Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Top 5 Kitchen Gadgets for Home Cooks

I have been decluttering most of my house and getting rid of a lot of stuff. Unfortunately, the kitchen is a bit harder for me. I love cool kitchen gadgets that aren't one-trick ponies, but have a variety of uses. I thought I'd list my top 5 favorites that just might find their way onto your own wish list. But don't put them on your Christmas list. You don't want kitchen stuff for Christmas. It's stuff for the household, so it for sure needs to come out of the household portion of your budget. ;-)

1. External Oven Thermometer

A good friend of mine got an external thermometer for me. (I think because I was drooling over it so much at the kitchen store.) It's pretty embarrassing how giddy I get over this thing. You just stick the probe into your bread or your meat in the oven, sit the device on the counter or stick it to something magnetic and then it beeps when it reaches temperature! How insanely cool is that??!?! (Or am I just super geeky about kitchen stuff? Please tell me I'm not the only one...)

2. Convection Toaster Oven

I recently invested in one of these. And I'm seriously thinking of getting rid of my regular toaster. Why? Well, for one, I can toast 4-6 slices of bread at once and it actually toasts the bread in one go- no pushing the toast down 2 or 3 times to get it toasted enough. Yippee! And look! You can bake a small pizza in there, several potatoes, reheat some garlic bread or broil some fish... The possibilities are endless!

The things I love: it toasts, has a convection fan to speed up baking, it broils, and it uses a lot less energy than heating up your entire oven. Also, if you want to reheat something so that it's crispy, like leftover pizza, it's a better option than a microwave which leaves your pizza soggy and unevenly heated.

I thought I might get rid of our microwave because of this puppy, but no. It does a lot of things, but it doesn't thaw meat out in 10 minutes like I need to do sometimes. So much for decluttering.

3. Bosch Universal Mixer

This baby is on my wish list. We're saving up for it. Yes, it's pricey but I just have one thing to say: "Move over KitchenAid!"

I love that it doesn't have this huge honkin' thing hanging over the bowl. It's super powerful and easy to add new ingredients from the top. One of their newest improvements include suction cup feet so that it doesn't vibrate or jump around (like some gadget I know that starts with Kitchen and ends in Aid.) A friend of mine owns one and loves it. The downside with any type of mixer like this is that the attachments are separate. I want to get the meat grinder and the sausage stuffer! I've always wanted to make my own sausage! Of course it's main use would be to knead bread.

4. Dough Whisk

After all those electronic gadgets, this one is wonderfully simple, yet effective. I got one recently, but haven't used it yet. The dough whisk makes stirring heavy bread dough (or cookie dough) much easier than with a spoon and the dough doesn't stick to it either, apparently. It looks pretty darn cool too! I can't wait to use it!

5. Kitchen Shears

I have to say that this is one of my most-used tools in the kitchen. I have the exact pair shown above and I've used it to strip herbs, but mostly to cut food packaging, to cut vegetables and fruit (when I'm feeling lazy), and even to cut the tips off raw chicken wings when I make homemade hot wings. They are very sturdy and strong and I love that they come apart to be washed in the dishwasher. Another good thing is that their edge is smooth, not serrated, so that they are easy to sharpen at home with a good knife/scissor sharpener. I love my kitchen shears!

Okay, I know I only said 5 kitchen gadgets, but I had to throw this last one in there. I know so many women that have had a hard time finding good kitchen knives. I myself bought what I considered a "good" set of knives, only to be disappointed with how they felt in my hand and how they cut.

What you're looking for in a good knife is a solid handle that is a single piece with the blade, is comfortable to hold, and has a thin blade. In my opinion, the most perfect kitchen knives are made by Rada. These knives are amazing. My mom had one of their paring knives when I was growing up and that knife seriously lasted forever. And it was the perfect size. My husband and I got 2 sets as wedding presents (lucky me!) and I have love, love, loved them! Just be sure to have a good knife sharpener and those knives will last a really long time. Not to mention, I think they are pretty affordable and a great investment. Heck, they could become a treasured family heirloom! They stick really well to my magnetic knife bar too. :-)

Happy drooling!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Turkey Yada Yada

Right now there are thousands of "new and improved" turkey recipes floating around on blogs and throughout the internet telling you how to make the most perfect, moist turkey. However, how many of those recipes are stress-free? How many require the turkey to be perfectly timed or executed with the stress hanging over your head that you may have dried out your bird and there will be no way to tell until carving time?

