Monthly Archives: August 2016

  1. Expert Interview Series: Deborah Peralta of Dello Mano Luxury Brownies About Making a Better Brownie

    Deborah Peralta created the Dello Mano Luxury Brownie; and together with co-founder Bien Peralta, they drove the Australian Brownie Revolution. She happily lives in beautiful Brisbane, Australia with two kids and a fridge full of brownies. We spoke with...

    Making a better brownie

    Deborah Peralta created the Dello Mano Luxury Brownie; and together with co-founder Bien Peralta, they drove the Australian Brownie Revolution. She happily lives in beautiful Brisbane, Australia with two kids and a fridge full of brownies. We spoke with Deborah about how she introduced her brownies to the Australian market, and also learned how to make better brownies in a home kitchen.

    Why did you choose to open Dello Mano? Where does the name come from?

    Dello Mano is corrupted Italian meaning "of the hand." The name Dello Mano was inspired by an Italian vacation. We were both working corporate lives with small children, and my husband Bien and I decided to take a holiday and use the time to think about our long-held dream to develop our own artisan business. We had planned and dreamed for years about our business and felt like the time was right to cut the corporate ties and follow the advice of our fridge magnet: "Just do it."

    In Italy, we were mesmerized by the beauty of food purchasing. Everything was presented from the deli to the baker as if the provedore was passing across a gift to behold. That beauty was so inspiring that it created the idea of celebrating beautiful handmade food gift giving.

    How does your background as a food scientist impact the way you cook and bake today?

    My food science background still is important today. I love food and everything about it from the chemistry to the culture. I started my career in food product development at Cadbury, so a small business that is now free to create new products according to our vision is the perfect home for a food scientist!

    On your website, you say that you "pioneered the Australian Brownie revolution." What makes your brownies different and unique when compared to most other brownies? How did Australia react to your luxury brownies?

    We came back from Italy with a business vision. I was traveling domestically and internationally with my full-time job at the time, so I was studying food everywhere that I went. In Australia, I started to notice that brownies were a non-event. Most shops didn't carry them, and if they did they were dusty, "cakey" things that were on the bottom shelf. At this time (2005 and 2006), cupcakes and macarons were all the rage with the media and everyone else. I looked at the brownie and thought that with my food science expertise, chocolate knowledge, and research/branding experience, I could create the Luxury Brownie.

    We called it a Luxury Brownie because it was really special - a unique combination that was more chocolate fudge than cake. It was a new way of thinking about brownies. No other brownies that I had found were branded, lauded, or packed for gifts at that time. We drove our own concept for brownies.

    We created the "Australian Brownie Revolution." Magazines, newspapers, and tv stations started requesting our products, running stories, and displaying photos. Then I think it was our pure determination to hang in there until the media started supporting brownies. We can still remember seeing brownies starting to appear on the covers of magazines. Because we were there first, we called ourselves Brownie Pioneers. We think it is well-deserved after years of people scoffing and discouragingly saying things to us like "You have got to be kidding! You can't build a business on brownies!" Now, there is even a small market of brownie makers!

    The Australian people also loved our products. From the beginning, everyone loved the taste of the brownie, which led us to a very sample-driven marketing plan to this day. The sampling helped, but it was definitely a case of us leading the market; since people had no knowledge of brownies, they did not have a need for them.

    Your site also notes how you use "artisanal methods" when preparing your brownies. How do those methods differ from traditional brownies made in bakeries?

    My career in food trend research had me convinced that eventually, people would respond positively to smaller, beautiful handmade food. At first, we were more expensive and smaller compared to almost everything on the market. This was one of our biggest challenges; people needed to taste our product not only to experience the flavor and texture difference, but also to feel the humanity of our Luxury Brownie in every bite. This was a slow and very committed journey for us.

    We were also innovative in that we used only the best ingredients from day one, including Belgian chocolate, real butter, free range eggs (even when this was not the trend) delivered direct from the farm to our door by the farmer, local nuts and ingredients where possible (most sourced from our fellow marketeers from the Farmers Market where we started), and honey direct from the farm and city beehives.

    When it comes to Luxury Brownies, we focus on small batches. We don't look to increase economies of scale by pumping batter and filling huge big baking trays. Luckily, beautiful food really does come from small "cared-for" batches. We still bake in small ovens, and we hand mix and fill every batch. Also, we don't use premixes, which is a common bakery approach. Instead, we use from-scratch ingredients for our Original Brownie Recipes. We carry the banner for real food by real people for real people, and won't be tempted to change our methods in order to save money.

    For people who want to make better brownies at home, what advice or suggestions can you offer?

    It is all about using the best possible ingredients. In addition, I suggest really using trusted recipes. I know from my brand management days in Cadbury marketing that people are really disappointed when a recipe doesn't work out; after all, it is very expensive to cook with chocolate and not have it work out. So if you are new to brownies, use a respectable recipe source that mentions that their recipes are tested. There are lots of chocolate recipes out there, but so often they're not viable or very borderline in terms of the likelihood of success. Finally, don't overcook a brownie; learn to take it out of the oven when it is just cooked.

    What should people look for in a mixer? Are there any specific qualities or features that are important?

    After we had sold some brownies, we moved on from our 40-year-old hand mixer (which is still running!) and invested in a Kitchenaid mixer for smaller tasks - mine is white because I love the laboratory look of it - and a Hobart mixer for our bigger kitchen work. I love Hobarts; I did my thesis on whipping egg albumen in one, and to this day I absolutely love them.

    Need a new mixer for your own kitchen? Check out Cilantro's selection today!

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  2. 7 Ways to Celebrate International Bacon Day

    7 Ways to Celebrate International Bacon Day

    Bacon may just be one of the world's most beloved foods. How much so? It has as entire international observation day dedicated in its honor. International Bacon Day, celebrated every year on the Saturday preceding Labor Day, is the...

    Bacon may just be one of the world's most beloved foods. How much so? It has as entire international observation day dedicated in its honor. International Bacon Day, celebrated every year on the Saturday preceding Labor Day, is the perfect opportunity to start and finish your day off with this crunchy cured treat. Think bacon is just for breakfast? Let's count down seven creative ways to get your bacon on this September 3rd.

    International Bacon Day

    Bring on the bacon!

    1. Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

    This incredible easy yet delicious recipe includes just three ingredients: bacon, asparagus spears and pepper. Just wrap a bacon piece around an asparagus spear, secure with toothpicks, toss it on the grill, and prepare for a sublime taste sensation.

    International Bacon Day

    From savory to sweet in mere seconds.

    2. Easy Sticky Buns with Bacon

    It's hard to out-delicious a traditional sticky bun, but adding bacon to the recipe elevates this to something else entirely. The best part? While these taste entirely homemade, the recipe calls for store-bought frozen puff pastry saving you time in the kitchen without sacrificing any of the flavor. Shhhh... your guests will never know!

    3. Kevin Bacon Popcorn

    We'll admit that this recipe caught our attention for its name. But it delivered, and then some. Did we mention that the corn is stove-popped using the bacon drippings as a substitute for oil? Smoked paprika adds the perfect finishing touch.

    International Bacon Day

    Bacon ventures beyond breakfast.

    4. Spaghetti with Bacon Meatballs

    Spaghetti and meatballs just may be the ultimate comfort food. But your grandmother never made meatballs like this. You'll love the burst of bacon flavor in every bite. Even better? Your kids will too.

    5. Peanut Butter Bacon and Dark Chocolate Cookies

    The maple bacon cupcake frenzy is still going strong, but bacon cookies are just starting to have their moment in the spotlight. Combining favorite flavors including peanut butter, brown sugar, dark chocolate, and plenty of bacon, these cookies are glorious game-changers.

    6. Candied Bacon Martini

    What do you get when you cross a classic cocktail with everyone's favorite cured meat? This unbelievably indulgent beverage, which fuses salty with sweet thanks to the combination of rich, caramelized bacon with ingredients like amaretto and maple syrup, You can even feel (kind of) healthy while sipping thanks to the Granny Smith apple garnish.

