Monday, June 28, 2010

Kitchen Gadgets

Yesterday my rice cooker got a little bit of blog attention, but it's not the first fancy kitchen gadget I've discovered I absolutely love, nor will it be the last!  Here are some others that I've come across, since I started cooking for myself while having a real paycheque, to the joy of the kitchen store owners.

on Rubber-Ended Cutting Boards
As a rule in this household, our plastic cutting boards are used for meat, and the bamboo ones are used for vegetables only.  In a pinch, since we frequently live more slovenly than I would like to admit, the plastic cutting boards are dual-purpose, here-this-board-is-clean-just-use-it backups, but generally not.  When we moved down and were setting up, we basically lived in an IKEA showroom, and nearly all of our cooking utensils were gloriously "Swede."  But cheap plastic cutting boards warp a lot when used and washed over and over, and we ended up with a convex board which would spin and leave trails of chicken juice all over the counter, whenever I tried to prepare dinner.  This irritated me to no end; I broke down into countless swearing fits while trying to chop chicken.  Since I picked up an OXO Good Grips cutting board with rubber on the ends, this has not happened.  The plastic is thick enough that it won't warp for a much longer time, and the rubber on the ends keep the board still.  I probably still swear while cooking ("Ahhhh shit I burned my chicken!"), but at least not at the cutting board.

on 3-cup Food Processors
I forget why I bought my Cuisinart 3-cup Mini Prep food processor, as I got it a very long time ago, and rarely used it.  But then we started doing "Nom Bowls," which is a variant of the home-made Yumm Bowl, and I also started experimenting with chicken marinades.  Now I use it so often that the lettering on the buttons are completely worn off, and unlike many other items in the kitchen, it never has enough time to let dust settle on it.  Mostly, I use it for chopping up nuts and beans, and the 3-cup size is perfect for the 2 of us; very likely I will break it down long before there are 3 of us.  I had been toying with the idea of getting a larger one, so that I could also grind up vegetables for yummy soups, but the last time we visited Vancouver, I made some Nom Sauce in my mother's 14-cup food processor, and it is seriously a pain to clean all the parts involved.  Not so with the 3-cup!  We're literally bonded by blood, those little blades and I.

on Citrus Juicers
My mother also has an electric citrus juicer which is apparently older than both my brother and me, which is extremely easy to use, and very efficient.  I think it's similar to this one, only it was made in the 70's and therefore will last much longer than that one will.  But if I had not picked up my manual Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer, I would definitely consider getting one anyway.  As it is, I love that citrus juicer.  Lemon halves go in, juice comes out, and the things that remain are unrecognizable as anything but plant matter.

on Silicone Spatulas
Though I used to only use them for baking, silicone spatulas are fantastic for everything else, too.  Plastic cooking tools have been one of many banes in my few years thus far, and the prospect of eating little plastic bits in my scrambled eggs is never appealing.  There are many silicone spatulas around in my kitchen, in various sizes (little silicone spatulas are better in my food processor than the tiny plastic scraper it comes with), and my current favourite has a very nice stainless steel handle.  Some day I am going to add this silicone-coated thin metal spatula to my collection, and perhaps I will know nirvana.

on Cherry Pitters
My most recent acquisition was this OXO cherry pitter, which I used on Sunday to bake a yummy cherry pie. As a side note, said pie was made in a glass pie plate, which I also required recently, and though this is no revelation to me, it is a far cry from the metal pie tins that come with the frozen shells I buy (I am lazy, okay).  Given that I can't ever have fresh cherries, even organic, pesticide-free ones, without having my lips, tongue, throat, and occasionally gums (??) swell up, cherry preparation requires cooking, which generally includes pitting.  But until this weekend, pitting cherries meant cutting them in half and digging the pits out with my fingernails, resulting in itchy, red fingers.  It finally dawned on me that I could buy a specialized tool to help me with this, and what a difference!  A pound or so of cherries, minus fresh ones set aside for Ben to steal, pitted in no time.  Mmm, pie.

