Category Archives: Kitchen Tools

KEEPING ICE CREAM

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Growing up we had goats and that meant an ample supply of milk and cream. That of course was why we never bought ice cream. Homemade all the way baby!

When I got married and bought a carton the frozen gunk on top would drive me nuts. Then I saw a simple solution on TV one day and gave it a try. By George it worked and I have been doing it for 20 years.

You need 2 things. Ice cream (preferably dirt cheap)

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and Serane wrap.

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Simply rip off a piece and push it down onto the ice cream. Air is what causes that nasty gunk and the plastic wrap needs to completely cover the ice cream to keep it out.

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And that’s it, perfect ice cream every time.  Now I am going to get myself a scoop.

Fixing the Kitchen Aid Mixer

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I love my Kitchen Aid but lately the head has been wobbly when it runs. I found a video today that showed me how to fix it in less than 1 minute.

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All I needed was a flat head screwdriver with a long handle. I locked it into place, pushed in a bolt,

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tipped it on the side and turned a screw.

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While I was at it I checked the remaining screws and tightened 3 more.

Easy peasy and the mixer head no longer wobbles. I hope this helps a few of you. Have a great day!

TOOL OF THE WEEK: Can Openers

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In 1855 the first can openers made their appearance in England and 3 years later in the United States. It was not until 1925 that the second wheel was added that you see on can openers today. Growing up we had a beat up can opener that I think my mother still had when I got married. Can openers have come a long way since the 70’s and there may be new options that you would like to give a try.

1. How does it work?

All can openers use a blade to cut the lid off so as to get to the contents inside.

2. Is it multi purpose?

Some are equipped with a bottle opener as well. But generally this is a one trick pony piece of equipment.

3. How much does it cost?

Prices range from $5 for a cheap traditional version to $50 for a Cuisinart.


4. How do brands and features differ?

The butterfly versions means that the handles are pulled apart and then squeezed together as they open the can.

This is the heavy-duty one The Man bought that lasted a whopping 6 months. Lesson here, you can’t go by just appearances.

While the first electric model was invented in 1931, they were not successful until 1956. Electric models have the added feature of a magnet that will hold the lid to the can to prevent it from falling into the food or cutting yourself to remove it. As you never know how dirty the lid is, I always wipe mine off before opening.

A newer option is the type that cuts the lid off where it was originally glued during processing. These types of can openers eliminate the sharp edges altogether and the lids will not fall into the can. These are now available on electric models as well as the hand crank.

I purchased this from Pampered Chef not because o fhte style, but for the warranty.

Battery operated versons do the entire job for you. Push a button and it runs by itself.

A classic model developed during WWII is one you may have used while camping, it is perfect for placing in an emergency kit. It does require a little practice but it can’t be beat when you need to conserve space.

The church key was created to puncture holes in the can and is not commonly used today. They can be found attached to a butterfly opener for those who occasionally require one.

A very important consideration is how easily can you clean it. When I received an electric can opener as a wedding gift I loved it. Until I tipped it over one day and say the buildup around the blade. I pulled out an old toothbrush and started scrubbing but never was able to reach it all. Most models today have the top piece that is removable so you can access it much easier. It is something to remember to check for when choosing a can opener. Water leads to rust and so the dishwasher is a bad place to wash your can opener. It is best to rise it under the sink and wipe it dry. If you already have rust, brushing with vinegar might remove it.

This version lasted me for years, but it did develop rust.

5. How much space does it require?

Hand held varieties can go in the drawer but electric models generally need to sit on the counter. If you hate having the cord in the way, there are retractable cords available on some models. Other models are designed to hand under the cabinet so as to free up counter space.

6. Will I actually use it?

While some companies are moving towards the pull tab style of can that no longer needs a can opener, I have to say at some point you probably will need one if you plan on eating.

Arthritis and carpel tunnel make cooking a difficult task for many people. While the electric an opener makes some tasks easier, bottles are another story. Many companies have developed a variety of products to choose from.

The traditional can opener has a blade you rest on the lid and you must squeeze the handle while you crank a knob. I purchased one that lasted only a few years and you had to hold it just right to make it work. The Man got tired of it and spent about $20 on a new one that lasted maybe 6 months. Unfortunately you don’t know how well it will work until you buy it. So the key is to purchase one that has a warranty.

