chapter in his new book called “How to Cook a Fish.” Since this "What Not to Do"series revolves around disaster prevention, we asked Besh to describe the worst offenses you can commit against seafood.

1. Buy bad fish. The easiest way to foul a fish dish is to not have a relationship with your fishmonger. If you don’t know where the fish is coming from and when it was caught, you’re making the first mistake.

2. Over season. You can mask a fish's delicate flavor with too many spices. We're in this day and age when everyone has a can of something they love to shake over food. But not all cans are created equal, and fish requires restraint; a little touch of salt will go a long way. An exception would be a really firm fish that's great for grilling, and can also handle heavier seasoning.

3. Cook it like chicken. People beat up fish by treating it like chicken or beef. Fish should be cooked as little as possible. When you overcook it, it pulls apart and gets very dry, since there's not that much fat. People who don’t like rarer fish can cook it, but no more than medium. You can test for doneness the same way you would with any other meat—to the touch. You want to cook it so the flesh slightly springs back when you push on it with your finger. Beware of carryover cooking, which is when food continues to cook even though it's been taken off the heat. Unlike meats that take 10 to 20 minutes to rest, fish are made to be eaten straight from the pan.

4. Disregard the style of fish. The texture will tell you how to cook it. A white, light, flaky fish like sole is easy as sin to overcook. Sole is meant for a little flour and brown butter in a pan—a squeeze of Meyer lemon and you’re in business. If you grill something delicate, you’ll taste the smoke instead of the fish. Mahi mahi and tuna, on the other hand, are great for the grill.

5. Make a heavy sauce. Fish are delicate, and when they’re fresh, you should be able to taste the sea. Fish have a lot of flavor and you want to sauce them in a way that will elevate the flavor, not steal the show. Vinaigrettes are under-rated; grilled salmon needs just a citrusy, sweet-sour vinaigrette. Lemon and butter are two things that white flakey fishes crave.

Related: John Besh's New Orleans Recipes
Quick Fish Recipes
Thanksgiving Recipes


5 Ways to Ruin Pasta


Missy Robbins.

© Melissa Hom
Missy Robbins.

Next week, some of the world's greatest chefs will converge on New York City's Eataly for Identità New York, a massive celebration of Italian cooking. The event will pair six of Italy's best chefs with six of New York's biggest names (among them, Mario Batali, Jonathan Benno and Michael White) to talk about trends and teach cooking classes. For A Voce's Missy Robbins (an F&W Best New Chef 2010), this means a reunion with Emanuele Scarello, who was briefly a mentor to Robbins when she apprenticed at his Michelin-starred restaurant, Agli Amici, in Friuli.

Robbins was just beginning to learn about Italian food when she worked with Scarello and his family. "Mama [Scarello's mother] made pasta every morning," she says. "Every day, I would try to beat her down there, and she would already be halfway done at 8 a.m." More than a decade later, Robbins is a pasta master with her own Michelin star. Here, she shares five mistakes for home cooks to avoid.

1. Overcooking it. This might seem basic, but it's the surest way to ruin pasta. For dried pasta, you want some firmness at the center, but you can also tell by color if you're heading for trouble. "If you get to that really white color, it's totally overcooked." Your pasta should exit the water slightly undercooked, so it can finish cooking in sauce.

2. Not salting the water properly. "This is a really big one," says Robbins. To get it right, here's the procedure: Boil the water, add the salt, let the water come back up to a boil and then taste it. "It should be a little less salty than seawater." This is actually much easier at home—where you'll typically only be making one pot of pasta—than in a restaurant kitchen, where the water boils down and needs adjustment throughout the night.

3. Choosing the wrong sauce. Think about where you want the flavor in your dish to come from. "If you want to highlight the filling of a ravioli," says Robbins, "you might not want to use a super-strong sauce." On the other hand, orecchiette, with its tiny, sauce-catching pockets, is perfect for an intense ragù.

4. Not sweating the details. When making fresh pasta, little differences can have a big effect on the finished product. Robbins advocates using extra-fine, double-zero flour ("really, really important"), being careful not to overwork the dough, and letting it rest. As for eggs, Robbins uses only the yolks, which creates incredibly tender pasta.

