Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cookie cutters (part 6): Ravioli cookies

So think about it. Why couldn't you use a ravioli mold to make a filled cookie? Just change the pasta dough to a sweet pastry dough and change out the savory filling for something sweet. Bada-boom, miniature turnover cookies.

Here are two different ravioli trays from Sur la Table; each is $26 and includes the rolling pin. Both work on the same principle: You roll out 2 sheets of dough a little bigger than the ravioli tray. Place one sheet of dough over the tray and gently press the dough into the indentations. Fill the indents with the filling and top with a second sheet of dough. Use the rolling pin to seal the two layers of dough together and at the same time cut out individual ravioli cookies.

Another way to make ravioli is to use individual ravioli stamps, which Sur la Table sells for $6 - 7 apiece, depending on the size. Not a particularly practical choice for making a big batch of cookies, but perfectly reasonable for making ravioli if you're taking a shortcut and using won ton skins instead of sheets of pasta dough.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cookie cutters (part 5): Fattigmann

Fattigmann are fried-dough cookies whose name in Norwegian means "poor man." Some find it hard to understand the word "poor" in the cookie's title because of the rich-man ingredients (eggs and cream) in the dough. But it should not be forgotten that eggs and cream were readily available to poor farm families who, though they didn't have much else, usually had laying hens and a cow for milking. It's just city folk who considered these ingredients costly.

No doubt the original fattigmann were just squares of dough dropped into hot fat, but somewhere along the line they got a little fancy. This fattigmann cutter from Pastry Chef ($16) rolls out a diamond-shaped piece of dough with a slit in the middle. One end of the dough is pulled through the slit and then the cookie is fried.

This roller would also work for other fried-dough cookies such as Lithuanian ausuke, Polish chrusciki, Rusian kosh tili, or Italian wandis.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cookie cutters (part 4): Kolacky

If you live in Prague, Oklahoma, or Montgomery, Minnesota, chances are you are very familiar with pastries called kolacky or kolache. These two towns are among numerous in this country that lay claim to fame for their versions of this Central European pastry--a sweet yeast dough that holds or encloses a fruit, poppyseed, or other sweet filling. (There are also savory versions filled with cheese or meat.) The shapes of kolacky seem to vary considerably, possibly depending on the country of origin (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia).

When I stumbled across a kitchen tool called a kolacky cutter ($7 from Amazon), I was curious to see how it worked. Not so easy.

None of the U.S. kolache festivals seem to produce anything that look like they could have used this cutter. I finally resorted to searching Czech websites, which provided photographs but no help for how to make koláče (my Czech and Slovak are both very rusty these days). The picture at left gives a little hint to how the cutter must be used.

In any case, if you use this cutter to cut out regular sugar cookie dough and put a spot of jam in the center, you could probably find some creative way to fold in those windmill-ish arms to make something cool looking.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookie cutters (part 3): Shortbread stamp

Here's a cutie-pie cookie stamp. It's a petroglyph-style goat incised in stoneware by a ceramic artist named Kim Frazier. The stamp, which is 2 1/2 inches in diameter, is available for $8.50 from a goat farm in Luray, Virginia, called Khimaira. If you buy the cookie stamp, they'll send you their recipe for shortbread cookies made with goat cheese.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cookie cutters (part 2): Lego cookies

This cute little roller makes Lego bricks out of cookie dough. Too bad it can't produce cookies with indentations on the back, too, so you could build a Lego gingerbread house.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Cookie cutters (part 1): Hello Kitty

Every December in the food magazine world, the inevitable happens: the Christmas cookie story. And every year it's a challenge to the editors to come up with new and different cookies. Given that all cookies are at heart the same 3 ingredients (flour, butter, sugar), it all gets a little predictable. (Seriously, a sugar cookie is a sugar cookie.) So I decided to see what I could find that would help cookies at least look different, even if they taste similar. Thus begins a series on "Not Your Usual Cookie Cutter."

First up is a cookie cutter that lets you assemble a 3-D Hello Kitty (be still my heart). It's a 3-part cutter: two legs and one body. The body piece is also a stamp that produces the wonderful vacuous look of dear Hello Kitty. The put-together Hello Kitty is about 4 inches high.

The cookie cutter/stamp sells for $10 from a website called TwinkleDoll, which specializes in anime-related products. Although the website is located in Florida, it's for sure that a nativeborn Japanese person wrote the copy for this cookie cutter, to wit: "Make your own Hello Kitty cookies to increase your appetite now!" (Increase my appetite??)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Grow your own morels

There are thousands of people out there with a mushroom obsession. Specifically an obsession for a wild mushroom called a morel, and the hunting thereof.

Morel hunting--which occurs in the spring--inspires contests to find the most or the biggest (or the smallest) morel. It inspires artists to carve morels out of wood or cast them in resin. For example, check out a store called Morel Mania where you can buy a morel-topped walking stick to use when you're in the forest looking for morels.

So, why am I talking about morel hunting in November? Because this is the time you need to order a tree that has been inoculated with morel fungus for planting in early winter. This way, when morel hunting season hits in the spring, you'll have your own personal morel orchard.

