Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Food Resolution: Is it humanly possible?

So, we're a couple of months into a new year.  How are those resolutions going?  I know, I shouldn't ask...this is one giant can of worms.  So often we make resolutions revolving around food - typically eating less of it.  And then we wonder why the resolutions fail and we fall off the wagon.  That's why, for the last several years, I haven't made any New Year's resolutions at all - relating to food or anything else.

Until this year, that is.  You see, I've decided to try my hand at a resolution about food that doesn't require eating less of it.  I'm going to try making more of it from scratch.  Little pantry things, like butter, potato chips, crackers, bread, etc.  I figure, I will learn what's worthwhile to make from scratch and what's easier to just buy from the grocery store. 

There are a few reasons why I'm thinking this will be a good exercise for me.  First of all, it keeps me interested.  Trying to make something I've never done before is an exciting adventure in and of itself.  Then, there's the saving money aspect.  Depending on how easy it is, making a lot of things at home ends up being cheaper than buying them in the store.  Finally, I'll be able to put to rest some of the thoughts I have about "is it better for me to just buy it."  I guarantee that some things will be so much of a headache to make myself that I'll never again question buying it pre-made at the store.  But I'll never know until I try.

I suppose that this resolution will be the backbone of my blog for the foreseeable future, and I hope that you'll enjoy seeing how well (or not!) I can actually stick to my food resolution for once!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Decisions, decisions: Leaving behind my kitchen

For someone who very lovingly and painstakingly composes a kitchen in which the culinary muses are not thwarted in their inspiration, leaving behind that kitchen is an exercise in extreme self-control.  This post is about my preparation to leave behind my kitchen for a few months, and how I decided what to bring with me.

Step 1)  Denial:  Nope.  I'm not leaving my kitchen.  Asking me to choose which pan to bring is like asking me which sibling is my favorite.  Not gonna happen.  I will bring everything with me if it kills me.

Step 2)  Sadness:  I have to leave things, there's just not enough room in my car.  I just...I need to hug my KitchenAid mixer one more time.  Just, you know....because I won't see it for awhile.  And no, those aren't tears...the sunlight glinting off of my stockpot is just making my eyes water.

Step 3)  Resentment/Indignation:  Why do I have to choose?  They should be giving me cookware where I'm going!  I shouldn't have to stand for this, deciding between all of my cooking things which gets to come with me and which has to stay here, lonely!  I'm not going to bring anything, and then I'll just starve! <angry toddler-esque pout>

Step 4)  Rationality:  Ok, so this is just how the world works, and no, you cannot starve yourself.  Just go through each piece methodically, one-by-one.  Determine it's usefulness and make sure everything is multifunctional to the extreme.  Pack everything in that big plastic tub you have set aside for kitchen and dining stuff, and move on.  You have other stuff to worry about, too, you know.

This is what my rational brain decided to bring:
1)  Enameled cast-iron Dutch Oven:  Useful for boiling pasta, making soups, baking casseroles in the oven, boiling eggs, making corned beef, making pasta sauce....essentially, anything liquid will work beautifully here.

2)  4 pieces from my cookware set with their lids.  All of my cookware is oven-safe to 500 degrees F, so anything involving the oven can be done in these!
  • Piece 1: 4-quart saute pan;  Nice high sides, could be useful for dishes with some liquids (like jambalaya) or even for baking a round cake, cornbread, brownies, etc. (due to the flat sides)
  • Piece 2: 8-inch skillet;  Perfect for eggs in the morning
  • Piece 3: 12-inch skillet;  I already said that this was the one piece I used most from my cookware set...It wouldn't make much sense if I left it behind, would it?
  • Piece 4: 3-quart saucepan; Just in case the dutch oven is already in use.  Bonus: It's perfect for packing in a couple of glasses so that they don't accidentally get crushed! (The same goes fro the dutch oven, too!)
3)  Gadget Drawer:  It's just a drawer of things, and these bits and bobs can fit into the nooks and crannies in between pots and pans.  This also includes spatulas, and cooking utensils.

4)  Immersion Blender:  Makes it easy to make soups, smoothies, guacamole, get the idea.  But it's much easier to bring along than any other type of blender or food processor.

5)  Cutlery:  Chef's knife, paring knife, serrated paring knife, utility knife, 2 steak knives.  All you need for everything from slicing bread to dicing tomatoes.

6)  Mini glass cutting board:  Actually, I didn't bring this with me.  My wooden cutting boards are too big and bulky to bring.  I found a 6" diameter cutting board at the dollar store when I arrived at my destination!  Another alternative option would be the cutting "mats" that are about the thickness of a couple of sheets of paper.

Any other baking dishes are really unnecessary.  Why?  Because all you have to do is get a disposable baking dish/roasting pan/etc. from the dollar store or grocery store.  If you're careful, you can wash and reuse.  Then, when you're done, just recycle it, and there's no need to bring it home!