    7. Cheesy Bacon Bombs

    Cheese. Dough. Bacon. Can you really go wrong with these three words in the picture? This amazing appetizer or game-day snack is one sure to have the crowd cheering for more. One tip? Double or even triple the recipe or prepare to run out fast.

    Can you ever really have too much bacon? Any way you slice it, probably not. Worry about your cholesterol levels another day and give into the bacon temptation this September 5th. Your taste buds will thank you for it. Browse cookbooks today for access to more amazing recipes for all occasions.

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  3. 6 Baking Utensils You Need for Gloriously Good Desserts

    6 Baking Utensils You Need for Gloriously Good Desserts

    Many people would agree that that the entire point of eating dinner is to get to dessert. Many others believe that those people are right! From cookies and cakes to pies and profiteroles, there are near-endless ways to cap...

    Many people would agree that that the entire point of eating dinner is to get to dessert. Many others believe that those people are right! From cookies and cakes to pies and profiteroles, there are near-endless ways to cap off a meal with a scrumptious sweet treat. But why go with stale and store-bought options when you can whip up your own amazing desserts? The following six utensils can help you bake your way to bliss.

    Baking utensils

    Are the right baking tools the secret to her success?

    1. A Pastry Blender

    Making a fruit crisp, shortbread or shortcake biscuits? Sure, you could go with the time-tested -- and time-consuming -- two forks method to "cut" butter, shortening or lard into solid ingredients, but why battle through the task when you can breeze through it instead? Bakers and pastry chefs alike consider pastry blenders to be a kitchen must-have, and so should you.

    2. Measuring Cups

    The old expression insists that "cooking is an art, but baking is a science." While there's plenty of artistry in the latter, this adage speaks more to the need for precision in baking and, specifically, measuring cups.

    Unlike with cooking, you can't just "wing it" while baking -- unless you're okay with batters which don't rise and other cake-tastrophes. Remember: you'll need a set each for measuring liquid and dry ingredients. Also, a mini measuring cup set will have you covered when it comes to smaller measuring tasks, such as baking with extracts.

    3. A Cake Tester

    Tired of wondering whether or not your cake is done? This long, thin skewer not only takes the guesswork out of the equation, but also serves numerous other non-dessert purposes, including to test the doneness of everything from meat to vegetables. There's a reason why some chefs are spotted about town with cake testers tucked into their chef's coat pockets. It may seem simple, but you'll be glad you have it -- particularly if you've ever sliced into a pitifully over- or under-cooked cake.

    4. Specialty Pans

    Sure, the most important thing is how they taste, but desserts which are beautiful in appearance add a special touch to any meal or celebration. From heart-shaped petit fours to seashell-shaped chocolates, the right specialty baking pans exponentially enhance your baking repertoire. Or what about a wedding favorite -- the three-tiered cake-in-one? Popovers, tartlets, kugelhopfs and more all depend on having the perfect pan. (And while you're at it -- don't forget to stock up on the culinary cousins of the specialty pan...cookie cutters!)

    5. Hocking/Batter Bowls

    If you've ever worked with batter, you know it can be a messy ordeal. Save yourself the headache of drips, spills, and overflows by using a hocking measuring cup or batter bowl. Not only do these make measuring, mixing and pouring easier, but many are also suitable for serving and storing, as well.

    Baking utensils

    Prepare to whip up something wonderful.

    6. A Baker's Scraper

    Many people love to bake, but few people love cleaning up after themselves afterwards. A baker's scraper not only helps you manipulate dough with ease, but also comes in handy when it's time to clean up the surface you've been working on. Additionally, this surprisingly versatile tool can also be used for other tasks, such as cutting brownies in the pan and even transferring chopped vegetables from the counter to the pan. It's not referred to as "the baker's right hand" for nothing!

    While these six tools are favorites among professional and home bakers alike, they're far from alone. From whisks and rolling pins to straight spatulas and sifters, a vast assortment of baking utensils can help you bring your culinary creations to life. Browse Cilantro The Cooks Shop complete collection of bakeware today to get started.

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  4. Expert Interview Series: Karista Bennett of Karista's Kitchen About How Cooking Changed Her Life

    Expert Interview Series: Karista Bennett of Karista's Kitchen About How Cooking Changed Her Life

    Karista Bennett is an experienced and passionate chef, writer, and recipe developer whose work is currently published in several national and international publications. We recently sat down with Karista to hear about her surprising evolution as a chef, and...

    Favorite dishes

    Karista Bennett is an experienced and passionate chef, writer, and recipe developer whose work is currently published in several national and international publications. We recently sat down with Karista to hear about her surprising evolution as a chef, and also found out what some of her favorite dishes are.

    Why did you choose to start Karista's Kitchen?

    I started my food blog as a place not only to house and catalog the recipes I develop, but also for my friends and family to access recipes they'd requested. It sort of took off from there and morphed into a place to connect with enthusiastic home chefs and foodies.

    Is it true that you weren't a "natural" when it came to cooking?

    Let's just say that before culinary school, anything I cooked could have caused a slow and painful death - which is why I went to culinary school. I have always loved delicious food, and when I found myself on a career hiatus and cooking for my family a lot more often, I decided to learn how to cook from the professionals.

    After the first class, I sat in my car and cried. I felt like I'd finally found my mission in life: to create delicious, approachable recipes that anyone could re-create - even if they didn't know how to cook.

    What are some of your favorite kitchen memories that influence the way you cook and bake today?

    I loved being at my grandparents' house when it was suppertime. Watching my grandmother cook the evening meal with such joy and pride made the entire meal feel like a celebration. Although my grandmother prepared simple meals, somehow they always tasted like we were dining at a 4-star restaurant. When I cook for my family, friends, or private chef clients or post recipes for my blog readers, my hope is that with every recipe they eat or create, they feel like they're getting a giant food hug!

    Near your home in northwest Washington state, what are some of the food and cuisine options that people should explore if they were to visit that area?

    The Pacific Northwest is home to dozens of James Beard award-winning chefs and restaurants. We don't lack for delicious food here. We have an abundance of Northwest style cuisine, farm to table, Asian fusion, seafood, and much more. We also have a huge selection of craft breweries and distilleries, as well as several gorgeous winemaking regions that are so much fun to tour.

    No one should leave the Northwest without a visit to the Oregon coast, which is spectacular. The San Juan Islands north of Seattle are also a gorgeous place to visit, dine, and enjoy the outdoors.

    When your kids were younger, how difficult was it to prepare healthy meals that they would actually eat?

    Because my children began eating whole, fresh foods from the very beginning, they had palates that were easy to please. When they did become particular about food, I typically "sauced" it. They love sauce. I studied French cuisine and learned a long list of sauces; and now, my family will rarely eat anything without a sauce. A common question at my dinner table is "where's the sauce?" A good sauce, salsa, pesto, chutney, vinaigrette, etc. can ramp up an otherwise bland entree or veggies. If all else failed, I'd top it with cheese.

    Finish this sentence, "In my opinion, the most versatile food that I cook with is..."

    In my opinion, the most versatile food that I cook with is seafood.

    Do you have a favorite recipe that incorporates seafood that you'd like to share with us?

    We live near the coast and sometimes do a bit of deep sea fishing or lake fishing, so I'm stocked with fish. Seafood is so easy to prepare, whether pan searing, pan frying, roasting, baking, grilling or steaming. It's quick and pairs well with most any seasonal vegetable or salad. And it's great with a sauce! One of my favorites is this Salmon with a Lemon Beurre Blanc.

    When you're cooking or baking in the kitchen, what are some of your must-have utensils and tools?

    I think every kitchen should be stocked with a few high-quality knives and a heavy bottomed, well-seasoned cast iron or iron pan. A meat thermometer is a must because it'll take the guesswork out of knowing when meat and poultry are done.

    What is your favorite time-saving appliance, electric, or gadget in your kitchen?