TOOL OF THE WEEK: WATER

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With the heat that many areas are experiencing, many people are getting ill because they have failed to stay hydrated. With 60% of our body made up of water, it is so important to make sure we are taking in enough fluids.

Lack of fluids (in addition to high temperatures) can lead to your body over heating. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are excessive sweating, weakness, nausea, vomiting, headache, light-headedness, and muscle cramps. If allowed to continue it leads to heat stroke as the body’s ability to regulate its temperature fails. People who are in the midst of a heat stroke become confused, lethargic and may have a seizure, the skin stops sweating and the body temperature may exceed 106 F (41 C ). This is a life-threatening condition and emergency medical attention is needed immediately.

So how much water SHOULD you be drinking? It does depend on your weight, the temperature and how active you are. This site has a great calculator that you can check to see if you have been consuming enough.

You know you need to drink more water, the hard part is doing it. If you force yourself to drink water every day, your body comes to a point where it craves that fluid. The important thing is to find a way that works for you to keep track of how much you are consuming.

For athletes the water bladder is a good option. They come in various sizes and you fill with water from the tap.

They fit into mini backpacks (or can be placed into a regular one you already own) and are carried on the back. A bite valve is how you drink the water while active.

Water bottles come in plastic, metal and even glass. Some people say they taste the metal in the water and don’t want to use plastic, that is why they purchase the glass versions. We have a variety of bottles and in various sizes. I keep them in a basket in the kitchen with our name clearly written on each one.

Plastic bottles have caused a health stir as people worry if it has bisphenol A (BPA).

Copolyester is light, tough, translucent and very durable but not shatterproof.

High-density Polyethylene is what milk jugs are made from. It is firm and still pliable yet can retain the flavor of the liquid it held.

Low-density Polyethylene is softer and often used in collapsible containers. It is susceptible to punctures and can melt when too close to a heat source. It also has a propensity to retain flavors and odors but some manufactures claim they have ways to negate that issue.

Polypropylene is rigid, light and dishwasher safe. However, hot liquids can effect the plastic and it’s rigidity!

Polycarbonate is a tough, clear plastic that is rigid due to the use of BPA.

Metal water bottles are either stainless steel or aluminum. The aluminum is lighter and dents easier.

Once you choose the materials you prefer, consider how you gain access to the water. Many bottles require the cap be removed every time you take a drink. If you take constant sips all day long, this is not a good choice for you. If you prefer a cap, consider the size of the mouth. Personally I cannot manage to drink for a wide mouth without dripping liquid down my chin. Straws can be difficult to clean. A squeeze bottle allows you to drink a little or lot at a time and it never even has to touch your mouth.

Now that you have a bottle, make sure you know how much water it holds. If you know your bottle holds 20 ounces, you know how many times you need to refill it in a day.

Something to keep in mind, is that many of the electrolyte replacements are loaded with sugar and sodium. They are good in an emergency, however should not become a replacement for water on a regular basis.

Water filters are in your fridge and should be changed regularly. Lowes and Home Depot usually have a large selection.

Another option is the type that fits onto the faucet. The biggest disadvantage is that they tend to be treated roughly and once broken, usually are not worth repairing.

Pitchers are a cheaper alternative. The disadvantages are that the water takes time to run through the filter and it takes up space in the refrigerator.

The last option is a filter that goes on your water bottle. The advantage is that you can filter your water, no matter where you are.

How much a filter helps completely depends on the type you choose. Consumer Reports has a great guide to help you decide.

With all this new information I hope you are encouraged to pick a water bottle you like and stay hydrated this summer.

TOOL OF THE WEEK: CANNING SUPPLIES

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If you have any intention to can anything this spring and summer, you need to get prepared before the produce is ready. The items below will be listed according to what you plan on putting up. Freezer jam does not require the same tools as green beans. If you are new to canning, I highly recommend starting with freezer jam as it is one of the easiest things to make and requires the smallest investment.

