Friday, January 25, 2013

Quest 1.6: Bread, Glorious Bread!

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today, we're baking bread! I have a special relationship with bread; it's a little disturbing and sometimes sado-masochistic. My safe word is "oh-shit-I-can't-fit-into-my-pants-anymore." And although I feel the sting of the un-zippable zipper, I keep going back for more and the cycle repeats itself.

"Step one, give a f*ck about baking." - Hannah Hart My Drunk Kitchen. 

Bread is delicious, versatile and travels well on those long treks across Middle-Earth or Azeroth.  Many people get intimidated at the idea of baking their own bread. But baking homemade bread is not very difficult; it's just time consuming. So, Apprentices, I'm starting you out with the easiest bread recipe I could manage; sesame seed hamburger buns! The beauty of bread is that all breads are made up of, more or less, the same ingredients: flour, yeast (or in some cases baking powder), sugar, water, salt and sometimes, eggs. You can simply interchange these ingredients (i.e. whole wheat or rice flour for unbleached) to change up the bread. A little fair warning before we get started; once you start making your own bread, you will find it extremely difficult to go back to store-bought. Homemade bread is denser, more filling and  far more delicious than anything you could get in a plastic bag from the grocery store! So, roll up your sleeves and get ready to knead because we're baking bread!

Sesame Seed Buns
Yield: 8 Regular-sized hamburger buns


3 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Sugar
2 Packets Active Dry Yeast
2 Tbs melted butter
1 cup warm water (100°F-140°F)
2 Large Eggs
1 1/4 Tsp Salt
Sesame Seeds (to garnish)


2 large mixing bowls
2 baking sheets
Sturdy spatula
Small whisk or spoon
Parchment Paper or Non-Stick Spray
Pastry Brush

*TIP - Pre-measure your ingredients and separate them into bowls (just like you see on all those cooking shows). You'll be surprised how easy it is to lose track of how many scoops of flour you've added to a mix and it's easier to fix those problems when your ingredients are still separate than when you have everything in one bowl. 

Activate your yeast!  Yeast is a living organism, a fungus, and when active, it releases carbon dioxide that causes bread to rise. Activating your yeast will cause it to foam and grow right before your eyes and you'll know, without a doubt, that your bread will rise. 

Pour the warm water into your large mixing bowl and dissolve in 1 tsp of sugar (taken from the 1/4 cup of sugar you have already measured out for the dough). Just give it a gentle stir with a whisk or a spoon until there are no more sugar granules in the bottom of the bowl. Now, sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the water as evenly as possible and step away to let the yeast do its thing. The yeast should take a 5-10 minutes to fully activate. If your yeast hasn't activated within 10 minutes, it's dead; throw it out and try again. Be sure not to get your water too hot because you could kill your yeast. As a point of reference, the water should not be as hot as a cup of coffee. Usually 30 seconds in the microwave will do the trick. You should be able to hold your finger in the water without any discomfort. But when in doubt, bust out your handy-dandy thermometer!


Add flour, sugar, 1 egg, melted butter & salt! This is part of what makes these the easiest buns just dump it all folding or careful measuring. Just go for it!

Using a sturdy spatula, mix the ingredients together thoroughly. Do not use a whisk! If you use a whisk, it will turn into an instrument of terror as you will only end up with the dough stuck in the middle of the whisk and spend the next ten minutes digging it all out. Mix the dough with the spatula until it looks like this:

*TIP - A set of good spatulas are vital to any arsenal. Look for stainless steel handles and silicone, heat resistant heads. They will make your life so much easier!

Get your hands dirty! At this point, you've gotten about as far as you're going to get with that spatula. The best tool in your kitchen is a nice, clean pair of hands! Give your hands a scrub (if you haven't already and if not, GROSS!!) and work that dough with your hands. You can knead the dough right there in the bowl if it's big enough. If not, lay down some parchment paper, sprinkle it with flour and transfer the dough to the paper. Work the dough until it is smooth and elastic and transfer to the other clean, large bowl.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise! Set the bowl in a warm, dry place and walk away. Go play a video game or watch a movie and check on your dough about an hour later. There is no set time for dough to rise. Many recipes will say it takes "one hour" but there are a lot of factors that will effect how fast your dough rises. So don't stress about the time. Your dough is ready when it has doubled in size.

