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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?

The $5 Miracle Toy

29 Jun

The plan, my loves, was to share with you a recipe for linguine with garlic bread crumbs that we tried Monday night.

The problem is that we didn’t like it. At all. Hugely disappointing. Dry and relatively tasteless; DH described it as “noodles with sawdust.” There were leftovers, and I tried stirring some summer-ripe grape tomatoes in, but even that couldn’t save this dish. Thumbs down, and I don’t recommend it.

So instead, we’re going to talk about one of my favorite toys today, and it’s something I picked up at Target on a total whim, for less than $5. It’s my handy-dandy batter bowl.

My mom had one of these when I was a kid, only hers was Jadeite and lovely (of course, I was younger and stupid when she sold her house years back and didn’t want it, and now that I have an appreciation for such beautiful things, have no idea where it wound up. Lesson learned). I came to my senses about such things a year or so ago, but by then had kids and budgets and a very tightwad way of living, and picked up a cheap, clear plastic model for myself. It has served me well and is one of the most useful gadgets in my kitchen.

I bought my batter bowl for pancakes, but it is an absolute miracle for cupcakes. I’ve used it for waffles, funnel cakes, and all sorts of sauces. Anything you’d pour, this is your tool. It’s simple and easy and pretty mess-free, and gets tossed right in the dishwasher. One bowl for mixing and pouring. I like that.

Such is my wisdom for today. If you don’t have one of these, get thee to the store and pick one up–you’ll love it. And if your mom has a gorgeous old one, don’t let it go.

Shameless Plug: Have you become a fan of Playing With My Dinner on Facebook? We have a fun wall where we chat about lots of kitchen-esque topics, and I’d love to see you there. Click here and then click “like,” and tell your friends! Thanks!

Treasure! And Caring for your Knives

9 May

My in-laws moved out of their house several weeks ago, and DH and his siblings have been feverishly working to clean the place out. There’s been lots of discovery along the way–things they remembered from childhood and things no one had ever seen before that had sentimental value nonetheless.

I was on a Girl Scout encampment with my daughter last weekend, when the phone rang. DH said he’d found something I would treasure. And he was right:

That is the biggest chef’s knife I’ve ever seen. The blade alone is 12 and a half inches long. It’s marked Ed Wusthof, Germany, and has numbers stamped on the other side, with a wood handle that has the Wusthof trident carved into it. It belonged to DH’s grandfather, who was a chef at a very well-known restaurant in Washington, D.C., and while it needed a good cleaning, it was in fantastic shape–no cracks or chips anywhere.

I started asking around and discovered that a very respected knife expert has a shop about 45 minutes away from me. DH dropped the knife off last week, and I drove up to pick it back up yesterday. It is *gorgeous*.

Not bad for an antique, eh?

Near as I can tell, this is called a Lobster Knife, and was sold commercially in Europe but never imported to the U.S. DHs’ grandfather was an immigrant, so that all makes sense.

I asked the knife expert how I should care for it, now that it’s all shiny and sharp again. My real worry was that wood handle; Wusthof doesn’t make many of those anymore (my beloved set has plastic handles), because they do crack with age. I wanted to keep this one as solid as it is now. The answer both explained how it survived umteen years in a basement, and what I should do from here.

“Use it,” he said. “Hand oils are a fantastic lubricant for wood and they never evaporate.” Keep it out of the dishwasher (please oh please don’t put your good knives in there! The detergent is harsh enough to take the sharp right off of them) and use it frequently, he said, and that handle should stay beautiful for another generation. If using it isn’t an option, rubbing it down with food-grade mineral oil should help a lot.

He put a gorgeous edge on the blade of this knife, and I’ll absolutely go back to have my other knives sharpened. Once that’s done, keeping them either in a wood block or a knife safe will both protect them from chips, keep your fingers attached to your body when you rummage through drawers, and protect that edge. I haven’t yet found a 13-inch safe, but I’m still looking. In the meantime, this baby’s blade has been wrapped up in cardboard, and the knife is way up high, away from little fingers.

Other tips: Chop only on wood or plastic boards; using your knives on glass, marble, or granite is one of the fastest ways to ruin them. Wash them by hand and either air-dry or dry them well with a paper towel before putting them away in their blocks or safes, to keep them rust-free. And keep those handles in good shape by keeping harsh chemicals off of them (sanitize your knives with vinegar, not bleach, if you like the handles) and using them with wild abandon.

DH was right: this knife is a treasure, both for its history and its amazing quality. I am proud to have it in my kitchen and can’t wait to put it to use, with all the respect it’s earned.

The Love of my Amateur Cook’s Life

6 Aug

Eleven years ago, DH and I bought our first house. He had a small townhouse that housed our first two years of wedded bliss, but this was our first place together and our first grown-up house. Our own walls that didn’t touch anybody else’s walls, our own driveway, our own fence.

My own kitchen.