    I know this might be surprising, but I love my convection toaster oven. My large oven isn't convection and it's nice to have that convection option. It makes roasting veggies a breeze and re-heating leftovers taste better because they're reheated quicker and get a little toasty on the outside. It's also handy when it's hot outside and turning on the big oven is not an option.

    Does your kitchen lack high-quality knives? Check out Cilantro's selection today!

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  5. Expert Interview Series: Suzy Cacic of BetterBakingBible.com About Baking With Passion

    Expert Interview Series: Suzy Cacic of BetterBakingBible.com About Baking With Passion

    Suzy Cacic is the Founder of multiple award-winning lifestyle websites, including Better Baking Bible. Recently, Suzy sat down with us to share her thoughts on baking, Croatian cuisine, and the importance of using real ingredients. Tell us a little...

    Baking

    Suzy Cacic is the Founder of multiple award-winning lifestyle websites, including Better Baking Bible. Recently, Suzy sat down with us to share her thoughts on baking, Croatian cuisine, and the importance of using real ingredients.

    Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you choose to start Better Baking Bible?

    I started Better Baking Bible because of my passion for baking, cake decorating, and trying out new recipes. I made so many beautiful treats that it was a shame not to photograph them and share them with the world!

    Since you're a native Croatian, tell us a little bit about Croatian cuisine and what desserts or treats you make that have Croatian influences.

    Croatian cakes, treats, and desserts are fairly easy to make and there is a lot of no-bake recipes. Some of my favorites that I feature on my blog are the Lamingtons, Madarica, and Kremsnita (cream cake).

    On your blog, you say you love baking multi-layer cakes. Is that difficult to do?

    Multi-layer cakes aren't that difficult to make; they are just time consuming. Sometimes, if the wrong cream is used or if it is too runny, your whole cake can turn into a mudslide and fall apart. An easy work-around to this is to freeze your cake layers and chill your cream filling or icing, which makes it much easier to assemble.

    It seems like baking isn't as prevalent today as it was a generation or two ago. Do you think baking is becoming a lost art?

    When I read modern recipes, I notice that they are full of sugar and cheap ingredients. Making icing out of whipped sugar and butter is fast and easy, but it isn't healthy and doesn't taste too great. My mother recently showed me an antique cookbook full of amazing recipes made up of real ingredients. I was surprised to see they made cake fillings by cooking milk, butter, eggs, and a tiny bit of sugar. That's what real baking is about - not whipping together a few cheap raw ingredients.

    If someone wanted to bake something that would wow his or her family or friends, but isn't that difficult to make, what would you suggest?

    I would definitely suggest making Lamingtons. There are delicious and look impressive. but are surprisingly so easy to make!

    What's your all-time favorite baking recipe?

    My all-time favorite recipe that I have made over and over again (because everyone asks me to make it!) is probably my marble banana bread. It's so moist and delicious, plus it can sit for a while - if it lasts that long!

    When you're baking in the kitchen, what bakeware, tools, and utensils do you use most often?

    My mixer, spatula, wooden spoon, and mixing bowl.

    What mixer, gadget, or appliance helps make baking a whole lot easier for you?

    I use a hand-held mixer, which I think is a must-have in any kitchen.

    Need to shore up your collection of kitchen utensils? Check out Cilantro's selection today!

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  6. Expert Interview Series: Melanie Carr of Dish Dish About How to Create More User-Friendly Recipes

    Expert Interview Series: Melanie Carr of Dish Dish About How to Create More User-Friendly Recipes

    Melanie Carr is the President and creator of Dish Dish, the ultimate online recipe organizer and family cookbook for foodies around the world. We spoke with Melanie about recipes and her thoughts on modern cooking. How is Dish Dish...

    User-friendly recipes

    Melanie Carr is the President and creator of Dish Dish, the ultimate online recipe organizer and family cookbook for foodies around the world. We spoke with Melanie about recipes and her thoughts on modern cooking.

    How is Dish Dish different from other online recipe websites?

    With Dish Dish, our free members can add unlimited recipes to their online cookbook account, download their entire recipe collection as a PDF, keep recipes private if they wish, and access their friends' cookbooks online as well. Our paid members enjoy the Recipe Import Tool for importing recipes from around the web into their cookbook account, plus added benefits of storing multiple photos with recipes and embedding videos with recipes. We enjoy helping our members get the most out of their digital recipe collection.

    For someone who wants to begin using Dish Dish, how do they get started?

    They can set up a free or paid account in just a couple of minutes, and I always suggest adding one recipe (something simple) to start off with in order to get used to the options and format. Then play around with that one recipe by adding the ingredients to your shopping list (with the click of one button), adding a photo or note with it, or scaling the recipe (from serving 8 to serving 2 or to serving 12) and seeing all ingredients recalculated with one click. If they set up a paid account, they can send over 20 recipes for us to enter into their account for them (either scan and send pictures by email or mail in hard copies). This is a great way to get a good number of recipes into the account quickly and really see the benefit of finding the recipe you want when you want it -instead of digging through a drawer or rummaging through bookmarked pages.

    What other changes have you noticed about cooking as compared to a generation ago?

    With so much foodie information available through TV and the internet, people are more likely to try new things when cooking - new techniques, new ingredients, new tools. At the same time, people are very busy, with seemingly more and more households where all adults are working full time, so they also want to keep things simple during the week when cooking. Sometimes they may prefer to stick with tried-and-true familiar recipes for every night dinners (or at least quick options), then maybe explore more on the weekends or their days off with dishes that are a little more unique or complicated. Either way, no matter where they are they want quick access to their recipes, shopping list, and the resources they need in order to enjoy getting meals on the table for the family consistently.

    Let's talk about the community of people who share and discuss recipes on your site. What have you discovered during your time as a part of this "virtual cooking club?"

    I have discovered during this time as part of a "virtual cooking club" that lots of families are looking for ways to share recipes, foodie traditions, and family heritage in this type of venue. Families and friends can be so spread out these days, literally around the world, and they enjoy having a place to share their long-time recipe traditions as well as new-found recipes with each other. They have their recipes on the site, so when "Jane" wants to look up mom's recipe for pie and it's the middle of the night wherever mom lives, she doesn't have to bother mom, but can look up the recipe in their shared cookbook account whenever she needs it - and even change it to add twists of her own as she adapts recipes for allergies, health concerns, or a change of taste.

    What are some of the most frequently-stated complaints about modern cooking, baking, and food preparation?

    Most often, it seems that people complain about cooking or food prep taking too much time - of which they already don't have enough.

    At Dish Dish, we often highlight quick and easy recipes that help families enjoy a reasonably healthy meal without the stress of too much time in the kitchen getting it ready. Cooking or baking is like almost any other task. The first few times you try something new, it's a bit awkward, slow, and unfamiliar; but once you've done it a few times and don't have to think about each and every step of the process, it gets easier and quicker to complete. Cooking is very similar; start with simple tasks or recipes and do those a few times until you start to get more comfortable.

    People also complain about having to recalculate amounts for ingredients in a recipe (nobody wants to do math while cooking), so we take the pain out of that by automatically recalculating ingredient amounts when you click to change the number of servings for that recipe.

    Do you have a favorite recipe that was submitted to your site by someone else?

    Personally, I really enjoy Southwest style and Mexican dishes, so one of my favorite recipes on the site that was submitted by someone else is a Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps recipe. Tortillas are filled with shredded chicken, seasoned rice, black beans, cheese and cilantro, then rolled up, sprayed with cooking oil and browned in a skillet on both sides until crispy. Very yummy!

    When you are cooking or baking, what are some of the must-have utensils and tools in your kitchen?

    Truly, I generally keep it pretty simple when cooking and baking and don't require too many utensils and tools. Primarily, I have good pans (for cooking or baking) that are the best sizes and shapes for the type of meals I'm preparing; cutting boards; a good selection of sharp knives for various tasks like paring, chopping, dicing fresh meat, etc.; collapsible colanders; at least two sets of measuring spoons and cups; and a good selection of spatulas, scrapers, wooden spoons, whisks, a potato masher, pastry blender, and rolling pin.