The trees--which are elms--are inoculated with a process patented by an avid morel hunter and are available from a company called Morel Farms. The trees cost $15 each, with a minimum order of 10 trees.

While you're waiting for your morels to mushroom in the spring, read this extremely informative book called Morels by Michael Kuo (University of Michigan Press).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Specialized rolling pins

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is pie. So naturally, now that we're in the run-up to that great American tryptophan festival, I'm in a pie frame of mind.

This brings me to this fine collection of rolling pins, many of which belong in the Who Knew? category:

The first one in the collection isn't a Who Knew?, it's more of a I Wish I Owned One. This is an antique folk art pin. There are nine images carved into the 5-inch pin, which presses the pattern into a stiff cookie dough such as springerle. The images are then cut out and baked. It's $59 from House on the Hill.





Next up is a rolling pin for making hard tack, which is a very hard (duh), thick cracker/bread designed to withstand no refrigeration and months at sea. It was the standard fare of sailors (and soldiers) in the 18th century. To keep the crackers flat as they bake, the cook needs to work the air pockets out of the dough. The knobs on this pin do the job. Hard tack (and other crackers) also have holes pricked in the dough to give any remaining trapped air an escape route. This hardwood pin is 10 inches long and is $23 from Creative Kitchen.

This pin is here because I like the sleek, ergonomic design. Or maybe I like it because if Darth Vader baked pies, this is the pin he would use. It's from OXO Good Grips, and the barrel of the pin is nonstick. It's $32 from Sur La Table.







I love the look of this guy. It's made of cherry wood and is actually designed to cut noodles, not roll pie dough. It's $28 from Lehman's, where you'll also find a .pdf with a recipe and an instructional on how to make noodles using the noodle cutter.






This pin is cool. Literally. It has a stainless steel barrel with an opening at one end so you can fill the rolling pin with cold water. The water gives the pin weight and keeps it cool for working with buttery doughs. It's $38 from Fantes.






Last but not least, a meat tenderizer masquerading as a rolling pin. Instead of pounding meat to tenderize or flatten, the knobbledy surface of the pin, and the pressure put on it by the human, evenly, and less violently, tenderize meat. The pin is almost 10 inches long and the barrel is made of silicone. Although sold as a meat tenderizer, this would clearly work as a hard tack rolling pin, too. It's $20 from Lehman's.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The art of the cracker pie

For background information on cracker pies, you should read my post on drying apples and also on Mock Apple Pie (the quintessential cracker pie). A mock apple pie is made with Ritz crackers, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, but no apples. The combination of flavors fools your tastebuds into believing that it's a real apple pie.

This got me to wondering how else I could fool the tastebuds. It seemed to me that the specific flavor cues in the mock apple version came from the lemon, sugar and cinnamon. What if I switched it up?

What follows are three cracker pies that do NOT taste like apples. Try one and see what your brain makes of it.

Almond Cream Cracker Pie
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Pastry for two 9-inch crusts, store-bought or homemade
45 Ritz Crackers (5 ounces), broken in half

1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a high simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool to warm (about 30 minutes). Stir in the sour cream and almond extract.
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out the bottom crust and fit into a 9-inch pie plate.
3. Place the crackers in the crust and pour the warm sugar-cream over them. Roll out the top crust and place over the pie. Trim the edges and seal. Put 3 or 4 slits in the top of the crust to let steam escape.
4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Makes 10 servings

Butterscotch Cracker Pie

1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits
Pastry for two 9-inch crusts, store-bought or homemade
45 Ritz Crackers (5 ounces), broken in half

1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a high simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon, vanilla and butter, stirring until the butter is melted. Let cool to warm (about 30 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out the bottom crust and fit into a 9-inch pie plate.
3. Place the crackers in the crust and pour the warm butterscotch syrup over them. Roll out the top crust and place over the pie. Trim the edges and seal. Put 3 or 4 slits in the top of the crust to let steam escape.
4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Makes 10 servings

Lime Cracker Pie
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits
Pastry for two 9-inch crusts, store-bought or homemade
45 Ritz Crackers (5 ounces), broken in half

1. In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a high simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime zest, lime juice and butter, stirring until the butter is melted. Let cool to warm (about 30 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F. Roll out the bottom crust and fit into a 9-inch pie plate.
3. Place the crackers in the crust and pour the warm lime syrup over them. Roll out the top crust and place over the pie. Trim the edges and seal. Put 3 or 4 slits in the top of the crust to let steam escape.
4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is crisp and golden. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
Makes 10 servings

Friday, October 16, 2009

More apple gadgets

If you're not interested in giving up the storage space to the wonderful apple peeler/corer mentioned in yesterday's post, then maybe you could go for one of these more elementary apple cutting devices.

1 Possibly more objet d'art than kitchen utensil, this stainless steel Giro Apple Slicer twists to cut perfectly even slices. $38 at Uncommon Goods.

