Friday, August 16, 2013
Holy trimming tools, Batman! These are very useful. Many of things you used to have a hard time using a knife with, are easier with a good pair of kitchen shears. Trimming pie dough, snipping herbs, cutting kitchen twine, opening food packages, and even trimming and cutting up a chicken or two, while not impossible with a knife, are a lot easier with a pair of kitchen scissors. A good set of kitchen shears should come apart for easy cleaning and have non-slip grips.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
Pretty much a given, right? Back in my Mom’s day, they weren’t. She rarely uses the ones she’s got. While that’s impressive, considering what a good cook she is, inaccurate measurements are one of the most common causes of recipe failure. I find this is especially true in baking, where the ratios of flour to water, to yeast, and other ingredients can make or break you.
As for measuring spoons, I prefer a relatively deep bowl, making liquid measurement easier. The top of the bowl should be flush with the handle, making it easier to level dry ingredients. I also like slim, oval bowls, although most of mine are circular. Slim bowls make it easier to scoop things out of narrow spice jars. I like to have a spoons that measure 1 Tablespoon, 1 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon. Sometimes it’s nice to have a 1/2 Tablespoon and a 1/8 teaspoon measure, as well.
To measure dry ingredients, I like straight sided cups with flat bottoms. They sit on a counter better. As with measuring spoons, I want the top of the bowl to be flush with the handle so I can easily level ingredients. This is a big deal when baking. I like dry measuring cups in 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1/4 cup sizes. I’ve seen other, intermediate sizes, but I don’t see a need for them.
For liquid ingredients, I love my old Pyrex 2 cup measure. I don’t like the way the new ones are marked, though. They seem harder to read. I also have a 2 cup cylindrical one. I’d like to get a 4 cup one, similar to my Pyrex, but I’ve not broken down and purchased one, yet.
I never thought I’d need one until I got one for myself. Oh how quickly wants become needs. Microplanes are small hand-held graters that can double as zesters. They can finely grate hard cheese in a hearbeat. They can also easily handle garlic, ginger, nutmeg, chocolate and citrus zest.
I confess. I don’t have one of these, yet. I want one, though. I’ve did pretty well with my old electric oven, but this new gas one has got me stymied. I’m not used to it’s idiosyncrasies and, frankly, I think it’s got a hot spot or two. Researching the net, I’ve learned that home ovens can vary as much as 90 degrees between ovens. Ouch. I want an oven thermometer that’s easy to read, accurate, and won’t get knocked loose shifting pans around on the oven rack.
Pepper Mill or Spice Grinder
Pepper mills are probably better than spice grinders, for that truly fresh ground pepper taste. But so far my spice grinder has done well for me. The pre-ground stuff sold in the supermarkets has a lot less pungency than freshly ground. In some cases, the flavor profile can change over time, as well. A good mill is going to be able to handle a lot of whole spice in it’s canister, and be easy to fill. It should give a good yield and consistent grind, without wearing out your hands and wrists in the process.
Once again, I didn’t realize how much I would use these until I had them. They can lift, turn, rotate, and flip almost any food that has some bulk to it. Bratwurst, chicken breasts, and even spaghetti can be more easily managed with these things. A good set will open wide enough to pick up large things, like a pot roast, but with tong ends that make it easy to pick up smaller items, as well. Most have simple locks that keep it closed for easy storage.
For years people have using paring knives to peel potatoes or carrots, but a dedicated vegetable peeler can do so much more. Summer squash, cucumbers, apples and pears can be quickly peeled with one of these. Get a vegetable peeler with a swiveling blade, rather than a fixed one, and a comfortable grip. Serrated versions are available for more delicate foods like tomatoes and peaches, although I do not own one.
Put down the fork. For mixing eggs, batters and gravies a whisk will do a much better job. A good cook can use them to quickly whip cream and stiffen eggs whites, although I use electric beaters for those. You really only need one whisk, fairly long, with a tight radius that can reach into the smaller areas of a saucepan or bowl. Again, make sure there is a comfortable grip that affords a lot of control and extended use.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
A sharp box grater is going to get a lot of use. From grating blocks of cheese to shredding vegetables, a box grater is far easier to use than a flat one. Get one that is razor-sharp, solidly constructed, and has a comfortable handle.
I will often use a box grater to grate carrots for salads, instead of the typical julienne cut. It’s faster and gives me more consistent results.
Fishing pasta or vegetables out of boiling water with a spoon is tedious work. Only a colander will do the trick, easily. Make sure you buy a large one with small perforations. A wide base is a bonus. That way, it can sit in the sink without tipping over.
