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Cool tricks in the culinary world

Shopping for a new Gas Grill

Shopping for a new outdoor grill can be a daunting task, there are hundreds if not thousands of choices and even some recent advancements that are worth consideration.  Before we get too far ahead of ourselves I want to set the record straight, there is a HUGE difference between grilling and BBQ’ing and I see the two terms interchanged far too often, almost to the point that it irritates me.  BBQ’ing is done over a long period of time over a low heat, aka low and slow, grilling on the other hand is done with extremely high heat and very quickly.  Both methods have advantages and disadvantages but most people use a gas grill for grilling and NOT BBQ’ing though they often say they are BBQ’ing when in fact they are grilling.  Now that we have cleared that from the air let us proceed.

The idea for this post came about because Tiffany and I are shopping for a new Gas Grill, we both love the flavor and process that goes along with a traditional charcoal grill, such as the infamous weber charcoal grill, however it is often handy to have a grill that you can control easier and quicker.  If we’re grilling a few hot dogs or hamburgers for us on a weeknight going through the ritualistic process of using a charcoal grill just isn’t in the cards, a minus to both of us having professional careers – bummer but all hope is not lost.  You can grill extremely flavorful food on a gas grill, just don’t expect it to be something it is not.

Onto our quest, searching for the ideal gas grill for our lives.  I think the most obvious first thing to consider is size, both physical size and number of burners, some really small gas grills only have one burner and enough cooking area for a large steak, this isn’t a problem if you are patient or single, but if there is more than one of you or if you ever entertain try to get a slightly larger grill so you have enough space to grill at least two large steaks at once.  I think at least two burners is another good rule to follow, it will allow greater temp control, the ability to create hot or cool spots and in general be more consistent with your grilling than a single burner grill.  Above I mentioned that you shouldn’t go too small, but also don’t go too large, do you really need a 10 burner gas grill that can fit a whole side of beef on it with room for baked potatoes?  Sadly, no, though it would be really cool!  The problem with the enormous “grillzilla’s” out there is often you’re cooking for 2-4 people and you have this behemoth to heat up, it will take up more space, burn through a lot more gas, be harder to master the way you can a grill that suits your needs better.  So be realistic when purchasing, get a grill that is big enough for your needs, but not the grill that makes you the talk of the neighborhood, you want the grill that is just right.

The finish is totally up to you, some people like stainless steel, others prefer painted finishes, I think both can look stunning and it’s 100% up to you which you prefer.  Often Stainless cost a little bit more, and look very pretty when new, but it’s a grill, most live outside and see all of the elements, experience enormous temperature fluctuations and get discolored within a few months of purchase so don’t base your purchase solely on the finish.

Another simple item that drives me crazy on grills is the direction the grill itself is situated, I greatly prefer a grill thats cooking surface goes away from me rather than perpendicularly to me.  This I learned the hard way, modern grills typically have little nooks near where they hinge and it can be very tricky to flip items that get situated there, it’s a very awkward action to try to flip that way.  So be cautious when purchasing, imagine flipping something on the grill, how natural does it feel?

Here’s where you have to start making some decisions, there’s been a development in recent years in the type of burners some grills have, you’ll notice a lot of infrared grills on the market and they are very interesting.  It is still a gas grill, it still uses burners, but the burner is different, they are designed to have even grill temperature across the entire cooking surface of the grill, from corner to corner.  That sounds really great, then I used one and while an interesting theory it did not seem to hold true.  Below is an image of the infrared grill I used, it’s difficult to notice, but i you look closely, directly below the cooking surface you’ll see a perforated panel, that is what evens the temps across the grill – click the image to see in it’s original size.

Infrared Grill

I made wings, I happen to LOVE grilled chicken wings, beautiful crispy skin on the outside, juicy, tender white meat chicken on the inside and coated with whatever sauce happens to excite you on that particular day.  On this day I made a classic Tim concoction, it was a sweet, hot and tangy sauce, made from raspberry jam, Sriracha sauce and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce mixed until I was happy with the sauces balance.  I am notorious for not measuring I just keep adding until I get what I’m looking for by continually tasting.  The wings were marinated in a little apple cider vinegar, salt, black pepper and ground thyme.   In any case the wings did come out beautifully as you can see below.

Grilled Wings

The problem was the grill didn’t cook them that evenly, there were hot spots, which I actually like on a grill but not when it’s supposed to have an even cooking surface.  The real gripe I had was I grilled them most of the way and then sauced them in the last 5 minutes flipping continually to carmelize the sauce.  What happened was between the chicken fat/juices that cooked out and the sauce it totally crusted up the perforated portion of the grill leading to very uneven cooking temps across the grill, flame ups and in general an unpleasant cooking surface for others to cook on – this was a party and there were at least two other batches of food cooked after the wings.  To add insult to injury, the grill surface had to be disassembled and thoroughly wire brushed once it cooled.  Apparently you are supposed to do this before you use the grill every time, and it just seems enormously time consuming for the limited benefits.

