Best Kitchen Gadgets

I’m in the kitchen a lot. Whether creating an elaborate meal inspired by one of my travel adventures or rushing out the door and needing to whip up a quick and easy breakfast, the kitchen is my domain. It is a place where I feel safe and truly look forward to cooking and baking. I think that people are most intimidated by cooking because of the amount of different tools and kitchen gadgets involved. However, you do not need fancy immersion blenders, egg separators, or butter slicers to cook a meal. Although there are a bunch of expensive and even silly kitchen gadgets there are really only a few essential tools you absolutely need  in your kitchen “toolbox”.

1. Metal Spatula

This is a must in every kitchen. A metal spatula is so useful. Whether frying eggs, flipping pancakes, or checking on pot stickers, the ability to flip and transport ingredients is priceless. Although I have worked with rubber spatulas in the past, those tend to be very flimsy. A metal surface allows for stability and support and really allows you to “get under” the food. I prefer the ones that are slotted-especially when working with foods in oil or other liquids. Amazon: $8.99

 

 

2. Whisk

Besides being the most whimsical named kitchen tool, a whisk is fundamental for any baker. Whisks are ideal for beating eggs, blending salad dressings, and dissolving solids in liquids. A whisk allows air to be beaten into a liquid and is also a great easy tool for getting out lumps. The upper arm muscle is just a plus. Amazon: $4

3. Good Knife

I didn’t realize the importance of a sharp knife until after I moved away from home. Having a sharp knife that is comfortable in your hand, and one of good quality is very imperative. Being able to chop, dice, Julienne, cube, and cut ingredients to their correct size is a main component to many different food preparations. Investing in at least one high quality knife will make a world of difference in your cooking adventures and one that you will use over and over again. Amazon: $9

4. Wooden Spoon

This may seem like a no brainer, but a wooden spoon is very useful and one of my most used kitchen tool. It is so versatile. Whether stirring a brownie batter, stirring stir-fry’d veggies, or retrieving pasta from boiling water, a wooden spoon will be necessary to any cook. Amazon: $6

5. Measurements

Although it is easy to guess or estimate specific amounts of ingredients, having the right and proper measurement can decide the fate of how your food will turn out. Following a recipe is imperative when cooking and especially baking. The best part is that you can really never measure wrong as long as your ingredients are level. Having a good set of dry cups, liquid, and a teaspoon/tablespoon set is a prerequisite before getting into the kitchen. Cup and Measuring spoon set Amazon: $9 and Glass liquid measuring Amazon: $12

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Eugene Eats: Tacovore

With my winter term of senior year closely coming to an end, I am trying to cherish every experience. That includes taking new classes, taking advantage of on campus lectures, biking through new trails, and of course eating new food. I am on a mission to try as many Eugene restaurants, bakeries, coffeehouses, and food experiences before I leave this place that I now called home.

Last Friday night, I ventured over to the restaurant Tacovore,  aka taco heaven,  based on a recommendation from a co-worker. I thought, “tacos-cool, yum, sounds good”. I was looking forward to it, but didn’t think tacos were anything to get too excited about.  How wrong I was. Tacovore is way more than just tacos. It is the bustling atmosphere, amazing specialty creations, and variety of mouth-watering  salsas that make Tacovore truly a unique spin on a Mexican food classic.

Walking into Tacovore the ambiance is something that is truly memorable. Long dark rustic wood community tables are along the middle of the room while servers weave themselves in and out with bowls of fresh chips balanced on their arms. The menu is a series of chalkboard blocks displaying the daily specials. Instead of table numbers, Tacovore uses a Spanish word with a picture. The space was filled with laughter and chatter, and when we left the line was out the door!

ullSizeRender_2Tacovore specializes in Tacos. They have a set menu with 10 original tacos and then have daily specials in addition. I decided to try three tacos along with their chips and salsa.