Fine Mesh Strainer
Acting as a second cousin to the colander, a mesh strainer can help with all kinds of tasks. I have two of them, a large one for pressing cooked berries and other things through, to remove seeds or other unwanted bits when making sauces, and a smaller one for dusting powdered sugar over desserts. Make sure yours has a deep bowl and sturdy handle to avoid it bending and breaking over time.
I also use my small strainer to strain the solid bits from bacon grease. I refrigerate the rendered bacon grease and use it from time to time as a flavorful fat for cooking other dishes.
I have a love-hate relationship with garlic presses. Crushing and mincing garlic with a chef’s knife is simple enough, but the pieces are rarely uniform and it can be hard on the hands. The way you handle garlic changes it’s flavor in dishes and a garlic press will give you a fuller, more evenly distributed, and less acrid, flavor. They can be difficult to clean, though. Get a sturdy one with a bowl large enough to handle two cloves at once. Make sure it has a simple to use cleaning attachment, as well.
Heatproof Rubber Spatula
I love these so much, I have three of them. You want a wide, fairly firm blade to make mixing and folding easy, but flexible enough to get into tight spaces when scraping a jar.
I’m constantly amazed how many people don’t use these to scrape out the last bit of peanut butter, mayonnaise, jam, and other bits in condiment jars. Just because the butter knife isn’t working so well doesn’t mean there’s not enough peanut butter to make a sandwich or two left in the jar.
More and more I’m using the temperature of foods to determine whether they are done cooking or not, instead of just a timer. Under-cooking chicken, or overcooking it and drying it out, has become a thing of the past since I started using a thermometer. They’ll essential for good candy making. I like quick acting digital thermometers with thin probes, large displays, and wide temperature ranges. Unfortunately, the really good ones are also expensive. Don’t be shy about spending money on one of these, though. As always, buy the best one you can afford.
Almost every application where a knife isn’t always easy to use is made easy with a good pair of kitchen sheers. Cutting and trimming chickens, pie dough, and parchment paper is much easier, let alone cutting open frozen food bags or snipping twine from roasts. Make sure yours are sharp with comfortable, slip-resistant handles. Being able to take them apart for complete and easy cleaning is important.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
How else are you going to accurately measure ingredients? Getting the wrong amount of a given ingredient in a baking is fatal to the food. I prefer dry measuring cups with straight sides, flat bottoms, and tops that are level with the handle. That way I can accurately scrape off excess flour when baking breads. I have 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1/4 cup measures. Some brands even have 3/4 cup and 2/3 cup measures, as well.
As for liquid measuring cups, I love my older model 2 cup glass Pyrex. Their new ones aren’t as nice and, frankly, are hard to read. 2 cup and 4 cup sizes, with good handles and a pour spout, are my favorite, although the ones that look like drinking cups are pretty good, too.
For spoons, again I like bowls that are flush with the handles. Deep bowls make measuring liquids easier. Slim, oval-shaped bowl designs are easier to get into small-mouthed spice jars than circular designs.
Next time, I’ll feature eight more kitchen tools and gadgets that really do work.
Photo credit: Marcelo Dias
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Frittatas are wonderful mixtures of eggs and other savory ingredients. In this case, were; using ham, asparagus, and cheese. You may want to wait until late spring to use asparagus, when it’s in season. Other vegetables can easily be substituted, though. Unlike omelets, frittatas are finished in the oven. Unlike quiche, there’s no crust. They’re quite easy to prepare, and make a great brunch or weekend breakfast. Breakfast food for dinner is fun, too.
measuring cups and spoons
non-stick, oven-proof skillet
1/2 lb. asparagus
2 oz. deli ham, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup of grated gruyere, or other crumbly or hard cheese
6 large eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley, or 1 tbsp dried parsley
Trim the woody stalks from the asparagus and cut on a bias into small pieces, about 1-inch long. Leave a few trimmed spears whole if you feel adventurous.
Adjust an oven rack to the upper middle position and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the meantime, beat the eggs in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper, and set aside.
Heat the oil in a medium sized, oven proof skillet over medium heat, until shimmering. Add the onion, asparagus and ham. Cook until the onion is softened, stirring frequently, about 4 – 5 minutes.
Add the egg mixture to the skillet and gently stir with the rubber spatula. Cook until the eggs on the bottom start to set, about 30 seconds. Gently pull the cooked eggs back from the edge of the skillet towards the center. Tilt the skillet slightly to let any uncooked egg run to the clear edge. Repeat, working around the skillet, until the eggs are mostly set on top, but still moist, about 1 or 2 minutes.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the top is set and dry to the touch, about 3 minutes.
Run the spatula around the skillet edge and bottom to loosen the frittata and invert onto a serving plate. Cut into 4 to 8 pieces. Frittatas can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Makes 4 servings.