Thursday, September 15, 2011

Declutter Your Kitchen

For the conscientious homemaker, the kitchen is, for all good purposes, the center of the home. It is where meals are prepared that sustain the family and thrill the guests. With the stresses of modern living, the last thing that one wants is to have to go into a cluttered kitchen. Clutter not only makes it difficult to operate in the kitchen, but also constricts the creative process. For someone wanting to serve up a nice meal, this can lead to a disaster instead. Here are some basic guidelines to make your kitchen clutter-free.

Make the Most of Cabinets and Shelves
Modern apartments tend to be small and the kitchen often gets the least of storage space assigned to it. The solution is to use scientific principles of organizing things. Like most homemakers, you too must be having your own system for organizing your pantry. Apply the same principles here, but more effectively. 
Use the depth of the cabinet to stock similar items. Keep the taller cans, jars and bottles at the back so that they are easily visible. Stack containers on top of each other. Get yourself labels and markers so that you can write what item is in which container. Keep similar items together. You may want to keep all the baking ingredients in one place, all the herbs in one place, and all the outdoor cooking supplies in one place. 

Drawers Can Save Space and Prevent Clutter
Make use of the space under the counter to install drawers. You can have drawers of different heights built so that you can store all kinds of items that you will be needing most frequently while you work. Use partitions to divide your drawers into distinct areas. 

Use Overhead Units for Infrequently Used Items
You can get overhead storage units built if your kitchen does not already have them. These can be used to store items that are not used frequently. If you look around your kitchen you will find many items that only get used on rare occasions but hog up storage all year round. All such items can be kept in these overhead units.

Audit Your Pantry
A common experience for homemakers is to discover forgotten items, packages that have exceeded their use-by date, and remnants of hard-to-identify things. Audit your pantry ruthlessly, and trash all things that are past or close to their use-by date. Throw out everything that you cannot identify. You can also wait till your mother-in-law drops by, so that she gets you to throw them out.

Reclaim the Corners
The corners of the kitchen are spaces that are lost to utility. Browse the home supplies stores for suitable corner storage units. These are ideal for keeping small items such as dried herbs, essences, etc. If you are not hanging roll dispensers, you can use the corners to stand them up.

Practice Keeping Things Back
One of the main sources of kitchen clutter comes from things that have not been put back where they belong. Make it a habit to replace things where you took them from. (This point has been thrust upon this post, and I am leaving it in, since I cannot disagree with it.)

Hang Things That Can Be Hung
Items like cling wrap, paper towels, and aluminum foil can be used from hanging dispensers. This makes them readily available without your having to clutter up your workspace every time you need to use them. The same can be done for pots and pans that can be hung. A wide range of solutions are also available for racks and rails with sliding hooks to hang things from. These can be customized to meet your particular needs. Many appliances such as hand blenders, can openers, detergent dispensers can also be wall mounted in order to reduce clutter.

Stack Up Your Appliances
Several smart and sleek shelving solutions are now available that let you stack your electrical appliances on top of each other. Some of these come with heat insulation and venting so that you can even stack heat emitting appliances in them. You may also want to consider modern multipurpose appliances that combine the functionality of many of the older gadgets. A drastic step would, of course, be to let go of some of the non essential gadgets and appliances. We lived without a fridge for a while, and got by.

I have found that the biggest clutter that we had in our kitchen came from multiple instances of the same item, and from heaps of take-away cartons and containers. The other big piece of clutter was decrepit cookware that we would never use, but did not trash or donate. The same applied to chipped crockery, faded melamine, and non-stick cookware that has begun to stick. There were also a lot of stuff that we bought based on good advertising but never used after the first time, since they were, in one word, useless. Look in your kitchen and ruthlessly throw out all that you are not going to use, and you will be surprised at the sense of freedom it gives you. 

One of the things that I did was to take some of the utensils that came out of this process and use them as planters in the garden. It might have cluttered our balcony garden but it did end up making our kitchen look neater, so there. As you can perhaps make out, this conclusion is building itself as my writing is being reviewed. For those who may be interested in setting up a budget kitchen, you may want to check out an earlier post on how to set up a budget kitchen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cheesecake Factory at Home

I was reviewing my blog stats on the weekend, when I found that 16 visits in the last month to my other duller blog with a duller name, came from searches for "low calorie cheesecake!" And the page that these searches led to was Janis Joplin's birthday post. I wondered about the 16 people, not entirely without regret, and hoped that they had found what they wanted elsewhere.  In an act of pointless compassion, I searched for the exact phrase "low calorie cheesecake," and was shocked to find 94,900 results. The internet is truly amazing. You might even come across a "humble blogger" some day. However, it inspired me to finally reply to the two emails that had asked about keeping this blog alive, and to battle my anhedonia with the only known cure for anhedonia - a good cheesecake.

