Quick And Easy Shortcuts Inspired By The Kitchen

Season 3, Episode 9: Kitchen Confessions

Marcela: store-bought salsa

Sunny: pancake mix

Katie: whipped topping, but she doctors it up with sour cream

Jeff: whipped cream in a can

Geoffrey: peeled garlic

These are the shortcuts that the stars of the Food Network show, The Kitchen, use in their cooking when they need to get something on the table fast, and don’t have time to whip up all the components from scratch. (For those of you who watch the show, this is an old episode that I was watching the other day; Marcela is no longer on the show now.) They were very ashamed of these secrets, and I was hysterical laughing as I watched this segment. Anyway, they might be ashamed of them, but they don’t mean they’re not good chefs; I mean, I might not be a chef on Food Network, but I am a teen chef who uses shortcuts a lot (mainly because my mom doesn’t want me to make more of a mess than I already do, but still, some are just better for all of us). There’s canned beans (something that most of us probably use often because we don’t want to bother soaking dried beans overnight and letting them cook the next day for multiple hours), canned/frozen fruits and vegetables (certain canned ones actually taste good; I like canned corn, artichokes, hearts of palm, peaches, pineapple, mandarin oranges, etc., and there are frozen fruit/veggie mixes made for smoothies and stir-fries, etc.), pre-made pie crust (I bet most of you use it just like me; I make homemade pie crust every once in a while, but it’s just not something that I want to make all the time because it can be time consuming), jarred sauces (I make some of them homemade a lot now, like marinara and basil pesto (my favorite), but I use these ones on occasion, very little, though), condiments (so, you can certainly make homemade mayonnaise and ketchup and barbecue sauce and stuff like that, but so far, I haven’t, so you don’t have to either, although I have made flavored mayos for sandwich spreads and sauces, and I’ve also made a sauce similar to barbecue sauce, but it has some different flavors to it), etc. These are just a few of so many different kitchen shortcuts you can take, some of which are farfetched, so just know that (I’m talking about the condiments). Speaking of which, when I comes to making sauces, I learned a trick from Guy’s Grocery Games (well, I saw it on an episode, but I probably had the trick in my arsenal before then): when you can’t afford a lot of things or whatever it is, you can always use some store-bought sauces to create your own sauces, and I find that it goes beyond just doctoring it up sometimes (sometimes, not always, but still: I think this could be helpful). So, yeah, I find that these are just great tips, and definitely, when it comes to cooking, shortcuts are the way to go if you want to make things that are quick and easy, and I think that especially for people who are really busy, which I think is most of us, these would be most helpful.


Sophie’s Coconut Custard Pie

A beautiful, yet easy pie with a nice rich, tropical flavor for all you coconut-lovers like me that’s perfect for a family birthday party. Enjoy.

1 9″ Graham Cracker Crust

1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar

1/4 Stick Butter or Margarine, Melted

4 Whole Eggs

1 Cup Milk

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter, eggs, milk, vanilla, and sweetened coconut, and pour into crust.

3. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

4. Remove from oven, and enjoy.

Yields: 1 coconut custard pie

Sophie’s Sweet And Spicy Beef Empanadas

Mexican meat pies with a great balance of flavors that taste just like the ones you buy. Enjoy.

2 9″ Pie Crusts

All Purpose Flour

1 lb Ground Beef

1/4 Onion, Peeled And Diced

2 Garlic Cloves, Peeled And Minced

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Sazón, to taste

Tomato Paste

Sweet Chili Sauce

Raisins (optional)

1 Whole Egg, Beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Take the pie crust out of the shell, and press it together. Flatten out the dough on a clean work surface that has been sprinkled with some flour to prevent it from sticking, and, using a bowl as your guide, use a knife to cut it into circles.

3. Oil a pan, and add garlic. Sauté until slightly browned, add onion, and let cook.

4. Add ground beef, crumble it, and season with salt and pepper and sazón. Brown it, and stir in tomato paste and sweet chili sauce.

5. Drain on a paper towel, and set aside.

6. Spoon some filling into the center of each circle, and place a few raisins (if using) on them. Fold it in half, and press it down on the edges so the ends stick to each other. Press down on the center to slightly flatten the filling, seal the edges by crimping them with a fork, and continue doing that with the rest of the circles and the remaining filling.

7. Use a pastry brush or your finger to brush the tops of the empanadas with the beaten egg, and place them in two baking tins.

