Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tips & Tricks: A Bitch in the Kitchen Extra

After my last post, one of my friends (waves to the nice park ranger in Virginia) said he liked the tip about dipping the glass in sugar before flattening the cookies.  That got me thinking.  There are a bunch of nifty little kitchen tips and tricks that, when put all together, would not only make a fabulous blog post, but also simplify life in the kitchen.  So here we are.  Let’s see…
·         A melon baller is a great tool for coring apples and pears.
·         Plastic wrap is waaaaay easier to handle if you store it in the refrigerator.
·         You know how a lot of cake recipes call for you to grease & flour the pan?  That can be a bit of a pain in the butt, no doubt, not to mention messy.  But…if you mix 2 parts shortening with 1 part flour, you can lightly brush the mixture onto your pans with a pastry brush.  Store the mixture at room temperature in a resealable plastic container and you’ll have it when you need it.
·         The holidays are coming and that means refrigerator space will be at a premium.  If you’re planning on having a party, you may already be wondering – perhaps even dreading the thought of - where the hell to put all those cans & bottles of soda & beer.  Fill the basket of your washing machine with ice cubes and nestle the cans and bottles in there.  When your party is over and the ice has melted, drain the water by running the spin cycle.
·         If your bread recipe makes 2 loaves but you only have one loaf pan, put it in the center of a 9” X 13” baking dish and put your shaped loaves on either side of it to bake.  And if your recipe makes 3 loaves, just put the third in the loaf pan.
·         Brown sugar that has hardened is not only impossible to mix into a batter but measuring it properly can’t be done either.  If you want to bring it back to its original texture, put about a cup of it in a glass bowl, cover it with a small piece of wax paper and put a slice of bread on top of that.  Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and nuke it for about 30 seconds or so.
·         You know that nice, silky look the frosting has on a professionally decorated cake?  If you blow-dry your cake after frosting it, it will melt just enough to get that smooth appearance.
·         When the need arises for transporting a frosted cake (without a cake carrier) most people will just stick toothpicks into the cake and put the plastic wrap on top of that.  And that’s great…except for when the points of the toothpicks poke through the plastic wrap and then the plastic wrap slides down and sticks to the frosting.  All of that mess can be avoided if you put a mini marshmallow on point of each toothpick.
·         Fresh mozzarella is too soft to slice neatly with a knife.  Your egg slicer will do the job faster & neater.  (Slice mushrooms & strawberries this way too!)
·         When decorating cookies, use a muffin tin to keep the decorations separate and organized.
·         Put your bowl and the whisk in the freezer for an hour or so before you’re ready to whip cream.  It whips up quickly and beautifully.
·         Speaking of whipped cream – soft peaks will bow over to the side when you lift the whisk or beaters.  Stiff peaks will cling to the beaters and hold their shape.  (The same applies to meringue.)
·         A damp sheet of paper towel under your cutting board will keep the cutting board in place.
·         The cap of your vanilla extract bottle is about a teaspoon.
·         Keep a bay leaf in your flour canister and you won’t need to worry about those icky meal worms.
·         If you put all the ingredients in your food processor bowl and put a sheet of plastic wrap on the work bowl before putting the lid on, you won’t need to wash the lid.
·         If you don’t have a gauge to tell you how much propane is left in the tank for your grill, pour a cup or so of boiling water down the side of the tank, then feel the metal.  The water will warm the empty part of the tank, leaving the part with propane cool to the touch.
·         Use thin pretzel sticks instead of toothpicks to skewer hors d’oeuvres for a party.  Tasty & environmentally friendly!
·         Travelling and need to bring your chef’s knife?  Slip it into a roll of paper towels.  The cardboard tube is wide enough to hold an 8” or 10” knife.
·         Want lasagna but don’t need enough for a small army?  Make single servings in mini-loaf pans.  Wrap, freeze & bake as needed. 
·         Alcohol hinders the formation of gluten, so next time you make a pie crust, instead of using ice water, add a couple of tablespoons of ice cold vodka (or rum or gin…).  Tender, flaky crust, every time!
·         Considering the price of vanilla beans, don’t throw the pods away after you scrape the seeds out.  Put the pod(s) in a container with a cup or 2 of sugar and let it sit for a couple of weeks.  The end result is your very own vanilla sugar that will enhance the flavor of anything you decide to bake with it!

Episode 12: The Semi-Homemade Bitch

Usually, I’m not keen on going the semi-homemade route.  I mean, if I’m gonna make it, I should make it, right?  But every now and then, even I don’t feel much like cooking.  I had a brownie mix in the house but since I now have a brownie recipe that I think will keep me from ever making a brownie out of a box again, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.  I’ve been on a bit of a cookie kick lately, so as queen of my kitchen, I decided cookies was the way to go.  And I’ve gotta say, it was a very good decision though I’m thinking next time, I may add some white chocolate chips…
Yummy Fudge Brownie Cookies
·         1 box fudge brownie mix
·         1/3 cup oil
·         1 egg
·         2 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Crème (water, Kahlua, Grand Marnier or a number of other liquids would do nicely)
Preheat oven to 375°.  Line a cookie sheet (or 2) with parchment paper.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  It will seem a little dry, don’t be alarmed by that.  Roll dough into balls about 1 ½” in diameter and place 2” apart on cookie sheets.  Using the bottom of a drinking glass, flatten balls until about ¼” thick.  (Dipping the glass in sugar before flattening each cookie will prevent the dough from sticking.)  Bake for 7 minutes.  Let cool on cookie sheet for a couple of minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.  Makes about 24 cookies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Episode 11: Slimmed-Down Carrot Cake

