Frequent Fryer

It’s the culinary equivalent of the Tickle Me Elmo craze that swept children into a nationwide temper tantrum in the final late days of the 1990’s. All the cool kids have one, or are getting one, because no other toy can compare. This particular modern marvel is considerably more functional, more respectable, but one could argue, no less frivolous than the furry robotic puppet. I’m talking, of course, about the air fryer.

Leading holiday sales for retailers of small appliances all across the map, these wildly popular contraptions are in no danger of selling out, unlike the door buster deals of yesteryear that would inspire fist fights in minimal parking lots. There’s a different model for every day of the year, and well beyond. Demand hasn’t waned but supply has exploded with such a surplus that prices have fallen to irresistible rates, even without a Black Friday discount. Paralyzed by an overabundance of choices, where does the tentative, newbie fryer begin?

First, we need to talk about what an air fryer really is. Purportedly an alternative to deep frying, without any mandatory fat, hyperactive home shopping network hosts would like to shout from the rooftops that it’s a miracle device guaranteed to change your life. Imagine: all the mozzarella sticks, tater tots, and corn dogs you can eat! Welcome back to childhood and Merry Christmas to all! …If only it really worked like that.

It would be more accurate to describe the device as a super-heated countertop oven. Convection heating circulates air at scorching temperatures and breakneck speed, allowing food to cook faster than in a conventional built-in appliance. It works more efficiently because it’s also smaller, although that brings us to our first drawback: The size can be a limiting factor if you want to cook for more than two or three. Larger models are now available, but you will never be able to fit as much food into one as a full-sized kitchen appliance as a simple matter of physics.

The “frying” effect is most successful with prepared, frozen snacks, which have already been at least partially cooked with a fairly generous amount of fat. French fries are the clearest example of this phenomenon, especially since they’re hands-down the most popular order for this short cook to tackle. Crinkle-cut, curly, waffle, skinny, or home style wedges all come out golden brown and impeccably crisp, fluffy on the inside, glistening with the sheen of success- And oil. If you tried the same set-it-and-forget-it approach with raw potatoes sticks, it would a sad, starchy story, with a real limp ending. Set your expectations accurately and understand how to harness the unique abilities of the machine, however, and this toy starts to regain some of the initial shine.

If you’re still craving a healthier alternative to cool satisfying meals from scratch, there’s hope for this crazy contraption yet! I relying on mine primarily as a toaster alternative, since I don’t have space on my counter for both. Set to low temperatures, it can also function quite efficiently as a dehydrator, to preserve fruits, vegetables, and herbs, or make some tasty snacks with minimal effort. Best of all, and especially critical as we enter the sweltering summer months, it keeps the kitchen cool, as opposed to the full-sized oven that radiates heat like a genuine furnace. As a general guideline for converting existing recipes, reduce the temperature by 25 – 30 degrees (Fahrenheit) and the baking time by 25%. It will take a bit of trial and error if starting from scratch, but plenty of resources and general guidelines are already out there to make the process painless. You can also find handy charts for best practices regarding specific produce picks.

For your initial voyage on the SS Air Fryer, it will be much smoother sailing if you let the experts pilot the ship. Start with recipes specifically designed for complexities and eccentricities of the machine to turn out hits right from the beginning. My favorite cookbooks are The Vegan Air Fryer by JL Fields, Vegan Cooking in Your Air Fryer by Kathy Hester, and The Essential Vegan Air Fryer Cookbook by Tess Challis, in no particular order. These three highly respected authors also have many other tips and tricks folded into the mix, so you’ll be well educated on the capabilities of your shiny new gadget by the time you read them cover to cover.

Okay, so what about the air fryer itself? Of all the colors, shapes, and sizes, how could you possibly choose the perfect model? I can’t claim to have tried them all, but over the course of two years, I have gone through three different unique types: The Philips GoWISE 3.7-Quart, the Power Air Fryer XL 5.3 Quart, and the Power Air Fryer XL Pro 6 Quart. Which did I ultimately chose to keep?

