Don’t stick a fork in it!

Into meat, that is. A common mistake, actually, is that people use forks to turn their meats, which is one of the worst things you can do. When you pierce the meat, you lose all the succulent juices, which is where all the yummy flavor is. Which, basically reverses your time brining (you are brining, right?). So, what you need is a good pair of tongs! You can pick them up anywhere, really. Just be sure the scalloped edges are gentle. I once picked up a pair of cheapies from Target that ruined my meat (they had jagged edges). Again, my rant about buying the right tool the first time. :)

I have two versions: non-stick and traditional. As with pans of the same nature, they each have their place. The non-stick work for your non-stick pans and other gentle surfaces, but the traditional are a life-saver when frying anything. Remember, the tongs are an extension of your hand in the kitchen–be sure they’re comfortable to hold and good quality.

Oxo Tongs

The beauty of cast iron, right on Target!

Ah, those beautiful Le Creuset dutch ovens in their rainbow of colors! You have to pay a pretty penny for such beauty, of course. If you’re luck, and live near a Le Creuset outlet, you can score some great deals! But, if you’re even luckier, you have a Target Store close to you and can pick up the next best thing: Chefmate Cast Iron Pots have been rated as a “best buy” second to the Le Creuset brand. Now you can brown your meats and simmer your stews in style, without having to sacrifice that paycheck. Although the color choices aren’t as gorgeous, the red and blue they do offer are lovely options!

A ricer is not for rice??

If you’ve ever passed by a potato ricer, you’ve probably wondered how on earth it got it’s name. Truthfully, it has nothing to do with rice – other than the fact when you squeeze the potatoes through, they look like rice. But, this tool serves so many more purposes than making mashed taters! Here are a few of my favorite uses:

The reason that I suggest the OXO Good Grips Potato Ricer isn’t only for it’s amazing quality, but it’s comfort and durability. Because of it’s construction of metal (as opposed to plastic), it is very sturdy to handle all the jobs above. It has a nice comfort handle, too. I do like it for all of it’s multi-tasking in the kitchen–very important if you’re short on kitchen space!

Is frozen spinach worth it?

Frozen spinach is a wonderful addition to many meals. You can process it with your flour to make a spinach pasta, mix it with ricotta to toss in your lasagna, or throw together a delightful spinach dip. Yet, draining that spinach seems to be a huge mess, often leaving your hands as the Green Giant. There are many methods to squeeze all the water out, including a salad spinner, wringing it in a towel, or even letting it thaw in a colander, then squeezing out the remaining water. For me, I prefer to use my OXO Good Grips Potato Ricer. I love this thing! It squeezes every ounce of water out, and I am left with dry hands that are not freezing cold and green!

Leafy Greens

ayllonmom says:

Okay, so most of the hype about spinach is over… BUT… I’m must admit I’m still a little leery of spinach. So my question is; Is there another leafy green or a variety of greens that can be used in place of spinach?

Leftovers galore!

Be sure to store those leftovers properly so you can continue to enjoy the meal for days to come! All food should be stored in air-tight containers. If freezing, wrap twice in plastic wrap, then twice again in foil to help protect from freezer-burn.

  1. Mashed potatoes can be frozen with great success. Simply reheat, in the plastic baggie, in a skillet of barely-simmering water.
  2. Mashed sweet potatoes can be done with the same method. If you used sweet potatoes whole, I suggest you heat them (via pot or microwave), then mash them down, then proceed as above.
  3. Pies can be froze, at least the fruit pies. If you’ve got cream pies, eat them up first. :D Milk products don’t like to be frozen – well, at least not thawed out after being frozen. They lose their texture and become curdled.
  4. Rolls, of course, can be frozen. Wrap in edible portions, then wrap twice with plastic wrap and and twice with foil.
  5. Did you know that rice is an excellent candidate for freezing? Freeze in edible portions in freezer-safe containers and thaw in fridge for 24-hours before freezing, or microwave on low power until to temperature you desire.
  6. Turkey, of course, freezes great! The key here is to make sure that you get all oxygen out of the bags first, or else you’ll have a very tough bird!

Enjoy your leftovers! Again – and again – and again –

A Thanksgiving success.