*TIP Make sure you choose an area for your dough to rise that your cat hasn't chosen to plant her ass and stalk hummingbirds like the fierce predator she is.

Deflate your dough! Using your hands, gently deflate your risen dough. Divide your dough into 8 equal pieces and roll into balls. Line your baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with non-stick spray. Space your balls of dough about 2 inches apart. Use your hands and gently flatten the balls to make more of a bun shape. For my dough, I divided it differently, making 3 regular buns, 3 slider buns and 2 sub sandwich buns (I also made an extra batch because I'm prepping for my upcoming Walking Dead mid-season premiere special! So tune in!). As I said earlier, this dough is so versatile and you'll be able to get a ton of uses out of this recipe!

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise (again) until they are visibly puffy. The second rise usually doesn't take as long so check on it in about 30 minutes.

Pre-Heat Oven to 375º

Using a whisk or fork, beat the other egg well. Make sure the yolk and white are completely integrated. With a pastry brush, very gently brush the surface of your buns with the egg-wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. The egg-wash is what gives the buns that beautiful, golden-brown sheen and makes the sesame seeds adhere to the top. If you prefer seedless buns, brush them with melted butter instead.

Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 15-18 minutes.

Your house will start to smell like Heaven in a few minutes and you'll wonder why the heck you never baked your own bread before. When your buns are golden brown, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack or slice and serve immediately.

The buns will store very easily. You can make a couple of batches, seal them in an air-tight freezer bag and store in the freezer. Be sure to date the bag for freshness. When serving them out of the freezer, slowly bring them down to room temperature, wrap in foil and warm in the oven or lightly butter and put them on the grill.

You did it!! You made bread! How awesome are YOU?!? You also just earned yourself a big, fat load of points!


+20 Baking

Make sure to tune in next week when we cook more stuff! Join the community! Like us on Facebook and follow on Twitter for all the latest 8-Bit Cooking news!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Geeky Gadgets & Gizmos

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today we are going to check out some of my favorite, cool little toys you can get to trick out your kitchen in typical awesome, nerdy fashion! Gone are the days of boring, department store kitchenware! Now, your kitchen can reflect your own, individual personality, just like the rest of your house! Many of these items are featured on one of the best websites in the whole wide web,

FridgePad: Magnetic Refrigerator Mount for iPad at ThinkGeek: Perfect for referencing those recipes from your favorite blog *cough* while cooking in the kitchen! Keeps your iPad off the counter top and out of harm's way!

Hand-Forged Feasting Utensils at ThinkGeek! First of all, they're hand-forged, which automatically makes them awesome. And they're for FEASTING! Who doesn't want real, honest-to-gosh feasting utensils?! Perfect for the Renaissance Fair, a Game of Thrones season premiere party or a rousing day of LARPing!

Star Wars Death Star Tea Infuser at ThinkGeek! Are you a member of the Rebel Alliance with fantasies of dunking the Death Star in a cup of steaming water and then drinking the contents? Well, now YOU CAN! Just fill it with your favorite loose-leaf tea and enjoy a piping-hot cup of Empire-infused goodness. How amazing is that?

Cool Shooters Ice Shot Glasses at ThinkGeek! What's a little frostbite when it comes to ice-cold shots of your favorite booze? These shot "glasses" are made of ice and formed in a durable rubber/silicon mold and a super-cool addition to any party.

Star Wars Lightsaber Candlestick at ThinkGeek! Trying to romance that Star Wars fanatic but he/she is too distracted debating the pros and cons of Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars brand? Well, fear not, lovers of the galaxy, you'll be able to set the mood for some sexy time with a couple of these awesome Star Wars Lightsaber Candlesticks from ThinkGeek! So, put on the Barry White, don that Slave Leia/Han Solo outfit and hang out the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the Millennium Falcon door because you're gettin' some action with these!

 Star Trek Spock Oven Mitt at ThinkGeek! Live long and prosper...and don't burn your hands on those cookies you just made!

