Each week, Washington Post staff field questions about all things food. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.
Q: My son, age 11, is pretty good in the kitchen with stuff he likes — eggs, omelets, pancakes, cookies, muffins. I bought him an apron, oven mitts and some utensils for Christmas. I came up short, though, on finding a good cookbook that will let him branch out into general cooking. I’m looking for one with simple, basic, all-around recipes and techniques, a kind of advanced-beginner primer. He’s too old for “kids” cookbooks, and the books aimed at college freshmen don’t fit either. Any good recommendations?
A: I will always offer this underappreciated title for beginner cooks: “Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks” by Linda Carucci. Basic information, uncomplicated recipes, lots of tips and explanations for why things work (and don’t). — Bonnie S. Benwick
A: Your son sounds a lot like my 10-year-old niece. I gave her a copy of “The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs” from America’s Test Kitchen, and she loves it. They also have a kids’ site you two might enjoy. — Becky Krystal
Q: I made Guinness lamb stew for Christmas dinner. I bought the lamb (already cut up and frozen) at an organic farm, and when I defrosted it on Christmas Eve, nearly every chunk had silverskin on it. I tediously cut off as much as I could. Tell me, was this necessary? When I served the stew, the meat was falling-apart tender, so I wonder if the silverskin would have dissolved. (Also, it was delicious!)
A: I think you did the right thing. Generally, that tough membrane does not dissolve, but if your stew cooks for hours, some of it might have. — Bonnie S. Benwick
Q: Is there any downside to making cookies smaller than the recipe calls for? I make a variety for the holidays (typically drop as well as roll-and-slice), and some cookies are so big that they dominate the cookie plate and people don’t want to take more than one.
A: The only downside I can think of is the texture might be affected — for example, if you have a cookie that has particularly crispy edges and a soft, chewy center, then that might be harder to accomplish with a smaller cookie. — Kara Elder
Q: Which type of coffee machine makes the strongest coffee? I have played around with brand, filter and grind. I would like to know how the home barista can reproduce Starbucks-strength coffee.
A: That’s a complicated question that requires a nuanced answer. But first let me bottom-line a basic answer for you: Pulls of espresso will give you the most jolt per ounce, between 30 to 50 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. (Compare that with brewed or drip coffee, which gives you 65 to 120 mgs of caffeine per eight ounces.)
But are you really going to buy an espresso machine for home? The good ones will set you back some serious cash. Plus, you said you were looking for strongest “coffee,” not espresso, and I’ll take that at face value.
According to at least one site, Turkish coffee and percolator coffee methods will result in the strongest java, with the highest caffeine content. But in my humble opinion, those processes also brew crummy coffee. You’re trading caffeine for flavor.
Most of the caffeine extracted from coffee beans occurs in the first minute or so of brewing. Some say that dark roasts will give you more caffeine, but I haven’t personally tested that. So here’s what I would suggest:
Invest in a simple pour-over device, like a Kalita Wave or a Hario v60. Use the standard filters for each device. Now here’s the trick: I would increase the amount of coffee that you brew for a single cup. Generally speaking, coffee is brewed at a 16-to-1 ratio, meaning 16 parts water to 1 part coffee. I would lower that ratio to 12-to-1 or 13-to-1. I would also grind the beans finer than you would for a typical pourover. I would grind them somewhere between a drip and espresso grind; not sandlike, but not a powder either. That way, you will use more beans per cup and you will slow down the initial extraction. Also, make sure your water is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit for the proper extraction.
If you’re still not satisfied with the brew strength, you could lower the ratio even more, use dark roast beans or, God forbid, try robusta beans (instead of the common arabica beans), which have higher caffeine content. — Tim Carman