Charred Bell Pepper | Cooking With Bells On

Kitchen Hack #3: Charring Peppers Upside Down

Lately I’ve been charring a lot of peppers in development of recipes for this blog. I used to think that the technique – essentially burning peppers over a gas flame in order to loosen the skin for peeling – was mostly unnecessary outside the professional kitchen. Home cooks shouldn’t be so picky as to care about having the experience of a dish tarnished by the snappy bite of a little vegetable skin, right?

Maybe not. I recently began to evolve on this point when I realized that charring poblanos could lend a smoky flavor to my lentil soup. Then I began working on a new recipe featuring red bell peppers, and as I’ve been testing and retesting it over the past week I realized that the skins absolutely had to go for the recipe to work. The thing is, when your recipe calls for 4 red bell peppers, charred, peeled, and seeded, and when you’re making that recipe three or four times in as many days, charring peppers becomes a major pain in the butt. After spending several hours over the past week turning peppers over the stove (many thanks to Brian for manning that station more than once), I decided there had to be a better way.

It took some trial and error, but I eventually settled on a technique to hack the charred pepper. My initial goal was to simplify the process so that it would be less time consuming, but I am pleased to say that my hack actually improved on the efficacy of the pepper-charring as well! The peppers actually burn more evenly, leaving behind no trace of unblemished skin that would otherwise be difficult to peel. So go ahead and forget the tedious stove-top method you were using before; my strategy works better.

To hack charred peppers I use the exposed flame of my broiler to char the peppers for me – I char them upside down! The trick is to deal with the indented shape of the peppers, which makes it nearly impossible for the peppers to blacken evenly (or sometimes at all). To resolve this issue, I remove the core of the pepper and press them flat. By laying the peppers flat against a sheet pan, I am able to easily char several peppers at a time without attending to them at the stove.

Kitchen Hack: Charring Peppers Upside Down

This technique works for any kind of large pepper (bell pepper, jalapeno, poblano, anaheim, etc). Be aware that your kitchen will smell like something is burning as you char the peppers – you’re not doing it wrong, I promise, just open a window.

  1. Place a rack on the top shelf of your oven and turn on the broiler. Line a baking pan with tinfoil.
  2. Cut both ends off the pepper and slice down one side. Remove the seeds and lie the pepper flat, skin-side up. Press firmly to flatten to break and flatten any kinks.
  3. Place the peppers under the broiler until they are just about entirely black, 10-15 minutes.
  4. Remove the blackened peppers and place in a bowl. Cover and let steam for 15 minutes. Peel the peppers and rinse under the tap, if necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

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Frozen Lemons and Limes | Cooking With Bells On

Kitchen Hack #2: Freeze Your Citrus

Last week I shared with you the easiest way to poach an egg, and I was so excited to see how that little hack inspired a few of you to try out that technique in your own kitchens. Today I’m back with another simple little kitchen hack, one I know will also streamline your work in the kitchen by making sure that you never run out of citrus.

In my own kitchen I use citrus on a daily basis. Because I rarely cook with recipes, I rely on my intuition and personal tastes to inform me of when a dish needs tweaking. If a dish is bland, it sometimes needs a bit of salt or pepper to bring it to life. If a dish is a bit too fatty, or bitter, or still bland despite extra seasoning, I usually turn to acid to make things right. Vinegar works to bring acid in a pinch, but there is really nothing that adds fresh zing! like a squeeze of lemon or lime. Unlike salt or vinegar, lemons and limes unfortunately go bad, and even the most well stocked kitchens can run dry of essential citrus, meaning that every once in a while you might turn around to find yourself helpless at bringing your fish/salad/vegetables/whatever to life.

Much like running out of salt, running out of citrus is a situation I like to avoid, so I’ve developed this kitchen hack to make sure that never happens. Here’s how it works: freeze your citrus. I know, that didn’t really blow your mind or anything – I’m just telling you to use your freezer, which you already knew you could do – but it really shocks me that no one else does this. Why does no one else do this!?

When I first started freezing citrus, I did so only to use up the bounty of fruit I knew would wither on my counter. (I mistakenly ordered three bags too many of on-sale lemons and limes from Fresh Direct.) After a few weeks, though, I realized that I always had on hand the lemons and limes that I needed, and I wasn’t stomping around my kitchen angry that I had forgotten to replenish my supply at the store.

Quite by accident, I also discovered that frozen citrus produces way more juice than room temperature citrus. Seriously. If you’re making guacamole and using thawed frozen limes, expect to need 1-2 limes fewer than you might otherwise use. My theory on the magic juice-producing potential goes like this: the water in limes freezes into ice crystals, those ice crystals puncture holes the membranes of juice-containing pods in the lime, then those holes allow more delicious juice to flow out of the lime when it is thawed. Is this hard science? Maybe not, but it makes sense to me.

