Thursday, April 30, 2009

Shatterproof wineglasses

I don't consider myself a wine snob by any stretch, but I do think that the experience of drinking wine is diminished if you drink it out of a cafeteria coffee mug, let's say, or a Dixie cup. It's always nicer out of a thin-rimmed wineglass.

So now let's put this together with going on a picnic or sitting by a swimming a pool. Not always practical to use nice stemware. That's why I like these stemless wineglasses from govino.

OK, they're plastic, but here's what I like about them:
  • they have a very delicate feel in the hand and the rim is exceptionally thin
  • the plastic is specially formulated to let you see the wine's color if you're into that
  • there's a little thumb indent that adds to the design but also lets you swirl the wine in the glass (yes)
  • they will not shatter if you drop them--big bonus if you're sitting on a stone patio
  • they are reusable, though the makers recommend hand-washing to preserve the crystal-clear nature of the "glass"
  • they do NOT contain bisphenol-A
  • they are recyclable
The 16-ounce glasses cost about $3 each and come in packs ranging from 4 to 72. You can buy them directly from govino, or you can check out their list of online and offline retailers.

P.S. The Cooper-Hewitt museum thinks they're pretty cool looking, too. They carry them in their museum store.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wine charms

I have no long-winded (or even short-winded) explanation for why I like these wine charms. I just do.

The beaded charms, which wrap around the stem of the glass, come in a set of six for $12 from ChefTools. If you have more than 5 friends, you can buy a second set of Stylish Stems with darker colored beads.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Grampy throws a party

Not only do I love Rube Goldberg (see yesterday's post), but I also love Grampy, a character in the old Betty Boop cartoons. Grampy was an inventor and a basically kooky character. In one of the Betty Boop cartoons from 1935, Betty and her friends go to Grampy's house for a party. At the party, Grampy does a classic Grampy-style dance [I had a video showing the dance, but it was dissallowed for copyright reasons] and also uses the skeleton of an umbrella to cut a cake into equal portions. I wonder if the manufacturers of the following item took their inspiration from that cartoon...

This cake divider (which I was surprised to discover even existed) cuts 7 equal slices (why 7?) and works for pies, too. It's $19 from Amazon.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Rube Goldberg corkscrew

Who doesn't love Rube Goldberg machines? (And if you don't know what I mean, check out Rube Goldberg--and his cultural legacy--on wiki)

According to the dictionary, a Rube Goldberg (machine) is a "comically involved, complicated invention, laboriously contrived to perform a simple operation." Enter the elaborate machine (above) designed to extract the cork from a wine bottle. It is actually an art installation and the creation of a British designer named Rob Higgs.

The video below is a little frustrating because it's very "arty" and you never get to see the whole contraption at once, but if you wait long enough (about 3 minutes) you'll see Bono turn the crank.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Celery Root with Lemon-Cilantro Dressing

OK, enough of this chit-chat about lemons and citrus zest, let's cook something.

This week I was in the mood for a light salad of celery root. I remember the first time I had celery root, which was when I was a teenager on my first visit to France. You know how when you taste something you've never had before and you're totally surprised by it because you weren't anticipating it and didn't even know that such a flavor existed? Well, that's why I remember my first taste of celery root.

I had it in céleri rémoulade, a salad of fresh celery root dressed in a creamy mustard dressing that is a standard in French charcuteries (sort of like delis). Then I ordered it every place I went. I think it made my mother crazy. Hon, don't you want to try something else? (Hmmmph, teenagers.)

Anyway, this week's recipe pays homage to that, but adds a lot of the flavors that have made it onto my favorites list in the intervening years, to wit: jalapeño, cumin and cilantro. When I sent the recipe around to the group of cooks who get recipes before they're posted, I got a question about where you could buy celery root. So for anyone else who might not know, here's a picture of a celery root (ugly little sucker). Chances are you've walked right by it in the supermarket wondering to yourself, "Who in his right mind would want to eat that??"

Celery Root with Lemon-Cilantro Dressing
A very under-appreciated vegetable, celery root (celeriac) has a great celery taste and a satisfying starchy crunch.

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapeño pepper
5 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1-1/2 pounds celery root (celeriac), peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
3 carrots, shredded
1/2 cup minced cilantro

1. In a large serving bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, jalapeño, lemon juice, salt, cumin and black pepper.
2. Add the celery root, carrots and cilantro, and toss well to combine. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

Makes 6 servings

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Keeping lemons

If you stored lemons on the counter instead of the refrigerator, would they grow mold? I suspect that an unrefrigerated lemon might just dry up. Any opinions?