2 From the OXO Good Grips line, the Apple Divider. It cores and wedges in one motion. $10 from OXO

3 A straight-up apple corer from Kitchenaid. $10 from Amazon.

4 This tong-style apple corer solves the sometimes thorny problem of how to get the apple core out of the corer. With the tongs closed, you push through an apple as you would with any corer. When you pull the core out, you open up the tongs to release the core. $10 from Lehman's.

5 This old-fashioned looking apple corer addresses the issue differently. It provides a plunger to push the core out of the corer. $5 from Applesource.

6 And finally a really Old Skool apple corer from Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. This tin apple corer is made by the tinsmith at the museum and sells for $12.95 from their online store. It can be a little tricky to navigate the website and there's no way to provide a direct link. But if you go to the storefront and click on "Made at Old Sturbridge Village" and then "Tinware," you'll find it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The essential gadget for making apple butter

This contraption is manufactured by many folks and has been around forever. If you're serious about cooking mass quantities of apples (now that it's apple-picking season), you absolutely need to have one. These pictures are from the day I made Apple Butter. You start by jamming an apple onto the prongs at the end of a long crank.

As you turn the crank, the apple is rotated and pushed forward at the same time. It passes by a spring-loaded blade that takes off the peel as the apple turns.








At the same time, another blade slices the apple into a thin spiral cut and removes the core.

You can find this style of apple peeler in lots of places. The Back to Basics brand I use sells for $23 from Amazon.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Apple butter

I love apple butter.
That's it.
That's the blog post.
Though if you scroll to the bottom you'll see a cool cooking tool.

Apple Butter
I used Rome apples because they are usually cheaper than other apples (except for Red Delicious, which are disgusting). They aren't quite as tart, so that's what the lemon juice is for. Also, the reason for the tall sides on the pot is because as the apples cook (especially in the early stages), they spit steam and hot apple.



1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
4-3/4 pounds Rome apples (about 7), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Combine the sugar, lemon juice and water in a tall-sided, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven.
2. Add the apples. Cover and bring the sugar mixture to a boil over high heat, about 1 minute. Reduce to a high simmer and cook until the apples are very tender, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring once or twice.
3. Sprinkle the apples with the cinnamon, allspice and salt. With an immersible blender, blend the apples until smooth (or transfer to a food processor or regular blender to do the same).
4. Bring the applesauce back to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the mixture is very thick, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. This will take 1 hour or more, depending on the size and weight of the pot, the heat of the burner and the moisture content of the apples. The apple butter is done when you can draw a spoon through it and it is very slow to close back up again.
Makes 1 generous quart

And just in case you feel the urge to make a truly gigantic batch of apple butter, you'll be happy to know that for $130 you can buy a lovely hardwood apple butter stirrer (say that without sounding drunk) from Lehman's. The paddle of the stirrer is 2 feet long; the handle is over 5 feet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dinosaur stuff

My son is 23 now, but when I see a dinosaur book/toy/object, I still get this parental urge to buy it for him. Or maybe it was always about me. I didn't have a dinosaur obsession when I was a kid, so I sort of lived that vicariously through my son. I was just as happy to know about the knobbed killing thingie (scientific term) on the end of an ankylosaurus tail as he was.

So here are the things that I've come across recently that make me wish I still had a 7-year-old deep in the throes of dinosaurophilia.

First up is this very fine pasta server (called a Pastasaurus), $7.50 from perpetual kid.










And what could be cooler (wink) than ice cubes in the shape of dinosaur bones? This set of two Fossilice molds makes Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops cubes. They're $14.95 at Amazon.







And finally, Dino Sticks, chopsticks for those not quite up to the real thing. They come in a set of 8 different dinosaurs, including the Parasaurolophus, Velociraptor and Pteranodon you see here. The set is $17.95 from Nexus Gadgets.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

On hiatus

Hello to my loyal fan base. I am on blog hiatus (blogiatus?) because I'm developing recipes for a new cookbook. This is a good thing. Will rejoin you in awhile.

Meanwhile, here's a photograph of a spaghetti squash plant in my garden. My Pumpkin Tree Project failed miserably (not enough sun or water or both), but now there's the Inadvertent Spaghetti Squash Project.

One night this summer I made spaghetti squash for dinner (well, Mother Nature made the spaghetti squash, I cooked it). When I split it open to clean it, I discovered that the seeds had begun to sprout. So, seizing the opportunity, I planted them. Now the plants are climbing fences and putting out blossoms like crazy, but they entered the game a bit late so I would be surprised if I got any actual squash. Whatever.

Next year I'm planning a weed garden. I've heard they do well.

Monday, September 21, 2009

5 or Less: Mexican Chicken-Rice Soup

At Hallmark magazine, we ran a little feature called 4-Ingredient Challenge in which readers were invited to send in recipes that used only 4 ingredients—not counting oil, salt and pepper (or a sweetener if it was a dessert). It's an interesting exercise in cooking, and I had readers who came up with some pretty cool solutions, like using an orange to count as one ingredient but provide two kinds of flavor: juice and zest.