So now that I’ve convinced you that running out of citrus is the worst, and that freezing your citrus is the bestlet me give you a run down on exactly how to execute this hack.

  1. Slice your lemons and limes into halves or quarters. Bonus points for zesting the fruits first. (Zest holds up great in the freezer, too!)
  2. Scatter the sliced fruit onto a parchment lined baking sheet and set in the freezer to freeze-dry for at least 2 hours.
  3. Regain your freezer space by moving the frozen citrus into large freezer bags.
  4. Anytime you want to use the citrus, simply thaw in the microwave!

Tweet: This simple #kitchenhack over on #cookingwithbellson will make sure you NEVER run out of #citrus again! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/LadCv+Tweet: This simple #kitchenhack over on #cookingwithbellson will make sure you NEVER run out of #citrus again! via @kemayell http://ctt.ec/LadCv+

Want to use up that citrus you just froze? Try those lemons in my Super Salsa Verde, or give the limes a squeeze over my Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roasted Chicken, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Bok Choy.

Perfect Poached Egg (In a Microwave) | Cooking With Bells On

Kitchen Hack #1: Poaching an Egg in the Microwave

Today I’m introducing a new segment to the blog called Kitchen Hacks, where I share with you some of the little tricks I’ve learned that can help you get in and out of the kitchen in less time and with less mess. Let’s kick things off with a simple trick to help you poach a perfect egg.

I don’t know about you, but I always found poaching to be the trickiest of egg preparations to master. If you don’t have a perfect technique down, you end up asking a million questions to figure out why your egg didn’t turn out right. How hot was the water supposed to be? How should I know if it’s done? Where did all these whispy whites come from? Why does my egg look scraggly instead of smooth? And then there are the myriad tips that you hear about poaching an egg – add vinegar! don’t add vinegar! swirl the water! – which are supposed to help, but instead making the process more complicated.

Here’s a way to make things less complicated: use your microwave. Okay, okay, I know microwaving an egg is not sexy, but once you see how well it works I suspect you’ll be a convert. Even after mastering a proper poached egg on the stovetop, I still use the microwave most often to poach my eggs. Why? Because the microwave produces consistent results that are difficult to replicate with a pot of boiling water.

This makes sense when you compare the environment of a pot of boiling water to that of a microwave. The boiling water is volatile, and the temperature can fluctuate based on the heat of the stove and the temperature of the egg introduced; each time you boil water for an egg the conditions differ slightly. A microwave, on the other hand, produces the same temperatures at the same rate every time it is used, making it an incredibly predictable and, as I said before, consistent tool.

So go ahead and give your microwave a try next time you want to poach an egg. In less than two minutes you’ll have a beautiful egg, with silky yet firm whites and a perfectly creamy yolk. Thanks to this little trick, I find myself cracking open an egg a bit more often, and I hope you will, too. Enjoy your poached egg with crumbled bacon on a salad of mixed greens, broken over a platter grilled seasonal vegetables, or (my favorite) served for breakfast overtop leftover mashed white sweet potatoes.

Tweet: Wait, you can poach an egg in the microwave? Oh yeah. via @kemayell #cookingwithbellson. http://ctt.ec/8j3b3+ Tweet: Wait, you can poach an egg in the microwave? Oh yeah. via @kemayell #cookingwithbellson. http://ctt.ec/8j3b3+

Perfect Poached Egg (In the Microwave)

Makes 1 poached egg

The one tip I will endorse from the millions recommended for poaching a perfect egg: strain your egg. Adding vinegar or swirling the water isn’t tremendously useful, but straining the egg in a slotted spoon does make a noticeable impact. The bit that is strained off is the more watery part of the white that might otherwise end up as stringy whisps in the water.

Ingredients:

water

1 egg

Method:

1. Fill a small bowl with 2-3 inches of water.

2. Crack the egg over a slotted spoon and allow the watery part of the egg to drain off. You can jiggle the spoon a little to help, but you don’t need to force the egg through. Slide the egg into the bowl of water.

3. Microwave on high for 1:20 to 1:40**. The egg is ready when the whites have turned opaque but still jiggle slightly.

4. Remove egg with slotted spoon and serve immediately. (If you plan to cook another egg in the same bowl after the first one, start with cold water again.)

**Know your microwave! They are not all the same. Don’t worry if your egg cooks in only a minute – perhaps your microwave is much stronger than mine. Watch through the window the first time you microwave an egg  to figure out exactly how long it will take.