8. Bake for 10 minutes.

9. Remove from oven, let cool, and enjoy.

Yields: 6 empanadas

Sophie’s Turkey Pad Thai-Inspired Bánh Mi Burgers With Rice “Noodle” And Pickled Vegetable Slaw And Sweet Chili Mayo

A classic Vietnamese sandwich transformed into a burger with my own little twists that’s just as flavorful. Enjoy.

4 Hamburger Buns

1 lb Ground Turkey

Coconut Milk

Fish Sauce, to taste

Granulated Sugar, to taste

Lemon Zest

Fresh Mint Leaves, Washed And Chopped

Lime Juice

Sesame Oil

Hoisin Sauce, to taste

Salt and Pepper, to taste

2 Garlic Cloves, Peeled And Grated

Chinese Five-Spice Powder, to taste

Rice Paper Wrappers, Cut Into Strips

Warm Water

1 Cup Carrots, Washed, Peeled, Halved Widthwise, And Julienned

Radishes, Washed And Thinly Sliced

Bean Sprouts

Green Peppers, Washed, Seeded, And Sliced

1/4 head Red Cabbage, Washed, Cored, And Grated

2 Scallions, Washed And Thinly Sliced

Fresh Cilantro Leaves, Washed And Chopped


Rice Vinegar, to taste

Granulated Sugar, to taste

Salt, to taste

Fresh Ginger Root, Peeled And Chopped, to taste

Sesame Seeds


Sweet Chili Sauce

1/2 Stick Butter or Margarine, Softened

For the original burgers:

1. In a medium bowl, combine ground turkey, coconut milk, fish sauce, granulated sugar, lemon zest, chopped fresh mint leaves, lime juice, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, salt and pepper, grated garlic, and Chinese five-spice powder with your hands, and form into patties.

2. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet, cook the burgers, bottom-sides down, until those sides are brown, and flip. Repeat with the other sides down, and cover when and if necessary to cook the insides.

3. Uncover, remove from pan, and set aside.

For the pickled vegetables:

1. In a saucepan, dissolve granulated sugar and salt in water and rice vinegar, stir in chopped fresh ginger and sesame seeds, and bring to a boil. Bring the mixture to a simmer, place julienned carrots, thinly sliced radishes, bean sprouts, and sliced green peppers into a medium bowl, and pour the pickling liquid over them. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

For the slaw:

1. Soak rice paper strips in warm water until soft and workable, using your hands to move them around as they soak. This should take about 20 seconds or so.

2. Drain pickled vegetables, and discard pickled ginger. Pour back into the bowl, and stir in grated red cabbage, thinly sliced scallions, chopped fresh cilantro leaves, and rice “noodles”.

For the sweet chili mayo:

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo and sweet chili sauce.

For the finished burgers:

1. Spread 1/4 stick of butter on the cut side of each hamburger bun.

3. Toast them, butter-side down, in a cast iron skillet until warm.

4. Spread sweet chili mayo on toasted buns, top half with the cooked turkey mixture and pickled “noodle” and vegetable slaw, and flip the other halves onto them. Press the burgers down, so they stay together, and enjoy.

Yields: 4 turkey pad-thai inspired bánh mi burgers with rice “noodle” and pickled vegetable slaw and sweet chili mayo

Sophie’s Spiced Carrot Cake Muffins With Sweet Potato Filling And Spiced Oat And Nut Streusel

Sweet, creamy, and crunchy muffins with loads of flavor inspired by a Round 1 challenge on an episode of Bakers vs. Fakers. Enjoy.

2 Cups All Purpose Flour, Divided Use

1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar

1/2 tsp Salt, Divided Use

2 tsp Baking Powder

Ground Cinnamon, to taste

Ground Nutmeg, to taste

1 Whole Egg

1 Cup, plus 2 Tbsp Whole Milk or Half And Half or Heavy Cream

1 1/2 tsp Distilled White Vinegar

1 Tbsp Honey


1/2 Cup Pineapple Juice

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract

1/4 Cup Carrot, Washed And Grated

1/4 Cup Crushed Pineapple, Drained

1/2 can Sweet Potato Purée

Greek Yogurt

Coconut Cream


Maple Syrup

Dates, Pitted

3/4 Stick Cold Butter or Margarine, Cut Into Cubes

1/4 Cup Packed Dark Brown Sugar

Rolled Oats

Walnuts, Roasted, Salted, And Chopped

Sweetened Coconut

For the original muffins:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of flour, granulated sugar, 1/4 tsp of salt, baking powder, some ground cinnamon, and some ground nutmeg.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, whole milk, vinegar, honey, molasses, pineapple juice, and vanilla, and beat into dry mixture.

