Tuesday, April 24, 2007

American Food Writing by Molly O'Neill

Molly O'Neill--food writer, cookbook author, memoirist and (I'm sure this description would annoy her, but here goes anyway) the sister of Paul O'Neill, former outfielder for the New York Yankees--has put together an anthology of American food writing called (no surprise) American Food Writing.

The food essays are organized chronologically, beginning with early 19th-century foodie Thomas Jefferson and moving up through the decades past Herman Melville (who writes about chowder in Moby-Dick), Emily Dickinson (who sends her friend a recipe for a brandied fruit cake), Gertrude Stein (who delivers a long, unpunctuated ramble on the nature of American food), Langston Hughes (on soul food) and Rex Stout (with a porterhouse steak recipe from his gourmand character Nero Wolfe).

The last half of the book includes a long string of more contemporary food writers, including Calvin Trillin, Laurie Colwin, John Thorne, Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins (who by the way have just published a 25th anniversary edition of their now-classic Silver Palate Cookbook) and tons more. All in all there are 162 entries, including lots of recipes. And O'Neill has written nice little notes to put the food essays into historical context. It will take you a while to read (that's a good thing), and by the end you will have seen the interesting arc that American food has taken in the 250 years that writers have to bothered to record their thoughts on the subject.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Get a grip: baking dishes with silicone handles

The KitchenAid brand is most often associated with appliances--dishwashers, stoves, stand mixers, et.al.--but the company also has an extensive line of bakeware. The particular piece of bakeware that has caught my attention is a deep, square (9-inch) baking dish with silicone grips. Or, more precisely, what caught my attention was the silicone grips themselves.

How many times have you brought a dish to the table that was too hot to pass around? The removable grips that come with the KitchenAid dish solve the problem. Once you take the hot dish out of the oven, you slip the two silicone "potholders" onto the sides and take it to the table, where everyone can pick the dish up without burning fingers.

The dish comes in red and blue, and there are dozens more sizes and shapes in this same line, including oval gratin dishes, lasagna pans, pie dishes and loaf pans. The 9-inch square version sells for $35 at kitchenware stores or from the KitchenAid website.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Funnel of love

I am a complete sucker for kitchen gadgets and serving pieces in the shape of animals. It all started with a cow creamer years ago. I loved the idea of a cow-shaped pitcher delivering milk through its mooing mouth into my coffee. This led to a sizable collection of large pitchers in the shape of pigs. Then came the pie birds. I'm also especially fond of my penguin teapot.

So, why would I not love these funnels in the shape of an elephant's head? These wonderfully whimsical kitchen tools were designed by the late Ionel Panait, a Rumanian-born French poet, mathematician, painter and designer of fun stuff. You can order them for $10 each from Pylones, a Paris-based store with branches in New York City.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Grade B maple syrup

Maple syrup is one of my favorite ways to sweeten things (honey being the other), because it isn't just sweet--it actually has flavor. And because I like the flavor, I want my maple syrup to be really maple-y. This is why I prefer Grade B maple syrup.

Grade A maple syrup, as I'm sure you're now wondering, is the commonest, most widely available type of maple syrup. It can range in maple flavor from quite delicate to somewhat robust. The more robust versions are usually labeled "amber," though this is a label designation that you will only find in high-end markets or if you visit a sugarhouse (the place where they boil down maple sap to make the syrup).

On a side note, visiting a maple sugarhouse during the "sugaring off" season is a lot of fun. The normal maple season lasts 4 to 6 weeks, sometimes starting as early as February and lasting into late April, depending on the specific area. Vermont is perhaps the best known maple-syrup producing region in this country, but the rest of New England, New York State and the Great Lakes states also produce maple syrup.

But back to Grade B maple syrup. This is the strongest and darkest "table grade" of maple syrup. I use it for everything, but it is generally regarded as the best option if you're baking, because the maple flavor will really punch through. There are a lot of places online that sell maple syrup, but not necessarily Grade B. Here's one place I found that does sell it in case you want to give it a try: Carmen Brook Maple & Dairy Farm.