01 October 2012

Ten Useful Tips, Random Facts, and a Recipe....

Since I hurt my back in the car accident, I haven't really felt up to very much standing in the kitchen even though it's about my favorite thing to do.  I wanted to get something new up on the blog, though, so I thought I would  post some of my favorite kitchen hints and tips.  You may know them and you may not, but hopefully everyone will find something useful.

1.  Recipes always call for large eggs, even if they don't specify.  Eggs are one case where bigger isn't necessarily better -- the wrong size egg will totally screw up the balance of your recipe.

2.  To keep your pie crust from shrinking, do the following:  roll out the crust and put it in your pan, put the pan and crust in the refrigerator for 10 minutes before you bake it or fill it.  The dough shrinks because the gluten hasn't rested properly.  Gluten works hard and needs its rest.

3.  If you don't have buttermilk for a recipe (which I never do), get out a 1 cup measuring cup.  Pour in 1 Tbsp lemon juice and fill the cup the rest of the way with regular milk.  Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes before you use it.  You won't be able to tell the difference.

4.  You can make a pie crust out of almost any cookie or cracker.  Just grind up the cookies or crackers in a blender or food processor until you have 2 cups of crumbs.  Mix those crumbs with 3-4 Tbsp melted butter and 2-3 Tbsp sugar (for a sweet crust).  Adjust the melted butter as needed to get the crumbs to hold together when you press on them.  Voila!  Pie crust!  You can make flavored crusts in chocolate, almond, lemon, pretzel, Ritz cracker, nutter butter, animal cracker, etc.  Let your imagination run wild.

5.  What is Cream of Tartar?  I went into a Penzey's spices store and asked this very question once.  The very nice lady went into an explanation of what you use it for.  I already knew that, but I wanted to know where it comes from.  It turns out that Cream of Tartar is really potassium hydrogen tartrate and it is a sediment scraped from the insides of wine casks.  I think that's just pretty cool to know.

6.  Confession time....I don't sift.  I never have and I never will.  At least when it comes to dry ingredients for cakes, cookies, pies, etc.  I just stir the dry ingredients together really quickly with a fork or a whisk.  I break up clumps if there are any then let it fly.  Sometimes I don't even get that second bowl dirty and I add all the dry ingredients without the flour, followed very quickly by the flour, and keeping mixing to a minimum. I have never been able to tell any real difference.  Just keep it quick and keep your mixer going VERY slowly.

7.  Sugar is not a dry ingredient.  I always wondered, since sugar is obviously not wet.  It is considered a wet ingredient because it becomes liquid when it's cooked.  I think it's the only exception to the wet/dry rule.

8.  There are two kitchen tools that have really, truly changed my life -- my kitchen aid mixer (which I love so much I have it tattooed on my leg) and my Microplane zester.  I have no idea how I ever made anything without them.  I still own a handheld mixer, but I haven't used it in years and don't have any idea where it even is.  Microplane gadgets are made right here in Arkansas and they are the greatest thing you could have in your kitchen that costs less than $20.  My Microplane can thoroughly zest a lemon in about 10 seconds flat.  I am currently contemplating my next Microplane purchase.  Do I need to grate cheeses or apples more?

9.  Here's the easiest pie you will ever make:  Buy or make a graham cracker pie crust.  Mix together 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 container of Cool Whip, and a packet of Kool Aid.  Pour into the pie crust.  Chill for 30 minutes.  It's Kool Aid Pie!  You can use lemonade for lemon icebox flavor, lemon lime for key lime pie, strawberry for strawberry cream pie.  You can be extra fancy and add fresh fruit, too.  I like to make mine with lemon-lime Kool Aid and a small can of drained mandarin oranges.  It's tastes like that fluffy jello-marshmallow stuff they served at church picnics and potlucks when I was a kid.

10.  Baking is all about precision when it comes to flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, eggs, cocoa powder, and spices.  You can be a little more freehand with other things like extracts and flavorings and adjust them to your taste.  Since baking is all about precision with some things please go out and buy good, utilitarian measuring cups and spoons.  Oh, and be sure your spoons will fit into spice jars.  It's something you don't think about until they won't fit.  I learned this the hard way.  I know they have really cute ones at places like Anthropologie that look really nice on your counter, but you can't count on their precision.  Let those be decoration if you must buy them, but use the not so pretty ones for accuracy when you need it.

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