How to Dice a Bell Pepper

Ah, the elusive bell pepper.  It's awkward shape and strangely stubborn skin.  Cutting this veggie stumped me for a while until I was shown a better way by a fantastic chef in New Zealand. If you need precise cuts, say for garnish or to ensure even cooking times, this is the way to go. Yes, there is more than one way to skin a cat, but this method has always been my favorite.

Step 1:

Using a serrated knife, "top and tail" the pepper, slicing off the top and bottom. This helps to create a nice rectangle to work with.

Step 2:

Stand the pepper up on one of the flat sides, and make a slit all the way down one side.  

Step 3:

Lay the pepper sideways, and use a sawing motion to work the serrated knife around the inside of the skin and around the seeds.  Discard the middle. 

Step 4:

Cut the long rectangle into two smaller, more manageable pieces if you wish.

Step 5:

Switch to a sharp chef's knife.  Place the skin side down.  Using a rocking motion, slice the pepper into strips (1/4" thick for small dice and up to 1" thick for large dice). 

Step 6:

Gather a few of the strips and turn them so they are now perpendicular to the edge of your knife.  Slice across the strips to create a dice, adjusting the thickness as desired. 

Step 7:

You can repeat steps 5 & 6 for the tops and tails of the pepper to avoid waste...just understand that your cuts will be less even.


The Cutting Board Trick

There is a very simple trick to keep your cutting board from sliding and will greatly increase your odds of keeping all 10 fingers intact.  This trick is widely used in professional kitchens and was even required practice in culinary school, but I've rarely seen it used among family and friends.  If you're already doing this...bravo!  

Step 1:  Wet a thin kitchen towel, rag, or washcloth, and ring out excess. 

Step 2:  Lay the towel flat on your prep area.

Step 3:  Place cutting board on top of towel...it shouldn't move. :)

Notes:

  • This works with both plastic and wooden cutting boards.  
  • You can also use a piece of non-slip drawer liner. 

 

Tools of the Trade

You wouldn't try to paint all the walls of your home with one little paint brush, nor would you use hedge trimmers to clip a few herbs from the garden.  In the same way, using the right tools in the kitchen is so important.  They will help you stay sane and dramatically reduce your overall prep time.  The following is a short list of my favorite kitchen gadgets and small appliances. Thank you for reading!

xo,

Bridget


$179.00

Cuisinart 14-cup food processor

I own one of these at home and used the same one at work for three years straight, and the motor never flinched. This product is not intended for commercial use, but I used it as such and really put it through the ringer.  I used it all day, every day and then ran it through a commercial, high-heat dishwasher after each use.  I really can't believe how well it held up.  I only had to replace the work bowl once (about $35), due to a chip in the back that prevented the top from engaging the motor.  I don't imagine a home dishwasher wearing down the work bowl in this way.

I use it for making salsa, pesto, hummus, aioli, Hollandaise, vinaigrettes, minced garlic, pie dough, quiche dough, biscuit dough, and even (gasp) ground chicken.


$267.78

Kitchenaid professional stand mixer

Sure, you could use electric handheld beaters, but the large paddle and whisk attachments on a stand mixer cover the entire area of the bowl, allowing for more even incorporation of ingredients.  

Besides the obvious baking uses, I also use mine for making mashed potatoes, homemade whipped cream, and pizza dough.  It is an absolute necessity when making fancy cake icings such as Italian Meringue Buttercream.

Bonus: it comes in 30+ different colors to suit your personality. 


$55.67

Global 6-inch serrated utility knife

Confession:  I travel with this knife.  I LOVE this knife.  I use it just as much, if not more than my chef's knife.  It's perfect for cutting through tough skins without smashing the product.  I use it for slicing tomatoes, citrus, apples, cucumbers, sausage links, and sandwiches.


$34.95

Cuisinart immersion blender

I've used this handy tool on a regular basis for over three years and it hasn't broken down yet.  Believe it or not, it has actually out-lasted and out-performed a "commercial-grade" one I bought through a vendor at the same time for about five times the price.  It can handle anything from soup to heavy marinara.  I even use it for whisking eggs, which is especially useful when making scrambled eggs for a large crowd.  