FREEZER JAMS AND JELLIES
1. Freezing containers: The goal is to freeze the jam in a way that allows the least amount of air to come in contact with the food. You can find containers that are specifically designed for this purpose made of plastic. Another option is to use a regular canning jar and lid.

2. Sanitizing: If your water is set to a proper temperature of at least 120 degrees, you may use the dishwasher to sanitize your containers. Another option is a large pot that allows enough water to be added so as to completely submerge the glass jars. While a jar lifter sounds frivolous, it is something you really want to invest it. They are only a few dollars and are well worth the money.

A Water Bath Canner, is basically a giant pot.

3. Pot: You need a pot that will hold the ingredients for a given batch of jam and allows room for the foam that appears on top. Some recipes allow you to cook the ingredients in a crock pot for several hours.

4. Mashing: There are several ways to mash your fruit. You can cut with a knife, which quickly become tedious. An immersion blender and potato masher can help the job along. A juicer makes quick work for jellies while a food mill really crushes the fruit.

5. Pectin: While not all recipes call for it, using pectin is the best option for beginners IMO. This is what causes your jam or jelly to set up. There are 2 types, powdered and liquid. Make sure you know if your recipe calls for a specific type before you begin.

6. Pouring: A ladle works the best and used with a canning funnel prevents spills and keeps the rims of the jar clean.

Pictured is the Funnel, Jar Lifter, Magnet Wand and Spatula.

7. Timer: It does not matter what you use, but recipes are very specific in how long a jar should be processed. This varies not only due to the size of the jar, but what you are canning. Too long and your food becomes mushy, too little and you risk spoilage.

8. Storage: Jars should be stored in a cool, dry and dark space.

PROCESSED FRUIT

1. Lids: In addition to all the items above, you must have brand new lids, this is NOT an option! While you may reuse the bands as long as they are in good shape and not rusted, the lids MUST be new or you risk not only losing your food when the jar is processed, but the food will spoil on the shelf Often with the jar lifter comes with a stick that has a magnet on the end. This is used to remove the lids from a hot pot of water after they have been heated. Personally, I use a fork, but give it a try to see if you like using it. Once the jar has completely cooled, the bands may be removed for storage.

Make sure you purchase the correct sized lids! The traditional size jar has the mouth that tapers to be smaller than the body of the jar. A wide-mouthed jar is about the same size as the jar itself. The lid is the flat part that sets inside the band. It covers the mouth of the jar and has a rubber compound that seals the jar shut. The band is the separate piece that is screwed onto the jar.

2. Canner: There are specific pots designed to hold jars being processed. They include a wire rack that is placed on the bottom while the jars rest on the rack. They are also tall enough to hold the larger sized jars.

The jars rest in the wire rack and the handles allow for easier removal and placement of the rack. Use the jar lifter to remove the jars.

3. Cooling: Towels are needed to rest jars on while they cool down. While you never want to put hot jam into a cold jar, you don’t want to put cold fruit into a hot jar either. When a sanitized jar is resting it is placed upside down on the towel. Use towels that are smooth and not fuzzy, you don’t want the fuzz getting into your jar before being processed. Good potholders are also a must. You will also want 1 specifically to wipe the rims of your jars before you place the lids onto the rim.

4. Containers: Only use jars that were designed to can in such as Ball brand. You can use old jars however you must be very careful to examine the rims for ANY nicks. Even if it is a small nick do NOT use it for a hot water bath as it can prevent a seal with the lid and lead to spoilage.

Choose the size and type of jar according to what you are putting up. A jam or jelly is typically done in a half pint sized jar. Peaches on the other hand usually are done in a quart size and a wide mouth jar makes packing neatly a little easier.

5. Plastic Spatula: These are often sold with the funnel and are very important to get the air pockets out of the jar before sealing. They are placed against the side of the jar, and lowered to pop the air bubbles. This step cannot be skipped or you risk leaving air in the jar which leads to spoilage.

VEGETABLES AND MEATS
1. Cooking: A steam pressure canner is not the same as a pressure cooker used to cook a meal. In order to process vegetables and meat safely you must use a pressure canner designed for that purpose. You can use an old one, however you should take it in to be checked before using. The gaskets can become old and cracked and the pressure gauge may become inaccurate. The gauges can be tested at your local cooperative extension office and readjust them. Improperly canned food will lead to a mushy end product or spoilage.

