Shirley Corriher

Internet Stuff on Shirley O. Corriher

Career Profile: Shirley O. Corriher
Author, Chef and Scientist (dead link)

I love my job, and with good reason. People envy my lifestyle. I get to travel all over from Vancouver to Miami, stay at luxury hotels, and eat in fine restaurants. People ask, "How on earth did you get such a great job?" With considerable honesty I answer, "Washing dishes." In the culinary field, you have to wash your way up.

What makes me valuable is my widely varied background. I started as a research biochemist at the Vanderbilt Medical School so I have a reasonable science background and I know how to do research. I always wanted to be a writer so I had English and writing classes as well as my chemistry major at Vanderbilt University.

My former husband and I started a boy’s boarding school, Brandon Hall, where for eleven years, I cooked three meals a day for 140 teen-aged boys and teachers. I got a lot of heavy-duty, hands-on cooking experience. Then, divorced, with three small children and desperately broke, at $2 per hour (then minimum wage), I washed dishes, set up for, and helped teach basic, intermediate and advanced French cooking classes dozens of times over the next four years. So, in addition to my science and writing background, I had a tremendous amount of cooking experience plus classic French cuisine expertise.

Because I have applied science know-how to hands-on cooking through the years, I have been able to solve cooking problems. As an article in Food and Wine put it, "If it’s about food and you want to know why, Shirley Corriher is the person to figure it out." Over the past 25 years, food writers, chefs, teachers, and, even our beloved Julia Child, call me with cooking questions.

I write, teach, lecture and consult. I have a column every month in the Los Angeles Times Syndicate’s Great Chef’s Series, a food science column for every issue of the magazine, Fine Cooking, and a wide variety of other writing in everything from Martha Stewart Living to Food and Wine. I enjoy writing. I do think that the big secret is that you improve by doing. I am a vastly better writer now than I was ten years ago and even much better now than I was two years ago. I have also learned from good editors.

I teach in chef’s training centers and cooking schools all over the US and Canada and I speak at a lot of conventions—the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the Smithsonian, AAAS, American Dietetic Association, the American Chemical Society, etc. I am very comfortable talking and teaching in front of large audiences, but this was not always the case. Again, experience makes the master. My first public talk I had written out my entire speech. My hands were shaking so I couldn’t possibly read it so I had to talk from the heart. If you know your subject and are sharing this exciting information with friends, it doesn’t matter whether you are talking to two people or hundreds you’ll do well.

I work for everyone from appliance companies like Maytag to food companies like Procter and Gamble. I love the fact that what I do is so varied. I always have the writing dead lines. Thank goodness for laptop computers. But, one day I am at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda speaking to The Electrophoresis Society and the next I’m in Toronto answering food questions and explaining the advantages of a Maytag double-oven range. Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning I may be at the Disney Institute in Orlando. Then, Sunday night through Thursday, I’m teaching cooking classes in San Francisco and Berkeley and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I’m back at the Disney Institute.

I teach in a lot of test kitchens, because I can save them so much time with little things like the perfect leavening for most cakes and muffins is one

teaspoon baking soda for every cup of flour. For appliance companies, I can explain how features on their equipment enhance food quality giving the public a greater in depth knowledge of and appreciation for their products.

I have a major book, CookWise, The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking out that was ten years in the making. It won the 1998 James Beard Award for Food Reference & Techniques and is widely used everywhere from test kitchens to food science classes, as well as by home cooks.

Advice I would have is, no matter how lowly the job, do your very best and whenever you can, take opportunities for new experience regardless of the pay or lack of it. Eventually, investments in experience pay off. Do things that you enjoy. My friend, the actor, Gordon Jump says that if you like what you are doing, you will never work a day in your life.

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Shirley Corriher`s Touch of Grace Biscuits

Published February 22, 2001

Yield: about 10 biscuits.

The secret to these soft biscuits is a very wet dough, dropped into flour for ease of handling, then packed into a cake pan.

Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups self-rising, low-protein flour, such as White Lily, Martha White or Red Band
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons shortening or lard
2/3 cup cream
1 cup buttermilk (approximate)
1 cup all-purpose low-protein flour, for shaping
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Heat oven to 425 F and arrange one shelf slightly below the center of the oven. Spray an 8- or 9-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the self-rising flour, sugar and salt. Work the shortening or lard in with your fingertips until there are no large lumps. Gently stir in the cream, then the buttermilk. (It may take less than 1 cup of buttermilk, or if you are using a higher protein flour, it may take more.) The dough should not be soupy, but should be wet and resemble cottage cheese.

3. Spread the all-purpose flour on a plate or pie pan. With a medium-size ice cream scoop or spoon, place 3 scoops of dough well apart in the flour. Sprinkle flour gently over each scoop. Flour your hands, then pick up a dough ball, gently shape it into a round, shaking off excess flour, and place it in the prepared cake pan. Continue shaping biscuits the same way, placing each biscuit up tight against its neighbor in the pan, until the dough is used.

4. Place pan in the oven and bake until lightly browned, about 20 to 35 minutes. Brush with melted butter. Invert pan onto one plate, then back onto another to turn biscuits right side up. With a knife or spatula, cut quickly between the biscuits to make them easy to remove. Serve immediately. Leftover biscuits can be reheated by wrapping in aluminum foil and placing in a 350 F oven for 10 minutes.

Nutrition information per serving

cw 1 48.1363m;cw 2 49.8931m;cw 3 49.8931m;hr 0;fr 0;fc 0;lc 0;Calories159Fat6.5 gCarbohydrate21.2 gCholesterol8 mgSodium335 mgProtein3.4 g.

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A Visit with Shirley Corriher (dead link)

Those of us who love food look for any excuse to talk about it—especially with the experts. So I was thrilled when Shirley Corriher, author of the wonderful Cookwise and recent winner of the James Beard Award, dropped by the store with her husband, Arch. They had just returned to Atlanta from their triumphant visit to New York City, where Shirley received the award the previous week.

When I congratulated her on her win, Corriher grinned, reached into her voluminous purse, and pulled out a plastic baggie containing her prize—a hefty bronze medallion featuring Beard’s sober countenance (bearing a striking resemblance to Charles DeGaulle). She plopped it into my hand and busied herself, buying several large handfuls of chocolate truffles, which went directly into her handbag. She's one of those sensible people who never goes anywhere without good chocolate at hand. Besides, she was in a celebratory mood.

Shirley Corriher is a hero to many people. For years, she has dispensed help and advice on cooking to practically everybody who's anybody in the food business. She's known as a food sleuth, solving problems for everyone, from celebrity chefs to home cooks and everybody in between. She finally got around to finishing her own cookbook—including the cover design—and last year it was published by William Morrow to great acclaim.

Cookwise stands apart from most other general cookbooks in that the author takes a scientific yet down-to-earth approach to cooking. She explains all those strange things that can happen when you cook, and she tells you how to avoid them. For example, why does red cabbage turn blue when you cook it? Why can your friend make a cake perfectly, but when you follow the same exact recipe, it flops? Why do muffins come out flat and full of holes? Cookwise answers these and dozens of other questions in a user-friendly way, and it includes more than 230 recipes that beautifully illustrate the relevant principles. Anyone who has done much cooking will find Corriher's take on the science of food fascinating, and for those just starting out, Cookwise is a great primer.

In between her colorful stories of the publishing world and general ribaldry, I had a chance to ask her a few questions:

Borders Dunwoody: Tell us about winning the James Beard Award

Shirley Corriher: It was wonderful, all glitzy like the Academy Awards. They had an envelope and everything, and when I walked offstage into the media room, Graham Kerr hugged me and gave me a glass of champagne. Then Julia Child gave me a hug as well. It was a lot of fun!

