Kitchen Tips – Prevent Waste Through Stocks

A couple weeks ago I talked about making your own stock as a cheaper and more flavorful alternative to buying it.  Hänni made a great comment I failed to touch on in that post: using scraps or older vegetables as stock ingredients.  When you’re cutting your carrots or your onion or whatever you usually trim stuff off and those trimmings usually end up in the trash.  Older vegetables past their prime often end up in the same destination.  Such waste!  It’s sad, you say, but cannot be avoided.

I’m here to tell you that there are many ways to reduce your waste and one of of my most cherished methods is through making stock.  Carrots don’t need to be crisp, potatoes don’t have to be firm without sprouts; because all you’re really doing is sucking all the precious flavor you can out of them and tossing them out!  Clearly, you have judge what is suitable for stock and what is beyond saving and Barbara of over at Tigers and Strawberries has a great post on this with guidelines to follow (be sure to check out her other articles on food preservation as well).

So next time you’re about throw that vegetable away, ask yourself if would make a tasty addition to a well made stock.

Kitchen Tips – Manicotti Filling Through a Pastry Bag

The title pretty much says it all, but follow along in my narrative.

I really enjoy a good pasta dish and stuffed manicotti is special because I so rarely make it. One of the reasons is the annoyance and hassle of filling the pasta (with a spoon, most often). It’s messy, it’s clumsy, it’s no fun. Recently I came across this piece of sage wisdom: fill your manicotti like you would any pastry filling.

This could easily be done with a classic pastry bag if you have one, but many of you might have heard of simply using a plastic bag with a corner snipped off. This shortcut works with manicotti stuffing or really any filling. It’s a nice cheat!

You know what I hate? Going through the entire baking process, whether it be a cake, muffin, etc only to pull it out of the oven, let it cool and then attempt to separate it from its baking pan, only to have it stick and tear instead. RAGE!

I hate it so much that I use to practically immerse my pans in non-stick spray (dripping from the pan), then powder with flour. The problem with flour, however, is that it clumps very easily and can be quite difficult to properly distribute across the entire pan; even if your sifting. That’s why I switched to sugar. Sugar does not clump and is much easier to properly distribute. Now the health nuts out there may be concerned with adding more sugar to their dish, but you shouldn’t need much.

Give it a shot and see if you like it.

Kitchen Tips – Understanding Zesting

Gather ’round children, and we shall explore the wonderful world of zesting. Last week I shared a recipe that called for lemon zest, so today we’ll learn what it is, how to get it, and pitfalls to consider.

Hello, Lime

Zest is the (very) thing skin on citrus fruit like oranges, lemons and limes. Containing oils, zest has a strong citrus flavor, and is most commonly used in desserts such as cookies or pies, but can be used in other things such as drinks and salads. Growing up, my mother would bake “orange peel” cookies, which often perplexed me. “Isn’t the peel garbage?” Not so!

Lime Zest

The best tool for zesting is a microplane grater, but a standard grater can work as well (using the side with the smallest holes). Just delicately grate the color off your fruit. You can even peel it of with a paring knife and a steady hand. The only thing to be careful of is the white stuff under the color, called pith. Pith is bad. Pith is the weird uncle, that one that is a little…. off. Pith is bitter and can really ruin your dish, so be sure to only take the zest and not the pith!

Feeling adventurous? Want to practice your newly acquired skill? Here are a few recipes that use the mighty zest.

Enjoy!

Kitchen Tips – Preserving The Top Of Your Wedding Cake

I got a lot of great feedback from my post on Wednesday showcasing mine and Morgan’s wedding cake (both on our wedding day and then one year later) – thanks so much for the kind words!

In keeping with the wedding and memories mood I have going on this week, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post about how to store the top of your wedding cake so that you can enjoy it the next year. I’m sure there are a few different ways you can do it, but I’m going to share what worked for us.

Our cake was not covered in fondant (I just can’t get in to chewy taste of it), but I’d imagine that fondant would only serve as another protective layer.

When you’ve got the top of your cake back home, transfer it to either a piece of flat plastic used for tiered cakes, or a cardboard cake round that has been wrapped in plastic before putting the cake on top (so the cardboard doesn’t absorb anything or give off cardboard taste!).

Place the cake top, uncovered, in the freezer for about 20 minutes to firm it up. Remove it from the freezer, and wrap it, cardboard or plastic round and all, tightly with lots of plastic wrap – no skimping! When done, place it safely in the freezer and leave it alone for a year!

To enjoy, move the cake from the freezer to the fridge 1-2 days before your anniversary. A few hours before serving, remove the plastic wrap and set it back in the fridge. Then right before serving, allow cake to reach room temperature before digging in by setting it out on the counter.

Good luck!

Kitchen Tips – Avoiding Bean Soak

As a flexitarian, a significant portion of my diet is composed of beans which are a great source of protein. I prefer dried beans over canned because, not only are they “fresher” (in a sense that less is done to them before you get them), they are significantly cheaper. The problem with dried beans is the need to soak them. Just about every bean needs to be pre-soaked before cooking; usually overnight. That requires you to plan ahead, which doesn’t always happen.

My trick to avoiding this complication is a magical little device called a pressure cooker. I have to admit, when I first received this as a gift from my sister, I was quite unimpressed. “What am I going to do with this thing?” Answer: speed soaking beans. Stick in some beans, some water, cook for the appropriate time, viola! Good to go in less than an hour.

Pressure cookers are not a new invention. In fact, they’ve been around for quite some time with a bit a bad reputation. Old pressure cookers use to be quite messy but more importantly dangerous with the risk of exploding. Not today. Of course, anything under incredibly high pressure is in risk of exploding, but advances in technology and design has made this virtually impossible.

