Kitchen Tools

Kitchen tools and accessories get me excited in a way which is only rivaled by office supplies. Some weekends, Johnny and I spend an afternoon perusing the surfeit of extraneous gadgets in Bed Bath & Beyond or politely declining the helpful salespeople of Williams-Sonoma. This is a dangerous game to play, though, as what begins as an innocent errand to purchase kitchen twine ends in a package of silicone trussing loops and a mandoline.

However enthusiastic I am for new kitchen tools, there are several faithful standbys that I cannot do without. They make cooking easier, faster, or simply more enjoyable. I haven’t been compensated for advertising these things, although they are products I fully endorse!

  • Narrow measuring spoons from Williams-Sonoma: These stainless steel spoons are perfect in every way. The measurement is etched into the handle of the spoon, so it will not rub off. They are dishwasher safe. They are narrow enough to easily fit into most spice jars. These spoons are plain, unadorned, and absolutely essential. $16
  • Oneida round pizza stone from Bed Bath & Beyond: While preheating the pizza stone is a long process, it’s well worth the time. This stone ensures every pizza has a crisp and even crust, regardless if it’s frozen or fresh. It can also be used to cook anything that requires a crispy crust, like frozen egg rolls. I typically cook everything directly on the stone; I like to think of the process as “seasoning”, although I suspect it’s closer to “laziness” as I have never washed the stone. $15
  • Cuisinart Mini Prep food processor (link goes to Amazon, also available at Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma): A mini food processor may seem like a waste of money, but it’s worth its weight in gold for the time it saves. It can be used to mince or puree vegetables for sauces or soups. It can be used to break up chunky canned tomatoes. It can be used to grate cheese. Best of all, you can put it in the dishwasher. Second best of all, it is much more easily stored than the behemoth that is a regular food processor. $33
  • Large Butcher Block from Totally Bamboo: You may think a cutting board is a cutting board, but it’s not so. This enormous, heavy bamboo cutting board has changed my life. It’s durable enough to sustain years of heavy use, large enough to chop anything, and the non-slip feet prevent the board from wiggling around during vigorous chopping. While it demands hand washing and the occasional oiling, it’s a fair exchange. $120
  • Wusthof Classic knife set from Williams-Sonoma: Good knives make cooking easier, faster, and safer. This set from Wusthof has served us well for years. They are well-made, feel good in the hand, and maintain a very sharp edge. The set is expensive; if I had to recommend one knife from the whole set, it would be the 5″ Hollow-Ground Santoku ($85). I recommend saving up for the set, though, as these have made chopping a much more pleasant and less dangerous task than it used to be. $400
  • OXO Good Grips Medium Grater from Amazon: A box grater is unwieldy and, more often than not, makes a mess. A hand grater is useful for grating cheese, zesting citrus, or grating spices like nutmeg. This piece from OXO is durable, dishwasher safe, and affordable. $10

Of course, there are many other kitchen tools I use when cooking (measuring cups, pans, citrus reamer, et cetera), but these are the things that I love! They’re also things I wholeheartedly recommend- I’ve used them in my kitchen with excellent results.

What kitchen tools and gadgets do you use? What can’t you do without?

 

 

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Pizza Dough

I have a deep and abiding love for pizza. In college I spent the better part of two years making pizzas at Domino’s, where I received an education in proofing dough, appropriately applying cheese, and getting creative with topping combinations when the appeal of my usual pepperoni-and-mushroom combo ran thin. There was something immensely satisfying in being able to knock out a large order quickly, and I took pride in my ability to get a large pepperoni pizza from dough ball to oven-ready in under a minute. Was it haute cuisine? Of course not. Do I eat at Domino’s these days? Not usually; Tulsa has an astonishing number of excellent pizzerias. Most of the time, though, I simply prefer to make my own pizza.

I use the same basic dough recipe regardless of the toppings I choose. It’s a whole-wheat dough that yields a pleasantly thin and chewy crust. It’s ridiculously easy and requires no special equipment. I use a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment to make this, but it can be made by hand- I’ve given instructions for both. Best of all, the recipe makes a lot of dough; it keeps in the refrigerator perfectly for about two weeks. The dough balls are fairly small; Johnny and I usually eat one small pizza each, with a salad on the side. (Confession: sometimes we bake another pizza and split it. They’re that good!)

