Saturday, June 25, 2011

KITCHEN TOOLS - Waxed Paper

Waxing poetic in the kitchen
Pardon me if I wax poetic,
though my rhyme might be pathetic...
but if I may I'd like to sing
the praises of a simple thing-
a boon to many a cooking caper....
known throughout as plain waxed paper.

That's a wrap!

It most certainly is!  But seriously folks, waxed paper....which has been around for quite some time, is still as handy as ever. Even more so since the microwave became part of our kitchen's persona!

The invention of wax paper is often credited to Thomas Edison, although according to Wikipedia there are others who could possibly make that claim.  Before 1927, wax paper was sold in pre-cut sheets. Nicholas Marcalus then came up with the idea of putting wax paper on a roll in a box with a built-in cutter.


Waxed paper has been used since its inception to wrap everything from sandwiches to paintbrushes. With such versatility, is there anything this miracle product can't do?


Well, yes.

Wax paper should not be used to wrap or cover dishes in the oven. It'll smoke and catch fire. However, it can be used to line the bottom of baking pans and such, so long as the batter completely covers the paper liner.

Do not line a cookie sheet with the stuff, either.  Unlike parchment, waxed paper will go up in smoke if ANY of it is exposed directly to the oven's heat.  Believe me, your smoke alarm will thank you for taking this advice.

Waxed paper is not recyclable.  Period.  No ifs ands or buts about it.

But its uses far outweigh its limitations.


In the microwave, wax paper can be used to prevent splatters.  Because the paper is mostly unaffected by microwaves, it will not heat to the point of combustion under normal usage. This makes wax paper more functional than plastic wrap which will melt at higher temperatures, or aluminium foil which is not safe for most microwave ovens.

It can also be used in actual microwave cooking....much like one might use aluminum foil in a conventional oven.  Have you tried nuking a hotdog only to have it turn into a hardened stick?  Try the following trick and your franks will be, frankly, moist and yummy.

Hot Dogs a la Waxed Paper
1) Cut a fair sized piece of waxed paper and lay it flat on your counter top or table. Place two hot dogs on it spaced about an inch or so apart. (I've spaced these a little further apart for visual purposes)
  
Roll-folding the franks



 2) Fold the paper over the franks; tuck the paper in under each...make sure to leave space between them.  In a sense you will have "rolled" two tubes, one around each dog.  There will be extra bits of waxed paper on each end.  These are very important, as will be seen in the next step.

 
Fold ends in toward hot dogs
3) Take one of the paper ends and roll it in toward the hot dogs....fold it flat,
then do the same to the opposite side.



4) Tuck the ends in toward the middle, creating a sealed end.
Creating sealed end.

The end game




Do the same to the other side. Make sure you press firmly to insure everything stays put during cooking....the microwave has a tendency to make waxed paper try to open or unfold.



Waxed paper hot dog cooker
5) Your results should look something like this picture.  You'll probably have a little less space between the hotdogs, again I kept them spaced further apart for visual purposes.

Then it's just a matter of putting the packet into the microwave, cook on high for 30 seconds the flip it and cook for an additional 30 seconds
If you like your franks well done, you can cook each side a bit longer.
But keep an eye on them!  These puppies have been known to pop, even explode if left to cook for too long!

When it comes to waxed paper, this humble example is just the tip of the iceberg. The best way to find out what works is to use it.

Let me know your discoveries!

Monday, June 20, 2011

VEGGIE REVIEW-Eggsustaintial Eggplant

They are he eggplants, who is the Walrus?
Meet my friends, the "regular" eggplants.

Unlike its Asian counterpart, this version is wide and squat and less sweet tasting...but don't take that as a negative.  What some people see as this veggie's lacks in social graces, is made up for in usefulness and versatility!

Like the Asians, these can be stir fried, coated, browned, baked, stuffed, dehydrated (with a little seasoning) and used in so many ways!  The flavor is very similar their skinnier cousins, although maybe not as sweet.

This gem's color is a deep, dark, almost-black purple, and is always wide and somewhat squat.

If you've never tried working with one, an eggplant can seem a bit intimidating.  But it really isn't.
A little imagination, a little patience and you can master it's many culinary possibilities!

Truth is, it's all in the preparation.  If you pay attention to a few key points, you'll have a dish worthy of being brought to your table.

