Wednesday, July 20, 2011

METHOD - The Sound of One Hand Egg Cracking

Egg legerdemain
If you've ever watched a cooking show or a chef guest spot on a talk or news you've seen it.  That trick of cracking eggs with one hand.
Have you tried it yet?  Well I have.  And after several miserable attempts I actually got the hang of it!

Then after a while I did it so often it became commonplace. I had to raise the bar. I had to keep it fresh so proceeded to teach myself how one hand crack an egg in each hand. Then how to do both at the same time.  That was during a time when there wasn't really a lot else going on for me, so I learned origami and honed some cooking skills. 

There are some tricks to it, at least my version of doing it at any rate. You need a fair amount of dexterity in your fingers, especially the two middle ones....you know, the ones Spock uses in his special greeting.  I'll try to explain, and let the pictures tell the tale as well.

But first a bit of a disclaimer.  I don't claim that my method is the "professional" or right way. Nor do I claim you'll never get egg shells in your eggs.  To the contrary!  Most likely for the first several attempts you'll have 'em all over your fingers, in the bowl and where ever else they want to go. Fear not!  This too shall pass.

While you're practicing, make sure you're not just wasting eggs....plan on making something with them, and the sooner the better!  Eggs can go bad quicker when they're no longer in their shells.

Okay....here goes. 
Lightly tap the egg against the bowl
Grasp your egg firmly between your thumb and forefinger.  Tap the egg lightly against the edge of the bowl.  You just want to crack the egg, not have its contents spill out prematurely.

Position egg over center of bowl
Next, lift the egg away from the side of the bowl so it is positioned over the middle of the bowl.  If you look at this next picture you can see how I'm pulling the egg apart primarily  with my ring finger, index (or bad) finger, pointer and thumb.

Guiding egg to split apart
Here's a much  closer shot of the process, showing the little finger and ring finger pulling the egg shell in one direction while the unseen index and pointing finger pull it in the other.  The thumb and palm act as holders. You want to maintain a steady grip. Just be careful!  Don't go using a death grip! Squeeze too hard and you'll end up with egg all over the place.

Egg coming out of shell

In this photo (using my right hand) you can see how I'm pulling the egg shell apart and allowing the innards to spill out.  Yes, my hand gets sticky.  The egg kind of slides past my two middle fingers sometimes, that's hard to avoid.  No matter.  Once you've gotten to this stage, you've done it!  Congratulations!The index and little fingers are doing their part, too; guiding their part of the shell to make the opening wider.

The birth of the egg....or is it re-birth?
Don't worry if you don't get the hang of it right away.  You will with a little practice, then you'll be wowing them in the aisles!  Or at least in the kitchen.  Good luck!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

KITCHEN TOOLS - The Rolling Pin

Here's to the rolling pin...that handy dandy tool that is at once dough roller, crumb maker, meat tenderizer, veggie smasher, talking stick and equalizer all in one.  The power one can wield with this device in hand is not to be ignored!  With it, a person can make biscuit dough cooperate, reduce hard cereals and so on to crumbs and so much more.

Let's get rolling!
I'd imagine it was one of the first real "kitchen" tools...although my version of its discovery may be slightly different from the actual facts.

Picture if you will, a cave.  The cave man of the house has just come home with breakfast...a rabbit, or it's equivalent. The cave woman of the house sees the hare and grumbles "Hasenpfeffer again!"

In anguish she takes a thick tree limb she's been playing with and smashes it against a pile of seeds. She notices the seeds crack open.  This is her Eureka moment.  She smashes the seeds to a fine paste, and after skinning the rabbit, rubs the meat with some of the seeds before setting it on a stick over the fire.

Mr. Neanderthal is happy with the results, so is the Missus.   She decides to try her magic stick on other things.  Gradually grain seeds are smashed to a powder, water is added....the stick is used to flatten out this mush into something.....and suddenly she's making breads and cookies.

And when hubby tries to steal one of the cookies still cooling on a rock, she smites his hand with that same utensil. And there you have it....the basis for not only the rolling pin as a kitchen tool, but the start of that life-long vision of woman "training"  man with a rolling pin.

Modern day rolling pins can be made of anything, from hollow plastic that you fill with ice water, through the various wood designs (with and without handles) and even pins made with copper, glass and marble, just to name a few.  The marble, metal and ice water filled varieties can be especially handy for working with finicky pastry dough.