    What types of kitchen appliances, electrics or gadgets do you think are most versatile for today's "do-it-yourself chef?"

    I love having a Kitchenaid mixer; it's great for so many tasks. It was an investment, but well worth it and something I use consistently to make baking so much easier. I still use a hand-held mixer regularly, and would miss not having one of those on hand.

    When making soups or sauces, using an electronic hand blender is handy, and it works great for making shakes or smoothies, too. It's silly that one of my favorite gadgets, though, is my automatic salt and pepper grinder; I use it day in and day out and I am always glad to have it.

    Need a few new tools in your kitchen? Check out Cilantro's selection today!

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  7. Expert Interview Series: Lindy Smith of Lindy's Cakes About Cake Decorating and Sugarcraft

    Expert Interview Series: Lindy Smith of Lindy's Cakes About Cake Decorating and Sugarcraft

    Lindy Smith is a best-selling author, international teacher, award-winning designer, and a shining star in the cake decorating world. The managing director of Lindy's Cakes recently sat down with us to talk about cake decorating trends, techniques, and tools...

    Cake decorating

    Lindy Smith is a best-selling author, international teacher, award-winning designer, and a shining star in the cake decorating world. The managing director of Lindy's Cakes recently sat down with us to talk about cake decorating trends, techniques, and tools of the trade.

    Tell us about yourself. What drew you to cake decorating and other forms of "sugarcraft?"

    I have always been highly creative (it's in my genes), and over the years I have tried many crafts. When I discovered sugarcraft 25 years ago, I fell totally and completely in love with the all the possibilities that it presented. I'm still just as passionate today. Through cake decorating, I can use my artistic and design skills to bring moments of happiness to countless lives, whether through my books, my teaching, or my cakes themselves.

    Regarding the craft itself, the draw for me is three-fold:

    1. Design - I am passionate about good design and love to be inspired by what I see in the in the real world. I strive to take these inspirations whatever they may be - a building, a printed fabric, a sunset - and create stunning, influential, first-of-a-kind cakes.
    2. Color - I am naturally drawn to color in all its myriad of shades, tones, hues, and combinations. The ability to experiment with color on my cakes excites me. Colors and color combinations are never static; they follow fashion and come and go like the tides. There are always new colors to use and color combinations to experiment with.
    3. Techniques - The cake decorating world draws its technical inspiration from many arts and crafts; and consequently, many different and varied techniques have been developed and adapted over the years. The consequence today is that when creating a design, the options are many and varied - and this versatility really appeals to me and draws me in deeper.

    What are some of the current trends that you're seeing in cake decorating?

    I am often referred to as an influencer and a leader in my field, and over the years I have certainly started and popularized many trends. My latest book Simply Modern Wedding Cakes definitely includes many of the latest techniques that are currently gaining popularity. A good example of this is the trend for using edible wafer paper to create cake decorations. In the book, I show my readers how to make a range of wafer paper flowers from simple punched 3D flowers through to delicate lifelike roses molded into shape using steam.

    The newest technique that I've introduced is doodling on cakes. It is a technique that everyone seemingly wants to try. All you need is a small special tool called a fluid writer and some liquid food color. The technique uses a selection of basic strokes from which beautiful organic patterns in all shapes and sizes can be made. I am certainly hooked and can't wait to develop this technique further.

    Finish this sentence: "The most importance quality for a skilled cake decorator to possess is..."

    "... passion."

    What do you notice about the people who enroll in your decorating classes?

    Teaching is something that I love to do, and I've been very lucky over the years to have had the opportunity of teaching classes around the world, from Canada, Brazil, and Australia to Spain, Italy, Norway, and many places in between. My students are wonderful; they are passionate about their craft and have a huge desire to learn. We always have a thoroughly enjoyable time together; yet by the end of the class, they go home having learned all sorts of skills that will allow them to take their cakes to the next level if they so wish. I also, of course, learn from my students, which I love.

    Do you have a particular cake decorating creation or sugarcraft exhibit that you're most proud of?

    It is always my last! Cake design is a real skill and one that I believe is greatly undervalued. Anyone with basic skills can copy a cake or even take parts of different cakes and put them together to create a new cake not seen before, but it is quite another thing to actually design a cake from scratch. To start with a blank canvas and create a design takes inspiration, time, energy, thought, and a high level of skill. My latest cake will be the one that I've been living and breathing for the last few weeks; it is always in the forefront of my mind. It will always be the one that seems the most challenging, the most rewarding, the most striking, the most fulfilling, etc.

    When decorating cupcakes and cookies, is there anything different in how you approach this task? Or is it the same as cake decorating but with a smaller "canvas?"

    I take a very different, very organic approach when decorating cupcakes and cookies. I don't plan in the same way I would for a large multi-tiered cake; instead, I usually go with the flow. I decorate the cupcakes and cookies in ways that appeal and present themselves at the time. This allows me to make new discoveries, try radical ideas, and easily compare results.

    I often use cupcakes and cookies when teaching, as students can try out and practice skills before moving onto larger cakes - it's less scary!

    What are some of the decorating products and items that you might recommend for someone who wants to experiment with cake decorating?

    Today, there are a vast array of products available, and it is easy to spend a small fortune on items you will never use. Do your research and think carefully about what kind of cake decorations appeal to you and buy these products accordingly. If you like intricate patterns, buy a few stencils or lace mats. If you like bright bold shapes, invest in a range of cutters. If you wish to make lifelike flowers, then treat yourself to some veiners. The choice is yours

    I always tell my students that there is usually a balance between an inexpensive method that takes time and skill, and a quick but more expensive way that involves buying products. Molds are a good example of this; you can either model your own figures or animals or buy molds that do it for you. At Lindy's Cakes, we don't stock every product that is available to cake decorators. Instead, we stock quality products such as stainless steel cutters and professional food-grade stencils that are different and inspirational and make cake decorating a little bit easier.

    What are the most frequently-used appliances, gadgets, or tools in your kitchen?

    Whenever I travel and teach, I pack a small box of essential tools from my kitchen into my suitcase. These are my most frequently-used tools - the ones I wouldn't decorate without. In my box, you will find the following:

    • Small non-stick rolling pin
    • Smoother, with one flat edge
    • 5mm and 1mm spacers
    • Craft knife
    • Dresden tool
    • Round piping tubes
    • Selection of cutters
    • Possibly a roll out mat, depending on where my travels are taking me.

    Check out Cilantro's selection of molds, decorating tools, and other bakeware today!

    Read more »
  8. Expert Interview Series: Crystal Ponti of MommiFried on Parenting and Cooking

    Expert Interview Series: Crystal Ponti of MommiFried on Parenting and Cooking

    Crystal Ponti is the voice behind the award-winning blog, MommiFried, where tired parents go for advice and ideas. We managed to catch up with Crystal to hear her take on parenting, cooking, and the joys of being part of...

    Parenting and cooking

    Crystal Ponti is the voice behind the award-winning blog, MommiFried, where tired parents go for advice and ideas. We managed to catch up with Crystal to hear her take on parenting, cooking, and the joys of being part of a large family.

    Why did you come up with the name MommiFried?

    I have five kids. At the end of the day, I'm tired. Beyond. I think the best way to describe this feeling is being "mommifried." It's a play on mummified. That's how I came up with the name for my blog. I went with a heart wrapped in linen bandages (like a mummy) to tie everything together.

    You're one of about only 1.3 million people who live in the state of Maine. As a lifelong resident, what's the best thing about living in the Pine Tree State?

    The best thing about living in Maine is having access to the ocean. I love spending a day by the shore collecting sea glass and just taking in the sights and sounds.

    You're the (very busy) mother of five kids. Do you have any parenting insights or advice that you'd like to share?

    Every kid is different. Embrace their originality and help them embrace what makes them unique. These differences will become their strengths.

