Penguin Pete here, and today I'm going to venture far astray from my usual topics. No horror movies or Linux distro geeking. Today, we're going to talk about cooking.
You must be asking, "By what authority do I have a license to lecture about cooking?" By having raised a household of four kids, that's how. During which time about 90% of our meals were all homemade, both Mrs. Penguin and I took turns cooking, and we weren't the richest household on the block so we mastered the art of cooking economically. During which time, in the life of a freelance writer, I also had to learn to cook lighter on the calorie side lest I balloon to 400 pounds from a career of sitting in a chair typing all day.
But I'm not here to dispense recipes or techniques, at least not much. Instead, these are going to be my "kitchen hacks" if you will. Gadgets you wouldn't think to keep around a kitchen, or at least aren't the first thing you see in your average kitchen, but have come in handy enough over the years to recommend.
Mortar and Pestle
Originally, we got this for grinding up various medications when a pill's too big to swallow or needs to be mixed in a drink. But we soon found out that a mortar and pestle is just an awesome kitchen gizmo to have around. Once you've had fresh herbs stone-ground on the spot added to your food, you will never want those dried old seasonings from your spice rack again. As you see in the video, you can adjust the grind from a coarse texture for meat rubs to a fine powder for chilies, stews, and curries. I've even tried grinding coffee beans this way for my morning espresso and can swear it tasted better than an electric grinder. If you're into that whole paleo-diet thing, a coarse stone mortar and pestle puts the authentic touch on any dish!
ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle Set - Unpolished Heavy Granite for Enhanced Performance and Organic Appearance at Amazon.com
Cutting Board and Veggie-Fruit Knife
Parents, do you want your kids to eat healthier? Grown-ups, are you having trouble sticking to a healthy diet? Everyone, do you want to learn the big secret to responsible fruit and vegetable buying? Is this Oatmeal cartoon the story of your life? Tune in, listen up, here's some heavy wisdom that will change your life forever:
*** PREP EVERYTHING! ***
With some exceptions, you should never bring home fresh produce and just plop it in a fruit bowl. Peel it, section it, grate it, chop it up into bite size pieces, Tupperware it, and stick it in the fridge. Lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, celery, apples, oranges, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, watermelon, EVERYTHING! Never allow a salad-class veggie or fruit to spend one day in your home whole.
This works! It works because of human nature. Humans, both kid and adult, are lazy when they are hungry. When you want a snack, you can go for the celery or the potato chips. But celery, ugh, you have to break off a stalk, wash it, chop off the leafy part at the top and the dirty white tough part at the bottom, then chop it into sticks… it takes only one minute, but the chips are right there, man, just pop them in your mouth and go. That tiny bit of resistance is enough to make people go "catch you next time, apple!" And then next thing you know the apple has turned into a mummified skull and you throw it out.
Prep every veggie and fruit to be ready-to-eat, and watch it disappear! Kids actually will eat healthy snacks, it's just that there's always that hassle of peeling the orange and stripping off the white pulpy stuff. Kiwi fruit is about a thousand times tastier when you didn't have to peel it yourself. The sole exceptions are things actually already easy to serve: bananas, berries, grapes, cherries, and whatnot. Produce that has to be cooked, like potatoes and squash, are also not subject to this rule. But anything eaten fresh that takes any prep work, do the prep work ahead of time before you are hungry, and then you have the convenient healthy snack to grab during the commercial.
This ties in with our sneaky prep strategy. Are those grapefruit slices getting a couple days past their prime? Quick, juice them! And don't bother with some fancy big machine you have to clean. Use the cheap citrus press model you see here, it's easy to wash and go. If the fruit is too big, just slice it into smaller sections first. You can juice an eighth of a grapefruit just as easily as a half a lime. The point here is again, fresh juice, cheaper than pre-made, and much healthier. It's healthier because store-bought juice is usually chucked full of sugar, corn syrup, or blended reconstituted stuff to make it taste like something else, and so on. When you juice an orange, you are getting orange juice and nothing else. Yes, it takes time, but squeeze a pitcher full and put it in the fridge. Now get up first thing in the morning and pour a glass. Wasn't that worth it?
A Set of Chopsticks
I'm not talking about using chopsticks as a dining utensil. I do use those, but those are my red maneki-neko chopsticks and they stay in the silverware drawer when not in use. I'm talking about kitchen chopsticks to use while preparing food, in place of tongs. Here's the reason I do that: It gets things out of jars! Pickle slices, mushrooms, pimento olives, artichoke hearts, salad peppers, all those little things in jars in the fridge that are too clumsy to fiddle with using a pickle fork or whatever. Now in addition, chopsticks become a handy all-purpose cooking utensil once you master them. They can beat, mix, stir, saute, and flip. They're also wooden, so they won't scratch the surface off your cheap frying pans.
Donxote Wooden Noodles Kitchen Cooking Frying Chopsticks 16.5 Inches Brown Extra Long Set of 2 Pairs
Nobody thinks to pick up kitchen shears, and yet damned if they aren't one of the most versatile tools you can have around. Get a really sharp pair as demonstrated in the video, and you will find so much time saved. They're safer than a knife for most meat cutting, since they get your hand out of the way. They're perfect for slicing any raw meat, and also for chopping up prepared meats like polska sausage for an omelet and whatnot. As a bonus, they're also handy for cutting through armor-class consumer packaging like any regular scissors. Wash them between each use, of course!
KABBLE Premium Heavy Duty Kitchen Shears, Multifunction Kitchen Scissors, Latest and Smart Designed, As Sharp As Any Knife
Yes, I know, there's debate about air fryer vs. deep fryer. That's why we went with this video. Honestly, I like the deep fryer for everything. Deep frying is actually just as healthy, as long as you use quality oil and keep it clean. There is simply no comparison for certain home-cooked foods like fresh potato fries, fish sticks, corndogs, mozzarella sticks, and whatnot. You want healthier or lower-carb, try breaded deep-fried mushrooms or zucchini. And yes, you can do the same thing in a pan of oil, but who are we kidding? For pan-frying, you need a thermometer, you're splashing everywhere, it's a mess. Deep-fryers are cheap and have a temperature setting and timer built right in with a lid to fit.
Cuisinart CDF-200 Deep Fryer, 4 quart, Stainless Steel at Amazon.com
Cooking Wine and Vinegar
Folks, this is another big secret to home cooking that will change your life. Too much of the time, people think "this needs more flavor" and they reach for a grain of salt or seasoning. Do yourself this little favor: get a set of cooking wines, sherries, ciders, and vinegar. Next time you're fiddling with the flavor, try a couple of drops here and there of one of these potions. Isn't it magical? It's magical because adding that touch of acidity wakes flavor up. It helps other flavors in a dish to perk up. It balances flavor profiles. Vinegar is a whole world of cooking all by itself. Collect a good row of distilled essences and keep it right next to the spice rack. At least half the time when you were going to add salt, you should have used a couple of drops of vinegar instead. And if you're not into salads, you will be once you discover distilled potions in place of dressing!
Mantova Organic Flavored Balsamic Vinegar Condiment, Pear, Raspberry, Fig and Pomegranate Vinegar 4-Pack Variety Set, 8.5 fl oz. Per Bottle Great Gift Set
Thanks for stopping by!
This has been Papa Penguin's guide to winning every "we have food at home" argument with four kids for 20+ years. You didn't expect me to turn into a foodie, but hey, I'm getting middle-aged over here, I had to get domesticated sometime!