According to Wikipedia, they come in different models:
  • Rod: Thin rods typically made of wood around 2–3 cm in diameter. They are used by rolling the rod across the dough using one's palm. The pins may be tapered at one or both ends for more pivot control in certain tasks such as making small jiaozi skins or pie shells. Most East Asian or French style rolling pins, and the Turkish Oklava are rod style.
  • Roller: Consists of a thick heavy roller made of a variety of materials around 7–10 cm in diameter with thinner handles which extend through the roller. They are used by grasping the handles and pushing the pin across the dough. Many Western rolling pins are roller types.
  • Textured: Some specialized rolling pins have textured surfaces that mark and indents the dough surfaces for special breads and pancakes.
The wooden ones are great for pastry, too....although I put mine in the freezer for a few moments to chill it before working with some doughs. 

It's a versatile tool no kitchen should be without! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW - KITCHEN TOOLS - Ball Tipped Whisks

 Whisk, whisk whisk!   How many eggs, sauces and other things have you whipped into shape through the years?  My first such experience was as a child at home in the kitchen with my mother.

We didn't have any of those fancy-schmancy wire doo-dads like on the cooking shows.  Nope!   We used a plain old table fork, or occasionally one of those hand-cranked egg beaters.  Of course for the really big jobs we just used a mixer.
Standard wire whisk
 My first experience with an actual wire whisk happened in tenth grade Home Economics class. I was immediately taken with how that tool made quick work of fluffing eggs, smoothing sauces and such.  

The construction and concept were so simple, elegant.  I couldn't wait to get one of my own, to try it out at home.

It took a while but I finally got one....in a gift basket of kitchen gadgets at my wedding shower.
I was thrilled.

Although the marriage didn't last, we were both so very young, my fascination for cooking and kitchen gadgets has remained strong.  So when I saw this latest version of the whisk, I had to get one and try it out. 
Ball tipped whisk set

What we're looking at is a set of ball tipped whisks. There are three different lengths to accommodate any task.   These particular ones were ordered online and they arrived were not a disappointment.

 
Generous handle, balanced feel
 Unlike some other kitchen products I've ordered via the
internet, these felt well built and didn't get all bent out of shape after one use.  The cook in me was pleased about that.  The arthritic in me appreciated the generous handles and balanced feel of each tool.

 They work well on most things...taking on thick sauces with ease.  But I must confess that the old fashioned wire whisk still wins, hands down, in the whisking egg yolks division.  For some reason the ball tipped variety doesn't work as well in that area, leaving thready, transparent bits of egg white and membrane unincorporated in the mixing bowl.

Lumpy sauce needing help
But it did wonders on a stubborn  cheese and cream sauce!  What began as a hopeless, lumpy mess was soon tamed....turned smooth and lumpless under this tool's will.

Lumps?  Gon

Don't overlook the other possible uses for these things - icing drizzling was the first thing that came to my mind.  I have a friend who went to cooking school and they had to take a regular wire whisk and lop the bowed ends off to make an icing drizzler.

No need for cosmetic surgery with the ball tipped whisk!

I'll bet you could come up with several new uses too!  Feel free to send them and they'll be put up in the blog!

Rating Scale for this kitchen tool :

Five bowls!  I love them!



Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th.....What would the founders think of our holiday fare?

When I was a youngster the 4th of July was something truly special; from the bunting along the parade route to the bar-b-ques and fireworks, it was a holiday to be reckoned with as far as festivities were concerned.

We really had picnics and potato sack races, hot dog eating contests, egg races (running across the field with a raw egg on a teaspoon a la Rata Nui....well, maybe not so dramatic as all that) and so on....the air thick with charcoal and burgers.  Soda pop tasted different then, so did lots of other things back when even cereal was "shot with sugar through and through."

I wonder what our founders would have thought of our diets...well maybe not even the whole cuisine Americana, just a meal in the life....like July 4th.    I wonder what they might have thought.

Hot dogs might have been more familiar than we think; sausage having been a form of meat preservation for a long time and in a lot of cultures.  Although our franks resemble more of the German than Italian variety, which would actually be more to the liking of say, George Washington.  He, Ben Franklin and the others would probably have enjoyed themselves thoroughly; no doubt taking the time to knock back a few beers with the local chaps.  Would they appreciate our modern brew, or find it wanting....too cold....too "light."
 ,
And then there's every modern cooking apparatus. Between the gas grills, microwave ovens, refrigeration and thermos containers they'd be totally amazed.....let alone the fact that we have electricity, cars, phones and so much else.  We might overhear whispers of witchcraft from the peanut gallery!