$11.95

flexible spatulas

It drives me crazy to watch people on cooking shows try to scrape out a bowl of batter with a large spoon.  Madness!  A flexible spatula is the only way to go.  My pastry chef teacher in culinary school always made us get every last bit.  "There are at least two more cookies and $3.00 of profit left in that bowl," he would say.  It's true.  

These are made of silicone which resists heat up to 600 degrees F, and the variety of shapes makes it easy to scrape out "every last bit" from even the smallest bowl or can. 


$9.99

citrus reamer

This tool helps you easily extract every bit of juice a citrus fruit has to give.  This one is brightly colored, weighted for easy handling,  and won't crack or splinter like wooden ones can. 


$65.00

Krups panini maker

I've had this for over 10 years now and love it.  It makes a perfectly pressed sandwich, with a crispy, golden-brown outside and a warm, gooey inside.  If you love a warm, grilled sandwich, this should be in your collection. 


$69.95

Calphalon Unison nonstick omelette pan set

I begrudgingly bought these a few years ago after coming to terms with the fact that my bank account wouldn't allow for the higher-end brand of nonstick pans.  Calphalon, you have made me a believer.  I probably won't ever buy that more-expensive-really-high-end brand because these are awesome at making the most perfect omelette ever.  Use for anything you don't want to stick.  For better searing and caramelization, see below. 


$125.61

stainless steel French skillet  

This is probably the second most used item in my kitchen.  I use this for everything from searing chicken to making sauces to caramelizing onions.  Every serious cook needs a quality saute pan like this with a METAL HANDLE so you can go from the stove top to the oven seamlessly.  The stainless steel outer is just gorgeous, but the real heat conductor is the inner layer of aluminum.  All-Clad extends this layer of aluminum up the sides of the pan, unlike cheaper versions that only have it in the bottom.  For this pan, I do believe it's worth the splurge, although I must confess, my husband bought it for me when we were dating...no wonder I married him. ;)


$11.99

digital cooking thermometer

Gambling with salmonella is a risky business, which is why I ALWAYS use a thermometer to check the temp of chicken.  It really is the best way to be absolutely sure your chicken is cooked through, and that helps me sleep at night.  I also use it when cooking roasts, steaks, pork loin, and even fish.  It takes a lot of practice to touch a steak and know what temp it is, so in the meantime, use a thermometer.  Your guests will thank you. 


$12.47

digital kitchen scale

Baking is a science.  Recipes that use weight measurements as opposed to volume are much more accurate.  Think about it....not every egg is the same size; a cup of brown sugar versus a cup of packed brown sugar can be a significantly different amount;  flour is also a highly variable amount, depending on whether it's sifted, scooped, or packed.  The more precise the measurements, the better the results, and this scale will help you get that.   This is also handy when portioning out food like hamburger patties.  A must have!


$9.95

bench scraper

Before culinary school, I had never heard of this tool.   Now, I can hardly imagine life without it. You can use it for several purposes, such as quickly scooping up diced veggies from your cutting board, but it truly shines in baking and pastry applications.  It's the perfect tool for cutting and portioning doughs without ruining your kitchen counters.  It also makes a great scraper, hence the name, for scraping up those stubborn flour and dough remnants when a kitchen towel just doesn't cut it. 

Basic Pizza Dough

I've searched high and low for a good pizza dough recipe, and this one has never let me down.  It's actually from one of my culinary school textbooks, which probably explains why it is trustworthy.  The original recipe uses a scale to weigh out all the ingredients, but rarely have I found a kitchen scale in my friends or family's homes.  So, I've done the math for you (yay!) and converted the recipe to volume measurements.  I also swapped out the bread flour for all purpose flour....I just think it makes for a softer dough that doesn't get too chewy when reheating leftovers.   

