Blog

The Portable Kitchen Kit

Tools for the traveling chef

What do you think the most important tool for a chef is?  A good and trusty chef knife?  A great spatula?  Maybe some disposable piping bags?

There are as many answers to this as there are tools available and here I’m going to outline some of my favorite tools for my mobile kitchen kit….

 

  1. Serrated knife – Absolute must when it comes to your tool kit! Not only do I use it for bread, but also larger fruit such as melons and pineapple, things with a tougher skin.  I also use it for getting sharper and cleaner cuts of tomato.
  2. Chef knife – The base of a good collection of kitchen tools and a chefs best friend is a good chef knife. I have an 8” santoku knife from Global.  I have had this knife for 14 years and it has stories to tell.  It has traveled with me to France a number of times, Australia, California, NYC…etc.  Good for almost anything in the kitchen.
  3. Parring knife – Part of my essential kitchen kit is a sharp parring knife. These can come with a regular blade and a serrated blade. I prefer the serrated version because I find it stays sharper longer.  Keeping a smaller knife in your arsenal is a great idea just for the small tasks that a larger knife can be a little clumsy at.
  4. Kitchen shears – A pair of great kitchen scissors can be a super versatile tool to have.Not only does mine have sharp blades on it, but it is also a combination of a flat head screwdriver, a bottle opener and a nut cracker.
  5. Microplane – I’m seeing this more and more in tool collections. It’s really a handy little thing to have.  I have it because it can handle the tasks that a larger grater just wouldn’t be able to do properly.  The blades on this little sucker can handle anything from zesting lemons to grating cheese super fine.
  6. Off-set spatula – Ok, so this is something you would typically find in a cake decorators bag of tricks. I have found this super useful when I’m not baking as well.  The angle at which the spatula is set can help when getting into awkward pans to check the underside of meat or help you flip things.
  7. Small off-set spatula – The baby brother of the larger version can pretty much do the same as its older sibling but takes on the smaller jobs.
  8. Wooden spoon – A classic to have in any kitchen drawer, the wooden spoon is something that has been a part of the kitchen for years. You can use this for a number of things from stirring stews, to making pate a choux….if you have enough elbow grease you can even cream butter and sugar together for a cake or cookies
  9. Heat resistant rubber spatula – Heat resistant is a very important part of this one! It can withstand temperatures of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  The first time you melt a spatula by leaving it on the stove you realize how great these things really are…not that I’ve ever done that of course.
  10. Fish spatula – Just as the name implies this is a great tool when you are cooking fish. It’s wide so it can handle larger pieces of food when cooking or moving to a serving dish.  I also like to use mine for moving cooked omelets to a plate or even serving up lasagna.
  11. Knife sharpener – I would also recommend a knife steel, however when I’m on the go and traveling to another location I prefer something light and compact. This one is fantastic because it’s easy and convenient and can sharpen serrated knives as well.
  12. Bowl scrapers – You have no idea how great these little babies are. I also pack several of these into my kitchen kits.  They are durable, flexible and the most versatile.  I use these to scrape bowls, transfer ingredients from chopping board to pan and sometimes I even cut bread dough with them.
  13. Piping tips – These are great to have whether in any chefs bag. I tend to keep a star tip, a rounded tip, a smaller rounded tip and a rose petal tip with me.  These really come in handy whether your decorating pastries or piping rosettes into deviled eggs.
  14. Bench scraper – You’ll find that most bread bakers use these to scale out and cut bread dough, however given the opportunity I have used this as a knife to cut soft fruit or vegetables and I constantly use it to clean up my work area to scrape the bits of food into the trash.
  15. Disposable pastry bags – These aren’t just for pastry people or cake decorators. I have used these to pipe out deviled eggs, make Parisian gnocchi, pipe a ricotta cheese mixture into large shells, etc.

Honorable mentions…

There are a few tools that didn’t make the list of tools I always take with me.  They are absolutely useful if you happen to have one.

 

  1. Pocket knife – I don’t always have one of these with me when I’m in a kitchen, but it’s super handy on delivery days and anytime you need to break a box down quick.
  2. Multi-cutter – With 6 sharp wheels on one cutter, this one is like a pizza wheel on steroids. It’s great for marking or making even and consistent cuts.
  3. Corkscrew – Every so often I do find that I need to open some wine, either to cook with or to deal with the daily grind.
  4. Vegetable Peeler – Just a handy all-purpose tool to keep around.

Alright, so there is my list of tools that I find that I turn to the most in my hour of need when I’m traveling or in a new kitchen.  But as I mentioned this will vary from person to person but these always find their way into my bag of tricks.

 

Minnys Caramel Cake – The Help

The Help

Ok, so I finished the book for the 5thtime around!!