    When you're cooking dinner, how do you go about satisfying the dietary needs, appetites, and preferences of five children (and a husband)?

    I try to prepare meals that I know everyone likes. When I do something different, I try to prepare something on the side just in case. We eat a lot of veggies and a lot of smoothies to compensate.

    Do you have a go-to recipe that every single person in your family loves?

    My family loves my chicken croquettes that I make from scratch. It's an old family recipe, which makes the meal even more special. Now if only we could agree on white sauce or brown gravy.

    You also feature a couple dozen "copycat" recipes on MommiFried. What are these all about?

    I love to play around with recipes to make them different and one of a kind. I have a bunch posted on MommiFried that I have tweaked in one way or another. Many are crock pot recipes which are quick and easy to prepare. I also have some dishes that are uniquely mine. Right now, I'm playing around with a grilled turkey and herbed pea paste sandwich. Have you ever tried pea paste on a sandwich? Delicious! You can even grill it before placing it on bread.

    What is the one kitchen tool or utensil that you cannot live without?

    I cannot live without my whisk. I prefer mixing and blending things with a whisk rather than a spoon or other utensil. Unless it's cookie dough, of course. Then a heavy duty mixing spoon comes in handy.

    If your family were to buy you a Mother's Day gift for your kitchen and money were no object, what appliance, gadget, or other item would you want most?

    I need a new set of cookware. I prefer commercial-grade pots and pans because food cooks better and they last so much longer.

    If you're also in need of some new cookware, check out Cilantro's selection here.

    Read more »
  9. Expert Interview Series: Colleen Delawder of Faith, Hope, Love, and Luck Survive Despite A Whiskered Accomplice On Comfort Food (and Cats)

    Expert Interview Series: Colleen Delawder of Faith, Hope, Love, and Luck Survive Despite A Whiskered Accomplice On Comfort Food (and Cats)

    Colleen Delawder is the author of the food blog Faith, Hope, Love, and Luck Survive a Whiskered Accomplice. We had a chance to sit down with Colleen to discuss topics ranging from comfort food and slow-cooker meals to Bundt...

    Food

    Colleen Delawder is the author of the food blog Faith, Hope, Love, and Luck Survive a Whiskered Accomplice. We had a chance to sit down with Colleen to discuss topics ranging from comfort food and slow-cooker meals to Bundt cakes and cats.

    How did you develop your love of baking and cooking?

    I grew up in the kitchen with my mom in western Maryland. We lived on a small farm where growing, harvesting, and storing food was a must. I can't remember a time when cooking, baking, and canning didn't play a massive role in my life - and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    Tell us about your "whiskered accomplice." How does she "help" you in the kitchen?

    My whiskered accomplice is a thirteen-year-old Bengal cat named Brenna. She is full of energy, always looking for trouble, a serious cutie pie, and a handful to live with on a daily basis. She makes time in the kitchen challenging on even the best of days. Anything that falls on the floor is fair game and is guaranteed to almost always be poisonous. Cooking anything with chicken is always a "thrill;" it's her favorite and she always demands to have some.

    Your blog has a section on Bundt cakes. Given that many young people have no idea what a Bundt cake is, why did you choose to feature these desserts?

    I seriously had to ask a few people if they had ever heard of a Bundt cake. Bundt cakes are just something I grew up with and have never thought twice about. They are simple and don't need a lot of bells and whistles to fancy them up. I feature these cakes because of a Bundt Bakers group I became a part of to challenge myself to bake cakes on a more regular basis. I look forward to baking a new cake each month.

    You also commemorate "Crockpot Monday" every week on your blog. What's the most unusual thing you've ever created in a Crockpot?

    The most unusual recipe I have created would have to be Crockpot Egg Salad with Capers, using a crockpot to hard-boil the eggs used in the salad.

    You're also a big fan of "comfort food." Do you think that comfort food sometimes gets a bad rap in today's health-conscious society?

    I do, but I don't think that comfort food has to be high in fat, carb-loaded, or packed with preservatives. Comfort food at its best is simple, loaded with flavor, and able to put a smile on one's face.

    In my world, garden fresh tomatoes, pickled beets, and cucumber salad are just as comforting as mac and cheese, fried eggs, and homemade biscuits. As with everything, moderation is key.

    What's your favorite comfort food recipe?

    My all-time favorite comfort food recipe is titled "Colleen's Famous Deviled Eggs." My dream is to one day create a deviled food cookbook, so I am always playing around with new variations - but these will always be my favorite and most well-received.

    What are some of the most frequently-used kitchen utensils, pans, or other items when you're baking?

    Silicone spatulas, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and cutting boards are a must-have in my kitchen. I can never have enough, and no matter how many I have I can always go through them all on a day spent in the kitchen. As of right now, I have over twenty spatulas, over seven sets of measuring spoons and cups, and around nine cutting boards. That doesn't stop me from always being on the lookout for more.

    If you could have any kitchen gadget or appliance that you wanted and money was no object, what would it be? (Sorry - they don't make cat repellent machines!)

    Oh, if someone could invent a Brenna-safe stove, I would live a much less stressful life. However, until that day arrives, I think my dream appliance would have to be an industrial strength blender. It's the one item I have not allowed myself to purchase yet due to space constraints.

    Check out Cilantro's selection of blenders and other electrics here.

    Read more »
  10. 5 Tips for Using Your Chef's Knife Like a Pro

    5 Tips for Using Your Chef's Knife Like a Pro

    Many professionals deem their chef's knives to be the one thing they can't live without in the kitchen. And with good reason: They're incredibly versatile when it comes to the breadth and depth of cooking tasks they can perform....

    Many professionals deem their chef's knives to be the one thing they can't live without in the kitchen. And with good reason: They're incredibly versatile when it comes to the breadth and depth of cooking tasks they can perform. However, as with any tool, what you get out is equal to what you put in. Let's count down five tips aimed at helping home chefs properly utilize their chef's knives for optimal outcomes.

    Chef's knives

    Keep those fingertips tucked!

    1. Get a Grip

    The right chef's knife grip is essential to exerting the most control over the blade. Your thumb should be gripped around the top of the blade on the inside (the cutting side) while your hand wraps around the junction of handle and knife blade, called the knife bolster. (Many home chefs make the mistake of holding their chef's knife by the handle, but it's actually safer to "choke up.")

    Note that the index finger wraps fully around the blade and should be opposite the thumb while the three middle fingers curl loosely around the handle. (If you're clutching the handle, relax your hand -- the thumb and the forefinger do most of the work.) While this can initially feel awkward, practice makes perfect.

    2. Don't Forget Your Other Hand

    Your non-knife hand, AKA your "guiding hand," has an important function, too. It keeps food steady on the cutting board. This enhances precision, but it's also precarious. After all, knife blades are sharp, and without the right technique your guiding hand could wind up directly in its path. A "claw grip" allows you to grip the food without exposing your fingertips to the knife blade.

    Simply grip the food with your fingernails, then curl fingers inward to neatly tuck them away. If done correctly, the side of the knife blade actually rests against your first knuckle while the blade remains perpendicular to the cutting board.

    An alternate version of the claw grip finds the first knuckle resting directly on the food and the knife resting against the second knuckle. Use this technique if it feels more comfortable to you.

    3. Stay Centered

    When most people think of cutting, they visualize piercing with the tip. However, the majority of tasks performed with a chef's knife involve slicing with the center of the blade. You may use the tip for scoring and other delicate jobs while using a heel-first approach is more suitable for knife tasks which require more heft and leverage, such as cutting carrots and deboning meat.

    In fact, there are many different kinds of knife cuts beginning with basics like cutting, dicing, chopping and mincing and progressing to more advanced cuts. The more cuts you master, the better you'll be able to enhance both the taste and the visual appeal of your finished products.

    4. Stay Sharp

    A sharp knife not only helps you cut and slice better, but it also enhances speed, accuracy, and safety. Knife work is an art; if you're working with a dull blade, you may end up calling on brute force over skill. Think of sharpening tools are an investment in your food and your future as a chef.

