Mastering the art of everyday cooking

    Consumer Reports News: September 10, 2009 11:08 AM

    Meryl Streep has been acclaimed for her performance as Julia Child (shown) in Julie & Julia, a charming film about the legendary cooking-show host/cookbook author and Julie Powell, who in one year cooked her way through the 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogged about the experience.

    But the movie's real star is the food—the boeuf bourguignon, the sole meunière, the butter. It's enough to inspire you to speed home from the theater, scour your cookbooks or an online site for just the right recipe, and create a memorable meal. (If your kitchen is not exactly an inspiring venue for preparing masterpieces and you're considering giving it a face-lift, check out our Kitchen-Planning Guide.)

    While the following myth-busting advice might not turn you into a Cordon Bleu-caliber chef they can help you avoid some common cooking goofs:

    Baking soda and baking powder are interchangeable.
    Reality: You can't substitute baking soda for baking powder, but you can make a baking-powder substitute, according to Arm & Hammer. Mix 5/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to get the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

    Myth: You should rinse pasta under cold running water after you drain it.
    Reality: Don't rinse pasta unless you're making a cold pasta dish or if you are not adding sauce or won't serve it immediately, according to the National Pasta Association.

    Myth: Baking a cake and cooking another dish in the same oven at the same time is a great time-saver.
    Reality: This isn't a good idea, since most cakes need to bake with enough space around them for the air to circulate, according to cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum. What's more, the cake could absorb the aroma from the other dish.

    Myth:  You can't salvage a soup, stew, or sauce that's too salty and have to start the recipe again.
    Reality: Try adding a whole peeled raw potato or even a chunk of one to the soup, stew, or sauce, depending on how much you're cooking. "The potato is low in sodium and soaks up some of the salt," says Seth Phillips, associate professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America; note that the spud will impart a slight flavor. Remove the potato once the taste has been corrected. Otherwise, add some unsalted butter or vinegar or lemon or lime juice if the sauce can tolerate it; the acid remedy works well with tomato sauce.

    Add salt to tame an overly spicy sauce or stew.
    Reality: Don't add salt; it increases the spiciness. But if the stew or sauce can tolerate it, add a little milk or cheese to tone down the spiciness, says Phillips. —Kimberly Janeway | | Twitter | Forums | Facebook

    Essential reading: Check out our free buyer's guides to cookware and knives and our latest report on cookware (ratings available to subscribers). And while they might not cry "Julia Child," these easy, delicious grilling recipes are ideal for your end-of-summer outdoor feasts.

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