5. Pouring the cooking water down the drain. "You really want that starchy water," says Robbins. "Even if you drain the pasta in the sink, you should save the water." A bit of pasta water will aid just about any sauce, improving its consistency and lending a little salty flavor.

Related: Fresh Pasta Recipes
Fast Weeknight Pastas
Italian Recipes



5 Biggest Home-Brew Blunders


Steve Wagner.

© Courtesy of
Steve Wagner.

One of this fall’s most interesting beer books, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co., tells the story of how Stone’s founders, Steve Wagner and Greg Koch, created the aggressively hopped, intensely flavored beers that turned their San Diego company into one of America’s iconic craft breweries. But before Stone launched in 1996, Wagner was just an ambitious home brewer. Here, he reveals the five biggest home-brewing flubs, and why sometimes it’s good to make mistakes.  
1. Forget to take notes. When you like the results of a home brew, you’ll want to re-create it—and that means having kept track of not only ingredients but also boiling times and fermentation temperatures. “To me, keeping detailed records is one of the signs of a really good home brewer,” says Wagner.
2. Try all your ideas at once. “When you use too many ingredients,” Wagner says, “they cancel each other out and make for a muddy, indistinct beer.” Instead, stick with simple recipes until you really feel like you’ve gotten it right. Wagner points out that though Stone’s beers are aggressively flavored, they have short lists of ingredients. The company’s flagship beer, Arrogant Bastard Ale, for example, calls for just one type of hop.
3. Underestimate the importance of yeast. “A lot of times, home brewers will be thinking about the water and the hops and the malt,” says Wagner. “When it comes to yeast they say ‘Well, I've got this old package in my pantry.’” Getting a healthy fermentation started—as quickly as possible—will help you avoid all kinds of problems. Use a fresh yeast starter.
4. Pull the plug on mistakes. One of Wagner’s greatest successes started as a mistake. As the book details, Stone's flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale was the result of a massive ingredient miscalculation. “We debated dumping it down the drain,” says Wagner. “But we let it finish, and when we tasted it, we were like ‘Nobody's going to like it, but it's really cool.’” (The brew was so intense that the founders weren't sure it could find a market.) Wagner advocates finishing any brew you start. If you do wind up with a flawed beer, keep in mind that bottle aging will often temper rough edges.
5. Add too much sugar and blow up your beer. Of all the ways a home brew can go wrong, this is the most dramatic. If you’re carbonating the beer without any special equipment you’ll do so via “bottle conditioning,” inducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle by adding some form of sugar to react with the still-active yeast. “It’s better to start out with too little priming sugar,” says Wagner. “If the carbonation isn't good enough, build it up a little next time.” Alternatively, if you overdo it with sugar, you'll get what’s known to home brewers as a bottle bomb—a bottle that explodes from excessive pressure.

Related: Great American Ales
Ultimate Beer Guide
Craft Beer Trends


5 Signs You Got a Bad Deal


As the blogger behind The Bad Deal, Bloomberg News food critic Ryan Sutton chronicles some of the silliest and most deceptive dining offers on daily deal sites. Here, he reveals the warning signs that accompany bad restaurant deals.

Ryan Sutton

© Courtesy Ryan Sutton.
Ryan Sutton knows bad deals.

1. Your deal is a brunch deal. It’s Saturday morning. You’re hungover. You want to be in bed. But you purchased a deal that's only valid at brunch. And that deal expires today, which is too bad because most people pay in US dollars; greenbacks never expire. Maybe your coupon locks you into a dessert, which is pointless because you never eat dessert at brunch. Maybe your voucher involves multiple courses, like a recent New York event where six different breakfast courses were served at half hour intervals—that's three hours of brunch. Most brunch foods are already cheap, so is it really necessary to pay extra for something you don’t want?

2. Your deal includes mandatory wine pairings. Deals that come with a wine pairing for every guest may seem like a good value. But are you and your date going to be smashed after six pours of wine? Most likely. It’s usually cheaper to have the sommelier create an individualized selection of wines tailored to your own budget and alcohol tolerance. If you decide to stop drinking a pairing halfway through a meal, most good restaurants won't charge the full pairing price. But if you pay up front with a deal, that financial escape plan isn't an option.

