If you want to keep your food ultra-fresh, an air-tight seal locks in freshness and helps protect food from spoiling, but you don’t have to invest a couple of hundred bucks on a vacuum sealer and a never-ending supply of expensive proprietary bags. All you need is a regular freezer/storage bag (about 8¢) and a straw (free at any fast food place) and you’re good-to-go. To paraphrase Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, “Just put your lips together and…suck!”
The free straws work really well, but I actually use these clear acrylic straws…they last forever, are washable and don’t collapse or bend while you’re using them…they’re great!
– Sharp, stainless steel blades for easy grating
– Medium and fine grating surfaces, and slicing surface
– Slim construction conveniently fits into drawers
– Soft, comfortable, non-slip grip
…but the BEST thing about it is that you can catch, measure and store whatever you’re preparing in the storage container that clips onto the bottom of the grater, and then seal the freshly cut/grated ingredients with the included lid. It’s perfect for grating and keeping the mozzarella fresh before adding it to my Caramelized Onions, Sausage and Mushroom Sourdough Pizza.
I always have a problem preparing the right amount of batter for the number of pancakes I want to make. Some apparently very hungry math students from the University of Sheffield have swapped calculus for the kitchen and developed an interactive Perfect Pancake Calculator to make the prompt preparation of perfect prize-winning pancakes a piece of cake (alliteration!). You just enter the number and thickness of the pancakes you want and it gives you the exact amounts of the ingredients you need. One minor problem…Univ. of Sheffield is in England, so the measurements are metric!
Mystified by the incredible assortment of beef cuts out there and what to do with each of them? Here is a great Cheat Sheet for Meat Treats by visually that literally breaks down the cow and gives you the name of each cut, where it comes from, an idea of how much it costs and the best method to cook it. Load this cheat sheet to your mobile phone and pull it up next time you’re shopping for meat.
Now that know the best way to sharpen your knives (see previous post for the Accusharp Knife and Tool Sharpener)…here is the best and cheapest way to keep them sharp. Every time you put an unprotected knife in a drawer you run the risk of ruining the edge. It just takes a little bump to bend or roll the delicate edge of a sharp knife, and although honing with a good sharpening steel is something you should be doing, as it will straighten out the blade’s edge, it doesn’t actually sharpen the knife. Over time the knife will start to dull, until one beautiful summer day while you’re futilely attempting to slice a tomato for a BLT, the knife slips off the fruit (yes, the tomato is a fruit…look it up) and lops off your entire thumb (ok…that’s a little dramatic, but I’m trying to make a point here). Of course, you can buy knife guards, but it’s exceptionally easy to make them at home. All you do is take some cardboard (the thin kind from a gift box works best, but any cardboard will do), cut a long strip that’s the length of the knife’s blade and a little more then twice as wide as the blade, fold it in half length-wise to fit the knife, and just staple evenly down the open edge. Slip this on whenever you store your knives, and they’ll stay sharp no matter how much they rattle around in that overstuffed drawer.
I love my knives and, as incongruous as it might sound, a sharp knife is a safe knife. When a knife is dull, more pressure is needed when using it and that increases the chance that the knife will slip and do some damage…a sharp knife is not only much easier to control, but it really adds to the joy of food preparation.
Sharpening a knife using a sharpening stone is best left to professionals. It’s a great skill to learn, but it takes a lot of practice as it’s tough to get the proper angles. The Accusharp Knife and Tool Sharpener is an inexpensive, safe and easy to use tool that makes knife sharpening a pleasure. It has diamond honed tungsten carbide sharpening blades set at the proper angle so you can’t make a mistake, and in about 10 seconds, you have a nice, sharp edge.
The are a lot of myths and facts about knife sharpening, but if you use the right knife for the job and you keep it sharp, you’ll find food prep to be a pleasure.
