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Articles about the things that go in your food.

Mise En Place

In a previous post, Baking Powder Experiment-Biscuits, I included an image which was titled “Mise En Place” to demonstrate a bit of the preparation involved in conducting the experiment. As a follow-up to that post, and to provide more information about cooking methodology to our readers who may not be familiar with the term, I provide the following.

Mise En Place Biscuits

Mise En Place - Biscuits


Mise En Place is a very important principle for serious cooks. Mise En Place is a French term that literally means ‘putting in place.’ Mise En Place means you have everything in order to prepare the dish before you begin assembling it.

Have you ever finished putting together a cake, casserole, or some other baked item and placed it into the oven only to realize you had forgotten one, or more, ingredients? Or started to prepare a dish and discover you are missing an ingredient, then have to scramble either to get it from the store, borrow from a neighbor, or find a substitute from items you have on hand?

If you make it a practice to use the principle of Mise En Place, as you have (hopefully) been carefully reading every recipe before starting preparation, then not only will you be less likely to forget an ingredient, you will also be much more efficient in putting the dish together, as well as more accurate in your measurements and the order of assembly.

The order in which you assemble a dish can be essential for producing the results you expect.  Having all the ingredients arranged to assemble your dish includes not just pulling out the containers from your pantry and packages of produce and meats from your refrigerator or freezer.  It means having all the ingredients organized in the order of assembly as well as measured, and prepared in ways such as: slicing, dicing, and chopping.

Mise En Place - Ingredients

But Mise En Place is much more than just about ingredients, it means having the whole dish, even the entire meal, planned in advance by having the necessary implements and tools arranged as well as having timed the preparation of each step of each dish and coordinating the preparation and cooking of all menu items. In other words, it means taking that extra effort and making use of a little bit of additional time, to organize every aspect of your food preparation.

This past weekend we hosted a birthday party at our home.  Party food included grilling marinated (lemon juice, garlic, basil, rosemary, and thyme) chicken breasts over charcoal, preparing my Green Hummus (a special request), Naan Bread, Green Salad, Tabouli, Brown Rice, and making Adas Bil Hamad (a Mediterranean lentil dish) – all from fresh ingredients.

This involved first deciding what recipe to use for each dish, making a list of the necessary ingredients, checking for what ingredients were on hand and which needed to be purchased. Deciding when and in what order each dish was to be prepared, taking into account whether the dish would lend itself to preparation in advance, if it could be cooked and kept warm (or cold) until needed, or if it required being finished (hot and fresh) just as guests were arriving.

Of course, another essential is knowing how many guests to expect and how much of each dish to prepare to accommodate the total number of guests. Normally, I prepare enough of each dish to provide every potential guest with an adequate portion. This doubtless results in an excess of leftovers, but I think it is better than running out of a dish and disappointing my guests. Besides, there never seems to be a lack of guests willing to take any extras home after the party.

Once all these things were decided, for each prep session I laid out all the ingredients, along with all the tools, utensils, bowls, pots, pans etc. that would be needed for the dishes at hand. Then I measured, washed, sliced, diced, chopped, and set out all the ingredients on my prep table in order by dish and recipe. (I always group my recipes by ingredient combinations per the recipe instructions.)

You will find that the extra time you spend up front planning, will make the actual preparation much smoother and less problem prone. Personally, I am much more efficient in having all the dishes ready on time, with less stress, and am able to have everything ready for the guests with a clean kitchen and make it look to them when they arrive that putting together the party was almost effortless. Not only does this make for a much more pleasant experience for your guests, but enables you to enjoy the party and your company to a greater degree.

I hope if you are not already utilizing the technique of Mise En Place, you will be inspired to do so. It makes preparing food for the people you care about much more pleasant for you, for them, and the socializing aspect of eating together becomes a more edifying experience whether it is for a large party or just a quiet meal at home.

Baking Powder Experiment – Biscuits

In my previous article So Many Baking Powders… I examined the differences between the many baking powders which are available in your local grocery store, to help provide you with a greater understanding of how they differ, and give you some guidelines to determine how one might be preferable over another for a particular baking application. I also challenged you, my reader, to experiment with the different baking powder formulations to determine which was best for your specific baking project.