4. Squeeze moisture out of grated carrot, and fold it and crushed pineapple into the batter. Grease muffin cups inside muffin pan with olive oil cooking spray, and divide the batter between the cups as equally and accurately as possible, stopping when the batter is almost to the top of the cup.

5. Bake until golden brown.

6. Remove from oven, and set aside.

For the sweet potato filling:

1. In a food processor, grind together sweet potato puree, Greek yogurt, coconut cream, applesauce, maple syrup, and dates until smooth.

For the spiced oat and nut streusel:

1. In a small bowl, combine remaining flour, brown sugar, remaining salt, some more ground cinnamon, some more ground nutmeg, rolled oats, chopped walnuts, sweetened coconut, and butter with a pastry cutter until course crumbs form.

For the finished muffins:

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F on broil.

2. Scoop out the center of each muffin, and spoon some of the sweet potato filling inside. Press the scooped-out centers back on top, and sprinkle each with some of the streusel.

3. Bake until the streusel is nice and golden brown on each.

4. Remove from oven, and enjoy.

Yields: a dozen muffins

Sophie’s Southern Caprese With Thai Vinaigrette

A caprese salad platter with my own version of classic Southern fried green tomatoes, no basil, and an Asian-influenced vinaigrette instead of the usual balsamic vinegar. Enjoy.

Green Tomatoes, Washed And Sliced

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Yellow Cornmeal

1 Burrata Ball, Sliced

Hoisin Sauce, to taste

Fish Sauce, to taste

Granulated Sugar, to taste

Sweet Chili Sauce

Liquid Smoke

Lemon Zest

Fresh Ginger Root, Peeled And Grated, to taste

For the original caprese:

1. Season the green tomato slices with salt and pepper and cornmeal.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet, and lightly sear the green tomato slices on both sides.

3. Remove from skillet, lay on a rectangular platter with burrata cheese slices in between, slightly overlapping them and each other, and set aside.

For the Thai vinaigrette:

1. In a small bowl, combine hoisin sauce, fish sauce, granulated sugar, sweet chili sauce, liquid smoke, salt and pepper, lemon zest, and grated fresh ginger root.

For the finished caprese:

1. Drizzle Thai vinaigrette in lines over caprese, and enjoy.

Yields: 1 Southern caprese with Thai vinaigrette

Sophie’s Dark Chocolate Cookie Cake With Yellow Royal Icing And White Chocolate Chips

A chocolatey combination of two favorite desserts that can be personalized for someone special. Enjoy.

1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour

2 Cups Brown Sugar

1/4 tsp Salt

1/2 tsp Baking Soda

1 Stick Butter or Margarine, Softened

2 Whole Eggs

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

Dark Chocolate Chips

1 Tbsp, plus 1 tsp Meringue Powder

4 1/2 Cups Confectioners’ Sugar, Sifted

4 Tbsp Water

Yellow Gel Food Coloring

White Chocolate Chips

For the original cookie cake:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla.

4. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda.

5. Pour in dry ingredients a little bit at a time, let the mixer go until everything is incorporated, and fold in dark chocolate chips.

6. Press into a well greased cake pan.

7. Bake for about 20 minutes.

8. Remove from oven, let cool, and set aside.

For the yellow royal icing:

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip meringue powder, sifted Confectioners’ sugar, water, and yellow gel food coloring until it reaches a toothpaste consistency. If you are having trouble reaching the right consistency, you can adjust the amount of Confectioners’ sugar and water.

For the finished cookie cake:

1. Pour the yellow royal icing into a squeeze bottle, and gently squeeze to pipe on whatever decorations you want. Sprinkle on white chocolate chips, cut, and enjoy.

Yields: 1 dark chocolate cookie cake with yellow royal icing and white chocolate chips

Sophie’s Garlic-Balsamic-Roasted Tomato Gazpacho

A classic cold summer soup turned nice and warm to ward off the winter chill with red grape tomatoes roasted in the oven with minced garlic and balsamic vinegar. Enjoy.

Red Grape Tomatoes, Washed

2 Garlic Cloves, Peeled And Minced

Balsamic Vinegar

1/8 Onion, Washed And Quartered

4 stalks Celery, Washed And Quartered, Divided Use

1 Red Sweet Pepper, Washed, Seeded, And Sliced

1 Orange Sweet Pepper, Washed, Seeded, And Sliced

1 Yellow Sweet Pepper, Washed, Seeded, And Sliced

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F on broil.

2. Combine tomatoes and minced garlic on a baking sheet, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

3. Bake until slightly black and soft.

4. In a food processor, grind together roasted tomatoes with their juices, quartered onion, 2 stalks of celery, red sweet pepper, orange sweet pepper, and yellow sweet pepper until puréed but still chunky, and season with salt and pepper.