Pressure Canner

Canning can be lots of fun and is a great way to save money on your grocery bill. However, the rules MUST be followed correctly as spoiled food is unsafe food and can put you into the hospital. There are many sites you can find old ways of canning that are no longer recommended methods to use, such as baking jars in the oven. If you ever have questions about a method, contact your local cooperative extension office and they can put you in touch with expert canners who can help you. Your best source of a recipe is the current Ball Blue Book as it only promotes those current methods proven to be safe.

TOOL OF THE WEEK: Meat Mallet

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There are times when the cook wants the meat to be thin or a consistent thickness for a given recipe. Perhaps it is a tougher piece of meat that needs to be tenderized. The meat mallet was designed for the cook to do those steps at home by mechanical tenderization. In other words, not using a marinade or meat tenderizer to do the job.

How does it work?

There are 2 types of mallets, one tenderizes the meats by using spikes, the other uses a flat surface to spread the cut of meat out making it thinner. The tenderizer breaks up the grain of the meat and makes it much easier to cut and chew.

Cube steak is top round or top sirloin that the butcher has tenderized for you.
Flank steaks, chuck steaks and skirt steaks also benefit from mechanical tenderization.

To tenderize the beef, pat it dry and lay on a flat surface. Starting in the middle and working your way out, begin pounding the meat. As you can see from the image below, you are not trying to punch holes, simply leave dents that are breaking up the grain.

A flat mallet uses it’s weight to pound the meat thin.

Pat the meat dry and place on a flat surface. This time cover or wrap the meat in parchment paper, wax paper, cellophane or a Ziplock bag. using the flat iron, start in the middle and pound in an outwards direction. This means do not pound straight down on the cut of meat. It is more a down and pushing action.

If you find the meat is 1/2 an inch thick, it is easiest to start by butterflying the meat. Using a sharp knife, place a hand on top of the meat to hold it in place. Put the blade of the knife on the side in the middle to begin cutting it in half as you would a bagel. Do not cut all the way through, you want to leave a hinge on the back side. This allows you to flip the top half over leaving a thin piece of meat that now resembles butterfly wings.

Is it multi purpose?

Not really, but mallets can be used in a pinch to break open nuts. Some companies provide a system of sorts where the handle accepts different tenderizers and flat irons.

How much does it cost?

A cheap wooden one can start at $3 while a stainless steel mallet on average run from $15 to $50.

How do brands and features differ?

WOOD: Mallets come either as solid wood or metal with a wooden handle. However, there are 2 major concerns with a wooden mallet. The first is the lack of weight. If you have a light mallet then you have to do all the work to tenderize or flatten the meat. Not only is this harder on the cook, if the handle is whimpy it can break. The second concern is being able to clean it. Wood can harbor bacteria and you must be very careful in cleaning it to ensure you are keeping your family safe. Over time, soaking the wood in a sanitize solution or running through the dishwasher can lead to the wood cracking and warping.

METAL: Aluminum, stainless steel and surgical stainless steel are used to make modern mallets with the steel versions weighing the most. Surgical steel is believed by some to be the safest to use as it prevents any leeching into the food. Not sure how much leeching occurs when pounding out meat, so that becomes a personal decision. Metal mallets can be easily sanitized and run through the dishwasher. Some come with rubber handles and the manufacture will recommend if it is dishwasher safe.

HAMMER: Often mallets provide the flat iron as well as the tenderizer. Some are a solid piece of metal from the top all the way through the handle. Others have the handle attached or were welded on. Just as with a good knife, a solid piece of metal will last longer.

Tenderizer side

Smooth side

POUNDER: This version works by grasping the handle tight with your hands and pounding on the meat as if you were using the side of your fist. For some people with arthritis or carpel tunnel, this may be the easiest version to use.

SWATTER: This version work more like a fly swatter and is easy for little ones to use without fear of putting a dent in your counter.

BLADES: While this is not a mallet, it does tenderize the meat so I wanted to be sure to include it. When you buy cube steak it has been chopped by blades in a machine. In recent years this has been produced for the home cook as well. It works similar to a stamp you may have in the office where you place it over the meat, and as you push down the blades come out and cut the meat.