The trick to this type of cooking is to find a single ingredient—like an orange—that does double or triple duty. Spice blends, like garam masala or Italian herbs, are a good example of that. Another good trick is to take advantage of store-bought mixtures with a complex of flavors, such as bottled salsas, curry pastes, or, as in the recipe below, one of the gazillion flavors of diced tomato on the market.

Since 4 ingredients is indeed a challenge (a huge number of readers sent in variations on hamburger meat, onion, tomato sauce and cheese), I decided to add one more ingredient. This still makes for a pretty streamlined recipe and gives you some more flavor wiggle room. Here is my first "5 or Less" recipe. Only 5 ingredients and it took about 30 minutes to make, but only about 10 minutes of it was hands-on.

Mexican Chicken-Rice Soup

If you want to splurge and go for a 6th ingredient, add a little bit of cumin or oregano. I used chicken breast here because I happened to have it on hand, but chicken thigh will make a much more deeply flavored broth. Just be sure to take off all the extra fat that comes with thigh meat or you'll have a greasy soup.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 cups water
3/4 cup rice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 can (14.5 ounces) spicy diced tomatoes
1/2 cup minced cilantro

1. In a large saucepan or small Dutch oven, heat the oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the chicken, and cook for 2 minutes, just to sear the outsides. Scoop into a bowl and set aside.
2. Add the water, rice and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and the chicken to the pan and return to a high simmer. Cook uncovered until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
Makes 4 to 6 servings


Friday, September 18, 2009

Recipe cards for adventurous new cooks

About a year ago I wrote about a company that sells exotic food kits, the idea being that you could try out an exotic cuisine without having to invest in all the wacko ingredients that would then languish in your cabinet. Here's another little company that has taken the same idea and scaled it down to friendlier proportions. World Cuisine Institute (a lofty title for two women friends who started the company) has put together recipe cards for cool dishes like Saudi Arabian Chicken Kabsah, Mexican Mole and Ethiopian Doro Wat, and attached little bags of spices in the quantities you need to do the recipe.

The cards sell for $7 (except for the side dishes, which are $8 because they include the rice or beans) and are available in various retail locations in Colorado or on the World Cuisine Institute website. They have a number of gift sets, so if you know someone who was inspired by Julie and Julia to try to "cook his/her way through" something, you could give him/her the entire set of recipes for $100. (There are also smaller sets of 3 or 4 recipe cards, all about $20.)

UPDATE (November 2010): The World Cuisine Institute appears to have disappeared. It was definitely a home-grown business, and perhaps the women who were running it just couldn't make a go of it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fruit as medicine

In the 1867 book The Market Assistant (see yesterday's post), the author went on a tad about fruit as medicine:
[Fruits] are not only nutritious, but they are also medicinal in their properties. They produce certain beneficial changes in the blood (which medical men term "alterative"), which alters the blood from an unhealthy to its healthy condition; consequently, by the use of ripe fruits, many diseases lurking in the system are either neutralized or removed. Many fruits have the peculiar medicinal property of "cooling" the blood as it is termed, or in other words, rendering it less liable to feverish or inflammable excitement.
Though not supported by any kind of serious scientific fact, it turns out these notions were right on the money. What Grandma (and mid 19th-century docs) took on faith has since been borne out by research. In the past 15 years or so, fruits (especially those with deep colors) have been identified as being exceptionally concentrated sources of antioxidants, with effects ranging from memory improvement to tumor suppression.

So, next time you eat some blueberries, just see if your inflammable excitement doesn't abate.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Market Assistant

I love reading old cookbooks. I don't mean 1900s old, more like 1800s old. It's interesting to see what things remain the same and what things have changed. On the one side are the forgotten kitchen skills of our foremothers (making buttermilk, waxing the pinfeathers on poultry, hanging meat); on the other are the things we have today that were unknown then (pluots, chipotle peppers, broccolini--not to mention frozen food, food processors, and silicone).

When contemplating the ingredients that we have now that they didn't have then, I checked in with my favorite food-history website Feeding America and stumbled across a book called The Market Assistant. It was published in 1867 by a guy named Thomas Farrington De Voe, who was (and this is for you New Yorkers) a butcher at New York City's Jefferson Market. The book was a sequel to one he had written in 1861 called The Market Book. In his preface, De Voe explains why there was such a big gap between the two books, which he had intended as companion volumes:
The dreadful Rebellion, however, commenced with the attack on Fort Sumter the day after I had arranged for the publishing of [The Market Book], and I concluded to wait for the suppression of the Rebellion before entering upon the second.
The dreadful Rebellion. Wow.

