How do I cook the perfect hard-boiled egg? --Carolyn Harth, Newburgh, Indiana
The term "hard-boiled" is a misnomer. Boiling eggs makes them tough and rubbery and turns the yolk black; it also makes them harder to peel. Eggs should be "hard-cooked," instead, in hot water.
Here's how: Use eggs at room temperature; they are less likely to crack during cooking than eggs taken straight from the refrigerator. Place a single layer of eggs in the bottom of a saucepan, and fill it with cold water so that the eggs are covered by at least one inch of water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Once the water has reached boiling point, immediately remove from the heat and let stand for about 10 minutes, depending on the size of your eggs. (The larger the eggs, the longer they may have to stand.) Then, drain off the hot water, and immediately cover eggs with cold water to put a quick halt to the cooking process. Adding a couple of ice cubes will help. Cooling the eggs not only prevents them from overcooking, but it also keeps a dark gray-green surface from forming on the exterior of the yolk.
Peeling eggs can cause some consternation. To make them as easy as possible to peel, use eggs that are more than a week old. Gently roll hard-cooked eggs between your palm and the countertop; this will create dozens of hairline cracks in the shell. Peel the egg under cold running water, or dip it into a bowl filled with cold water. Then, resubmerge the peeled egg in cold water. Another tip: hard-cooked eggs are much easier to slice when they're cold.
What's the difference between egg glaze and egg wash? --Julie Clemens, Jasper, Indiana
They are really just variations of the same thing. Both add color and shine to pastry, it's just a question of degree. Egg wash, which consists of one egg, both white and yolk, and 1 tablespoon water, beaten with a fork, is the less rich of the two and forms a lighter glaze. Use it on pie crust or other kinds of pastry on which you want only a little bit of color.
For a deeper-brown hue, substitute cream for water, and you've got an egg glaze. Use 1 tablespoon of cream per egg. Brush onto puff pastry. For the richest form of egg glaze, use only the yolk.
For pies, you may also want to try something that's in between the two. If this is the case, use whole milk instead of cream. You can use either egg glaze or wash to serve as a glue that will help to hold different pieces of pastry together or to help attach decorative elements such as leaves on the top crust of a pie. A glaze or wash also helps chopped nuts and decorative sugar to adhere to pastry and cookies when sprinkled on just before baking.
What's the best way to clean a strainer? The water runs straight through it, so I never feel it's getting properly cleaned. --Ann Goldman, New York
It's true, cleaning a strainer or sieve can be tricky, because food particles tend to lodge in the tiny holes. To avoid this, wash your strainer immediately, so that food particles don't solidify. If solids do end up sticking, soak the strainer in soapy, hot water.
Scrub the strainer inside and out, using a stiff-bristled brush. The strong pressure of a hand-held spray-hose attachment may help.