If you decide to buy a pressure cooker, I strongly recommend a stove-less version. Much more convenient. To top it off, pressure cookers are great for many other things, such as canning and general quick cooking. Check it out. It can be a worthy investment.

Kitchen Tips – Freezing Pancakes

Last night my husband was out with some friends, so I had pancakes for dinner – fluffy oatmeal cookie pancakes from Joy the Baker!

Pancakes are a more recent obsession of mine. However pancake recipes often make a lot more than just one or two servings. Sometimes I halve the recipes, but not all recipes work well when you halve them. But really, why halve a delicious pancake recipe and deprive yourself from enjoying them again later?

So don’t! Make a big batch, but whatever pancakes you don’t eat, set out on a cooling rack in one layer so that they cool completely and dry out a bit. When the pancakes feel dry, place them in ziploc bags or a one gallon size ziploc bag (separated by wax paper so that it’s easy to pull them apart) and freeze. When you’re ready to enjoy them again, warm them up in a toaster (my preference) or, if you prefer, briefly in the microwave (you don’t want them to get rubbery).

Any time is a good time for pancakes!

I love to cook, I love to bake (or wow, this would be the worst side hobby ever, wouldn’t it?). What I hate is waste. Blame my Mom who drilled such principles into my head for as long as I can remember, but there are times when I will consider NOT making something if I think I’ll end up with leftover ingredients I won’t use. Whenever I can substitute an ingredient for something I already have, I’m a happy man.

Greek yogurt is a thicker, richer variant of yogurt that you’ll occasionally find being called for in recipes. I never have this lying in my fridge, but I’ll often have regular yogurt. Take a cheese cloth, fold it in half and cover a medium sized container; securing it with a rubber band. Dump your yogurt on top and let it strain in the fridge for 8-12 hours, depending on your desired consistency. If the cheesecloth begins touching the strained liquid then carefully remove the cheese cloth, drain the container and re-secure.

Whole-milk yogurt gives you the creamiest, but you can easily substitute a lower fat yogurt for health (and the price of richness).

Kitchen Tips – Plastic vs. Wood & Cutting Board Maintenance

Well, I’m still a little flabbergasted by all the recent developments. First the Governor of South Carolina puts on a soap opera worthy performance, then Farrah Fawcett died and then in very surprising but not entirely shocking news, Michael Jackson dies.

For those of you in my generation, you probably still remember pulling the wrapping off your “Dangerous” cassette tape with glee. Eerily, my husband put on “Thriller” yesterday morning as we were getting ready for work. Not that I could ever picture Michael Jackson as an old man, but it’s still a little upsetting. His music had an undeniable impact.

But I guess my musings on Michael Jackson is not what you came here for!

A few weeks ago, my good friend asked me what to do about mold on her wood cutting board. My very first thought was, “throw it out! Game over!” But as I stopped to think and did a little research, I found some good resources.

First off – prevention. If you have a wood cutting board, make sure that after washing it you dry it in an upright position. If you have a dish drainer, then this likely isn’t a problem for you, but lately I’ve seen more people who go without them.

asparagus cutting board

If you notice mold on your wood cutting board, there are a few things you can do. I’ve seen some forums where people discuss using bleach, but using bleach on a cutting board seems like bad news to me. I like my food without a side of poisonous chemicals! Try cleaning with vinegar. What my friend did to remove the mold is just sand it down. Of course, this will only work if a small area is moldy (but let’s hope you’re not trying to use a cutting board ransacked with mold!).

Ehow.com, quickly becoming my new favorite website as you can tell from my last Kitchen Tips post, gives some great tips on how to care for a variety of cutting boards including wood, plastic, glass and more.

Chef Edwin once told me that I shouldn’t be using a wooden cutting board for meat, but if that’s true then why does my wood Martha Stewart cutting board have a sweet etching of a chicken on one side and vegetables on the other? Martha wouldn’t lie to me! This wisegeek.com article discusses that some of the sanitation fears about wood boards just go back and forth ad nauseum. The plastic lovers throw out some government reports, and the wood board lovers toss back other studies. I’m not going to get into the intricacies here; the bottom line for me is that I was raised in a house with a wood cutting board, I currently use a wood cutting board and everyone is still alive and kicking!

chicken on cutting board

But back to Martha – she suggests, “Every few weeks, sprinkle a generous portion of coarse salt over the board’s surface, and rub it with the cut side of a lemon half. Afterward, rinse the board well with hot water, then dry completely with a clean kitchen towel.”

Further, if your wood board is made from thick butcher block, then you should also oil the board periodically, wiping away the excess and letting it dry upright. Use mineral oil for this exercise – never vegetable oil. Mineral oil will keep water from seeping into the wood grain and also help prevent cracking.

Both wood and plastic cutting boards require a little maintenance to keep them free from food-borne bacteria. With a little extra care, your cutting board should last for years.

Kitchen Tips – Storing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a great fruit that I enjoy year ’round. They go great in salads, work excellently in sauces and have a lot of potential ranging from butter to cheese. And don’t get me started on the health benefits.

Plum Tomato

A lot of people are surprised to hear that you should never store your tomatoes in the refrigerator (gasp!). That’s right. Tomatoes are from warm climate areas and should always be stored at room temperature. Chill temperatures cause damage to their membranes, resulting in a loss of flavor. A green tomato is especially susceptible and also run the risk of discoloration and a mealy texture (these two factors are less prevalent in fully ripened reds).

Tomatoes also produce ethylene gas as they ripen, something the banana is famous for. So be sure to store your tomato in an open area.