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I have always been a bit of a gadget girl when it comes to the kitchen. In fact, when I used to travel to the US on business, I would have to go out of my way to make a side trip to the local William Sonoma. So I am excited about bringing you the scoop on gadgets we like for our new EatSavvy blog.
One of our latest finds is a new line from Ecko. These guys have been making kitchen gadgets for over 100 years so the name might be familiar from the kitchen you grew up in, but their new line is very 2009. It’s called Pao and it’s a collection of cooking utensils made from bamboo. It’s heat resistant, stain resistant and safe for non-stick pans. And it’s not plastic so no more scares about melted spatulas seeping into your food. And, as all green savvy moms know, bamboo is much more eco-friendly than wood (because it grows so fast, it is more sustainable). Ka-PAO—my new secret weapon!
Maybe it’s that the box still looks the same as it did when we were growing up, because there’s something a little old-fashioned about wax paper. But it’s a mistake to think it doesn’t belong in your savvy kitchen—its non-stick and waterproof properties make it indispensable. Originally developed for food storage, it fell out of fashion when plastic wrap came along, but we all know how fashions change.
Some of my favourite uses for wax paper, beyond storing hamburger patties, include:
Do you have a favourite way to use wax paper? We’d love to hear it.
Photo copyright Holly Sisson Photography
On the back cover of one of my favourite cookbooks, it states “Be a faster, smarter, better cook”. And who wouldn’t want to be that? But Brilliant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks by David Joachim isn’t really a cookbook in the traditional sense as it is not just a listing of recipes. Rather it’s full of 5000 tips, tricks, shortcuts, solutions and answers to everyday cooking questions to help you cook like a pro. It’s arranged from A to Z and is cross-referenced and organized to make finding things easy, whether you’re trying to figure out how to:
(S) avoid making watery salsa,
(F) organize your freezer (one of my favourite topics in the book)
(C) how to store a coconut; or
(B) how to ripen a banana fast
The book also includes 900 simple recipes that help you master what you’ve just learned when reading about various ingredients or cooking techniques. So find some room on the shelf for this one—it’s like having your own private at-home Cordon Bleu course (for about $20).
The most essential tool in my kitchen is a good quality, sharp knife. In fact, over the years I have spent more money than I care to admit building my collection. So when I came across the reasonably-priced ($3–4) Zyliss Fresh Cut Salad Knife in my local kitchen supply store, I was very excited to try it. Zyliss is a Swiss company that has been making quality kitchen tools for over 50 years. The Salad Knife is a brightly coloured plastic knife with serrated edges that is designed for cutting greens and, unlike some metal knives, it won’t turn the leaves brown. My oldest son is the one who uses it the most in our kitchen though, and not for preparing salads! Now that he is at the age and stage where I feel comfortable with him using knives, I feel more at ease because he’s using a plastic knife. Plus, it is one less knife to remember to sharpen. But moms be warned…even though this knife is plastic, it is still sharp and can cut little hands so don’t leave your children with one unattended!
Photo copyright Holly Sisson Photography
Inspired by an article I researched last fall on age-appropriate chores, we drew up a family chore chart last fall and assigned each of the kids a few chores they could be responsible for. But I must confess to not being so diligent in insisting the kids complete their chores and I certainly fell victim to the ‘It will be faster if I just do it myself’ trap. But recently, a number of changes on the homefront required everyone to pitch in a little more and help, and I was amazed by what my children actually could do in the kitchen (and quite enjoyed doing) very well.
My 5 year old can competently set the table and then clear it and load the dishwasher. My 7 year old showed off his skills at putting the groceries away on more than one occasion. And imagine my delight the morning last week I came down to get the breakfast started for everyone, and my 8 year old had already made her bed, emptied the dishwasher and set the table, and was just patiently waiting for someone to show up to make her something to eat.
Apparently 4 – 5 year olds can unload the utensils from the dishwasher and wash plastic dishes in the sink; 6 – 7 year olds can set the table, help make and pack their lunch, clean up with a handheld vacuum and pour drinks; and 8 – 9 year olds can do all this and make snacks for everyone, peel vegetables, cook simple foods such as toast and wipe down tables after meals. My new mantra? Don’t do anything for your kids they can do themselves. And I have never been prouder of them.
