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Tools of the Trade: Pastry Blender

10 Feb

Even if you’re lazy like me and don’t make your own pie pastry, a pastry blender can be a very helpful kitchen gadget to have around. Pastry blenders are designed to act like a bunch of coordinated knives to ‘cut’ fat (butter, shortening, lard, etc.) into a flour mixture.

Given that I’m about to post two recipes that require the use of a pastry blender, I thought I’d talk about how to pick a good quality tool.

You might remember your mom or grandma having something like this…  The problem with this style is that the tines can easily get bent out of shape and the handle isn’t stable enough to provide enough force to be efficient.

You want to look for something that has an oval grip (vs. round) and rigid metal tines. You want to make sure that the grip is solid and doesn’t roll (like grandma’s was prone to doing). Ergonomics is key! You’ll also want to make sure it’s dishwasher safe because cleaning between the tines is a pain in the ass.

Mine is similar to this Cuisipro from Amazon.com. As usual, Oxo makes a pretty good version as well.

Even though it’s not something you’ll use every day, I guarantee getting an updated pastry blender (or having one period) will exponentially decrease the amount of swearing you’ll do the next time you attempt a pastry or crumb topping.

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Tools of the Trade: A Damn Good Frying Pan

16 Nov

A good frying pan, like a good man, can often times be hard to find.

I’m notoriously hard on my pans. They go in the dishwasher. I sometimes use metal utensils in them. They get packed up for camping excursions. They get A LOT of use. In the past, this heavy duty abuse meant buying replacement pans every year or so when the non-stick inevitably started peeling off and threatening to slowly poison me.

Then three years ago I spotted a hell of a deal at Canadian Tire – T-Fal Air Grip pans on for 70% off. Not only did they have a non-stick coating designed to put up with abuse from metal utensils but they were dishwasher safe and had a silicone coated metal handle that meant they were oven safe too. I bought two 12″ pans for $20 each and they’re still going strong today!

T-Fal Air Grips are sale for the next week at that same amazing $20 price ($17 for the 10″ size) so if you (or someone on your holiday gift list) is in need of a few fry pan, I’d recommend picking one up.

Tools of the Trade: Bench scraper

9 Aug

If you don’t have a bench scraper, you really should pick one up.

How do I love thee…? Let me count the ways:

  • Cuts bread doughs like a champ
  • Scrapes leftover flour and crud from your counters after shaping loaves, cutting biscuits or cookies
  • Makes scooping up and moving small things like chopped veggies (or aforementioned leftover flour) easy
  • Cuts squares, brownies, lasagnas and other dishes in straight even rows

Look for a scraper that has a rigid metal blade. There are plastic ones, but they aren’t quite as sturdy/versatile. A nice handle (like the one on the Oxo Good Grips one pictured) is also a must since you’re likely to have goopy, floury hands while using one.

Tools of the Trade: Cookie Scoops

10 Jul

I love my cookie scoops. If you don’t have at least one in your arsenal you should go buy one.

Courtesy of The Coastal Cupboard

Perhaps I should explain why.

Before the advent of cookie scoops in my world, dishing out a batch of cookies would take a while and would involve a lot of scraping and squishing of dough with two spoons. The cookies would never have a pretty ‘oh those must be from a bakery’ shape and some of them would cook faster than others because they were bigger or smaller.

Now my cookies are perfection and I can scoop out two whole trays in a couple minutes flat.

That being said, ‘cookie scoop’ is a bit of a misnomer. I also use mine to:

– Scoop muffin and cupcake batter – Not only do they come out more uniform due to portioning, but you wind up with more of the batter in the muffin liners instead of ON the muffin tray
– Scoop ice cream – You get perfect scoops every time!
– Making meatballs – Again, perfect size and way faster.

I will never go back to the two spoon method ever again.

Now when you go out to buy yourself one, do not make the mistake of cheaping out. Go whole hog and get the Oxo Good Grips versions. They come in three sizes – small (good for tiny applications like chocolate truffles), medium (good for most cookies, mini cupcakes and small meatballs) and large (good for regular sized cupcakes and muffins and large sized meatballs). I’ve never been disappointed with any Oxo product. They usually have superior design and mechanisms and are dishwasher safe. In Canada they’re available at Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Outfitters, Home Sense and at some local stores like @Home in Kanata Centrum.

