againstthegrain's Profile

Display Name: againstthegrain
Member Since: 4/7/14

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My canned food purchases have been minimal for the past few years - mostly just Wild Planet skipjack tuna packed in its own juices (no draining needed), octopus packed in olive oil, and coconut milk. I just donated the last of the canned beans I still had to the food pantry at the local Community Resource Center.

This summer I've hardly used my stovetop, oven, or microwave. Mostly I've been cooking food in an Instant Pot DUO electric pressure multi cooker because the cook times are so much shorter than other cooking methods. PCing uses very little energy (mine, as well as the electricity/gas!), the IP liner pan cleans up very easily, and cooking with pressure minimizes the addition of heat & steam to the kitchen during warm weather. Pressure cooking is great for beans, lentils, and to quickly steam cooking veggies (sometimes only 1-3 minutes of PC time), not to mention cooked-then-chilled desserts.

Even with a pressure cooker's fast cook times and minimal addition of heat & steam to the kitchen, I tend to cook big batches to store in the fridge for planned-overs. Makes for easier /faster meal prep on other days.

*Garbanzo beans & pinto beans - a ready supply of homemade hummus and refried beans in the fridge

*French green de Puy or black beluga lentils for warm or chilled lentil salads. These interchangeable varieties of lentils take only 8 of PC time and DON't turn to mush. Their nutty texture and great flavor hold up to marinating in vinaigrette dressing. Add chopped cukes, tomatoes, carrots, a couple olives, and diced feta to turn a big scoop of dressed lentils into a salad meal. Having lentil salad boosts a meal's protein content when we have an unplanned extra person stay for supper and not enough of the main dish (my teenage son's friends).

*Corn on the cob - pressure cook time is only 3 min. Leftover corn - slice it off the cob, and pan-roast very slowly in butter with diced onions diced red bell pepper (I often use Whole Spice dried diced roasted red bell pepper). Can grill the corn while still on the cob, too, then cut it off.

*beets - they pressure steam much faster than other cooking/roasting methods - peel and slice them into salads, onto cottage cheese for lunch, cold soups, etc.

*eggplant and tomatoes for eggplant caponata or ratatouille. However, my favorite is Zaalouk, a Moroccan cooked eggplant and tomato salad/side dish (can also be used as a dip or sauce). Good warm or cold. I still like to roast or grill the eggplant before I cooking everything together in the IP pressure cooker. Roasting or grilling adds more flavor to the eggplant than just sautéing. I make enough for leftovers.

*pressure poach a whole chicken with just a couple cups of water (cook time is only around 20 minutes). After removing chicken from the pressure cooker, let it cool down a little, then quickly debone the still-warm meat (it debones easier and more cleanly than chilled cooked meat-on-the-bone) to store in a box in the fridge for easy salads, sandwiches, and soups later in the week. Put the scrap bits & bones back in the pressure cooker and add more water & a squeeze of lemon juice or a couple tablespoons of vinegar (increases mineral content of the broth) to make rich, flavorful broth (one less item on the grocery shopping list, too). Buying whole chicken is sooooo economical compared to buying just parts. Sometimes I buy a rotisserie chicken at the farmers market or a local family owned rotisserie business - I make pressure cooker broth with those bones, too.

*breakfast - oatmeal with the Pot-in-pot method to cut down on dish washing; soft and hard boiled eggs (pressure cooked eggs, even very fresh eggs, are a dream to peel); yogurt (the IP DUO model has a yogurt program that both scalds and incubates yogurt, even right in single serving sized jars if desired.

*Cooked-then-chilled desserts in the pressure cooker - Black "forbidden" rice makes a nutty textured rice pudding with dried cherries and milk or coconut milk (add after pressure cooking the rice). Bread pudding. Fruit compotes for ice cream & yogurt. Chilled flour-less chocolate cake and cheesecakes (or any "water-bath" style cake) steam-cook very quickly (& very well) in a pressure cooker.

