Kitchen tools that make my world go round

Every chef has their favorite tools. I mean, there’s a reason every chef brings their own knives to a kitchen. High-quality tools make a world of difference, and if you’re thinking about getting serious about cooking, consider making an investment in some great utensils. It took me a long time to figure that out, but I understood just how important good tools were when I got my first ‘real’ knife. It only took one slice of a tomato to see that a good knife is an investment as opposed to something that just helps get dinner on the table. Now I cut everything with it and it’s my most beloved tool. I have this Robert Welch chef knife and I happen to think it’s kind of sexy. It also fits in your hand nicely, is light-weight and has yet to fail me.

Here are some of my other favorite tools that I use on a regular basis:

Microplane zester
This thing is great for anything that needs a quick zesting or for finishing dishes with parmesan, nutmeg or other spices. At about $14.00, it’s worth your time to find one of these!

Garbage bowl. Well, for garbage and scraps.
Helps tremendously to have nearby and also cuts down the number of trips to the garbage can. (This one costs nothing, unless you want some celebrity chef brand of garbage bowl.)

Y peeler
Like a good knife, invest in a quality peeler. I use this Rösle model and I lurrrve it. Oh so much easier to handle! (It’s also not hard on the eyes either, if you’re into good-looking kitchen utensils.)

Cutting board (Kinda goes along with having good knives.)
Make sure you have some mineral oil to keep it in good shape. Look for bamboo or teak cutting boards. They may be a little more high-maintenance, but they’re worth the investment in time. I recently purchased this one, and I love it! NEVER use a glass cutting board with a good knife. Just don’t do it – it will destroy your blade. Bamboo and/or teak/sustainable material boards are your best bet.

And last, but not least on my list – the most exclusive thing I have in my arsenal is my loving wife, Terry. (Awwww….yeah, I went there.) Seriously. She’s a wonderful sous chef, entertainer, critic, and most importantly, supporter. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in life or the kitchen, and that is the truth!

I could keep going, but these are just a few of the things I use in my kitchen to make the yummy dishes that keep us well-fed. There are many more things that are on my wish list, but I’ll save that for another time!

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Cavatapi with squash, chiles and hazelnuts

It feels like forever since I cooked a meal! We were in Las Vegas for a quick vacation earlier this week and I was looking forward to some sun, roulette, and of course, food! Everything we ate was to die for. We revisited Rao’s for their delicious shrimp scampi but the star of the trip was dinner at Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay’s place in Caesar’s Palace. Holy cow was that food good! I had the ancho chile honey glazed salmon and Terry ordered a special vegan chile relleno. Deliciousness all around. You can bet that I will be replicating that salmon dish fairly soon.

Also, since we returned, we received our first delivery from Blue Apron. The package was waiting for us when we got home and I have to say it was like opening gifts on Christmas morning. Every ingredient comes perfectly portioned out, clearly labeled and there are also these adorable ‘goodie bags’ that package up the garnishes and smaller ingredients for each dish. Each recipe also comes with detailed, easy to follow instructions that you can keep in case you want to make the dish again. We’ve had 2 out of the 3 meals so far and both have been really good. I’m not sure how long we’ll keep up with the service, (we got this first delivery as a gift subscription) but for now, it’s fun and exciting to get to play with some new ingredients.

Feeling very inspired by the amazing food we had in Vegas, I was ready to get back into the kitchen. I opted for this pasta dish, which may be a little out of season, but nevertheless, I was dead set that this was going to be our dinner.

The surprise in this dish is the mint. I wasn’t sure how the flavor was going to come through, but after one good bite with all of the elements on it, the mint totally stood out. If you make this, don’t skip the mint! This was so good we practically devoured the entire thing.

My one recommendation would be to shorten the amount of time they say to cook the butternut squash. I would cook it for about 3 minutes instead of 5 because by the time everything was done, the squash was a tad over-cooked.

Delicious!!

cavatapi

Recipe from Bon Appetit
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. fresh orecchiette or other fresh or dried small pasta
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ small butternut squash, peeled, cut into ½” pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, divided
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup blanched hazelnuts
  • 4 Tbsp. torn fresh mint leaves, divided
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350°. Spread out hazelnuts on a small rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Let cool, then coarsely chop; set aside.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente (about 5 minutes for fresh pasta). Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash and cook, tossing occasionally, until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, just until garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Immediately add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid to keep garlic from burning; reduce heat to low and gradually add butter, swirling skillet and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until a thick, glossy sauce forms.

Add pasta to skillet with squash and sauce and toss to coat. Add lemon juice, ¼ cup Parmesan, 2 Tbsp. mint, and remaining ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes and toss to combine; season with salt and pepper.

Serve pasta topped with reserved hazelnuts, more Parmesan, and remaining 2 Tbsp. mint.

DO AHEAD: Hazelnuts can be toasted 5 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Pad thai pizza

I concocted this little recipe a few years ago, and now, for the first time I’m putting it down on paper. I had other plans for dinner this weekend, but this just sounded better and I haven’t made it in a while. Plus, the kitchen is closing early tonight in order to be ready for the season premiere of Mad Men!!! I’m excited but also irritated that they’re copping out and splitting the final season into two seasons. Greedy much? Gah! Anyway….back to the food.

I love pad thai, it’s really versatile and you can probably make it a hundred different ways. My brilliant idea was turn it into a pizza. It’s got all the same flavors and ingredients as pad thai, just not the noodles. (And no scallions either because I hate those, so include them if you’re into that sort of thing).

pad-thai-peanuts

Once it’s all pulled together, it’s going to be a bit of a mess to eat. Keep a fork handy!