  • -Carnitas: Smoked crispy Carlton pork with orange, Serrano chilies, jicama, cilantro and house made crema
  • -Chorizo: Chorizo pork with avocado, radish, pico de gallo, and cilantro
  • seasonal Veggie: Roasted carrot and butternut squash, kale, pickled onion, and lime crema

My views on tacos have officially changed. My favorite was the carnitas. The shredded pork was tender with a robust spicy flavor and  combined with the citrus orange slices and crunchiness of the jicama was divine! Also, the corn tortillas, which are made in-house, were fluffy and very fresh . I also really enjoyed the seasonal veggie taco. It was a unique twist on the typical taco and had some wonderful earthy flavors from the kale and butternut squash. Before eating I thought three tacos did not seem like enough to be full, however with the chips and salsa because of the rich fillings, two would have been perfect.

One of my favorite things about Tacovore was their salsa bar. They had around 8-10 home-made salsas to try. They had varieties including tomatillo, pineapple, siracha, chipotle, and Verde. I could tell that they used premium ingredients, and I enjoyed tasting and sampling the different varieties.

With their lively atmosphere and  unique combinations Tacovore should not be missed!

Cooking Oils

Cooking oils are a staple in any household. Originally they were used as a healthier alternative to butter. Many of us are accustomed to the common vegetable/canola oil or the popular olive oil, but there are many other different varieties that are used for different cooking methods and have different health benefits. Oils are used in baking, stir-frying vegetables, roasting chicken, or can even be a great base for a homemade salad dressing. The uses are endless, however each oil has a specific “smoke point” and different nutritional values.

According to Wikipedia a Cooking oil, “is plant, animal, or synthetic fat used in frying, baking, and other types of cooking. It is also used in food preparation and flavoring that doesn’t involve heat, such as salad dressings and bread dips, and in this sense might be more accurately termed edible oil.Cooking oil is typically a liquid at room temperature, although some oils that contain saturated fat, such as coconut oil are a solid” (Wikipedia)

Whether you are baking, cooking, or adding flavor or any meal knowing the differences between oils and their different health and nutritional benefits are important to recognize. Whole foods has a great nutritional guide, as well as Eating Well on which oils they recommend for different purposes. Here are some classic  oil staples as well as some new ones to incorporate into your pantry.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is Pressed from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. It can retain a high-heat when cooking since 90% of the fatty acids in it are saturated. The oil remains a semi-sold at room temperature, but can lasts for months without spoiling.  It has also been linked to overall reductions in blood lipid content and helps promote a healthy digestive tract. It is rich in fatty acids with can help improve cholesterol and help kill bacteria.  It is great melted down to its true oil form for baking. It does have a slight coconut taste, so if sensitive to that flavor, be aware.

Recommended: High heat frying, popcorn, hash browns, cookies

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a Mediterranean staple. The most important factor when buying olive oil is to make sure it is “extra virgin” which has to do with how the olive is pressed. While I was in Italy, I participated in an olive oil tasting. The best olive oils are from one origin or country and have a grassy taste.  Olive oil is great for cooking because it is known for its heart healthy effects. It is key to the Mediterranean diet and is one of the most versatile and popular oils to cook with. Tip: it is most flavorful in its raw form.

Recommended: Dip for bread, drizzled on bruschetta

Canola Oil

One of the least popular in terms of dieting and healthy eating, but one of the cheapest items on the market is canola oil. It has fatty acid and omega-3s and low saturated fat contents. This oil is perfect for baking. The oil is not actually that bad for you, however, canola oil needs to go through very harsh processing methods which is where the bad rep comes from.

Recommended: Cakes, muffins, other baked goods

Avocado Oil

A pricy alternative that can best be compared to olive oil. It is pressed from avocados and can be used cold or heated. Its texture is smooth with a slightly nutty flavor. It is primarily monounsaturated (more than 50%) which is a heart healthy choice, with some saturated and polyunsaturated mixed in.

Recommended: Use it in salad dressings or sautéed fish

Grape Seed Oil

Extracted from the seeds of grapes and  a byproduct of the wine-making industry. This oil along with other nut oils (Sunflower, Almond, etc) are not suitable for cooking but rather to be consumed raw. This oil is also high in polyunsaturated fats, which can lower blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

Recommended: Salads, dipping sauces

Red Palm Oil

One of the newer oils on the market and coconut oil’s cousin, is red palm oil. This oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree. This oil contains a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. That bright-orange hue indicates the presence of carotenes—more than ten varieties, including alpha-, beta-, and lycopene. Although there are other varieties, red palm is the best because it is rich in Vitamin E, coenzyme Q10.

