When a recipe calls for a cup of flour, most people just scoop out a “cup” and then level it off with a knife…easy and fast but, unfortunately, not very accurate or consistent. A little too much flour here or sugar there, and instead of a delicious chewy cookie you could end up with rockhard paperweight better suited for self-defense then dessert. That’s why weighing ingredients, especially when baking, is essential. A great scale, like the OXO Good Grips Scale, is an important tool for success in the kitchen. I try to give ingredients in my recipes by both weight and volume, but if you encounter a recipe that doesn’t, King Arthur Flour has a really helpful Master weight chart for just about every commonly used ingredient in baking. If you need to convert to metric or vice-versa, just click here for some charts to help with converting metric equivalents or try this interactive Online Cooking Converter that converts cooking units instantly…it’s amazing! Once you start weighing ingredients, you’ll see an incredible improvement in outcomes and consistency.
Everyone loves these cookies…that’s because they can be made to everyone’s taste. The basic recipe is really simple, but the beauty of it is that you can add any filling you like, so everyone gets what they want. From raspberry jam to cinnamon and sugar to chocolatey goodness, no one goes away disappointed…and they not only taste great, but they look incredible. The secret to slicing them into neat, perfectly round cookies before baking is to use dental floss (unwaxed and unflavored…although I guess you could go for a minty floss to accent the chocolate cookies…or not!). Just wrap it around the cookie logs and tighten it as if tying a knot to make a perfect, round cookie.
The Super-Fast Thermapen is, without a doubt, the best food thermometer available and an essential really cool kitchen tool. Sure, it’s way expensive, but sometimes it makes sense to just buy the best. The thing that sets this apart from all other kitchen thermometers (and there are some pretty good ones out there) is its speed, accuracy and ease of use…it takes just 3 seconds to register an amazingly accurate reading. Another great feature is that the Thermapen is splash-proof, with molded-in seals that protect the thermometer from wet hands and kitchen splashes. I also love the way it operates…just open it and it turns on and close it and it turns off…no buttons, cables, slides or switches (and it comes in some really great colors!). When buying things for the kitchen, I always take pricing into account, but I believe that in this case, because a great thermometer invariably leads to great results when cooking, if you can afford it, it pays to go with the best. This also is absolutely one of the coolest gifts you can buy for someone who cooks…they’ll use it and love you forever!
This is one of the kitchen tools that I really can’t live without…the OXO Good Grips Food Scale. It has large, backlit, easy to read numbers and, with one click, switches from metric to U.S. (avoirdupois) weight. When adding each ingredient to a recipe, just press the zero button (tare weight) to set the scale back to zero, add your next each ingredient, repeat for each additional ingredient, and all your mixing and measuring is done in one bowl, making for much easier cleanup. One of the best features is that the display can be separated from the base (it’s attached by a long, sturdy wire) so even if you’re weighing your ingredients in huge bowl that would normally hide the readout on a lesser scale, on this one, just slide it out and you can easily see the weight. If you bake, you know how important weights and proportions are to achieve a great result. I never bake without it, and I guarantee once you try it, you won’t either…this is the real deal!
It’s always a good idea to have some dried starter on hand as backup if, for some reason, your “live” starter suffers an untimely death…it’s sad, but it happens. It’s also a great way to share your starter with someone. The drying process is very simple. Thinly spread some of your live starter on a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap…a pastry brush or spatula works well here…then just let it dry. When completely dry (it can take from a few hours to a full day, depending on temperature), just peel it off the paper and crush it up…a coffee or spice grinder works well or you can just put it in a zip lock bag and whack it a few times with a rolling pin (that’s the post-whacked state in the picture on the left). Store it in an air-tight zip lock bag at room temperature or in the refrigerator or freezer…it’s all good.
Reviving your dried starter is a relatively simple process also. This great video clip is from Breadtopia, one of my favorite sites, and it shows you exactly how to do it. If you’re into bread and baking, you should definitely check out Breadtopia for amazing recipes and videos.