In earlier generations, when refrigeration was pretty much nonexistent (not counting ice houses), cooks would surely have had to deal with lemons stored at room temperature. Assuming that the lemons would in fact desiccate (oooh, S.A.T. word), this little piece of advice from an 1877 cookbook called Buckeye Cookery makes sense:
TO KEEP LEMONS.--Cover with cold water, changing it every week. This makes them more juicy.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Ultimate Citrus Tool

Not content to be the best citrus zester, Microplane now has a tool that wants to be the only zester you ever need. In addition to the main zesting panel, their jazzy new colored Ultimate Citrus Tools have garnishing blades built into the two sides. On one side are two different sizes of channel knife (see yesterday's post) that pull off long strips of zest. On the other side is a blade that scores the peel.

The tool comes in the three colors you see here and sells for $12.95 from Microplane.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Measuring lemon zest

Creating recipes has a lot of challenges. If you're just cooking for yourself, you just eyeball things, throwing in amounts according to your instinct. But if you're creating a recipe you expect someone else to follow--and get the same results--then it's all about weighing and measuring and precision.

There are lots of pitfalls here, of course. For starters, you have no idea how other people are going to measure things. Lots of cooks, for example, measure flour in a glass measuring cup. Recipe developers (and especially bakers) would never do that: They would use a handled dry-measure and level off the flour with a knife. The difference in the amount of flour is actually significant.

Anyway, another problem area I discovered recently was in the matter of citrus zest. How you measure a teaspoon of grated zest is a question of whether you really pack it into the spoon or let it sit all fluffy-like. But it also has a lot to do with the tool you use to get the zest off the fruit in the first place.

There are several tools devoted to the task. It used to be that the only choice was a French-style zester (1) that pulled the zest off in dear little curls. Then along came the Microplane zester (2) that takes the zest off in very fine fragments. There is also something called a channel knife (3) that takes the zest and some of the peel off in big strips. In the pictures above, the amount of zest you see is technically all the same--from 1/2 lemon--but the quantities are really different.

There's no punch line here. I happen to use the Microplane zester for most recipes because I like the flavor of citrus and want to get the most mileage out of the lemon/orange/lime, but I use a French-style zester if the zest is more of a garnish, because the curls are cute.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Risotto Primavera with "Worms"

When I was young, the biggest influence on my developing interest in cooking--after my mother and great-aunts--was my college roommate, Debby Mefferd. Debby grew up in a family that deeply celebrated food and cooking and good wine, and I'll never forget my first visit to her family house in St. Louis. We spent the entire day shopping to cook and then cooking (racking up the most impossible pile of pots and pans and bowls) and then eating. And at dinner her father and a friend of his did a blind tasting of a French red burgundy in which they correctly identified not only the particular vineyard but also which slope (north- or south-facing) the grapes had clearly been grown on. Most humbling.

Anyway, to this day Debby and I love to talk about food, including a recent missive from Deb about a risotto she cooked. The recipe is adapted from The New York Times.

Risotto Primavera with "Worms"

Last year during the Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the USA we were not surprised to hear that he wanted light, seasonal food prepared for him at the residence of the papal nuncio in New York. After all, he's almost Italian.

The New York Times
ran a story about a risotto primavera, full of fresh seasonal vegetables, which became a favorite of ours last spring. Spring is here again, and this year we found fiddlehead ferns at our local market, so could have even more fun playing around with the recipe. However, what with the law of unintended consequences, the fiddlehead ferns, after all that stirring, cooked up to look like fiddlehead worms.

The key to the risotto is a fresh pesto that is stirred in at the end, making it extremely green. If you can't find all the green vegetables, just use what is available, but don't omit the pesto.