You will need
1/2 kg Cream cheese (fresh paneer blended well before use works fine)
100 g Sugar
3 Egg yolks (use the whites to make one heart healthy omelet for dinner, obviously only for him, who else would you serve that tasteless thing to!)
200 g digestive biscuits (this is how it is traditionally done, but if you want to do it our way, use the chocolate cream biscuits, more of the bad stuff, but tastier, and the chocolate biscuits turn into something altogether different when they are baked a second time)
50 g Butter(chop it into very small cubes while chilled)

The Crust
Throw the biscuits into a paper bag or a ziploc and crush them like Nigella with a rolling pin and put the traumatized biscuits into a blender. Process till crumbly. Take it out in a bowl and add the butter pieces. Rub the butter with your fingers into the biscuit crumbs till they are gone, and keep mixing till it is evenly spread all over the crumbs, Take this mix and press it into the base of the baking tin, making sure to spread it evenly and into the edges. Place the tin in the deep freezer for about 30 minutes.

The Filling
Put the cottage cheese, sugar, and egg yolks in the blender and blend at low speed till smooth. This should not take more than 1 or 2 minutes. Curb the temptation to go to higher speeds or to blend for longer. Take out the tin with the crust from the freezer, and pour the filling into the tin. In an oven preheated to 170, put the tin in the middle rack and bake for 50 minutes.

The Seasoning
The trick of making good cheesecake is to let it season and rest at every stage. Don't open the oven, but let it stay in the switched off oven for another hour. Take it out after that. There is no way you can undo anything that may have gone wrong, so don't even bother with checking. If you are going to be putting a topping, do that now, and stick it into the refrigerator for at least 12 hours. I have found it best to make cheesecake after dinner, since you are full and don't feel bad about putting this devil-sent cake into the fridge overnight.

The topping
You can let your imagination run wild as far as cheesecake topping is concerned. A classic chocolate topping can be made by melting 25 g butter with 50 g of castor sugar, stirred till bubbling and light brown, to which you add 100 g of dark chocolate, and 50 g of fresh cream and lower the heat, and stir till smooth and free from lumps. Pour this over the cheesecake before you refrigerate. You can also do this 30 minutes into the baking, and let it bake with the cake for the remainder of the time.

The Flipping
If you have not used a springform tin or a tin with a removable bottom, you will have to go around the edges with a spatula, nudging each time at the crust at the bottom, kind of pressing the crust and the cake inwards. As you do this all around the edge, you will feel the crust leave the tin, and the cake move freely. Place a plate over the tin, and holding the tin and plate firmly together, flip. Now take another plate, place it over the inverted cake on the plate, and gently holding the two plates together so that they don't press on the cake, flip again.  Done.

The Secrets
Many small secrets go into the perfect cheesecake. Do not overdo the blending of the ingredients. The light and fluffy of a cheesecake comes from the bake and rest time and the ingredients, not the air beaten into it. Smooth the cheesecake down with the back of a spoon after pouring the filling, this will help pop any air bubbles in the filling. Some cheesecake masters bake at 150 for an hour and let it rest in the oven for another hour. Use a springform tin or a baking tin with a removable bottom if you cannot get a springform tin. If you don't have either, microwave a wet kitchen towel on high for 5 minutes and then place it over the bottom of the baking tin after you have flipped it on the plate; this will help melt the butter and loosen the crust up and make it easier for the cake to plop out. Make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before you start. Cling wrap the cake when refrigerating it so that it does not pick up any odors.

The Truth
There is no such thing as a low calorie cheesecake. Cheesecake was never meant to be low calorie. The ones you can buy commercially are only marginally more dangerous than this recipe. Cheesecake was invented by the devil himself to add those kilos to your weight and test your resolve to have just one small piece and then stop, and there is pretty much nothing anyone can do about it. This is the ultimate proof of human powerlessness!  No point feeling guilty, just give in and surrender.