Welcome to The Gadget Chef

Ok so I'm not really a chef, but I do like to play one in the kitchen. I'm your everyday average guy, who is really into 2 things, food and gadgets! And I love combining the two and experimenting with that.

I've tried many gadgets out there, some with success and some with miserable failures. But my biggest goal is to limit what space I take up with what gadgets. As a person with a less than sizable kitchen, counter top real estate is so important I can't be the type that has several gadgets out all the time, and I'm also the type that if it's not out and handy, I'm likely not to use it.

So through the course of this blog I will give out some info on those items I've gotten over the years and how I use them, and some recipes, and be sure to share yours too, or comment if you've tried them

Monday, August 20, 2012

Easy Cooking with the Crockpot!

This weekend I took it pretty easy and when I really want to cook easily, I usually pull out my crockpot.  There is no item in a kitchen that is more simplistic with such consistent results.  While I love to smoke meats low and slow in my smoker out back, sometimes doing that is hard to manage, since you have to babysit the fire.  So when I'm looking for that smoky flavor with no fuss, I turn to my liquid smoke.

Now don't get me wrong liquid smoke is no substitute for the real thing, but it still adds a nice flavor with ease.   This weekend it was an attempt at recreating Kalua Pig, which to this day I've never been able to do.  This time unfortunately it was still not quite there still, but much closer than any previous attempt to date.

To start with I choose a decent size Picnic roast and toss it in the crock pot, then I liberally poured Mesquite liquid smoke on both sides of it.  I used mesquite flavor because it is closer to the natural woods they use to smoke the pig in Hawaii, however for just a nice smoky pulled pork, hickory works well.  Next thing I do is sprinkle kosher salt on all sides of meat, this always adds a nice flavor, even without adding liquid smoke.  The one thing I have learned with crockpot pork though, is to be sure and set it in there with the fat side up, this allows the fats to "melt" into the meat and keeps things from drying out.  This may not be the healthiest way to cook it, but it does help it from drying out, of course if your pork does come a bit too dry, this can be easily remedied and without anyone knowing.  Instead of just having pulled pork, now you add some barbecue sauce and you have plenty of barbecue pork for sandwiches, and only you will know that it wasn't planned.

Then comes the hardest part of all!  You have to wait for 8-10 hours on low for it to cook, all this time if you are home, you have to deal with that delicious smell permeating throughout your entire household.  To me this is second only to the smell of fresh bread, which is another smell that has a tendency to be around our place.

Once the meat is cooked, I remove the fat I can from the meat as much as I can, and shred it with 2 forks.  Then you have enough meat for a large party or for meals for the next week.   When the meat comes out, my favorite way to eat it is just as it is, a mound of shredded meat on my plate, which is quite contrary to my vegetarian wife, without whom I'd probably not have any sides to speak of with my meals.

The beauty of doing this though is that you almost always will have plenty of leftovers.  One of my favorite ways to enjoy my leftover pulled pork is in quesadillas, some pork and cheese in a tortilla a side of some salsa and sour cream, and I am a happy camper!

Don't forget your crockpot for parties either, a 6 quart crockpot will cook up enough meat for even the hungriest of crews.  And while it's cooking you still have your oven for other goodies and time to spare.  With a crockpot and a little prepping ahead of time(since it does take hours to cook) you can have plenty of food for all your guests.  One of my other common practices is making shredded chicken adding some taco seasoning, and you have a great start to a taco bar for everyone, and it keeps it nice and warm while everyone serves themselves.

Best of luck in the kitchen!  Good eats and great treats for all!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Maverick ET732 BBQ Thermometer

Today I think it's time to head out of the kitchen to the back yard.  Yes even though the end of summer is fast approaching I think there is more than enough time to work on our skill on the grill!  On that note I'm going to talk about what I feel to be one of the most important additions to your grilling and smoking arsenal.   A good thermometer makes grilling easy and beyond rewarding.