BD: Can you offer a few summertime food tips?

SC: This is the time of year when everyone enjoys fruit and vegetables. So, to keep vegetables green when you cook them, cut them into small, uniform pieces that will cook in seven minutes or less. I like a skinny green bean; the fat ones don't get done, and then they turn all brownish-yellow because you have to overcook them.

Never put fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator! One of their main flavor components, (Z)-3-dexenal, disappears when tomatoes are chilled.

You'll find the best peaches at roadside stands, and around Atlanta you don't have to drive very far to find those. There's nothing quite like a summertime cobbler made with fresh peaches.

BD: What about asparagus? It always seems to turn that brownish-yellow color.

SC: The trick is never to use acids on green foods. Instead of putting lemon juice or a vinaigrette on asparagus, you can make a lemony dressing by sautéing a bit of onion or jalapeno and adding lemon zest to it. This gives you the lemon zing without the acid you get with juice. I like to put this on raw asparagus and then broil it for three to four minutes. Or, you could make a vinaigrette but instead of using vinegar, put in two tablespoons of water.

BD: Cabbage is a healthy and inexpensive vegetable, but it usually tastes, um, cabbage-y. Any suggestions?

SC: Slice cabbage very thin, like you'd do for slaw. Then throw it into boiling salted water and cook four to five minutes. Then drain it and reheat it in a skillet along with some Italian bread crumbs. Sauté it very briefly, just long enough to warm it up.

BD: What are some of your favorite area restaurants these days?

SC: Toulouse is a great little place on Peachtree. They have wonderful basic French cuisine that doesn't cost a ton of money. Their roast chicken is the best in town, and we love their atmosphere. Their wine list is great also--very extensive.

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Great news -- chocolate is good for you

October 20, 2000
Web posted at: 10:22 a.m. EDT (1422 GMT)

(Los Angeles Times Syndicate) -- Chocolate is actually good for you! It is still a high-fat product, but chocolate contains even more treasured antioxidants than red wine, blueberries or black tea. Hallelujah!

Exactly what are antioxidants and how are they healthful? Back as far as 1988, in a paper at an Institute of Food Technologist convention, Dr. Paul Addis explained that the initial phase of cardiovascular disease, lesions -- injury to the inside layer of the cells of the blood vessels -- is caused by oxides of fats, cholesterol and fat-related compounds. These fat-related oxides are literally the beginning of cardiovascular problems.

Unfortunately, our bodies abound with reactive forms of oxygen that can combine with fats and cholesterol to produce these harmful oxides. We do have an antioxidant natural defense system, but illness, aging and even factors such as smoking, air pollution and exposure to ultraviolet radiation can overwhelm our natural defenses.

This is why dietary antioxidants like those found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine and chocolate can be valuable aids in preventing cardiovascular disease. It has been suggested that all the antioxidants in wine which the French consume may explain "the French paradox," the fact that in spite of a diet high in saturated fat, the French have a lower mortality rate from cardiovascular disease.

I had the pleasure of participating in a recent chocolate workshop sponsored by the American Chemical Society at Belmont Estates Conference Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Joe Vinson, a leading researcher in antioxidants in foods, gave us a clearer picture of just how good for you chocolate really is.

For example, a 1.4-ounce milk chocolate bar contains more than 300 milligrams of polyphenols; dark chocolate has more than double that and cocoa powder has four times that. To compare this to things that we think of as great sources of polyphenolic antioxidants, a dark chocolate bar contains about the same amount of polyphenols as a cup of black tea and more than in a glass of red wine.

Not only is chocolate just loaded with antioxidants, it contains super good-for-you antioxidants. Not all antioxidants are created equal and not all the polyphenols or flavonoids in cocoa and certain chocolates are equal. Chocolate contains a range of polyphenolic antioxidants known as flavonoids.

