Archive for category Gadgets & Paraphernalia

Just One Word for You: Plastics

White and brown plastic kitchen scrapers

What Are They?

Well, on the basic level they are thin, semi-flexible pieces of plastic. On a more metaphysical level, they are one of the greatest gadgets ever invented for the pan washing person in your household (that person is named Paul where I live… you might call your pot washer something else).

How Do They Work?

Let’s say you have a pot that is crusty because you made pasta sauce and left it to sit overnight. You’re just lazy like that, aren’t you? But you are a good steward of your pots, so you don’t put them in the dishwasher. What to do? After a bit of soaking, you still have some stuck on ick bits. Take this piece of plastic and scrap those bits off.

Because it’s plastic, you can use it on those nonstick surfaces we’re not supposed to be using anymore. They’re semi-flexible which means that they’re also semi-hard (mind out of gutter, please). The semi-hard part means they’re tough enough to really scrap off stuck stuff from stainless steel.

Just keep in mind that you should wash them off after you’re done, or you’ll need a scraper for your scraper.

Do I Really Need One?

I wouldn’t know as I don’t do dishes, but that guy called Paul sweating over the steamy, soapy water swears by them.

Where Can I Buy My Very Own?

Hmmm… the brown one pictured came as a freebie from Pampered Chef (thanks to a coworker who appreciates my need for clean kitchen implements) and the white/blue one was a gift from my mom (who started me on my need for clean kitchen implements).

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Does a Dinosaur Roar?!??!

Green Dinosaur

What Is It?

Sometimes I am prissy and like to pretend that my life is more like a glossy magazine than it really is… I imagine that the screaming toddler at the dinner table really enjoys my cooking and his high-pitched wail is actually a foreign language where he is saying, “But, Mother, this linguine is divine!” At those times, I eat with pasta rakes while wearing an evening gown… often listening to Bach or some other grown-up music.

But, in fact, I have a toddler. So, dinner often involves throwing of various food objects. I’m certainly not going to wear an evening gown to that sort of event. And, I most definitely am not bringing my pasta rakes.

Instead, I’ll use this cute dinosaur to pick up my son’s pasta. Then when he throws it at my head, I will at least have the satisfaction in knowing that my rakes were not used for such nefarious purposes.

How Does It Work?

It works like your regular pasta spork, but you need to make dinosaur roaring noises while using it. Then, as the pasta falls on the plate, you should maybe make a fake vomit noise like the dino threw up the pasta. (I have a boy. I have to learn to be disgusting.)

Do I Really Need It?

Yes. Sometimes, it’s nice to remember that glossy magazines aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And, a dinosaur that vomits pasta can make dinner enjoyable.

Where Can I Buy My Very Own?

I’m not really sure. This came to me via my sister-in-law. She is sage in the ways of the boy toddler at dinner time having gone through it three times herself. (Four if you count witnessing my husband as a boy child.)

If you want one of your own, I’m sure you can sleuth it out via the interWebs.

**The title of this post comes from one of my son’s favorite bedtime books, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague.

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Playing with Fire

Wee little hair dryer

What Is It?

A very tiny hair dryer for a very tiny head. Please know that I’m joking. If you use it as a hair dryer, it will light your head on fire. And, flames from the side of your face are only funny if you’re Madeline Kahn. This is actually a wee blowtorch used for cooking.

How Does It Work?

A bit awkwardly after all of the safety measures are taken. You have to pull back on the red bit on the side, press down on the back lever, and then push the back button in to get the flame a throwin’. Then, you can spread fire like it’s going out of style.

Do I Really Need It?

If you make a ton of crème brûlée, sure. Although, you could just use the broiler on your stove to melt the sugar and create that wonderful shell. (And, I suspect if you are making a ton of crème brûlée, that’s probably what you do.) It’s also good for getting those brown tops on meringue.

