It's Time to Face Your Kitchen Fears

The Kitchen explains how to safely conquer three intimidating tools and techniques.

Episode: Conquer and Cook

Ever been scared to make caramel sauce? Does your mandoline make you wary? Fear not! The Kitchen team is here to demystify common cooking challenges and make them a little less intimidating.

Homemade Caramel Sauce

The first technique we'll tackle is making a homemade caramel sauce. Cooking sugar can sometimes freak people out, but there's no need to fear. To do it, you need a saucepan with high sides. Heat 1 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of water over medium-high heat. You can gently swirl the pan in the beginning to wet the sugar, but then leave it to cook without agitation. Allow the mixture to come to a boil.

The best tools to determine whether or not your caramel is done are your eyes. As the sugar starts to boil and thicken, keep an eye on it. Once the color begins to change, it can go quickly from beautifully sweet to burnt and bitter in no time. It will become clear and then progress to a golden/amber or "honey" colored hue. Once you reach the desired color, shut off the heat, pour in 1/2 cup of heavy cream and whisk. The mix will bubble up a lot and then subside. It will still be molten hot, so allow your caramel to cool slightly before serving. Now it's ready to be enjoyed over ice cream, pie or cheesecake!

Mandoline

Our next technique ripe for conquering is mastering the mandoline. The mandoline slicer is a staple of professional kitchens, but so many home cooks fear hurting themselves. Fear Not! We're here to show you the best way to use one.

There are 2 types of mandoline, French and Japanese. We prefer the Japanese because they are less bulky and easy to use and store. You can adjust the thickness of the slice with the dial on the bottom of the mandoline. Using a mandoline will give you uniform slices, making for even cooking of gratins or super-thin homemade potato chips. You can also slice fruits like apples and oranges.

When working with the mandoline, work safely and slowly, keeping your palm flat and your fingers lifted. When the fruit or veggie you're slicing gets smaller, use the hand guard to protect your digits. We know it's tempting, but don't feel like you have to go all the way to the bottom. It's best to be safe and discard the very end. Your mandoline should come with additional blades, making it easy to cut small- or medium-sized matchsticks (julienne) too.

Flambee

The last technique that can give some folks pause is the art of the flambee. Usually catching a hot pan of food on fire is a kitchen "no-no," but doing it in a controlled way can be both delicious and impressive to your guests. We used this method to make Cherries Jubilee, but you can do it with any recipe that calls for flambee. Here are a few easy steps for perfectly safe flambee.

Make sure the contents in the pan are hot and that there are no flammable items such as paper towel or potholders near the stove. Also, be sure not to wear loose-fitting sleeves. You'll need a high-proof alcohol such as rum or brandy to make this work. Never pour directly from the bottle. Doing so could ignite the entire bottle, making it a dangerous projectile. Measure out the proper amount of alcohol into a glass measuring cup or other small glass. If you're using a gas stove, remove the pan away from the flame, then add the alcohol. Use a stick lighter or long match to ignite the edge of the pan. Don't lean over the pan--stand back, keeping a comfortable hold on the pan handle. As the flame subsides, gently jiggle the pan to burn off the remaining flames. Contrary to what was previously believed, a small amount of alcohol will remain in the dish, so keep that in mind if you're serving to children.

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