Doctor Who Tardis vs. Dalek Salt & Pepper Shakers at ThinkGeek! WHO wants a boring old set of glass S&P shakers when The Doctor can grace your table? Not this girl! The only thing that could possibly make these any cooler would be if the Dalek was a pepper mill and I could twist the little head around.

BBQ Branding Iron at ThinkGeek! Nothin' says, "This meat's mine!" like your name seared right into it. This handy dandy branding iron allows you to lay claim to that steak like never before! It's fully customizable and comes with every letter of the alphabet, including spaces.

Star Trek Enterprise Pizza Cutter at ThinkGeek! Let's be honest, the Enterprise was all but destined for this moment since it made its first appearance on the original series way back in 1966. It was fate and now it's real and it can be in your kitchen, cutting your pizza as it was meant to be. Get the standard edition or the Golden Limited Edition for your fancier pizzas.

Floppy Disk Drink Coasters at ThinkGeek! Before thumb drives and flash drives...a little before CDROMs and a little after stone tablets, there were these ancient forms of data storage called floppy (flŏp'pē) disks. Today, they are a novelty...the once stoic and dignified floppy disk has been paid tribute in the form of these super-sweet silicone coasters for you to park your Zima on a hot summer day.

Pixel Hands Oven Mitts at Amazon! If you're like me, you've spent countless hours fantasizing about having pixelated body parts. And now, the Powers That Be have listened and blessed me with Pixel Hands...and they're functional, too! Sure, hands are generally functional with those super-useful opposable thumbs... but with these, you can grab hot stuff and not get burned! It makes me want to weep with gratitude!

Tetris Silicone Ice Tray at Amazon! Don't kid yourself, this isn't an ice tray. This was created for the sole purpose of making Tetris-shaped Jell-o shots. You're welcome.

So, I'm going to stop here...I could go on because there is so much amazing nerdy kitchen gear out there and this post could get seriously out of control. I'm sure I will post another edition in the future...a Part Deux, if you will. Please post some of your favorite geeky kitchenware in the comments below! I would love to hear from you!

Next week, we're making burger buns from scratch!

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Quest 1.5: Baking Bacon

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today, we're playing with everyone's favorite meat: BACON!

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Bacon is the meat of the Gods. It's savory, salty goodness makes me feel like I'm running through a field of poppies under a technicolor sky, hand-in-hand with a tall, dark and handsome...strip of bacon. We gaze longingly at each other, my heart races, palms sweat, we lean in...and then I eat his face. The end.

Bacon has achieved cult-like status in recent years. There are sonnets, toys, flavored popcorn salts, lip balm (because who doesn't want the taste of bacon on their lips ALL the time?!),  cocktails and countless delicious culinary creations featuring our favorite cut of cured pig. Today, I am going to show you my favorite way to cook bacon - in the OVEN! No mess, no stress...just delicious, savory bacon in no time at all! Well, that's not entirely takes about 20 minutes altogether.


1 Package uncooked bacon
Pepper (optional)
Shallow baking sheet
Tin Foil

There are so many reasons baking is my preferred method of cooking bacon. It's easy and clean and any time I don't have to scrub down my stove after a project, I'm a happy girl. Let's all take a brief moment to thank the inventor of the self-cleaning oven. Moving on. When you bake your bacon, something miraculous happens: it doesn't shrink as much! Bacon cooks flat and because heat is being applied uniformly, from all angles, it doesn't do that shriveling thing thus creating the illusion of having more bacon. Also, when cooking bacon on the stove, there is something that comes over all of us; it is the constant need to poke, move, flip, stab or otherwise disturb the bacon cooking process. All that man-handling encourages shrinkage as well. And more bacon, real or imagined, is a good thing in my book!

Preheat Oven to 400°

Choose your bacon! There are so many options for bacon, it can be a little overwhelming. Maplewood smoked, hickory smoked, applewood smoked, thick cut, thin cut...think of it like free love in the 60's; you're a hippie and bacon is your experimental playground. Just be careful, because in this case, high cholesterol is your STD.

Line your baking sheet with tin foil. Make sure you choose a baking sheet with edges, about 1/4 - 1/2 an inch deep is best. The walled edges of the baking sheet will keep the grease from oozing out all over the inside of your oven, thus creating a smoking nightmare of terror and pain. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but self-cleaning ovens won't "self clean" mass amounts of bacon grease and the stench of burning food from inside an oven really is horrific. The tin foil also prevents the bacon from sticking to the baking sheet and makes clean-up SUPER easy.