It was, at the time, a pit of a kitchen. Stained Formica countertops with a big burn mark next to the sink, a stained and torn linoleum floor, and rough-textured cabinets that were too awful to describe. But it was my kitchen, and I settled in almost immediately (weeks before we started living there), filling the built-in spice rack with little jars, choosing which drawer (of the whole three) would hold silverware, and picking out a space on that tired counter for our coffeepot.

We’d been in the little house for a few months when my mom showed up with a housewarming gift. A perfect, white, KitchenAid mixer with a perfect stainless steel bowl and perfect attachments, that fit perfectly into the corner, atop that old counter, between the stove and the sink.

It belonged there. And it really was the spark that kicked off my truly learning to cook.

I started with a simple cookie dough and when I realized that this mixer made my old hand mixer look like it was standing still, I tried a double batch. The motor plowed right through. As DH said, “I think if you ever held the paddle still, the house would spin around it.”

A major kitchen renovation, 11 years, and a move around the corner later, my beloved KitchenAid is still my favorite toy. With only the attachments it came with (the dough hook is a thing of wonder for those of us who aren’t joyful kneaders) and an extra steel bowl, it works magic almost every day. Breads and cookies and doughs and mashed potatoes and corn pudding and anything you can imagine emerge from beneath its beater, usually with an excited child hoisting herself up on her tippy-toes at the edge of the counter so her nose can poke over the top and she can see what delights are held within. My mixer never stalls. It never clogs. It just whirs along happily, doing whatever I ask of it with nary a complaint.

As far as I’m concerned, the KitchenAid stand mixer is worth every last dime and every inch of counter space it demands, even when resources and space are limited. Life is easier and a lot more fun with my baby over there, next to my canisters of flour and sugar and chips, and I am a happier cooking mama because of it.

What’s your favorite kitchen toy? Same as mine, or something different? Leave me a comment and let me know–I’m always looking for my next happy kitchen investment!

And yes, she’s flamed out. DH did it for me with decals from Pep Boys. Tell me he doesn’t rock too!

Cookware

14 Jul

Every so often, we’ll chat about the stuff in our kitchens–what we like to use for different kinds of cooking and what we might not like so much. Gadgets, pans, tools, all that kind of stuff. Hope we can exchange thoughts and ideas and learn some new things along the way!

I used to be a nonstick pan girl. Many Christmases ago, my mom gave us a set of nonstick Calphalon from Target, and it served us well for a number of years.

And then I started reading about Teflon and what happens to it when it gets hot, and the fumes that may or may not fill the house when it’s on the stove, and how studies that had nothing to do with DuPont found that it maybe might not be something you want around your family.

I am a scaredy cat when it comes to cancer. My mom had it when I was 12. My dad had it twice and it killed him on the second go-round. And this year, it took away my best friend at the ripe old age of 37. I gave up red meat because of it (more on that another day), I strongly encouraged my husband to replace our old charcoal grill with gas because of it (he did–God love him), and I am a sunscreen addict, all because of cancer. It’s a bad way to go and if I can avoid it, I will.

And so, the nonstick pots and pans were chucked. And slowly, one pan at a time, I started buying this:

That is Calphalon Commercial. It’s anodized aluminum, which I love for the way it conducts heat evenly and gets hot fast (I have one cast iron skillet and a cast iron grill pan that I also adore, but they take forever to get hot–forever doesn’t work for me when I’m rushing to get dinner on the table). And–here’s a trick for y’all–if you let it get good and hot before you add food and you give it a few extra minutes on the burner before you put anything in there, it’s almost as nonstick as the Teflon coated stuff I had before.

At the moment, I have an 8-inch omelet pan that I use for eggs and grilled cheese and infusing olive oil with garlic (YUM!!) and small cooking jobs. I have a massive 12-inch skillet that I use for browning chicken or sauteeing in dinner-size portions. There’s a saucier that’s used for anything and everything. I have a big pasta pot that I use for all sorts of boiling and soup-making and fun, and I have a big wok that’s awesome for Pad Thai and Chinese food and really big dishes. One of my favorites is the 12-inch Everyday Pan, which is usually available for a song online and is the ultimate everything pan. I also have a paella pan that doesn’t see much use, but is fantastic the once or twice a year I yank it out.

I never use nonstick spray on my pans. Over time, it leaves a sticky film that you’ll never get off. I spray them lightly with olive oil or coat the bottoms with a few teaspoons of oil before I start cooking (but after the pan gets hot). Cleanup is simple and easy, and I love that I can use metal utensils on them without worrying about scratches. And they’re ovenproof, which is another feature I don’t use much but is darn handy when I need it.

So that’s my cookware. It is expensive, but I use coupons and sales, and buy one piece a year, and it’s been worth it, both for its performance and for my peace of mind.

Do you have cookware you love? Post a comment and tell us. I can’t wait to hear what the rest of you use the most. 🙂

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