What Canned Goods Do You Buy in the Summertime? Grocery Chatter
7/31/14 03:05 PM

My family goes through a LOT of eggs. I panic when I have less than a dozen eggs. For a time I bought "backyard" eggs from a person I know - unwashed, uncoiled eggs similar to the way they are sold in Europe, NZ, and many other countries. Due to my sources's schedule and mine, one year I bought 12 dozen eggs from her just before Thanksgiving (last Thurs in Nov for non-Americans). I stored the bulk of the eggs in my garage (north coastal San Diego area in So Cal, so not a particularly cold garage, but not hot either). I'd keep a dozen or two at a time in the kitchen, either on the counter or in the fridge, depending on how I planned to use them. What I try not to do is expose eggs to extreme temps - if the go in the fridge, then I keep them there.

It was early February and I was still using eggs from that 12 doz purchase before I opened a spoiled one. It was unmistakably spoiled once cracked open. It had a sulfurous odor, a very watery white, and a broken yolk that was partially stuck to the shell inside. Closer inspection indicated micro cracks in the shell that looked "oily" - especially where the yolk was stuck to the shell interior. So there were clearly breaches in the shell barrier, even though the shell looked more or less intact when I first picked it up.

Keep I'm mind, because these eggs were from someone's small scale "backyard flock" they weren't "candled" or inspected with a light, etc., so if they had been processed and packaged in a factory, some undoubtably would have flunked the candling test and sorted out to be used for another factory food purpose - dried egg powder, bulk liquid eggs, etc.

After the first spoiled egg, I inspected all the shells closely, looking for more the "oily" micro-cracks. I tried to use those eggs up right away, cracking them open one by one into a little bowl so as not to spoil any other eggs or ingredients if one should be spoiled. a Few were but most weren't, and they were already two months+ old by that time and unrefrigerated. As time went on the rate of spoiled eggs went up a little, and I became pretty good at predicting spoilage even before I cracked it open into a separate bowl. But surprisingly many were not spoiled at all. I think I finished using all the eggs in mid or late March - while they weren't the freshest eggs by any stretch and all had large air pockets (yes, they all flunked the float test), the egg whites were flat and watery, and they had very delicate yolk membranes that broke very easily, I used the old but non-spoiled eggs in cooked dishes as long as there was no odor of any kind or evidence of yolk attachment to the shell interior. For mayonnaise, eggnog, and other foods that use raw eggs, I used truly fresh eggs I had recently purchased.

So, with a little care to avoid major temperature swings and a sharp eye for micro cracks, unwashed eggs will keep a lot longer than most would expect.though don't expect them to make a great meringue (and I wouldn't hard boil very old eggs either). BTW, I also keep an eye out for micro cracks from washed commercial eggs, too, and use them first, because they'll spoil eventually, too.

How Long Can You Keep Eggs? Ingredient Intelligence
7/28/14 06:51 PM

I've never had a dishwasher that dried plastics well - three Maytags with heating element and currently a Bosch without - plastics always need some hand drying when removed straight from a just-finished DW cycle.

Actually, my Bosch DW tips plastic containers over so often no matter how I load them or what I do to weight them down, that I hardly ever place plastic containers in it anymore, lest I find it right side up and filled with rinse water when I pull out the rack. I was switching to glass food storage anyway, right? ;-)

If I could do it all over again I'd buy the Miele that my friend bought. Our Bosch greatly reduced our water use (very important in So Cal) and is super quiet, but on balance it's been fussy about detergents and loading, needed a new control panel after a few years, and didn't quite live up to my expectations.

Recommendations for a Dishwasher with a Good Dry Heat Setting? Good Questions
7/25/14 01:40 PM

Absolutely! Pork should is my favorite meat cut of all time for easy prep and feeding a lot of people economically. When I can get a roast with a blade bone in it, I choose bone-in because the meat cooks a little faster and more evenly plus the bone adds minerals and flavor to the meat.