Arrange your bacon on the lined baking sheet. Try to lay the bacon flat. I find that when I lay the bacon perfectly flat, it shrivels up a little less. And what did we say before? More bacon, real or imagined, is a GOOD thing! Also, make sure you lay out the bacon in a single layer as stacking will result in the fats melting together as the bacon cooks.

It's probably weird that I turned my bacon into little prisoners awaiting execution, right?

Sprinkle lightly with cracked pepper. Cracked pepper is optional at this point but so delicious...if you like pepper. I don't advise adding salt for two reasons: 1) salt speeds cooking time. It doesn't take long to cook bacon in the oven as it is and speeding up the already fast cooking time increases risk of burning. And 2) bacon is already cured in a brine and brine is a solution of salt and water thus making additional salt completely unnecessary.

Cook on the middle rack. It's important that you cook on the middle rack of the oven because this allows the hot air to circulate evenly around the oven.

Set your timer!! Cook for 10-14 minutes! Kitchen timers are your friend. Seriously. It's way too easy to get distracted while you're cooking. I guarantee you are going to surf the internet, watch a movie or tv, play a video game and just forget what time you put your food in the oven. The next thing you know, your food is burned and you're a sad panda.

Thin cut bacon will take around 10 - 12 minutes and thick cut bacon will be 12 - 14 minutes. For crispier bacon, you can add about 2 minutes to your cooking time but you need to keep an eye on it because you can go from perfectly cooked to charred very, very easily.

Carefully remove from the oven with potholders because safety is important, kids!

Immediately transfer cooked bacon to a paper towel lined platter to soak up some of that excess grease.

*TIP This is where a good pair of tongs comes in handy. We'll be talking more about essential tools for the kitchen in a future post but an excellent pair of tongs gives you a lot more control when handling certain foods.

Eat and enjoy!

*Remember to properly store leftover bacon in the refrigerator.

Now there's the question of the grease. Don't throw it away! Bacon grease is flavor! And any Southern cook worth their salt has a mason jar of bacon grease stored in the refrigerator for use in everything from scrambled eggs and biscuits to green beans and even a tiny bit stirred into canned refried beans for a little extra something.

Let the grease cool enough to pour into the jar. Close and refrigerate. Bacon grease can go rancid if left unrefrigerated for too long.

 Hooray! You made bacon! And don't you love the lack of a massive stove-top mess?


+5 Baking

Stay tuned, boys and girls, in future blogs we'll be talking fresh baked bread, gadgets and gizmos from around the web and the WALKING DEAD!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Atari Flashback 4: Nostalgia in a Box

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today, we're taking a little break from the kitchen to review my newest toy, the Atari Flashback 4 by At Games.

Honestly, it is what it is... a nostalgia-based console for less than fifty bucks. And if you see it for fifty bucks, that's too much. The console is really only worth $30-$40. It does its best to marry modern convenience (wireless controllers) with the vintage design of the console and the original, retro graphics but fails in a few key areas. And maybe it's because I'm spoiled with the precision of other consoles and their wireless controllers and smooth menu navigation, but it just seems like the developers could have done...more.

When I opened the box, there was a general sense of disappointment about the size of the console (a feeling most women can understand). The Atari Flashback unit itself is roughly the size of a Nintendo Wii console. Anyone who remembers the original Atari, probably holds just as dear as I do, the memory of its enormous clunkiness. The console was huge...and so was almost everything in the 80's. So the tiny scale of the Flashback console only served as a harsh reminder that what I was playing was nothing but a tribute...a cheap, modern adaptation scaled for convenience of storage and mockery of the young.

My first issue arose with the wireless controllers. It felt awesome to hold that joystick in my hand again (that's what she said) but when I flipped it over to install the batteries (not included), I was greeted with a teeny little screw holding the battery cover in place. At this point, if you've already had a couple of cocktails in aticipation of playing a little drunken Asteroids, you're just screwed (no pun intended). So, then I had to set off in search of a tiny little phillips head know, the kind they specifically manufacture for these annoying battery covers. I rummaged through an old toolbox and managed to dig out an ancient, rusted screwdriver with a small enough tip to do the job. As a bonus, I discovered the screwdriver had somehow become magnetized and when I unscrewed the ridiculously small screws, they clung to the screwdriver and I managed not to lose them forever.