But thanks to Martha Stewart, I find a blowtorch especially useful for taking skin off of fish. Running a blowtorch over a fish with skin will “tighten” it up. (You can sear tuna this way if you have sushi grade fish laying around.) If you make a few slits before starting the flame, you can actually use the blowtorch to pull the skin off the fish. Way less messy than the knife method I was taught.

So, to answer the question: Probably not. Now that I have one, I kind of want to get a big industrial sized one similar to those we had in cooking school. Power on and the flame is ready. Not the safest kitchen implement, but totally cool to have around.

Where Can I Buy My Very Own?

You can get the wee ones online. But be forewarned that in most cases, when buying online you will have to purchase the butane separately. Something about hazardous materials and shipping and blah blah blah. I guess they don’t want mail trucks to spontaneously erupt into flames.

You can get the big dogs at Home Depot or Lowe’s. (Seriously, that’s the kind we used in culinary school. I’m so surprised that the building is still standing after the night we made liquor-based compound butters and meringue where we were drinking more of the liquor than was actually making it into the butter.)

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The Pan That Spawned the Dish

Metal paella pan with red handles

What Is It?

A pan, obviously… specifically, a paella pan (which interestingly enough really means pan pan as the word paella derives from the Latin for pan). Anyhoo, this super wide, lightweight, and shallow pan is used for cooking that beauty of Spanish dishes—paella.

How Does It Work?

Traditionally, paella was (and still is) cooked outdoors over wood fires. So, you need a pan that can take a beating but will also heat up quickly (hence the thinness of the metal). You’ll notice dimples on the surface of the pan. This can help with even heat distribution as you’re not supposed to stir paella whilst it cooks.

You also need something large enough to feed a lot of people because in the early days, paella-cooking was a festive, community affair. This beauty is 15” across, and by no means a large pan. It easily fits on my stovetop. I live in a much more inhospitable climate than Valencia, so I probably won’t get outside to cook paella very often.

Finally, you need something with sturdy handles because paella is typically served from the pan. So, easy removal from the heat source is key.

Do I Really Need It?

Nah. I made a decent paella in one of my every day pans. But, you can’t really beat cooking a dish named for a pan in the pan it was supposed to be cooked in.

Where Can I Buy My Very Own?

Pretty much any retailer of pots and pans. Mine came to me (thanks to lovely cousins in South Carolina) from Spain via Williams-Sonoma. Sometimes, I feel like I should work at W-S. I did a quick search and this exact style pan is sold at any number of online retailers.

Now, we just have to wait for the weather to warm up. And, I’ll get the old Weber grill fired up for some outdoor summer paella fun.

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Useful and Funny

Metal measuring spoons

What Are They?

If you can’t tell that these are measuring spoons, you’re an idiot. If you can’t read what they say, then you should probably get to an eye doctor. But, just in case, they are labeled Dash, Smidgen, and Pinch. That’s right. These are super tiny measuring spoons. So, that makes them funny to have around. (And, now I realize I should have taken a picture next to a dime or something so you could have seen how wee they are.) The dash is a bit small than a ⅛ teaspoon measure, and they get smaller from there.

How Do They Work?

Well, genius, just like a regular measuring spoon. Insert into dry ingredient, pull out with stuff on it.

Do I Really Need Them?

Obviously, you respond, “No. I do not need them. This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of.” And, then you think for a minute. You ask yourself, “Is my dash a bit too heavy-handed? Could this be why Grandmama’s ye olde cookie recipe never quite tastes right?” Then, you ponder it a bit more, and you think, “My fingers ARE fat. My pinch is probably a giant size pinch!” You come to this realization: How have I ever lived without these miniature measuring spoons? I will have to rethink my entire kitchen experience.

OK, maybe you don’t go that far. (If you’re me, you go that far…) But still, did you even realize that there’s a standard for smidgen?

Where Can I Buy My Very Own?