A day later and I am still full – it could have something to do with that midnight snack of key-lime pie. :D It was so great to have all my family together for Thanksgiving and enjoy the fine meal – you know, the one we all spend 20 hours preparing for and one hour eating? But, it was a great success! Here was my menu:

  • Brined Turkey (oh, so moist!)
  • All-Purpose gravy (my mother-in-law ate it out of the bowl, she loved it so much!)
  • Mashed sweet potatoes with orange and maple (delicious when cold, too)
  • Mashed potatoes (I used a food mill to get the perfectly smooth texture)
  • Saffron Rice with Corn (a Honduras tradition—very, very yummy!)
  • Rolls (can’t have enough carbs!)
  • Maple-Pecan pie
  • Key-Lime Pie
  • Cherry Pie
  • Blueberry Pie

The leftovers are overwhelming, but a nice turkey panini is quick to solve any anxiety of what to do! I am heading to the kitchen now to make a nice batch of pecan sweet rolls, the perfect brunch to relax after a long two-day kitchen stint.

That’s just plum crazy!

I tried this new recipe made of whole wheat and plums. I was sure it would be too odd for words. However, it turned out delightfully delicious! The natural moisture of the dried plums provided a nice chew for the bread, which rounded out the usual heartiness associated with whole wheat breads. A combo of whole wheat a plums is a nice way to get your vitamins for the day, in one simple meal!

Fresh-baked bread

Really–there is nothing that compares to this! I just pulled two loaves out of the oven and they are cooling on the rack. After rubbing the nicely-browned crusts with butter (helps keep the crust soft), I whipped up a batch of Raspberry Butter.

There are a few keys to making the perfect loaf of bread:

  • Use good flour (Gold Medal Bread Flour or King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)
  • Fresh yeast is imperative; yeast can be stored in the freezer for at least one year and still produce a hearty loaf
  • Use a thermometer and pull your bread when it hits 195º in the middle. This will yield a perfectly tender loaf
  • Store properly by wrapping your loaf in two layers of saran wrap; stored this way, it will last up to 5 days. If you prefer to freeze for layer, wrap two layers of aluminum foil and freeze for up to two months. Thaw to room temperature without unwrapping bread.

With all the hype on eating more whole grains, I often substitute half the bread flour in the recipe for white whole wheat flour. I really like the white whole wheat, as it has all the nutrition of wheat, but a nice, lighter color. Same flavor and health benefit, but a prettier loaf. Who can complain?

Butter basics

  1. Only use unsalted butter :: Buying unsalted butter make life a little more difficult in the grocery store, since you’ll actually have to read the labels, but it makes a world of difference in your baking! Unsalted butter is also your freshest option; salt preserves the shelf life of items, so when you buy salted butter, you are usually buying older butter.There is no regulation by the FDA of the amount of salt per stick of butter, therefore it makes baking much more difficult to adjust the salt content. Salt is very important in baking. Even in cookies. Salt actually enhances the flavors and brings out the sweetness. Breads without salt bake of flat and tasteless; cookies seem dull and bland. Even chocolate can’t cover up a cookie with the wrong amount of salt!
  2. Freeze butter not intended for immediate use :: just as you wouldn’t leave milk in the fridge for weeks at a time until you have the need to use it, treat butter with the same respect. Freeze what you don’t intend to use within a week. Flavors from the fridge will permeate the wrapper, which will in-turn infuse your baked goods. Anyone in the mood for an onion-flavored cookie??
  3. Use butter at room temperature :: when preparing to bake or cook, always pull out the amount of butter you will be using in the recipe and place it on a plate to be brought to room temp (ideally 65º). If butter is not used at the appropriate temp, it will have detrimental effects on your baked goods. If it is too cold, the butter and sugar won’t cream properly, not allowing a cake to rise properly. If the butter is too warm, your batter will be at an incorrect consistency and will not set-up properly. If you don’t have a thermometer–get one! If you can’t, go by the bend test. If you can bend the stick of butter without it breaking, it’s ready.

KitchenAid rocks!!