The key to buying a good one is to look for the number of blades. The more blades you have the better job it will do and the faster it will go.

How much space does it require?

Versions with a long handle can be kept in your tool jar on the counter. The pounders and blades will take up about 6 square inches in a drawer.

Will I actually use it?

Certain recipes like Chicken Parmesan really need meat to be flattened. Over the years I tried all the suggestions for making do from a frying pan to a vegetable can. I hated every last one of the. I may not use my mallet every month, but when I need it I am so glad it is there.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Happy cooking!

TOOL OF THE WEEK: FOOD PROCESSOR

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How does it work?

By using different blades, food is sliced, diced, pureed and chopped. The idea is to make preparing food faster.

Is it multi purpose?

It cuts a variety of foods, limits are based purely on the model being used. How multi purpose any given machine is will depend on the bowl size, motor and blade choices. Mini food processors generally have limited capabilities because they are so small. Some models are more than just a food processor. I have a mini food processor that doubles as an immersion blender.

Counter top varieties (known as full or compact) vary in the container size, tube size and shape as well as the number of blades offered with the unit. One must consider how it will be used before purchasing any food processor. If you do not have a mixer or blender, a good quality food processor can do those jobs for you. It can also take the place of a mandolin without fear of slicing your fingers. There are limits to what a processor can do, it will never puree soup as well as a blender, but if you are going for as few appliances as possible, I think you will be happy with the results.

How much does it cost?

Mini processors can start as low as $15 but full sized models can be several hundred if you go for the professional models. If you are going to spend the big bucks, view at it as an investment. Purchase one with a good warranty from a company that is well established.

How do brands and features differ?

The 2 most well known names in food processors are Kitchen Aid and Cuisinart but Bosch follows close behind.

Feed Tube Located on the lid, this allows food to be pushed into the blades safely. You want a tube large enough for the foods you intend to slice. For even slices, the tube should not be very much larger than the foods being pushed in. Machines that offer a couple of choices of tubes allow the most versatility. Make sure it is realistic as well. Potatoes for example are not always the same size or shape so if the cook intends to use it for that purpose a tip is to take a potato to the store with you and see which best suits your needs. If you have to cut food in order to fit in the tube, it is rather redundant.

Blade/Disc Blades come in plastic and metal. Metal tends to stay sharp longer. The most common blade is the S blade. It has curved blades on opposite sides of the attachment piece and is used for chopping. Slicing and shredding discs will vary in how large a piece is cut. Machines with the disc is right over the motor work better.

Attachments Some machines offer a variety of attachments that can be purchased separately such as a dough blade, whips, julienne discs and juicers. Some full models even provide a small bowl that can be used for smaller jobs.

Bowl A food processor that refers to the cup capacity is describing the bowl. This is the part that food goes in so it is a very important feature to consider. Do you make large batches or small? Some come with handles, but not all do. A handle makes it easier to attach the bowl to the machine and especially in larger options, easier to carry the bowl from 1 place to another. Bowls hold from 1 to 20 cups of dry ingredients. If considering liquid capacity, remember it needs more room and so will be half of the amount listed for dry ingredients.

Wattage This determines how hard the machine can work. Higher wattage means it can tackle hard foods, large loads and thick foods easier without wearing out the motor. Look for buttons that are easy to use and clean.

Not all processors require an outlet. Companies such as Pampered Chef have mini versions that are great for small items such as garlic and herbs. The user pushes down on a pump and the bland goes up and down cutting the food. Cheaper versions can be found in kitchen supply stores. Hand crank versions for larger jobs are also available.

How much space does it require?

While the mini versions can fit in a drawer, compact and full versions need cupboard or counter space.

Will I actually use it?

Do you currently do a lot of chopping? How are your knife skills? A food processor can cut a lot of time from your food prep, but only if the appliance is easily accessible. If you have to spend 10 minutes every time pulling it out and putting it together, you likely won’t be using it. This is why so many models now come in fun colors making it look nice sitting on the counter when not in use. If you do minimal chopping then perhaps starting with a mini processor is a good bet for you.