Up until this most recent purchase, I have been using a bread or chef knife to slice tomatoes. Just in time for tomato season, my latest find is the tomato knife. Tomato knives are small kitchen knives that are configured especially for cutting or slicing tomatoes. The serrated edge allows the knife to slice ripe tomatoes neatly and cleanly, without squashing them. The end result is thin, uniform slices. The handle on a tomato knife may be hard wood or heavy-duty plastic and the blade is usually made of stainless steel. I did my research, checking both online and retail stores, before making my final purchase. What I learned is that you can spend as much or as little as you want on a tomato knife. I went for the “as little” option. My knife is made by Wenger (called a Breakfast Knife), is 13 cm long, dishwasher safe, cost $10.00, and I love it! After trying a tomato knife, you will never use a bread knife to slice your tomatoes again.
What are your favourite kitchen gadgets?
As I wrote here a few weeks ago, my family has a new Sunday night dinner tradition where the kids take turns choosing the menu and then helping me with the meal prep. Bit by bit, they are picking up some kitchen skills and I have learned a little bit about cooking with kids too—there are some safety issues to be aware of and then there are some ‘patience and enthusiasm’ issues. But it’s definitely an investment in their (our) future so I am trying my best to impart in them some good cooking knowledge.
On the safety front, there is a lot to learn about food contamination, fire hazards and knives, and it can be a bit overwhelming. So I’ve started with a few key safety lessons:
As to keeping them enthusiastic, I’ve found a few key principles go a long way:
What have been your lessons learned from cooking with your kids?
I got something in my Christmas stocking this year that I never knew I needed, and now I am wondering how I ever lived without it. It’s called a Mini Measure but you may recognize as a modified shot glass. The thing that makes it different from a regular shot glass is that the measurements on the outside are for teaspoons, tablespoons and millilitres (maximum quantity is 2 Tbsp), making it ideal for measuring vanilla extract and other liquid ingredients, without the fear of spilling them out of the measuring spoon before you get them in the bowl. It’s certainly measured up to be perfect baking companion. ($3.99 from www.mileskimball.com)
My husband and I are complete foodies—we love to cook and create a multitude of recipes from the everyday (pizza) to the exotic (foul mudammas). When our little girl was born, we weren’t sure how our unusual diet would work for her young palate, but she constantly surprised us by being intrigued by sophisticated flavours—forget the carrots and ham, she wanted the lamb Harira soup.
Now that she’s getting close to two years of age, she’s becoming interested in how we prepare the food. She wanders into the kitchen and raises her arms, insisting on seeing what is on the counter and learning the ingredients. As a consequence, I’ve begun my ‘Kiddie Culinary Training’.
First we started with cookie cutters and play dough (before graduating to real dough). Then, we tried dressing a pita pizza together with the prepared ingredients of cheese, pepperoni and mushroom slices (we haven’t graduated to the sauce part yet). My attempts at getting her to mix up a liquid mixture with a wooden spoon ended up a bit messy, but she waved it around with great flourish! But my favourite moments in the kitchen with Ally include making her fruit smoothies. She puts the fruit into the little magic bullet blender container, then I add the juice and yogurt and together, we do the blender dance (not unlike a full body wiggle—see below) to make that sound less scary and event lots of fun.
How did you introduce your kids to cooking?
As more research became available on the dangers of using particular non-stick cookware products, I became more diligent about replacing my old, well-used non-stick cookware and ovenware with new, safer products (for both my kids and the environment). I do a lot of baking and cooking, so over time my baking sheets, muffins tins, and frying pans do show some wear and tear.
Big fans of the ‘original’ environmentally-friendly GreenPan cookware, we were very excited to receive a sample from GreenPan’s new line of professional quality ovenware. I volunteered to test it out. The thing that makes these products revolutionary is that they are the first environmentally-friendly, PTFE-free, non-stick cookware that contains Thermolon Rocks. Thermolon Rocks is the latest non-stick, ceramic based coating which can be used to cook in extreme temperatures without damaging the product and contains no toxic substances that can be released at that heat. This, along with the fact that Thermolon ovenware releases 60% fewer greenhouse gases during production than other non-stick products is good news for moms.
With a crisper full of fresh vegetables, I decided to give the new GreenPan rectangular oven tray a try. The end result was very impressive. The vegetables roasted evenly, top and bottom, they didn’t stick to the pan, and the clean up was a breeze. Baking peanut butter cookies are next on my to-do list (they obviously are not going into the school lunches!).
GreenPan products are available in gourmet kitchen supply stores everywhere.
My wooden cutting boards get more use that any other item in my kitchen. I love them because they’re practical and some are beautiful enough to leave out on display.
