Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tips for your kitchen - Trash Bowl

One of the best tools I have found for my kitchen is a big, cheap, plastic bowl. I set it next to my cutting board, and use it like a trash can on the counter, instead of going back and forth to the big trash can when I am chopping. This 'Trash Bowl' allows me to make only one trip to the trash can instead of 50 and it saves me a ton of time and energy.

I have to admit I got this idea from Rachael Ray along with some others. Stay tuned for some more tips for your kitchen. Try it out and let me know if it works for you!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Perfect Pantry - A must have for a kitchen

Every kitchen should be well stocked with basic ingredients so you don't have to keep running to the store to get things like salt and pepper or chicken stock. I have listed items that I feel are important to have on hand in your kitchen/pantry. These will get you through most recipes and most of them will last a while in the pantry or in the refrigerator. There are probably a few more items that I keep on hand that aren't listed, but they are not necessary essentials. 

My dream pantry

These first few items are the essential six staples to always have on hand

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vegetable Oil
All-Purpose Flour
White Granulated Sugar

Canned Goods 
Low sodium chicken and beef broths are best to keep around because they let you control the seasoning as needed. I try to buy low sodium beans, too. Make sure to have the non seasoned tomato sauces (not Italian or Mexican style) because seasoning from the spice rack can be added unless the recipe calls for the seasoned tomatoes specifically.

Chicken Broth
Beef Broth
Canned tomatoes
Tomato sauce
Tomato paste
Can/jar of marinara sauce
Canned beans: white, black, kidney 

Starches and Dry Goods 
From the list below make sure you stock up on the items you like. I personally cook with penne or short pasta more than spaghetti because it's easier for me to eat without getting it all over myself.

Corkscrew pasta
Penne or other short pasta
Egg noodles
Long-grain white rice
Jasmine or basmati rice
Split peas
Dried bread crumbs
Orzo (short rice-looking pasta) 

Root vegetables 
I have always heard that onions and potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area—not in plastic bags or in the refrigerator, so that is how I store mine. I do however keep green onions on hand and they keep best in the fridge in my opinion.

Potatoes (russet, red, or yams (sweet potatoes))
Onions (red or white and green (scallions))
Garlic (Fresh)
Non Root vegetables but can be stored on the counter

Vinegars (balsamic, cider, white, sherry, and wine vinegars)
Soy sauce (low sodium)
Worcestershire sauce
Hot sauce (like Franks® or Tabasco®-red or green)

The Spice Rack 
Most of the following spices you can find dried on a spice rack that can be purchased at any home goods store. Prices range from $10-$50, but it's worth getting them all together rather than paying $3-$4 for individual bottles. When I run out, I buy them in bulk at the warehouse store and fill up the bottles in the spice rack.

Dried basil
Bay leaves
Cayenne or
Crushed red pepper flakes
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Dried parsley
Dried rosemary

Fridge essentials (Also known as the 'Man's Fridge' or 'College Fridge')
These items are must-haves in the fridge because they are used in many recipes and dishes.

Butter or margarine
Mustard (Dijon preferably)
Mayonnaise (reduced fat)
Parmesan cheese (good quality wedge of fresh if possible or the graded kind in the canister will work in a pinch)
Other cheese (shredded cheddar, mozzarella, or a shredded mix) 

Freezer essentials 
Having a well-stocked freezer will really help you on the nights you need something fast but don't want to go out to a fast food joint. 

Frozen corn
Frozen spinach
Frozen peas
Ground beef
Chicken breast
Frozen cheese tortellini

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The one with French Toast

On the weekends growing up, either at our house or a friend’s house, we had French toast. I remember the mixture of cinnamon, egg, milk and bread cooking in the buttered pan.  The aroma was unmistakable. I decided to start my first blog with this nostalgic toast recipe. I have not made French toast in a LONG time. I do remember the tendency I had to burn French toast (and most other types of toast) growing up, but I think I finally have the right touch.

French toast, at its most primitive, is egg soaked day old bread fried up in a pan with butter.  There are many variations that I have used before. One key ingredient is the day old bread because it is just dry enough to soak up the egg mixture. You can use anything from white, to wheat, to sourdough.  In this batch I got some soft fresh French bread from the bakery and had them cut it for me to 1 inch width. I set it out on a baking sheet a few hours before I needed to use it. It would be best left out over night and used the next morning, but I don’t always think that far in advance. If you have fresh bread it is fine to use but I would suggest not soaking it as long and being very careful because it will fall apart more easily.

Another basic recipe of French toast is just adding cinnamon and milk to the egg mixture to create fluffy cinnamon custard for the bread. I decided to try a new recipe below that called for lemon zest as well. Yes, lemon zest! I was a little skeptical, but I had a lot of bread, eggs, and milk to work with so I figured I would give it a try. Let me tell you. It was DELICIOUS! 

“Perfect French Toast”

As adapted from Marthastewart.com and Alton Browns French toast from foodnetwork.com
Serves 6

6 large eggs
1 ½ cups of milk or half and half
¼ cup orange juice (or the same amount from a fresh orange)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (or ground nutmeg from the pantry)
Pinch of salt
6 slices bread, such as brioche or French bread, sliced 1-inch thick, preferably day-old
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Syrup or powdered sugar for serving

Whisk together eggs, milk, juice, vanilla, sugar, zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Place bread in a shallow baking dish large enough to hold bread slices in a single layer. Pour egg mixture over bread; soak 10 minutes. Turn slices over; soak 10 minutes more or until soaked through.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet, and set aside. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a skillet heated to Medium or Medium low.  Fry two slices of bread at a time until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to wire rack on the baking sheet. Wipe skillet, and repeat with remaining butter and bread. When all of the browned bread is on the baking wire rack, set the wire rack in the oven to continue cooking the French toast for about 5 minutes. Serve warm with powdered sugar and/or syrup.

Bread soaking in the pan

First/Second side in the frying pan

   Now in the oven. Look how it puffs up!

Finished and now its time to eat

Oh, and I made some bacon to go with it, but it didn't make it to the plate


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

From Toast to Tiramisu

Welcome to my cooking blog! I love to cook and bring food and recipes to my friends and family. Even though I started by only being able to make toast when I was growing up, I have worked my way through recipes, books, and a lot of food network watching to enhance my skills in the kitchen.

I hope to bring simple, beautiful, and delicious food to you through this blog. Enjoy!