Which 10 Kitchen Utensils Do I Keep?

I am going to be severely downsizing my kitchen in the next few months.  As a part of the process, I have set myself the task of deciding which ten kitchen utensils I consider essential for my cooking style.  Why ten?  I don’t have an arbitrary reason.  The utensil collection may end up being 11 or 12 items at the end.  What I wanted to do was start the process of deciding what tools I cannot live or cook without.  I am not including knives, pots and pans, or appliances in this process because those are for other posts and other spaces in the new kitchen.  This is just about the things that sit in the jar on my counter or in my drawer that I will take with me into the small kitchen. 

1.      Tongs.  I must have my tongs.  I own two sets and will only take one with me.  So, I think I will take the longer ones.  They are useful for turning meat over, grabbing things out of boiling water, and getting things out of tall cupboards so they need to come along.

2.     Wooden scraper.  I use this thing almost every time I cook in my cast iron (which is almost every time I cook).  It’s great for getting those yummy brown bits off the bottom of the pan into whatever sauce I’m making.  It’s gentle on the surface of my one non-stick skillet.  I replace it every time it gets tired-looking so it is a necessary part of the permanent collection.

3.     Wooden spoon.  Not even optional.  Stirring.

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4.     Ladle.  I love making soup.  I usually keep my freezer full of chicken stock so that I can make rich, thick, warm soups all winter and fresh, vegetable-y soups all spring and summer.  You can’t have soup without a ladle to get that lovely broth into your bowl!

5.     Serving spoon.  Being able to scoop a sauce out of a pan and drizzle it gently over a steak or a pork chop is one of the joys of cooking!  You need a large spoon to do it with. 

6.     Silicone scraper.  I don’t like to waste food, so this is a necessity.  I carefully measure and plan my recipes, so I need every morsel to make it into the final product.  When dealing with sticky dough or batter (or marshmallow goo) it’s important to have a heavy-duty scraper to move that stuff around!

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7.     Slotted spoon.  I make a lot of stock and this is helpful for getting the big chunks of bone and vegetables out of the stock before straining.  It’s also good for getting bacon bits and sautéed mushrooms out of a pan so you can use the flavorful fat to sauté other lovely vegetables.

8.     Can opener.  I don’t eat a lot of stuff that comes out of a can.  Except cranberry sauce.  I do like a good turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with cranberry sauce.  I make homemade for the holidays but do buy the little cans for the rest of the year.  I also sometimes feed Snickers some canned pumpkin if he gets an upset tummy, so I guess the can opener will move into the little kitchen.

9.     Whisk.  I originally had something else on this list but when I went to take everything else out of the utensil jar I realized that I forgot the whisk!  I had to take the zester off the list (it’ll go on another list because I can’t live without my zester)!  It’s impossible to make a smooth sauce or roux without having a good, sturdy whisk.  Scrambled eggs with a fork always end up with bits of white floating around and there’s no way to get egg whites fluffy with a fork.

10.  Pastry brush.  Adding a little spicy or sweet glaze to a piece of chicken as it roasts on the grill or in the oven is a good way to finish an otherwise boring piece of meat.  While it can be done with a spoon, the more even coverage from a silicone brush makes for a more beautiful presentation.

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This is the list of ten items that I am going to keep in my tiny kitchen.  I will give more information about the tiny plan coming to fruition in the next few months, but this is the first step in the process.  I am going to take everything except these ten items out of the kitchen for the next month and see how it goes with only these ten things.  If it works, I’ll keep this list.  If I need to add a few, I’ll keep you posted!

Lactose-Free Cheese

I made lactose-free cheese!  I actually make this fairly frequently because my lactose intolerance is a new thing for me and I like having cheese on things like baked potatoes and burgers.  This cheese does not melt like cheddar or American.  It acts more like ricotta or feta.  But it’s lactose-free so I can eat it!

I looked at many of the lactose-free or vegan cheeses on the market and most of them are made from soy or nuts, which are on the list of things I cannot eat.  Very disappointing.

When I originally decided to try this, I wasn’t sure what role lactose plays in the making of cheese so I wasn’t even sure this would work.  I decided to experiment with a small carton of Lactaid milk and it turned out really nice.  So now I make a batch every two weeks or so.

