If you've ever been to a restaurant and wondered how the chef sliced the mushrooms in such neat, uniform pieces, or how the kitchen presented dishes like salmon tartare so impeccably, wonder no more. Martha shares some kitchen secrets that are so useful, you'll marvel that you ever got by without them.
Assembling Salmon Tartare
An inexpensive alternative to ring molds, which are used to create impressive first courses or beautiful desserts, is everyday PVC (polyvinyl chloride) piping. PVC piping is generally used for plumbing, and can be found in your local hardware store for less than $1. Cut the piping to a size that suits your particular purpose. To re-create the flawlessly presented salmon tartare, do the following: Rub the inside of the piping with vegetable oil, or use a cooking spray to prevent food from sticking to the sides. Pour in a layer of finely diced cucumbers dressed in champagne vinegar, followed by a layer of diced raw salmon, and another layer of cucumbers. Gently pull up the piping, and top the tartare with a dollop of creme fraiche.
A garlic peeler, found at most housewares stores, is an indispensable kitchen tool that turns a tedious job into a simple one. Break the garlic into individual cloves, insert them into the tube, and roll gently for perfectly peeled cloves.
Using a sharp knife to slice a mushroom into perfect slivers is time-consuming. Adapting another kitchen tool -- an egg slicer -- will serve your purpose in a quicker manner and ensure uniform thickness for even cooking and a neater presentation. Thoroughly wash the mushrooms, and brush away any dirt. Place one mushroom on the egg slicer, and push it through. You can also use an egg slicer to cut through balls of mozzarella cheese.
To prevent sticky ingredients, such as dried fruit, honey, molasses, and Karo syrup, from "gumming up" cooking implements -- knives, spatulas, measuring cups -- coat them with cooking spray. Any residue can then be easily wiped off with a towel or sponge.
Baking Leaf Tuile Cookies
Draw a leaf outline on the lid of a plastic container, cut the shape out, and discard the cut-out. Place the lid on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat baking mat, and spread a thin layer of white or chocolate dough inside the open part of the stencil. Remove the stencil form, and decorate each leaf cookie by piping "veins" with a pastry bag filled with contrasting-colored dough before baking. When you remove the cookies from the oven, mold them over a rolling pin. Once set, their shape will resemble the curved French roofing tiles for which they're named.
PVC piping is available at hardware stores. Garlic peelers, egg slicers, and Silpat baking mats are available at kitchen-supply stores.