Trying to make carnitas or pulled pork from a lean pork loin is a travesty, but I see people doing it all the time, then they wonder why their meat has the texture of sawdust in sauce.

If people choose pork loin roasts instead of pork shoulder because they are worried about the higher fat content in pork shoulder, they are shooting them selves in the foot. The fat mostly renders out of the shoulder meat into the juice, where it can easily be skimmed off after cooking, but during the long cooking process the fat literally bastes the meat internally and externally - keeping the meat protein that cooked when the roast reached 150°F internally moist and succulent until the tough collagen slowly melts into a rich, nutritious gelatinous sauce when the roast's internal temperature reaches around 200°F. Unwanted fat can be always be skimmed off the collected juices after cooking.

Additionally, supermarket meat departments usually trim off far too much of the fat cap off pork shoulder roasts. I always look for or ask for one with the most fat on top, which I score with a criss cross diamond pattern before roasting to help the fat render out and baste the meat during cooking.

I like to roast a seasoned pork shoulder overnight in a 235°F oven, for 8-16 hours, depending on the size of the shoulder - 4 to 8 pounds. A low temp and lengthy time in the oven produces the closest result to BBQ - a truly fork tender roast with lots of "bark" - the crispy, packed with flavor brown bits on the outside that everyone fights over (rub a little Wright's liquid smoke on the meat before roasting and it will fool everyone but the BBQ experts).

Lately I've been experimenting with making carnitas and pulled pork shoulder in my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker. I've had good results in a lot less time (about 60-80 minutes cook time under pressure) but because it's a moist heat method, there is no bark produced on the exterior, so I have to "dry out" and crisp up the meat in a shallow pan under the broiler or in a skillet on the stove for a few minutes before serving.

What's the Best Meat for Carnitas? Ingredient Intelligence
7/25/14 01:02 PM

Great timing - I'm on the hunt for new carrot ideas because of a backlog of carrots in my weekly CSA farm share box. The delightful Moroccan orange segment and carrot salad I served several times this past week (I've got a glut of CSA oranges to use up, too) is now so familiar to my table mates that it's producing yawns.

For a successful carrot salad, it's very important to use the freshest, best carrots possible. I've discovered that's easier said than done. Supermarket carrots are such a sad lot. I didn't really understand carrots until I'd been in a CSA program for a while, enjoying really fresh locally grown carrots. When the carrots no longer showed up in our CSA box, I bought some from the supermarket - the same bagged carrots I used to buy before I joined the CSA program. Ugh. They were flavorless and had a woody texture - I couldn't believe there could be such a difference in carrots.

So I tried another brand of carrots from another supermarket. Same problem. Tried again and again, progressing from bagged carrots to loose carrots, and from different stores. Same disappointing carrots. The only supermarket carrots with any flavor and great texture were the long- very skinny ones sold with their fresh green tops intact (if the tops aren't fresh, avoid those carrots like the plague - yes, THAT's why they leave the tops on - they are like a freshness flag).

Uh-oh, now I know - carrots are seasonal veggies, not year-round veggies, even in Southern California and other mild climates. The carrot variety matters and it also matters if carrots are stored for long periods in climate controlled warehouses.

I only consume carrots when they show up at the farmers market and in my CSA box, because those varieties are more likely to be grown for great flavor and texture than long storage qualities, and they were recently grown in local soil, not stored for months in a distant chilled warehouse and transported long distances on a refrigerated truck.

And when they show up, like zucchini and tomatoes, they show up en masse for the season. We practically consume carrots daily to get through the lot. Who knew carrots sliced on the diagonal make a great "chip" for homemade hummus, especially when seasoned with Moroccan ras el hanout spice blend?

Yes, I'm now a card carrying carrot snob. And that recipe looks like it will be great with my CSA carrots.