My best friend while cooking on the grill is my Maverick wireless thermometer.  This little beauty has 2 temperature probes, one for the cooking chamber and one for the meat.  Let me start out by saying that little thermometer on the outside of your grill is probably little more than a cute decoration as far as the temperature of the cooking chamber, the accuracy of it if you are lucky is probably as much as 50 degrees off.  Would you think of baking something in your oven at an unknown temperature?  Then why would you in your outdoor oven?  With the Maverick you can clip the probe so that it sits just above the grates of your grill and get a good accurate temperature of the area where you are cooking your meal.  It also has another probe that you can put into your meats, so you know right when your favorite dish at the proper temp.  Then the best part, is you can walk away and keep tabs on the progress right from your pocket with the wireless monitor.   So for that low and slow smoking you will know when to add more coals, or turn up the heat from the comfort of your favorite chair.  I always joke that my secret to grilling is doing as little as possible and drinking as much beer as possible.  So being able to keep tabs on it without sitting right by the grill, or opening it up to check on it and having temperature fluctuations constantly is an absolute must.

They claim the range is about 300 feet for the wireless monitor, and I can't really tell you for sure, as I have a pretty small place and probably haven't traveled much more than 50 feet from it, but we don't really want to let our secret out, so we have to stay near the grill at all times anyway right?  At least thats what I tell my wife so she will help cook the sides and get the table ready. So let's keep the fact that we can walk away from the grill our little secret.

My favorite thing to use this for is chicken.  In the past I had a tendency to avoid cooking chicken on the grill, as I almost always ended up with something that was more dry than the Las Vegas desert.   Because we all know you have to be sure and cook your chicken thoroughly, but without a thermometer, how are you really to know when it's done and not over done?  The answer simply is you can't.

Let me start by saying I owe a lot to a man that goes by the name "Meathead" over at amazingribs.com.  He turned me on to the Maverick and is an excellent resource for grilling recipes and tips.

I don't have a huge fancy grill(maybe one day), but I do have a decent size barrel grill, a CharGriller Pro barrel grill, and for me it's got to be charcoal.  I also have the side firebox but I'll save the details of the grill for another time.  Starting out, I get my coals going in my chimney, while thats going I prep my grill.  First thing I do is add an aluminum pan filled with water on one side of my grill.  I always put that on the side with the exhaust, so if I want to add some wood chips for that smokey flavor it has to travel over the meat to leave.  I also put the BBQ probe on that side of the grill, that way it's in the same general vicinity of the meat, where the cooking will take place.

Once I have my probe and water pan in place, my coals should be getting good and hot in the chimney, at this point I can add them to the other side of the grill.  If you are using a smaller charcoal grill you can do this by adding the water in the center and splitting your coals up around each side of your water pan.

The next thing I do is clean up the grates and prep them.  Now here comes a little tip I saw on TV one time.  I used to use cooking spray to help oil the grates, but this was always a little bit of a trick, because you had to avoid turning it into a flame thrower.  The other problem that occurs is that most of it burns up before it ever even gets on the grates.  So my new technique that I absolutely love, take some oil in a cup, then fold over a paper towel a few times, then with a pair of tongs hold the paper towel dip it in the oil and then spread it over the grates.  Works like a charm and will help with things sticking to your grates.

I guess I kind of glazed over a step, and thats the prep of your chicken.  I've tried a couple different ways, and you can go from simple to whatever you like, whether it's just some salt, or a fantastic rub.  For this I'm going to try for a bit healthy and something I was quite impressed with.  Mrs. Dash has a poultry seasoning mix, that I've used a few times.  It's no salt so if you are on a low sodium diet it's a great alternative, and it turned out a quite tasty dish.  So all I did was cover the chicken in some of Mrs. Dash poultry seasoning, and I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts too, so the end results were actually quite healthy.

Once your grill and chicken are ready, simply place the meat probe into the thickest portion of the meat, if you are cooking something with bones, be sure not to touch the bone with the probe as this won't give you accurate results as to when your chicken is done.  Now place your meat on your grill over the water tray, and close your lid.   Now for the hard part!!!!  Take your wireless monitor with you, grab a beer, and sit down!   When your chicken gets to about 165 as is the minimum temp your are supposed to cook it to, then you can go get it, put it on a plate and serve.  Because you monitored the temperature and took it off before it was over done, it will be some of the most moist chicken you will ever have.  And because you had a wireless monitor to oversee this, you've probably had the easiest time grilling you ever had.