As a follow up to that article, I conducted an experiment in the Lukewarm Legumes Test Kitchen of available formulations of baking powders using a basic recipe for making biscuits utilizing baking powder as a leavening agent. The Baking Powders tested were: Argo, Calumet, Clabber Girl, Rumford, and a Homemade formulation. These are all of the major baking powder formulations available to the general consumer in grocery stores nationwide. The formulation of the store brand baking powder offered by my local grocery matches that of Calumet, which my grocer does not carry, and for which I made a special trip to a local “Epicurean” market to obtain.

Baking Powders


In conducting a controlled experiment, the goal of the methodology used is to eliminate all variables except those which are the subject of the experiment.

This experiment was conducted according to the following process, and to the best of my knowledge eliminated all variables except that which came from the addition of baking powders with different formulas:

1. All biscuits were made using the same recipe. The recipe used to conduct this experiment was the one which is included below.*

2. All biscuits were prepared simultaneously, in the same kitchen, using (other than the baking powder formulations) the same ingredients (from the same batch package), baked in the same oven, at the same temperature, and at the same time.

3. All biscuits were formed with the same cutter to ensure they were of uniform size when going into the oven.

4. All baking powders came from new, unexpired and unopened containers.

Mise En Place - Biscuits


Judging was performed by a panel of impartial individuals according to three categories of predetermined standards.

The predetermined standards used for judging the biscuits were as follows:

1. External Characteristics

a. Height

b. Weight

c. Spread

d. Crust

e. Color

2. Internal Characteristics

a. Color

b. Moisture

c. Fluffiness

d. Graininess

3. Flavorlevel of pleasantness

A copy of the judging form used in this experiment can be downloaded here.

Biscuits - Baking Powder Experiment

Judging was done by a panel of eight judges in the Lukewarm Legumes Test Kitchen and the biscuits were examined and tasted right after they came out of the oven; while they were still warm and fresh. Baking was done in three batches with separate formulations segregated and served in dishes marked numerically.

Judging results are as follows:

1. External Characteristics

a. Height – All biscuits before placing in the oven were 1/2 inch in height. The biscuit heights after baking were on average the following : Homemade 3/4″; ARGO 1″; Rumford 3/4; Clabber Girl 1″; and Calumet 1 1/4″.

b. Weight – Weight in proportion to size according to the judges were all average, or what was expected.

c. Spread – All biscuits started at 3″ diameter.  The Homemade, Rumford, and Calumet shrunk to 2 1/2 or 3/4. The ARGO and Clabber Girl remained at 3″ diameter.

d. Crust – All biscuits had a balance between crustiness and softness, except the Rumford which was deemed below standard.

e. Color – All  biscuits exhibited an external color which was to be expected.

2. Internal Characteristics

a. Color – All exhibited an internal color as was to be expected.

b. Moisture – All exhibited an internal moisture level as was to be expected.

c. Fluffiness – The Homemade Baking Powder ranked lower than the others for level of fluffiness.

d. Graininess – The Homemade Baking Powder ranked lower than the others for level of graininess.

3. Flavor – level of pleasantness

The judges by far preferred the flavor of the biscuits made with ARGO and Rumford. These are the formulations, other than the Homemade, which do not contain aluminum.


As was to be expected, the baking powders did not affect the characteristics of weight, moisture level, or appearance. These are the product of the other ingredients in the recipe. Also, the preparations other than the Homemade did not affect the texture (fluffiness or graininess) of the biscuits.

Where the different formulations did make a significant difference was in their leavening ability.  Here, the ARGO and Clabber Girl were the superior performers.  Also significant and unrelated to their ability to provide leavening, but important in their role as a biscuit ingredient, was flavor.  Clearly, the aluminum free formulations (ARGO and Rumford) won out over the Clabber Girl, Calumet and Homemade in the flavor category.  The judges felt overall the ARGO was the superior Baking Powder formulation in this test.




*Baking Powder Biscuits

2 c Flour, All Purpose
1 T Baking Powder**
1 t Salt
1/3 c Shortening, Vegetable
1 c Milk


In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening till mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in center; add milk all at once. Using a fork, stir just till moistened.

On a lightly floured surface, knead dough just until the dough is nearly smooth.

Pat or lightly roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut dough with a 3 inch biscuit cutter, dipping the cutter into flour between cuts.

Place biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a 450° oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.