So far, my planning strategy doesn't seem to have left me high and dry, or wishing I hadn't brought something with me.  Hopefully, it can carry me through until I make it back to my own kitchen!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Egg Salad: Simple and Scalable!

One of the great things about hard-boiled eggs is that they are so versatile when it comes to using them in recipes.  Nothing gets simpler than just slicing up a hard-boiled egg and tossing it over a salad - but we can get pretty close!  The following is a simple recipe for egg salad that is given in measurements per egg.  That's right, people, it doesn't matter how many - or how few - eggs you want to use.  I did a lot of testing on this to get the proportions just right: You don't want too much or too little sauce.  This recipe allows you to scale it perfectly to the number of eggs you want, for just the amount of egg salad you want.  As always, feel free to substitute/add/adjust spices to suite your own tastes. 

Egg Salad: Simple and Scalable!

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: n/a
Yield: varies

-  peeled hard-boiled eggs - as many as you'd like!
-  2 tsp mayonnaise per egg
-  1 tsp yellow mustard per egg
-  1 tsp sweet relish per egg
-  ground black pepper

EASY NOTE ON CONVERSIONS: 3 tsp = 1 Tbsp, so if you scale the recipe up enough to have multiples of 3, you can just use a Tbsp!


1) Put the mayo, mustard, and relish into a bowl big enough to hold all of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.

2)  Sprinkle pepper to taste over the surface.  I like to add the pepper at this step - before adding the eggs - because the pepper mixes better.  It doesn't get stuck in clumps to the egg bits.  This goes for all of the ingredients, actually.

3)  Roughly cut pieces of the hard-boiled eggs into the bowl with the "sauce." Use any method you like.  I just happen to think that the roughly cut pieces are great for texture...and it's a lot easier and quicker to to!

4)  Mix thoroughly, but gently, so as not to squish the eggs.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs, Every Time!

 So many of my friends have horror stories about growing up eating less-than-perfect hard boiled eggs.  And after all, if the adults in your life couldn't make a hard boiled egg that didn't have a grey, crumbly yolk and a rubbery white, then why should you expect to be able to do any differently?  Well, you should.  And now (luckily for you), there's no more excuses as to why you can't have perfectly cooked hard boiled eggs every single time you make them.

This method comes from an old Betty Crocker cookbook tucked away in my mom's kitchen, and it hasn't failed us, yet.  I also have a few tricks that I use in conjunction with the Betty Crocker method, which I've added in.

Now, let's get crackin!  Sort of...

Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs

Prep Time: negligible
Cooking Time: 30+- minutes
Yield: Variable

-  Fresh Eggs (as many as you'd like)
-  Cold Water


1) Place your eggs gently in the bottom of a pot.  Make sure that the eggs lay in ONE LAYER on the bottom of the pot.  This is important for two reasons: 1) even temperature distribution and 2) less of a chance that the eggs will knock together while boiling and crack.

2)  Fill the pot with COLD water so that the level of water is about 1 inch above the top of the eggs.

3)  Place the pot on the stove and cover.  Turn the heat as high up as you can (medium-high for electric is usually about as high as you should go, but I'll often go to high, anyway) to bring the water to a boil as rapidly as possible.

4)  AS SOON AS THE WATER COMES TO A BOIL:  Turn the heat off, and remove the pot from the hot burner.  Why is this important?  If you leave the pot on the burner, the burner will continue to heat the water (it doesn't immediately get cool just because you've shut the power off), and the eggs will become overcooked.  This applies mainly to electric stoves, but gas stove supports can also become heated by the flames, so it's best to move the pot off whatever burner you were just using onto a cool one.

5)  Leaving the lid on the pot, let it just sit there for 22-24 minutes.

6)  While the pot of eggs is sitting off the burner, prepare a secondary bowl.  Fill the bowl with very cold water, and place it in your kitchen sink under the tap.  Make sure the tap water is also going to be nice and cold when it comes out of the tap.

7)  At the end of the 22-24 minutes, take a slotted spoon/wire scoop/etc. and transfer the eggs directly into the bowl of cold water.  Turn on the tap, and have the cold water running through the bowl while you're transferring the eggs.  Leave the tap running for a minute or two.

This last step is crucial to having perfectly cooked hard boiled eggs.

Why, do you ask?  For the same reasons that leaving the pot on the burner is a no-no: you will end up overcooking the eggs.  Remember, the eggshell is like a little insulator, trapping the heat so that the egg continues to cook long after you've stopped adding heat to it.  If you don't do something to remove that heat - and remove it quickly - you will end up overcooking the eggs.

Once the eggs have cooled for a few minutes under the cold water, it's time to peel!  Unless, of course, you are planning on dyeing the eggs or not using them immediately. 

Note: If you are not planning on using the eggs immediately, I recommend storing them with the shell on.  Keep in mind, though, that the eggs will not be as easy to peel and you run the risk of them overcooking.  If you are going to store the eggs, leave them in the cold water longer to make sure the heat is fully drawn out.  Peeling immediately removes the insulator, so it's not as much of a problem!