I’ve tried other scoops from Norpro and Wilton. The Wilton one had terrible action on it – with stiff cookie batters the scraper would stick, negating the whole point of the scoop. I found it was too small as well. The Norpro was OK but the action was much stiffer and was really uncomfortable to use. It also had issues binding with stiff dough and I eventually stripped the gears on it trying to pry it apart in frustration.

 

Tools of the Trade: Cooking Bibles

3 Jul

Before any Christians get their panties in a bunch, I’m not talking about chucking the New Testament into a stock pot. I’m talking about those cookbooks that you keep going back to because they contain basic but critical cooking knowledge. Yes, as much as I LOVE Pinterest for discovering new recipes, there are two specific cookbooks that I keep coming back to because they have tried and true recipes for the core comfort food that we all grew up on. That’s why they’ve been reprinted for decades and why there are fierce battles on eBay for reprints. đŸ™‚

So, what are my two desert island cookbooks?

One is Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, specifically the ‘red pie’ edition first printed in 1969 – the hardcover, not the 5 ring binder. 

Courtesy of Vintage Victuals

What makes Betty so awesome over 40 years later? This book is filled with core recipes like scalloped potatoes, yorkshire pudding, 7 minute frosting and things that are making a comeback like chess pie.

It’s got great visual instructions on how do to things like cut a pineapple, make a lattice pie crust and what cuts of meat come from what part of the cow.

It actually contains the first recipe I ever made – chef’s salad – for a project in the third grade. Why I chose to make salad for third graders, I have no idea. The kids who made snowball cookies and French toast were a lot more popular.

Betty’s book is still being printed and I in fact have a more ‘modern’ version as well. It still has some good stuff, but it’s been heavily pared down and crammed full of modern classics like buffalo chicken wings, totally missing some of the stuff that made the original so awesome.

Now to get your hands on one of these, you can either pilfer it from your mom’s collection, or you can jump on eBay and hope not to get outbid (I’ve seen copies go for as much as $100 depending on the condition). The best way to find one is likely at your local used book store though. The prices are generally more fair and you don’t have to pay shipping!

Desert island cookbook #2 is the Purity Cookbook. 

The edition on the market now was carefully reproduced from the 1967 edition. It’s got great charts for roasting all kinds of meats and recipes for just about everything that your grandmother probably put on her table, unfortunately including ‘gelatin desserts’.

Given the fact it was published by a flour company, the breads section is especially great with instructions for lots of classic loaves, waffles, muffins, scones and biscuits. The page that is most marked in this book for me is the apple crisp though. The Purity version is nicely sweet and bakes up very crispy on the edges. MMM. Now I want apple crisp.

There’s really no excuse not to pick this book up. At under $20 and readily available on Amazon and Chapters it should be part of your collection if it isn’t already. Makes a great shower gift for upcoming weddings!

Tools of the Trade: Cast Iron Enamel Dutch Oven

18 Jun

The Tool
Most foodie folks lust after the Le Creuset cast iron dutch ovens and pots. So many pretty colours… and *womp womp* a not so budget friendly price.

However, if you’re willing to forego the fancy name and get a pretty good quality pot for 80% less cash, get thee to Crappy Tire (otherwise known as Canadian Tire) this week and take advantage of their sale on this 7 Qt. Kitchen Aid model – regular $199.99 on for $69.99.

The Review
I tried out my own earlier this week (a birthday gift from mom & dad – thanks!) and was really pleased. Let’s hope that it lasts a bit longer than the last one I had which was a from an un-named celebrity chef’s line. (*cough* Emeril *cough*) I certainly wouldn’t pay regular price for this product, but it’s definitely worth the $70 plus tax. Just make sure you check yours as soon as you get home – my first model’s enamel finish was marred but Canadian Tire was happy to swap it for a good one.

Why Do I Need This?
A good dutch oven is a staple pot in any kitchen. It works great both on the stove top and in the oven and is handy for soups, stews, chilis, spaghetti sauces and (what I made for my pot’s maiden voyage) Low Country Boil! A pot like this should last for decades when cared for properly and the enamel means you don’t have to worry about keeping it seasoned like a non-enamel cast iron pot.