This is one of those items that I think is a must, now the price tag is a bit high for a grilling accessory I admit, but I tried a cheaper thermometer and it lacked a probe for the cooking chamber, and it didn't last  either.  However I will give you this bit of advice too, this isn't just for grilling.  Want to have the juiciest Thanksgiving day turkey too?  Just use the meat probe while you are cooking your turkey in the oven, no need to check on it constantly either, and rely on the little pop up piece of plastic that lets you know when your turkey is dry enough for you!

Hope your grilling is a success!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dutch oven Bread returns

I thought that I would post some pics of the Dutch Oven Bread recipe that I discussed last week.

This first pic is the dough after it's risen, now this time I tried for a much shorter time, I only had the dough rising for about 9-10 hours, I think the difference was very little compared with my much longer  wait time of my first try.  The end results is just what you see a bowl for of sticky dough, easily over twice the size of the original amount.

Dough after rising.

Now you take out the dough onto a well floured surface, for this I always use the underside of my cutting board, so that I can clean it up much easier.  All you do is create your floured ball to prepare to drop into your dutch oven. A trick to getting the dough out of the bowl is to be sure to get plenty of flour on your hands , that way the only thing the dough is sticking to is your bowl, not your hands!

Prepped dough.

This next pic is the final product come fresh out of the oven in my little Grand Gourmet Dutch Oven.  Oh the smell was heavenly, but then again, I can't think of anything greater than baked goods to fill the house with a wonderful scent.  Now I did notice this second attempt did not yield quite as brown of a result as my first.  I'm pretty sure it has to do with the fact that I don't think I let my Dutch oven get quite warm enough during preheating, although it was warm enough to get tasty results, it's presentation wasn't quite the same.

Fresh from the oven.

And the finale, the end result.  Now this also shows a little trick I came across as well, my racks are somewhere packed away, so in a pinch, I flipped over a cupcake pan and rested my bread on it to cool.

Finished Product

And now you have an easy way to get bakery style bread at home with very little effort, just be sure to have a good bread knife handy, and if you are anything like our household, plenty of peanut butter!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: Showtime Compact Rotisserie

I think I will put up a review of an old item I've had for quite a while.  Just so you know I haven't left you hanging.

I'd be dismissed as a kitchen gadget guy if I didn't include an As Seen on TV product, and who else can you start with but Ron Popeil, creater of Ronco.  No doubt if you've been up late at night, you've seen this man and you've seen one of his products, but in my mind his catch phrase(besides "..and that's not all.") "Set it and Forget it", is one that I'm betting everyone has heard at least once, if not a multitude of times.  The device that made this saying famous, his Showtime Rotisserie.  While I did not purchase the full size rotisserie, i did get the Showtime Compact Rotisserie, being single at the time, having a small kitchen, and not wanting to lay down the extra money that went with having the larger one, the small rotisserie fit the bill pretty nicely, especially since I was very skeptical as I am with most infomercial products.  The other reason was that it was available at a store, which with some of the horror stories I've heard with customer service from informercial sites, and their usually outrageous shipping, purchasing it at the store made me feel much more comfortable.

Let me start now with my own personal disclaimer and one they echo in their instructions, no kitchen gadget or cooking item is, nor should it be set and forgotten.  I will admit that, this is close in that regards.  I have been more than pleased with this purchase, while I won't claim it's of the highest quality, for a sub $100 item, it has held up quite well over the years for me.  I have made chicken, pork, fish all with some excellent results.  My biggest complaint is the ease at which it is to clean, after a while it definitely started to look used, and the non stick spit rods and basket, are turning into near non stick.  Now in all fairness this was after about a year of decent use, not something i dragged out every day, but every couple of weeks I'd make something in it.