Making farmer’s cheese is really easy.  I use 2% Lactaid to keep the fat content down.  I add flavorings depending on what I’m planning on using it for.  This week, I added garlic, chives, and black pepper to 2 quarts of milk in a large saucepan and heat it up to 195 degrees F.  This lets the flavors infuse into the milk as it heats up.  IMG_1090Once it reaches temperature, I turn off the heat and add the juice of one lemon and stir one time.  Then, I just walk away for 15 minutes!  I don’t stir it or poke it or do anything else to it.  It will separate into curds and whey and look really disgusting.  That’s okay. IMG_1094 While I am letting it do its thing, I take a fine mesh strainer and line it with two layers of cheesecloth.  I then place the strainer over the sink and pour the curds and whey mixture into the strainer.  IMG_1095Depending on what I am going to use it for will determine how long I let it strain.  If I’m going to put it on baked potatoes I will leave it rather soft and creamy like ricotta.  If I want it to spread on crackers, I let more of the whey strain out and let it get spreadable.  If I want crumbles for salad, I squeeze all the whey out and crumble the curds!   After I’m done draining the whey out and have the consistency the way I like it, I add salt to taste.  Otherwise, it’s very bland.  Just add a tiny bit at a time until it tastes like you want it to.  It’s a delicious, lactose-free way to have cheese-y deliciousness in my dairy-free life.

Amaretto Marshmallows!

I make marshmallows. 

I make them in a variety of dessert flavors and for many different occasions.  I put them on sticks because people love treats on sticks!  

The other day, I was asked if I could make Amaretto flavored marshmallows.  I’m allergic to nuts so I usually don’t make any of my marshmallows with any kind of nut flavoring or garnish.  But I’ve been wanting to try some “adult beverage” flavored marshmallows for a while so I decided to experiment.  I replaced some of the water with Amaretto and the marshmallows “gelled” like they are supposed to.  However, because I am allergic to almonds, I was afraid to taste them!  Thanks to the internet, though, I found out that most Amaretto is made from apricot pits, not almonds.  Also, according to one of the articles I read, the amount of nut extract that makes it into any nut-based liquor is negligible and shouldn’t cause a reaction.  So, I decided that it was safe for me to taste them with my Epi-pen at the ready. No reaction to the tiny nibble I tasted!  They taste just like the beverage smells, so I think I got the flavor right.  For garnish, though, I wanted to emphasize the almond flavor as well as the apricot flavor of the beverage.  I crushed up some almond crisp cookies and some freeze-dried apricots and mixed them together to sprinkle on the marshmallows.  I wore gloves and a face mask and didn’t get itchy! The marshmallows are beautiful and, according to my team of taste testers, they are delicious!  img_1084.jpg

Why Red Apron?

I love aprons.

When I was a little girl, we would go to my grandparents’ house every Sunday  for dinner and Grandma always wore an apron.  Grandpa would often help Grandma in the kitchen and he would wear an apron too.  They were good cooks.  Delicious roasts, lovely fresh vegetables, and tasty baked goods always featured at those dinners.

My mother, on the other hand, was a horrible cook.  Bland, over-salted, and boring meals permeated my childhood.  Our family cookbook was called “Shades of Gray” before it was sexy!  Part of the reason I love to cook now is because of the horrid meals I was forced to endure growing up.  Mom never wore an apron.

For me, aprons mean that good food is going to happen.  If I put on an apron, I am going to intentionally go into my kitchen and prepare food that I will enjoy or that will make someone happy.  Aprons mean intentionality.  I consciously put on an apron and choose how I am going to prepare food.  It means that I have decided to cook.  I’m not just going into the kitchen and shoving something in my face because it is a mealtime.  I’m going to prepare a good meal for myself because, even though I live alone and could easily reheat a frozen meal, I deserve to eat good food.

So, I love aprons.  I have five of them.  They remind me of my grandparents.  They tell me that I deserve to eat good, healthy food that I can prepare for myself.  Two of my aprons are red.  One of those has yeast sock puppets on it.  (If you know why, leave a comment!) My red aprons are my reminders that good food is my right and my responsibility.