Dough ball

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast (about 1 tbsp.)
  • 2 c. warm water
  • 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tsp. coarse ground salt
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 c. flax or toasted wheat germ
  • Olive oil, for oiling bowl

Preparation

  1. In a large bowl or bowl of stand mixer, dissolve yeast in the warm water and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 2 cups all purpose flour and the salt, then stir in whole wheat flour, flax or wheat germ. Add remaining 1/2 c. all purpose flour 1 tbsp. at a time until the dough comes away from the bowl, but is still slightly sticky to touch.
  2. If using a stand mixer: use dough hook attachment to knead dough on low speed (I use speed 2 on my Kitchen-Aid mixer) for about 5-7 minutes or until dough is smooth and springs back when pressed. If kneading by hand: turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes until dough is smooth and springs back when pressed.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl, add dough, and turn to coat. Cover surface of dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 1/2 hours.*
  4. When ready to use dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut dough into 6 equal portions. Roll into balls, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rest 30 minutes. To shape dough, gently flatten dough ball on well-floured surface. Form crust by pressing fingers into dough about 1/4″ from dough ball’s edge and rotating dough so crust is even. Gently stretch dough by keeping one hand steady and pulling dough outward with other hand. Continue to stretch dough until it is about 12″ in diameter. If dough rips, simply press back together and stretch a thicker part.
  5. Place dough round on a sheet of parchment paper and top with desired toppings. Bake at 450 degrees F for 13-15 minutes on a preheated pizza stone or inverted baking sheet; keep dough on parchment paper for ease of insertion and removal from oven.

*If you, like me, keep your thermostat set at a toasty 65 degrees all winter, your dough will not rise properly sitting on the kitchen counter. A very warm windowsill will work, but I find my dough rises best in a bathroom with the door closed and heating fan on. You likely know where the warmest room in your house is- get creative and use it!

I’ll share some of my favorite pizza topping combinations in later posts. What are your favorite toppings?

Linguine with Mushrooms, Red Pepper, & Garlic

Linguine

Pasta is one of those things that makes a cold winter night feel a little warmer. When you don’t want to spend the afternoon simmering a tomato sauce, put together this simple dish for a meal that’s easy, tasty, and filling. I used white button mushrooms, since that’s what I had on hand, but cremini or baby portobello mushrooms would be an extra delicious substitute.

Linguine With Mushrooms, Red Pepper, & Garlic

Ingredients

  • 4 oz. whole wheat linguine
  • 6 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. white wine
  • 1 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse ground salt
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse ground pepper
  • Parmesan cheese

Preparation

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/4 c. pasta water.*
  2. Heat oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper; cook until fragrant and softened, about 1 minute.
  3. Add mushrooms, salt, and pepper and cook just soft, about 2 minutes. Add white wine and continue to cook until mushrooms are soft and have released their juices, about 3 more minutes.
  4. Toss drained pasta with mushrooms and parsley. If pasta seems dry, add reserved pasta water a little at a time until sufficiently moistened.
  5. Serve immediately topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

*To reserve pasta water, use a ladle to spoon out water immediately before draining pasta. Be very careful, as water is extremely hot! 

 

Quinoa & Veggie Stuffed Peppers

 

Quinoa stuffed bell peppers

These stuffed peppers are packed full of goodness: quinoa and a variety of veggies make them a healthy weeknight meal. While the baking time is on the long side, they’re well worth the wait. A bell pepper and a half plus a side salad make for a filling and delicious dinner!

Quinoa & Veggie Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 4 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 c. chopped carrots
  • 4 bell peppers; 1 cored, seeded, and chopped; tops removed and reserved from remaining 3, then cored and seeded
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley
  • 2 oz. baby spinach
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 c. uncooked quinoa
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse ground black pepper

Preparation

  1. Combine quinoa with 1/2 c. water; bring to rapid boil, then reduce to simmer for 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and lightly oil small baking dish (8″x 6″ or 8″x 8″)
  3. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until transparent and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and chopped peppers; cook until just softened, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Add parsley and spinach; cook until spinach is wilted. Stir in cinnamon, cumin, and cooked quinoa. Toss gently to combine.
  4. Divide quinoa mixture among remaining 3 bell peppers, gently packing it down so each pepper is fully filled. Top each pepper with reserved top and arrange in baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 50-60 minutes. Serve immediately.

Meatless Monday: Tofu Reubens

Tofu Reuben

 

Johnny and I aren’t vegetarians, but we don’t eat meat often. It’s fairly expensive and can be difficult to find in quantities appropriate for two people. We eat a lot of tofu.

Tofu is one of those things about which people seem terribly prejudiced. Some are convinced it’s an absolutely disgusting and inedible foodstuff, while others see it as a symbol of the reusable bag-toting, animal-loving, Subaru-driving lifestyle. (Full disclosure: Johnny and I both drive Subarus.) I’ll be the first to admit that badly cooked tofu is among the nastiest of culinary disasters, but when it’s cooked well, it’s a delicious and satisfying alternative to meat.

