Archive for the ‘Vegetarian Cooking’ Category

Coffee grinder…spice grinder!

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

coffee grinder

There are few tools and appliances that are worthy of sitting on my counter full-time.  My food processor is one of them and my coffee grinder is the other.  But I don’t use the grinder for coffee.  Of course you can use the grinder for coffee but mine is specifically designated for grinding whole spices.

I don’t think I would ever have the patience to use a mortar and pestle.  The one time I tried, it nearly killed me.  Way too much effort, it doesn’t work all that well and what a mess!  A $20 grinder is a much better solution.

Quite often a recipe will call for toasted whole seeds which should be cooled then ground.  That’s where the grinder comes in.  Just place the amount you need in the grinder, recap the lid and whirl till it gets to the fineness you want.  And that’s the other thing.  You can control the coarseness or fineness of the spice.  So many times I want cracked black pepper so I just pulse it one or two times and there it is.  I do use my peppermill for small amounts of black pepper but anything over ½ teaspoon needs to come from the grinder.

I have used the grinder for whole peppercorns, cumin seeds, coriander, fennel (my favorite), anise and even cinnamon sticks.  I’m sure it could tackle others as well. Many East Indian dishes recommend toasting those spices first, and then grinding.  That is all possible in the coffee grinder (after they have cooled). 

In my experience the coffee grinder grinds most evenly if it’s not overloaded (up to ¼ cup).   Wipe it clean with a dry paper towel between changes and it that’s too much work just turn it upside down and gently tap it on the counter (that’s what I do).

If you enjoy barbequing I think it would be fun to create a signature spice blend for your meats using toasted seeds and passing them through the grinder.  That seasoning mixed with a little oil and fresh garlic would be an awesome rub for grilled items.

A lettuce Spinner – hard to live without one

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

There is a difference between kitchen gadgets and kitchen tools.  Gadgets are typically used only once and they often end up being too hard to use, clean or store; not worth the trouble.  A kitchen tool, on the other hand, is something that is used frequently, saves time and helps produce a better end result.  That’s why I put lettuce spinners in the tool category.

If you like to create your own greens for a salad, a spinner is truly indispensable.  The spinner is designed to work with leaf lettuces and other leafy greens.  It was not intended for use with iceberg lettuce.  The leaf lettuces are cut off at the bottom, rinsed thoroughly and then individual leaves are set inside the spinner.

The cord is pulled and causes the inner basket to spin dispelling any water that would otherwise accumulate on the leaves.

The water is poured out of the spinner and the spinning is repeated one or two more times depending on how many leaves you have in the spinning tub.

So why is this important?  If wet leaves are used to create a salad, it’s hard to get a dressing to take hold of the pieces because the water wants to run off the leaves and pool to the bottom of the plate creating a watery mess of the dressing.  If the leaves are spun dry, then the dressing sticks to the pieces and flavors the greens as it is designed to do.

I’m also a fan of the spinner because it acts as a the storage container for the lettuce.  So after coming home from the store I immediately cut off the bottom of the greens, give the leaves a good rinse and toss them in the spinner and spin.  As they sit in the spinner they crispen and will keep for several days, even a week or two if they are super fresh heads to begin with.  You can store other greens simultaneously as well.  When you are in the mood for a salad, the leaves are crisp and ready to use.  Now that’s a cool tool.

Indoor Smoker

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

I have an indoor smoker.  Everytime I use, which isn’t terribly often, I ask myself why I don’t use it more frequently.  It really is a great innovation and simplifies and streamlines the whole outdoor smoking process. Here’s how it works.

Chips can be purchsed with the smoker and come in two sizes, some very fine and some a little larger.  Fruitwoods are especially nice. 

They are placed in the bottom of the smoking pan and your heat is turned on to high. 

While they are warming set the item you intend to smoke on the rack.  You can smoke meats and vegetables, not cheese with this method.

Once the chips begin to smoke, set the rack in the pan, on top of the chips and close the lid. 

In a few minutes more chips will ignite and a little stream of smoke will emerge from a corner.  Reduce the heat to medium and turn on the kitchen fan to minimize the smell.

You are free to check the doneness of what you are cooking simply by sliding the lid open and looking and poking inside.  When the food is done, remove from the smoker and serve. 

In this case I shredded the chicken to use as part of a smoked chicken salad.  Once the pan has cooled down, throw out any leftover chips and wash the smoker.  It’s fun to experiment with.  Most cooks could find many uses for this tool and they are easily found on line.

Fun and carefree alternative to the classic cmelet

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

A few years back my brother in law, who is quite the outdoorsman, shared a most creative and ingenious technique.  It’s a clever way to make an omelet in the great outdoors.  Since then I have seen others use this same method.  If you’ve eaten eggs from a camp stove they are generally way over cooked and reach your plate ice cold.  This technique will produce a perfectly shaped omelet served piping hot.  Here’s how the camp version is made but the procedure can be prepared just as easily on your home stove.

Start by filling a large saucepan with water and set it over the camp stove bringing the water to a vigorous boil. 

While the water is heating up, scramble two or three eggs in a bowl (however many you would use for one portion) just as you would at home.  Feel free to include cheese, onions, peppers, cooked sausage or any number of ingredients. 

If you choose to use onions, peppers and other vegetables, it’s always a good idea to saute them first for maximum flavor.

Then pour the eggs and those fillings into a ziploc bag or any resealable bag and squeeze out all the air you can. 

Drop the bag into the boiling water and let it cook for a few minutes. 

Every once in a while, nudge the baggie with a spoon to mix up the contents inside the bag.  That way the eggs cook evenly.  The cooking time will depend on how many bags you’re doing at one time and how many eggs you’ve used for one portion but it generally takes about three minutes.

What’s really neat is that the eggs take on the shape of the bottom of the bag, which ends up looking like a French rolled omelet.  When the eggs are done take them out of the water and leave them inside the bag until you are ready to serve them.  That’s what keeps them nice and hot.

So as I mentioned earlier…why save this technique only for camping trips?  Make them at home.  It’s a clever way of making a delicious, trouble-free omelet and I think kids would really get a kick out of selecting their own filling ingredients and then participate in the cooking procedure.  And here’s another thought…if breakfasts are a little hectic for your family assemble the bags the night before, set out your pot of water and the next morning all you have to do is bring the water to a boil and drop in your bags.  Cool!

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