    Chef's knives

    You'll be cooking like a pro in no time.

    Further protect your chef's knife -- and your entire collection of kitchen knives -- by using a cutting board as opposed to cutting on countertops as granite, marble and porcelain can damage the blade.

    5. Keep Them Clean

    Regular cleaning also part of basic knife care and maintenance. Use hot water and mild soap to wash before rinsing and wiping down. Refrain from putting knives in the dishwasher and leaving them to dry in the sink -- both of which can lead to excessive wear and tear.

    One last tip for safely washing knives? Always keep the blade pointed away from you as soapy water can be slippery, and not all accidents happen in the act of cooking.

    Although these tips and techniques can take some time to get used to, you'll be grateful you put in the effort when you're slicing and dicing like a pro. Browse kitchen knives, kitchenware, cookware, and more at Cilantro The Cooks Shop today.

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  11. Expert Interview Series: Becky Brown of My Utensil Crock On Cooking With Versatile Ingredients

    Expert Interview Series: Becky Brown of My Utensil Crock On Cooking With Versatile Ingredients

    Becky Brown targets her smart writing to busy professionals with an interest in healthy, easy, delicious recipes. We sat down with the creator of My Utensil Crock to chat with her about her cooking philosophies and some of her...

    Versatile ingredients

    Becky Brown targets her smart writing to busy professionals with an interest in healthy, easy, delicious recipes. We sat down with the creator of My Utensil Crock to chat with her about her cooking philosophies and some of her favorite dishes.

    Why did you choose to start a cooking blog? And why choose the name My Utensil Crock?

    I started My Utensil Crock as a way to organize the recipes I make - at first, just for myself. I had tried different paper organization systems, like index cards and a series of 3-ring binders, but I found myself wanting a more functional way to categorize and electronically tag them with more than one label. How do you file a recipe that is a dessert, but also could be served at brunch, is a family favorite for holidays, and is perfect for entertaining? Starting a blog with capabilities such as categories and tagging seemed like a practical solution to me.

    The ceramic crock on my kitchen counter filled with my most-used gadgets is where I first turn when I need something in the kitchen; so when I was looking for a functional way to organize my most useful tools in the kitchen - recipes, tips, tricks, and more - my mind's eye kept falling on ... My Utensil Crock.

    Where does your love of cooking come from? Who or what inspires you in the kitchen?

    I haven't met anyone who doesn't enjoy a good meal, so cooking can be a very social activity for me. I still remember the first time I had company over for a homemade dinner during law school almost 15 years ago. I made a lasagna (my mom's recipe), something green (broccoli?), and brownies for dessert. I invited 3 friends and opened a bottle of wine. I had never entertained like that before; it was so fun and empowering to discover that skill set.

    You talk about your cooking club on your blog. What have you learned from hosting/participating in a cooking club?

    This fall marks 11 years of my cooking club! It is such an integral part of my life in Washington, D.C. Having a sounding board or "panel" of my friends to discuss ingredients, techniques, and more has been invaluable. It's comforting to know we aren't alone with our challenges in the kitchen, and it's fun to share successes as well. Of course, the great recipes, menus, themes, friends, and memories along the way don't hurt either.

    You're also a cooking instructor for people who want to improve their weeknight cooking. What skills are valuable to have for the busy weeknight cook who wants to prepare healthy dinners?

    Identifying ingredients that can be repurposed in many dishes. One of my cooking class students coined the term "versatile greens" when I suggested that spinach was an ideal option for salads. Spinach can be used for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - in many more ways than a head of romaine! The same goes for certain grains, vegetables, and lean meats. If you use versatile ingredients, you won't get to the end of the week with a fridge full of strays.

    It is also helpful to get into a routine (which is not the same thing as being in a rut!). There is a reason your mom served meatloaf on Mondays and tacos on Tuesdays. Making similar dishes on similar days will help you streamline your shopping and cooking. The more you make a dish, the faster you will be able to shop for ingredients, prep, and cook; and it will become easier for you to introduce variations.

    In addition to recipes, My Utensil Crock features Menu Ideas for various situations or gatherings. How did you come up with this fantastic idea?

    Menu planning for events can be difficult, for reasons such as shared and timed oven or stovetop space, eating preferences or limitations of guests, or piecing together dishes that fit together. So when I have an "aha" moment and align all of the stars - or just have a really fun evening that I want to remember - I like to chronicle it. It's a little glimpse into my life, and maybe it will provide inspiration to help others make memories.

    Do you have a favorite category of cooking? Why do you like it so much?

    I love making comfort foods - like chili and casseroles - with healthy additions or twists, such as adding spinach or kale or substituting quinoa for pasta. Along with making a satisfying dinner, these dishes usually transport well and are easy to reheat at work for lunch, too.

    Could you share a favorite recipe with us from this category?

    Sure, I love these Glazed Kale and Cheddar Mini-Meatloaves. You can find more info about them on my blog as well.

    INGREDIENTS

    Meatloaf:

    .25 sweet onion

    half a bunch of lacinato kale (~ 6 stalks), sliced very thinly and then chopped into smaller pieces

    2 cloves garlic, sliced

    1 - 1.25lb lean ground beef

    .5 c fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs or panko

    1 T mustard (I use honey dijon or something grainy)

    2 T ketchup

    .5 t kosher salt

    8 cranks freshly ground pepper

    2 egg whites (or 1 egg)

    .25 c shredded cheddar cheese (or more!)

    Glaze:

    2 T ketchup

    1 t light brown sugar

    1 t apple cider vinegar

    INSTRUCTIONS

    • Heat the oven to 400.
    • Heat a large saute pan over high heat. When it's hot, add extra virgin olive oil and heat the oil, swirling the oil to coat.
    • Add the onion and saute until lightly browned. Add the kale and stir, cooking through. Add the garlic slices, making sure they hit the bottom of the pan to get cooked through; then cook the moisture out of the mixture. Set aside to cool.
    • In a large bowl, place the ground beef, bread crumbs, mustard, ketchup, salt, pepper, egg, and cheese. Mix with your hands until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
    • Add the veggie mixture to the meat; use your hands to evenly distribute.
    • Pour a little oil on a paper towel and spread the oil around a large rimmed baking sheet.
    • Divide the meat mixture in half, and then divide each half into three, so you have 6 even sections. Place a round cookie cutter or biscuit cutter on the pan and use it as a ring mold, packing it with the meat mixture as tight as you can. Remove the cookie cutter, leaving the meat on the pan. Repeat for the rest of the meatloaves.
    • In a small bowl, mix the glaze by stirring together the ketchup, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Spoon about a teaspoon onto each meatloaf, and spread around, using your fingers or the spoon. Use all of the glaze!
    • Bake the meatloaves for 20 minutes.
    • Scrape off the pan with a flat metal spatula, to make sure you get all the crispy cheese and glaze.

    You can find more info about this recipe on My Utensil Crock, as well.

    Okay... what is LITERALLY in your utensil crock right now?

    Several silicone spatulas, some wooden spoons and a wooden tool with a flat edge to break up meat when browning, a small hand-held sieve for rinsing quinoa, an offset metal spatula for casserole and lasagna corners, heat-resistant long-handled tongs, two whisks (one silicone coated), a large spoon and a large slotted spoon, and a zester.

    What kind of kitchen gadget, appliance, or tool is the most helpful to you in the kitchen?

    A great chef's knife or santoku knife and quality cutting board are critical. But my food processor is close behind. I have been known to travel with a food processor for easy everything, like smoothies, dips, and chicken burgers, not to mention effortless shredding and slicing.

    Are you in need of a good chef's knife or santoku knife? Check out Cilantro's selection today!

    Read more »
  12. Thought Leader Series: Get the Most of Your Wok with These 5 Tips

    Thought Leader Series: Get the Most of Your Wok with These 5 Tips

    Laura North is the baker behind the sweet toothed blog Baking In Pyjamas. Thought you were using your Wok correctly? Think again. Ready, steady, cook! The Wok is one of the most common types of cooking pans that we...

