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Get Ready for Cooking Season

Cooking Season is right around the corner, folks!  None of us are ready.

Every year, we see it on the calendar.  And as if we are daring ourselves to see how long we can procrastinate, the week before Thanksgiving always ends up a flurry of planning, cleaning, shopping and cooking, and it all goes downhill from there.

This year, let’s do something different!  Let’s all start planning a little earlier.  Of course, I am the one that ends up cooking the majority of the T-Day meal in my family.  I’m ok with that.  I like it.  But it never fails that I get down to the day before, make my list, and decide I need a new insert-favorite-kitchen-gadget-here and I either can’t find it, or it’s too late to order it.

There are a lot of kitchen gadgets on the market that can help you do a lot of really fun things.  But there is also some ridiculous stuff out there too that ends up cluttering your cabinets and drawers more than it is helpful.  Each dish will require different equipment to get it ready.  But there are some universal basics that all chefs swear by, and we want to share them with you.

Sheet Pans:  aka, rimmed baking sheet

What these are good for: EVERYTHING! Not just for baking, the multi-purpose bad boys will become your new favorite.  Ever wonder how to make your baked fries crispier?  Sheet pans.  Want to bake 10 chicken breasts at the same time?  Sheet pans.  Want to bake thin layers of cake for a dozen tiered cake extravaganza?  Sheet pans.  Don’t worry about if they are non-stick (though I rarely recommend non-stick anything), shiny or dark metal, or if they have handles or not.  You can usually buy the aluminum ones in a three-pack at your local big-box store on the cheap.  Or you can busy super fancy ones at the restaurant supply store or online.  Line them with parchment paper or aluminum foil when you are using them (unless you are baking cookies, then don’t use anything!) to keep them clean and shiny forever.

 

Cutting Boards:

The bigger the better. If it came as a free gift with purchase of tequila, leave it in your bar cabinet.  At least 18” x 12”, minimum!

You need more than one, because sometimes you are prepping meat at the same time as veggies and you don’t want to cross-contaminate.  Two or three is recommended.

Wood or plastic, those are your only two options.  Glass is not a cutting board.  It’s a trivet.  And so is that extra piece of granite your countertop guy gave you.

Sometime that little divot that goes all the way around the edge to catch juices is handy.  But you should let your meat rest long enough that you don’t need that.  Just sayin’.

 

Mixing Bowls: To put your prep in

Cooking is 80% prep work.  So, you need something to put your prep into before it gets cooked.  A 5-piece nesting set is a great space saver.  You want a really big bowl, like 5qt or larger, a couple of medium sized ones, and a smaller one or two.  Or something like that.  Digging around the Tupperware cabinet is never fun, and generally what you find there is not very helpful.

 

Knives: The most important tool!

It’s self-explanatory, but your hands and a good knife set are the two most important tools in any kitchen.  You don’t have to have the most expensive set either.  But if you are using your grandmother’s hand-me-downs, that haven’t been sharpened since 1952, it’s probably time for an upgrade.  There are 3 knives you should always have on hand: a large chef’s knife, a small paring knife, and a serrated long blade for slicing bread, tomatoes, etc.  Also, you need a honing steel.  These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, but you should learn how to use it properly, and use it every time.  If you take good care of your knifes, they will take good care of you.  As in, not cut you.  And who knows, you may even be able to pass them down to your grandchildren.  Just kidding…don’t do that!

If you really want to get serious about it, there are about a hundred different decisions to make before purchasing which knife is best for you.  Do you want German made, or Japanese?  Carbon or stainless steel?  Full tang or partial?  Handle material?  Handle fasteners?  And on it goes… The point is, find a cutlery store near you and go talk to a pro.  A really good knife will last a lifetime.  And if you like it, you are more likely to use it.

Next to not putting them in the dishwasher, sharpening is the number one most important way to take good care of your knife.  Not honing…that’s different.  I mean really sharpen the blade.  At least once a year if you don’t use them often.  Up to once every few months if you are a pro.  You can take them somewhere to have them professionally sharpened, or you can buy a stone and do it yourself.  But now is the time of year to do it!  Most places charge a minimal fee per knife, so there is no reason not to do it.  Most cuts happen because the blade is too dull, and you must compensate by using more force to push the knife thru the food.  Also, most Thanksgiving Day ER visits are from self-inflicted knife injuries.

 

Plastic To-Go Containers: think deli-counter macaroni salad.

One of the restaurants I worked in early in my career used these for all of their prep.  We had several different sizes.  And at the end of the night, we put all of our station prep into the appropriate size to store overnight.  They are stackable, disposable, dishwasher safe, and great for prepping several days ahead.  

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After School Snack Attack

healthy snacksAfter-school snack.  Let’s face it.  It’s basically the 4th most important meal of the day.  And between a full day of school, homework, sports, band, dance and chess club, it should be!  Kids are just smaller versions of adults, and if you want them to make it thru the day without a sugar crash or major meltdown, good nutrition in the middle of the day is a great place to start.

You don’t have time to make your own Greek-style yogurt and beef jerky, or maybe you do.  But a box of Cheez-Its does not a healthy snack make.  The trick to snacks is having options the kids actually like, and getting them to eat it.

Unfortunately, pretty much anything on the shelf at the grocery store with the word SNACK on it is full of sugar, fat and loaded with empty calories.

 

There are 4 things to keep in mind when considering a snack choice for kids.  After all, the whole point is to keep their brains and bodies moving for another 4-5 hours.  What should you look for?

 

  1. Calories. Depending on your child’s activity level, calories matter. But most kids don’t need a 550-calorie cheeseburger happy meal.  Keep it between 200-400 calories.  That’s plenty to get them thru until dinner.
  2. Nutrition. We gotta keep them moving, so the snack should provide a good balance between protein, fat and carbohydrate.
  3. Timing. Scrambled egg sandwiches are a great option to keep your kid fueled up for sports. But maybe not 10 minutes before swim practice.
  4. Easy. Good news! You don’t have to spend 40 hours each week sourcing organic hemp seeds and crushing your own almonds for almond butter.  That’s what you have Friend That Cooks for! 😉 And for those of you that don’t, we put together a list of 15 awesome choices that go together in a flash.
  • Celery, Dried Fruit, Peanut Butter: 2 stalks celery- halved, palmful of small dried fruits- think raisins, cranberries, or chopped banana pieces, 2 tablespoons peanut butter- or almond, sun-nut or other butter of your choice.
  • Peanut Butter and Pretzel Sticks: Again, whatever kind of nut or non-nut butter you want, just a couple of tablespoons, and about ¼ cup of pretzel sticks.
  • Clementines and Dark Chocolate: For a lighter, sweeter snack idea, pair the easy-to-peel citrus with 1 ounce of dark chocolate. This one makes a tasty dessert for adults too!
  • Zucchini Bread Muffins: Add some plain flavored protein powder, or a handful of chopped nuts on top, for an extra protein kick. Check out this recipe here.
  • Snack Mix: Avoid unwanted sugars and extra calories and make your own!  Trader Joe’s is a great place to stock up on nuts, dried fruits and seeds.  Portion out the mix into ¼ cup individual snack bags for even more portion control.
  • Granola Protein Bites: There are literally hundreds of recipes on the internet for something like this. But here is one that we’ve tried and our clients really enjoy.  The flavor combinations are endless, so feel free to play.
  • Fruit and Coconut Water Popsicles: This one is great while the weather is still warm. The electrolyte boost is also perfect for your sports players and dancers.
  • Peanut Butter and Banana Toast: It can’t get any simpler than this. Once slice of whole grain bread, 1 Tablespoon PB and a half a banana.
  • Hard Boiled Eggs: These are great to have on hand as “add-ons”. Pair with the zucchini bread muffins, or even some hummus and veggies for a protein punch.
  • Hummus and Veggies: Sabra makes handy individual cups for even less prep! Sub the hummus for guacamole for something different.
  • Tuna Salad and Veggies: 1 can tuna packed in water- drained, 1 celery stalk- chopped, 1 hardboiled egg- chopped, 1 Tablespoon plain Greek yogurt or mayo, 1 tsp yellow or Dijon mustard, salt and pepper. Celery stalks, carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes are all kid friendly and easy to prep ahead.
  • Cheese and Crackers or Fruit: 2 ounces of cubed cheese and 5 crackers is all it takes. If you can get away with it, pick a whole grain cracker option for maximum nutrients.  1 small apple or a handful of fresh berries to change it up.
  • Yogurt and Fruit: a small palmful of fruit goes really well with Greek yogurt.  The natural sugars in the fruit will flavor plain yogurt nicely, so don’t be afraid to give it a try.  A few chopped nuts go a long way too.
  • Tortilla Roll-ups: Think small, fajita sized tortillas, wrapped around some leftover meat from last night’s dinner, a smear of hummus, guac or spreadable cheese and voila!  Sliced bell peppers fit nicely inside that roll-up if you want to sneak in some veggies.
  • Nuts and Everything: 1 ounce, or about a palmful of roasted almonds or pistachios pair nicely with fruit, cheese or just about anything else.  The protein and fat content of the nuts keep the energy flowing until dinnertime.