The Fanciest Carrot Salad You've Never Made Delicious Links
7/24/14 01:22 PM

Pork shoulder roasts (aka pork butt, picnic ham) are one of my favorite cuts. I love making a big bunch of Carolina style pulled pork or carnitas. I usually season simply so leftovers can be seasoned with Mexican, Cuban, Asian, German, Southern flavors as needed. I find it most convenient to make a whole shoulder roast and freeze extras in zip bags with the air pressed out or vacuum food storage bags for later use. Flattening bags while still soft allows better stacking in the freezer.

NEVER substitute a pork loin roast for a shoulder roast - loin is a cut that is much too lean for good pulled pork or carnitas; loin also lacks the tough collagen/gelatin in a shoulder roast that melts and self-bastes the meat protein during the long slow cooking, creating tender, succulent shreds and chunks of meat. Sure, overcooked pork loin roast will shred to bits when it's overcooked, but unlike slow cooked pork shoulder, the loin meat shreds will have none of the silky gelatin melted into the meat so it will have the texture of wet sawdust and about the same amount of flavor, too. No amount of sauce will redeem it, either.

Like an earlier commenter, I'm in the little-to-no-liquid camp for pork shoulder, even in a slow cooker. A simple dry rub is all that's necessary, though half cup of water in the bottom at the beginning is ok. The roast will exude it's own juices, basting the meat from within. Adding additional liquid just results in soggy meat and a decided lack of "bark", that crusty, flavorful outer layer that is the hallmark of true barbecue. Soggy meat can be redeemed by a putting a shallow layer in a pan and giving it a quick pass under the broiler, but that defeated the purpose of using the slow cooker to avoid heating the oven, doesn't it?

No matter what the season, I prefer to put a pork shoulder roast in a deep sided roasting pan and place it in a preheated 235°F oven after dinner, or when I go to bed. The low oven temp doesn't seem to heat up the house very much. Leave it in the oven overnight for 8-16 hours depending on how large the roast is 3-4 up to 7-8 pounds). Warn other household members that they will wake to the aroma of roasting meat, though, ha ha. The roast is done when the shoulder blade bone literally comes out clean as a whistle or if boneless, the meat and all the connective bits pull apart easily without resistance, using two forks. The meat doesn't take more than a few hours to cook, but the tough connective tissue that binds the meat needs the additional hours to slowly soften and melt - so no rushing allowed.

If I'm in a hurry and/or want to minimize adding more heat to an already hot kitchen, I'd rather use my Instant Pot electric pressure cooker & minimal liquid to cook pork shoulder roast (around an hour +/-). The moist heat of pressure cooking also results in a lot of exuded juice, soggy meat, and lack of "bark" (like the slow cooker), so the excess liquid must be evaporated (never drain it off or the flavor will go down the drain) and the meat shreds crisped up around the edges in a shallow pan under the broiler or a in a skillet.

I guess I'm more of a stickler for the right meat texture than not heating up the kitchen.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas Recipes from The Kitchn
7/24/14 12:22 PM

I make mini cheesecakes similar to these in my Instant Pot electric pressure multi cooker, which also doesn't heat up the kitchen.

Recipe: No-Bake Berry Cheesecake Verrines Dessert Recipes from The Kitchn
7/16/14 01:12 PM

Energy costs are generally much lower in the US, which, in addition to household and outdoor space, also is a factor whether people use dryers or not. Natural gas dryers are more economical to operate than electric dryers, even in the US. But of course, air drying clothes is the most economical. And overseas, there are vastly more air drying rack products than in the US, and they tend to be better quality than the ones commonly available in the US. After an overseas sabbatical when I dried the family's laundry outside on a line or inside on folding racks, I continued air drying a lot of our laundry when we returned to So Cal, even though I do have an automatic dryer in our home.