Anyway, here's the thing that I found that falls into the category of Things That Have Remained the Same. In the 1860s, ingredients not yet in season locally were being shipped to the Northeastern markets from warmer climes. As De Voe says:
Early in the spring from the South...many rare vegetables and other edibles are brought to market by the facilities afforded by the railcars and steamboats, thus inducing...artificial seasons.
And what did I find that they had then that we don't now? Actually, not much except for a substantially greater variety of things like potatoes, apples, grapes, and tomatoes--things now designated as heirlooms. But I did find these:
  • Swan
  • Fresh kidney beans
  • Scarlet carrots
  • Martynia--a fruit that was pickled like cucumbers
  • Potatoes with great names--black kidneys, peach-blow, yellow pink-eyes
  • Fig tomatoes--probably like squat plum tomatoes
  • Shaddock--a forerunner to the modernday grapefruit
  • Ground cherries (husk tomatoes)
  • Pineapple cheese--cheese in the shape of you know what
  • Chimney-corner butter--cheap butter, made in the winter (the best butter was made in the spring)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Awesome sushi

In July I wrote about these sushi wrappers made of soy (Soy Wrappers for Sushi). I just knew they could be wonderful in the hands of an inspired cook.

My favorite artist/blogger, Luxirare, made my imaginings come true. Who else could have made such an incredible looking piece of sushi? Check out her (as always) wonderful photo essay about making this, and other, spectacular looking wrapped edibles. It's actually a story about her assembling a bento box lunch to which she has also added a fantastic collection of jello shots (scroll to the end of the bento box story).

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Salad spinners, old school

When I lived in France in my late teens, I was introduced to my first salad spinner. Jeanine (who was the live-in housekeeper in the pension where I lived) took a bunch of washed greens, put them in a dishtowel, formed the towel into a bag and then just did a Pete Townshend-style windmill with her arm. The centrifugal force made the water come flying out through the weave of the dishtowel. When she was done, she had perfectly dried lettuce.

There is a world of complex, multi-part salad spinners on the market, but sometimes the simplest is the best. Here are a couple of salad spinners that are based on the same principle: using the cook's arm as the operative component.

1 This is a really old-school French salad spinner. They probably don't make them like this any more; the basket shown here is a reproduction of an antique and is available on Amazon for $23.

2 Remember these collapsible wire baskets? It was probably one of the first grown-up kitchen items I owned after I graduated from college. The cool thing is that when you flip the handles down, they become feet for the basket so that it can stand on its own. You may be able to find it in hardware stores around the country, but you can definitely get one for $9 from Lehmans.

3 The flaw in these first two spinners (and in the towel-flinging method described above) is that you throw water everywhere. No problem if you have a porch or backyard, but sort of a problem if you live in an apartment—not that that ever stopped me. So here is a salad spinner (which as far as I can make out is still just sold in Europe) from a Danish design firm called Eva Solo. The bucket is flexible so that after you wash the greens in it, you pinch the rim of the bucket to form a spout and pour out the water. Then you whirl the bucket around by its nylon handle. The water is forced to the bottom of the bucket, where it collects under a drainage plate that separates the greens from the water. Check here for more info on the bucket (and other Eva Solo designs).

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pestos with Panache

Pesto is the past participle of the Italian verb pestare, which means to crush or bruise. (On a side note, an occhio pesto is a black eye.) So technically speaking, in the kitchen, a pesto can be any combination of things that are crushed or bruised.

However....

There is a very specific crushed concoction that has simply co-opted the generic meaning of pesto: a sauce from Genoa made with basil, garlic, nuts, Parmesan and olive oil. Food editors and recipe writers love to tinker with this idea—cilantro instead of basil, walnuts instead of pignoli—but they rarely stray too far from the mother ship.

So, it's really great to run into Pestos with Panache, a collection of sauces that have nicely pushed the pesto envelope. The titles of the pestos from Brooklyn-based Lauren Stewart (founder & CEO) are enough to make you want to try them, but luckily the promise of the titles is well delivered in the tasting.

Don't you just want to eat all of these?
Fabulous Fig & Gorgonzola
Decadent Dark Chocolate & Ancho Chile
Pumpkin Chipotle
Prosciutto & Smoked Almond
Succulent Strawberry
Bangin' Blueberry

You can buy them straight from Pestos with Panache in 4, 6, 8, and 12 packs for $52 (4 pack) up to $120 for the 12 pack. The prices include shipping. (And if you happen to be planning a giant feast, Lauren also sells 1-gallon food service containers; contact her for pricing.) To see where the pestos are available offline, check the list of stores.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Farinata

Several years ago I had my first taste of farinata, an Italian appetizer that falls somewhere between a pancake and pizza. I didn't encounter it in Italy (alas), but in a New York City trattoria with a wood-fired brick oven. I was introduced to it by a lovely Italian gentleman named Mario who worked in the restaurant and decided I should learn how to make farinata.

Farinata starts with a batter made of chickpea flour, salt and water. It gets poured into a pizza-style pan that has a bunch of olive oil in it. Then it bakes in a super-hot oven until it's firm enough and crisp enough to cut. I have experimented over and over with this at home, desperately trying to replicate Mario's farinata, but the truth is that the home oven ain't no brick oven.

That said, it's still tasty and fun—and easy—to make. It's also a perfect appetizer to serve if you have anyone in your crowd who has trouble digesting gluten. You can make it plain (as in the recipe below) or you can doll it up with pizza-type toppings (which you would have to add toward the end of the baking).

