Must Have Kitchen Gadgets

IMG_6417Whether you are starting from scratch or expanding on your kitchen collections, the spring is always the perfect time to clean out and start fresh. In our home, the kitchen is our gathering place, from the moment we wake up to after school homework and finishing the night enjoying a meal with the family. This is a place that holds our family of five or a large group of thirty on a very regular basis. With the amount of entertaining that we do as a family our kitchen and all our gadgets get worn out pretty quick and honestly it might just be my excuse for a refresh! To clean out and start fresh with all new kitchen gadgets will inspire you to cook more. These five kitchen gadgets are my must haves that I use on a daily basis.

Microplane Zester/GraterIMG_6418
One of my all time favorite kitchen gadgets…I probably use it every day! The microplane zester/grater creates a fine grate to enhance flavor in your recipes and is best used on citrus, chocolate, hard cheese, fresh coconut, nutmeg and garlic. Top your favorite salad with finely grated cheese or a chocolate cake with a beautiful dusting of grated chocolate.

Ice Cream ScoopsIMG_6393
Obviously we all need an ice cream scoop for one of our favorite frozen treats, but I have a small collection of ice cream scoops for so many other things. A variety of sizes allows you to create the perfect scoop for everyday cooking such as cookies, cake balls, pancake batter, muffins and savory items like meatballs or crab cakes.

Smart Stick Blender & Food ProcessorIMG_6399
The size of our kitchen gadgets are very important. The bigger they are and the further they are stored away, the less we will use them. The smart stick blender is a great size and can be stored just about anywhere. I use mine for soups, sauces and really anything that needs to be pureed, but the best thing about this is the food processor attachment. There is no need to pull out your big food processor for every kitchen task you have. Use the Smart Stick Blender and Food Processor to chop nuts, blend homemade salad dressing, or make the perfect pesto.

Manual JuicerIMG_6387
Electric juicers are great when you are making large batches of fresh vegetable or fruit juice, but for a quick citrus juice a small hand held juicer will come in handy. There are several styles of manual juicers but the best ones squeeze the juice out and strain the seeds.

Silicone Baking MatsIMG_6401
If you have a love for baking and do it on a regular basis, silicone baking mats need to be your next purchase. I use parchment paper all the time, but there are so many reasons you will fall in love with these baking mats. Silicone mats are reusable, can be easily cleaned and I find they keep my baked goods from burning on the bottom as easily.

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Back to School Lunch Box Must Haves

lunch boxSummers are made up of late nights, no routine and a lot of tiresome fun and it is not always easy getting back into the school routine.  For me early mornings are the hardest part.  Getting everyone up, dressed, fed a healthy and nutritious breakfast, lunches packed and out the door.  

As important as breakfast is for ourselves and our kids, so is the lunch we pack to fuel the rest of their day.  The lunch box routine does not have to be intimidating or stressful when you have an organized refrigerator of simple and healthy options.  In my family, we love a classic sandwich but I always like to change it up so everyday lunches don’t look the same.  

Lunch Box Menu Options:

Turkey & cheese skewers
Sweet potato chips
Grapes
Edamame

PBJ Roll Ups
Apple slices
Carrots and ranch
Pretzel sticks

Salami and crackers
Mozzarella balls
Cucumbers and tomatoes
Dried fruit mix

Pasta salad
Sugar snap peas
Strawberries with yogurt dip
Popcorn 

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Holiday Wine and Desserts…A Perfect Pairing

wines and dessertAs the holidays quickly approach, wine and dessert are two of our favorite things. Although wines are usually paired with savory dishes and coffee paired with desserts, wine and desserts can find perfect harmony while livening up your seasonal soiree. So how do you know which wines are the best for your dessert selection? There are a few factors that you need to consider: acidity, intensity and sweetness. The rules are simple: wines pair with like colors; oaky wines go with simple flavors like vanilla bean, butterscotch and caramel; the sweeter the wine, the less sweet the dessert should be. With these easy rules and a list of wine and dessert pairings, step out of the box and try wine instead of coffee at your holiday table. –

Sauvignon Blanc originates from France, specifically Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Sauvignon Blanc is a dry white wine and is very different than most due to it herb like flavors. While you are sipping on a glass, you are sure to taste hints of lime, green apple and passion fruit as well green bell peppers and jalapeño.
Dessert Pairing: Lemon Meringue Tart

Riesling is one of the most aromatic grapes in the world and is a highly acidic wine that originated in Germany. Riesling has several varieties; dry, semi sweet and sweet and the flavor will vary depending on the region that it was made. Some of the most common flavors that you will find while drinking riesling are lemon, apricot, peach, apple and honey.
Dessert Pairing: Apple Tarte Tatin

Chardonnay is known to be the most popular white grape in the world and it originated in the Burgundy Region of France. The fermentation process for this grape is done in oak barrels which brings out the buttery flavor. Vanilla and cinnamon are some of the flavors that you will taste as well as many tropical flavors such as banana, mango, melon and pineapple while drinking Chardonnay.
Dessert Pairing: Butterscotch Pot de Creme

Prosecco is a sparkling wine that comes from Italy. While sipping on Prosecco you will experience a hint of green apple, honeydew, pears and cream as well as some floral flavors. This wine can be enjoyed on its own or added to fresh squeezed juices or other refreshing cocktails.
Dessert Pairing: Fresh Berries and Whipped Cream