I've used automatic clothes dryers in many locations in the US as well as in Europe and other countries - there is something different about automatic dryers outside the US (though maybe Canadian dryers are similar to the US - I haven't done laundry in Canada, so I can't say). I've had clothes that safely went through countless dryer cycles in my own US dryer (or dryers owned by friends and family in the US) come out with minimal shrinkage and fading, but when the same clothes are laundered while traveling overseas, they too often emerged faded, shrunk to the point of being unwearable, and looking much older - after a single dryer cycle in an overseas dryer. It's happened enough times in enough different dryers all over the world that I have to conclude that most non-US dryers by default run very hot & fast compared to US dryers, perhaps in an effort to speed drying time to conserve energy. So I don't wonder that outside the US there is an impression that dryers ruin clothes and wear them out faster; enough of mine were certainly ruined.

Now I tend to travel with as few slow-to-dry and shrink/fade-prone cotton clothing as possible and I avoid using dryers unless I can operate the dryer myself, choosing the coolest setting possible and removing items while still damp, etc. I do prefer natural fibers in general, but quick-dry travel synthetic clothing is just more practical - not only does it air dryer faster than natural fibers, it packs thinner and lighter, and often has handy secure pockets and other travel features.

I also now pack 2 each lightweight plastic clothes shirt/dress & clip pant/skirt hangers in each family member's suitcase (the white flexible-but-strong hangers that Target brand clothes are hung on are perfect for traveling - Target will give them to clothes buying customers on request and they are much better than anything sold for traveling). The hangers fit flat in the suitcase lid interior pocket, the convertible back pack strap compartment (if there is one), or sometimes in between the telescoping handle tubes in the bottom of a rolling suitcase main compartment. Even my "pack light" husband agrees 1-2 of these hangers are essential for drying hand washed clothing overnight in hotel rooms, as well simply to manage clothes while living out of a suitcase when staying in tight quarters with friends & family.

I've also noticed that overseas dryer capacities are often smaller than US machines, so if they are stuffed too full (as I've seen happen many times), clothes come out extremely wrinkly.

Good Reasons to Air Dry Laundry in Winter
(and 5 Racks You'll Love)

7/15/14 02:01 PM

Lee Valley Hardware sells the best stainless steel clothes pins. I use them all over the house. They'll last longer than I will. They are so handy I always order a bag when I need to nudge the order up a little to meet the minimum order amount to get free shipping (the free shipping offers happen 3-4 times a year, usually at the beginning of a season).

Using Clothespins To Secure Parchment Paper Reader Tips
7/15/14 12:43 PM

Yup, oven-safe glass lock boxes and freezer-safe canning jars with plastic lids for me, too. The earlier glasslock containers didn't nest well, but the newer ones int the sets sold at Costco nest very nicely in a deep drawer.

I recently swapped out all my repurposed glass jars for canning jar food storage. I mostly use the plastic replacement canning jar lids - now I only need two sizes instead of the match game I used to play with repurposed jars & lids (which drove my less-than-enthusiastic family nuts). While the plastic canning jar lids aren't 100% leak-proof with sloshy liquids when tipped, they are overall easier to use than the original 2 piece sealing lid & ring. I store spares lids in a tall cylinder shaped glass vase that I already had, but last week I saw a very an attractive gunmetal black & silver enameled coffee cup lid dispenser at a local independent coffee shop and that got me thinking about a wall mounted storage tube with a slit up the front for easier access.

The freezer safe canning jars are the ones without "shoulders", though it's still essential to leave an expansion gap at the top. In the US the freezer safe jars are straight sided and come in 4, 8, 12, 16, and 24 oz capacities (there is a little chart on Ball/Kerr/Jardin canning jar boxes IDing freezer safe & not. The 4 & 12 oz jars only come in regular mouth; the 16 and 24 oz only come in wide mouth. But my favorite single serving size, the half pint, comes in both regular and wide mouth.

Lee Valley Hardware makes the best s/s funnel set for filling jars & bottles without a mess. The wide bowl is like many other canning jar funnels that accommodates ladles of all sizes and jars with regular mouth openings (can be used with wide mouth jars, too, unless filling with solid pieces larger than a regular mouth jar opening). The funnel comes with an additional screw-on funnel tip for filling narrow bottles, like wine bottles. It can be used alone or attached to the larger funnel.