Although there are more than 4,000 known flavonoids (all good for you), most previous research focused on dietary intake of just five flavonoids. Current research is breaking down the family of procyanidin flavonoids into monomers (those containing one unit) and oligomers (those containing two, three or more units). The exciting news is that as oligomers get bigger their ability to prevent LDL (the bad cholesterol) oxidation increases and our beloved chocolate contains plenty of these big, super-good-for-you compounds.

At this same American Chemical Society Chocolate conference, Dr. Marcia Pelchat from Monell Chemical Sensory Center spoke on chocolate cravings. She explained that we crave chocolate not because of some pharmacological property, but simply because of its magnificent sensuous properties.

Just think, now guilt-free, you can put a big, shiny piece of chocolate in your mouth and eat the firm, hard solid. Then, close your eyes. The luxurious, voluptuous chocolate oozes across your tongue and your mouth fills with thick, velvety, rich liquid. Sensuous aromas waft through your head, and everywhere, everywhere, deep, dark taste. Breathe in deeply and lose yourself in chocolate, chocolate, beloved chocolate.

Unforgettable chocolate - the Ultimate Chocolate Cookie

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen 2-inch cookies.

There is a thin, crisp outer shell, but then you bite in and luscious black chocolate rushes across your tongue. Your first instinct is to grab the plate and run. When I tasted Marcel Desaulniers' Black Gold Cookies in his book, "Death by Chocolate Cookies," I had to make cookies like this right away. I knew that the crust came from the eggs. I wanted to make these as intensely chocolate as possible. To get this much-melted chocolate with a small amount of flour, I used butter-flavored shortening to keep the cookies from spreading too much. These are serious chocolate cookies.

bullet8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
bullet1/3 cup butter-flavored shortening
bullet1/2 cup sugar
bullet2 large eggs
bullet1 teaspoon vanilla
bullet1/2 cup slightly packed unbleached or bread flour
bullet1/2 teaspoon baking powder
bullet1/2 teaspoon salt
bullet1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
bullet8 ounces (2 packages) German chocolate, each square cut in half
  1. Position 2 oven shelves, 1 in center and other just above center.
  2. In large heatproof glass bowl, microwave chocolate to melt 1 to 2 minutes, stirring after 1 minute. (All chocolate may not be melted after 2 minutes, but let stand in hot bowl and when you are ready for it, it will be melted.)
  3. In medium mixing bowl, beat shortening and sugar.
  4. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then stir in vanilla.
  5. Measure flour into medium bowl.  Stir in baking powder and salt, then stir in cocoa powder.
  6. Stir flour mixture into egg mixture.  Stir in melted chocolate and mix well.  Fold in chocolate chunks.
  7. Coat baking sheets (I use commercial half-sheet pans -- cookies may burn on dark pans) with nonstick cooking spray.
  8. For each cookie spoon 1 heaping tablespoon dough onto baking sheet. (I used medium 1 1/2-inch, number 40 ice cream scoop, 12 cookies to a sheet.)
  9. Bake at 350 degrees until cookies just start to darken around edges, 9 minutes.
  10. Switch position of sheets halfway through baking. Cool cookies on sheet 2 minutes, then remove to cooling rack.

(Food scientist Shirley O. Corriher is the author of "CookWise," William Morrow, 1997.)

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PDF File Publication of Women Chemists

Choosing Fruit That’s Truly Ripe:
Yeast's Crucial Roles in Breadbaking

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Run time 1:45
Written and Produced by Randy Atkins, (202) 872-4097
American Chemical Society




(Shirley Corriher, Biochemist/Cookbook Author)
All at once your mouth is filled with this sensuous, luscious, aromatic liquid. (6 sec.)


(nat. sound: “uhmm’” beater)


(Nathalie Dupree TV cook/author)
I would say, this flour, this southern flour is different.  But I, I don’t know why but you can feel it, you can tell that it’s different.  Ahh, she’d say, it’s because the gluten is lower. (14 sec.)

