Archive | Notes from Kim RSS feed for this section

Must-Have Gadget: Fish Spatula

17 May

Before you start whining about fish and how you don’t like fish and don’t eat fish and don’t want to deal with fish and your kitchen and smells and picky children…this has nothing to do with fish.

(Can you tell what kind of morning we had?)

I made cookies last night (and again this morning, thanks to my evil, evil dog figuring out after two years that she can actually reach the goodies on my countertop. Anybody want a dog who may or may not have gastro issues later? Cheap?) and realized that I’d never talked to you all about my fish spatula. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is about the best $12 you can spend in the gadget aisle at your local Target.

Fish spatulas were designed for seafood. They’re long and slim and wafer-thin, and were made that way to support flaky fillets between your pan and plate. But that same skinny, slender design makes them among the best multi-taskers in your kitchen. They slide right under all sorts of fragile things. Cookies, pancakes (oh my gosh, they revolutionize pancakes), omelets, poached eggs, tortillas…you name it. And because they’re much longer than normal spatulas, they’re super easy to handle without worrying about your sensitive fingertips, particularly when you’re working with a grill or griddle.

Most of these have metal business ends. Mine is plastic, and it works just fine. It’s a KitchenAid only because that’s what was on sale–you absolutely do not need any kind of fancy-schmancy brand. I bought it about six months ago and can’t believe I survived so long in my kitchen without one. They’re very reasonably priced on Amazon or in the gadget aisle of whatever store is near to you, and I highly recommend picking one up and putting it to use, even if fish doesn’t enter your house.

That’s my gadget o’ the day. So tell me: What’s your favorite?

Toasted Oats

21 Feb

Just so you know, this isn’t much of a recipe. It’s more of a technique or an idea. But it’s well worth learning because it is so simple and you’ll find a lot of uses for it.

As part of my eating-healthier challenge, I’m trying really hard to like yogurt. It’s loaded with calcium and all kinds of good stuff, and the Greek variety has a ton of protein, which helps keep me full until lunch. It’s cold and creamy and comes in a ton of flavors, and in theory, I should like it.

Sadly, it’s a struggle. Plain yogurt does nothing for me except make me grimace. I’ve tried all the flavors and all the brands and all the varieties, and I just can’t do it. I’ve found, though, that stirring in other things helps a lot–fruit, granola, nuts. Unfortunately, my favorite is granola and that can be really calorie-dense and full of sugar despite the beautiful T.V. commercials with fit people crunching away on mountaintops.

I really like cold Swiss style oats in the morning (which is a mixture of yogurt and uncooked oats), but I’m not always good at thinking ahead far enough to mix it together so the oats soak up some of the yogurt and get soft. And if I don’t give it enough time, the oats are chewy. I don’t enjoy chewy raw oats.

This morning, I drank my coffee and smacked myself in the forehead. Because toasting the oats takes all of 10 minutes and makes them deliciously nutty tasting and wonderfully crunchy, which is the perfectly perfect thing to stir into Greek yogurt. Why didn’t I think of that sooner?

This is so super easy: You preheat your oven to 400 degrees and spray a pan with a tiny bit of olive oil. I used a 7 x 12 pan, but you can really use anything you have. Pour plain oats (rolled, not quick) into that pan and shake them out into a layer or two–you want as many individual oats touching the bottom of the pan as possible. Pop that into your preheated oven and let those oats toast in there for 10-15 minutes, giving the pan a good stir every five minutes so the oats trade places on the bottom and none of them burn.

See the difference between raw and toasted oats? The raw ones to the left are chewy. The toasted ones at the right are a gorgeous golden brown (channeling Anne Burrell–brown food tastes good!). No sugar. No preservatives. No fat. No billions of calories. Just toasty, crunchy goodness that’s perfect on vanilla yogurt with some blueberries, or whatever yumminess you like–these would also be delicious on pudding or frozen yogurt or anything else that needs a little crunch.