You can find chickpea (ceci in Italian) flour in Italian neighborhoods or in Indian markets, where it will be sold as besan. You will also find it in natural foods stores (where it may be labeled garbanzo bean flour) or at Bob's Red Mill website.

Farinata
I added rosemary and black pepper to the standard batter, but the plain version is very flavorful on its own. I've made it with and without the Parmesan topping; it's great both ways.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups chickpea flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1 teaspoon rosemary, minced
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 500°F (or highest temperature available).
2. Pour the oil into a 10 x 15-inch rimmed baking sheet and tilt it to evenly cover.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the chickpea flour and salt. Stir in the water and whisk to blend. If any foam gathers on the surface, skim it off. (By the way, I don't know why the foam makes any difference, but Mario insisted on this step.) Stir in the rosemary and pepper.
4. Place the pan on a pulled-out oven rack. Carefully pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25 minutes. While still hot, sprinkle evenly with the Parmesan.
5. Cut into small squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 12 servings

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Crackers gone wild

When you go to a fancy food show, you start out all bright-eyed and hungry, but as you're charging down the 149th aisle filled with cheese and chips and barbecue sauces, you start to get pretty persnickety about what you're willing to stop and taste.

It's hard to say what actually catches your attention when you're feeling that jaded about food. Some of it is eye-catching packaging, some is the interesting people behind the product, and some is just happenstance.

So here's a group of crackers that each in its way made me stop to taste.

1. 34° Crispbread: Their tagline is "a most clever cracker." I simply had to stop and ask what made the cracker clever. The answer is that the Colorado-based company is the clever one, because the crackers were just as inarticulate as any other cracker I've met. But they were super-thin and crisp, so that's a good thing. They come in Natural, Sesame, Cracked Pepper, and Rosemary. Check them out at 34-degrees.com.

2. Food Should Taste Good: I stopped by the booth of the aptly named Food Should Taste Good, because I already knew how good their products are, and I could see they had three new flavors that I had to try. They didn't disappoint. The new flavors are Cinnamon (really good), Potato & Chive, and Lime. Check all their other flavors (including chocolate!) on their website. P.S. You gotta love that the lime chips are shaped like a lime wedge.

3. raincoast crisps: These crackers from Vancouver are densely packed with fruit and nuts. I stopped to taste these because I really liked the name and the packaging, and a couple of aisles earlier I had met the fig-growing cooperative that supplies them with the fruit for their Fig and Olive crisps. Other crisp flavors are Rosemary Raisin Pecan, Cranberry Hazelnut, Salty Date and Almond. Read more about them at raincoastcrisps.com.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More corn: tortillas, corn bread & polenta

When I was thinking what could go into my new corn collection, I realized that it needed to expand past the corn cob. So here's the branch of my collection that deals with things made from corn.

Cast-iron cornbread mold Why do cornsticks always have to be in the shape of an ear of corn? This mold makes 5 cornbread fish, is about 16 x 9 inches and is $20 from Cast Iron Home.

Tortilla basket Any well-dressed table in Mexico has a tortilla basket for keeping the corn tortillas warm and/or from drying out during dinner. This woven palm basket is 8 inches in diameter and 5 inches high. It sells for $17.60 from the Direct from Mexico website.



Polenta pot This handmade hammered-copper pot comes from the Ruffoni family in the Italian Alps. The design of the deep pot (narrow bottom and wide top) is supposed to be ideal for making polenta. At $175 this is quite the indulgence, but if you buy it from Williams-Sonoma, they also throw in a wooden stirring spoon (woo-hoo).

Monday, August 31, 2009

Nesting measuring cups

I just saw a French movie called Russian Dolls (Poupées Russes), so I must have had nesting dolls on my mind. These nesting measuring cups—from my favorite crazy store, Perpetual Kid—are designed like Russian matryoshkas. There are 6 of them, starting with a 1-cup measure, and working down to a 1/4 cup. It has both 2/3- and 3/4-cup measures, which is nice.

The set of M-Cups costs $12, but they won't be available until early September.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Organic lip balm

I'm not much for make-up, but I am addicted to lip balm. I have a million brands and I am always on the look-out for something new.

Odd to have this in a food blog? Well, lip balm is intended for your mouth, with which you EAT, and these organic balms from eos come in flavors that sound good enough to EAT: Summer Fruit, Honeysuckle Honeydew, Sweet Mint.

I want them for their looks alone. The bonus is they're 100% natural, paraben-free, widely available, and about $3. Eos also makes balm in stick form with 2 more food flavors: Vanilla Bean and Pomegranate Raspberry.

A final note: On the eos website, their promotion for the lip balms includes this claim: "precisely glides onto lips." Huh? As opposed to that uncontrollable and imprecise Chapstick?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pork & Mango Salad

Not that it was my intention, but this salad just happens to be overflowing with beta-carotene, the pigment that makes fruits and vegetables orange. Beta-carotene has been identified as a powerful antioxidant compound, but it is also a precursor* to vitamin A, which is good for your eyes, skin and immune system.