And, this is the best part of the entire wee measuring spoon experience. You get these suckers at the old country store in front of Cracker Barrel. That’s right, I know people who eat at Cracker Barrel, and they sometimes bring me treats like penny candy and ornaments in the shape of Cracker Barrel restaurants, and yes, even mini measuring spoons. (You didn’t think I’ve actually eaten there, did you? OK, I have, on occasion, been known to get down with a Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast complete with Sawmill gravy… but give a girl a break. I LOVE brunch and sometimes there’s nothing doing for miles and miles around but a Cracker Barrel. Enough of my shame. )

Now, that I think about it… these might have come from my mom…. not my dad. If they were a gift from my dad, then they’d definitely be from the Cracker Barrel. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize, these were probably a gift from my mom. Which means that you can get them at a dozen online stores, and you have no need to go to Cracker Barrel. And, you can probably just forget that I mentioned anything about eating there. If you happen to pass by and see my car in the parking lot, pay no attention. I’m not inside eating crazy amounts of hashbrown casserole. Not me. No siree.

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A Very, Very Heavy Frisbee

What Is It?

If you do use it as a Frisbee, you might seriously do some harm as it’s made out of cast iron. The “helper” handle coming off the side is removable (good thing, too).

This is known as a diffuser. And, it comes in more than just cast iron—you can get them in aluminum, tin, cooper, and probably a bunch of other metals.

How Does It Work?

You put it over a burner on your stove to diffuse the heat. Apparently, people who are used to cooking on an electric stove and then switch to gas use these guys because they seem to think that gas stoves are too powerful and they end up scorching stuff. (I’ve always cooked on a gas stove, so I’ve never had an issue.)

I bought mine for use with my tagine. Tagines are made out of pottery and pottery tends to crack when exposed to high heat, so the diffuser helps keep your tagine intact.

Now, you realize why I put the quotes around the “helper” handle. That sucker is made out of metal… which as you may know, gets quite scorching when put next to a heat source. So, I ask, why would you want to even touch that super short handle after you have had your diffuser simmering stove top for several hours? Yeah, I’m probably going to throw that handle away in a hot minute.

Do I Really Need It?

If you cook with pottery, yes. If you have a gas stove that doesn’t have a simmer burner, then I suppose this would help… but I’m still skeptical on that score.

Where Can I Buy My Very Own?

Just about anywhere that sells cooking gear. There is a huge range of prices. The cheap, thin versions go for a few dollars. While, you could easily spend $50 on a larger, cast iron one.

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Berber, You Say?

Pretty white tepee dish with blue painted pattern

What Is It?

The dish and the pot have become synonymous. This is a tagine, the pot in which you cook tagine—the traditional stew-like concoction made by the Berbers in North Africa. There are two pottery pieces, the lid that looks like a tepee and the base.

How Does It Work?

First, you have to season it by coating it with a bit of olive oil and then baking it in an oven. (Start the oven out cold and let it preheat it with the tagine inside per the manufacturer’s instructions.) After it’s cooled down, put meat, vegetables, and spices in it and set it on a very low heat (yup, this is a stovetop number). The steam circulates and condenses inside the lid so that the food doesn’t dry out.

Again, like the clay baker, the more you use it, the more the pottery soaks in the awesome spices.

Do I Really Need It?

As with all stew-type dishes, the benefit of the long, low simmer is that you can use cheaper cuts of meat and still get the quality taste. That’s why I have a slow cooker, you say. But, how much cooler do you look bringing this bad boy to the table than that “ready to serve” insert from your electric gadget?

Plus, tagine spices warrant a tagine cooking experience. If you love Moroccan food, then you kind of have to go old school. (OK, don’t get your undies in a bunch. I know that the Tunisians make a fine tagine as well. I just have never been to a Tunisian restaurant—and I’ve been to Moroccan.)

What really sold me on the whole tagine experience is ordering a breakfast version at Medina Cafe in Vancouver, Canada. Pretty spot on way to cook eggs.

Where Can I Buy My Very Own?

You don’t even have to go to Africa. Williams-Sonoma made this number, but several companies make them in a variety of colors and prices. You can even get cast iron versions, but that defeats the purpose of aging the earthenware.

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