If you can push a button, you can make gazpacho.
Put chopped fresh tomatoes (it doesn't matter how many) and about one-third as many peeled, seeded, chopped cucumbers into a blender; add a little chopped onion and minced garlic along with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil; toss in dill, spices such as pepper and a dash of wine vinegar; push "mince," "grate," "puree," "shred" or whatever other button you want; and voila--a healthful, cold summer soup to take the edge off the heat.
The point here: Blenders are not just for smoothies--or daiquiris.
That's how it is throughout your kitchen. You've got "untapped" equipment that can be used in ways you haven't thought of to prepare dishes that are nutritious, low in fat and good-tasting all at once. Some of the country's top chefs and cookbook writers have been onto it for some time.
Consider the way the blender is used by Rozanne Gold, who was consulting chef to The Rainbow Room in New York for nine years and is author of the "Recipes 1-2-3" cookbook (Little Brown). "If I make linguini," she says, "I take some of the hot cooking water, fresh parsley and flavored olive oil" and blend them together in the blender to pour over the pasta. It could be used in place of a cream sauce. "I just recently started freezing olive oil in little ice cube trays," she says. Just a cube of frozen oil "makes the sauce very, very creamy" without adding too many calories.
Gold also uses Dixie cups to make yogurt cheese. Here's her method: Take about a half-dozen cups, poke little holes in their bottoms with kabob skewers and fill each cup with yogurt. Then put the cups on a rack with a pan underneath, and refrigerate. When the liquid drains out (after four to eight hours), remove the yogurt from the cups. Each perfectly shaped yogurt cheese mound--high in calcium and with little to no fat--can then be used, say, as the centerpiece of a dessert surrounded by a fruit sauce and sprinkled with berries. Or try it as a first course--surrounded with oven-roasted tomatoes and drizzled with olive oil.
Another trick of Gold's is to use a metal tea ball "with all the little holes in it" to make something of a bouquet garnie. "Put spices in it," she says, "and dip it into soups or stews. That way, "you don't have to mess around with a cheesecloth." You can also fill a tea ball with star anise, cinnamon and cloves to flavor a warm apple cider. The more you make of spices, herbs and the like, you less fat you need to carry flavor.
That's why Sarah Fritschner, author of "Express Lane Cookbook" (Houghton Mifflin), makes spice rubs with a coffee grinder.
Few words will send a busy cook away from a recipe faster than "with a mortar and pestle," she says. But a coffee grinder can grind fresh spices in seconds to rub on lean cuts of meat--and take over the taste buds where the fat ends. (The grinder easily comes clean by rubbing with a dry paper towel.)
For two to three pounds of chicken breast, she recommends:
* two tablespoons ground cumin
* one tablespoon each paprika, chili powder and dried oregano
* two teaspoons light brown sugar
* one teaspoon each freshly ground pepper and salt.
If you want to go Caribbean on, for example, fish fillets, go with:
* three tablespoons each whole coriander, cumin seed, and paprika
* two tablespoons each whole black peppercorns, whole allspice berries and ginger
* one tablespoon each curry powder and cayenne pepper.
For making the best-tasting tofu dishes, which are high in the soy protein that research indicates may help ward off heart disease, Asian cooking connoisseur Nina Simonds recommends a cast iron frying pan or Dutch oven--but not necessarily to cook the tofu. Rather, she uses heavy cookware "as a press to get as much liquid as you can out of it. It's the best thing to do with tofu to get people to eat it," she says. "Getting the water out allows other flavors to penetrate." Simonds, the author of "A Spoonful of Ginger: Irresistible, Health-Giving Recipes from Asian Kitchens (Alfred A. Knopf), adds that people also find the firmer texture more to their liking.
Steven Raichlen, who penned the "High-Flavor, Low-Fat" cookbook series (Viking), advises turning a wok into a stove-top smoker. Line the wok with foil and put a tablespoon of wood chips at the bottom--cherry, hickory or whatever other flavor suits you. Then put a round cake rack on top of the wok and put your kitchen fan on full blast to deal with the smoke.
"I love to smoke salmon" that way, Raichlen says. "Turn the heat on high, and when you see whiffs of smoke, turn it down to medium. Then cover it. Cook the salmon for about 20 minutes." It gives the fish that "hammy, bacony flavor" without any fat, Raichlen explains. It also works on chicken breast.
Raichlen also recommends using the grill "for things that are often deep-fried.
"I live in Miami," he says. "One of my favorite dishes is fried plantains--the Cuban version of french fries. Cooking them over a high-heat grill gives them the same caramelization of sugars [as frying]--wonderful taste without the fat."
John Willoughby, co-author of "License to Grill" (William Morrow) suggests using a garlic press to juice ginger as opposed to using a ginger grater. "You scrape your knuckles with the grater," he says.
James Peterson, who wrote the James Beard Award winner "Vegetables" (William Morrow), grills bell peppers on his electric stove by bending a wire coat hanger into a trivet-like device. Bend the sides of the hanger down and set it flat on the stove-top electric coil. Then place the pepper on top. The distance from the heat source created by the wire is just enough to give the pepper some charred skin.
Peterson isn't the only one to use items in the kitchen that come from other rooms.
The author of "The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook," Jack Bishop, sometimes employs a plastic comb to imprint ridges into gnocchi. ("The ridges are where the sauce adheres," he explains.) Rolling the gnocchi over a comb to create the ridges is easier than working with the tines of a fork. "Presumably," Bishop says, "it's a comb you haven't used on your hair."
Another bathroom tool found in Bishop's kitchen is a toothbrush "to get lemon zest out of a grater."
Half the zest always "ends up between the little holes in the grater," he says. "It's wet and sticky, and banging it against the counter" to get it out doesn't work. But with a toothbrush, he says, "you can brush it all out." When you're done, just put the toothbrush in the dishwasher to clean it, he advises.
Finally, Paula Wolfert, who wrote "The Cooking of South-West France" (HarperCollins), says she uses a melon baller "to remove the choke from artichokes."
In addition, she explains that a great way to get fat out of homemade confit of duck is to steam it in your couscous cooker. "You could also steam the confit in a covered colander over boiling water," she offers. Of course, if you're making your own duck confit, you probably have your own couscous cooker.