Recommendations for Freezer- and Microwave-Safe Food Containers? Good Questions
7/15/14 12:14 PM

I do this, too. Square or rectangular Glasslock tempered glass containers are great storage containers - the clear glass allows the container contents to be seen easily.

I'm very glad to see jicama in the recommendations. Jicama is a very refreshing, tuber with the texture of an apple/raw potato. Consumed raw, it has a neutral taste that goes particularly well with fresh salsas, and guacamole. I often serve jicama "chips" instead of tortilla chips.

Use a paring knife to remove the thick, fibrous jicama skin, as it usually requires deeper peeling than possible with a vegetable peeler. Not only does the appealing juicy yet crisp texture go well with many dip flavors and salad dressings, but it is a great source of soluble, prebiotic fiber.

When in season, good quality jicama is abundant and inexpensive in Southern California where I live, but unfortunately I only seem able to find dreadfully overpriced and dried out old jicama in supermarkets in my Northeastern hometown (especially beware of waxed jicama tubers, which preserves the look of the jicama, but masks truly past-their-prime produce). If good jicama can't be found at conventional supermarkets in other parts of the country, try stores or markets that cater to predominantly Latino customers - the turnover should be higher and the stock fresher.

I usually cut carrots and English or Persian cucumbers into 1/4" thick "chip" slices on the diagonal instead of sticks or coins shapes if they will be used to scoop a dip (diagonal slices are larger than simple horizontal coin cuts). Diagonal carrot slices , in particular, go very well with hummus, especially if it's spiced up with ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend.

Sour cream or thick whole milk yogurt dips are economically and easily make by stirring in some herb & sea salt seasoning blend. It's just as tasty and far more wholesome dip than commercially prepared dip or packets of dip seasoning.

If You Want to Eat Way More Vegetables Keep a Crudité Platter in the Fridge Tips from The Kitchn
7/14/14 02:14 PM

I've been using a shallow rectangular glasslock container of ice cream. It provides a long surface area for scooping (after a couple min sitting on a counter to soften up) and the snap-on top stays on securely. Before that I used a Rubbermaid food storage container in a similar shape, which probably was a better option (less likely to break a toe if it falls out of the freezer ;-), but I forgot to keep one for ice cream when I donated all my plastic food storage containers after switching to glass.

3 Reusable Storage Containers for Your Homemade Ice Cream Product Roundup
7/13/14 02:07 PM

My never-used but very common item is an ordinary round wooden spoon. It sits in the utensil caddy next to the stove with all the other tools I use near the stove, but I hardly ever pull it out - only the non-cooks in the family ever seem to choose it, only to abandon it for another tool when they discover how useless it is.

It just doesn't do much of anything well - doesn't hold enough in the spoon bowl; its blunt wooden spoon front doesn't fish items out very well; the round shape doesn't fit into the corners of a pan, nor does it have enough contact with the pan bottom when stirring to efficiently keep food from sticking. I have other tools that do all these tasks much better than the common wooden spoon. I think the only thing I use it for is to prop the oven door open a crack for air circulation while drying soaked nuts.

One Big Kitchen Tool We Have... But Never Use
7/13/14 01:48 PM

Julia Child's TV episode on eggs is fantastic - Netflix used to include The French Chef series in the DVD library. Lots of fun to watch.

Julia Child also suggested making a number of poached eggs in advance, slipping them into chilled water right after cooking for serving later. They can even be stored in cold water in a sealed container in the fridge for several days, and reheated as needed or en masse with a quick dip (1 minute) in simmering water.

How To Easily Poach an Egg Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn
7/13/14 01:19 PM

My husband gave me this spoon as a gift, and I gotta say, I love it, naysayers notwithstanding. I use it for straining all sorts of things out of liquids besides poached eggs. Its bowl is deeper than most slotted spoons and the handle is longer. Yes, there are cheaper spoons, if cheap is all the matters. The sturdy truly s/s construction and well thought out design, though, makes it a kitchen tool that will perform and last longer than I will.