If you bake your own bread and love to eat it straight out of the oven, you know how hard it is to get a good, even slice from fresh-out-of-the-oven, warm bread. This Oregon Bread and Bagel Slicer (another non-essential but really cool kitchen tool) bow knife, made of Red Alder, a sustainable hardwood, has a beveled, scalloped edge (it never needs sharpening) that works like a super-sharp saw to cut a neat, uniform width slice of that crusty, aromatic freshly baked no-knead sourdough whole wheat pumpkin seed encrusted loaf that you can then slather in butter and watch as it melts into the nooks and crannies…ok, I’m getting a little carried away here, but there really is nothing better then homemade bread.
This knife is also perfect for cutting bagels, ripe tomatoes and just about anything else that you may have trouble slicing with a conventional knife…and, with the beautiful Red Alder handle, it looks really great just sitting there on the kitchen counter.
This also makes a great gift for the cook who has everything…that’s how I got it (thanks Ned and Debi)!
Leave it to Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island to show us the best way to peel a potato. Every Thanksgiving, we make a ton of mashed potatoes for 40 people and the only thing we don’t look forward to is peeling all those potatoes. Well thanks to this video from Mary Ann, it looks like next Thanksgiving that won’t be a problem. Now if we can just get the Professor to invent an easy way to deep fry a turkey without burning down the entire neighborhood.
BTW, if you really want to do it the authentic “Mary Ann” way, here are the Red Silicon Gripper Tongs she uses in the video. They’re great for using with non-stick cookware and they’re heat resistant up to 600° and dishwasher safe.
Caramelized onions are terrific on everything… pizza, burgers, hotdogs, chops, steaks, brisket and are delicious in scrambled eggs, quiche or mashed potatoes….they even make an interesting (and delicious) dessert when served on sliced apples with a side of cheese. In fact, they’re great all by themselves…I guarantee you’ll find yourself eating them right out of the pan.
I think that I first read about this technique for caramelizing onions in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine years ago and have been using it ever since.
When onions are cooked low and slow for an extended period of time, the natural sugars in the onions caramelize, imparting an intense sweet flavor and a beautiful deep mahogany color.
Caramelized onions can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or they can be frozen for up to 3 months.
All you have to do is press on the handle and it pops up to make it safe and easy to insert into and remove from a steaming pot. One of the best feature is that you can unscrew the handle and it’s then perfect for steaming larger items like fish fillets (or huge batches of chicken wings!). It has foldable feet to keep the basket above the boiling water and it also expands to fit just about any pot. It’s a really cool kitchen tool with multiple uses…a practical (and inexpensive) addition to any kitchen!
And, if you really want to steam a huge batch of wings this simple, Asian-style 3 Tiered Aluminum steamer is great…it’s also perfect for steaming a couple of different vegetables (or a variety of seafood) all at the same time for a quick, healthy dinner.
Back in 1976, I was working at The Foundry restaurant in DC and one of the waiters, Michael Murphy, who happened to be from Buffalo, told us of the amazingly simple way they prepared, of all things, chicken wings, up there at a place called the Anchor Bar. We started giving away the Buffalo Chicken Wings during Happy Hour and immediately the place became packed each day at around 4:45 pm with everyone waiting for the wings to come out of the kitchen…and the rest is culinary history. It seems that every bar today has chicken wings on the menu, and for good reason…when they’re made right, they’re incredibly and addictingly (if that’s even a word) good! They’re actually very simple to make…cut 12 wings into three pieces at the joints (discard the wing tips or keep them for preparing stock) and just deep fry the flats and drummettes for 10-12 minutes in 375 degree oil (preferably peanut) until they’re crispy and golden brown, toss them in Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and serve with celery and bleu cheese dressing…that’s it…nothing else is needed. The problem is that it’s really a pain (and a greasy mess) to deep fry at home, so here is the next best thing…bake them in the oven. The secret to getting them to cook perfectly is to first steam them in a steamer basket over boiling water for 10 minutes. Carefully pat them dry and place them on a oven proof rack (or parchment paper) in a sheet pan, sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and place in the refrigerator for about an hour. Then stick the whole deal in a 425 degree oven and bake for about 40 minutes until golden and crispy, turning the wings over halfway through. This cooking technique is from Alton Brown, but in his recipe, he wants you to add butter and garlic to the sauce, which is absolutely unnecessary (and not authentic!). When the wings are done, just toss them in a generous helping (about 1/2 cup) of warmed Frank’s Red Hot Sauce until completely coated and serve with bleu cheese dressing and celery sticks. There you have it…all the crispness, texture and flavor of deep frying with none of the mess.