Each of these oils have their own unique flavor and nutritional benefits. Incorporating different oils into your diet and eating habits can be beneficial to see which one best suits your needs. If you are interested in learning more, please visit the following sites. Resources: Greatist, Eating Well, Whole Foods, Authority Nutrition,

Food Advertisements

Food advertisements are constantly evolving. However I have noticed that especially within the chocolate and candy industries that the advertisements are getting more whimsical and wacky. Instead of going the classic “indulgence” route, the following three food advertisements deal with a change in personality and persona of the character(s) when consuming the specific food products.

1. Oreo’s Red Velvet Mini Series

Oreo just released a series of 30-second ads to promote their newest cookie flavor: Red Velvet. These ads are placed perfectly before valentine’s day.  AdWeek writes how the Oreo cookie is presented as an ‘awkward aphrodisiac for strangers’, “The brand says they’re meant for people who aren’t psyched about Valentine’s Day….And whether or not Red Velvet Oreos will actually get you laid, one thing is for sure: More people should carry fanny packs with cookies in them.”(AdWeek)

This food advertisement is using sexuality and persuasion. The ’90s cartoon drawings and cheeky elevator-esque music only add to the romantic and cliché tone. Although cute and funny, the ad is hinting on that if you eat that Oreo you could possibly fall in love. Which brings up the question-Is this ethical to relate a cookie to these types of claims?

2. Snickers: Sports Illustrated Ad

Snickers has done many “You’re not you when you’re hungry” ads in the past. Most of them have been TV commercials highlighting a particular person turning into various different characters. Once they have eaten their snickers bar, then they transform back to normal. This particular print ad (above) will appear on the back of sports illustrated magazine.  Invoking the idea that models turn into a Medusa-“whom models apparently act like when they haven’t had a Snickers in a while.”(Adweek)

Again, humor is used as a tool in food advertising. What is interesting to me is that no where on the ad is the snickers bar seen, nor their logo displayed. Because this campaign has been running for a while, people are familiar with this idea.  There is a direct relationship with eating snickers and “returning to normal”. Without a snickers bar, the model looks evil, mad, and even a little scary. Her facial expression and snake-like clothing with snakes on her head add to the image. Eating a snickers bar will transform her back into her normal happy model self. The relationship between eating a specific kind of food and transformation of physical and mental identity is important to recognize.

3. Mars Bar ‘Winning’ TV Ad

This TV commercial shows two men competing and comparing the cleverness of their dogs. One shows that his dog has learned how to jump. The other, and the one with the mars bar, demonstrates this his dog can casually play the flute to a ’80s theme song. At the end, the guy with the flute-playing dog fists the air and the words “Winning” appear on the screen. FastCoCreate says, “It’s the small victories in life that carry us through the day-to-day grind. Though, as triumphs go, the one in this ad for chocolate brand Mars is a little more unusual than snagging the last seat on the subway ride home.”

The weirder the better for chocolate candy bar commercials. Competitiveness, cute dogs, and Miami Vice music apparently make for a great ad. This does not directly relate to the actual chocolate candy bar itself however, but is making the connection between buying and eating a mars bar and ‘winning’ .

Celebrity Chef Craze

Before Food Network expanded to the empire it is today, I can remember watching and interacting with food related media content in my early childhood. I have distinct memories of  watching and re-watching  rented VHS cooking videos from the library.  I would rent the same VHS video year after year. The video was a gingerbread house demonstration. An elderly lady would go through the steps on how to make and design a gingerbread house for Christmas. I was simply memorized by her movements, and enjoyed watching her delicately ice the rooftop. I was obsessed with watching her create a food masterpiece.