I learned relatively quickly though I didn't care for using the basket to cook things in, if you filled it up, the edges would cook more than the center(kind of expected but when you want to cook a bunch of wings or legs of chicken, not something you want to deal with)  But by far the biggest complaint I had with the basket is it's use in the real world.  Sure in the infomercial they show it used with fish fillets, pork chops, and chicken breasts, but the one thing you have to take into consideration is size, if all your cuts are not exactly the same thickness, you will get movement within the basket while it rotates, and I don't know about any of you, but I do not have the time nor want, to be sure that all my food is the same thickness.  So if you are looking at this item for the cooking basket, I'd rethink that, while it works as advertised, it's just not as convenient as you might think.  Add the issues with getting the food in there, the really hard part doesn't come till after you get it out. Who wants to drag out a cutting board to pull out this hot basket to pull out hamburgers or chicken wings, extra clean up that in my mind isn't worth the effort.   Like I said, it cooks fine and does a good job with it, but the effort with which to use the basket, isn't worth it.

Now the real reason you might have bought this item.  Let's throw a pork roast, or a whole chicken on the spits.  Here is truely where this machine shines.  Simple and delicious pork, I took a pork roast, rubbed in some kosher salt, and some liquid smoke, put it on the spit rods and tossed it in there.  In about an hour or so (depending on the size of your roast) I took out a wonderfully delicious and moist roast, that for me, I simply cut into patties and served on buns, but can be sliced and served in a more elegant manor just as easily.  All depends on how you want to enjoy it. Chicken as well comes out every bit as good as what you get in your local grocery store deli.

My only real complaint was it's noise, while it's not the noisiest kid on the block when it comes to small appliances, when you have to listen to the whirring of the motor and the slight tick of the timer for over an hour, it can get old.  I guess I do have one other complaint, is the size, it's not something you can easily fit in any cabinet in your kitchen, and if you are low on space in your pantry to hide it away, forget it.  While not as big as the full size rotisserie, it's still a large item and demands space, both when stored and while in use, remember this thing is putting off some good heat, you don't want it browning your cabinets that are only inches above it do you?

All in all, it's a nice little rotisserie, and I truely think I've gotten my money's worth out of it.  Though now as the glass has gotten a little glazed with use, can't say that I want it sitting out constantly, although it's nice to be able to see your contents, with it's relatively small space I think they could have used tinted glass so that burnt on grease didn't stain it quite so bad (and you can more easily hide all the attachments while not in use).

In closing, I think if you have the space to store it, and love that rotisserie taste, it's hard to go wrong with this item for something in this price range.  Don't get me wrong, I really can't tell you how long it will last, as it doesn't seem to be sturdiest, but it has held up for me pretty good.  However for this price, you can't hardly expect it to last a lifetime, at least I wouldn't.

Good luck in the kitchen!!!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Enamel Covered Cast Iron Dutch Oven Bread

Last night I managed to use my dutch oven for something I never would have thought about.   When it comes to kitchen gadgets though, the more uses, the better, if I can use something for more than what someone would consider it's typical use, it's more likely it will gain a place of honor closer to the counter top so that I can use it more.

In this case I have a Grand Gourmet Enamel Covered Cast Iron Dutch Oven.  Now I'm sure there are those of you out there that might think that Le Creuset is the greatest, or some that might even scream for Lodge Logic, but I was buying this with really only an occasional use in mind so I went with the cheap brand I found on sale at my local Meijer.  I really only had 1 recipe that I thought I'd use it for, and thats making pork carnitas, and I've done that it did turn out good, but this is about using it for something new (well new to me even).

I like many of you out there probably browse Pinterest, although I'm not one that actually "pins" anything, heck I don't even have an account.  But I do browse it for recipes and DIY stuff (I play in the kitchen, and with woodworking, oh how I'd love more hours in the day).  Every once in a while I come across things that intrigue me, this time it was a simple recipe for "Crusty Bread".

