Knife Sharpening…The Best Tool for the Job

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.

No need to go crazy buying knifes. I recommend starting out with a good quality 8″ chef’s knife (the workhorse!), a 3″ paring knife, a 5 1/2″ boning knife, 5″ Tomato/Utility Knife, an 10″ serrated bread knife and a honing (sharpening) steel. Just make sure you store them properly (I love my magnetic knife holder) and you should be ready to tackle any kitchen cutting job with ease.

Sriracha…the Best Red Chile Sauce

Sriracha SauceThis addictive Thai-inspired hot sauce, named after the seaside city of Si Racha, is made from sun-ripened chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. The greatness of this sauce lies in the fact the it isn’t just hot…it has an incredible balance of flavors. Don’t get me wrong…Sriracha (sree-RAH-cha) does deliver some kick-ass heat, but it is also subtly sweet and tangy with great garlic undertones. It’s really versatile and adds flavor to just about any dish, but goes especially well in eggs, salsas, chili, mac and cheese, red beans and rice, and just about all sauces, dips, soups and stews…anything that needs a little, tasty kick.  I always add a couple of squirts to my Tuscan Bean Stew right before serving. It’s available just about everywhere these days, and if you can’t find it in your local supermarket, you can get it here. If you like spicy, you have to give this a try…

Cheaper and Neater Cooking Oil…another Really Cool Tool

Plastic Squeeze BottleCheaper and neater cooking oil…to get it, all you need is another of our unessential-but-cool-to have tools in the kitchen…the simple plastic squeeze bottle. It’s one of those diner/restaurant tricks that makes life in the kitchen just a little simpler. Just fill it with your favorite type of cooking oil, and with just a quick spritz in a hot pan you’re ready to sauté. The great thing about it is, not only is it much neater than pouring straight from the container (and you know you hate that oil slick that always forms on the bottom of the cabinet it’s stored in) but you can also buy a huge container of oil at a really inexpensive price from Amazon and just refill your squeeze bottle when needed (that’s the way we do it in the restaurant). This trick also is great for ketchup. You can buy the 112 oz. restaurant-size container of Heinz at Amazon for about half of the cost per ounce of the standard size you find in the supermarket. Squirt it on your hamburger and on your homemade Crispy Spicy Oven-Baked Garlic French Fries at home just like you’re in your favorite diner. It’s also great for balsamic vinegar…a spritz of that and a squeeze of olive oil and your salad is ready to go.  Simpler, neater and way less expensive…what’s not to like?



Cheesecake Lollipops – Impress Your Friends!

This dessert is delicious, impressive and, best of all, deceptively easy to make. You can make your own cheesecake (here is a great recipe from Cook’s Illustrated magazine) , but even a good store-bought cheesecake works well for this enticing dessert. First, put the cheesecake in the freezer until it gets nice and firm. Then remove it and scoop golf ball size hunks out of the cheesecake and quickly roll them into balls before they start to melt.  Insert a lollipop stick (you can also use wooden skewers) into each ball and pop them in the freezer for around 2-3 hours until frozen.

While the lollipops are freezing, prepare your toppings by crushing oreos, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, malted milk balls, coconut or toffee. Almost anything can be used, and it’s great to mix and match the flavors.

The next step is whip up a simple chocolate ganache, which is just a mixture of equal parts chocolate and heavy cream, where you bring the cream to a boil, remove it from the heat and pour it over the bowl of chopped chocolate and whisk it together.

When the lollipops are frozen solid, take them out of the freezer, dip them in the ganache, roll them in your favorite toppings and then immediately stick them back in the freezer to set (you should lay them on parchment paper so they don’t stick)…that’s it.

Just take them out of the freezer about 30 minutes before your ready to serve them (make sure they’re served very cold or they will start to drop off the sticks!) and arrange them like a bouquet of flowers…I guarantee your guests will be impressed!

The Aerolatte – Another Really Cool Tool

Another one of my favorite unessential-but-cool to-have utensils, the Aerolatte,  makes a great cappuccino and really adds to the enjoyment of your morning coffee. It’s fast, inexpensive, easy to use and simple to clean. One of the cool things I do is add flavorings to the milk before I froth. This morning I sprinkled in some cinnamon and a little sugar before I frothed and it made an amazing topping for my French Roast coffee. Also, immediately after frothing, I put the mixture in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds (keep an eye on it because it will expand quickly) and then top my coffee with it for a nice warm, delicious first sip to start the morning. It also makes a great gift (that’s how I got it…thanks to my sister) for any coffee lover.

Fast and Simple Diner-Style Home Fries

These are a great addition to any breakfast, but with a couple of eggs and some bacon and toast, you feel like you’re having breakfast in a great New Jersey diner (and make no mistake about it…there are no better diners than Jersey diners). Extremely simple (and fast) to make…just 1/4 inch dice a russet potato and some onions. Then put the diced potatoes in the microwave, covered, for a minute or two (depending on the quantity) until partially cooked. Heat up a skillet (preferably a cast iron one), add a couple of tablespoons of  vegetable oil and/or butter (and if you are cooking bacon, use about 1-2 tablespoons of the bacon grease instead of the oil to add tons off extra flavor), toss in the potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper and let them fry, stirring occasionally, for about 4-8 minutes until golden brown. I use a cast iron bacon press to press them down between stirs so they crisp up faster and more evenly, but it’s not necessary. That’s all there is to it…try and you’ll agree it doesn’t get any better then this!

Cool Tool…The Cast Iron Bacon Press

You gotta CRUSH that bacon flat!

One of the great all time nonessential-but-cool-to-have kitchen tools is the cast iron bacon press. You use it to keep bacon from curling up as it cooks, and that makes it great for topping sandwiches (like killer BLTs, bacon cheeseburgers, grilled cheese and The Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich). Used in conjunction with a heavy, seasoned Lodge 12″ Cast Iron Pan (an essential addition to any kitchen because of its excellent heat retention and diffusion properties), it’s also perfect for weighting down chops, burgers or steaks while pan-frying, which helps to keep more of the surface area of the meat in contact with the pan. This  browns them more evenly and helps develop complex flavors and aromas via the Maillard Reaction, all while forming a tasty caramelized crust. The cast iron bacon press is magic!

The Ultimate (Simple) Breakfast Sandwich

I think this may be my favorite breakfast sandwich. It puts all those fast food breakfast sandwiches to shame and it couldn’t be easier. It consists of one egg over easy, topped with melted extra sharp cheddar cheese and crispy bacon on a soft roll.

One of the secrets to making the sandwich is how to get the cheese melted perfectly without overcooking the egg.  The best way to quickly melt the cheese is, as soon as the egg is flipped, lay the cheese on top of the egg and drop a teaspoon of water into the pan next to the egg and immediately cover the pan.  The resulting steam will melt the cheese in seconds. This technique also works great for cheeseburgers.

Another really cool tool to have in your kitchen is what’s called a bacon (or steak) press.  One of its many uses is to keep bacon flat as it cooks…it’s especially good for the B in BLTs.