Post #466 Four Kitchen Hacks To Make Life Easier

April 7, 2016 at 2:49 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #466 Four Kitchen Hacks To Make Life Easier

It’s been raining off and on all day, and so it must be my day off from work, right?  I’ve been wanting to do some baking and finally decided to do the old standby, chocolate chip cookies (with mini chocolate chips because you can use less of them and still get the great chocolate taste!) because there’s few things better on a chill rainy day.  Of course, once I decided to make the cookies, there was the issue of getting the ingredients ready.  As usual, since it was a last minute decision, I didn’t have the butter at room temperature, or the eggs, for that matter.  BUT!  I know some kitchen hacks to help out that situation and not waste time.

Butter: Bringing butter to room temperature is easy.  Just leave it wrapped on the kitchen counter for an hour then dump it into a bowl.  Room temperature butter is easier to cream and to add other ingredients to.  The softened butter allows volume and allows the other ingredients to be suspended in the butter rather than dissolved.  You can’t melt it because it won’t provide the same results.  Even putting it in the microwave for a very short time will still melt the interior and it just won’t “do right”.  So there are a couple of things a baker can do.

One trick you can try is cutting the butter into small pieces, then place them in the bowl, and wait about ten or fifteen minutes.  Smaller pieces of butter will warm up quicker.  You can hasten the process by putting the bowl on a warm (not hot) towel.  Another trick is to place the butter on a small plate, heat a large bowl in the microwave and invert it over the plate.  When the bowl cools completely, the butter should be soft enough to start using.  I typically cut the butter into small pieces and let it warm up while I’m assembling the ingredients and preheating the oven.

Eggs:  When I started creaming the butter and adding sugar, I realized I’d neglected to take the eggs out of the fridge when I grabbed the butter.  You cannot add ice cold eggs to room temperature ingredients.  They will immediately seize up and harden.  I made that error once while in Tucson, and even wrote in a blog post about it.  Eggs are mostly liquid so come to room temp quicker, but when you need them right now, what can you do?  I found one trick somewhere that works great.

Take a small bowl that will just barely hold the eggs with the lip of the bowl about a half inch over the eggs.  Run the hot tap water until is just starts to steam, then fill the bowl to cover the eggs.  Set aside.  In about six minutes, the water should be cold, and the eggs should be room temperature.  Or close enough to use without causing the other ingredients to harden.  This works like a charm, but you don’t want to leave the eggs in the water too long, or have the water too hot.  Once I cracked open partially cooked eggs into a pan of brownies.  Didn’t really hurt the brownies too much, but it also wasn’t the correct way to introduce the eggs into the recipe.  So just be aware of that.

Nuts/Seeds:  I don’t care much for nuts in my chocolate chip cookies.  They take up too much space that could better be utilized by more chocolate chips.  But most other people do like them, so I put them in most of the time.  Then one day, years ago, I stumbled on neat little idea.  I put roasted and salted sunflower seeds in the batter instead of nuts.  I’d had chocolate bars with sunflower seeds and had chocolate covered and candy coated sunflower seeds and loved them both.  Sunflower seeds in the cookies seems like a natural idea.  It was a huge hit.  It added a nutty, roasted flavor to the cookies with a small hit of salt to enhance the chocolate.

But I didn’t have any today.  But I did have some flaked coconut.  So that got added to the batter before the chocolate chips.  I almost left the chocolate chips out to find out what a coconut cookie of this mix would taste like.  The cookies still taste like chocolate chip cookies, but they have a subtle hint of coconut.  Not exactly a Mounds bar, but quite tasty, all the same.  This reminded me of a pan of brownies I made back in college.  I made the basic brownie recipe but I added coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, well chopped pecans and walnuts, raisins, and chocolate chips.  The batter was so full of stuff it was difficult to get into the pan to bake it.  But it turned out great, like homemade energy bars.  They didn’t last long.

Popcorn:  By the time I was finished with the cookies and cleaning up, it was time to start thinking about lunch.  I wanted popcorn, but I didn’t want to mess up pans, lids, etc.  I still had a lot of writing to do (this included) and other things, but I really wanted popcorn.  I don’t have any microwave popcorn packets at the moment, which would have been ideal.  So I decided to try another kitchen hack I’d read about recently.

I put 1/3 cup of regular popcorn kernels in a bowl and added 2 tsp of oil.  I stirred that around to even coat all the popcorn and put the whole mess in a brown paper lunch bag.  I folded and crimped the top to keep it closed.  I put it in the microwave with a paper towel under it to soak up any oil that might escape the bag, then turned the microwave on for three minutes.  Now, I always assumed that microwavable popcorn was a particular kind of popcorn, something grown to be quick popping or something.  It isn’t.   The popcorn popped perfectly!  When it was done, I opened the bag and added some popcorn salt and shook it around.  Then I poured it into a bowl, and tossed the paper bag.  No muss, no fuss, and it was great popcorn.

One caveat:  Never leave a working microwave unattended.



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