Now while I am a self admitted carnivore, I do love some good bread to go with my meat.  I mean bread was created for the need to be able to eat meat on the go, thus creating the sandwich right?  Anyway,  the best bread is that which is freshly baked no question about it, the next best thing is the artisan loaves you get from local bakeries or places like Panera.   If you like me, any bread you've made in the past has been good, but it hasn't had that crisp textured crust like what you find at those places.  Well the aforementioned recipe allows you to create just that, and couldn't be any simpler.

3 Cups of Flour (I used bread flour just because, but the original poster just used all purpose)
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups of water.

Whisk up your dry ingredients in a large bowl, stir in the water, it looked a bit dry when I was done mixing, but thats not a problem at all.  Now you cover it and let it rise, her recipe called for 12-18 hours, mine was over 20 hours because like others, work always interferes with my fun in the kitchen.  You could probably even get away with a bit less, because I didn't notice a much rising from checking on it in the morning to the 10 hours later when I was able to finally get to cooking it.

Once you have made it through the painstakingly long aspect of letting it rise, now it's time to prep.  Heat your oven to 450 degrees, once heated put your dutch oven in there to heat up as well.  Originally she had said to preheat your dutch oven for 30 minutes, my impatience lead me to think it was probably preheated enough in 15 minutes.

While your oven is preheating, take your dough out onto a well floured surface and shape it into a ball, it's going to be a bit sticky so be sure to get some flour on your hands to work with it.

You will undoubtedly be done with your shaping before everything gets preheated so you might want to cover your dough for the remainder of time.

Once your dutch oven is preheated take it out, remember it's going to be HOT, after all you've just had it preheating in a 450 degree oven!  Now comes the easiest part, drop your ball of dough in the dutch oven and put the cover on and place it back in the oven.  Cook it covered for 30 minutes, then take the cover off and cook it for another 15 minutes.

Then you can take it out and let it cool on a rack.  Enjoy at your convenience!

I'm sure some of you might be thinking I skipped a step of putting butter or oil in the dutch oven, nope, didn't skip a step at all, because I didn't do it.  I contend the biggest problem with food sticking to most cookware is because very few of us preheat it, don't get me wrong, I'm sure it could stick if you're dealing with a worn out piece of cookware, but you severely lesson sticking in most your cooking by preheating, I usually can cut my oil or butter I use my cooking in half if I only wait to cook on it, of course I'm not the most patient person so yes usually I just be sure to spray, spritz, or throw pats of butter in there while cooking.   This bread required none of that, even in my cheap little dutch oven didn't stick a bit, I turned it over and out it popped.

The other thing the original poster talked about doing is mixing it up, of which I'm sure I will do, adding your favorite cheeses, dried fruits, seasoning, or whatever floats your boat to make something new.   I've already been thinking about a cinnamon and sugar loaf that should make excellent toast, or how about  some freshly grated parmesan with some italian seasoning, combine it with a small dish of olive oil and freshly cracked pepper to dip it in....and you have yourself an appetizer that won't last long.  Ok now I want to make another batch to try that, might be a weekend project.

And the next best thing, is this makes beautiful little loaves, that have all the look and charm of bakery store bread.  Wrap it up and you have excellent little gifts for friends and family, especially if you have added something a little different that has just made it out of this world!

I want to thank the Simply So Good blog for posting the recipe, it's nice to get bakery results from such a simple recipe, and I loved being able to have another use for one of my gadgets, I'm sure my dutch oven is going to get a lot more use making breads too now.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kitchen Aid Ice Cream maker attachment

Now the one item you tend to see most kitchen cooks love to have and use is a Kitchen Aid mixer, and for good reason, they last a long time and do a wonderful job.  If you are a gadgeteer like myself they also appear great for all their add on accessories.  Even though I do love trying out new gadgets, I do try to be conscience of size and usefulness, as I don't want a lot of clutter on my counter nor am I one to pull out a gadget just to use it.  I admit that I have quite a few gadgets hiding away in the pantry that haven't seen the light of day in quite a while.  Sometimes though you find a recipe or get an idea to make something that just requires that special gadget that you haven't used in a while.  Well I did that this past weekend with pretty excellent results.  The item in question this week, the Kitchen Aid ice cream maker attachment...the challenge....a copy cat recipe for Wendy's Frosty....and the outcome...well, let's just say I was amazingly surprised.