Peeling the Eggs - My way.

Is it reeeeally necessary for me to do a primer on peeling hard-boiled eggs?  Probably not, but I will do it anyway.  It's especially important to peel an egg properly when you're going to make a dish like deviled eggs that requires a nice, whole egg white.

1) Lay out a piece of paper towel to make cleanup easier, and gently knock the egg on the paper towel all the way around, creating cracks throughout the surface of the eggshell.

2) Find the air bubble.  Every egg has one.  There is air trapped inside the egg, and when the egg is floating in the water as it boils, the air bubble will rise above the yolk and white because it isn't as dense.  The yolk and white then solidify, trapping the air bubble permanently in one spot right on the edge of the egg.

3) Once you've found the air bubble, take off the shell above the air bubble.

4) Continue removing the shell, separating the membrane from the egg white.  This membrane is clear, and rests between the egg white and the shell.  The shell sticks to the membrane, so peeling off the membrane is the easiest way to also remove the shell.

5) If there are miniscule shell pieces still stuck to the egg white, don't worry!  All you have to do is run the egg under a gentle stream of cold water, and the shell pieces will wash right off.  Then, dry with a paper towel.

6)  Voila!  You now have a perfectly cooked, perfectly peeled, ready to eat, beautiful hard boiled egg!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Butter and Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

I love cooking with friends and making people happy through food.  What better way to start off the year, then, with a podcast where I teach everybody how to make homemade butter and Southern buttermilk biscuits!

Thanks to my friends at Thor's Hour of Thunder, you can cook along with Thor, Baldr, Loki, and me as I try to bring a little bit of Southern charm to the Valhalla kitchen.

The recipes are included in the description of the podcast. 

Just a couple of suggestions before you start.

1) If you are going to try to cook along, try to prep as many of the ingredients before listening as possible.  If you are thinking really hard about measuring, you might miss some of the important tips and explanations given as to why you're doing what you're doing!

2) For making butter:  Room temperature cream will make butter in 10 minutes.  Cold cream straight from the fridge will take 20 min or more.  For the sake of your arms, I'd suggest letting the cream come to room temperature first.

You can also find the podcast and information through fellow blog site Strictly Commercials.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe that another year has passed, and we're already going strong in a new one!  (Yes, I'm a little late with this post).  Part of this disbelief has to do with the weather (It should not have been 60 degrees through New Year's Eve), the fact that Christmas and New Year's both fell on weekends (reducing vacation time), and general exhaustion that goes hand-in-hand with holiday festivities.

So far, it looks like this year is going to start out strong with some great blog posts!  There will be some things that I did for the first time and turned out fantastic, some more hints for what NOT to do in a kitchen, and maybe even a guest cooking slot on a podcast of a good friend!

Thank you all for your support thus far, and I wish you all the best in the kitchen for 2012!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Frozen Ground Meat - How to Thaw in a Pinch

Ok, so you've just arrived home from work.  You want to make a dinner that involves ground beef (or some other kind of ground meat).  You reach for the freezer and suddenly, it hits you.  I'm reaching for the freezer...the ground beef is frozen solid...

What do you do now?

Well, the following is a tip for when you need to thaw your ground beef (or other ground meat) in a short period of time - shorter than running it under cold water for a couple of hours.  Is it the best way to thaw out frozen meat?  Nope.  The best way is to transfer the frozen meat into the fridge and let it take the time to thaw out - usually making the transfer the night before at a minimum.  This tip is only if you have forgotten to plan ahead.

Step 1:  Take out a frying pan and place it on the stove.  If the dish you're making involves cooking on the stove, then try to do this in the same pan you plan on using for the meal.  This will cut down on your dishes after cooking.

Step 2:  Put the frozen ground meat into the pan, and get a spatula and fork/tongs/etc. ready.

Step 3:  Turn the burner on the lowest possible setting.  This will heat the pan enough to thaw the frozen outer layers of the meat, but not enough that the meat will start to cook. 

Step 4:  Let the block of meat sit in the pan for about a half a minute, then flip it over.  The top layer should be nice and soft.  Hold the meat firmly with a fork or tongs as you use the spatula to scrape off the top layer of thawed meat.  Then, flip it over and repeat on the other side.  Continue flipping the meat over and scraping off the thawed areas.

Step 5:  Eventually, the block of meat will become too thin for this method to keep working, so just use the spatula to break it up into smaller pieces.

Step 6:  Continue with cooking your meal.

Remember, the key here is to keep the pan at the lowest heat setting possible.  Any higher, and you'll be cooking the meat while you're trying to thaw it - which makes timing cooking a little more difficult.  It also makes it harder to make things like burger patties if the meat is already partially cooked.

I hope that this tip helps.  I've had to resort to this method of thawing meat several times myself.  Like I mentioned, it's best to plan ahead and thaw your ingredients slowly.  If you don't though, here's a way that you can still cook the meal you want, even though your ingredients aren't necessarily ready.

Good luck!