Four Fave Tools That You Probably Aren’t Using

I’m passing on these gems in the best cooking tradition:
by stealing from others.

1. Garbage bowl


Rachel Ray uses this (I covet her confetti bowl).  I tried it and found that by simply putting a large mixing bowl on the counter and using it to collect my garbage – package wrapping, trimmings – I save a lot of time.  Even if your garbage can is only ONE STEP from where you prep, this bowl saves time.  Especially for those recipes that start with chopping an onion and peeling garlic.  Try it out a few times and let me know what you think.
(I realize it may be too late for you to send this to me for Valentine’s Day.  My birthday is August 12.)

 

2. Reusable Parchment Paper

My sister Gail discovered this and I have stored them at least in three different kitchens and given them as gifts.  It is similar to Silpat, but much thinner and more flexible. And much less expensive.  It is washable, so you can use it one day under a roast and the next day for cookies. I pour my toffee caramels on it and avoid buttering the pan. Folds flat and I store it in a ziploc bag with the cookie sheets.

 

3. Microplane

 

I know this is fairly common, but stealing again from Rachel Ray, it is the fastest garlic tool there is.  Every garlic press I’ve tried takes me much longer to clean than to actually grate the garlic.  Rubbing the garlic through a plane like this one is fast at both ends. It comes out of the dishwasher clean and has a cover to protect your knuckles in the cabinet.

 

4. Sink Strainer

Again, it is such a little thing, but will make your life easier.  Your cooking life anyway. You are on your own with the parenting.
Great for washing big batches of mushrooms, green beans, strawberries.  Better than holding an over-full strainer in one hand and hoping the stuff on the bottom gets clean.
(Yeah yeah I know – you are supposed to wipe mushrooms gently with a damp paper towel.  Yet I occasionally feed more than two people and prefer to NOT SPEND MY ENTIRE DAY GENTLY WIPING.  Plus, in my heart of hearts, I never feel as though I’ve gotten off all the dirt that they grow mushrooms in unless there is a lot of water involved.)

Hey – I didn’t steal that from anyone.  Just ordered it out of a catalog and tried it. Yay me!

What is your favorite/most unusual kitchen tool?

Note – I’m not getting paid to promote here (I wish!), just sharing cool stuff. Please see my disclosure.

 

A word about butter.

Butter Dish

And that word is yummy.

Butter does make everything better. Like bacon. And alliteration.

Good butter adds that lovely… (Oh God, was I really about to type “mouth-feel?” Please don’t tell anyone.)  …texture, taste, life-just-got-a-little-bit-better sensation.

Do you ever go into a restaurant and get served a bread basket and a little cup of butter?  If that butter alone makes your eyes roll back in your head and you moan quietly under your breath, that’s the stuff to buy for home. I greatly appreciate any restaurant that gives me great butter – keep the garlic, or honey, or herbs out of it.

Most American-style butters have no flavor to me. I don’t know the reason for the difference, but dang it, if you are going to add the calories that butter provides (and please, by all means – do!), at least make it gooooooood quality butter. I end up using less, because there is so much more flavor to it.

I think we have reached the point where many (most?) large supermarkets carry at least one version of European butter – I often see Plugra. Try it. You’ll like it.
(Your bonus prize for listening to the entire lecture is this:
Paula Deen’s Butter Popsicle)

Bacon Cornbread Cupcakes with Green Chili Icing and Chive Sprinkles

Suggested Pairing (music to cook by):

Today, by Raul Malo (try the Listen to Samples button)

While watching Cupcake Wars, hiking on the treadmill, and listening to Lady Gaga (don’t judge me!), I couldn’t help but think the cupcakes could be somehow… better.
And how does one make anything better?  ADD BACON!
So to kick off my blog, I’ve invented the following recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces bacon, cooked & chopped
  • 1 C chopped green chilis (roasted Hatch chilis – if you have ’em,
    use ’em), divided. (1/2 C well-drained for cupcakes, the rest for the icing.)
  • 1/2 C butter + extra for pan
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C buttermilk (I’m not sure I could tell the difference if regular milk was used.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 C cornmeal
  • 1 C flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Chives (My store sells a 0.75 oz package – I use half for icing & half for sprinkles.)
  • 6 ounces whipped cream cheese (Or sub regular & thin with milk/cream.)

Suggested tools:
ziploc bag
mini muffin tin
mini food processor

Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 375.
Combine cornmeal, flour, & salt in large mixing bowl.
Melt butter in medium bowl in microwave. Mix sugar into butter, add eggs & beat well.
Whisk baking soda into buttermilk, then mix in to butter mixture.
Pour liquid mixture into dry, stir a couple of times, add bacon & green chilis & stir just until mixed.

Using a mini muffin tin, put a tiny dab of butter into each cup. Place tin in oven for a few minutes to get hot, but be careful not to burn the butter. (I have gotten the butter dark golden brown & used it with no problem.) Remove tin from oven & quickly fill with cornbread batter. If you fill to the top, it will make a high crown & about 24 mini cupcakes. I prefer to fill them halfway so that they are only 2-3 bites big, & I throw the batter that won’t fit in the 24 mini pan into another pan. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until the top of the muffin is firm. Cool.

Icing:

Wash & dry the chives very well. Chop half of them fine. Do not try to skip this step and throw them into the mini food processor, because they will just stick to the sides in strings and say, “Ha! I laugh at your whirling blades!” in a voice that sounds suspiciously like John Cleese doing a bad French accent. Into the food processor, do put the green chilis, lifted out of any liquid, & the finely chopped chives (if using here). Puree. Add a couple big spoonfuls of cream cheese & process. Add all the rest of the cream cheese & process until smooth and yummy. Put into a ziploc bag and refrigerate.

Sprinkles: Take the rest of the chives and chop into
sprinkle-sized pieces.

Before serving, cut a small corner off of the ziploc bag & squeeze icing onto the cupcakes. Sprinkle with chives. Send me feedback!

Credits: I modified this recipe for the cornbread:
Grandmother’s Buttermilk Cornbread
And many thanks to Jeanne & Steve Stearns for hosting their Chile 101 Party (NOT political, but hey there’s an idea…) & all the folks who taste-tested.

Life advice from a murder mystery?

Well, yes.

I know.

53 million food-centric blogs already float in the ether. However, I got to the part in Everglades last night when the main character has a Come-to-Jesus moment, and in essence decides he needs to play to his strengths instead of apologizing for them.

So I have decided to play to my strengths, or at least my passions: food, family, friends, cooking, entertaining, wine, more food. Good grammar. Bacon.

Welcome to my blog.