1/2 cup ramps (or substitute leeks or chives)
1-1/2 cups raw spinach
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sliced scallions
2 shallots, diced
2-1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
6-1/2 cups hot chicken broth
1/2 cup shelled fresh peas
1/2 cup asparagus, blanched
1 cup fresh fava beans (taken from their pods, blanched and peeled)
1 cup fiddlehead ferns, blanched
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. For the pesto: Place the ramps, spinach and salt in a food processor. Have the olive oil at hand. Have everything staged and standing by, but don't actually process the pesto until just before you need it (step 4).
2. For the risotto: In a large broad pan or Dutch oven, heat the oil. Add the scallions and shallots and cook to soften them.
3. Add the rice and stir until the centers of the grains are white and the edges translucent. Add the wine and stir while it evaporates. Add the chicken broth by ladlefuls, and stir constantly. Cook over high heat and don't add another ladle of broth until the previous one is completely absorbed. When the rice is a little more than half cooked, in 25 minutes or so, add the vegetables, and continue stirring and ladling until all the broth has been used. Turn off the heat.
4. Quickly process the pesto--or get your sous chef to do it while you stir in the last ladle of broth [grin]--by pouring the olive oil into the food processor while it is running and chopping the ramps and spinach. Stir the pesto into the risotto.
5. Stir in the butter. Stir in half the cheese. Ladle into deep serving dishes and top with the remaining cheese.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cheap Eats: Chickpea & Cabbage Stew

I was watching a 93-year-old cook named Clara Cannucciari on her YouTube channel called The Great Depression Cooking Show. Clara was born in Chicago in 1915 of Sicilian immigrant parents, so much of what she ate as a kid in the Depression was Italian. Lots of pasta. Here's Clara cooking Pasta with Peas. (BTW Clara dates from an era when cooks, like my grandmother and great-aunts, didn't use cutting boards. She cuts everything in her hands, and it makes me crazy nervous to watch.)

And here's my contribution to eating on a budget (I refuse to use the word depression). It's a stew of chickpeas and cabbage and it costs under $1 a serving. The bonus is that it's chockablock with fiber (especially heart-healthy soluble fiber in the chickpeas) and folate.

Chickpea & Cabbage Stew
I was looking for a meal that would be satisfying (carbs & protein) but that wouldn't break the bank. I came up with this: A stew that costs 86 cents to $1.15 per serving, depending on if you're serving 6 or 8. You could make this a little heartier by adding shredded leftover meat or poultry. Or you could serve the stew with cheese toasts.

1 lemon
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 pound dried chickpeas, soaked overnight* and drained
6 large cloves garlic, minced
1 star anise or 2 teaspoons ground fennel (optional)
2 teaspoons salt
5 teaspoons olive oil
3 medium onions, diced
5 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 medium head cabbage (2 pounds), shredded
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes

1. Grate the zest and squeeze the juice from the lemon. Place the juice in a small bowl, add the red pepper flakes and set aside.
2. In a large saucepan or soup pot, combine the lemon zest, soaked chickpeas, half the garlic, the star anise (if using) and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Add cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a high simmer, partially cover and cook until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (Keep the chickpeas covered by at least 1/2 inch of water as they cook.)
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the remaining garlic and the onions, and cook until the onions are softened and beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots, stir to combine, cover and cook for 3 minutes.
4. When the chickpeas are tender, use an immersible blender to puree about half of them to give the broth some weight (or transfer about half the chickpeas to a blender or food processor and then return to the pot). Be sure to steer clear of the star anise if you used it.
5. Add the sauteed vegetables, cabbage, canned tomatoes, 2 cups of water and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt to the pot of chickpeas and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a high simmer, cover and cook until the cabbage is tender, about 30 minutes; about 10 minutes into the cooking, stir the cabbage down into the pot.
6. Strain the lemon juice/pepper flake mixture and discard the pepper flakes. Add 1 tablespoon of the spiced lemon juice to the stew. If you want it hotter, add the rest.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

*You can cook the chickpeas without soaking them first. The cooking time will be longer and you'll have to start with water to cover by 2 inches.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

BLT candles

From The Grateful Palate--a website that celebrates bacon (their tagline is "It's a bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon world)--comes BLT Candles. The clearly impassioned inventor explains why he/she (unclear authorship) felt the need to create votive candles that smell like a sandwich:
I love the smell of bacon cooking. I fantasize about having bacon grilling on the stove day and night. In my philosophic musings I asked myself what is better than a BLT? As much as I try, I can't eat a BLT at every meal and I can't grill bacon 24 hours a day.
As the candles clearly indicate, one smells like bacon, one smells like tomato and the third smells like lettuce (????).

If you're not willing to spend $34 on the BLT candles, you should check out their Bacon of the Month Club (I'd mentioned this before when I was discussing a book called Seduced by Bacon).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dulce de leche in 10 minutes

Dulce de leche (which translates as milk candy) is a dessert sauce and/or flavoring from Latin American cooking. If you heat milk until the water in it evaporates, the natural milk sugars will concentrate. Then if you continue to cook the milk, the sugars will caramelize.