PS – this peanut sauce is really good and could be used for any other recipe that calls for peanut sauce.

pad-thai-pizza

Recipe

Peanut Sauce

  • 2tbs creamy peanut butter
  • 2tbs teriyaki sauce
  • 1tbs sweet chili sauce
  • 1tsp honey

Pizza

  • 1 pizza crust (If you want to make your own, I have a recipe here. Today I just used a store-bought one.)
  • Tofu (or other protein of choice)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup cilantro (or more or less depending on your taste)
  • 1/4 cup peanuts
  • Fresh bean sprouts
  • 1 lime

The peanut sauce is going to be your base, so mix to incorporate all ingredients and spread it over the pizza crust. Toss the tofu in what’s left of the sauce. Throw the tofu on top of the pizza and cook according to crust package ingredients.

While the pizza is cooking, scramble the eggs, set aside.

Chop the peanuts and the cilantro and mix them together.

When the pizza is out of the oven, top with (in this order) the scrambled eggs, sprouts, then the peanuts and cilantro.

Squeeze lime over pizza before serving.

Sunshine bars

In honor of the sun and great weather we had for (most) of this weekend, I pulled out this recipe for sunshine bars. You know what, though? I really don’t like the name of it. So I’m just going to call it what it is: lemon-grapefruit bars. I usually don’t spend a lot of time with dessert, but I’ve made a few over the last couple weeks that were pretty darn good.

This is a really good one to make if you’re heading to a party and are on dessert duty. I like it because it makes a million little bites, and a little goes a long way. And what’s even better, it’s the easiest kind of baking you can do. Mix a little sugar, a few eggs, squeeze some lemons, done and done. It’s a totally approachable and easy dish to make, so give it a try if you’ve been shy about baking something!

lemon-bar

Recipe from Leah Eskin

Prep: 20 minutes
Bake: 55 minutes
Makes: 48 small bars

  • 3 cups sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 3 grapefruits
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut up
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained (from about 8 lemons)
  • 6 eggs

1. Buzz: Measure sugar into the food processors. Drop in grapefruit zest. Buzz to a fine grapefruit-scented powder, about 1 minute. Scoop ¼ cup scented sugar into a small bowl; set aside. Scoop 2 ¼ cups scented sugar into a large mixing bowl; set aside.

2. Combine: Measure 1 ½ cups flour and the salt into the remaining ½ cup scented sugar in the food processor. Buzz to combine. Drop in butter. Pulse many times. Mixture will look like fine sand, then coarse sand, then big clumps.

3. Pat: Dump clumps into a 13-x-9-inch baking pan. Pat into the bottom of the pan. Slide into a 325-degree oven and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.

4. Whisk: Meanwhile, whisk remaining ½ cup flour into the scented sugar in the large mixing bowl. Whisk in juice. Whisk in eggs.

5. Bake: When pastry is golden, lower oven temperature to 300 degrees. Pour egg mixture over pastry and bake until center is just set, about 30 minutes. Pull pan out of oven.

6. Gild: Spread remaining ¼ cup scented sugar over the top. Cool. Chill. Cut into 48 bars.

 

Dinner for one: Pan-seared salmon with spinach and pink grapefruit pinot noir sauce

I made A LOT of food this weekend. It started with the tomato-basil soup I made on Saturday, to be served on Sunday for a family lunch. I cooked so much I didn’t even take a picture of the soup, but it’s a really good recipe, so if you want to try it yourself, here’s the original recipe. I definitely recommend getting roma tomatoes. Don’t substitute! Also, don’t forget to add a little sugar to cut back on the acidity.

Also part of today’s menu was stuffed mushrooms and banana split bites for dessert.

Since we had leftovers, Terry had those and I chose to make a separate dinner for myself – this pan seared salmon recipe. I knew I was going to want a good and easy dinner, so I looked for some salmon recipes and found this one on The Food Network website, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse.

Continue reading

Stuffed mushrooms

It’s always great when you can re-purpose ingredients for a new dish. Today for a lunch appetizer, I used the leftover ricotta filling and pesto sauce from the tortellini I made for Terry. Both ingredients freeze well, just take them out the day before you want to use them to let them thaw. Let the pesto thaw in the fridge and then take it out several hours before you need it so it comes up to room temperature.

Just get some fresh mushroom caps (any variety will do, I used white button and baby portabella would be great, too). Stuff with the cheese, top with the pesto and voila! Easy appetizer. Pop them in the oven for 12-14 minutes and serve.

Original recipe here!

stuffed_mushrooms

Banana split bites

I’m going to start out by saying I will probably never make these again. Cute and tasty as they are, they are not that easy to put together. You have to be quick or it will melt everywhere!

They’re pretty good though. If you feel like taking on a quick-fire dessert and have some help on the assembly line, maybe you can make them work. I barely got a picture in before they all fell apart!

bananas1

Thanks to my brother-in-law, if you want to try these, maybe take his idea to dip the whole banana in chocolate and put them in the freezer first. Then dress them up with the goodies and serve. It may make things easier. Or try it once and maybe you’ll find an easier way to assemble these. If you do, let me know!!

This picture was taken barely a minute after they were put together – they just don’t hold up.

bananas2

bananas3

Ingredients:

  • 4 firm bananas – get some while they’re still green
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Whip cream
  • Chocolate, melted
  • Peanuts, sprinkles or other garnish
  • Cherries, blueberries or other fruit topping

To assemble, slice the bananas with the skin still on. Scoop out the inside with a melon baller and put in the freezer. (Careful how long you freeze them. I had them in there for a couple hours and it was too hard to get the peel off.) Melt the chocolate, dip the ends of the bananas in the chocolate then top with ice cream, whip cream and fruit. And do it quickly!