Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Let's talk kitchen stuff

Let's do something a little different- instead of me just talking about a recipe, let's get a conversation going about our favorite kitchen stuff. We all have some item we just can't live without and something we wish we'd never wasted money on, a favorite cookbook, whatever the case may be. 

If you are serious about cooking, then you probably are serious about your kitchenware as well. I know I am! I believe that if you really care about the food you are preparing, you need to have the best equipment and utensils. You need to buy the best quality utensils your budget will allow.  You might think you're saving money buying a cheaper set or item, but if you have to replace if every couple years, your savings are going out the window.

Let's start with prep tools. The most basic of prep tools for me are knives. When choosing my knives I considered them an investment and I wanted knives that would last as long as I am able to cook, and perhaps be handed down to my children if they want them. There are a LOT of great knives on the market. You can find a pretty decent set of knives at the big box stores and they can hold up for quite a while. I used to have knives like that, but I found that I was always sharpening and checking for nicks. One thing I don't want is to be replacing knives every few years.

So I went knife shopping. I did my research. I knew what I wanted, I wanted high quality forged steel with a full tang through the handle. I wanted a respected name and I wanted something that lasted forever. I chose Wusthof, but rather than buy a pre-made set, I bought an empty block and individually chose the specific knives for the uses I wanted, a santoku knife, chef's knife, bread knife, sandwich knife, tomato knife, meat slicing knife, scissors and an assortment of varied use paring knives.

Cookware was an easy decision. I knew I wanted Calphalon. I've seen it used by other cooks and loved the performance of the hard anodized finish.  I wanted to avoid the nonstick coatings that scratch and flake and are potentially hazardous. Calphalon has cookware in all different price ranges, both sets and open stock. I got lucky and found a nice set at Kohl's for under $500 and added a few open stock pieces to complete my needs- a grill pan, for one. I have also added a few AllClad pieces here and there when I'd get a good deal.

If you have been following my blog for very long then you KNOW I am totally, utterly and hopelessly in love with all things LeCreuset. I FINALLY got my first dutch oven not that long ago after scrimping and saving and waiting for the right sale at Williams Sonoma and it happened to be during a season that they had colors I loved! I have lovingly used that awesome piece for some wonderful stews and braises, even duck confit!

I have also accumulated some fun pieces over the years- a Guy Fieri Knuckle Sandwich chef's knife, a Cutco chef's knife that cuts through bone like butter, and a variety of other fun utensils. IKEA has relieved me of several dollars over the last few years.

And then......... there are the cookbooks. I am a cookbook hoarder!! I like to buy a new cookbook and sit down in my comfy seat and read it cover to cover like other people read bestsellers. And I have cookbooks of all kinds, old church cookbooks I found at garage sales to books written by celebrity chefs. I could have an entire library of cookbooks if I had enough bookshelves (maybe someday).

I have some other kitchen items, some I thought I HAD to have, like an espresso machine that has been used once, a Keurig k-cup machine (like I needed another coffee maker that I don't use), a collection of Bundt pans I have no idea why I bought, and baking utensils of all kinds. But the one item in my kitchen you will have to pry from my cold, dead hands- my Kitchenaid stand mixer. I could not live without that!

So, I've talked about some of my favorite things in the kitchen- what are some of yours? What is your go-to cooking utensil? The best kitchen gift you've ever received? The biggest waste of money? Let's hear some feedback!!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

One Hot Jelly Mama !!!!

The Mad Scientist is at it again !!!  I couldn't HELP myself !! My wonderful friend Ron Elkins has this awesome fresh pepper business in Florida, www.ghostpepperfarms.com, and I couldn't help but order some fresh ghost chiles this summer, as we did not grow any at home this year.

Well a pound of ghost chiles is A LOT of heat to work with so I knew I needed to get creative and fast. Knowing that pepper jelly is a pretty popular food and super easy to whip up, I thought  I'd do at least one batch. Researching recipe after recipe I couldn't really find what I wanted. Many called for red bell pepper, which is a readily available ingredient, but for me in small town Iowa, can be outrageously expensive. I know a lot of people make jellies from fruit juices so my little brain started thinking.......apple ? Too mild. Grape ? Too sweet. Ahhhhh CRANBERRY !!!!

So armed with 100% cranberry juice NOT cocktail, with no added sugar I began my experiment!! 

NOTE: This recipe/method is minimum 2 days prep so allow for that time.

Hotter Than Death Ghostly Cranberry Jelly

8 cups cranberry juice
4 ghost chiles
1 package Mrs. Wages pectin (just happens to be the brand I used, use whatever you like)
9 cups sugar

Start off by heating the cranberry juice to simmering. Meanwhile, CAREFULLY quarter the peppers leaving the stem end intact. Seeds and everything stay inside for now. 

Once the juice is hot, add the peppers,cover and let steep overnight. Refrigerate when it's cooled down a bit.

The next day TASTE TEST your juice. If it is way too hot you can replace some of the juice with fresh cranberry juice that has not been steeped with pepper. If you don't think it's as hot as you like, reheat WITH the peppers in the juice and allow to steep overnight, or add another pepper if you have one. The next day you will want to re-taste again before proceeding. Mine was not quite hot enough so I reheated the juice with the peppers in it, let it steep another couple hours and then it was perfect. You want a product with good hot hot hot heat that is still edible. When you have reached the right amount of heat, strain the juice through a jelly bag or coffee filter to remove all seeds and proceed with the jelly making.

In saucepan, combine juice with pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium high heat. Add sugar all at once, stir constantly and return to full rolling boil for one minute. Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary.

Ever stared down into a volcano filled with molten lava?
Ladle hot jelly into 8 or 4 ounce jars, wipe rims, fix lids and seals and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water, allow to cool at room temperature overnight. Remember, sometimes jelly does not "jel" immediately. Give it a few days before reprocessing with more pectin if needed. Check for proper seals, refrigerate or freeze any that did not seal. Label and store in cool, dry place. After my jelly boil over and sticky mess to clean up I ended up with 13 half pint jars processed and a custard cup in the fridge to test.

Now.......you have this beautiful ruby red and hellishly hot jelly. This is NOT peanut butter and jelly stuff, so what do you do with it? Some people like to spoon it over a softened block of cream cheese and serve with crackers. I plan to use it as a glaze/sauce for sticky sweet hot wings, a glaze for pork roast or kebabs, even steak cubes. Mix a little with cubed chicken and fresh Asian veggies for a spicy stir fry. Add a teaspoon to a vinaigrette for a roaring hot kick in the pants. Use your imagination and have fun !!