3. You ordered a tasting menu at a neighborhood restaurant that never serves tasting menus. A ten-course, three-hour meal is a delicate ballet. Without rigorous pacing and precise portioning, you’ll overdose on food before the feast is half-over. These menus, whether cheap or expensive, are best ordered at restaurants that specialize in them. So it’s unfortunate that deal sites are turning tasting menus into ubiquitous commodities, an excuse to restrict choice and increase the bill at eateries that typically serve just appetizers, entrees and desserts. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your tasting menu is only available through the dealsite, skip it. If you want something fancier, go to Le Bernardin.

4. The deal includes all-you-can-eat or all-you-can-drink. Do you usually leave restaurants feeling hungry and ripped-off? Do you think portion sizes in our diabetes-plagued country are too small? Do you want to be drunk during an 11 a.m. brunch? If you answered yes to these questions, then maybe you do actually want an all-you-can-eat-and-drink deal. For the more rational folk occasionally drawn to the offer of endless tacos, consider the following: Restaurants regularly impose strict fines if anyone else takes a sample from your never-ending basket of fries, a policy that defeats the communal experience of dining that attracts us to restaurants in the first place. Here’s a revolutionary alternative to the unlimited offer: Order something big and share.

5. You didn’t read the fine print. As economists often say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. That means a deal isn’t a gift, it’s a trade-off. In exchange for a promised discount, you’re giving up certain freedoms, like the ability to eat on certain days of the week, or to order off the full menu. Those trade-offs are almost always buried in the fine print—read it. Another necessary step is comparing the deal's price with the restaurant's regular prices. Deal sites can overestimate savings by hundreds of dollars, and a restaurant's everyday offerings are often more affordable than the deal. So comb through the menu; getting your restaurant information from daily deal sites is like watching infomercials to learn about world affairs.

Related: 5 Signs You've Picked a Bad Restaurant
Cheap and Delicious Recipes
Bargain Wines


How to Embarrass Yourself in a Nice Restaurant


Upscale restaurants get busier in the fall as diners snap out of the summer's casual mode and start getting excited for serious food prepared by top chefs. Here, five mistakes to avoid if you want to come away like a dining-out pro.

© Theo Morrison
Wine pairings may offer more than a buzz.

1. Underdress. It's easy enough to call ahead to inquire about a dress code, but even if the suggestions are fairly vague, like “business casual,” you can try to show some decorum. No one wants to see a man's hairy legs in shorts (Mario Batali being exempt from this), and if a woman's dress is cut down to here or up to there, you can bet the line cooks have already heard about it. Also, forget flip-flops.

2. Fake an allergy. The topic of how restaurants deal with food allergies turned up on Grub Street and Inside Scoop SF recently, and both articles touched on finicky eaters who feign allergies to avoid dislikes. In top restaurants, chefs will often individualize tasting menus so allergy-prone diners can fully experience the cuisine (see: Thomas Keller’s gluten-free brioche). This takes a lot of effort. So, if you demand a gluten-free menu because you’re trying to avoid carbs, you better not get caught tucking into the breadbasket.

3. Drink the finger bowl. If a small, pretty bowl containing hot water scented with lemon or herbs comes between courses, it’s not a palate cleanser or an under-seasoned soup. Drinking this is the fine-dining equivalent of eating a Wet-Nap.

4. Heavy petting. Sweet displays of affection might include a nuzzle, hand-holding across the table, and a kiss or two, but it’s best to keep your hands and mouth focused on the food. Footsie and bathroom adventures might be popular these days, but it’s unwise to experiment in a restaurant you might like to return to someday.

5. Get drunk. The likelihood of the above happening, along with every classic blooper (toilet paper on your shoes, skirt tucked into your tights, FALLING), rises exponentially with your consumption of alcohol. Many wine pairings provide more alcohol than diners can tolerate, so even if you paid as much for the pairing as you did for dinner, try to mind your limit. Plus, the lasting value of an amazing meal dwindles if portions of your memory are blacked out.

Related: 5 Signs You've Picked a Bad Restaurant
5 Ways to Screw Up a Wine Pairing
More What Not to Dos


How to Ruin a Grilled Cheese


It’s hard to imagine a bad grilled cheese, but melty perfection isn’t a given. Here, the James Beard Award–winning cookbook author behind this year's Grilled Cheese, Please!, Laura Werlin, reveals five ways to fumble this deceptively simple sandwich.

Laura Werlin.