Toasted oats have rocked my world, y’all (or at least my breakfast table). I made up a mess of ’em and stored them in a container to use all week. So simple and easy, and such a nice thing to have around. Hope you’ll try it!

The Paula Deen Thing

19 Jan

In case you’ve been under a rock this week, Paula Deen the butter queen announced she has diabetes. And everybody seems to have an opinion on it.

Was it her diet? No way to say. If you believe her TV show, she lives on a steady diet of cream cheese, butter, heavy cream, and more butter. If you believe TV is TV and that “reality” shows aren’t really what they claim (staged? what? you serious, Clark?), you can’t make a judgement. Food Network aside, Paula Deen can have whatever diet she wants and not have to justify it to the rest of us. If you enjoy the cupcake diet, rock on. Answer to yourself and never mind other people’s opinions, because the consequences are yours.

Personally, I think a lot of us have a dangerous obsession with weight. We’re bombarded by size 0’s who, along with a generous dose of Photoshop, are held up as ideals. A new diet is released almost every day, each sounding more miraculous and wonderful than the last, with a trail of celebrities hanging on to proclaim their success on whatever the newest trend is. On the other extreme, we’re tempted, constantly tempted, by cheap junk food that–let’s face it–tastes good, fits our budget, and looks darned fun in all of the ads. Sadly, many people think that’s the only way they can afford to eat.

No doubt about it, our attitude and knowledge about food and our bodies is messed up. Many people understand the concept of moderation, eat less/move more, and having a healthy body image (that at least has a real digit as a size). But many of us don’t, and the misconceptions are perpetuated by what we see on television and in magazines.

So. Paula Deen. Paula Deen has the right to cook the way she wants and develop recipes the way she wants and feed her own body the way she wants. I don’t think she has any kind of obligation to change any of that because of her diagnosis. Our habits are not her responsibility, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in butter and cream and cheese every so often. Remember the saying about the women skipping dessert on the Titanic? Word, yo. Have a cookie and birthday cake and ice cream and bacon. Just don’t do it all the time. Moderation!

My issue with Miss Paula is the timing of her announcement, which oh-so-coincidentally came at the same time she allied herself with a pharma company that happens to produce diabetes drugs. If news reports are to be believed, she’s know about her diagnosis for several years now. One would think if she was trying to do good, as she claims, she’d have shared her Big News well before signing a contract to hawk medication.

Your disease, your diet, your business. Your right to do whatever you want with your television show. Our obligation to educate ourselves and be reasonable and make our own choices as adults, and not blame a TV chef for our own issues and our own choices.

Paula Deen is a hypocrite and an opportunist who claims to want to do good, but really is angling for a profit. And that is my only beef with her, celebrity or not.

Whipped Cream Redux

22 Nov

You might remember that last August (2010), DH sprayed “Happy Birthday” in our driveway with a can of whipped cream, and that a few weeks later, it hadn’t quite vanished. Which made our family rethink that stuff that comes in the cans.

That picture up there? I took that this morning. Fifteen months after the sweet message landed on our concrete. Fifteen months of rain (including a hurricane) and snow and basketball and cars and people and garbage cans, and a lot of stuff…a lot more than goes in inside your body.

See what I’m saying, y’all?

You can see my original post on how easy it is to make whipped cream, and now that you’ve seen a real-world science experiment with that canned stuff, I’d urge you to rethink the convenience route. To make it a little more special for Thanksgiving, drizzle a little maple syrup in there while you’re whipping–it’s fantabulous. If you need it to travel, add a few pinched of cream of tartar, which will help it stand up longer.

Happy Thanksgiving, gang!

Warm Pumpkin (or any) Breakfast Muffins

15 Nov

I promised my daughter pumpkin bread last night.