There are likely others I could add to this list, like my rice spatula, which is perfectly shaped for fluffing and serving, and there are more I have my sights set on, like the cookie dough scoop I always look at and invariably decide against buying. But doubtless I could continue on in this vein for a very, very long time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Miso Chicken

Miso Chicken is an experiment I tried out a long time ago, which didn't turn out quite so well.  I thought I might have posted it anyway, but obviously I am wrong, since I can't seem to find it in my archives.  I tried it again today, with some modifications, and the results were significantly better.

Miso Chicken for 2:
- 1 chicken breast, cubed
- 1 heaping tablespoon of miso paste
- 2-3 tbsp rice vinegar
- dash of salt
- dash of mirin
- water
- 2 fresh green onions
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- olive oil for cooking
- pinch of powdered ginger
*If fresh ginger is your thing, then I'd do that instead--we never have any around, and I doubt I would use it fast enough to warrant buying a whole root, so it would be rather wasteful for us to buy some. 

Mix the miso and vinegar together, until there are no clumps of miso paste left.  Shake in salt, mirin, and add water so that there is just enough to cover the chicken. Let marinate for a while.
Wash and chop the green onions, yum.  Crush the garlic, then heat up the oil and garlic together.  Pour in the entire miso+chicken, add the green onions, and sprinkle the powdered ginger on top.  Cook until the chicken is done, and the water is evaporated enough for the miso to be paste-like once again.  Serve over rice, with steamed green beans.

Speaking of rice! I got this little baby a few weeks ago, and I am completely in love. It was a present to me, from me, using up an Amazon gift card I redeemed with my Aeroplan miles--it only took a mere ~5 round trip flights between YVR and SFO to get a $50 gift card. But I love my rice cooker! We've done white and brown rice, I've made congee in it, and it all turned out beautifully. It has a fantastic timer function, especially wonderful since brown rice takes a million years to cook, and we aren't usually home until 7pm as it is.  Now I set it up in the morning, and by the time I'm home and preparing dinner, rice is already done! Rice consumption has doubled, if not tripled, since we got one.

Ben commented that it is very Asian of me to have the apartment smelling of rice, which it was when we got back from running errands this afternoon.  I guess the miso chicken recipe adds to that thought! All I need now is to start cooking Chinese soup (I think it's a broth?) all the time, and I'm sure my grandparents would be very proud of me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Moving, gack!

Until we came to California, I lived in one house my entire life.  My parents bought a newly built Vancouver Special in 1979, when my brother was only months old, and they live there to this day.  

When we moved, it was relatively easy, despite the distance--we did a road trip down the coast, and filled the car with important items we didn't want to bring by air: computer equipment, video game consoles, Ben's guitar, etc.  Those we put into storage, and when we flew down later, we brought our personal affects via plane.  Setting up the apartment was more fun and exciting than hard work (although there was hard work and elbow grease involved in assembling our classy IKEA furniture), since we had to get everything brand new.

Last June, we moved into a very nice 11th floor apartment, and though the move was grueling (and I feared for Boris, my faux piano), we were excited to be there, and adjusted quickly to the horrors of having a gorgeous view.  However, apartments in high places come with high price tags, and with much consideration (not really) of my contract's end in November, living there for another year seemed like an unintelligent decision. Plus, given all the stuff we have, a 2br apartment didn't seem like a bad idea.  Using the wonders of Craigslist, we found a somewhat nice apartment not far from where we were living, and were set to move this last Memorial Day.  I write these lessons we have learned, the hard way, about moving.

1. Cleanliness is next to Godliness
If moving from an apartment building owned by a large corporation (e.g., Avalon) to an apartment owned by private owner, either request that they have the place professionally cleaned, or else hire professional cleaners yourself. When we went to pick up the keys from the owners, one of them was there, ostensibly cleaning up and doing some paint touch-ups.  The idea of having the place properly cleaned never even entered my mind. That changed when, every time I went into the apartment, my throat would get itchy, and my nose and eyes would start watering.  I spent the first week of June in a veritable allergy coma.  It wasn't until this past Saturday, when we had finished mopping the entire place (the 2nd bedroom had to be mopped 3 times, and we also swabbed the walls), that I could finally go home and not feel like I needed to leave to breathe.