Gingerbread houses, led me to Food Network TV and Rachael Ray. Ray was the first host I remember distinctly watching. To me, she was someone I wanted to be. We had the commonality of a shared name, and her dinnertime creations seemed effortless and astounding. I tested her “30-minute meal” challenges on my family.  Today the enjoyment continues and my consumption of food related media content, cooking shows, and slight obsession with celebrity chefs such as Rachael Ray has grown.

But what really is a celebrity chef? The word celebrity has connotations of a crazy, out of control Kim Kardashian or a famous actress Jennifer Anniston. And the word chef is a career position that requires several years of schooling and intense study of the preparation of food. So how do these two roles collide? According to Wikipedia a Celebrity Chef is, “ a kitchen chef who has become famous and well-known. Today celebrity chefs often become celebrities by presenting cookery advice and demonstrations via mass media, especially television.” (Wikipedia)

However, I think it is much more than being “well-known” but one who has a cult following in viewers and products. It is not only enough to have your own TV show; but now restaurants, cooking utensils, cookbooks, and even your own food products.

Time goes into detail about various realms of stardom, “In a world in which what and how we eat have become fetishized, celebrity chefs are finding new ways to harness their star power — and not just to make money. … In the Food Network era, the phenomenon of the celebrity chef has utterly transformed the restaurant industry and, in the process, changed the very nature of how we eat.”(Time) This article from Time continues to argue that food media is one of the main reasons we as Americans are alienated and distant from our food.

As I mentioned previously, celebritys harness their “star power” through their product lines such as cookbooks. Cookbooks prove a unique facet because we as readers assume that we are getting inside knowledge to their recipes. However in reality, the cookbook is more of a promotion of the celeb chef themselves. In a research study of the analysis of celebrity cookbooks, Author Christine Mitchell analyzes the differences of female vs. Male cookbooks:

In contrast to such warm, encouraging cookbooks by the female chefs, those by the men do little to support the reader’s ego. They support the authors’ egos quite well, however, as both Lagasse and Flay talk about their restaurants and television shows. But neither man works to give his readers a sense of accomplishment or knowledge. Both books reveal much about their authors, but little about cooking as an activity to cultivate.“(Mitchell)
Cooking shows, food media, and the fame of celebrity chefs are quickly growing. It is more that just sharing a simple dish with a viewer or teaching them how to cook. Instead it is self-promotion, consumerism, and the expanding of a star’s brand.

Serial Podcast

I am officially a podcast person. I love the way that sounds. To me a podcast person is someone who travels to Arabia and rides camels, doesn’t look at the prices of gourmet cheeses, has an ivy-league degree, and lives in a place where there is someone in the elevator who presses the floor button for you and greets you with a “hello Miss. Davidson”. Yep, this is how I feel when listening to a podcast. For some reason, I have a connotation that a podcast equals fancy elegance. Maybe because until recently I didn’t know anyone (of my age) that listened to them. To me, podcasts were for a more refined older audience, and one who doesn’t swoon over Magic Mike nor buys the latest Taylor Swift album.

Nonetheless I have converted. Why? Because of Serial. I originally heard about the podcast Serial from one of my favorite health blogs. According to Wikipedia Serial is  “a podcast exploring a nonfiction story over multiple episodes…Sarah Koenig created and hosts the series, which is co-produced by Koenig and Julie Snyder, both producers of This American Life.(NPR)” (Wikipedia)

Serial is a weekly podcast that explores a real life murder of 17-year-old Hae Min Lee that happened in Baltimore of 1999. The convicted killer Adnan Syed has been in prison for over 15 years and the creator Sarah Koenig goes into great detail about the case and his possible innocence.

From the very beginning I was hooked. Koenig is an amazing storyteller, originally an American journalist,  and the facts and explanations around the murder are riveting. I have listed to all 11 episodes over a short period of five days. In short, I am addicted. It is not just the crime itself which I find interesting( I’ll admit I enjoy SVU and similar crime dramas) but, I enjoy the way in which the podcast is produced and told. The journalistic side of me loves the structure of the program and how Koenig is suspense-fully telling us the story each week. If interested this article by NPR explains the background behind Serial. Also I have respect for the amount of work and effort she has put in to following leads, conducting interviews, and journalistically reporting the crime moment by moment. All while sharing her doubts and concerts on a national platform.