© Maren Caruso
Laura Werlin.

1. Go overboard with bread. The ratio of cheese to bread should be 50-50. “Too much bread prevents the sandwich from getting crisp, which is crucial,” says Werlin. Too little cheese also yields disappointing results: “If you cut the sandwich open and there’s nothing gooey in the middle, why make one? People do that, amazingly.”

2. Slice the cheese. Grated cheese melts more quickly and evenly. If you’re using the right amount of cheese and it’s sliced, it won’t melt before the bread burns—unless you cook it over a low flame for a long time. “Who wants to wait half an hour?” asks Werlin. “Grilled cheese is all about immediate gratification”

3. Add butter to the pan. “The minute you put your sandwich in the pan, it absorbs the fat, and it doesn’t get distributed evenly,” explains Werlin. Instead, spread butter on the bread first. Press down on the sandwich with a spatula to achieve ideal crispiness.

4. Use anything other than a nonstick pan. Cast iron might seem rustic, but the benefits of nonstick are twofold, according to Werlin. “First of all, the sandwich doesn’t stick, but neither does the cheese that inevitably comes oozing out,” she says. “So then you get to pick up those little extra bits of cheese that get all toasty at the bottom of the pan. You don’t want to leave those behind.”

5. Skip condiments. This depends on your audience, since kids might not appreciate chutney, but “myriad ingredients can elevate a grilled cheese sandwich from good to great,” notes Werlin. She likes roasted peppers, arugula, olives and herbs, as well as artisanal breads, like those baked with olives, dried cranberries or herbs. Werlin’s favorite alternative to traditional bread might be the croissant: “You’ve already got the butter built in, and it becomes supercrisp because it smashes down so well. Boy is that good.”

Related: Laura Werlin’s indulgent New American Grilled Cheese recipe, with cheddar, Monterey Jack, cornichons and andouille sausage.
10 Amazing Grilled Cheese Recipes


5 Ways to Derail Your Diet


In the upcoming October issue, F&W's Well-Being editor Kristin Donnelly presents amazing meals that are only 600 calories—with wine. Until then, she reveals a few ways to sabotage a healthy lifestyle.


1. Go Beige. A wardrobe of neutrals? Fine. But a diet full of them? Not so much. The color in fruits and vegetables is often linked to different micronutrients, all of which have disease-fighting health benefits. Orange foods, for instance, have alpha carotene, which protects against cancer, and the more well-known beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Not to mention that fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber (which helps you feel full) and are often low in calories.

2. Eat bland, cardboard-like food. Too often, “diet” is associated with food that tastes bad. If you eat unappetizing food, you'll feel deprived and end up eating too much. Skip anything “lite” that comes in a bag or a box. Instead, treat fresh vegetables as you would a gorgeous cut of meat: Season well and cook only as much as needed. Serve vegetables, with sauce, as your centerpiece, and that beautiful cut of meat as the side dish.

3. Fear fat. Eating fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat. Unless medically recommended, the low-fat diet largely went out with the 1990s. That’s not to say that eating a diet of sausage, grilled cheese and doughnuts will help you lose weight (Plus, they’re all beige. See Step 1.) But fat—whether it’s olive oil or even butter or lard—is necessary for absorbing nutrients, and it supports the immune system. It’s also sustaining: Yes, a gram of fat has twice the calories of a gram of protein or carbohydrates, but fat helps you feel fuller longer, so you eat less. So pass the (teaspoon of) butter, please.

4. Inhale your food. Warning: Eating too much too fast can result in a protruding belly (also referred to as a “food baby” in the movie Juno). In many parts of the world, dining is a leisurely event, which actually has health benefits: When people eat slowly, they tend to savor food more and eat less. Plus, there’s that old health-magazine nugget: Your stomach takes 20 minutes to tell your brain it’s full.

5. Drink to get drunk. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) now officially recognizes that people who drink moderately (one drink per day for women, and yes, boo, two for men) are often healthier and live longer. Binge drinking, however, is not only unhealthy, it’s fattening. At around 200 calories each, multiple gin and tonics add up, so does wine. And then there’s the aftermath: Pizza with a side of fries starts sounding like a brilliant idea.

Related: A Guide to Eating by Color
Quick Healthy Recipes
Great Recipes That Use Good Oil

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