There is a classic home recipe for dulce de leche involving a can of sweetened condensed milk, a saucepan of water and 3 or 4 hours of slow cooking. The milk gets cooked right in its can (though you have to put some holes in the top of the can for the steam to escape or you'll have an explosion).

My favorite engineer/cook at Cooking for Engineers experimented with making dulce de leche in the microwave. He got the condensed milk to a dulce de leche sauce in about 10 minutes. With 5 more minutes of cooking he got it to the candy stage. His instructions and step-by-steps are great.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Hearts of Palm Salad

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans eat 177 eggs a year (not counting the 70ish eggs from processed foods). Chances are a good number of that total get eaten right after Easter, so the Census Bureau has dubbed this upcoming week Egg Salad Week.

In honor of that, but not going for a straight-up egg salad, I offer this lighter salad of hearts of palm, peas and radishes. The dressing is a sort of lime mayonnaise made with the yolks of hard-boiled eggs, lime juice, olive oil and a touch of sesame oil.

Hearts of Palm Salad
Heart of palm is the inner core of very young palm trees, including coconut palms and açaí palms. Though palm hearts were once harvested in the wild, making them quite a luxury since the process killed the trees, domesticated palm trees are now grown specifically for the purpose of giving up their hearts. (Awwww.)

2 cans (14 ounces each) hearts of palm, thinly sliced (3 cups)
1-1/2 cups frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 cup julienned radishes (5 to 6)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, hard-boiled
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1. In a large bowl, combine the hearts of palm, peas, radishes and cilantro.
2. Peel the eggs and place the yolks in a small bowl. Chop the whites and add to the bowl with the vegetables.
3. Add the lime juice, salt and pepper to the yolks and mash together with a fork. Whisk in the olive oil and sesame oil until well emulsified.
4. Add the dressing to the salad and toss gently.

Makes 8 servings

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spiced Edamame

The first time I traveled across the country I was in my 20s and was driving a commercial van that had been retrofitted to be a camper. I had great dreams of cooking my healthy hippie food out in the wild on my little propane stove.

The very first night I decided--with what I now know to be absurd naivete--to make a big pot of soybeans. This was going to last for the whole journey.

Let's just say that round about 1 in the morning I gave up waiting for the soybeans to get soft enough to eat...ever. I put the pot of beans outside, under the van, and in the middle of the night some snuffling beast came along and overturned the pot.

Interestingly, the beast didn't want to eat the soybeans either. In spite of many hours of cooking, they were still like little pellets of plastic.

This is why I resisted for years trying edamame, which are young soybeans. I was imagining that they would be just as intractable as their older, dried counterparts. I'm glad I finally caved in, because I am now quite an edamame fan. The trick is in the flavoring you use when you cook them. Salt is a must, because even though edamame are tender, they are still on the bland side. And in the recipe below, I upped the ante a bit.

Spiced Edamame
The addition of fresh garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest and red pepper flakes takes edamame out of the ordinary.

3 quarts water
4 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 large strips of lemon zest, cut into thin slivers
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, preferably Hawaiian
2 bags (10 ounces each) frozen edamame
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. In a large pot, combine the water, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and 1 tablespoon of the sea salt. Bring to a boil and cook, partially covered for 3 minutes. Add the frozen edamame, let the water come back to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.
2. Drain well and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon sea salt and the lemon juice and toss well.

Makes 8 servings

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Boxed water is better

A company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called Boxed Water Is Better has come up with a product that is part philosophical art project and part solution to the bottled water conundrum. Their idea is that bottled water should not contribute to our environmental woes, but should actively help alleviate them.

They propose to sell water in cartons, because:
  • 90% of the container is from a renewable resource (when the trees are responsibly harvested, they are quick to point out).
  • The cartons are shipped flat and then filled locally, thus reducing their carbon footprint (it reduces the size and number of truckloads to get the water shipped anywhere).
  • Post consumer, the cartons can be recycled in most places (for more information on recycling cartons where you live, check the Carton Council's website).
On top of that, the company is donating portions of their profits* to the resources their product uses: 10% to world water relief foundations and 10% to reforestation foundations.

Boxed Water is currently only available in Michigan, but here's hoping the idea spreads. If I see one more plastic water bottle wash up on the beach I'm going to explode (actually no, first I'll pick up the bottle and throw it into the trash, again, and then I'll explode).

