Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bits and Pieces

Sometimes when I am taking pictures for a post, I think of a tip or suggestion.  It isn't really an entire post on it's own necessarily, so I decided to group some of my kitchen ideas together.  I am including some of my favorite tools and products as well as ways to keep waste down.  Some are interesting and I m sure others are not.  None of these are new ideas.  They are not innovative or earth shattering.  I am just hoping you may find them helpful.  If nothing else, you can use it as an excuse to try a new kind of chocolate chips!

My Must-Have Kitchen Tools
I use these four items every day.  I use the smooth big knife (it has a name, I just can't think of it right now, chef's knife maybe?) when I need to slice or chop things using a pivoting or sliding motion.  Mincing herbs, slicing green peppers and celery, chopping lettuce, stuff like that.  I use the serrated version when chopping slippery foods where I need a little grip.  Onions, potatoes, carrots, apples, tomatoes, anything that gets chopped in an up and down motion with very little sliding of the knife (I feel like the serrated blade is hard on my cutting board which is kind of my baby, more on that in a minute). 
On the bottom is my scooper/scraper (also has a technical name I'm sure).  I use it to help me grab and dump the copious amounts of vegetable I chop.  It is also a great dough scraper for when I make homestyle noodles or flat dumplings. 
Last but not least is my chopping block.  It is an end grain style that is about 2" thick, 18" wide and 16" deep.  When I went to buy a cutting board, I scoffed at the $60 price tag and bought a $20 option.  All the way home I thought of this cutting board.  I called my mom.  She helped me justify the price (if I work hard enough, I can justify just about anything) and I turned around and returned the cheap one and bought this one.  It is some of the best money I have ever spent.  It is sturdy and large.  It is also pretty which is nice since it sits out on my counter day in and day out.  If you get one be sure to oil it regularly, so it will retain it's beauty and seal.

Waste Not Want Not
Do you end up with multiple loaves of bread that never get used because you go to the store and buy a new loaf and of course everyone would rather eat the new, soft, fresh loaf rather than finish off the old one?  Unless you have a pond with ducks to feed, these probably end up in the trash.  Well no more!  Make bread crumbs!  It is fast and easy with very little work on your part.  Here is how I do it.

Tear the bread into chunks and put it in a food processor.  You may need to do it in batches if you have a lot of bread like I did.
Process the bread until it is fine crumbs.

Now dump the crumbs onto an un-greased baking sheet or two and bake at 250 degrees until they are dried completely out.  Stir them every 10-15 minutes.  It may take 30-45 minutes because the oven is so low, but we want them dried and toasted, not just toasted so it has to be done slowly.

Once they are done, use your hands to crumble any that have stuck together
and put them in a Ziploc bag to toss in the freezer.  I use these to bread meat and vegetables, top casseroles and even fruit desserts.  You can throw them in meatloaf or meatballs.  Lots of uses and better (and cheaper) than buying store made!

I have come to realize while it looks pretty to have three different colors of peppers in a dish, I never use them all.  I also tend to forget they are in the fridge until they get slimy and gross.  So, I have learned to chop all three peppers, use what I need and freeze the others.  Peppers are one of the few vegetables that actually freezes well (there is a reason you don't find frozen tomatoes or cucumbers at the store).  When I need them, they are ready to be thrown in the pot, no thawing required.

A Few of my Favorite Things
Best. Chocolate. Chips. EVER!

Duncan Hines has the best cake mixes.  I have bought others on sale.  Not worth the savings.

Let me clarify.  I do not, nor should anyone else, drink instant coffee.  I do, however, put it in all things chocolate.  Coffee powder, in small quantities, amplifies the flavor in brownies, cakes, frostings, cookies, hot cocoa, anything chocolate, without giving it a coffee taste.  Try it.  You will be a believer too.

My husband introduced me to this.  We put in in salads on vegetables and sandwiches, as a seasoning before you grill steaks, basically anywhere you want salt, only better.

This is what I use when I make garlic bread of any sort.  It has parsley in it and I'm not sure if I ever taste it, but it sure makes it look pretty (I think I'm all about the looks).  My guilty pleasure is pasta topped with butter, hot sauce and this.  Don't you judge me.

Finally the last of my self-indulgent favorite things.  Lea and Perrins.  I put this stuff in everything.  Meatloaf, sloppy joe's, meatballs, pot roast, hamburgers, it goes in just about anything I make with beef.  It somehow makes it taste beefier.  I also put a ton of it in my Crispix mix (no, NOT Chex mix, gross).  My kids fight over the dark Crispix that have soaked all the Worcestershire sauce up... not each other, me.

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