Egg Gear: Michael Ruhlman's $27 Bad Ass Egg Spoon
7/11/14 08:06 PM

Yes, ugh to the Pam. The mist leaves a polymerized (plastic) film on everything it touches, and users breath it into their lungs, too. Nasty stuff, those vegetable oil sprays.

Even pourable vegetable oils will aerosolize when sautéing, esp at higher heat settings, which sends a hard-to-remove film out into surrounding area, despite using an extraction fan. I discovered how much they aerosolize when I returned home after house sitters had stir fried with veg oil in my kitchen for 4 months. The polymerized film was everywhere and very difficult to remove. A film like that NEVER develops for me ever since I adopted a slower cooking/low temperature method and stopped using industrial vegetable/seed oils entirely - I only cook with traditional fats - butter, ghee, lard, bacon fat, red palm oil, and occasionally tallow (I use olive oil only after cooking or on cool foods).

But the silicone kitchenware (even handles) seems to eventually ooze that sticky stuff even when it isn't exposed to Pam or other vegetable oils/fats. Even unused or never used items in a drawer or cabinet start to ooze after a time. I've begun to wonder about silicon kitchenware - is it reacting to compounds in the air, the detergents used to clean them, or just degrading with time? Like many plastics, perhaps silicone isn't as inert as we think. Any chemists out there?

What's the Best Way to Clean Silicone Bakeware? Good Questions
7/11/14 04:31 PM

I would love to give our microwave and use the off-countertop microwave shelf space to store other items, but my husband won't hear of it.

Like you, our microwave is used most often for coffee purposes. My husband often reheats leftover coffee in the microwave that he made earlier, sometimes the night before!) in a stovetop moka. He also has a habit of heating a tiny bit of half & half for 11 seconds in his espresso cup before drawing the espresso shot into the cup, because it warms the cup quickly and it's too much trouble to steam a tablespoon of half & half (ok, I agree on that).

I use the microwave occasionally when preparing meals, but most often just to heat a mug's worth of water to the right temperature without overheating - to make an Americano in an Aeropress, my preferred method of making manual coffee (we actually prefer to use an espresso machine, but our 10 yo machine died and we haven't replaced it yet). I'd gladly use the glass kettle on the stove with a timer to remind me to return before the water boils if the microwave was gone.

For defrosting, I prefer to defrost in a pan or bowl of water more often than using the microwave (canning jars of broth are probably the biggest exception). If the frozen item isn't already sealed in a watertight container (such as meat cuts wrapped in plastic wrap & butcher paper and already flash frozen by the butcher), I place the item in a plastic bag before putting it in the water to defrost. However, usually I freeze foods in either Food Saver vacuum sealed bags or glass canning jars. I make an effort to freeze foods in the right sizes for our 3 person family, and make an effort to place the food in flatter, thinner arrangements in the bags to speed defrosting, rather than big, thick blocks (uniform thin shapes also make freezer organization easier because the stack better and take up less space).

I used to reheat in our largish countertop convention toaster oven or in a pan on the stove more often than the microwave. I still use the countertop oven for items that need to be crispy or fairly dry, but ever since getting an Instant Pot DUO electric pressure cooker, I have been reheating moist leftovers in a heat proof dish covered with aluminum foil (a thin s/s bowl transfers the heat the the fastest of all the containers I've tried, and I can often wipe the moisture of the aluminum foil and reuse it). I place the container of food on a trivet over a cup of water in the bottom of the ePC pan - though not quite as fast as the microwave, it's still very quick and a much faster bain marie method. The steam with pressure does a great job of quickly reheating without overcooking.

How I Replaced My Microwave Without Buying a New One
7/11/14 03:58 PM

Definitely a coconut grater, possibly from India. I have one from with a similar blade, except mine has a suction mount for the countertop.