So with the batteries installed in the controllers and the console hooked up to my LED television, I fired it up. When you turn on the console, it takes you straight to the game menu. All 75 games are listed in alphabetical order and you navigate the menu using the joystick to scroll down and to the side and the "fire" button to select the game. Naturally, I went straight for Space Invaders. The game actually loaded very quickly and without issue. Of course, there were none of those pesky 3D graphics for the processor to prepare while you stare blankly at a "LOAD" screen, reading some tip about how to reload your weapon or blow something up over and over. So that was nice.

My second issue arose ...with the wireless controller! As I began to play the game, I quickly became frustrated as my little ship wouldn't budge or fire as the alien invaders descended ever closer to the earth. The ship would jerk and occasionally fire off a shot but I lost two consecutive games before I finally figured out the problem; I was sitting in a chair and the console was on the floor. I moved a footstool in front of the television and placed the console on top. I discovered that if the sensors in the wireless controllers are not perfectly on level with the tiny sensor in the front of the console, you will not be able to play. You can hook up wired controllers, but they are not included in the set. If you plan on buying this console, I recommend picking up the wired controllers. Although moving the console did a lot to improve the wireless controller's capabilities, the controllers still seemed to fall in and out of contact with the console way too frequently. As I would try to move from one side of the screen to the other, the ship would stop suddenly or I would try to fire and it wouldn't. When I tried to play Asteroids, the controller's failings became a little too annoying and I gave up.

I was extremely disappointed that Pac-Man and Frogger weren't included in the game bundle. It seems strange to me that a company would go to the trouble of creating an Atari console and  not spend the money to license two of the most popular games of the era. I would happily shell out the money for a scale replica with preloaded games and the ability to download more games to an internal drive. Unfortunately, the Flashback lacks that ability and will only ever have the 75 games already loaded. But, as I said, it is what it is. Nothing will ever truly recapture the original Atari 2600. But with some wired controllers and a few friends, this Atari Flashback will provide you with a great night in!

Full List of Games:

3D Tic-Tac-Toe
Adventure II
Air·Sea Battle
Black Jack
Canyon Bomber
Championship Soccer
Circus Atari
Combat Two
Crystal Castles
Demons to Diamonds
Desert Falcon
Dodge 'Em
Double Dunk
Fatal Run
Flag Capture
Frog Pond
Front Line
Fun with Numbers
Grand Prix
Haunted House
Home Run
Human Cannonball
Jungle Hunt
Maze Craze
Miniature Golf
Missile Command
Night Driver
Off The Wall
Realsports Baseball
Realsports Basketball
Realsports Soccer
Realsports Volleyball
Return to Haunted House
Save Mary
Sky Diver
Slot Machine
Slot Racers
Space Invaders
Space War
Star Ship
Stellar Track
Street Racer
Submarine Commander
Super Baseball
Super Breakout
Super Football
Video Checkers
Video Chess
Video Olympics
Video Pinball
Yars' Revenge

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pots & Pans: Leveling Your Gear

Welcome back, Apprentices! Today, we are going to talk about pots and pans. Come on, admit're excited! This quest is to feed your brain because remember what we discovered last time, guys? Learning shit is fun!

This particular quest is to take a little of the confusion out of stocking your kitchen with the best possible tools to get the job done. Think of this post as your opportunity to seriously level some of your gear. You can't win a boss fight without a stockpile of kick-ass weapons, right? In the future, we'll be talking about knives, cutting boards and even some of my favorite appliances. But for now, the most important, and used, items in your arsenal will be your pots and pans. Today, we are going to discuss the pros and cons of different kinds of pots and pans, everything from heat conduction to health benefits. So, buckle up, Buttercup and get ready to have your mind BLOWN ...or mildly stimulated...