Without proper maintenance and care though, wooden cutting boards and other wood products can lose their shine, absorb stains, smells and bacteria. With time and general use, they can also dry out and crack. The cost to replace a good wooden cutting board is substantial, so I have implemented a regular maintenance schedule in the form of three simple steps to help prolong the life of my wood products.
What are your natural cleaning tips or tricks?
If scraping burnt food off a casserole dish isn’t your idea of a good time, the SKrAPr might just be a gadget you need. Same goes for chiseling ice off your freezer, cleaning your glass cooktop, washing the pot you made scrambled eggs in or even scraping paint off a window after a messy DIY paint job. The SKrAPr is a spatula-type tool that scrapes clean any smooth surface and never leaves a scratch. Our testers were impressed, and the video on the site is worth a watch (albeit a bit ‘As Seen on TV’). The smaller version that comes with it (we always love the gift with purchase) can even be used to scrape off mud from cleats and boots. ($12.99, available at Home Hardware)
My passion for organizing closets is well known, but I am afraid it doesn’t extend to the kitchen cupboards.
However, with the onset of the cooler weather and the growing anxiety of getting a little holiday baking scheduled in, I think it’s time to do a little refresh in the kitchen.
My son recently cleaned us out of canned goods as part of a food drive his school was collecting for, so this weekend when I am shopping, I plan to stock up on canned beans, lentils, and tomatoes to be ready for a winter’s worth of soups, chilis and stews. When I put them back, I am going to attempt to reorder the cupboards, putting the items we use most frequently at the front of the cupboard. I am also going to replace my whole wheat and white flours and baking soda—some chefs suggest they don’t last much more than a year, so fall is a good time to start fresh, especially if you are like me and rarely bake in the summertime.
And in preparation for the holiday season, I am going to replace any spices that I anticipate using in the next little while (cloves, cinnamon and sage are some that come to mind)—many spices have a short shelf life, and you can tell by how fragrant they are when they need to be replaced. And last but not least, to free up some precious space in the fridge, I am going to track down all the summer condiments (come here, relish!) and throw them out. We’ll start again together next summer.
Not including the grocery shopping part, I think this can all be done in 30 minutes, and I will be in good shape for a cozy cooking winter.
What are your winter kitchen prep tips? I would love to hear them.
A slice in a glass of water, one quarter squeezed over a piece of halibut, 1 tsp of zest in a dressing and the juice of one whole for a muffin recipe. Lemons and limes are ever present in my kitchen.
Up until the holidays, I had been storing leftover wedges, slices and halves in disposable plastic bags or in plastic containers. Not only was this practice creating an unnecessary amount of waste, but a lot of these random citrus pieces were being missed in the back corner of the crisper and becoming spoiled in the process. On Christmas morning, I was very excited to find an eco-friendly alternative waiting for me in my stocking—Lemon and Lime Savers. (Yes, I am one of those people who gets excited about new kitchen gadgets for Christmas.)
The Lemon/Lime Saver™ is a storage device that keeps cut lemons and limes fresh and fragrant. They are phthalate and BPA-free, airtight and dishwasher safe. The lemon and lime pieces are now easier to find in my crowded refrigerator and I don’t feel so guilty about all of the waste. And, with all of the money I am saving on re-sealable plastic bags, I can go shopping for more kitchen gadgets.
The Lemon/Lime Saver™ is available in many retail gourmet kitchen supply stores and online at www.gourmac.com.
I don’t feel like I buy a lot of condiments, but somehow my fridge shelves seem to be full of them nonetheless. When it’s something you don’t use very often like sambal oelek or mint jelly, it’s hard to keep track of when you opened them and exactly how long they’ve been there. While many of them don’t have expiry dates, I don’t relish (pun intended) the idea of using condiments that have been sitting there for years.
Recently, I came up with a new system using my beloved Sharpie. It’s pretty simple—when opening a new condiment, I mark on the top of the bottle with the month and year (e.g. May ‘11) so I have a simple way to keep track of when I bought and opened the new addition to the legion of condiments in my fridge. In fact, we even got a great reader tip on this topic as well.
If you like to keep track of how old your pillows are (dust mites do kind of freak me out), you can also employ the same system, marking the label of the pillow when you first begin using it.
If you really want to challenge yourself one week, try picking a different recipe each night that requires one of the less-frequently used condiments in your fridge. You’ll free up some space and surprise your family’s taste buds!
Do you have any kitchen organizing tips? I would love to hear them.