Question: I have been doing a lot of baking lately and just realized that one cup can be eight ounces or six ounces depending on the container used. My glass container shows one cup to be eight ounces and the plastic container for one cup is six ounces. When and why the difference--when do I use which?
Answer: Although the plastic measuring cup is intended for measuring dry ingredients, it should hold eight ounces of liquid. Test by measuring one cup water in the glass measuring cup and pouring it into the plastic. If it doesn't fit, the cup is not a standard measure.
You may be confused because dry ingredients vary in weight. For instance, one cup of unsifted all-purpose flour is supposed to weigh 4.4 ounces, compared to 4.1 ounces for sifted flour and 4.7 ounces for whole-wheat flour. Depending on humidity, even these weights can vary.
Sugar weighs 5.4 ounces per cup. Shredded Cheddar cheese weighs four ounces per cup, grated Parmesan 3 3/4 ounces, but it takes eight ounces of cream cheese to make 1 cup. Weight differences can also be found in nuts, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and other foods you measure in these cups.
When preparing any recipe it's important to measure ingredients carefully. Most general cookbooks cover this subject in detail, but here are the basics:
Use standard glass or plastic measuring cups for liquids. These cups are designed so the last measure is below the rim to prevent spillage, and they have a spout for pouring. Place the cup on a flat surface and, bending over so your eyes are level with the markings, fill to the desired level.
When using dry measuring cups, choose the size (one-quarter, one-third, one-half or one cup) specified for the ingredient in the recipe. Most ingredients should be lightly spooned into the cup, then leveled off with the straight edge of a spatula. Do not shake or pat down ingredients.
A few exceptions--nuts, coconut, shredded cheese and other foods difficult to level with a spatula--should be spooned into the cup and packed down lightly. Brown sugar, fats and shortening need to be packed down firmly to remove air spaces and lumps from the sugar.
Both liquid and dry ingredients less than a quarter-cup should be measured with standard measuring spoons of the exact size (one-quarter, one-half and one teaspoon and one tablespoon) to be measured. Pour liquids just to the top edge of the spoon. Scoop dry ingredients into the spoon and level with the straight edge of a spatula.
Q: Will you be good enough to tell me where I can buy blue cornmeal? We remember the blue cornmeal enchiladas and pancakes in Santa Fe and would love to be able to make them here in Los Angeles.
A: Blue cornmeal is available at health food stores and specialty food stores such as Montana Mercantile and Special Foods International, both in Santa Monica. A range of grinds may be found, but all seem to be interchangeable in cooking, with the possible exception of tortillas, best made with a coarser grind.
Q: I'm on a 1,200-calorie diet, and many of the recipes I must use require Neufchatel cheese. I have checked grocery stores, health food stores, gourmet shops and cheese specialty shops, but cannot obtain this cheese. Can you help?
A: Kraft Foods makes a Philadelphia Brand Neufchatel cheese, which is available in most of the major supermarkets. The packaging was changed recently, so it could just be that you have overlooked it near the regular cream cheese.
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In response to the Sept. 18 You Asked About . . . column on anasazi beans, C. Gloor of San Diego writes the beans "can be found at Williams-Sonoma stores. They come from Scott Farms, Route 1, Duke, Okla. 73532. Pretty, tasty and expensive--worth it."
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About . . ., Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.