So with that digression out of the way, it may come as no surprise that we are leaning towards a more conventional gas grill.  One trick you can use to extract more flavor from your gas grill is to soak wood chips in water, drain them and wrap them in aluminum foil, place them on the grill surface, under the cooking area of the grill or any place you are comfortable with them not catching fire and still adding the smokey wood flavor of a charcoal/wood grill.  We are still shopping, but I think something in the 3-5 burner range will be on our patio in no time.  I’ll be sure to follow up when we’ve finally made up our mind.

Happy Grilling!


Cream of Tartar – Versatile Kitchen Chemical


Cream of Tartar - Measure

Cream of Tartar is a very useful and versatile chemical for your kitchen. My hope is that through this article you will gain a greater appreciation of it and how its presence in your kitchen ads value to your efforts and the products you make with it.


Records of the use of Cream of Tarter extend as far back as 7,000 years.  The Archaeological Instutute of America reported in the September/October 1996 edition of its Journal that “Patrick E. McGovern and a team from the University of Pennsylvania Museum found calcium salt from tartaric acid, which occurs naturally in large amounts only in grapes,” at a Neolithic village site in Iran, indicating that wine was being produced in that region of the world at that early date.  You can read the full article  here.


Cream of Tartar is obtained as a by product of wine manufacture by extracting it from a crystal that is deposited on the inside of wine barrels as the wine ferments. The chemical names for it are: potassium tartrate, potassium hydrogen tartrate, and potassium bitartrate. Its molecular formula is KHC4H5O6.

Cream of Tartar has many uses in the kitchen, including:

Baking Powder – Cream of tartar can be used to make baking powder by combing 2 parts Cream of Tartar with 1 part Baking Soda and 1 part Cornstarch.

Eggs and Cream of Tartar

Meringue – Cream of Tartar, due to its acidity, can be used to stabilize and add volume to beaten egg whites such as are used in angel food cake, pie meringue and meringue cookies. As egg whites are beaten, they expand in volume.  The beating of the egg whites causes the strands of egg protein to partially unfold and connect with each other. These interconnected strands wrap around air bubbles which leads to foam development. Cream of tartar lowers the pH of egg whites and helps neutralize the tendency of proteins to repel each other; encouraging their connection. This helps support the air bubbles formed by beating. The result is a much more stable foam.


Snickerdoodles – This famous cookie has the characteristics it does because of the use of Cream of Tartar.  See recipe below.*

Icing and Candy – Cream of Tartar is used in icing and candy recipes because it helps produce a product that is smoother and creamier.




Syrup – Adding Cream of Tartar helps prevent crystallization of syrup and honey.




Color Preservation in Vegetables – Boiling vegetables causes them to lose their pigmentation and therefore lose much of their visual appeal.  Adding Cream of Tartar to the water helps prevent this. Because of its acidity, Cream of Tartar also helps retard browning of vegetables and cut fruit. However, care must be taken so that the amount of Cream of Tartar used does not affect the flavor of the produce.

However, I tried an experiment comparing boiling broccoli in a Cream of Tartar solution with my standard steam method. I’ll let you be the judge of which method produces the most appealing results:

Broccoli - Raw

Broccoli - Raw

Broccoli - Boiled

Broccoli - Boiled

Broccoli - Steamed

Broccoli - Steamed



Cream of Tartar can be used to clean your pots and pans as well, particularly aluminum and copper. It can also help take stains out of fabrics such as kitchen towels & aprons, and aid in cleaning your porcelain sink.


Although I have not tried it (yet), there are articles about how Cream of Tartar can be used even to whiten teeth. If true, this is of particular help to cooks after years of drinking hot coffee & tea and sipping wine.


Cream of Tartar can be used along with other items from your kitchen to make modeling clay.

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1 cup salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
3-5 drops of food dye (various colors)

* Snickerdoodles

This recipe comes from the McCormick website.

2 3/4 c Flour, all purpose
2 t Cream of Tartar
1 t Baking Soda

1 1/2 c Sugar, divided
1/2 c Butter, softened
1/2 c Shortening

2 Eggs
2 t Vanilla

1/4 c Sugar
1 T Cinnamon, Ground

1. Mix flour, cream of tartar and baking soda in large bowl. Set aside. Beat 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter and shortening in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; mix well. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. Refrigerate 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls.

Roll in cinnamon sugar mixture to coat. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets.

3. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Remove to wire racks;
cool completely.


If you are looking for a place to purchase Cream of Tartar in bulk you might want to check Penzey’s

Mise En Place

In a previous post, Baking Powder Experiment-Biscuits, I included an image which was titled “Mise En Place” to demonstrate a bit of the preparation involved in conducting the experiment. As a follow-up to that post, and to provide more information about cooking methodology to our readers who may not be familiar with the term, I provide the following.

Mise En Place Biscuits

Mise En Place - Biscuits


Mise En Place is a very important principle for serious cooks. Mise En Place is a French term that literally means ‘putting in place.’ Mise En Place means you have everything in order to prepare the dish before you begin assembling it.

