Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oddball flours

If you've ever had a reason to seek out a nontraditional flour--such as garbanzo bean flour (used in both Italian and Indian recipes) or flax meal (because of its health benefits) or other nonwheat flours (for anyone avoiding gluten)--then you have probably run across Bob's Red Mill brand. This Oregon-based company sells more than 400 grain products nationwide, and not just in little health-food stores but in supermarkets, too.

The other day I happened to be looking for coconut flour (this will show up in a later post), which eventually led me to Bob's Red Mill website. This got me poking around to see what other oddball flours were there, and I found black bean flour. I love the flavor of black beans, but what could I do with flour made from them?

Well, the answer (from Bob's database of recipes) is kind of cool: Almost-instant black bean dip.

Here's how it works. In a small saucepan, you whisk together black bean flour with chili powder, salt and cumin. Then you whisk in hot water and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in some picante sauce and chopped scallions and you're done. The recipe for the bean dip as well as recipes for Black Bean Burritos and Black Bean Taco Pizzas are on the back of the bag of flour.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Whimsical teacup

Many years ago I discovered the "Jeeves and Wooster" stories** by British humorist P.G. Wodehouse. In one of the stories, the protagonist and upperclass twit Bertie Wooster is asked by his Aunt Dahlia to steal a silver cow creamer from a rival collector.

It had never occurred to me before reading this that a creamer could be in any shape other than a pitcher and I was amused at the thought of the milk pouring out of the cow's mouth and into a cup of tea. This set me on a course of collecting pitchers in the shape of animals. I have a sizable collection, ranging from pigs and cows to penguins.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I favor whimsy in my tabletop items. This is precisely what attracted me to this wonderful little teacup. This hand-glazed earthenware cup from Argentina has an itty-bitty chair in the middle. I'm not certain that I would pay $30 for a teacup for myself, but I would absolutely love to get this as a gift. It's from a website called LAMA, which stands for Latin America in the Modern Age.

**In the Jeeves and Wooster stories, lovable numbskull Bertie is always rescued from misfortune by his exceptionally intelligent (and patient) valet, Jeeves. Although many actors have played the parts of Jeeves and Wooster, my personal favorites are Stephen Frye (as Jeeves) and Hugh Laurie (as Bertie). I thought that since there are undoubtedly a lot of "House" fans out there, you might enjoy seeing a clip of Hugh Laurie playing the ineffably stupid Bertie. Watch it to the end to hear a reference to the cow creamer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Making food safer, in a cool way

These days, buying food can seem a little like a game of Russian Roulette. (First spinach, now peanut butter! What's next?) And the follow-up TV and newspaper articles on the flaws in our food growing, processing and delivery system should make everyone want to have their own gardens.

Well, on the better-news front, the Agricultural Research Service (a part of the USDA) is hard at work trying to find solutions, at least for fresh food. And they're looking into some really cool ideas.

They are making "edible films" from pureed fruits and vegetables and exploring ways to incorporate bacteria-fighting compounds into them. One of the most promising antibacterials comes from an active compound in the herb oregano, called carvacrol, which has been found to have significant antimicrobial powers.

Minute amounts of carvacrol could be added to an edible film made from spinach, let's say. A small square of this film could then be slipped into a package of fresh spinach where it would release protective vapors to protect the spinach against pathogens (possibly including E. coli). The vapors could even find their way into the crinkles and folds of a spinach leaf.

In addition to oregano, researchers have also found the essential oils in the following herbs/spices to be effective against E. coli: (in order of effectiveness, with oregano leading the list): thyme, cinnamon, bay leaf, clove, lemongrass and allspice.

To read more about it, check out the full article on the ARS site.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fancy pizza plates

In early December, I posted an entry on some fun plates that were designed for serving pizza. They were cute, but not serious dinnerware. Then I stumbled across these plates in the Museum of Modern Art store.

These "Slice Plates"--which are 9 inches wide at the wide end and 10 inches long--are the creation of a French designer, Jean Sebastien Ides. They're on the pricey side ($15 apiece), but would make a really nice gift for someone who is big on pizza--or pie or cake.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Champagne glasses

And one more thing you might need for Valentine's Day...a pair of champagne glasses. But not just any champagne glasses. All of those shown here are double-walled, which means they keep the champagne colder longer.

1 Beginning with the most modestly priced glass, this Manhattan 6-ounce champagne glass from Bodum costs $5.40 from Green Beanery. The glass would also make a really nice parfait dish.
2 Stepping up to a more sophisticated look, these squarish handmade glasses by Welmade are $32 for a set of two from Urban Living.
3 And finally, the luxury model. These designer InsideOut glasses come in a set of two for $60 from Charles and Marie.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Valentine's Day breakfast in bed

Breakfast in bed is one of the most charming gifts you can give someone, but why not really put on a show?

1 This Chef's Choice 830 WafflePro waffle iron makes 5 heart-shaped waffles. It sells for $50 from Amazon.
2 Or keep it simple with this cute toast stamp for $4 from Perpetual Kid.
3 For a mere $6, you can express your love with a heart-shaped egg. The nonstick form from Archie McPhee can also be used to make heart-shaped pancakes.
4 And to drink? A nice cuppa brewed with this wonderful little tea infuser. $4 from Anna Tea Shop.
5 Don't stop there. Serve the tea (or coffee) in this great heart-shaped cup and saucer from Molla Space. The cup and saucer are $18, but you can also get a mug for $16, a juice class for $13 or, if you really want to go crazy, there's a whole heart-shaped tea set for $140.
6 And what to spread on the waffles, or toast, or pancakes? Why a heart-shaped pat of butter of course. This pink silicone mold from Fauchon in Paris makes 20 little butter shapes. The mold can also be used to mold chocolates or for baking. It's $15 from Sur La Table.