    Wok

    Laura North is the baker behind the sweet toothed blog Baking In Pyjamas.

    Thought you were using your Wok correctly? Think again.

    Wok

    Ready, steady, cook!

    The Wok is one of the most common types of cooking pans that we use each and every day. But it is often not used correctly. By following these easy 5 tips you'll be able to create your favorite stir-fry recipe to its absolute best.

    Wok

    Let's get some heat going.

    Top 5 Tips!

    Top Tip Number 1: Size and Type.

    You want to get the most of your wok, so make sure it's a good size. A 14 inch size one is ideal so as you're able to fit all your ingredients in, too big and it might not fit on your stove top, therefore, all your food may not get cooked properly. You also want a flat-bottomed one to maximize the surface area that'll come into contact with your heat source. You'll want one with a non-stick surface and a carbon steel wok as this material conducts heat efficiently.

    Top Tip Number 2: Season Your Wok.

    Only Iron and Steel Woks can be seasoned, so make sure yours is made out the correct material. Seasoning your wok will protect it from going rusty and you'll create that signature style wok flavor. You'll need to re-do it every time the finish begins to erode and this is how you go about doing so. According to Rachel Ray, place the wok in a sink of hot soapy water and scrub it using a piece of wire wool, then dry properly. Pre-heat over a high heat before adding a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil then a few pieces of freshly sliced ginger and a bunch of spring onions, roughly sliced. Cook these over a medium heat, pressing them down over the entire surface for 15 minutes. Rinse with hot water and soapy sponge before drying thoroughly with a dish towel and it's good to go.

    Top tip Number 3: The Smoke Signal.

    The common problem is a really simple one, heat. Your wok needs to be pre-heated and really hot before you use it. If you add oil to a cold wok, you're setting yourself up for failure. Your food will stick to the bottom and won't cook through properly. This is a really easy way to check if your wok is hot enough to add your cooking oil. Place your wok over a high heat and leave it until you start to see it smoke slightly. Once you see the smoke, you'll know that it's hot enough to add your oil. Beware though, it'll get smoky.

    Top Tip Number 4: Use the Correct Apparatus.

    A wooden spoon won't cut it here I'm afraid, to cook your food properly and get the best use from your wok you'll need a piece of apparatus called a wok spatula. Wok spatulas have a shovel-like end, making it easy to cook and scoop your food in your hot wok quick and efficiently.

    Top Tip Number 5: Prepare your Ingredients Ahead of Cooking.

    To ensure you're going to have a delicious meal after all your hard efforts, you need to prepare all of your ingredients beforehand. The wok gets super hot during the cooking process, so you won't have any time to spare as you'll need to be watching it at all times.

    Wok

    Dinner is served!

    Now you know how to use a wok, it's time to own a one. Browse our kitchenware and start creating great stir fries today.

    Read more »
  13. Expert Interview Series: Emily McLaughlin of Gathering Green on Locally-Grown Food and Sustainable Living

    Expert Interview Series: Emily McLaughlin of Gathering Green on Locally-Grown Food and Sustainable Living

    Emily McLaughlin is the author of Gathering Green, a sustainability blog aimed at the integration of food and the environment. We recently sat down with Emily to discuss locally-grown food and how to embrace a greener lifestyle. Why did...

    Sustainable living

    Emily McLaughlin is the author of Gathering Green, a sustainability blog aimed at the integration of food and the environment. We recently sat down with Emily to discuss locally-grown food and how to embrace a greener lifestyle.

    Why did you choose to create this blog?

    There are a lot of food blogs, and a lot of "green" blogs, but not so many that look at how our food choices impact our environment. At the beginning, Gathering Green was the place to showcase my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. It was a new experience for me and one I wanted to document.

    Over the years, GG has also evolved into a sustainable living blog in general. For example, I've covered topics such as online consignment reviews, which are great ways to avoid sending old clothes to the landfill; and natural and chemical-free cosmetics and personal care product reviews.

    As a young professional, how do you think your generation views food and/or cooking?

    I try not to make blanket statements about a generation, but it appears the millennial generation thrives on two things; a busy schedule and great food. I know that's true for me personally! Of course, great, home-cooked food doesn't pair well with a packed calendar.

    My generation is an increasingly inquisitive one, and food is no exception. We want to know where our food was grown, whether it has pesticides, what type of condition the farmers live in, and how long ago it was picked. I think this is why meal services that deliver ingredients to your door with easy-to-follow instructions are so popular with young professionals.

    What exactly is a Community Supported Agriculture project? What benefits are you getting from it?

    Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) isn't a new concept, but it's one that's gaining popularity. CSAs are basically a membership program where you make an advanced payment to the farmer(s) in the form of the seasonal membership price; and in return, you are provided with a weekly box of produce (or eggs, cheese, meat, etc.).

    I currently have a CSA through Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative where my boyfriend and I get a large box of veggies each week. We paid upfront for the full season in February, and from May-October we will pick up a box of veggies each week. The benefits are reduced grocery bills; cheaper, fresher and more direct organic produce; and the knowledge that I've helped those farmers in a personal way.

    Traditional CSAs do take some flexibility in that you don't get to pick specifically what comes in each box; but each pickup site has a swap box so if you really don't want something, you can always swap it out for something else. We currently only have a vegetable share, but there are CSAs for fruit, bread, cheese, meat, even herbal medicines. I find CSAs exciting because I'm pushed to try new veggies and recipes!

    How can people do their part to help the environment when it comes to the foods they choose?

    You vote every day with your dollars. Where you shop and what you choose to buy sends farmers, lawmakers, and distributors a clear, immediate message. Ideally, you're choosing local, organic produce and meat; but when that's not realistic (which it isn't for us all the time), choose wisely. Start to question why those two traditional chicken breasts are twice as large as the organic ones but $5 cheaper.

    I recently started working with a startup out of Seattle, Barn2Door, who is trying to bring the consumer and farmer closer together. By eliminating middlemen and the accompanying pricey markups on produce, we make it easier for farmers to sell local, organic, sustainable produce. Oh, and try doing meatless at least once a week! It's intimidating at first, but if we all cut just a small amount of meat out of our diet, we'd reduce our carbon footprint drastically.

    Visitors to Gathering Green would probably expect to see your recipes featuring salads and vegetarian dishes. But your blog also showcases many meat entrees and desserts as well. Do you have a sweet tooth and/or an "inner paleo" as well?

    While in an ideal world I'd be vegetarian or vegan, I'm far from it. So I try to showcase what I truly eat. I don't post recipes I haven't personally tried, and I always encourage people to use local, organic produce when possible. Many of my desserts feature baking alternatives (using applesauce instead of oil, or sneaking vegetables into baked goods), but some don't. I don't believe in never indulging; those sorts of restrictive diets have never been my style. I like to think that my inner sweet tooth and inner paleo both try to shine through in their own ways!

    Could you share a recipe with us featuring fresh, locally-grown produce?

    Summer is the height of produce season and everything is so fresh and (hopefully) local. I love to cook and bake my summer produce as little as possible. A classic way I love to use summer tomatoes is in a caprese salad (slices of mozzarella, tomato, and chopped fresh basil) drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar alone or topped on top of toasted French bread.

    If you're looking for a great cookout recipe that is free of mayonnaise and heavy dressings, my Mayo-Free Coleslaw with a Red Wine Vinaigrette is a crowd pleaser. It's just shredded or chopped cabbage, carrots, celery, peppers, and onions with a dressing made from red wine (or apple cider vinegar), oil, oregano, salt and pepper, and sugar. So simple - but so, so tasty.

    Given the dishes that you like to cook, what is your must-have kitchen tool, utensil, or item?

    I, of course, love my food processor and can't live without it! But my recent favorite tool is my handheld citrus juicer. This super-simple gadget squeezes more juice out of lemons and limes than any human hand can. It's been a life saver when making citrus-based chicken marinades, guacamole with lots of lime, or salad dressings. A must have!