Presenting, the winner of this round, the Power Air Fryer Pro (previously named the “Oven Elite” at the time of purchase)! Shaped like a miniature, traditional oven with moveable racks, it’s simply more versatile and easier to use than models that only provide a solid basket receptacle. This one provides that too, along with a rotisserie spit, rotating metal skewer attachment, and wire mesh basket. Furthermore, it’s a bit more spacious than the aforementioned options, and the separate racks allow you to cook multiple foods at once. Breaking down all the finer points to consider:

Pros:

  • Much more space! Wire racks allow you to separately cook different foods at the same time.
  • Rotating mesh basket means no more stopping and shaking food halfway through the cooking process to ensure more even browning.
  • Works brilliantly as a dehydrator; minimum temperature of 90 degrees.
  • Excellent and seamless toaster oven replacement. Creates a consistently golden crust on bread, bagels, and beyond. There’s even a dedicated pizza button for reheating leftovers.
  • Removable and non-stick drip tray makes for easy cleanup afterwards.

Cons:

  • Not exactly plug-and-play. Had a hell of a time figuring out how to install the skewers, and still couldn’t stop them from falling out eventually, regardless of the configuration.
  • The window is nice, but it would be more helpful if the light inside the unit stayed on after you closed the door. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose if you can’t see when the food is done?
  • Maximum temperature of 400 degrees. I’d wager that’s enough for 90% of all cooking needs, and most foods could just be cooked for a little bit longer to compensate, but it can be limiting for more precise, high-heat preparations.

Ready to embark on your exciting journey towards extra crispy, perfectly tender, and simply easier homemade meals? With expectations appropriately set and temperatures properly dialed in, the much lauded air fryer is a handy little helper that can make it happen. Naturally, all those years of testing and tasting have built up a considerable backlog of my own recipes to share, so stay tuned for much more!

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Creativity in a Vacuum

Imagine you’re wheeling a grocery cart loaded with fresh, carefully selected, and thoughtfully purchased foods through a parking lot, out to your car. You’re a conscious consumer, opting for organics whenever possible, looking for Fair Trade and Equal Exchange certifications, reading nutrition labels from beginning to end. You load the trunk, gently tucking four bags into the mesh cargo net so they won’t tumble in transit, pull down the sunshade to keep everything cool, and gently click the latch closed. You begin to drive away, when out of the corner of your eye, you see the cart, still holding one more bag, full of food. Inexplicably, you continue on your way home, leaving it to rot in the midday sun.

It’s a dramatization of reality, but a reality we must face nonetheless. Americans waste as much as 20% of the food they purchase, despite the best intentions. Whether it’s an overzealous purchase of prime produce or grand cooking plans that never come to fruition, the old, wilted, moldy, and shriveled results are every bit as inedible. If you’re buying in bulk or merely buying with an eye towards long-term storage, you might as well flush 1/5th of your paycheck down the toilet if you don’t invest in a vacuum sealer.

By removing the excess oxygen surrounding your food, you’re slowing the natural decaying process causing bacterial growth, which keeps everything from fruits to nuts fresh up to five times longer than when simply refrigerated or frozen. Heat-sealed bags are much more secure and durable than any zip top baggies or plastic cling film, which makes it a smarter choice for meal prep and travel snacks, too. Ever since the FoodSaver FM2000 came into my life, it’s saved me from more than just the mundane insult of food waste. Earning a spot on the counter as an essential culinary assistant in its own right, I’ve taken great delight in making quick pickles thanks to the accommodating canisters and containers, dabbled a bit with sous vide, and slashed marinating times in half.

This is not my first time at the vacuum sealing rodeo. Bought on a whim, my earliest model was far from inspiring. Loud as a jet plane, prone to jamming, rough on crushable foods, and notoriously prone to sealing failure, it was quickly ferreted away into the basement, where’s it’s been collecting dust ever since. FoodSaver suffers from none of these common shortcomings; it’s the #1 best-selling vacuum sealing brand for good reason, with the confidence to offer a 5-year limited warranty across the board. Operation really is child’s play, and since they’re all ETL safety certified, you really could let your kids take the reins without worry.

Easy enough to plug and play without even reading the instructions through, I do have a few quick tips for best vacuum sealing practices:

  1. Freeze liquids, marinades, or wet items in advance. Sauces and soups are still great candidates for vacuum-sealed preservation, but only if frozen solid before sealing. Otherwise, the liquid will get sucked right into the machine, which will make a huge mess and could damage the appliance.
  2. Double-bag powdery items, like flour or sugar. Place in a standard zip-top bag first, poking a tiny hole in it to get the air out without releasing all the loose particles, before tucking them into the FoodSaver bag.
  3. Leave some breathing space, especially towards the top of the bag. Avoid the temptation to stuff as much possible into every bag. If you don’t, you may not be able to get a solid seal. However, if you don’t get a good seal first time, you can try making a second seal a bit further up.