I'm just gonna cut to the chase, here... non-stick pans suck. Sure, they're easy to clean and most people worship at the altar of non-stick because they're too lazy to clean and don't bother to stop and think about what it is they are really using: a chemically coated surface to cook their food. The most popular among these chemical coatings is known as Teflon. As Dupont, the developer of this "miracle" product,  enthusiastically points out on their own website, "Teflon is used in paints, fabrics, carpets, home furnishings, clothing and so much more."

Um...and that's a good thing?

Tons of tests have been done by scientists both in and out of the industry and many of the results conflict. But most of the data has one common result; the pans are safe unless they get over-heated. So, now the question is; how hot is too hot? According to Good Housekeeping and Robert L. Wolke, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained, the pans become over-heated at 500º F. Even Dupont concedes that 500º F should be the maximum cooking temperature for Teflon-coated pans. What happens at 500ºF, you ask? At 500ºF, the chemical coating starts to break down on a molecular level, releasing potentially toxic chemicals and gasses. These gasses aren't usually concentrated enough to cause harm to human beings. However, these fumes will kill pet birds because of their delicate respiratory systems.

    *This awesome and informative test was conducted by Good Housekeeping.

Over time, with wear, the non-stick coating will begin to flake off. Most scientists say that ingesting these flakes won't cause any serious health problems but I prefer not to take my chances.

Cooking with cast iron: An awesome alternative to non-stick pans are pans made with cast iron. Cast iron skillets, pots and pans are seasoned with oil and salt, creating a naturally non-stick surface. Most cast iron skillets are pre-seasoned. But seasoning your own cast iron skillet is not difficult. Cast iron conducts heat evenly, goes smoothly from stove-top to oven and is easy to clean. Never use soap on your cast iron skillet and never EVER put cast iron in the dishwasher as this will cause it to rust! When cleaning cast iron, use boiling water, scrub with a stiff brush and let it air-dry.

Another benefit to using cast iron is that it lasts forever. A couple of the skillets in my own kitchen belonged to my grandmother and are more than sixty years old. They are my go-to skillets for frying chicken and making biscuits and cornbread.

You can buy regular, seasoned cast iron skillets or you can buy the prettier, enamel coated cast iron. They both pretty much do the same job so it's really just a matter of how concerned you are with how attractive your cookware appears. A lot of people mistakenly assume that a black cast iron skillet is dirty so some prefer the cleaner look of their enamel-coated counter parts. The only downside to the enamel coated cast iron is that the enamel will stain and chip off over time. Personally, I just stick to the basic seasoned cast iron.

Cast iron is heavy. The weight of a cast iron skillet can work for and against you. On the up-side: it's not easy to accidentally knock over a cast iron skillet. The weight of a cast iron skillet keeps it fairly anchored to its spot. The downside is that if you're using larger skillet or pot, the weight can simply be too much for some people.

Cast iron gets HOT! As we already discussed, cast iron conducts heat evenly...but it conducts heat evenly over the entire skillet, including the handle(s). You have to be extremely careful when cooking with a cast iron skillet and always use potholders when you touch the handle. If you have little ones, you need to be clear with them that if their little hands grab on while you're cooking, they could lose some skin.

Cast iron is affordable and can be found online or at any Target or Wal-Mart. I recommend a brand called Lodge. They make a huge variety of great quality cast iron products and are very reasonably priced.  ...and no, I'm not making any money for this endorsement...I just like Lodge.

Cooking with stainless steel: Stainless steel is pretty and shiny and tends to distract me like a cat with a laser pointer. It just looks so clean and I can see my reflection! Stainless steel has many benefits. It's durable, affordable and non-porous so it doesn't absorb odor or flavor. Stainless steel is also safe in the respect that it will not have any harmful reactions with your food. Some metals will react in a way that your food will actually absorb them. Aluminum and copper, for example, have a tendency to react with tomato and other acidic dishes. Stainless steel is also easy to clean. A little olive oil on a soft cloth will remove hard water stains. For everyday use, stainless steel is my number one choice.

