Monday, July 16, 2012

Kitchen Tricks & What I've been up to

Summer is always busier than I think it will be.  There are always farmer's markets I wish I had the time to visit, recipes I wish I had the ingredients and patience to try, people I mean to meet up with, and chores I ought to be taking care of.

I have a basil plant I've been caring for and, to my absolute glee and excitement, it has been thriving on my window sill.  The farmer's market across the street from me in back in full swing.  In a little bit over a week, my sweet B. will be flying back here to visit.

I have had friends come visit me and explore some fun restaurants and spots in the city.  Navigating New York feels so much more comfortable to me now than it did four years ago when I first ventured there by myself.  I've slowly crossed places off my Must Visit" list.  I have been meaning to share my experiences here, but I simply haven't had the time.

Yesterday was my birthday and one of my oldest friends came up to celebrate with me.  When I was thirteen, he was my first boyfriend; he held my hand, walked me home from the bus stop, and listened to my stories.  We grew up together.  Now, all these years later, he still is my best friend.  He understands my crazy side, my weird side, and my foodie side.

For my birthday, he woke up at 6am and drove over 300 miles to visit me.  He washed my dishes, let me practice eliciting reflexes on him by hitting him repeatedly with my reflex hammer, and then took me out to the city where he treat me to three delicious desserts, one after the other.  I've always believed that dessert is the best part of eating out.  Dessert before dinner is wonderful.  Three desserts of my choice in the middle of the day?  Now there's a good day.

Top left: honey lavender gelato and Turkish fig gelato.
Bottom left: various doughnuts from The Doughnut Plant, including rose, creme brulee, and lavender.
Right: brioche donut filled with nutella

Sometimes it's the simplest things that means the most.

And since this is a blog about food, I thought I might clumsily transition into a few simple tricks to use in the kitchen.  These little tricks and tips are things I've learned from years of cooking and baking in the kitchen and from watching my mom and dad.  I hope this makes up for the lack of recipes and reviews.

  1.  Bake with rum.  Or bourbon.  They both add a very nice fragrance to baked cakes and such.  Just pour a splash into your favorite recipe (cakes, pie fillings, bread pudding, banana bread)

  2.  Add salt.  Seriously.  Even to the sweet stuff.  Add a pinch to hot chocolate, a dash to a fruit smoothie.  Remember salt especially when baking.  But also remember to taste.  A little bit goes a long way.

  3.  Cook with a bit of sugar.  This is especially true with meat and spicy food.  Making ribs or chicken?  Add a teaspoon of sugar to the rub/marinade.  Sprinkle a bit into your beef stew.  You'll be amazed at how sugar can round out your flavors.  This is especially true with homemade tomato sauce.  A little bit of brown sugar works wonders.

  4.  Don't have brown sugar on hand?  Use molasses and white sugar.  Depending on whether you want to make dark or light brown sugar, combine one cup of granulated white sugar which either 1 or 2 tablespoons or unsulfured molasses.

  5.  Don't have buttermilk on hand?  Use milk and lemon/lime juice.  To make one cup, use a scant milk (whole fat is best, but skim work as well) plus the juice from one-quarter of a lime or lemon.  Let this sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.  Presto!  Instant buttermilk.

  6.  Have lemons, limes, or oranges on hand?  Wash them thoroughly and then zest them and freeze the zest.  Citrus zest is a great way to add flavor to baked goods, salad dressings, and even drinks!  Citrus zest will keep in the freezer in an airtight container for about 2-3months.

  7.  Using vegetables for soup?  Caramelize them first in a pan with some butter; it really brings out their flavors.

  8.  The easiest way to add flavor to something you're baking when you don't have vanilla on hand or you want something to have a little kick of caramel flavor but you don't want to make caramel?  Brown the butter.  Does the recipe not have butter?  Toast the flour.  All it takes is a hot pan and some attentive eyes.

  9.  My absolute favorite baking trick that's also good for your electric bill and the environment?  I turn my oven off about 5 minutes early.  That's right, when my baking is just about done, I turn off the oven and leave the pan in the oven.  Normally I let my baked goods (or even meat, like ribs or chicken) sit in the oven, which is still hot, for about 10 minutes.  Then when everything is perfectly cooked, I smile inwardly about the electricity I just saved.  Also, if you're like me and you're the type of person who normally keeps cookie dough on hand, after baking a chicken or using the oven for some other reason, if you just just turned off an oven that was at about 350-375F, you can pop in a tray of cookies and have them done in about 30-35 minutes while the oven cools (for a recipe that normally bake in 10-15 minutes with the oven on).  How great is that?  Of course, this will vary from oven to oven and with different recipes, but it is a very efficient way of using the heat from the oven that otherwise is just wasted.  You can also toss a garlic head in a ramekin with some olive oil, cover it with foil, and put that in the oven to get some nice oven-roasted garlic in half an hour.

That's all the tips I can think of for now.  I wish I had one more to round out the number to 10, but instead, I leave you with one more dessert.  Life is sweet.

Warm chocolate bread pudding with vanilla sauce

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