Archive for the ‘Essential Tools’ Category

Seasoning to Taste – and fond memories…..

It’s been a long while but I still remember some very special meals at grandma’s house. Whenever I’d ask her how she made something she’d reply, ‘Oh, I don’t know how much of anything goes in there, I just add a little of this and that until it tastes right’.  Bigmama, as we called her, didn’t have measuring spoons or measuring cups. Years later when I’d try to replicate one of her recipes, for more than one reason, it just didn’t come out the same.

Nowadays when I’m lucky enough to watch a coveted recipe in progress I can come fairly close to replicating it.  Even so the streams of liquids pouring into a bowl can be impossible to estimate as are random scoops of ‘this and that’.  I’ve often thought there must be a better way to capture creative genius.  Then one day I recalled the secrets of baking – all ingredients, no matter how small, are weighed. Professional bakers don’t use cups or teaspoons, they use pounds and ounces or grams and kilograms.  Baking relies a lot on chemistry and a key to making a consistent product is precise control of measurements. My plan was coming together – the next time I wanted badly enough to learn someone else’s recipe, with their permission I’d weigh their ingredients before and after use, then I’d have the measurements.  Now all I needed was a cooperative cook. So was the case of my husband, John, and his excellent Chili.

Soon I recognized that one of John’s favorite seasonings, Worcestershire Sauce, would show up in more than one of his prized recipes.   He doesn’t cook often but when he does he has a knack for rich, bold flavor. Made of vinegar, pepper, and anchovies, Worcestershire Sauce has a savory (umami) quality that really delivers.   We made a deal. The next time Chili was on the menu I would weigh the bottle of Worcestershire Sauce in advance and then again afterwards, leaving only the steps to observe and document for posterity. In just one shot I scored the excellent Chili recipe, and more important the proper amount of his secret ingredient – thanks in no small part to a must-have kitchen tool, the digital scale.

I use a Salter Stainless Steel Digital Scale, which I paid about $30 for a few years ago.  This model calculates weights in pounds and kilograms (Imperial and Metric Systems), and is precise to within 1/8 of an ounce, enough to calculate postage.  If you don’t have a good kitchen scale already, don’t waste too much time getting one. Then spend some time with grandma, if you are fortunate enough to still have her, and learn her recipes.  She’ll feel very special and you’ll have a family treasure forever.

Essential Tools – Thermometers

There are just a few kitchen tools that I consider essential and thermometers are at the top of the list.  Much of cooking really comes down to science. Time and temperature are important for food safety and consistent results when cooking.  Using a thermometer is a way to ensure both.

This photo shows my collection, each having their own specific uses:  In the lower left is a bi-metalic stem thermometer (with a red plastic cover just beside it), the kind you may see in a chef’s pocket or sleeve on their jacket. It has a dial display for checking the temperature of the thickest parts of cooked foods.  To the right is a white Remote Roasting Thermometer  connected to a probe on a wire cord from Williams-Sonoma. This has a digital display for a more accurate temperature reading than the bi-metalic stem thermometer, able to monitor temperatures from outside of the oven while food is cooking inside the oven. This thermometer will sound an alarm when a preset the temperature is reached for a varity of meats.  I won’t cook a whole turkey without it.

Next over is the red-handled Infrared Laser BBQ Surface Thermometer by Maverick. Designed to measure the surface temperature of BBQ grills, it also has many other uses in the kitchen. This very accurate tool will sense the temperature of an object without touching it, displaying results digitally in Fahrenheit and Centigrade. I use it most often to determine when my stove-top skillet has reached the right temperature for cooking. The photo on the left is from the Maverick product description found on Amazon’s website.

Lastly, the thermometer on the far right in my collection above is an every day oven thermometer that you can pick up at most grocery stores. This hangs from the center rack inside the oven and keeps track of temperatures in a similar way the bi-metalic stem thermometer does. It has a dial display and is not as accurate as a digital display thermometer but very useful to have.

Oven temperatures swing widely depending on manufacturer and age of the oven. Each time the oven door is opened heat is lost.  Oven thermometers help you monitor what is really happening inside. For best results use thermometers in cooking and calibrate those that will allow you to do so. See manufacturer for instructions.

Upcoming recipes will make reference to all of these thermometers and more.