Showing posts with label adventures in the kitchen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label adventures in the kitchen. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cleo Coyle's Most Useful (and Useless) Kitchen Gadgets and the Perfect Hot Dog

As with most crowded, urban areas, New York is a place where affordable space is darn expensive, and that includes storage space.

After twenty years living and working in NYC, my husband and I have developed strategies for dealing with limited closets, no basement, and no attic. Suitcases, for example, are always packed in the Coyle household, and this has nothing to do with our travel schedule. We pack away summer clothes in winter (and winter clothes in summer) then slide the suitcases under our bed. See, we didn’t need that extra closet after all.

Cleo Coyle, appliance-challenged
cook and author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries
The kitchen is far from immune to the Big Apple space issue. Now I love our kitchen. It’s cozy. It’s sunny. It's functional. It's also tiny, which means I have to exercise extreme willpower when catalogs arrive in the mail: Williams-Sonoma; the Chefs catalog; Bed, Bath and Beyond, et al.

At this point in my life, flipping through those glossy pages is a little like fantasy football. I dream of a state-of-the-art kitchen with bread machine, gelato maker, meat grinder, coffee roaster. Yes, I said coffee roaster. Roasting your own green coffee beans at home is now possible with a tabletop maker. The one I dream of owning is pictured at the right. Designed for small coffee shops to roast their own beans -- and only $4,500.00! :)

I swear, a few of these dream items will make it into my kitchen one day. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to ask you…

What "dream" kitchen appliance do you want to own someday?

And while we’re at it…

What’s your most useful
kitchen gadget or appliance?

And what’s your most useless?!

I’ll start…

My Most Useless Gadgets:

Slicers (apple and egg)

Yes, I know. They're supposed to save time.
I just don't ever use them.

They sit in my drawer while I tackle my eggs and apples the way my grandmother and mother did -- with a nice sharp knife.

Rice cooker

A gift I thought would keep on giving. I used it once or twice then put it away and never looked back. These days my rice cooker is six feet tall with a deep voice. Nobody beats Marc at cooking basmati in the battered old pot my beloved late Aunt Mary left me. I swear that pot makes everything taste delicious. And the shiny new appliance remains in its box.

Bacon press

This thing is cute as all getout. We used it twice. Once for bacon. Once to press a sammy. Now we might as well convert it to a paper weight. Who needs perfectly straight bacon, really? And we're back to using our spatula for grab-and-press on grilled sandwiches. Sigh.

Chestnut cutter

If you've ever roasted chestnuts at home, then you know how difficult they can be to X properly so that they (1) release steam and don't explode in your oven and (2) allow you to breach the skin easily after roasting. This baby is perfect. I love it. I just don't use it unless I have chestnuts, which is maybe once or twice a year. Then, of course, it moves to my "useful" list. And speaking of my useful list...

My Most Useful Gadgets 
(lately, anyway...)

Dualit hand mixer
- It's fast, efficient, easy to clean, and packs away in very little space. I highly recommend this brand. For a home kitchen hand mixer, the motor is one of the most powerful I've ever used.

Collapsible steam basket - A little water and this basket turns any pot into a steamer. Veggies, dumplings, you name it. Use it all the time.

Box grater - Six-sided and I use at least one of them every day.

Soon to be added - Vertical Chicken Roaster! Click here to read Krista Davis's Monday post and see if you aren't convinced to add this one to your gadget list, too. :)

Pizza Pan with holes (ours is Wilton)

While we absolutely love New York's pizzerias, we sometimes save money (and time) by doctoring a frozen pizza at home.

Click here to read my past tips on becoming your own Frozen Pizza Doctor. One of the things that will make your frozen experience a good one is using a pizza pan like the one pictured. The holes in the pan prevent the frozen crust from baking up soggy. Instead, you'll get a nice, crispy crust every time.

Or visit our good bud Dave at A Year on the Grill blog and get some fantastic tips on making your own homemade pizza sauce. Click here to read Dave's winter pizza post.

While I don't have a traditional recipe for you today, I do have a fun cooking tip. Like our suitcase solution to our NYC storage problems, Marc and I often look for ways for one gadget to serve two or more purposes.

Case in point: our pizza pan with holes. Scroll down to see how we make use of it when we cook hot dogs...

Cleo's Tips for Cooking the
Perfect Hot Dog...

Into a saucepan of water toss 3 or 4 cloves of whole, peeled garlic, 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard powder, and some ground black pepper. When the water begins to boil, add the hot dogs. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes.

The garlic, mustard powder, and pepper add nice flavor to your average dog. The boiling will plump them up and you can eat them right away or throw them on a grill for a few minutes to add even more flavor and put some nice pretty grill marks on them.

