Saturday, May 2, 2015

Silly Kitchen Gadgets

Whenever I enter a cookware store, I am blown away by the number of silly kitchen gadgets out there. Any task has its own special gadget these days, never mind that a few multi-purpose tools could do the job more efficiently. Judging from the array of unnecessary products out there, these companies must believe that American cooks are a bunch of bumbling idiots. I am here to say that your kitchen is valuable real estate. Don't devote your precious counter space, or your time and money, to silly products that do only one thing.

Topping my list is the banana slicer. You didn't know there was such a thing? Yes, with a deep sigh and a roll of the eyes, I will tell you about the banana slicer. What does it do? It slices bananas. You might think a knife would work for that, but apparently not:

Next up is the Vegetable Chopper. Again, a knife works just fine for cutting and chopping, folks. The funny thing about the various choppers out there is that you have to cut most veggies into pieces first anyway, so they can fit in the chopper to be chopped.

A cousin of the banana slicer is the Corn Kernel remover. The one pictured here is aptly named the Corn Kerneler. Wow, they got really imaginative when they thought of that name.

People liked the George Foreman grill so much that now we have the George Foreman Quesadilla Maker. Seriously? You're going to devote valuable counter space to this? Or worse, have to drag it out from the cabinet when you want to make a quesadilla?  Any frying pan or griddle will do great job instead. 

In some cases, a newfangled gadget or special pan is not only unnecessary, but it actually makes a WORSE product. As a baker, my personal pet peeve is The Whoopie Pie pan. This pan looks like a cookie sheet with circular indentations in it like so:

First of all, why do we need to complicate the Whoopie Pie? It is so easy and delicious the way it is, no special equipment needed. Just use a (multi-purpose) cookie sheet, scoop on your whoopie pie batter (thick cake batter so it holds its shape without spreading). Bake them and Voila! You have little cakes that are perfect for sandwiching with a billowy filling - Domed on top and totally flat on the underside, which is what a whoopie pie should look like. The whoopie pie pan is leading to some strange looking whoopie pies. Take a look:


                                                              Traditional whoopie pie

                                   Alien whoopie pie made with a whoopie pie pan

Once in a while, a single-use gadget comes along that is pretty clever and useful. But more often than not, that special pan or ultra-specific tool is just a waste of money, counter space, and extra time to clean.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cabin Fever Cake

I tried Cabin Fever Maple Whisky at the New Hampshire maple weekend a couple of years ago. I am usually not a whisky drinker, but I really liked it. And being a baker, my mind immediately started going to all the different ways it could be used in cakes and pies. At first I had a hard time finding it in stores (and my state of MA did not until recently allow for shipping of alcohol to homes). But luckily, what started as a small batch, locally-available spirit has now expanded and can be found at many liquor stores.

So here is my first recipe developed using Cabin Fever Maple Whisky. Cabin Fever Cake is a maple spice coffee cake infused with the whisky, both in the cake and also brushed on after baking. It is the perfect warm, dense treat to have with a cup of coffee on a cold winter night.

Cabin Fever Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar (if like your coffee cake less sweet, use 3/4 cup instead)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cinnamon (depending on your taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup Cabin Fever Maple Whisky (plus another 1/3 cup to brush on later)

2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir well to mix. Set aside.

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter. Take off of the heat and add in the maple syrup and 1/4 cup whisky. Stir well. Set aside to cool a bit.

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs and stir the sour cream into them. Very gradually pour the syrup/butter mixture into the egg mixture, stirring constantly as you add it. (Don't pour it in all at once because the liquid is still warm and you don't want to cook the eggs - pour just a little in at first.)

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mixing by hand just until combined and there are no more clumps of flour. Pour into the greased pan and bake about 40-45 minutes (I start checking it after 35 minutes).

Let the cake cool for 20 minutes before unmolding, then cool to room temperature. With a pastry brush, brush on a generous amount of Cabin Fever Whisky all over the cake (I used 1/3 cup, but feel free to add more). You can eat it right away, but I like to let it sit for a couple of hours (or cover with plastic wrap and leave it overnight) so that the whisky mellows and the flavors meld together.