Key Points:
     *Eggplant should be fresh.  If it looks dull, pocked, is excessively bruised or scratched it will taste sour. When looking for an eggplant, act like you're looking for an ornament to hang on your holiday tree.  You want a nice, smooth, shiny outer surface.
     *Check the "crown" of leaves around the top.  If they are black and feel a little slimy, the thing's been overexposed to water or chilled too much.  It might mean the inside is bad, too. The leaves can be dark, but they should still feel firm like leaves rather than like soggy rags.
     *Use the eggplant as soon as you can after bringing it home from the market. Freshness is very important. Old eggplant just plain tastes old, and no amount of seasoning will change that.
     *Avoid making the thing too wet if at all possible.  Some people slice the eggplant and put it in a sieve with a weight to remove the extra moisture before cooking with it. I've tried this a few times early in my eggplant cooking, but for the most part found it to be an unnecessary step.  In truth it seemed to promote moisture rather than stop it.
     *When cooking with eggplant, remember it will soak up moisture better than any sponge. This holds true for oil and grease as well.  To avoid this problem, before bringing eggplant to the pan for browning, either spray the pan with a release spray or evenly coat the pan with oil (Extra Virgin Olive Oil or other) using a napkin to make sure the entire cooking surface is coated.
        Heat the pan with a medium flame before adding the eggplant.  Keep an eye on it!  Don't let it burn.

Scoring eggplant skin with fork
Some folks like to skin the eggplant before doing anything else, and that's understandable....the skin can be difficult to cut and perhaps even difficult for some to digest. Personally, I like to keep the skin on, but score it with a fork to make it easier to manage.

As far as recipe possibilities go, you'd be amazed..
Eggplant Parmesan, Spicy Eggplant Stir Fry, Grilled Eggplant and Eggplant Au Gratin are just a few to think about.

This purple beauty can be used as a substitute for bread, for meat and for pasta....and works great as an addition to stews, soups and casseroles. The only limit to it's potential is one's own imagination.

So if you haven't tried it yet, go ahead! See what all the fuss is about!


 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW- The Slap Chop

Slap Chop
The Sham-WOW guy started hawking another product about a year or so ago...and since it was a kitchen gadget he got my immediate attention.  This tool, he claimed, would make chopping things so much easier, and unlike other similar units the Slap Chop would be safe, easy to operate and easy to clean.

I didn't run right out and get one.  See, I'm one of those weirdos who enjoy cutting their veggies and nuts the old fashioned way....with a knife.  Go figure.

But Jack spotted a display of "As Seen On T.V."  items near the check out line at Fry's Electronics and decided to buy me a present. 

As luck would have it, I was in the midst of a baking binge so had been chopping, cutting, clipping and cracking my way through nuts, spices and the like. If it worked, the Slap Chop had the potential to cut the job time in half, pardon the pun.

Once home, I unwrapped my new tool and read the instructions.  It looked simple enough; a spring action chopping blade, a plastic extender for using on a cutting board and a black plastic bottom cup for more contained work. And unlike similar products the Slap Chop claimed to be easy to clean, due to its unique "butterfly" casing design. This feature, more than the others, was important to me. 

I'd had a similar product years ago in my arsenal of gizmos and suffered a severe injury trying to clean it.  Needless to say, the thing ended up in the garbage, wrapped in the towel I used to stem the bleeding.
According to the Sham WOW guy, the Slap Chop people had solved that problem, and I was interested....albeit a little nervous....in checking the facts.

Looking it over, I kept thinking....this thing feels cheaply made.  The spring felt firm, but the rest of it felt  light weight. The blade itself seemed flimsy, the case was light weight plastic....real light weight.  I wondered if it might be too light weight for the job it was supposed to do.

This feeling continued as I washed the components in warm water in preparation for first use.  But I pressed on, wanting to put the thing to the test on some nuts that had to be chopped for cookies.  

Following the instructions, I first tried the tool with the chopping cup.  It seemed to do the job, after a fashion.
The problem was, nuts kept getting stuck in the blade.  And not just plain stuck, I mean stuck real bad.  I had to use a knife to get those nuts loose.

After the third attempt, I noticed the blade was getting bent.

Nut stuck, blade bent....during maiden voyage.
Undeterred, I next tried the tool with the clear plastic ring for use on a cutting board.  The same thing happened and the chopper got jammed. All this within the first 15 minutes of the maiden voyage.

Needless to say, I set the thing aside and finished the chore with my favorite knives, breezing through the pile of nuts with ease and no injuries. 

At clean up time, I tried cleaning the Slap Chop according to the directions.  After cutting my finger,  I stopped.  Hey, I'm a musician, my fingers are important and I need all of them!  No hunk of plastic will ever be worth me changing my name to Lefty!