The bags are BPA-free, freezer safe, microwaveable, recyclable, washable, and even reusable! Yes, you can keep on dealing and sealing again and again with the very same bags. Simply wipe off any food or residue near the seal area if resealing partially used food, and make sure they’re clean and dry if starting anew.

Using the FoodSaver FM2000, there truly is nothing to lose.

This post was made possible thanks to support from FoodSaver. Some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I recommend them because I personally find the products helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

Vital Hit

No one could ever accuse the preeminent pioneer in blending technology, Vitamix, of being too limited in its scope, and yet the industry leader continues to innovate with cutting edge adaptions to the original. Seemingly out of left field, the Vitamix Aer Disk Container has landed to pulverize the competition in an entirely different way. The famously razor-sharp blades are replaced here by a perforated disk, designed not to chop and puree, but to whip, foam, muddle, and emulsify. Rigorously testing out each prime function with unscientific glee, my 10-year old classic 5200 base felt like a brand new toy all over again.

No need to lug out the stand mixer anymore to put a fancy finishing touch on your desserts. Instantly churn out whipped coconut cream, fresh and fluffy, firm enough to stand at attention in high peaks, with just the flip of a switch. That said, my greatest disappointment in this trial was in an attempt to make meringue; even the thickest aquafaba refused to do more than bubble and foment from the agitation. There is clearly a trick to this whip, but I haven’t unlocked all the secrets yet.

Cold foam is all the rage these days thanks to the relentless marketing push from Starbucks, who now whip it up in a variety of flavors. The thing is, they don’t offer a dairy-free option! As with making lattes, different brands can create very different results, but a bubbly beverage takes just a flip of the switch, no matter your “milk.” Start with at least 1/2 cup of steamed liquid, fully covering the disc, for most effective frothing. Compared to a dinky handheld electric whisk, this matrix of trapped air bubbles is much denser, consistent, and long-lasting.

Muddling is really not my style, as I rarely drink, let alone create cocktails, and let’s not even start with the alternate meaning of the word that alludes to my typically jumbled, disorganized state of mind. However, I quickly found that there’s much more to the concept than just mojitos and caipirinhas. Lemonade made with whole citrus means no zesting, no juicing, no waste and no mess. This trick works for plain old, straight-up fresh orange juice, too. Equal parts lifesaver and party starter when summer rolls around, you can even pop a handful of ice cubes in there to instantly chill your brew without crushing or diluting while you’re at it. It’s a nifty trick designed to wow a crowd, since it works best when you start with at least 1 1/2 – 2 cups of liquid to keep the citrus slices moving.

Water and oil, sworn elementary enemies, would never be caught dead mingling in public, let alone wrap each other up in a full, cohesive embrace. It takes considerable force to smooth things over in a proper vinaigrette, hollandaise, or mayonnaise, with every additional drop threatening to break this uneasy truce. Just call VitaMix a seasoned peacemaker because the Aer has some impressive diplomacy skills. While the standard canister can ace this test as well, I was genuinely surprised to find more consistent results with the risk of over-processing safely out of the picture. Notice that the herbs and spices remain fully intact in the mix despite the merciless blending, allowing each component to shine more brightly within the harmonized liquid mix. Joining balsamic with EVOO harmoniously, till dinner do they part, my dressing game has never been smoother.

Compatible with all full-size (Classic and Smart System) Vitamix blenders, there’s officially nothing this indispensable tool can’t whip into shape. Like any other Vitamix attachment, the Aer Disk Container can clean itself in 30 – 60 seconds with just a drop of dish soap and a quick bliz, no disassembly required. If that’s not a gift that keeps on giving, I don’t know what is.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Vitamix. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning typically entails a purge of non-necessities, ousting not only the cobwebs but the excesses that support their tangled strands. Taking out the old and broken, the useless and the antiquated, the pieces that no longer serve their intended purposes, is just as important as any efforts made towards vacuuming and polishing hardwood floors. The rationale is that with fewer things to collect dust, there are fewer things that need dusting.

What that doesn’t mean, in most sane approaches to organization, is adding to that collections of odds and ends- but who ever said I took that conventional route for anything? Determined to lighten the load in my cramped quarters, I first set about letting go of the warped, beaten, and rusted pans that always gave me grief for even the simplest of recipes. One can’t simply go without proper cookware though, so immediately I set off on a new spring cleaning mission of renewal, rather than removal.