As for the story/crime itself I am torn each episode as whether I think Syed is innocent or guilty. I am glued to the story and can not wait to see how it ends. The last episode is this Thursday December 18th. However, it has struck me at multiple instances  that this is real life with real consequences. Although set up similar to a TV drama, there may not be a happy ending with a pretty bow and all the corners tied up. There is a possibility of never knowing who killed the 17-year-old girl- which is crazy.

I don’t want spoil the series with specific details, but would highly recommend listening. I have enjoyed everything Serial has to offer and even love bouncing back ideas on who actually did it with my friends, who are fans of the podcast as well. Overall, I think that NPR hit a home run with this spin-off and that is especially exciting for the world of journalism. This article by the New York times is an excellent interview with creator Sarah Koenig. It is so widely popular there is even a BuzzFeed poll titled the “Definite Serial Obsessive Poll”, that yes, I have taken.

Grab a bowl of Cereal and listen to Serial for free HERE.

Eugene Eats: Off the Waffle Review

Bright orange Afros are not usually associated with waffles. However for one classic Eugene restaurant, the iconic “fro” logo is not only recognizable, but indicates a unique breakfast perspective for many Eugenians.

Forget the classic breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and bacon. Instead, Off the Waffle, a Belgian restaurant, specializes in Liège waffles with unique toppings.

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What makes Liège waffles different from other Belgian waffles is the chunks of pearl sugar folded inside the dough, giving them a rich sweet taste. The sugar melts during the rising process and forms a crispy, caramelized exterior when baked in a cast iron waffle press.

On a late chilly October Saturday afternoon, well past prime breakfast hours, the restaurant is still jam-packed with customers ranging from young families with rambunctious children to hung-over college students, to romantic couples, to father-daughter pairs.

Fried sugar wafts throughout the booths and bounces off bright tangerine-colored walls as cobalt blue plates stacked high with 3-D waffle towers are delivered to hungry wide-eyed patrons by a server wearing a tie–dyed shirt and floral print leggings.

The menu reads like your friendly next-door neighbor telling you an inside joke. When debating whether to get maple syrup, Off The Waffle suggests holding off. “Liege waffles don’t need maple syrup or butter,” it say, “but we won’t judge you if you order them.”

Bright orange type alerts customers to signature waffle creations with whimsical names such as “No, Really Though” and “Goat in Headlights.”

The “Be-Brie Peared” waffle, which I ordered, is described as somewhere “In Between” a savory waffle and a sweet dessert waffle, and is topped with sautéed onions, pear, and brie or gorgonzola cheese.

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Because the waffle is caramelized with sugar, the actual waffle has a hard crystal coating. When tapped with a fork tine, it makes a pleasant “ting” sound. However, once your fork cuts through the outside shell, leaving a sticky caramel residue, a soft, dense buttery waffle emerges.

Although you could stop at just the waffle itself, Off the Waffle wow’s it’s customers with intense topping combinations. Take, for example, the waffle I ate- the “Be-Brie Peared.” This has sautéed onions, sliced pear, and Brie cheese. Other combinations include a fried egg, avocado and bacon, to ham, apple, and basil.

White speckled green dots of Gorgonzola are sprinkled atop thinly sliced pears with pink skin and veiny flesh. Underneath the fresh fruit are sautéed onions that collapse into the geometric square craters of the waffle, soaking up the sweet exterior. Finally a maple balsamic glaze pool of decadence surrounds the liege waffle.

The crisp pear combined with the fragerent cheese and the thick amber glaze make for a perfect bite. The glaze, which is thick, sweet, and instead left with a non-vinegar reduction, is a pleasant contrast to the crunch from the fresh pear and saltiness from the gorgonzola.

Stinky cheese and waffles? Balsamic and maple? Some may call the concoctions bizarre while others, such as myself, are along for the taste-bud intoxicating ride. You can visit Off the Waffle at two Eugene Locations:

South Eugene

2540 Willamette Street

Downtown Eugene

840 Willamette Street