I will start out saying that this is an attachment that I probably never would have bought, my only reason for having it is that when I bought my kitchen aid mixer, there was a deal that I got it for free with it.  Who am I to pass up on a free kitchen gadget.

Now I can't take credit for the recipe, as this is not something that I would probably even remotely came up with, and whether they came up with it or not, this is where I got it from this Easy chocolate Ice Cream recipe.   Although I was far from being able to add a full half gallon of milk to my Kitchen Aid attachment, it came it very good, although I did have to put it in the freezer to finish the process.

The Kitchen Aid ice cream maker is simply a mixing bowl that you freeze ahead of time (it says about 15 hours, I left it in a few days because I didn't get to trying this right away), and a special mixing attachment that is just like what you find in a standard ice cream mixer.  So I proceeded to take my ingredients out and put them in the mixing bowl.  My impatience got the better of me on this, because I assumed just to throw it all in there and mix it while it made it, of course that is because I was doing this from memory first and went back and later checked the recipe....oops.  This lapse caused me to take the mixing paddle out and mix it up better in the frozen bowl.

According to most of the recipes that come with the Kitchen Aid they talk about 10-15 minutes for the ice cream to start to get near consistency, so at a half hour and it was just somewhat near consistency I was a bit disheartened.  However half of it was about the right consistency, so to finish it off I put it into a container and tossed it into the freezer.  The results later that night was frosty heaven.  Amazingly it was so similar I was shocked.  In hind site I think my results would have been better if I mixed up the ice cream batter, and put it in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes to get it near freezer ready.

As this is only about half about my ice cream recipe let me give some more info about the gadget that helped make this wonderful concoction.  This ice cream maker is not too bad for those of us that would barely ever make our own ice cream.  Although I admit my first attempt failed pretty miserably, my own fault I put the batter in much too warm.  I think that for this to work best you probably should put your batter in after chilling it to the point where the start to get the first bit of ice crystals.  Since you can't add more ice and make it chill longer, you need to plan ahead, and have it near freezing before you start the mixing, if you put them in even slightly warm, you can forget about ice cream, but you might have a nice shake.

The only other downside to this device is the size, with it's size custom recipes you find online or from a friend or where ever, will more than likely have to be adapted to fit into the bowl, as it's only capable of preparing around 2 quarts of ice cream, hence why I wasn't able to fit a half gallon of chocolate milk into my frosty mix, and even the amount I added, I ended up coming up over the edge a bit.

Where I think this little thing really excels at is cooking with kids, my 2 year old son was with me in the kitchen while I was trying this out and being able to see the ice cream mixing and start to thicken made him really feel apart of it.  Almost too much to be honest, because when my wife got home that evening and we were telling her what we were going to have later, he told her he made the ice cream!  Letting him have the credit though was worth it to see his face, although him knowing there was a lot more than the small cup we gave him wasn't all that great, because he definitely wanted more.

In review, I have a hard time really grading this item, for the normal price of $80 I'm not sure I could recommend it.  Although some of the benefits of not having to deal with a mess of ice and rock salt is nice, especially when dealing with kids, and being able to see it as your treat starts the transformation to a frozen icy treat is also a plus.  But when you can get an old school ice cream maker or a dedicated small one like the Cuisinart one for less, it makes this one a bit hard to swallow for the money.  The only benefit to this one versus one like this Cuisinart Ice Cream maker is that when you are freezing this bowl you are still only storing your Kitchen Aid, not another full size gadget.  So would I buy this outright at full price, probably not, if you caught it on sale or as a bonus when you buy your Kitchen Aid, it's not bad.  Especially if you are only going to be making ice cream once or twice a year, but if you plan on making ice cream a lot, or in much greater quantities, I'd keep looking.

If you have tried something in the Kitchen Aid Ice cream maker or have your favorite recipe I'd love to hear it and hopefully try it out.  Best of luck in your kitchen!