Admittedly, this kitchen equipment renovation began months ago, giving me time enough to torture test these new tools for all they’re worth. Now that this season of revival is upon us, it’s with great pleasure and confidence that I can trash the previous set of decrepit pans in favor of my gorgeous 10-Piece Circulon Baking Set, in a very fetching shade of chocolate brown, no less. What could be better for a dessert fiend?

Not all baking sheets are created equal; a critical element that’s sadly overlooked when it comes to most recipe disappointments. Having a reliably non-stick surface that cooks evenly, browns properly, and retains heat as expected is the single most important component of any edible creation that goes into the oven, sweet or savory. For baking dishes of any depth, having wide enough handles for easy removal is also key, lest you plan on feeding your latest creations directly to the floor below. From the loaves to squares to sheets, this new set has proven its worth through every trial by fire, coming clean with equal ease once its duty is done. The matching cooling rack and covered rectangular lid for easy transport are truly the icing AND cherries on the heavy-gauge steel cake.

Equally matched in beauty and functionality, my gleaming behemoth Anolon Vesta Cast Iron Umber 12-inch Skillet has the capacity to feed an army with a serious sweet tooth. This workhorse is truly a beast, with the weight and heft to withstand any amount of heat. Transitioning from stove top to oven like a champ, I’ve used it to make everything from glorious golden brown pancakes, crisp grilled cheese sandwiches, juicy fresh fruit cobblers, and far beyond. The porcelain enamel exterior adds flair to this kitchen essential, adding a touch of personality without compromising performance.

Is it time you considered an equipment refresh of your own? When was the last time you examined your arsenal of tools with a critical eye, taking stock of their true shortcomings? Pots and pans aren’t forever, and making one small upgrade can have a huge impact on all of your culinary exploits.

These pieces were provided for the sake of review, but there was no obligation nor expectation of a feature. All opinions and content are my own.

No Churn? No Problem!

tIn the heat of the moment, or scorching rays of the sun, as it may be, it’s easy to get carried away. Serial shoppers and gadgeteers alike can relate, getting swept up by the temptation of shiny new toys and tools guaranteed to make life easier, cleaner, brighter, tastier, smarter, or generally yet indefinably better. While ice cream makers are seen as a superfluous luxury good for most casual kitchen creatives, rapidly advancing technology has brought the average entry-level machine down to pocket change territory.  Even for an impulse buy, you could do much greater budgetary damage with just a few fancy umbrella drinks on the beach.


No-Churn Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

As a self-professed ice cream obsessive, it should come as no surprise that I’ll always advocate churning your own frozen treats above all else. Sadly, I’ve come across scores of misinformed folks that think it’s an arduous process, not worth the time or effort, having never been fortunate enough to taste the fruits of that labor themselves. Lacking the proper equipment should no longer be a valid excuse for not diving in, or at least dipping a toe in, to the refreshing world of iced sweet treats.

Believe it or not, any ice cream base can be made without a machine, right here and now, with a wide range of alternative methods at your disposal. Start with a solid recipe and clear out your freezer; your summer is about to get a whole lot cooler.


Carrot Granita

1. The Granita Method: A traditional Italian method of making fruit-based ices much like instant snow cones, this method creates desserts with larger, crunchy ice crystals. That same idea can be used with an ice cream base, and naturally yield smoother, creamier results. Simply prepare your ice cream recipe of choice as directed, and chill thoroughly. Pour out the cold mixture into a baking dish. The exact size is not important, provided it can fit comfortably in your freezer on a flat surface. Don’t chance it and try to balance the pan on top of numerous unequally sized items; trust me, it’s a pain to clean melted and re-frozen liquids from inside a freezer! Simply bear in mind that the larger the pan, the greater surface space the base will have, and the faster it will freeze.

Place your baking dish filled with liquid ice cream base in the freezer, and let it sit for 30 – 45 minutes. At this point, it should begin to freeze around the edges. Take a fork and scrape up those ice crystals into the center. Place it back in the freezer, and repeat this process every 30 minutes or so until the entire contents of the pan has frozen; approximately 2 – 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the freezer and size of the pan. When ready, spoon into glasses and serve immediately, or it will ultimately freeze solidly into once piece.