    Are there any kitchen appliances, gadgets, or other machines that can help someone be more environmentally-friendly?

    Eventually, I'd love for every house to have a compost bin. We have a private service that does citywide composting, so it's super easy for us and I'm so thankful for that. Beyond a compost bin, I'd say some good storage bags and containers are vital to a more sustainable kitchen. Even if you have a compost bin to sustainably dispose of food scraps, you still want to waste as little as possible. By keeping your refrigerator, fruit bowl, and pantry organized, you'll know what you have and don't have and what needs to be used up quickly. A disorganized fridge is the fastest way to waste food.

    Need a better food processor? Check out Cilantro's selection today!

    Read more »
  14. 5 Recipes Perfect for Celebrating National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

    5 Recipes Perfect for Celebrating National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

    Who doesn't love sinking their into a fresh-from-the oven chocolate chip cookie packed with delicious ingredients and homemade goodness? In fact, chocolate chip cookies are so beloved that they have an entire day dedicated to the honor. Why not...

    Who doesn't love sinking their into a fresh-from-the oven chocolate chip cookie packed with delicious ingredients and homemade goodness? In fact, chocolate chip cookies are so beloved that they have an entire day dedicated to the honor. Why not celebrate August 4th's National Chocolate Chip Cookie day by baking up a batch of your own?

    But all chocolate chip cookies are not created equal. Whether you stick with tried-and-true or experiment with something new, these five recipes are guaranteed to keep all of your favorite people coming back to the cookie jar.

    National chocolate chip cookie day

    Stack up some chocolate chip cookie goodness this August 4th.

    1. The Classic Chocolate Chip Cookie

    The Original Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie just might be the most famous cookie in the world. People have been making these chewy, soft treats for generations, and will still be making them for generations to come. The best part? You've likely got every ingredient in your pantry and fridge right now so you have no excuse not to make them.

    2. The Breakfast Chocolate Chip Cookie

    They've got bacon, eggs and maple syrup as ingredients. That means you can call them "breakfast," right? Nadia G's Milk Chocolate Chip Maple Syrup Glazed Cookies are sure to make your favorite bacon-lover swoon, along with anyone else who samples these salty-sweet snacks. Sticking with your morning bowl of oatmeal? These do the tasty trick any time of day.

    3. The Extra-Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Cookie

    Is there any such thing as too much chocolate? Not according to this Cookie Jar Double Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which is not only chock-full of chocolate chips, but throws in cocoa powder and a rich, chocolate frosting, too. (Yes, you read that right.) We'd actually call that triple chocolate, but who's counting?

    4. The Everything-And-Then-Some Chocolate Chip Cookie

    Butter brickle. Peanut butter chips. White chocolate chips. Hazelnuts. What do all of these things have in common? They're all ingredients in this Everything but the Kitchen Sink Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. But why stop there? One reviewer recommends tossing in a cup of coconut for good measure. Think it sounds a bit over the top? Think again: An elusive five-star rating from Food.com can't be wrong.

    5. The Gourmet Cookie

    You love salted caramel. You love chocolate chip cookies. So what's better than putting these two amazing flavors together? While chocolate chip is a classic, salted caramel is one of the hottest flavor profiles of the moment, making these Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars particularly appealing to sweet-toothed foodies thanks to their irresistibly gooey and surprising caramel centers. And besides -- what roundup of chocolate chip cookies is complete without a bar option?

    National Chocolate chip cookie day

    Remember: amazing ingredients make amazing cookies.

    One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to chocolate chip cookie recipes? Everyone thinks theirs is the best. You'll just have to try them all to decide which one comes out on top. But sure to stock up on plenty of milk before you do -- it's the perfect complement to each of these five decadent delights. Ready to get baking? Stock up by browsing bakeware and more at Cilantro The Cooks Shop today.

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  15. Expert Interview Series: Sarah Downey of Foodie Dice About Shaking Up Your Cooking Routine

    Expert Interview Series: Sarah Downey of Foodie Dice About Shaking Up Your Cooking Routine

    Sarah Downey founded Two Tumbleweeds with her sister Liz to create products that inspire creativity in everyday life, the first of which is Foodie Dice. Sarah sat down with us to tell us the story behind Foodie Dice, and...

    Cooking routine

    Sarah Downey founded Two Tumbleweeds with her sister Liz to create products that inspire creativity in everyday life, the first of which is Foodie Dice. Sarah sat down with us to tell us the story behind Foodie Dice, and also shared some of the fantastic dishes she has created using this unique "cooking tool."

    Okay... what exactly are Foodie Dice?

    A fun new way to shake up your cooking routine, Foodie Dice is a set of 9 dice designed to inspire creative, whole-ingredients meals.

    Talk about the origin of Foodie Dice. How did you come up with the idea?

    The origin of Foodie Dice is a bit of a circuitous story - it sprung out of a previous idea known as an Adventure Box. I had just moved to California to join my sister, Liz, and there were so many things we wanted to do and places we wanted to explore. But whenever we had a free day, we'd look at each other and say "I don't know, what do you want to do?" So we wrote down "adventures" on slips of paper and put them in a box, which we'd then randomly pick from - and off we went!

    Meanwhile, we were cooking a lot, but cooking the same things over and over again. So, we applied the Adventure Box idea to food, with compartments for different types of ingredients. Then we had a light bulb moment to use a better randomization method - dice!

    Is there only one type of Foodie Dice that you sell?

    We have several Foodie Dice sets now - the original Seasonal Dinners set, a booster set to go with it, Asian Bowls, Desserts, Salad Dressings, and Mixology Dice.

    Are you and your sister Liz a couple of cooks or food lovers who came up with this innovative idea? Or are you both accomplished innovators/inventors who just happened to create this unique "cooking aid?"

    Liz has always cooked a lot, and when I moved to California I started cooking more and learning from her. The idea for Foodie Dice sprung from our own lives when we were getting into cooking ruts. At the same time, we wanted to start a business together, and we were actively brainstorming ideas. Liz had her own business doing design work for clients, but neither of us had ever launched our own product before Foodie Dice.

    What kind of feedback and comments have you gotten from people who have purchased Foodie Dice?

    Our favorite feedback is from people who use Foodie Dice to cook with their kids; they have fun while learning about food and cooking techniques. A few people have also reached out to tell us they discovered a new favorite food because of the dice - like parsnips!

    What are some of your favorite dishes or meals that you have made with the "help" of Foodie Dice?

    We've cooked lots of new dishes inspired by Foodie Dice (there are over 186,000 possible combinations, as well as different interpretations for each roll). Here are a few of our favorites:

    • Flank steak over curried sweet potato and parsnip quinoa
    • Grilled chicken with polenta, oregano, and mustard greens with bacon
    • Braised cinnamon-rubbed pork loin with asparagus and smashed potatoes, finished with a pesto drizzle

    Okay, nothing in life is absolutely perfect. Do you have a story about a "Foodie Dice fail" that you'd like to share with us?

    I rarely use recipes, so most of my cooking fails are a result of bad coordination - some things end up overcooked or get cold while they wait on other things. As far as Foodie Dice rolls, we spent a long time working on how we structured the dice so that most combinations would make sense. That said, the Booster Dice set increases adventurous rolls, which is sometimes good and sometimes not. For example, cinnamon either works or it doesn't. If I roll, say, cinnamon along with cilantro and garlic, I re-roll.

    For people who have Foodie Dice, what are some of the key tools and items that they should have on hand in their kitchens?

    I'd recommend stocking up on items that keep well - things like rice, polenta, and pasta, as well as dried herbs and spices. I go to the store often for meat and veggies, but having the staples on hand makes life easier.

    What kitchen appliance or gadget do you own that you just can't live without?

    A meat thermometer makes cooking so much easier and better! I spent a long time undercooking and overcooking meat before I bought a thermometer. Now I never cook meat without it.

    Looking for a meat thermometer and other kitchenware? Check out Cilantro's selection today!

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