To make a long story short, the Slap Chop did not live up to its advertising.  Personally I think it's dangerous and shouldn't be sold in its present state.  Perhaps the spring could be sold separately for use in factories somewhere, but as a kitchen tool, I find the Slap Chop to be cheaply made and unsafe.   I wouldn't recommend it to my worse enemy. 

I believe that every Slap Chop should be recalled, burnt beyond recognition and their ashes sewn with salt before being consigned to the bottom of a very deep pit in a very remote location. 

Of course that's just my opinion.

On a scale from one to five mixing bowls, one being yuck...five being yum, I don't think this product deserves even a shard of a mixing bowl. Mixing Bowl Scale - Zero.  Zip. Zilch.

This is one of the few times where I find no redeeming qualities whatsoever in a kitchen gadget.  
Sad.  Very sad. 

If you have tried the Slap Chop, please feel free to share your experiences...positive or negative.  Hey!  I'd love to hear that the thing works right for somebody!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

What's With Wednesday? Chicken In The Middle Of The Week

Chicken used to be a Sunday kind of thing....there'd be a huge roaster in the oven, started right after coming home from church and breakfast was cleared. The bird was so big, almost like a little turkey.
Sometimes the hen was stuffed, sometimes not-but always roasted with a bunch of potatoes, carrots and onions. I remember those days clearly!
The chicken even tasted different back then; it was fresh.  It had a slightly sweet flavor...even a bit buttery if the hen was younger.

These days, between hormones and other forced-growing methods, caging, beaking and other horrendous practices, our very own chicken seems to have become a shadow of its former self.  Relegated to fast food menus, frozen, breaded patties and ground meat one would hardly recognize the venerable centerpiece that once only graced the Sabbath table.

We are fortunate however, that there are still a few poultry companies out there that have a conscience.  The result of this is a chicken that tastes right, smells right, cooks right and is one that you'd be glad to offer as a main course dish, whole or cut up.

Mind you, I've not seen many the size Mom used to get for our family meal-those things were BIG! But none the less, the quality is there.  When I shop I look for two things....healthiness and affordability. They are first and foremost in my mind as I view my list and trawl the aisles.

Safeway's Natural Brand
Safeway offers "Open Nature" brand poultry....meaning it's not been fed with anything nasty like hormones and antibiotics....given whole grains and so on.  It's a bit more pricey than the other varieties, and I'll confess that I can't always get "Open Nature," but I have tried it and it tasted really good...almost brought a tear to my eye.

But my wallet has the deciding vote. Mostly I'm left with Foster Farms...and when even that is priced too high, I get the lesser grade store brand. Fine quality, don't get me wrong. But you do get what you pay for. I've often been able to get the higher quality via the Mark-Down Bin, so that's a good place to start for poultry shopping excursions.

Be careful though!  Bring the meat over to your shopping cart and look at the color there-away from the special pink lights.  Smell the package. Feel the package.  If you can smell it, or the package feels sticky make sure it isn't opened somewhere.  If it is, don't - repeat DON'T buy it!  Return it if you can to the meat counter attendant.  Wash your hands soon as you can!

With so much of it available and so many different ways to cook it, Chicken doesn't have to be for Sunday anymore. So what's with Wednesday?  Why not chicken?



LEMONY CHICKEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK

2 or more lemons
2 TBS Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp fresh parsley chopped fine
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp dried rosemary

black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Garlic powder for extra flavoring
1 whole chicken about 3-4lbs
1 1/4  lbs small red potatoes cut in half

Preheat oven to 350
Squeeze lemons, set squeezed lemon halves aside for later use.
Combine parsley, garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, oil, pepper, salt, mustard and garlic in a bowl and blend well.
Set aside 2 TBS of this mixture for later use.

Put the chicken on a rack in a roasting pan-hint-use release spray or oil on rack and on pan for non-stick and easier clean-up! Gently slide your fingers between the meat and skin all around the bird, including breast, thighs and so on...careful not to tear the skin.  Spoon the remaining (larger amount not the 2 TBS reserved) between the skin and the meat all the way around.  Give it a rub while you're at it.
Sprinkle the outside with Garlic powder if you want to.
Place the lemon halves in the cavity.  Put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss the potatoes with the remaining lemon/parsley juice.
Slice additional lemon(s) into disks. Set aside 'til the last 10  minutes of cooking.
Arrange around the chicken and put back in the oven to bake for an hour, or until juices run clear.
During the last 10 minutes, add the lemon disks to the top of the chicken and put it back for the reminder of the baking time.
The internal temperature of the chicken should be 180 degrees.
Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with rice, sweet green peas and a nice salad.

Lemony and light...Chicken on Wednesday. Why not?