2. The Cube-and-Crush Method: Easier than the granita method but similar in concept, this approach is much less hands-on, so you can occupy yourself with other projects while the actual freezing takes place. Additionally, this procedure yields ice cream that’s more like a soft serve texture. Pour prepared and thoroughly chilled ice cream base into one or two ice cube trays, and set them on a flat surface in your freezer. Smaller cubes are better, as they’ll freeze faster and put less of a strain on your blender. Allow at least 6 – 8 hours for the ice cream cubes to freeze solidly, but you can prepare them up to this stage a day or two in advance. When the need for ice cream strikes, pop out at least one tray of cubes at a time, and plunk them into your blender or food processor. Begin by pulsing to break them up, and then puree just long enough to get the ice cream smooth and creamy. Be careful not to overdo it, or the entire mixture will melt. Serve immediately.


Citrus Popsicles

3. Popsicle Method: This should be a foreign concept to precisely no one, but an idea worth revisiting. All it takes is chilled ice cream base poured into pop molds and frozen until solid. To get a stick to stand up straight, be sure to insert it about 30 – 45 minutes after first placing the molds in the freezer, so that the mixture has had time to thicken up a bit. If you don’t already own molds, seek those that are BPA-free, or rig your own by lining up paper cups on a baking sheet. Lollipop sticks or wooden popsicle sticks can be found in most craft or kitchen supply stores.

4. Coffee Can/Baggie Method: Although arguably the most involved of all four approaches, this procedure can be a fun activity for a crowd, and especially with young children. It makes the smallest amount of ice cream at a time as well, so you must start with a maximum of only 2 cups (1 cup) of prepared, chilled ice cream base. In addition to the edibles, you will need a cleaned and rinsed coffee can that once held 3 pounds of coffee (gallon baggie), and a second that once held 1 pound of coffee (1-pint baggie). Additionally, you should have at least 1 ½ cups (6 tablespoons) of rock salt, 10 cups of ice cubes, and strong duct tape on hand.

Pour the chilled base into the smaller can, and tape it up tightly. Place it in the larger can, and surround it with salt and ice, layering the two a few scoops at a time. Seal the larger can with duct tape as well, and start rolling! Roll the can on its side, shake it up, or toss it around continuously; anything to keep it moving. The ice cream should be rather soft, but ready to eat in about 20 – 30 minutes.

Even if you can’t spare the cash or counter space for a full-featured ice cream machine, that shouldn’t stop you from chilling out with a double or triple scoop treat this season. Skip the churn, but give it a whirl!

Short, Sweet, and Sharp

This is not a gift guide. To call it as much would be self-congratulatory exaggeration, promising far greater shopping insights than such a short list could deliver. The truth of the matter is that every year, I dream of highlighting my favorite products, sharing them far and wide, but every year I find that proposition entirely overwhelming. A serial online shopper, I’m guilty of stuffing my virtual cart all year round, amounting to scores of marvelous new finds that go entirely unsung, despite best intentions.

Besides, I’m not about to declare how you should be spending your hard-earned money, whether it’s on gifts for loved ones or yourself. Rather, this is just a short, sweet, and sharp round up of just the latest things I’m loving, and think that you might enjoy, too.

Short: Microplane has become synonymous with the product they’ve innovated, and for good reason. They continue to produce the incontrovertibly best tools for removing zest in short, attractive, and flavorful little strips, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of their range. All graters are not created equal, and now that Microplane offers a wide variety of shredding textures through their attractive Master Series, I could never go back to my cheap dollar store stand-in. From fine to extra coarse, these sharp tools are a simple but drastic upgrade for anyone who likes to zest it up in the kitchen.

Sweet: Opening up this box on Christmas Day really would be pretty magical for recipients of any age. Custom made to your tastes, the Magic Candy Factory lets buyers pick out flavors, shapes, and glittery finishes to fabricate their very own 3D-printed gummy candies. All vegan, delicious, and beautifully rendered, this just might be the big winner of the gift giving season. After all, who could ever be disappointed by a mango-flavored, sparkling, gummy octopus?

Sharp: They say you should never give a knife as a present because it will sever your relationship with that person, but I’m not buying it. I am, however, buying this Wüsthof Epicure 9″ Double-Serrated Bread Knife, which cuts through even the toughest crusts just like… Well, you know. Those pointed teeth really dig right in and create clean slices with little effort. Leave your dull knife in the dust and consider upgrading your current arsenal with this well-balanced blade.

Now tell me, what are you currently loving, coveting, and craving? There’s always space for more on my wish list…