There is no recommended intake for beta-carotene itself, but to get the vitamin A your body needs, you should consume 11 grams of beta-carotene daily. A single serving of this salad has over 13 grams!

Pork & Mango Salad
Make this in the morning (before it gets super hot), then at dinner time you won't have to heat up the kitchen. Serve it on a bed of greens if you want, along with toasted slices of whole-grain baguette or sourdough.

1 pound pork tenderloin
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large red bell peppers, diced
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 mangoes (3/4 pound each), cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Sprinkle the pork with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Place in a roasting pan and roast for 20 to 25 minutes or until cooked through but still juicy. When cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2-inch cubes. (Save the meat juices to add to the dressing.)
2. Meanwhile, in a vegetable steamer, cook the sweet potatoes until firm-tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, lime zest, lime juice, honey, cayenne, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. (Add the meat juices, too.)
4. Add the pork, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, scallions and mangoes, and toss well. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Makes 4 servings

*Your body converts the beta-carotene to vitamin A. You can also get preformed vitamin A in animal-based foods, such as egg yolks and liver.

Mango on Foodista

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Salt and pepper for college

A little while ago my son and I were assembling a "Dorm-Room Survival Kit" for a friend who is heading off to college this fall. The kit included a white board for hanging on your door (intended to receive hilarious messages from friends), a bin for holding all the random things that don't have any other place to be, a corkscrew, sticky stuff for hanging posters, a paring knife and this dandy set of travel salt and pepper grinders.

Made of heavy-duty stainless steel, the GRIND on the GO mills are 4 inches high and have their own little leather pouch. You can buy them on the GRIND website for $45. Or, you can get the cheaper version of the same idea in plastic instead of stainless for $20.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Yummy tarts from the freezer

I wouldn't have predicted that the words tart + freezer would equal yummy, but I was more than pleasantly surprised to find out that in the case of the Daphne Baking Company the equation works.

The tarts come in six flavors: lemon, chocolate, macadamia nut, pumpkin, chocolate-raspberry and passion fruit (my personal addiction). They're two to a box for $7 to $8. This seems like a pretty small price to pay to end a meal in great style without having to do all that work. Just take them out of the freezer to come to room temp while you eat dinner.

Daphne's tarts are currently only available in the Northeast, including at many Whole Foods, so check their store locator. However, if you really, really, really wanted to have these tarts, you could order them by the case (12 tarts) for $88 from the Daphne Baking Company website. The cost of the case includes overnight delivery.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Smart measuring cup

Here's something I discovered the other day. For a completely uninteresting reason I was wondering how much water weighed. Well guess what? An ounce of water by volume (the so-called fluid ounce) actually weighs an ounce. Duh. I had not made that connection before. My grandmother's mantra in the kitchen (I mean she didn't make it up, but I learned it from her) was "a pint's a pound the world around." So 1 pint of water = 2 cups = 16 fluid ounces = 16 ounces by weight = 1 pound.

Of course the rule only works with ingredients with a density similar to water. Once you get into ingredients that don't pack into a volume measure the way water does, all bets are off. Though to be honest, the mantra will get you within shooting distance with a lot of ingredients.

Anyway, Taylor (the company that makes instant-read thermometers among other things) is coming out with a gadget that will take the guesswork away. It's a measuring cup that is also a digital scale. An LCD display in the handle tells you how much an ingredient weighs (in ounces or grams) and will also translate the weight into volume for a certain number of common ingredients (like sugar). Of course you can also just use the standard volume markings on the side of the cup if you want.

The scale weighs amounts up to 4.4 pounds and the cup holds up to 1 liter (with markings in fluid ounces and milliliters). Not even on the shelves yet, the cup has to be preordered from Amazon. It costs $30.

P.S. I love the idea of this, and it would be of incredible use to anyone who writes recipes, but it's a pretty easy guess to say it can't go in the dishwasher.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Beyond yuzu: intriguing Asian citrus juices

I don't know how many of you have encountered the yuzu, which is an East Asian citrus fruit with a very complex tart flavor (it makes our regulation lemons taste like an amateur citrus). The fruit itself looks like a very small grapefruit and it has a bumpy skin, sort of like an Ugli fruit. It can probably be found fresh in Chinatowns, but most of us have probably only had it in juice form, and probably in a restaurant.

Well, just when I was all smug about having cooked with yuzu, I ran into two more Asian citrus juices at this year's summer Fancy Food Show. I spoke with a guy named James Felling (from Chicago) whose company is importing Asian citrus products from Yakami Orchards in Japan.

In addition to yuzu juice (and yuzu marmalade and zest), WA Imports is also selling bottles of pure kabosu juice and pure sudachi juice. The kabosu, which is related to the yuzu, is harvested green but matures to yellow. The sudachi is a small green citrus that in Japan is used to flavor all manner of foods from soft drinks to ice cream.

Jim set me up with 3 little glasses of citrus juice so I could taste the differences, and the differences were pronounced. I will borrow his tasting descriptions, because they were spot on.

