Question: I would like to know how to make meringue shells. Can the meringue mixture be put through a pastry bag? I can't find the shells in any bakeries near my home and would like to make them.
Answer: You're on the right track--a pastry bag is used to pipe the meringue mixture. The following directions are adapted from "Professional Baking" by Wayne Gisslen (John Wiley & Sons: 1985).
Draw circles of the desired size on parchment paper. Using a pastry bag with a plain tip, form a meringue base for each shell by making a spiral, starting in the center of the circle and continuing until the circle is filled in with a layer of meringue about half an inch thick.
For the sides, make two or three rings of meringue the same size as the outer edges of the bases. Bake as directed in the recipe, then cool. Carefully remove the bases and rings from the parchment. Stack the rings on the bases, using additional unbaked meringue to hold the pieces together.
If the rings are neatly and uniformly made, the shells can be left as is, but fresh meringue may also be spread on to even the sides. Bake the shells again to dry the fresh meringue. Cool before using.
Q: Why do some recipes specify to mix or beat with a wooden spoon? Does a wooden spoon make any difference?
A: There are several practical reasons for using wooden utensils, according to "The Cook's Store" by the editors of Consumer Guide (Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster: 1978). They are softer than metal and won't scratch or damage cookware. Wooden utensils don't get hot, and because wood is a poor conductor of heat, fingers won't be burned. In addition, they won't discolor delicate sauces, nor leave any metallic taste behind.
In "The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook" (Random House: $19.95, 1986) author Chuck Williams says that wood absorbs some flavors from food and recommends keeping separately identified tools for special uses. This ensures that the garlic in yesterday's pasta sauce doesn't end up in tomorrow's custard.
Williams suggests cleaning wooden tools with a damp cloth or rinsing quickly under running hot water. He warns against soaking the tools in water or putting them in the dishwasher--the natural oil will dry out and the wood will absorb detergents.
Q: I'm looking for a store that sell anasazi beans (pink beans with a white stripe) and pinquito beans to use in some dry bean and/or pea packets for Christmas. Can you supply me with this information?
A: Pinquito beans are available in Los Angeles-area Safeway markets. They can also be found in abundance around Santa Maria, Calif., so perhaps its Chamber of Commerce can supply names of companies willing to ship the beans.
You've stumped us, as well as the California Dry Bean Advisory Board, with the anasazi bean. Perhaps another reader will help with information on finding this pink bean with the white stripe.
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About ..., Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.