Pinot Noir is known for its subtle flavors of berries, cherries and cranberries. This grape is grown in cooler environments and despite being a weak grape and fairly hard to grow, the price of pinot noir is competitive to other red wines.
Dessert Pairing: Creme Brûlée or Chocolate Mousse

Merlot originating from Bordeaux, this grape has a dark and intense color that gives off flavors of plum, blackberries and leafy greens.
Dessert Pairing: Dark Chocolate Truffles or Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Port wine is the most common wine to be enjoyed after dinner. Port is a sweet red wine that comes from Portugal and gives off flavors of berries, chocolate, caramel and nuts. This wine should be paired with something not to sweet and might add a touch of salt.
Dessert Pairing: Assorted Cheese Platter

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Herb Infused Simple Syrup

simple syrupSimple syrup seems so basic to me, but might sound fancy to others.  I am here to tell you that it is super easy and should always have a presence in your fridge.  All you need is two ingredients that everyone has at home; sugar and water.  As for flavoring your simple syrup, also use whatever you have at home.  Right now I am very into herbs, probably because we planted a great herb garden and they are exploding, so I use them every chance that I can.  I also just love the thought and flavor of fresh herbs; mint, thyme, basil, rosemary are just a few that would be perfect for your infused simple syrup.  

Ok, so the next question is what can you use these fun and fresh simple syrups for?  Anything you want!  The most common use is in cocktails, which I love and in the summer you can an herb infused syrup to any cocktail and your guest will be totally impressed, try it!  It can also be added to lemonade,  tea or coffee for an after dinner treat.   Try using these infused syrups drizzled over fresh fruit or brush onto layers of cake to keep them moist.

Basically anywhere you might add a little sugar for sweetening, you can add simple syrup.  It is much smoother and you won’t have the granules of raw sugar. 

Simple Syrup:
 1 cup sugar
1 cup water
optional: fresh herbs

boil sugar, water and any fresh herb of your choice
continue to boil until sugar is dissolved
allow syrup to cool before removing herbs from the syrup
store in airtight container and refrigerate

Homemade Buttermilk

 

buttermilk

Sounds weird right…why would you want to make homemade buttermilk?  Well, if you are like me and run in and out of the grocery store so quick because you are late to pick up the kids from school, than there is a good chance you might forget some of the items on your list.  I love baking with buttermilk, so I typically have some on hand at all times, but just last week I opened the refrigerator and realized I forgot to buy buttermilk and it was to late to go to the store… my only option was to make my own!  Guess what, this is so simple and you all can do it…you might never buy buttermilk again!

Homemade Buttermilk Substitute
1 cup milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar

place the lemon juice or vinegar in a measuring cup and then add enough milk to make 1 cup combined
allow this mixture to sit for 5 minutes
when the milk is slightly curdled, it is ready to use!

Baking Powder Vs Baking Soda

 

 Here is a question we all want to know.  You are baking a cake and the recipe calls for baking powder, so you go into your pantry to find out that you are out of baking powder…can you add baking soda instead?…NO, go to the grocery store!  Read on to learn all about the differences…you don’t have to be a chemist!

photo-9

Baking soda and baking powder are leavening agents, which means they are added to baked goods before cooking to allow them to rise. Baking powder contains baking soda, but the two substances are different and cannot be interchanged.

Baking Powder:

  • Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate, cream of tartar and cornstarch
  • Baking powder is available as single-acting baking powder and as double-acting baking powder
  • Single-acting powders react with moisture and the product must be baked immediately after mixing
  • Double-acting powders react in two phases and can will activate when product enters the oven and the temperature rises
  • Baking powder is usually in recipes that call for ingredients such as milk (non acidic ingredients)
  • Baking powder is a common ingredient in cakes

Baking Soda:

  • Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate
  • Baking soda is most commonly combined with moisture and an acidic ingredient such as yogurt, chocolate, lemon juice or buttermilk; this causes baked goods to rise.
  • Recipes that call for baking soda need to be mixed and baked immediately or they will fall flat
  • If baking soda is used in a recipe with no acidity, it will cause a bitter taste in the baked goods

 Bottom line…Baking soda needs an acid and baking powder already has an acid!  Thanks for joining me for this weeks Sweet Nugget!

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A Little Lesson on Eggs!

I often get the question of “how do you do this” or “what would you recommend for…” and these questions are all about baking!  After 10 years of being a professional pastry chef and going through all my trial and errors, I have decided to share with you some sweet nuggets that might get you through baking a little easier.  Everyone is going to make mistakes in the kitchen, but I am here to help you avoid it as much as possible.  What are some of your baking question?

A little lesson on Eggs:

eggs

  • “Eggs” in a recipe typically mean Grade A, Large Eggs
  • Leftover egg whites can be frozen…just pull them out of the freezer the night before you are going to use them
  • Brown vs. White: only tells you the breed of the hen that laid it, it does not indicate quality or nutritional value
  • Eggs whites and yolks separate best cold
  • Egg whites whip best at room temperature
  • 1 large egg weighs 50 grams: egg white=30 grams/egg yolk=20 grams (quantities may vary a little due to size)

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