What Is This Kitchen Tool? Good Questions
7/11/14 03:19 PM

I also love my Indian rotary fresh coconut grater, even though it's a uni-tool and isn't very compact. In recent years I've been using a lot of coconut milk in recipes, but also reducing my use of canned foods, but I struggled with grating the fresh coconut using the graters I already had and the knowledge that coconut milk in particular really soaked up the plastic chemicals in the can linings.

For Mother's Day a few years ago my family gave me a suction-bottom rotary grater. They bought it for less than $20 at an Indian market in a nearby major metropolitan city. It works extremely well to quickly grate a brown (mature) coconut after it is cracked in half and drained of liquid (with the blunt, i.e., wrong side of a meat cleaver blade over a bowl, whack around the "equator" middle of the coconut shell - the pointy end and the eye end are the "poles"). See YouTube for videos on opening coconuts this way.

Coconut milk and coconut cream is so easy to make at home (steep dried or freshly grated coconut in hot water, then strain. Use the milk right away or let it sit, then skim the creamier top layer for coconut cream - however even if stored in the fridge, fresh coconut milk should be used quickly or within a couple days at most).

Even the grated coconut flesh after steeping and straining can be used - spread it out on parchment paper in a shallow baking pan and dry slowly in the oven at 150°F with the door held slightly open with a wooden spoon (to let the moisture out and prevent toasting), shaking the pan now and then to speed drying (or use a dehydrator).

A mature brown coconut typically costs about US$1.50 to $2 and yields about two cans worth of coconut milk and several cups of dried coconut meat, which is a bargain in exchange for just a little effort. I always buy at least two coconuts because the chances of buying one that is moldy inside is fairly high, and I don't let them sit around long, either).

What's the Weirdest Kitchen Tool You've Ever Fallen in Love With? Reader Intelligence Request
7/10/14 02:35 PM

Not sure how weird it is, but one of my favorite kitchen tools is a straining ladle, and it does seem to be unusually difficult to find. Many years ago I acquired a cheaply made plastic ladle with a larger than usual ladle bowl. One side had an integrated strainer edge. It was a bonus item packaged with a worthless "as seen on TV" kitchen tong purchase. I loved the ladle.

I make a batch of chicken bone broth almost weekly, so the straining ladle was perfect for dipping up some broth for a recipe while the broth pot simmered at the back of the stove or in the slow cooker next to the stove. When lowered into the simmering broth, the perforations in the high sided ladle strained out solids, eliminating the need to strain the broth in a separate step for whatever I was cooking (unless an extra clear broth was required). Then the flimsy plastic handle broke and I was bereft. I searched for several years for a replacement (preferably in s/s) on websites & in catalogs, kitchenware departments and stores to no avail. There are plenty of straining scoops on the market, but apparently not ladles that will both strain and transport liquid. The closest I could find was a fat skimming ladle with a slim slot at the ladle edge, but that doesn't strain solids well enough for my purpose.

Finally a suitable replacement showed up on and I ordered it immediately. I just checked and it's still available. The Amco straining ladle is EVERYTHING I've been looking for in a straining ladle - the bowl holds a LOT of broth, the bowl strains out all but the smallest solids while filling with broth (push the bowl down into broth instead of scooping); the handle is hooked for hanging; and it's made to last a lifetime (no handle to break or weld joins to fail like some s/s ladles I've owned). It's even very reasonably priced at under $20! I use it all the time. The only thing that could be improved is some styling and additional smoothing of the edges to make it feel nicer in the hand and look a bit less plain.

BTW, I have one of those unusual German boiled egg top cutters - it was a gift from a German friend who gave it to us because of a longtime joke about long German words. It's called an eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher. While I do occasionally use it to cut egg tops, more often it holds my rings when I hand mix or knead food by hand or do similarly messy kitchen tasks.

There's a YouTube video of the eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher in action:

What's the Weirdest Kitchen Tool You've Ever Fallen in Love With? Reader Intelligence Request
7/10/14 01:04 PM