If professional cleaners aren't an option, or you are like us and have already moved in and started cleaning, and hiring cleaners seems futile, then pick a place to conquer.  Ours was the bedroom--we moved out all of the boxes, unpacked what we could, mopped the floor and vacuumed the rug twice, cleaned the windows thoroughly, and had the air purifier going with the door closed.  The bedroom became our sanctuary.  We spent one night doing no moving tasks at all, and instead just sat in the bedroom on our computers, and my allergies didn't make a peep.

Also, the air purifier seems to work fairly well, at least for dust, and a little bit for odors.

2. Don't underestimate how much stuff you have
This is actually something we learned during our move last year, when we rented a smaller truck and figured we could move the rest of our smaller things in our car.  This was true, but we ended up doing at least 3 trips between apartments.  This year, we made sure we had a ton of boxes, and packed up as much as possible to load into a slightly bigger truck.  We did still have to do some trips, but it wasn't as painful, and we turned in our keys midday instead of midnight.  We've both become a fan of, as I posted a listing for our empty boxes and had 3 replies in the course of 24 hours.

3. Curtains are fantastic
Our apartment is one of six, and one of four on the second level.  It's a very small building right off of a somewhat main street.  There are some nice trees right outside, which give us a little bit of privacy from people across the street, but that's about it.  When we moved in, the living room had curtain rods, but neither bedroom had any.  This didn't seem like a particularly big deal, until we tried to sleep the first few nights without curtains on the window, and discovered that the tree outside does not shield the bedroom from the orange glare of the street lamp right outside.  So much for sleeping!  I taped a bunch of bags to the window, until we got our curtains up.

4. Floor cleaning
In the three Californian apartments we've had, we've had linoleum, carpet, granite, ceramic tile, and now bamboo hardwood flooring.  As such, I have collected a plethora of cleaning supplies, my favourite being nearly anything made by Casabella.  Our third broom is a Casabella, and my wonderful, amazing sponge mop is also Casabella.  Do you need to mop? Don't skimp on a crappy mop.  
When it comes to soaps, I'm pretty much covered, too.  
  • Linoleum = Pine Sol.  
  • Granite = Granite Gold; that stuff is amazing, just make sure you get the mix right, or else it will streak.
  • Tile= Either of the above.
  • Carpet = Foley's for spot cleaning, if I had bothered to buy any.    
  • Hardwood flooring = Murphy's Oil Soap.  That stuff is also fantastic, but you do have to make sure the dilution is just right, as well.  I tested this by doing two small patches on the floor behind the toilet: one with just water, and one with a diluted mix.  Because how often do you look behind the toilet?  Also, it smells so good.
I'm not sure what kind of typical flooring is left to deal with, but if there's a soap for it, I'll get that to mop with, too.  Anything to avoid having feet so black from built up dirt, just from walking around your apartment. Yes, it was that gross.

5. Screen doors
Did you know that screen doors can be very filthy?  Ben spent at least an hour cleaning the screen doors and rail with a dirty rag, and the water went from colourless to black.  YUCK.

6. How to wash the walls
After telling my mother about my allergy problems, she suggested we wash the walls, and I brushed it off as a silly suggestion.  Who washes walls?  But considering that the previous person used the 2nd bedroom as some sort of meditation room, complete with incense, we decided it was worth a try.  We took a (relatively) clean mop, and a bucket of clean water, with a very little bit of lemon castile soap mixed in, and used that to gently swab the walls.  Turns out that we wash walls, and we aren't the only people to have done so.  I'm not sure that it really helped, and that room still stinks, but after wall washing and triple mopping, it is actually starting to be livable in there.

In retrospect, these are basically all about cleanliness.  Possibly we are very picky people who enjoy clean apartments, especially compared to whomever lived there before--given the state it was left in, obviously it did not bother them very much. I don't think it's too much to enjoy the luxuries of good hygiene, but given the amount of work we have done so far with this place, I feel like we might as well have moved into a small house!