This tofu reuben is everything a sandwich connoisseur could want. The tofu is well-seasoned and cooked to crispy perfection. Homemade Russian dressing, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese accompany the tofu on deliciously chewy rye bread. It’s a meaty and filling sandwich. When served with chips and a pickle, you can almost imagine you’re at an incredibly trendy deli.

TOFU REUBENS

Ingredients

  • 7 oz firm or extra-firm tofu, cut crosswise into 4 slices
  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1.5 tbsp. ketchup
  • 1 tbsp. sweet relish
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • sauerkraut
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 4 slices rye bread
  • 2 slices Swiss cheese

Preparation

  1. Place tofu slices in single layer between two clean kitchen towels (or several paper towels). Top with a heavy skillet or other heavy object; let stand for at least 5 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, ketchup, and relish.
  3. In a small bowl, mix coriander, pepper, garlic powder, salt and sugar.
  4. Remove tofu from towels. Brush tofu on both sides with Worcestershire, then rub both sides with spice mixture.
  5. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook tofu, turning once, until browned, 4-5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, cover, and keep warm. Wipe out skillet with clean paper towel.
  6. Spread 1/2 tbsp. butter on each slice of bread. Set bread butter-side down on clean work surface. Spread about 1 tbsp. mayonnaise mixture on each slice; top with cheese, tofu, and desired amount of sauerkraut. Close sandwiches and carefully transfer to skillet. Cook sandwiches, turning once until bread is crisp and cheese has melted, about 5 minutes. Cut in half and serve immediately.

 

Meal Planning For Two

Planning a weekly dinner menu is an essential part of the cooking for two process. Deciding what you’ll eat throughout the week makes it easier to construct a grocery list and stay within a budget. Know what you’re having for dinner also makes it easier to resist the temptation of going out to eat after a long day of work.

Every week, I set aside about an hour of time to plan the week’s menu. Breakfasts are easy for us; I make a dozen banana-blueberry muffins once a week. Lunches are similarly easy- I cook a big batch of soup and divvy it up into small Pyrex or Ziploc containers. Johnny takes those to work along with a piece of fruit. Since I’m home, I eat sandwiches, soup, or the rare leftovers. Dinners are the only thing I need to put effort into planning.

I look for recipes both online and in cookbooks. I use Pinterest to organize recipes I find online; I have a board for poultry recipes, meatless recipes, beef recipes, et cetera. Pinterest is also an excellent way to keep track of what you’re cooking each week (provided the recipes you use are online, of course). Simply create a board labeled “Dinner Menu, Week of XX” and pin the recipes you’re planning to use there. No hunting around websites or racking your brain trying to remember where you saw a recipe! I frequently use a spiral notebook to write down what I’ve planned to eat for the week. It isn’t fancy, but it’s practical and convenient. I tack the page on the fridge, where I can look at it daily and remind myself of the dinner plan.

Things I take into consideration when planning what to eat are as follows (in no particular order):

  • Ingredients: How many ingredients does a recipe have? Will they be difficult to find? Are they expensive? What do I already have on hand?
  • Nutrition: Is this recipe good for me? Is the nutrition information provided?
  • Preparation: How long does this recipe take to make? Are there a lot of steps involved in preparing it? Do I have to do anything far in advance? Does it require equipment I don’t have?
  • Servings: How many people is this recipe designed to feed? Will it be easy to reduce the servings to two?

Ingredients are an important part of recipe selection. If a recipe that yields four servings is reduced, some ingredients are often reduced to weird or inconvenient measurements. For example, a recipe may call for one 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes. When that recipe is halved, you’re suddenly left with half a can of diced tomatoes to find a use for! With careful planning, you can solve this dilemma. Find another recipe in which you can use those tomatoes this week. Trust me, if you store that half-can in the fridge, you’ll forget about it, find it in a month, and be totally grossed out by moldy tomatoes. If a leftover ingredient is something you can’t or don’t want to use right away, it’s very likely you can freeze it. I often cook stir-fries that require fresh ginger. Ginger roots are large, so I simply use what I need, cut the rest into chunks, and freeze it. When I need ginger again, I pull out a chunk.

If a recipe can’t be reduced easily, I don’t use it. If it’s something I absolutely want to make, I plan for the leftovers. Menu planning takes some time and some practice, but it’s well worth it!

Hello!

Hello, and welcome to Cooking For a Couple! I’m Stephanie, a twenty-something equestrian, soil enthusiast, and amateur cook. My struggle to find recipes specifically tailored to two people has led me to create this blog; I hope it can be a resource for others looking to feed themselves and another, or at the very least, not have an abundance of leftovers!

You’ll find delicious recipes for two, as well as tips and tricks that make shopping and cooking for two easier and better. I hope you’ll be inspired to get in your kitchen and create something great!