Let's get something straight right off the bat…this has not become, nor shall it ever be, a diet blog. However, if I find a really good recipe that takes some of the guilt out of dessert, I feel it's my responsibility to share it. This, my friends, is one of those times. The only reason I actually tried the recipe in the first place is because I found it in an issue of Cook's Country. (I've told you - I swear by Cook's Illustrated & Cook's Country! I haven't gotten a bad recipe from them yet!) Obviously, to trim down the cake, some concessions had to be made – the nuts and raisins, for instance. And by replacing the butter in the frosting with marshmallow creme, you wind up with a thick, rich frosting, without adding extra fat. Their frosting recipe called for vanilla, but since I know from experience (from my glazed carrots recipe) that Southern Comfort goes quite nicely with carrots, I decided to use that instead of vanilla. So, here we go…a healthier version of carrot cake (about half the calories and one-third of the fat of a traditional one!!!) that still tastes just as naughty….




Cook's Country Slimmed-Down Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting


  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (4-ounce) jar carrot baby food (yes, I said baby food. Make sure it's just carrots & water for ingredients)
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled & shredded (use the large holes of a box grater or food processor)


  • 8 ounces Neufchâtel cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup marshmallow creme (Fluff or Kraft Jet-Puffed)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract (or Southern Comfort!!)
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350° and adjust rack to the middle position. Lightly grease a 13" X 9" baking pan with cooking spray and line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves & salt together in a large bowl. With electric mixer on medium speed, beat eggs, baby food & sugar until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. With mixer still running, slowly add oil. Mix until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients in 2 additions, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Mix until batter is nearly smooth. Fold in carrots.

Spread batter in prepared pan and bake until toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 24-28 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through cooking time. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and remove parchment paper. Re-invert cake and cool on rack right-side up until completely cool, about 2 hours.

With mixer on medium-high, beat together cream cheese, marshmallow creme and vanilla. Sift powdered sugar over the mixture and beat on low about 1 minute, until mixture is smooth. Frost cake when it's completely cool.

Serves 15

Just so you can see the numbers for yourself…

Traditional Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (per serving) Calories 530; Fat 33g; Saturated Fat 8 g

Cook's Country Slimmed-Down Version (per serving) Calories 280; Fat 11g; Saturated Fat 3 g



Saturday, October 22, 2011

Episode 10: The Bitch is Back

My apologies for the extra-long hiatus. I'll blame baseball season and just leave it at that. Besides, I don't usually go out of control with cooking in the summer. I'm not fond of the heat and quite frankly, I don't want to be chained to my stove when it's that hot out. (I suspect this would be quite different if my kitchen was air-conditioned …) Anyway, with that in mind, I decided we'd start Season 2 with an ice cream recipe I discovered this summer in a complimentary issue of Cook's Country. And it's not just any ice cream recipe…it's a 10 minute ice cream recipe!! Seriously!!! Ten minutes worth of work and the end result is a rich, creamy, velvety ice cream!

Now, I *do* have an ice cream maker. A lot of people do, I suppose. And sure, it's fun to use sometimes (made egg nog ice cream for Christmas a number of years ago…that was beyond yummy!) But there are problems with using ice cream makers, at least in my book. First of all, they use rock salt and the season when rock salt is around the house & the season when I want ice cream are several calendar pages apart. Secondly, most of ice cream recipes I've seen contain raw eggs or a cooked egg custard that you need to strain and cool then chill before using. (Side note: I've since learned that if you use pasteurized eggs in a recipe, it's ok to not cook them.) And the insert takes up waaaaay too much room in my freezer. None of this really matters, I suppose. I mean, it's delicious and takes 10 minutes of your time (not counting freeze time, of course.) That's excuse enough to try it, as far as I'm concerned

I did it their way the first time, then did my own thing after that. I'll give you both versions and you can decide which you want to do. Mine is pretty much theirs doubled, except I just use 1 full can of sweetened condensed milk. It's a little less than 1 cup but seriously, what am I supposed to do with just under ½ can of the stuff?? I also tried it with milk chocolate chips instead of chopped bittersweet chocolate…and one time with white chocolate chips (leave out the coffee/water for the white chocolate). I think any kind of chip would work fine…I want to try butterscotch and peanut butter eventually…just adjust the flavorings to go with whatever you decide to use. Just remember that you need that little bit of salt to balance all the sweet that's going on. And since coffee brings out the flavor of chocolate, make sure you use the coffee mixture regardless of whether you're using dark or milk chocolate. Vanilla is always good, but mint extract (and maybe some broken up candy canes!!), or some Grand Marnier or other liqueur would work really well too, I'm sure.



Magic Ice Cream – their way

  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot water
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 ¼ cups heavy cream

Combine coffee (or espresso) powder in a small bowl. Let stand until coffee dissolves, about 5 minutes. Microwave sweetened condensed milk, chocolate & coffee mixture in a large bowl, stirring every 10-15 seconds, until chocolate is melted, about 1 minute. Stir in vanilla and salt. Let cool.

With electric mixer, on medium speed, whip cream to soft peaks (that's when the peaks hold their shape but the tips bow over when you lift the beaters.) Whisk one-third of whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, to loosen it up a little. Gently fold in remaining whipped cream, in 2 or 3 batches, until incorporated. Make sure you do it gently, so you don't lose all the air you've whipped into the cream. Freeze in an air tight container until firm, at least 6 hours.

Keeps up to 2 weeks. Makes 1 quart.

Make sure you holla back if you try it! Let me know what you think!