Chocolate Avocado Muffins!

I got a wonderful recipe from a friend, who makes Banana Oatmeal muffins frequently.   They sound wonderful but I cannot eat bananas.  Also, the recipe includes Greek yogurt and I am lactose intolerant and cannot eat any dairy.  But the muffins sound good and, while I am not gluten-free (I already can’t eat everything else, please leave me my gluten!), I do like to eat oats because they are good for my cholesterol.  So, I set out to adapt this recipe for my own allergies.  The original recipe that I got from my friend is:

2 cups rolled oats, 2 ripe bananas, 1 cup Greek yogurt, 2 eggs, 2 Tbsp honey, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place all ingredients except chocolate chips, in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Scoop into a muffin tin.  Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Cool.

Since I have replaced bananas with avocado in a smoothie before, and I have baked a chocolate cake with avocado before, I decided to replace the two bananas with one large avocado.  Since the avocado has fat in it, I don’t need to add the fat from the yogurt but do need to replace the liquid.  I decided to use applesauce.  Since the batter turned out a really disgusting green color, I decided to add 1/4 cup cocoa to make the muffins chocolatey and cover up the green color.  This adds some bitterness so I added an extra Tbsp. of honey.  You could add more if you want sweeter muffins.  Also, the texture was not great, so next time I will grind the oats into flour before adding the rest of the ingredients.  This is my final recipe:

2 cups rolled oats, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1 large avocado, 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce, 2 eggs, 3 T honey, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 cup chocolate chips.  Place all ingredients except chocolate chips in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.  Grease muffin tin.  Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes, remove from pan and enjoy.

 

Breakfast

I am not a huge fan of breakfast.  I know that it is supposed to be the “most important meal of the day” but I think that is a myth perpetrated by a bacon company back in the 1930s or something.  I just don’t feel hungry until about three or four hours after I get up.  (Don’t get between me and my coffee, however!)  But, I like most breakfast food and most of it is on my list of safe foods!  Today I am having oatmeal.  It’s 8am and Snickers got me up at 5 so now I’m hungry and looking forward a great day of laundry and Lego sorting!   I really enjoy steel cut oats but I have found a couple of brands of instant oats that work really well for busy days.  I like to add some fruit to my oats and really love apples.  Freeze-dried apples (Mother Earth Products makes the best in my opinion) are a great addition and mean I don’t need to add any sugar.  Mother Earth Products have great customer service (they don’t pay me or anything but I was kind of rude to a customer service person once so I like to give them a shout out when I can!) and they don’t add anything to their products.  About 2 Tablespoons of freeze dried apples and an equal amount of additional boiling water added to the oatmeal makes it a good consistency.  And I feel better because I am getting some fruit with my breakfast carbs!

Introductions…

I thought I had better take this chance to introduce myself and my life and…my allergies.  My name is Diana.  I am an Army Veteran who served for ten years, with two tours to Iraq.  I have a little dog named Snickers.  He is half Australian Cattle Dog and half Miniature Schnauzer.  I rescued him before he was sent to a pound for being too hyper.  My vet found out his breed and said “Oh, crazy on top of manic…good mix!”  He’s a really good boy but very high energy.  He loves his blankie and loves people.  He in in classes for Nose Work and really enjoys his classes on Sunday afternoons.

So about the allergies/sensitivities…during my first tour in Iraq, I was exposed to the open burn pits at Balad Air Base and, as a result, have lung and allergy issues.  I have asthma and break out in hives a lot.  Additionally, I had a stomach surgery a couple of years ago that triggered some food sensitivities.  I have always been allergic to walnuts and bananas but over the past few years that has extended to all nuts, most seeds, and many fruits, including melon, papaya, kiwi, and their ilk.  I am also finding myself suddenly lactose intolerant (yes, that’s a thing, I asked my doctor).  I cannot eat anything that causes gas at all.  This means, no cruciferous vegetables and no legumes!  And, I don’t like rice or strawberries.  So my food choices are limited.  But I need to lose weight so I am going to use this blog to keep track of my eating, recipes that I try and my successes and failures.

And, I make marshmallows and other candy so I may add some posts about that as well.