The world has come a long way since our Founders took that courageous stand for freedom back in 1776....
but in a lot of ways we're still very much the same underneath all the modern trappings.

One of my favorite things about picnics, July 4th or otherwise, is Potato Salad.  /

SIMPLY POTATO SALAD

There are as many ways to make it as there are stars in the sky; but they all have one very important ingredient-properly cooked, not mushy but not too hard potatoes.
After that it's all mixing and marination.

Potato Salad
To boil, steam or bake?  Well, steaming and baking retain more flavor....but again this is all a preference issue.   If boiling, start with cold water....cut 'taters into bite sized cubes.....peeling is also an option.  Lots of times I don't.. Bring water to a medium boil for10 to 15 minutes, or until a toothpick goes into the potato with little resistance.  Drain, run under cold water, drain again then chill for an hour in the fridge.

While that's taking place prepare your other ingredients.  As a child, I couldn't stand green bell peppers in potato salad. Mom had a terrible time trying to convince me of the culinary merit but I'd hear none of it.  These days I'm more open-minded but still consider it just one of many variations.

Diced onion, celery, hard boiled eggs....some folks even add bacon or olives....and there are several varieties of those to work with! German Potato Salad is warm and has a sweet, tangy vinegar nature to it.

White or American Potato Salad comes to us via mayonnaise....it comes to the plate cool, creamy and inviting.  Mayo is great, and can be added with a little sour cream or yogurt for an interesting turn of flavor- again, just an option.

Spices are important...important enough to be added with great care.  They shouldn't over power any of the other ingredients; rather they should be humble, complementary and well rounded.  Celery flakes (dried celery leaves) are fine if answered by something like a hint of garlic....salt and pepper to taste (dietary concerns to be considered), a dash of sweet paprika-not too heavy handed on this one!

Some will argue that pickle relish should be added....personally I don't, but that's just my own taste.

Pretty much just go with what you think tastes good together and don't forget to toss lightly rather than mix...let it rest periodically then when it's done cover it and put it in the fridge 'til it's time for service (or transporting to the cooler for the picnic!)

There are so many varieties of this dish, it's hard to pick a favorite.  Just remember to not over-cook the spuds, chill them before making them into salad and toss them lightly and you'll be fine.

If you'd like to share your recipes or other comments feel free. For now, happy 4th of July!

.




Friday, July 1, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW - Suzanne Somers' Skillets

Suzanne Somers' skillets
Lots of celebrities have gotten into the Home Shopping Network biz, touting products that carry their names to the American public.

Diane had an aunt who kept the t.v. station tuned in just about 'round the clock for fear she'd miss t he conversations, descriptions and calls from buyers...of course there's always the possibility that she'd miss seeing something else she really didn't need to purchase.

Suzanne Somers
Of course, Aunt Ester had her own reason. She said it kept her company. Hey...whatever floats your boat!

I don't watch a lot of those things for the simple reason that I have not "extra" around, so wouldn't want to be tempted to covet something I can't afford.   Also, I've always got something going on....watching t.v. isn't foremost on my agenda. However I am grateful that these networks and programs are in existence...otherwise I'd have never inherited some really great cooking tools and gadgets. That's how the Suzanne Somers' skillets came to me...and I am sooooo grateful. 

Suzanne may have played a "dummy" on Three's Company, but she's no dummy in real life.  She's been championing healthy living, exercise and cooking for a number of years and, from what I've been able to experience, offers products with a high standard of quality.

Stainless steel clad copper plate for even heating
The skillets are solidly constructed and well balanced with reliable; each has covered handles and a stainless clad copper plate on the bottom that acts as a heat-spreader. I think they are referred to as Omelet pans online.  After several atrocities passing themselves as skillets came and went through my kitchen, it was quite a hallelujah moment when those two pans crossed my threshold!


Secure handles
The pans are a pleasure to work with and easy to clean.  No matter what I've cooked in them, they come back gleaming.  The even heating prevents scorching..  The handles don't feel like they're going to fall off. The pan feels like it'll last a long, long time.

On a scale of one to five mixing bowls, I rate these at five....meaning the BEST!

Way to go, Ms. Somers!


If you have any suggestions, comments or ideas feel free to submit them!
Enjoy!