*In the name of full disclosure, the company mentions that as a young start-up, they haven't actually made any profits to donate yet. They're also looking for more suggestions on worthy foundations.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

For you scrambled egg lovers

Scrambled eggs was the clear winner in the egg-cooking poll, so this video is for you. Every January, for the past 30 years, the town of Uzès (in the south of France, near Avignon) celebrates truffle season by cooking a giant pan of scrambled eggs. They used 2,500 eggs, 10 quarts of olive oil and 4-1/2 pounds* of truffles. Check it out.

*at today's prices, in this country, 4-1/2 pounds of French black truffles would cost you about $4,900!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The ministry of silly cakes

There's a really fun blog called Cake Wrecks that you should spend some time poking around. The subtitle of the blog is "When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong." The blog owner, Jen, has been posting pictures of aforementioned hilarious cakes since May 2008. By her definition, a Cake Wreck is
...any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate--you name it. A Wreck is not necessarily a poorly-made cake; it's simply one I find funny, for any of a number of reasons.
The wrecks fall into several categories including Beyond Bizarre, Creepy Cakes, Oh-So-Ugly and one of my favorites, Literal LOLs. In this last category are the cakes that have messages written on them as requested over the phone by the client, and as badly interpreted by the bakery employee at the other end.

Case in point is the photo above. The client had requested a message reading: "Phillip . . . woo-hoo!" Because it was over the phone, the bakery guy heard the words "dot, dot, dot" as something else...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Orange-Glazed Pound Cake

Did you know the word Bundt (as in Bundt pan) is more or less a made up word? It derives from the German word bund (which is where we get the English word bundle), but it is really just the trademark name for the shaped tube cake pan invented in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1950, by a company called Nordic Ware. In the six decades since, Nordic Ware has created all manner of variations on the original.

This brings me to today's pound cake recipe. The reason that pound cakes and Bundt pans play so nicely together is that a pound cake has a very fine grain to it and the cake will conform to all the little nooks and crannies of a Bundt pan. And as long as you're up, why not take the opportunity to put it to the test with one of the more elaborate pans that Nordic Ware makes (all about $30), to wit:

1 Cathedral pan
2 Chrysanthemum pan
3 Bavaria pan

Orange-Glazed Pound Cake
I originally tested this in a three-dimensional Easter bunny pan. The result was very cute, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to cut the cake into serving portions. (Aunt Zelda, would you like an ear or a piece of the left leg?) So I switched to a 10-cup Bundt pan instead. If you have a bunny pan, this recipe will work nicely in it (as long as it will hold 10 cups of batter).

As with any pound cake, this should be served in thin slices. If you'd like, you could double or triple the orange glaze and serve it at the table for guests to drizzle over their cake.

Butter and flour for the pan
6 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3-1/2 cups sifted cake flour
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons water
Powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt cake pan.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, orange juice concentrate and vanilla.
3. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, combine the flour, granulated sugar, orange zest, baking powder and salt, and blend. Add half the egg mixture and all of the butter. Beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Beat on high speed for 1 minute.
4. Add the remaining egg mixture in two parts, beating well after each addition. Spoon the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
5. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.
6. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack.
7. Meanwhile, make the glaze: In a small saucepan, heat the orange juice and water just to warm. While the cake is still warm, brush with the warmed orange juice mixture.
8. Just before serving, dust the cake with powdered sugar.

Makes 16 servings

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Salt as art medium

Japanese artist Motoi Yamamoto makes incredible sculptures and art installations out of salt. He began doing so after the death of his sister 12 years ago. As he explains:
"I have had the dilemma, in grief and surprise, of thinking about what I had and lost. I started making art works that reflected such feelings and continue it as if I were writing a diary. Many of my works take the form of labyrinths with complicated patterns, ruined and abandoned staircases or too narrow life-size tunnels, and all these works are made with salt."
Visit his website to get the true scope of his work, but especially click on the section called Images, where you will find a series of videos of Yamamoto creating one of his giant salt mazes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Inside-out salt shaker

I'm on a salt shaker roll.

From designer Jason Amendolara at the wonderful Fred & Friends comes this salt shaker called SaltSide Out™. The classic cafeteria salt shaker shape is housed inside a handblown glass cylinder, and the salt goes outside the shaker. Perfect for April Fool's Day.

You can get it for $14 from perpetual kid.