Well, believe it or not, I know a truly stress-free way of making turkey for the big Thanksgiving dinner. Pssst! And guess what? You can make it days in advance and have it amazingly delicious and JUICY on the big day! No kidding, I promise.

Amazing Crock Pot Turkey, My Mom's Style:

What you need:

- a raw, thawed turkey
- an oven baking bag (You can get special plastic bags at the store that you cook your turkey in that speed up the cooking big time. I had a medium turkey cook in an hour and a half! Reynolds is the only brand that I know of.)
- spices, salt & pepper
- crock pot/slow cooker

Two or three days before Thanksgiving - 

Mix up your favorite spices in a bowl. I usually put in a tablespoon each of rosemary, onion powder, thyme, cracked pepper, and whatever else I feel like throwing in there. You can even add celery seed or sage if you like. Keep in mind that whatever you add is what your turkey will taste like - not just the skin, but the meat too because we'll be using all the turkey juices to stew the meat in.

Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt according to taste and mix the spices up well.

Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Rinse off your turkey and be sure to remove any "extras" from inside the turkey's rib cage cavity. Save them though!

Place your turkey on a clean, non-wooden surface (Wood absorbs meat juices. Yikes!) and taking a handful of your spice mix, start lovingly rubbing it into your turkey's skin. Okay, it doesn't have to be lovingly. Vigourously rub your spice mix into your turkey's skin. Rub the turkey all over - on the bottom, under the wings - everywhere on the outside - until your spice rub has been used up.

Follow the directions for the oven baking bag (usually you have to put a tablespoon of flour in the bag and shake it around). Holding the turkey by its legs, place your turkey in the bag breast-side up, add in the extras you removed before, secure the tie, and place it in your baking pan. Make a few vent holes in the bag with scissors or a sharp knife.

Bake for 2 to 2 1/2 hours for a 12 to 16 lb. turkey, 2 1/2 to 3 hours for a 16 to 20 lb. turkey, and 3 to 3 1/3 hours for a 20 to 24 lb. turkey, or until the meat thermometer reads 180ºF.

Once the turkey is done baking, the leg should move easily in its socket. Allow the turkey to cool for a half hour to an hour. Have a large container very close by. Cut the bag and carefully remove the turkey to the holding container. Be careful! It may fall apart in transit. (This is years of experience talking!) Allow it to cool until it is comfortable to touch. In the meantime, pour all the juices into a large container, or a few smaller ones. Cover, and put these in the fridge.

Notice the fat floating on top of the broth?

Once the turkey is cool enough to touch, you'll need to debone it. That's right! No carving ritual here, people! Put the meat into containers and put it in the fridge.

And guess what? You're done! It's amazing! It's a miracle! Now sit back and relax with a warm apple cider.

The morning of the big day - 

Take out the container of juices. The fat will have risen to the top and solidified. Remove the fat and then put the jelly-fied juices into your crock pot. Next, remove your turkey meat and put it into the crock pot with the juices. Depending on when your dinner is, set your crock pot to low (think 4-6 hours) or high (think 2-3 hours). 

And now cackle with glee, because you are totally done! Your turkey will sit there simmering in its lovely herbed juices while you go skipping out of the kitchen to spend quality time with family. And come dinner time - ooooh, delicious juicy turkey! Trust me. You'll never go back to those carved slabs of cardboard again!
Mmm! Juicy turkey!

Happy Turkey Day (early - just like your crock pot turkey!)

*baking info: http://www.reynoldsovenbags.com/RDetails.aspx?id=906&cat=4

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Neighborhood Turkey

This year I really wanted to commit to buying a local turkey - one from our neighborhood, where I could take my kids to the farm and they could see where their Thanksgiving turkey came from. I picked Weber's Cider Mill Farm up the road about 20 minutes. Choosing a local bird is one step closer to being more aware of our food and the truth of where it comes from. A lot of kids grow up thinking meat comes from the store in cellophane-wrapped Styrofoam. And they're right. Most of our meat does come that way our whole lives. But I want my kids to understand that their meat had a life before it died to be on their plate. I'd really like to teach them respect for life and that it's not something we should take for granted. (My son first realized just this year that chicken that we eat is the same chicken that he's seen at farms running around clucking. It was a bit of a shock, but he took it rather well!)