Of course, that was before piano lessons and basketball practice, and shuttling everyone through late-for-a-school-night showers and teeth brushing and reading time and bed, and it was definitely before all Hades broke loose with a client project in the late afternoon and dinner had to be made and then the kitchen had to be cleaned. It was also after a full day of work and home-running nuttiness.

All of this is a long way of saying: I made the promise and then I did everything else on my list and then I fell asleep on the couch.

Oops.

Thankfully, I avoided catastrophe (you do not want to break a promise to my daughter. Hell hath no fury, y’all). DH exercises with a neighbor on Tuesday mornings and wakes me up before he goes, which is quite early by normal-people standards. After I came-to and realized I’d forgotten her bread, I poured myself some coffee, mixed the ingredients together (in four minutes–I timed it), doled the bread batter into greased muffin tins, and headed up for my shower. Twenty-five minutes later, the kids were getting up to the scent of hot pumpkin muffins wafting up the stairs, which is not the worst way in the world to awaken.

The pumpkin bread/muffin recipe I love is here–I posted it last year, but it’s worth revisiting because it is so good and keeps so well and takes so few minutes to toss together, and it’s relatively healthy to boot. And the good thing is that you don’t have to completely space on a promise to your kid to also enjoy fresh-from-the-oven yumminess in the morning– I have a few tricks to make that happen even if your brain isn’t slowly leaking out your ears like mine apparently is.

First, find a quick bread recipe you love and can make easily. Pumpkin bread, banana bread, oatmeal bread, blueberry bread, lemon bread–whatever. Convert it to muffin size–a loaf equals a dozenish muffins, depending how large you want them to be.

The night before you want hot baked awesomeness for breakfast, get out two bowls–make one the bowl from your mixer. In the mixer bowl, stir together your dry ingredients–your flour, sugar, salt, spices, etc. In the second bowl, stir together your wet stuff–your eggs, milk, oil, vanilla. Cover both with plastic wrap. Leave the dry on the counter and put the wet in the fridge. (If you don’t do this, it really takes no more than 5 minutes to gather everything together and give it a whir in the mixer in the morning. Don’t sweat it.)

When you wake up, turn your oven on. Get your muffin tins out and butter or spray them with your nonstick goodness of choice (I am partial to Baker’s Joy, but whatever floats your boat). Get your cold bowl out of the fridge, dump it into your dry bowl, mix it up, and dole it into your muffin tins (and by the way, an ice cream scoop works beautifully for this job).

Put your bowls in the dishwasher (or into a sink of hot soapy water), let the oven tell you it’s preheated, slide your muffins in there, and give them a little less than half the time you’d bake a loaf of bread. Enjoy your coffee, take a shower, hit the treadmill. Whatever your morning entails–go ahead and do it. My pumpkin bread recipe takes an hour, so I started checking the muffins after 20 minutes.

Once they’re done, pull them out. Gently, gently slide a knife around the edges of the muffins you want to eat immediately, slide them out of their tins, and put them on a plate to cool for a few minutes (so they don’t crumble into oblivion or toast your tongue off when you bite into them). You’ll have warm comfort just when you need it the most, and your house will smell awesome all morning.

Let your remaining muffins cool all the way and store them in a plastic container with a tight lid.

Enjoy your warm breakfast muffins, y’all!

De-Rutting the Chef

14 Nov

It happens to the best of us: we love cooking, but just aren’t in the mood. For a few days or a week or more. Maybe we’re tired of serving a delicious meal and listening to complaining from picky family members (spouses included, and what’s up with that, anyway?). Perhaps we’re frustrated by climbing grocery bills, persnickity appliances, or hard-to-find ingredients. And maybe we’re just tired. Work and school and activities and bills and car issues and home projects, and it never seems to end.

I hear you. Want my confession? I made two meals last week (old standbys) and we had leftovers twice and then had cereal for dinner the rest of the week. Time was short and I was in a mood and the stove wasn’t singing its sirens song to me, and that’s the way it was.