**Baking Powders used and their formulations:
Argo – Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate, Corn Starch and Monocalcium Phosphate
Calumet – Baking Soda, Cornstarch, Sodium Aluminum Sulfate, Calcium Sulfate and Monocalcium Phosphate
Clabber Girl – Cornstarch, Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Sulfate and Monocalcium Phosphate
Rumford – Monocalcium Phosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate and Cornstarch
Homemade – 2 parts Cream of Tarter [Potassium Bitartrate] to 1 part Baking Soda [Sodium Bicarbonate] mixture

So many baking powders…

Ah, baking powder, that essential ingredient in most of what are commonly known as quick breads, including: pancakes, biscuits, cakes, Clabber Girl Baking Powder muffins, cookies and pie crusts. A recent perusal of the baking isle at my local grocer turned up no less than four baking powder brands all with different chemical formulations. Some were labeled ‘double acting’ and some boasted of being ‘aluminum free.’

Of course, baking powders are not the only way to leaven breads without yeast: there is baking soda in combination with an acid ingredient, such as buttermilk or cream of tartar; steam from liquids in the batter; and the foam from whipped egg whites. But the introduction of baking powder into the mix to provide leavening is convenient, consistent, and simple.

Baking powder works by producing bubbles of carbon dioxide when the main ingredient(s), come into contact with an acid through the introduction of water. Most baking powders include an ingredient, such as corn starch, to absorb moisture and preserve Calumet Baking Powder the strength of the formula. Some baking powders are double acting meaning they contain two acids; one that reacts with the introduction of water, and one that reacts in the presence of heat after the batter has been placed in a hot oven for baking. This results with an end product that is lighter and fluffier than that made with a single acting baking powder. Not only too little, but too much baking powder can result in quick breads that do not rise as expected.

Three companies produce the majority of baking powders distributed to grocery stores in the U. S.: Clabber Girl Corporation; Kraft Foods; and a newcomer, ACH Food Companies, Inc., also the maker of ARGO Food Starch and Fleischmann’s Yeast. All of the major baking powders are double acting, but not all are the same or produce the same results.

As stated before, some acids react immediately with the introduction of water, and some react when heated in the oven, but not all react with equal intensity. Some react with varying degrees at different stages of the process: mixing, baking, and even the time between the two which is described by Shirley Corriher as “bench action.” Rumford Baking Powder

In Harold McGee’s book “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” he offers this comparison of the reaction times of leavening acids: Immediately during mixing – Cream of Tarter (Tartaric Acid) and Monocalcium Phosphate; Slow release after mixing – Sodium Aluminum Pyrophosphate; Slow Release and Heat Activated – Sodium Aluminum Sulfate; Heat-Activated, Early In Cooking – Sodium Aluminum Phosphate and Dimagnesium Phosphate; and Heat-Activated, Late In Cooking – Dicalcium Phosphate Dihydrate.

Shirley Corriher offers this chart comparison, which is also helpful.

Reaction Times of Leavening Acids During Cake Making

click on the chart to enlarge

It is extremely important to thoroughly mix chemical leaveners into the dry ingredients before the introduction of water. The introduction of water not only starts the reaction with some acids in the baking powder, but too much mixing can result in lessening the effects of carbon dioxide production in the batter through its dissipation from handling as well as produce an excess of gluten.

At this point I am reminded of a story by Alton Brown against handling biscuit dough too much, which is included in his book “I’m Argo Baking Powder Just Here For More Food” (pp. 6-7). For years he had tried to “clone the tender little jewels of goodness that came out of her (his grandmother’s) oven.” He tried everything from copying her recipe to checking the variables of her kitchen: elevation, weather, temperature, even the calibration of her oven, all to no avail. It wasn’t until he closely observed her preparing the biscuits that he realized what he had been missing. “I watched her remove her rings, slowly twisting them over her arthritic knuckles…a ritual she undertook whenever she thought she might get her hands dirty. Since her hands were always their stiffest in the morning she rarely made biscuits for breakfast because…hey, wait a minute! The very affliction that caused her so much pain was also the secret to her biscuits. Because she could barely bend her fingers she handled the dough without really kneading it at(sic) all. She simply patted it. This is a small detail, yes…but in the end it’s the detail that made all the difference in the world.”

So which baking powder to use? My answer – ‘it depends.’ One obvious option is to use an aluminum free formulation which, until ARGO, was essentially only Rumford. However, even though Rumford is labeled as ‘double acting’ you will see from the chart above that Monocalcium Phosphate is not as effective a double acting agent as some other choices because it releases 60% of its carbon dioxide during mixing leaving only 40% for during baking.  Davis Baking Powder

Additionally, all the major baking powders I investigated which are available in the U. S. are certified Kosher. So, to determine which one (or ones) are best for your kitchen, my advice to you is to experiment with the different formulations to see which produces the results you are looking for. I would also suggest you try different baking powder formulations for different products.  Please let me know your results.

Of course if you aren’t interested in experimenting, that’s fine too. You will be safe with just about whichever baking powder you choose as long as they are all of high quality. Just be sure to store them properly, in tightly sealed containers, and away from moisture.

Wondrous Legumes

Considering the richness in variety of the world of foods, the legume is truly a wondrous thing. Legumes are the fruit of a plant from the Leguminosae, or Fabaceae family.  The term also refers to the plant itself.  What typifies the legume is the pod in which the fruit grows, although this is not unique to the legume as the term pod is also applied to several other fruit types such as vanilla.

In his book, “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” Harold McGee states that legumes belong to the third largest family among the flowering plants (after the orchid and daisy families), and the second most important family in the human diet, after the grasses.  The reason legumes are such an important part of the human diet is because of their high protein content which is two to three times that of wheat and rice.

Many cultures have based their very existence on the availability of legumes in their diet because they are a much less costly source of protein than animal foods.  Legumes can be dried and stored for long periods of time and the consumption of them spans the globe in a major number of cultures, especially in: Asia, Central and South America, and the Mediterranean.  There are approximately twenty species of legumes grown on a large scale, including: soybean, black-eyed pea, chickpea, pea, alfalfa, lima bean, lentil, and peanut.

Legumes are also a significant source of green fertilizer because of their ability to add nitrogen back into the soil.  This is the reason farmers rotate crops such as cotton and alfalfa.  “Nitrogen makes up almost 80 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere, but only bacteria can transform atmospheric nitrogen into a form that plants can absorb: ammonia. This is called “fixing” the nitrogen, and plants rely heavily on this ammonia for food. Legumes provide a small amount of plant sugars and create nodes on their roots where these bacteria (usually Rhizobium) can feed and replicate. In return, legumes absorb the nitrogen fixed by the bacteria. Plants around the legumes, or that grow in the same soil later, also benefit from the fixed nitrogen.” (Samantha Belyeu, What is the importance of legumes?, eHow, (07/2011))

The British love their peas, so it’s not surprising when celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis cooked for the charity polo match the royal couple attended on July 9th, on the menu was a dish based on this wonderful legume.  The dish is called Pea Pesto Crostini.  You can read more about it at Giada to cook for the newlywed royal couple.

I recently tried something new with legumes; making Green Hummus.  Instead of Chickpeas, this recipe calls for Edamame, or baby soybeans.  Of course, some will object to calling this dish ‘Hummus’ as hummus is an Arabic word, meaning chickpea.  However, I do not believe words are defined by their etymology, but by their usage.

Green Hummus

Here is my recipe for you:

Green Hummus


2 c Edamame, shelled (fresh or frozen)

2 T Tahini

2 T Olive oil

3 cloves Garlic, fresh

¼ c Lemon juice

1 t Kosher salt

2 T Water from steaming edamame

Seasoned oil

2 T Olive oil

½ t Cumin

¼ t Coriander


Prepare seasoned oil by combining 2 T Olive oil, Cumin and Coriander in small pan and heat over low flame until flavors blend.  Cool.

Cook edamame in steamer basket for 8 minutes.  (Place steamer basket in pot.  Fill with water to a level below the bottom of the basket.  Bring water to boil over high heat.  Add edamame.  Continue cooking on high.)

Cool in a bath of ice water.  This will help bring out the green color of the edamame.

Drain in colander.  Make sure to save the water from cooking.

Remove the inner skin of the edamame by gently squeezing each bean between your thumb and forefinger.

Reserve several of the edamame to use as garnish.

Put all the remaining ingredients into a food processor and process until very smooth.

Adjust the seasoning as needed.

Drizzle with seasoned oil.

Serve with fresh pita bread and olives.