Wow. What a great company! I have my beloved KitchenAid Food Processor, which I really wouldn’t give up for the world. This past Saturday night, I was simply slicing some cheddar; perhaps 4 ounces at most. When I went to disassemble the machine, disk adapter (the white insert that holds the shredding disks in place) was stuck fast! No amount of leverage would get that sucker loose! I had to wait until today to call Customer Service (Monday-Friday hours). Wow. This is the second time I’ve been so impressed with their service! They have already shipped me a brand-new food processor! Even in my lovely onyx black! What a great company. Customer loyalty is obviously their goal, and they have certainly won me over!

What’s the difference between yellow and white onions?

DM asks:

I see these onions all over the place. Is there a difference in taste? Do you use one in certain dishes but not the other? Does one stink less than the other?

Chef replies: Actually, onions stink when they’re old or bruised. Using the freshest onions and a very sharp knife will help the odor. As for types, if a recipe doesn’t specify, stick with yellow. They’re a nice mild onion. Red onions are typically used in Spanish or French cuisine and will be called for specifically. Be sure not to pick up a vidalia onion by mistake-though sweet and wonderful on the side, it will change the dimensions of the recipe drastically! If it’s all new to you, stick with yellow onions.

Bring on Thanksgiving!

This is the week, y’all – when we forget about all the family and good friends and we frantically waste the day away in the kitchen, slaving over the hot stove, panicking over oven space and how to keep each platter perfectly warm!

Well, not this year! Make your plans to do a little each day and be prepared to sit around merrily with the rest of your friends and family! Also, check out my easy t-day recipe boosters to make life a little easier in the kitchen!

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Even if you have zero time this year and purchase everything, but plan to roast the turkey, they most important thing you can do is brine that turkey. (see recipe boosters)
  2. Frozen berries make a great pie. Costco carries the best frozen blueberries on the market, “Wyman’s Frozen Wild Blueberries.”
  3. Pre-make your gravy. No, you won’t be using your turkey drippings, but wouldn’t you rather spend time with your friends than de-fatting broth? With this recipe, you’ll be hard-pressed to know that it wasn’t freshly made! If you’ve got homemade broth, even better!
  4. Make-ahead mashed potatoes. You can do this several ways: make-ahead and freeze; make-ahead and hold in fridge; make-ahead and hold warm in your crock pot; or, pre-chop your potatoes and hold in your fridge in cold water.
  5. Make your famous green bean casserole ahead! Most dishes that involve a sauce can be pre-made, then you toss the vegetable and sauce together at the last minute. A squeeze of lemon juice goes a long way for refreshing a dish!
  6. If you can’t make it – fake it
  7. Most importantly – keep it simple! You’d really rather spend time with your family than the poor turkey in your roasting pan. Choose a few signature dishes and don’t overdo it! Here’s a simple menu suggestion:
  • Turkey
  • Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
  • Mashed Sweet Potatoes
  • Two to three vegetable side-dishes (suggested: peas with prosciutto or creamed spinach and glazed carrots or corn-on-the-cob)
  • Rolls
  • Desserts: one fruity, one chocolate and one pumpkin

Ignore the beep!

We’ve all done it. You come home, pre-heat the oven, prep your ingredients; as soon as you hear the *BEEP* (or red light turn on), we throw our goodies in the oven to begin baking while we relax for the 18-20 minutes. When we pull out the goodies when the timer dings, our goodies are under- or over-cooked! Did you know when your oven beeps, it’s only telling you that the coil is to the temperature you want? A simple lesson in physics tells you that the entire oven box is going to take a lot longer to come to the same temperature all-around. If you have 30 minutes, give it to your oven! If you’re in a rush, wait at least 20 minutes you’ll see a world of difference! But, don’t forget–just because your oven says it’s at 350, is it really? KitchenAid Oven Thermometer

Oven Thermometer

Simply a tool that no baker can be without! The minimal price tag is worth it’s weight in gold, as you discover your oven temperature has been the cause of all your burnt cookies and uneven cakes!

If you want to improve your baking 200%, even with “break-n-bake” cookies, get over to Amazon.com to order one. My brother, who lives for store-bought, pre-cut cookie dough, could not believe he was always burning them. Once I convinced him to spend a little dough (pun intended) on the KitchenAid Oven Thermometer. He promptly discovered that his oven had been 25 degrees too hot, and hasn’t burnt a single cookie since! A simple purchase that can save lots of nutters in the kitchen!

Baked From Scratch