Here's the pizza pan trick: During the last minute or two of boiling the dogs, set your pizza pan with holes over the saucepan's top. Place your open hot dog buns face down on the pizza pan, and in just one or two minutes you'll have nice, warm steamed buns to go with your flavorful dogs. Just slap on a little mustard, relish, onions, and...

Eat (and read) with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Yes, this is me, Cleo (aka Alice). 
Friend me on facebook here.
Follow me on twitter here
Visit my online coffeehouse here.

To view the
Coffeehouse Mystery
book trailer, click here.

Now a National
Bestseller in Hardcover

A Coffeehouse Mystery 

*Starred Review* -Kirkus

"Top Pick"  -RT Book Reviews

"...a highly satisfying mystery."
-Publishers Weekly

See the book's
Recipe Guide
by clicking here.

* * * 

Coffeehouse Mystery
Free Title Checklist
(with mini plot summaries)

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
13 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 

* * * 

Haunted Bookshop
Free Title Checklist, 

The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 
The Haunted
Bookshop Mysteries

To learn more, click here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cake in a Mug or Adventures in the Kitchen

Cake in a Mug or Adventures in the Kitchen

“Mom, is the microwave supposed to be smoking like that?” my oldest son asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

And so what had begun as quality time spent cooking (read experimenting) together for me and my sons rapidly turned into a quick lesson in kitchen safety, or more accurately fire safety.

We were cooking a recipe my mother-in-law had emailed us, knowing my weakness for all things chocolate. It is called 5 minute chocolate cake and it is supposed to be a cure for those midnight chocolate cake cravings. Sounds like an urban legend? Sounds too good to be true? I know. So, of course, we had to try it.

This is the original recipe sent to us and posted in a variety of places on the web.

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons chocolate chips ( optional )
3 tablespoons oil
a small splash of vanilla extract
1 coffee mug

“Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well. Add the chocolate chips (if using) and vanilla extract, and mix again. Put your mug into the microwave for three minutes at 1000 watts (vary the time just a little either way according to the wattage of your microwave). The cake will rise over the top of the mug, but don’t be alarmed. Allow to cool and tip out onto a plate if desired. EAT! (This can serve 2 if you want to feel slightly more virtuous).

“Why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are only 5 minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night.”

The boys and I measured out the ingredients into our mugs, chatting while we mixed. Without reading the rest of the recipe, I put mine in the microwave and set it to cook for five minutes. My thinking was that if it’s called five minute chocolate cake, it must take five minutes to cook. Yeah, I know, I need to work on my ability to follow directions. This is not news to anyone who knows me.

Four and a half minutes in and the smoking started. I stopped the microwave and pulled out the charred remnants of cake. It wouldn’t stop smoking. The house was beginning to smell. I poured water on it. Did I mention this recipe has oil in it? Yeah, oil and water are not friends and now
tiny flames were poking out of the charred holes in the cake.

I ran out the back door with my sons on my heels, dumped the cake into the grass and stomped on it. The lawn still bears the scorch marks, which my younger son likes to point out -- frequently.

My husband followed us outside (probably, to prevent smoke inhalation) with the recipe in his hand.

“Darling, it says here you’re only supposed to cook it for three minutes,” he said.


Determined to try again, we waited for the smoke to clear and then trooped back inside and cooked the boys’ cakes for three minutes. They came out well. They had a nice chocolate flavor, but they were a bit on the rubbery side.We decided the egg was to blame. So, we started to play with the original recipe. And this is what we came up with:

Chocolate Mug Cake
4 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
Mix dry ingredients then add the following
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Chocolate chips (I could say these are optional, but in our
world chocolate chips are mandatory).
Microwave for 1 minute.

It came out a little dry, so we tried making it with 4 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream instead of milk. This came out moister but almost too rich to eat (if that’s possible).

A scoop of ice cream or a squirt of whip cream and I do think this could cure the midnight chocolate cake craving, but it will never replace the real deal.
If anyone has a more successful microwave cake recipe, please
share. In the meantime, keep experimenting but remember to keep
your fire extinguisher handy!

And don't forget to enter to win our weekly Mystery Lovers' Kitchen
contest. The prize is a $25 gift certificate to the Williams-Sonoma
kitchenware and gourmet food store. Just sign in to this blog and leave
a comment or send an "Enter me!" e-mail with your first name and state

Jenn McKinlay SPRNKLE WITH MURDER -- March 2010
(also writing as Lucy Lawrence -- STUCK ON MURDER -- Sept 2009)
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