If you want to make a big batch of dough and freeze for later, read the tips section for storage techniques.  I've also comprised a list of my favorite pizza topping combinations.  Do you have a favorite combo?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

Adapted from On Baking: a textbook of baking and pastry fundamentals

Yield:  2 medium, thin crust pizzas 

Special Equipment Needed:
stand mixer with dough hook (or two hands and a whole lot a patience) 

Prep Time:
1.5 hrs. 

Ingredients:

1 package instant yeast (1/4 oz)
1/4 cup warm water
--------------------------------
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cool water
1 tsp. Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey
 

Method:

Step 1:  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together instant yeast and warm water.

pizzadough-4.jpg

Step 2:  Add the rest of the ingredients, and attach the dough hook to the mixer.  Turn on low speed to mix together ingredients until the dough comes together (it will look very lumpy and rough).

Step 3:  Turn the speed up to medium-low and knead for 15 minutes.  Keep an eye on the mixer because it will move around and creep towards the edge of the counter.  When the dough is finished, it will look smooth and elastic.

***If storing for later use, do it here.  See tips below.***

Step 4:  Brush the inside of a large mixing bowl with olive oil or spray with cooking spray.  Put the dough into the oiled bowl.

Step 5:  Spray one side of a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray.  Cover the bowl with the dough with the plastic wrap, sprayed side DOWN.  This will prevent the dough from sticking.

Step 6:  Place the bowl in a warm place, such as next to a window on a sunny day, or even outside if it's a warm day.  Do not place in the oven...yeast will die over about 100 degrees F.   You are aiming for about 80-90 degrees F.  Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

Step 7:  Unwrap, and punch down to deflate the dough. 

Step 8:  Flour your counter liberally. Put the dough on the floured counter.  Knead a few times with your hands.

Step 9:  Cut the dough in half.

Step 10:  Knead and roll each section into a ball.

Step 11:  Cover each dough ball with a wet paper towel and let them rest for about 10-15 minutes.  Don't skip this step or you will be fighting the dough from shrinking when you roll it out!

Step 12:  Use your fingertips to flatten out the dough ball a bit to make it easier to roll out. 

Step 13:  Flour your counter liberally again and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough ball to about 14" in diameter.  

Step 14:  Transfer the pizza dough to a wooden peel or a metal sheet pan sprinkled with flour or cornmeal.  I don't have a peel, so I used an extra large metal sheet pan without edges to use as pizza peel. This made it easy to slide the pizza off the pan and directly onto my pizza stone.  

Step 15:  Top with sauce, cheese, toppings, more cheese, and bake on a pizza stone in the oven or grill at 450 F for a few minutes or until the bottom is crispy and the top edges are starting to turn golden brown.  When I use my pizza stone in the grill, it only takes about 3 minutes.  In the oven, it might take closer to 10-12 minutes.   

Tips:

  • If storing for later use, you can do this right after you knead the dough the first time (step 3).
    • Freezer:  Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray and place in a freezer storage bag. It will last in your freezer for several months.  When you want to use it, let it thaw at room temp for 2 hrs, then pick up where you left off, at step 4. 
    • Fridge: Do this only if you plan to use the dough the next day.  Place the dough in a large bowl sprayed with cooking spray and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray on the side that will touch the dough.  It will continue to rise very slowly overnight.  The next day, continue the steps starting at step 7.  
  • Be sure to precook any raw meat toppings before adding them to the pizza.  They won't have enough time in the oven on the pizza to fully cook.

A few of my favorite pizza combinations :

  • bacon, tomato, fresh oregano, red sauce, mozzarella
  • pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, red sauce, mozzarella
  • fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, fresh basil, red sauce
  • goat cheese, sundried tomato, mushrooms, red sauce, mozzarella
  • chicken, artichoke, red onion, white sauce, basil pesto
  • ham, pineapple, red bell pepper, sweet chili sauce, mozzarella
  • fennel, Italian sausage, red sauce, mozzarella
  • olive oil, sliced garlic, prosciutto, arugula, shaved parmesan

Have a favorite pizza combination I didn't list?  Please share in the comments section below !