Yuzu: Tastes like lemon juice but with undertones of tangerine or orange.
Kabosu: Tastes like lemon juice but with notes of mint and melon.
Sudachi: Tastes like lime juice but with accents of pepper and cumin.

At the moment WA Imports is negotiating to have a retail presence for all of these products. Currently, however, they are still only available to chefs and restaurants. Keep an eye out, though.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Low-Fat Blackberry Mousse

My blackberry bushes got hammered this year by all the early-summer torrential rains. The rain simply blew off all the blossoms, and my normally prolific blackberry patch now has nada. Grrrrr.

So, much as it pained me to do it, I made this blackberry mousse with store-bought blackberries. By the way, the first time I made it I decided to opt for the extra fiber that comes with the blackberry seeds. Bad idea. Be sure you strain them out even though it's an annoying extra step.

Low-Fat Blackberry Mousse
If you can't find 2% Greek yogurt, but you *can* get the full-fat version, just "tone" the full-fat version down a bit by stirring in some nonfat regular yogurt.

4 cups blackberries (about 1 pound)
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup apple cider or juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 container (17 ounces) 2% Greek yogurt (about 2 cups)

1. In a food processor, process the blackberries to a smooth puree. Push the puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl to remove the seeds.
2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 cup of the apple juice. Let sit for 2 to 3 minutes to soften.
3. In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and remaining 1/4 cup apple juice over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup begins to boil, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Scrape the softened gelatin mixture into the hot sugar syrup into and stir well to dissolve the gelatin.
4. Stir the gelatin-sugar mixture into the blackberry puree and stir very well to blend.
5. In a large bowl, whisk the vanilla into the yogurt. Keep whisking the yogurt to lighten it, then whisk in the blackberry puree. Spoon into ramekins or goblets, or a 5-cup serving bowl and chill until set, 3 to 4 hours (the shorter time for the individual servings).
Makes 8 servings

Thursday, August 20, 2009

FireForks: perfect for campfire cooking

These are ingenious. No more whittling of the twig to make your campfire marshmallow or hot dog roaster. The FireFork attaches to the end of any stick and you're ready to cook. Each "fork" is made of a single length of stainless steel wire and comes with a safety cap so it can be safely stowed when you're not using it. A pack of four FireForks is $10 from ThinkGeek.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vegetable-based wraps

Last February I wrote about the work that the ARS—Agricultural Research Service, part of the USDA—was doing on edible films made of pureed fruits and vegetables (see Making food safer, in a cool way). Now it turns out that a small company in Stockton, California, called Origami Foods has taken the ARS technology and turned it into a commercial product.

The company makes two products based on the technology: Chef Wraps and Glaze Sheets. The Chef Wraps were designed to replace seaweed in sushi, although their use does not have to be confined to fish. For example, Origami Foods suggests using their carrot/ginger wrap to make a "sushi" roll with pork tenderloin, sweet potato and cilantro. Or use the strawberry wrap to make a sweet sushi with fresh strawberries.

The Glaze Sheets are edible films that have flavorings in them. The film is used to cover a piece of meat, poultry or fish; it then dissolves onto the surface like a glaze and in the process transfers the flavor to the food. An example is an apple-based film flavored with maple and cinnamon, used to flavor something like ham. Or a smoked mango film, which would be great on salmon.

You can buy the Origami products at some Trader Joe's, Wegman's and Costco outlets. Or you can order them online directly from Origami. There are 12 flavors of Chef Wrap (including carrot, broccoli, tomato-basil, peach and barbecue). They come in packs of 10 sheets (7 x 8 inches) for $5.50 or 20 sheets for $10.50.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Black garlic

Black garlic is amazing looking, but even more amazing tasting. The shiny ebony cloves are sweet and sticky and garlicky, but in an only mildly spicy way. It tastes like what roasted garlic wishes it could be when it grows up.

The garlic turns dense and black during a month-long process that slowly, slowly caramelizes the garlic's natural sugars. There are no colorants or additives of any kind. It's just garlic.


The real question is, how do you use black garlic? I think, because it's an interesting blend of sweet and savory, that it would work in savory dishes where you might have used either raisins or sun-dried tomatoes. I think it could be nice as flecks in a fennel bread. It would be great with broccoli rabe, or in homemade sausage, in guacamole, or tossed with pasta. But on a website called Black Garlic (home of the company started by Scott Kim, the "inventor" of black garlic), you'll find a small collection of recipes, including the following, which is something that I would never have come up with, but absolutely intrigues me:

Baked Bananas with Black Garlic

1 Cadbury's Flake chocolate bar
1 peeled clove black garlic, minced
2 teaspoons runny honey
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 banana, skin on
2 tablespoons brandy or dark rum
Vanilla ice cream for serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Mix together the candy bar, garlic, honey and sugar.
3. Place the banana on a piece of foil. Make a slit along the top of the banana through the skin and half way through the flesh. Stuff the mixture inside the slit. Pour the brandy on top.
4. Seal the foil around the banana and place in a baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.
5. Remove from the foil and serve hot with vanilla ice cream.