Given that this publication is titled Olam Yehudi, it makes perfect sense that I have limited my cookbook reviews to volumes that cater exclusively to the kosher cook, but with the mainstream press producing one incredible cookbook after another, it seems silly not to consider some of these works. While I really have no interest in reading recipes for lobster thermidor or bacon-wrapped pork chops, some of these volumes have plenty to offer and two in particular really drew me in. Less about recipes and more about tricks, hints and hacks to maximize kitchen productivity, these books were fun, unique and had plenty of ideas to teach even the most seasoned cook a thing or two.
Justin Chapple has made a name for himself as the host of Food and Wine’s Mad Genius Tips, a series of video clips that are informative, creative and entertaining. In his book by the same name, a joint effort with the editors of Food and Wine, Chapple offers close to 240 pages of tips and ideas to help you make the most of your kitchen time. Mad Genius Tips is broken down by chapters that feature everyday kitchen items like aluminum foil, wine bottles and plastic lids and gives you unconventional ways to use them.
Take the humble bundt pan for example. A smash hit among 1960s home bakers, Chapple re-imagines the ridged ring-shaped pan, using it to hold an ear of corn upright to better shave off the kernels and to make decorative ice rings to keep your punch bowl cold for hours on end. Other genius ideas include covering the pan’s center post with foil and using it as a vertical perch for a whole chicken, producing a crisp golden brown bird whose flavorful juices drip down to add extra oomph to chopped vegetables nestled in the base of the pan. While Chapple suggests using a bundt pan to bake a macaroni and cheese pie to maximize those amazing crunchy edges, I found my mind wandering to lokshen and potato kugels, both of which could skyrocket to new levels of greatness with even more crusty exteriors.
Think outside the cookie jar by using cookie cutters in all new ways. Consider making decorative croutons for soup or salads, or transforming homemade chocolate bark into an artistic treat by using cookie cutters to make innovative shapes. Freeze whipped cream on a cookie sheet and then cut with cookie cutters before plopping one into your coffee or hot cocoa – not only will your favorite brew look tres chic, but the whipped cream will melt more slowly and keep adding that incredibly rich flavor till the very last drop. Take frosted cakes to the next level by pressing a cookie cutter gently into the frosting and then pouring sprinkles or edible glitter inside the designated shape. Once you remove the cookie cutter, you end up with clean edged design that looks way sharper than anything you might have made freehand.
Finally, take Chapple’s advice to give ordinary kitchen items extraordinary powers. Turn a pint of ice cream or sorbet on its side and use a kitchen knife to slice horizontal slabs about three quarters of an inch thick. Peel away the container, insert a popsicle stick into one end, dip the other end into melted chocolate and, voila, instant gourmet pops. Put a fork to good use on your grilled cheese or panini by crimping the edges, keeping the filling (and the mess) inside your sandwich and saving you from a gooey and time-consuming clean up. Muffin pans are extremely versatile, and make perfectly-sized tuna croquettes and poached eggs. Want to be really creative? Place apple slices rolled up in puff pastry dough strips into muffin cups for stunning apple pie rosettes or flip your muffin tin over and arrange tortillas between the cups for gorgeous and relatively healthy tortilla bowls that are baked, not fried.
Chapple’s ideas may be mad, but they are most certainly genius and definitely ones you want to try in your kitchen.
Cook’s Illustrated Kitchen Hacks: How Clever Cooks Get Things Done offers page after page of great kitchen tips that will leave you asking yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” An America’s Test Kitchen publication, this book has over 1,000 tricks and tips and feels like the kind of book that should be made into a page-a-day calendar so that you can really incorporate these ideas into your daily life. Best of all, Kitchen Hacks uses items that you already have in the house, eliminating the need to buy another gadget that is just going to clog up your drawers.
Categories here run the gamut, with a convenient index helping you access these great shortcuts in no time. Want to make sure you don’t forget your lunch as you head out to work? Stash your keys in the refrigerator, right next to your meal. For those of you who use your iPad when cooking but hate greasy or floury fingerprints on your screen, use a baby carrot to scroll up and down neatly. Have plastic containers that have taken on a funny smell from their previous contents? Wash and dry them, stuff them with newspaper and seal them up for a few days to get them smelling as good as new. And if you have ever faced a stubborn avocado pit that refused to budge, don’t get annoyed; get your corkscrew and twist it into the pit for easy removal.
Who knew your toolbox could do double duty in the kitchen? A clean drill set to low can have your pepper grinder twisting at record speed and your blow torch can work wonders on crème brulee and too-pale meringues. And if you have ever found yourself face to face with a pan loaded with baked-on gunk, try using a spackle knife to loosen up the hardened stuff. Believe it or not, I actually have a fleishig spackle knife in my garage which has been used to clean many an industrial sized cholent pot.
Your bathroom is another treasure trove of great kitchen helpers. A blow dryer on low heat can give your frosting that professional looking sheen and is also great at removing stickers that just won’t come off. If you have ever accidentally gotten a drop of egg yolk in your whites, you know how tough it is to remove that teensy bit that will doom your egg white snow to failure; but Q-Tips are ideal for removing those little yolk spots. Claw-shaped hair clips are great at keeping appliance cords corralled and those unused shower caps that you brought home from your last hotel trip because, hey, they were free, make excellent salad bowl covers.
The lists go on and on. How to revive hardened marshmallows, stale cookies, leftover pizza and celery and carrot sticks that look like they have seen better days. How to de-lump your gravy, rescue burned cookies and cakes and how to pack food when you travel. And don’t miss the make-your-own sections which include recipes for vanilla extract, homemade magic shell topping and Nutella, as well as how to doctor an inexpensive bottle of bourbon using sherry, vanilla and liquid smoke so that it mimics the flavor of aged bourbon at a fraction of the cost.
Kitchen Hacks is completely and amazingly awesome. Buy this book, keep it on your night table and read a page or two every night. I promise you, you will be glad you did.
Frozen Yogurt Drops with Strawberries and Pistachios
Total 15 min plus 3 hr freezing. Makes 2 dozen.
½ cup fat-free Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. honey
Pinch of kosher salt
Finely chopped strawberries and pistachios, for sprinkling
In a small bowl, whisk the yogurt, honey and salt. Scrape the mixture into a resealable plastic sandwich bag; snip off about ⅛-inch from a bottom corner of the bag. Pipe 1-inch rounds onto a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each drop with chopped strawberries and pistachios. Freeze until very firm, about 3 hours. Serve frozen.
For teeny-tiny dots, just snip off a smaller corner.
Excerpted from Mad Genius Tips by Justin Chapple. Copyright © 2016 Oxmoor House. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Time Inc. New York, NY. All rights reserved.