Have you ever finished putting together a cake, casserole, or some other baked item and placed it into the oven only to realize you had forgotten one, or more, ingredients? Or started to prepare a dish and discover you are missing an ingredient, then have to scramble either to get it from the store, borrow from a neighbor, or find a substitute from items you have on hand?

If you make it a practice to use the principle of Mise En Place, as you have (hopefully) been carefully reading every recipe before starting preparation, then not only will you be less likely to forget an ingredient, you will also be much more efficient in putting the dish together, as well as more accurate in your measurements and the order of assembly.

The order in which you assemble a dish can be essential for producing the results you expect.  Having all the ingredients arranged to assemble your dish includes not just pulling out the containers from your pantry and packages of produce and meats from your refrigerator or freezer.  It means having all the ingredients organized in the order of assembly as well as measured, and prepared in ways such as: slicing, dicing, and chopping.

Mise En Place - Ingredients

But Mise En Place is much more than just about ingredients, it means having the whole dish, even the entire meal, planned in advance by having the necessary implements and tools arranged as well as having timed the preparation of each step of each dish and coordinating the preparation and cooking of all menu items. In other words, it means taking that extra effort and making use of a little bit of additional time, to organize every aspect of your food preparation.

This past weekend we hosted a birthday party at our home.  Party food included grilling marinated (lemon juice, garlic, basil, rosemary, and thyme) chicken breasts over charcoal, preparing my Green Hummus (a special request), Naan Bread, Green Salad, Tabouli, Brown Rice, and making Adas Bil Hamad (a Mediterranean lentil dish) – all from fresh ingredients.

This involved first deciding what recipe to use for each dish, making a list of the necessary ingredients, checking for what ingredients were on hand and which needed to be purchased. Deciding when and in what order each dish was to be prepared, taking into account whether the dish would lend itself to preparation in advance, if it could be cooked and kept warm (or cold) until needed, or if it required being finished (hot and fresh) just as guests were arriving.

Of course, another essential is knowing how many guests to expect and how much of each dish to prepare to accommodate the total number of guests. Normally, I prepare enough of each dish to provide every potential guest with an adequate portion. This doubtless results in an excess of leftovers, but I think it is better than running out of a dish and disappointing my guests. Besides, there never seems to be a lack of guests willing to take any extras home after the party.

Once all these things were decided, for each prep session I laid out all the ingredients, along with all the tools, utensils, bowls, pots, pans etc. that would be needed for the dishes at hand. Then I measured, washed, sliced, diced, chopped, and set out all the ingredients on my prep table in order by dish and recipe. (I always group my recipes by ingredient combinations per the recipe instructions.)

You will find that the extra time you spend up front planning, will make the actual preparation much smoother and less problem prone. Personally, I am much more efficient in having all the dishes ready on time, with less stress, and am able to have everything ready for the guests with a clean kitchen and make it look to them when they arrive that putting together the party was almost effortless. Not only does this make for a much more pleasant experience for your guests, but enables you to enjoy the party and your company to a greater degree.

I hope if you are not already utilizing the technique of Mise En Place, you will be inspired to do so. It makes preparing food for the people you care about much more pleasant for you, for them, and the socializing aspect of eating together becomes a more edifying experience whether it is for a large party or just a quiet meal at home.

How to make big muffins

Have you ever baked muffins using your traditional 12 cup muffin pan, pulled one out when it was nice and hot, and placed a pad of butter on it to only have the first muffin gone in a few bites?  Then, you go back for a second one, thinking you needed just a little more, and before you know it, you feel like you ate too many and think “If the muffin was just a little bit bigger, I wouldn’t have just eaten all of these.”

Muffin Comparison

Well, now you can make the large muffins you see at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or your local bakery in your own kitchen.  The best thing is you don’t even have to buy a special baking pan to make them. In fact, you probably already have these in your kitchen, or something similar that would work.  A simple trick that I learned when I was younger, from my Dad, was to use custard cups.  Yes, custard cups.

You simply make your regular muffin recipe, nothing fancy, and place them into greased custard cups.  I tend to grease mine using a butter flavored cooking spray.  I think it does a nice job of making them non-stick as well as adding a nice buttery flavor and not adding calories.

Custard Cup

Using the custard cup as your baking vessel, usually yields half the amount of muffins as your regular recipe.  For example, if your recipe normally produces 24 muffins, you will get 12 large muffins.  So, if you really wanted 24 large muffins, you will need to double your recipe.

The baking temperature should be the same for your recipe as it normally is, but it will take a little longer to cook. I leave them at the same temperature because I like mine to have a little crisp on the edges of the tops and have a nice golden brown colo Muffins r. I usually bake the muffins 15-20 minutes and I check on them.  When you insert a cake tester or toothpick in the center and it comes out clean, then you know they are done.     Enjoy your big muffins!


Another tip:  I like to place my custard cups on a cookie sheet when I place them in the oven.  It makes it easier to put them in and take them out.