This isn't to say that those who buy their meat from the store are taking things for granted. Most of the time, there isn't much choice. We have to do the best we can, especially in this difficult economy. I myself still buy chicken vacuum packed in plastic because it's what I can afford. But I'm taking this food awareness/reality one step at a time. This step happens to be a Thanksgiving turkey. And I can't wait to meet the farmers who raised it and to see where the bird lived out his life. I hope to pick up a jug of cider while I'm at it too!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Top 13 Foods to Buy Organic

Knowing which produce items to buy organic and which ones don't matter as much can be confusing and sometimes frustrating. We want to eat the most healthy we can with the best foods we can find. Does it really matter if we buy organic strawberries or apples? Can't we just wash them and get the pesticides off?

I came across this list a few years ago and found it helpful. What I learned was that even if there aren't any pesticides on the surface when you purchase or wash the produce you're about to eat, the plants were sprayed with pesticides during their growth and was absorbed through their leaves and the roots absorbed pesticides in the ground water. So, it's part of the fruit and isn't something that can be washed away.

Sometimes we can't always buy everything organic, I know. But, it's nice to know the top 13 types of conventional produce to avoid and to buy as organic if we can.

1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Sweet Bell Peppers
4. Celery
5. Nectarines
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Kale
9. Lettuce
10. Imported grapes
11. Carrots
12. Pears
13. Potatoes

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls... For REAL

Sorry for the delay in posting. October was a crazy month. I know everyone says stuff like that, but no. Really. (My family and I went on a 2 week vacation which turned into a 4 week vacation because I had to get my appendix out and couldn't fly for 2 weeks.) But we're back home now! Whew!

And you know what I found out? October 5th is National Cinnamon Roll day in Denmark. Or was it Sweden? Anyway, the point is is that it's absolutely amazing that someone celebrates such a delectable breakfast food. (That's right it's breakfast!) I totally wanted to celebrate such an awesome holiday. Who wouldn't want to celebrate cinnamon rolls?!

Well, while we were on vacation in Utah, I went to a bread night with a friend of mine and this lady gave out the following recipe for the most amazing, soft, delicious rolls of the perfect, hold-in-your-hand size. Not too big, not too small. Did I say they were SOFT? Oh, they were divine! And the greatest part of this recipe is that you can convert it to a Raspberry Cream roll too. Ooooooohhhhh....

Cinnamon Rolls
By Cathy King & Shauna Flammer

2 cups scalded milk (heated just until it starts to steam)
1/2 cup butter
2 Tbsp. yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 eggs
1 c. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1cup mashed potatoes (plain)
7 cups flour, approx.

1/2 cup butter, softened or melted
Brown sugar

1. Pour scalded milk over butter and allow to cool to lukewarm. Soften yeast in warm water. Add to milk mixture along with the eggs, sugar, salt, mashed potatoes, and 4 cups of flour. Mix with a spoon until somewhat blended.

2. Dump the mixture onto a floured surface (a cookie sheet, baking mat, counter top, etc.) and with your hands, fold and gently knead in enough remaining flour until the dough is soft, but well mixed and the dough has lost its shine. The stickier the dough, the lighter the finished product will be. The dough will not be able to hold its shape in a nice neat ball like when you're making a loaf of bread. It should be a lot stickier and more like a blob. (I know this sounds crazy, but you'll just have to trust me. I didn't believe this recipe until I was making it and then it made a lot more sense.)

3. Put the dough on a floured cookie sheet, cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled - or 45 minutes to an hour. The dough will be a lot less sticky as the yeast has eaten up a lot of that gluten. (This is what the lady said. It made sense, and it turned out that she was right about the less-stickiness part.) :-)

4. Roll dough in a rectangle 4" wide (ONLY 4" - you'll see why) and 1" thick. Spread with softened or melted butter, sprinkle with brown sugar to taste and cover the darn thing with tons of cinnamon, if you're like me at all and LOVE it. :-)

5. Take both sides of the 4" width and fold it to the center into thirds. (One side to the middle, the second side to the other side. I hope that makes sense!) Cut your rolls into 18 rolls using dental thread. You'll notice that they are nice little cinnamon rolls of the perfect size! Place them on a greased cookie sheet with sides (jelly roll pan) and cover. Let rise until doubled. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake for 20 minutes. Ice if desired. (I totally forgot to ice them, and they were still amazing!)

Icing: 4 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup softened butter, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 3 Tbsp. milk. Cream together powdered sugar and butter. Add the vanilla and milk. Mix until creamy.

Raspberry Cream Rolls

Make the rolls as directed above. When you get to step #4, instead of butter and cinnamon, spread on 4 oz. of very soft cream cheese, lightly sprinkle on white sugar to your taste, then spread on your favorite raspberry jam. Continue steps as above and then DEVOUR with delight!

Happy Rolling!
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