When people hear that I’ve read this book so many times they tell me that I should maybe read another story. But I can’t help it….every time I pick it up a few words turns into a few pages, a few pages turns into a chapter, and a couple chapters later I’m suddenly back in Jackson, Mississippi going to league meetings and polishing silver.

Kathryn Stockett has clearly struck a cord with me and many others and in her telling of each of  the characters stories you have a sense of the struggle that each one is going through and you truly feel for each one individually.

My favorite character in the book is Minny Jackson.  She’s short tempered and strong but clearly has a soft spot in her heart, but she’ll never let you know that.  But aside from that she is known as probably on the best cooks in Jackson, Mississipi and she uses her cooking as sort of an escape from her reality.  A woman after my own heart.

She is best known for her “special” chocolate pie that she serves to Hilly Holbrook.  The “terrible awful” as it’s known is probably one of the best stories in the book and one of the best scenes in the movie.

However the movie doesn’t mention Minnys caramel cake at all.  It’s mentioned several times throughout the book and so it’s something that stuck with me and I had a notion to try my hand at it.  After researching and testing recipes I finally landed on something sweet, heavy and delicious.  Something I hope Minny Jackson would be proud of.

Buttermilk Cake

1.5 sticks butter

1.5 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

1 T. vanilla extract

1.5 cups cake flour

2.5 t. baking powder

½ t. salt

1 cup buttermilk

 

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, whisk together and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time making sure to mix well after each addition.
  4. Add the vanilla to the buttermilk.
  5. Start adding the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three additions. Adding the buttermilk in between each addition.
  6. Finish the cake batter with a plastic scraper so as not to over mix the batter.
  7. Prepare two 9” cake pans with non-stick cooking spray and parchment rounds.
  8. Divide the batter between the two pans and bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes.
  9. Let cook completely before frosting.

Caramel Icing

¾ cup granulated sugar

3 ¾ cup granulated sugar

1.5 T. flour

¾ t. salt

1.5 cups evaporated milk

2 stick + 1 T. butter

1.5 T . vanilla extract

 

  1. In a heavy pot caramelize the ¾ cup sugar until melted and becomes a nice amber color.
  2. In a larger pot add the remaing sugar, flour, salt, evaporated milk and butter and mix.
  3. Boil this mixture until the butter is just melted add the reserved caramel.
  4. Put a candy thermometer in the mixture and cook until it reaches 232 degrees or soft ball stage.
  5. Add the hot caramel to the bowl of a stand mixer and add the vanilla.
  6. Beat the hot caramel with a paddle until it has cooled and is a thick and spreadable consistency.
  7. Frost cooled cakes with caramel icing and enjoy!

 

Angelas Ashes

This remains one of my favorite books.  I remember reading it for the first time as a sophomore in college and it’s a story that I return to time and time again.

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. . . the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters . . . . ”

In Angelas Ashes, Frank McCourt invites us into his life growing up as a youngster on the streets of Brooklyn and on the damp and musty lanes of Limerick.  He was born in Brooklyn in 1930 and the family stayed in New York for a few years, but while most Irish families of the time were moving to America to build a new life for themselves, the McCourt family emigrated back to Ireland.

Through great detail he takes us on a journey of what is was like to have a mother who was on the edge of losing faith daily and a father who spent nearly every cent he earned at the pub.  There were many struggles that the family had to endure, but there were simple pleasures that he wrote about that really stuck out in my mind.  Even with the threat of starvation at their doorstep every day, Frank McCourt was able to find a sweet escape when he could buy a slab of Cleeves Toffee at the shop and stuff himself full of it while watching James Cagney at the cinema.

Every time I read his story I find myself drooling over what Cleeves Toffee might taste like.  Cleeves Toffee was produced by The Condensed Milk Company of Ireland Limited.  It was founded in 1883 by Thomas Cleeve and at the top of its game was the largest dairy manufacturer in the United Kingdom.  They were most famous for producing toffee and it was sold in Ireland until the 1980s.  You can find reproductions of the famous candy online but I wanted the challenge of producing my own version.

Since the company that sold it specialized in condensed milk surely the toffee was made with the same product.  When researching different recipes I found that most toffee made from condensed milk are pretty simple and the result leaves you with a satisfying and chewy candy that sticks to your teeth and won’t let go.

So here is my version of Cleeves Toffee…I hope you enjoy!

14 oz. can condensed milk

1 T. butter

1 t. pure vanilla extract

  1. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. It’s very important to use a nonstick pan for this.
  2. Melt butter
  3. Add sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.
  4. Stir constantly over medium to low heat until mixture thickens and caramelizes
  5. Pour mixture onto a silicon mat to cool
  6. After about an hour cut into desired shapes and enjoy!