Quality is key! Look for stainless steel pieces with a high nickel content (a ratio of 18/8 - 18/10 is best). The higher the nickel content, the less reactive the stainless steel will be to your food and the more durable and less prone to pitting it will be. A quick and dirty way to test the nickel content of your stainless steel cookware is with a magnet. Using a relatively strong magnet, test the interior cooking surface of your pan. The less magnetic the surface = the higher the nickel content = the better the quality of your pan. Don't be shy about taking a magnet with you while you're shopping for cookware. You might look like a weirdo, but you'll sure as hell find some good quality pots. Another trait you want to look for is a heavy bottom and thicker walls for your pans. You want a multi-ply pan - when the steel has been folded multiple an awesome samurai sword...that you can cook with...Thin stainless steel will burn under high temperatures. Test the weight of the pan in your hand. If it feels flimsy, chances are it IS flimsy.

Bonded is better! Look for stainless steel pots and pans that have a bonded bottom. The stainless steel needs to have a copper or aluminum core. Stainless steel, on its own, is not a great conductor of heat. Stainless steel pots without a bonded bottom will conduct heat unevenly causing your food to burn or scorch directly over the heat source. I use a brand called Salad Master. They are a little known brand of cookware that can be purchased through private sellers. When I was a kid, my dad sold Salad Master and the set I use everyday is my father's demo set that he would tote around in a giant suitcase, putting on dinners for people to sell the cookware. I have a newer set, another demo, from a few years ago when my dad thought he might want to get back into selling Salad Master. Unfortunately, he passed away before he got the chance. Long story short: I still use those pots and pans. They are heavy duty stainless steel with an aluminum core and detachable handles so they can go into the oven as well. Salad Master is a bit on the pricey side, but that set of pots and pans has lasted more than twenty years. And whenever I cook an amazing meal, my dad is still right there with me.

*Pictured above: Salad Master Cookware

Le Creuset makes a slightly more affordable line of high quality, stainless steel cookware. The Le Creuset set has an 18/10 stainless/nickel mix and an aluminum core for even heat conductivity.

*Pictured above: Le Creuset 8 Piece Set

The basic point is this, if you invest in your cookware, it will invest in you. You get what you pay for...if you pay for cheap piece of shit, you're going to get a cheap piece of shit. There's something to be said for cookware that lasts twenty, thirty or even sixty years.

Cooking with Aluminum & Copper: Copper and aluminum both conduct heat really, really well. Which is good. And copper is really, really pretty. Which is also...good. Unfortunately, the cons with aluminum and copper far outweigh the pros.

Bad reactivity! Copper and aluminum both react badly with acidic foods, aluminum a little less so than copper (however, aluminum reacts badly with salt as well). Acidic foods and white sauces can discolor and taste like metal.

Aluminum is cheap! And for a reason...aluminum is thinner, softer and scratches easily. Aluminum will not last like cast iron or stainless steel.

Copper is expensive! Most people gravitate to copper because it's pretty. And it is. Copper cookware is really, really pretty. But the exterior luster oxidizes over time and requires regular polishing to maintain the shine. Copper, like aluminum, is a relatively soft metal and dents and scratches easily. You can only use wooden utensils with copper to prevent tinning. When a copper pan's tin coating wears off, the copper can destroy the vitamins and folic acid in your food and can also lead to ingestion of toxic levels of copper.

Basically, if copper and aluminum are combined with another metal, like stainless steel, I'm all for it. When bonded with other materials, they are an awesome addition to your arsenal. But, personally, I won't invest the money in pots and pans made with aluminum or copper alone. The maintenance is too high, they're not versatile enough and they just won't last long enough for the cost (especially copper).

*Pictured above: copper cookware set

*Pictured above: aluminum cookware set

For my time and money, cast iron and stainless steel are the way to go for everyday use in the kitchen. We'll be going over a few more in the future so you can better equip yourself for the battles to come. But for now, take the time, do some research and invest in your kitchen! I hope you found this quest a little bit helpful and informative!

Join me next time when we're baking bacon! Keep cooking! Follow me on Twitter @8BitCook.


+10 Kitchen Savvy

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Quest 1.4 Roasting Garlic!

If you don't like garlic, we're breaking up; the relationship ends here because I will never be able to look at you again without feeling that horrible stab in my heart over this betrayal. That being said, get ready to reek because today, we're roasting garlic!