(Shirley Corriher, Biochemist/Cookbook Author)
When the cook adds water to the flour and stirs, there’re two little proteins in there. And they grab water and each other and form these springy, bubble gum-like, elastic sheets of gluten.  So if you’ve got flour that has got a lot of these two little rascals it literally, shhllurrrrp, soaks in water like crazy. (20 sec.)



(Dena Dougherty, Baker)
Our pie crusts were not browning.

(Shirley Corriher, Biochemist/Cookbook Author)
They were snow white.


(Dena Dougherty, Baker)
That was the problem and we

(Dena and Shirley)
just added baking soda and

(Shirley Corriher, Biochemist/Cookbook Author)
it browned right up for us.


(Fritz Blank Chef/Owner of Deux Cheminees)
It’s important, I think, that we as cooks understand what happens in the kitchen. (6 sec.)


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Stovetop scientist
Top-notch apple pie crusts and other lost secrets of the kitchen


When Julia Child wondered why her baby spinach leaves turned bitter in the sauté pan, she called Shirley Corriher. When baking expert Susan G. Purdy couldn't keep her lemon poppy-seed cakes from falling, she mailed Corriher samples. And when cooks in the test kitchen at Pillsbury noticed that the eggs in their artichoke frittatas had turned from gold to green, they rang up Corriher, who unscrambled the problem.

Since she began washing dishes as a cook's apprentice more than two decades ago, Corriher has emerged as the food industry's Ann Landers. She often takes a half-dozen calls a day at her Atlanta home with a confounded foodie on the other end of the line. She leads workshops, dispenses advice on the radio, and writes regularly for food magazines. But Corriher, 63, didn't attract widespread attention until last fall with the publication of her first book, CookWise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Cooking (William Morrow, $28.50). Ten years in the making, CookWise provides everyday cooks with formulas to help demystify the kitchen. The 230-plus recipes illustrate kitchen science, like why green vegetables can turn what she calls "yucky Army drab" (cooking them more than seven minutes destroys the cell walls and allows acid to leak out) and how to keep melting chocolate from becoming "a solid grainy mass" (use the right amount of liquid).

Corriher's on to something. Usually, a cookbook selling 20,000 copies is considered a success. CookWise has already sold about 70,000 copies. It goes beyond restoring the knowledge of kitchen basics lost by Americans whose mothers or grandmothers never taught them to cook. "Now, people really, really want to know why," she says.

Corriher came to the kitchen circuitously, starting out as a research biochemist at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville. She began cooking for a living only when she and the second of three husbands opened a boarding school in Atlanta, where 140 hungry boys relied on her for three meals a day. But her talent as a culinary repairman wasn't recognized until the mid-1970s, when her entry in a grits recipe contest landed her free classes with Atlanta's cooking-school doyen Nathalie Dupree, who then concocted ways to keep Corriher around. "Shirley wasn't the most dexterous or the fastest of my students," Dupree says, "but she was so determined and she just asked so many questions."

Now, Corriher percolates with answers. Hardly had she arrived to do a demonstration in a friend's kitchen when the sight of the fruit bowl inspired her to give an impromptu science lesson: Plucking up a bunch of brown-spotted bananas, she explained that the apples next to them were giving off ethylene gas and causing the bananas to ripen too quickly.

Corriher admits that some of her ideas are unconventional. She assembles an apple pie after baking the top and bottom crusts and cooking the apple filling separately; that keeps the pie from becoming soggy. Corriher was one of the first to suggest that the protein level in flour makes a difference. Yeast breads generally call for high-protein, high-gluten-forming flour; low-protein varieties are better for cakes and biscuits, "so that the gluten doesn't make tough products," she says.

Corriher's approach works, food experts note, because she makes science accessible. Says Corriher, "Science is scary, but knowledge is power and control."

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Several Food Science Articles at Splendid Table (presented by Minnesota Public Radio):

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