5. Pour into a bowl, garnish with remaining celery, and enjoy.

Yields: 1 serving

A New Perspective On The Science Of Baking

So, as most of you know, I like to do my own thing and kind of experiment in my baking, and I’ve previously said that I wanted to work with fondant and start branching out into working with more tools and things to just have more fun and become a better decorator. As of now, I’ve worked with fondant, marzipan, an ISI cream whipper (siphon), and I have a spiralizer in my house (it’s for cooking, but still), as well as a food saver (it keeps food for a longer period of time by sucking air into it, and you can use it instead of a vacuum sealer to infuse flavor into food (it’s great for marinating) in seconds; it’s also less expensive), but the molecular gastronomy episode of Kids Baking Championship (season 3, episode 9, titled Molecular Kidstronomy) that I just rewatched at a few hours earlier (there was a marathon on all day today because the first episode of season 4 is airing right now; I’m currently watching it) has inspired me to want to do more. I want to start working isomalt, which is a sugar substitute, and just sugar in general, like making caramel and candies and stuff, which means I’m going to be working with a candy thermometer as well, which, now, I don’t think I’ll be against. I also want to work more in depth with chocolate, like tempering chocolate, modeling chocolate, maybe even making it because from what I’ve seen, it’s not that hard, and in order to do that, I’m might start working with a corn syrup. I think I’ve always not used it and would always rather use honey because I just don’t really keep corn syrup as a staple in my house, but we always keep honey in my house. Anyway, I also already tried one of the techniques shown on KBC yesterday: I worked with tapioca maltodextrin, which dehydrates fats when grinded with them and resembles snow that tastes like whatever fat you use. Spherification chemicals is another one that I want to try. It creates little pearls, “caviar”, out of liquid by using sodium alginate and calcium chloride. I also want to create foams and gels and work more with gelatin and other gelling agents, like agar agar, and I think I can do foams with the siphon (and possibly the gels, but I’m not exactly sure), so at some point, I want to learn how to do that, as well as the gels like I said. So, I think that’s all I got for this post. This is all really cool, and I’m excited to see what other baking ideas I can come up with in my free time!!!!!

Sophie’s Resolution Fruit Tart With Spiced Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream And Apricot Jam Glaze

A colorful summer dessert transformed for winter that still looks and tastes as good. Enjoy.

1 Cup All Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup, plus 1 Tbsp Granulated Sugar, Divided Use

1/2 tsp Salt

1 1/4 Sticks Cold Butter or Margarine, Cut Into Cubes

1 Whole Egg

1/4 Cup Ice Water

1 Cup Milk

1/4 Cup Cornstarch

4 Egg Yolks

1 Madagascar Vanilla Bean, Caviar Scraped

Ground Cinnamon, to taste

Ground Nutmeg, to taste

Strawberries, Washed And Hulled

Raspberries, Washed

Blueberries, Washed

Kiwi, Washed, Peeled, And Diced

Star Fruit, Washed And Sliced

Apricot Jam or Saucy Susan Peach Apricot or Orange


For the tart crust:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In medium bowl, combine flour, 1 Tbsp of granulated sugar, salt, and butter with a pastry cutter until course crumbs form.

3. Slowly knead in whole egg and ice water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together to form a dough, and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

4. Remove from refrigerator, unwrap, and press into a tart pan.

5. Bake for about 17 minutes.

6. Remove from oven, and let cool.

For the spiced vanilla bean pastry cream:

1. In a saucepan, combine milk, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, caviar from vanilla bean and vanilla bean pod, ground cinnamon, and ground nutmeg, and bring to a boil.

2. In a small bowl, beat egg yolks, remaining granulated sugar, and cornstarch until thick and pale yellow in color.

3. Pour some of the hot milk into the egg mixture to temper them, and add the milk-egg mixture to the rest of the hot milk mixture so that the eggs do not scramble, stirring the mixture until everything is incorporated.

4. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, until thick, and it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees F, turn off the heat, and stir in butter. Let cool, strain into a bowl, and set aside.

For the apricot jam glaze:

1. In a small bowl, combine apricot jam and water.

For the finished tart:

1. Pour spiced vanilla bean pastry cream into tart crust, and top with fruit, placing star fruit on top or in the center depending on how you arrange everything. Lightly brush fruit with apricot jam glaze, and place on a cake stand. Cut, and enjoy.

Yields: 1 resolution fruit tart with spiced vanilla bean pastry cream and apricot jam glaze