We all lose our kitchen mojo, and it’s OK. I can tell you that the more you stress about it, the longer it’s going to go on. And I can offer a few tips that have helped me climb out of the rut:

  1. Chill. It’s totally fine to take a week or two off. Cook some family favorites–meals you know everyone likes and that you can put together easily. Try breakfast for dinner–scrambled eggs, oatmeal, pancakes and even cold cereal are totally fine for your evening meal and are simple to put together and clean up afterwards. Ditto for grilled cheese or turkey or peanut butter sandwiches, French toast, a rotisserie chicken from the market, quesadillas, omelets, and even that mac n cheese out of the box. It’s all good! Take a break and let it go for a bit.
  2. Go visit your local kitchen store and just wander around. Flip through the cookbooks, touch the pots and pans and gadgets, look at the samples that are out. I find a ton of inspiration even in the cooking department at Macy’s, where I see something and think, “I can do that,” and find myself re-energized.
  3. Park the kids in front of a TV for a few hours (nobody’s brain will rot that quickly, I promise), park yourself in front of another with a soft blanket, a cup of something hot to sip, and a comfy pillow, and settle in for a food movie. The two that are sure to get me re-jazzed about my own kitchen are Julie & Julia (the movie is so. much. better than the book–and that is the only time you’ll ever hear me say that about any movie, ever), and No Reservations, which didn’t get a lot of attention but is wonderful. Watching other people cook is fun, and you see their frustrations too, which helps with your own.
  4. Take yourself out for a really nice meal. Pick your favorite cuisine, get a date, and go enjoy. Sometimes the great stuff someone else makes for you inspires you to get back to making your own fabulous meals.
  5. Pretty up your kitchen! Make the room somewhere you want to be. Hang up something you love on the walls. Rearrange your countertops. Add a music system to the room. Whatever you need to make your kitchen a magnet for you.
  6. Bake something. Seriously. Bread or brownies or cookies or whatever. Something about sifting and mixing and measuring is very zen.

We all hit ruts. You can’t rush your way out, either. Let it work itself out, give yourself a little boost, and you’ll be back at the stove in no time!

 

Bake Sale!

11 Nov

This weekend marks the annual Christmas Bazaar at my church, which includes a bake sale that funds need-based scholarships to our school. I always bake a lot, and this year was no different. But I wanted to show you these super-cute cupcakes in a jar!

I stole this idea–it’s on about eleventy-trillion different websites–but it came out so well that I had to give it a plug. You need jelly-sized canning jars (8 oz, I bought two cases at my local hardware store), a load of ribbon, some plastic spoons, tape, and your favorite cupcake and icing combo.

Let your cupcakes cool completely and then slice them in half, so you have a top and a bottom of each. Put your frosting into a piping bag with a star tip (a Ziploc bag with a small corner clipped off works great).

Place the bottom of a cupcake into one of the jelly jars. Pipe icing on top of it, being sure to go all the way to the edge of the cake, so you can see the icing when you look at the jar. Gently press the cupcake top down on top of that, and then ice that the same way. Put the lid on, tape a spoon to the side, and put some pretty ribbon around the top. Voila–instant bake sale happiness, and something people can walk around and snack on while they shop the rest of the show.

Two other quick tips: I made chocolate chip cookie cake for this sale as well. I made the batter a day ahead and stored it in the fridge, which saved me time on baking day and freed up my mixer for other things. I also used foil pans, which are both prettier wrapped up than naked bread, and let me double the cake recipe and get three loaves out of it (since the disposable pans are smaller than my regular ones). I also made my sweet white bread, as it’s always popular and keeps for a day or two, tightly wrapped.

Breads get wrapped up in their foil pans, first in regular plastic wrap and then in a layer of clear cellophane, and then tied with a bright ribbon and labeled with a pretty card. Pretty food sells.

I’d love to hear your great bake sale ideas–post them below!

 

%d bloggers like this: