Ask the Cooks

It's All About the Food

Before buying kitchen cookware

Best ceramic cookware is ideal for all those who love to cook meals with style and that too in a hassle free manner.

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Good tools are the first ingredient for a successful dinner. It should do well its function, durable and preferably look nice.

Cooking utensils

Each kitchen has utensils. If you want to prepare a good recipe you will first need to have good cooking tools. This is therefore the first ingredient for a good dinner. I have here a list with the most important and good quality made cookware:

Asian cleaver

It has many function and is really tough. Asian cooks use the chopper for nearly all cutting jobs. The design allows for much cutting force while it is still not too heavy in the hand. You can use it to chop and bruising (garlic), to cut ingredients on the blade of the knife and to transport ingredients to the pan. It costs a tenner in the shop for the medium size, and up to 250 euros for a large blade of the highest quality.

Table knives

Among the most famous brand, Laguiole knives are sold in all colors and qualities. They look nearly all wonderful. All are entirely in stainless steel or with handles of metal, but the quality varies widely. Internet versions are relatively cheap to buy, but that does not last long. Buy them in a reliable store, with guarantee.

Espresso machine

Opt for espresso machine that can handle loose coffee and pads. You can quickly make espresso with a pad, but also different types of coffee. The machine only need to heat water to 92 degrees Celsius, and compress the coffee with sufficient pressure. Ignore the bells and whistles and choose a machine that can handle pressure and temperature for years.

Silicone

Invest in silicone spatulas, oven gloves, pan-handles: all kinds of things are now made of this wonderful, flexible material. Kitchenware made of silicone is heat-resistant to 300 degrees Celsius, so you put a spatula in the pan, it will not melt. And instead of aluminum foil, you can put a silicone baking sheet in the oven for homemade pizza.

Wine glass

Good wine glasses costs 20 euro, but good wine deserves crystal. It is not because of its extremely beauty, but because with the tough crystal, scratches can barely occur and odors can not linger. Moreover, crystal glasses are thinner than the other kind of glasses. Riedel, Spiegelau, Schott Zwiesel have all the beautiful glass.

Dishwasher

Advanced cooking and dining dishes is unfortunately accompanied with a mountain of washing job. And after the dessert you want to linger at the table with your guests not do the washing. Do not doubt, and buy a dishwasher. From about 350 euros you have already one that makes frugal use of energy and water. Thus you save each day soon a half hour of washing dishes.

Cutting

Cutting boards of wood are banned from the restaurant kitchen for hygiene reasons, but knives are most made of wood. The solution coming out of the United States. Epicurean makes cutting boards of pressed wood: hard, light, sweet to your blades and resistant to the dishwasher, which deals with bacteria.

Pan with loose stem

One of the best ways to prepare meat, is to put it in hot butter or oil and bake until it is browned, and then slide over in the pan. With the heat from all sides, the meat is cooked gradually and not quickly dried out. An ovenproof pan which can rotate the handle from, provides good services.

Do not waste your money on:

  • A grill in your oven. It sounds very culinary and attractive, but it does not. Barbecuing is an outdoor activity. The cleaning of the grill in addition takes a lot of time and effort
  • Devices to sharpen your knives. It costs almost 50 euro and the result is rarely satisfactory. At cooking stores you can usually get a professional knife sharpening for 5 to 12.50 euros per knife
  • Corkscrews which are more expensive than a bottle of wine. If you like such a gigantic equipment to uncork bottles along, buy especially one.
  • Expensive woks with non-stick coatings. The ingredients for successful woks are: a very large gas burner on your stove and a steel wok that you buy for a tenner at the shop. A non-stick wok is not hot enough.

Poached Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

In our house we celebrate Advent for most of December. We use it as a time of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. We do not decorate the home after Thanksgiving and we do not play Christmas music until after Gaudete Sunday which is the third Sunday of Advent. But that does not mean that we do not celebrated Christmas for a long time! There are 12 days of Christmas! December 25 until Epiphany, January 6, is ALL CHRISTMAS in our house.

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is an annual Epiphany party that I host for a group of more than a dozen women who have at one time or another been a part of a faith-sharing small group with me. These are friends new and old who are amazing holy women! All of them have several children, many of them home school, and I love to treat them to a special evening.

This tradition started fourteen years ago and has evolved over the years. My current formula is a cocktail hour, followed by a three course dinner served on my wedding china and crystal. I love preparing this meal, for it is the one time I do not have to think about picky kids (and husbands) and I can serve GIRL FOOD.

Usually I have my menu planned months in advance, but this year I could not hit the right balance….that was until my brilliant sister gave me some inspiration. She suggested Sweet Potato Potpies, and directed me here for a recipe. She then suggested I make trifle in mason jars and a theme was born.

Here’s the menu with recipes. Just note that I never measure anything and much of this was just off the cuff! Enjoy!

Baked Brie and Assorted Cheeses with Crackers

Christmas Cocktail Virgin and Spiked

Poached Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Pear Vinaigrette

Sweet Potato Potpie

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Almond Berry Trifle with Cream Cheese Whipped Cream

Baked Brie

One round baby brie

One can refrigerated crescent dough

1/4 cup jam

Unroll crescent dough on a cookie sheet and press seams to seal. Place brie in the center and pour jam on top. Bring dough over the cheese and seal in the center and bake at 400 for about 12 minutes until golden brown.

Christmas Cocktail

Cranberry Juice

Lime Juice

Simple Syrup

Ginger Ale

Vodka

Mix cranberry juice with a splash of lime and simple syrup. Add vodka (for spiked cocktails) and top with ginger ale.

Poached Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Pear Vinaigrette

(Serves 12)

6 firm pears

12 cups tender lettuces

8 oz blue cheese crumbles

1 bottle dry red wine (I used pinot noir)

2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

rind of one orange

1 cinnamon stick

12 whole cloves

12 whole peppercorns

6 whole allspice berries

3 whole star anise

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Cup olive oil

Salt to taste

In a large stockpot or dutch oven pour red wine, water, orange peel and spices. Cover and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, peel pears leaving on the stem. Place pears in boiling wine mixture and reduce to a simmer. Simmer covered for 20-25 minutes turning pears occasionally to ensure even cooking. Remove pears from liquid and allow to cool. Continue to simmer wine uncovered until liquid is reduced to about 3/4 of a cup. Strain out spices and orange peel and chill wine.

Cut pears in half lengthwise and remove seeds and stems and chill. This can be done up to 2 days in advance.

Place reduced wine, vinegar, oil, and a little salt in a jar and mix slowly from the bottom up with an immersion blender. Pour dressing over tender greens and plate the greens. Top with a pear half and blue cheese.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Brussels Sprouts

Bacon

Cook bacon until crisp and reserve grease. Clean and cut in half fresh brussels sprouts. Heat a large roasting pan in a 400 degree oven. Add bacon grease and sprouts and stir to coat. Roast for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add chopped bacon and serve.

Almond Berry Trifle with Cream Cheese Whipped Cream

Frozen Strawberries

Frozen Blueberries

1/4 cup balsalmic vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 pint heavy cream

2 packages cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup balsalmic vinegar

1 cup sugar

2 recipes Almond Cake

Mix berries, sugar and vinegar and let sit in refrigerator overnight. In the bowl of a stand mixer, place cream cheese. Whip until very soft, then slowly add powdered sugar. Beat until smooth then slowly add chilled cream and beat until fluffy.

Layer berries, pieces of cubed cake and cream in a trifle bowl or mason jars and refrigerate for at least four hours.

For the Cake:

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cups melted butter

2 eggs

1 t almond extract

1 1/2 t vanilla extract

1/4 t salt

1 1/2 cups flour

3 T slivered almonds, toasted

Grease and flour a 9 inch round cake pan. Blend sugar and butter, beat in eggs and stir in extracts. Add salt and flour and mix well. Spread evenly into pan and sprinkle with toasted almonds. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Handcrafted Twine Balls {Tutorial}

After coming close to thinking I might not be able to be these off, maybe I should I call it Handcrafted Twine Balls, Do as I say, not as I do. I’ll insert my mistakes where needed. I have wanted to try my hand at these for while, admiring them around the blogosphere and thinking that can’t be to hard.Yep, famous last words for me. Don’t get me wrong, they are not impossible, my frustrations could just be me :) I have also been wanting to get my hands in some #gluenglitter.
First, I gathered my supplies

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I know, you’re thinking you know why I had problems if I used these? Trust me and check out my Google+ story for all of my prep details :)

I had eight basic steps… the first being to gather my supplies
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Step 2 was to assemble the work area. This is important because if you forgot something you would rather find out now instead of in the middle of your messy project. You also want to blow up enough balloons for the balls you want to make. Blow up a few extra in case of mess ups. I had two extra and used them both.
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Mix the glue with enough warm water to thin it out to the consistency of whole milk. That’s what I did and it was a little too thick. To be honest, I can’t describe the perfect consistency. Yes, my fingers were best tools for mixing.
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I did a dry wrap by just randomly pulling the string around the balloon and then cut the string. I’m very glad I did. it was messy enough than having to grab the scissors and cut while keeping the string tight.
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Soak your twine and if you are using a colored glitter for added bling (I used a rich orange) mix it in now. I tried sprinkling it on the balloon and it wasn’t pretty.
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Wrap balloon, running the string through your fingers before wrapping to rid the string of excess glue. I tried doing this as I went and the twine kept loosening up. I then decided to pull all the string out of the glue mixture and then wrap.
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Patiently, or as in my case impatiently, wait for them to dry. I cut the time by a lot using the fan. Pop the balloons and if you’re luckier than me, they will just shrivel up and you can pull them out. Me, not so lucky. One of my seemingly very dry balls started to collapse, however I was able to fluff it back up without any damage…whew! Another one stuck like super glue to the string but with a little patience and a few words I won’t mention here we both (me & the twine ball) got through it unharmed.

Last step admire your handiwork…
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Put them on display
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I’m thinking of doing them this way for fall decorating. What do you think? This a string of orange lights on black wire, I think I want to get white wire and lights for the white yarn and brown wire and white lights for twine.
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All in all, I had fun making these. I was lucky enough to have all the supplies on hand, but it is a budget friendly craft regardless.

I am a member of the Collective Bias Social Fabric Community.This content has been composed as part of a mentoring program for Collective Bias and was not compensated. #CBias #SocialFabric

Sears Photography Class Wk7 – A Picture Perfect Recap

Sears Photography Class Wk7 – A Picture Perfect Recap

Seven weeks ago the Sears Photography class started. I was so excited and ready to learn and now I can’t believe it is already coming to an end! This post is both a happy one and kinda sad to. Sad because it has to end, happy because I’ve learned so much and have enjoyed every minute of it. In the beginning I discovered Pixlr (very similar to Photoshop but free) and had the opportunity to fine tune my path to purchase skills. This included what needed to be presented and tips on taking indoor pictures in a retail setting.

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I was also beyond excited to learn that Sears, who sponsored the class, was graciously giving us gift cards to buy a grill and some accessories!!!

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#grillingishappiness, and with the right tools and skills, photographing the process and the delicious food you make can be to. If I could sum up good photos in one word, it is light. It’s the one factor that can make or break your photos. I’ve learned natural, soft lighting is usually best and the proper use of bounce cards and aperture (f/stop, f/number) can assist in giving you the best light conditions.

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I had fun with angles. They can make a big difference in the look of your photos. Sometimes just a slight tilt can make all the difference. Don’t be afraid to mix it up by shooting from above, slightly below or to one side.

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I have always been amazed at the gorgeous photos of food in magazines and cookbooks. I discovered that often times the tops used by the pros to get the food to look so tasty would not be very edible.

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Cardboard stuffed burgers, under cooked food, boot polish to make char grilled foods shine and hairspray can be used to make dried out foods look fresh once again. There are some edible ways to, such as misting fruits and vegetables with water and using toothpicks to keep food together while photographing.

 

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The things I’ve shared today and in the previous six weeks is just a small part of the knowledge and skills I’ll take away from this class. It has given me a strong foundation to keep learning and improving. I don’t think my pictures aren’t so blah anymore, and a few have been awesome!

Here are my class links if you missed any past posts

Turkey Chili

Living in Southeast Michigan, anything goes when it comes to the weather. We have had quite the hot, humid summer so the the cooler temps we have been getting the last couple weeks have been welcomed big time. I am especially fond of the cooler weather one because I am a fall girl through and through and two because I love to cook, but not in an extremely hot kitchen. I have been craving chili and decided to switch it up from the traditional beef version I make. I decided on turkey and added black beans along with kidney beans. Regardless of what type of chili I’m making, stewed tomatoes are a requirement and homemade are best.

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I know I’ve said it before, but there is nothing better than the smell of garlic, onion, olive and tomatoes simmering on the stove. While those were cooking down, I started getting the rest of my ingredients together.

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turkey chili, black beans, kidney beans, green peppers
I love Jennie-O Turkey, if I’m not baking a turkey, this is my go to (and no I do not have any Jennie-O affiliation) :)

Turkey Chili
1 20 oz pkg Jennie-O ground turkey or equivalent
2 cups stewed tomatoes
1 can black beans rinsed and drained
1 can dark red kidney beans rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chicken broth
5 green onions chopped
1/3 cup green pepper chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Sour cream for garnish if desired

In a deep frying pan heat olive oil and add onion, garlic and green pepper, saute for about two minutes stirring often. Add turkey, cook on medium high until no longer pink. Add all remaining ingredients (except sour cream), stir well and simmer partially covered for thirty minutes. Let cool about ten minutes before serving, this allows the flavors to truly come through.
I made cornbread to go with our turkey chili…

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Turkey, Chili, Sour Cream

And for me the sour cream is a given! A hearty, healthy and very yummy meal your family will love.

ENJOY!!!

dark chocolate and red wine

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