It’s finally summer, so it’s time once again for the best breakfast ever…Healthy Fruit Smoothies. The great thing about the following technique is that you can substitute just about any fruits and juices that you like…it’s all good. For this Hawaiian smoothie, I took fresh picked papayas and bananas, cut them into chunks and froze them overnight. To make the smoothie, put about a cup of frozen papaya chunks, a cup of frozen banana pieces, 6 oz. of your favorite blueberry yogurt (I use Dannon) into a blender and add about 3/4 cup of V8 Splash (available everywhere…I use Tropical Blend, but any flavor you prefer will do). Pulse the blender for about 30 seconds, and if necessary, give it a quick stir (make sure the blades have stopped!), and repeat a few times. If it appears too thick at this point you can take the top off the blender while it’s running (make sure all the fruit has been pureed before you do this or you may end up wearing some smoothie) and slowly pour in a little more Splash until you see a vortex begin to form in the center-you’ll know what I mean when you see it happen-and the Smoothie will have a perfect consistency. If you love peanut butter like I do, you can add a heaping tablespoon (I prefer chunky) and blend for a couple of seconds more…it’s incredible! For convenience, you can buy bags of chunked frozen fruit just about anywhere. I love the Costco brand..it has peaches, strawberries, pineapple and honeydew and comes in a 6 lb. bag. The secret, though, to a really great smoothie is the frozen bananas (I always keep a baggie full of frozen banana chunks in the freezer)…that’s what gives it the amazingly creamy consistency.
A sharp, well balanced knife that feels good in your hand is a pleasure to work with and makes cooking that much more enjoyable…when the right knife is used properly, it really makes you feel very “cheffy”. I’ve already posted how to sharpen knives and keep them sharp, and the amazing chart below (which I totally copied from Kitchen Kapers) really helps you figure out exactly what knife to use (or buy) for the job at hand.
It’s that time of year again…Girl Scout Cookies are on sale! For those of you that are still bummed out over the news last year that the Girl Scouts cut back on the varieties (it was huge national news…just check out The Wall Street Journal), there is help online. One of my favorite blogs, Baking Bites, has a great post on how to make your own. And if your favorite cookie isn’t covered in that post, check out Chow. Fijis, Slim Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Samoas, Tagalongs…they’re all there for the making. Even if your favorite wasn’t scratched from the line-up, you should give these recipes a shot. Not only do they taste better when you make them yourself, but you also get a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that helps negate that horrible feeling you get when you look in the mirror after gorging yourself on them. And after you’ve had your fill of Girl Scout cookies, check these out, the Best Chocolate Chip cookies ever invented!
Here is one of the all-time great Valentine’s Day recipes. I actually made these for the first time years ago, long before I really got into cooking, so although it might look like it’s hard to prepare, it really isn’t…and it’s a lot of fun!
1. Get a few coffee-bean bags from your grocery store. You need bags that are lined with a plastic coating so when painted with chocolate, you can peel them off easily. Cut the coffee bags so they are about 3-5 inches tall.
2. Then, in a double boiler over low heat, melt 2-3 cups of semisweet chocolate morsels.
3. Lay the bag in its side and with a small pastry brush, starting at the bottom, paint the melted chocolate over the entire interior of the bag. Use plenty of chocolate to get a nice thick coating, which will make it less likely for the chocolate to break when peeling off the bag.
4. Stand the bags up and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. They can be left in there until you need them.
5. When the chocolate is nice and hard, starting in one corner, gently peel away the bag. Use a scissor to cut the paper off as you peel it…it just makes it easier.
6. Melt some more chocolate and dip strawberries, sliced bananas and whatever else your significant other loves into the melted chocolate. As an added touch, you can also melt some white chocolate and use that to drizzle designs on the dipped treats. Lay them down on waxed paper to dry and harden.
Then just fill the bags with the treats and your favorite candies and you have an incredibly impressive presentation for your loved one on Valentine’s Day. It sure sealed the deal for me!