The first thing you need to know about garlic is this: it's not onion. Sure, it's white and has that crunchy outer skin and it grows in the ground, but that's pretty much where the similarity ends. A big mistake people make is that they try to cook garlic just like you would cook an onion. You have a stir-fry to make; what's the first thing you do? You chop up an onion, mince some garlic and toss it in the pan to sauté. What's the result? The result is perfectly sautéed onion and burned, bitter garlic. The most important thing to remember about garlic is that it burns much easier than onion. If you're going to sauté garlic, it only takes a few seconds. Add your garlic to the pan LAST and cook it for only about 30 seconds. It doesn't take long to bring out the natural flavor of garlic. The second thing you need to remember about garlic; don't overdo it. Garlic is strong and can overwhelm a dish very easily. Garlic is meant to enhance the flavor of a dish, not mask it.

You don't need one of those little garlic roasters to roast garlic. They're cute and super-handy but not actually necessary. However, if you're interested in buying one, you can find them fairly cheap in any store or online. Usually, about $10 will buy you a good terra cotta roaster.

Roasting garlic is pretty basic once you get the hang of it. You will also find yourself roasting garlic on a regular basis because you can put it in everything and it stores easily in an airtight container in your refrigerator. You can use it in sauces, stir-frys, breads and you can spread it on a bit of crusty, toasted bread for a snack or appetizer.


1 Head of Garlic
1 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
salt & pepper
Tin foil & baking sheet
Cutting board
Sharp Knife


CHOOSE your garlic! Remember to put as much thought into choosing your fruits and vegetables as you will put into preparing them. Look for a head of garlic with a firm feel to it and clean, unbroken dry skin. Make sure to avoid any heads that have sprouted (green stemlike growth at the tips) as this is an indication of age and poor storage. Also, make sure the cloves are tightly packed together. If the cloves have begun to pull away from each other, the head is old. Don't buy it!

PEEL your garlic! Using your fingers, gently remove the crunchy outer skin of the garlic head being careful not to separate or pull off the cloves.

CHOP your garlic! Using a sharp knife and a clean, dry cutting board, cut off the bottom 1/4 (the pointy-ish end) of the head so it looks like this:

DRIZZLE your garlic with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil! It doesn't take a lot. Just a little drizzle on the top and use the tip of your finger to gently rub it into the exposed cloves of garlic!

Why did I include this little bit of trivia? Because learning shit is fun. The olive oil was awarded in clay urns elaborately painted with little naked athletes representing the games. The athletes would also smear their naked bodies with olive oil for good luck. That's probably where body-builders and models got the idea for lathering themselves up with baby oil to highlight their physiques. You're welcome...

SPRINKLE your garlic with a dash of salt & pepper. Remember the salt rule? The more salt you add, the faster your food will cook...and the saltier it will taste. Be very conservative with your salt!

WRAP your garlic in a little tin foil teepee! Wrapping up your garlic in foil will prevent your garlic from over-cooking. You want roasted garlic, so the goal is to avoid total caramelization of the garlic's natural sugars. Basically, the foil provides the same function as the clay top of a garlic roaster; to keep moisture in, to prevent the garlic from drying out and to concentrate the heat in a way that it tenderizes and roasts the garlic in a relatively short period of time and as uniformly as possible.

BAKE for 40 minutes or until tender. Your house will start to smell amazing...of course, that's if you like garlic. As we established earlier, if you don't like garlic, we have broken up and I have no idea what the fuck you're still doing here since this whole quest is about garlic so BEAT IT! Get OUT! I can't bear to look at you any longer!

PEEL the roasted garlic from the remaining skin. The soft roasted garlic is actually quite easy to work with but it requires a gentle hand. Moving from clove to clove, carefully peel away the rest of the skin and discard or add to your compost bin. Once peeled, you can mash your garlic to use as a spread, add it to sauces or breads and use as a pizza topping!

In case you're wondering; yes, I took this picture. I just liked it so much, I couldn't bear to scribble all over it.

So now you know how to roast garlic! It's easy, right?! Make sure you properly store the roasted garlic if you plan to use it later. Use an air-tight container and refrigerate. Date it for freshness. The garlic will begin to lose its flavor after about a week.


+ 2 chopping
+ 5 Baking

Join me next time when we'll be doing...something...I haven't quite decided what yet. I'm pretty sure it will involve a kitchen! And follow me on twitter @8BitCook