Monday, August 31, 2009

Nesting measuring cups

I just saw a French movie called Russian Dolls (PoupĂ©es 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.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Penguin ice cubes

Several summers ago I downed quarts and quarts of mint sun tea. Katie Daniels (then my son's girlfriend but now update: wife) is the one who turned me on to this.

Because of all the rain that particular spring and early summer my mint had gone haywire. It not only spread all over the place but was about 4 feet tall (no kidding). So one day Katie took some of the clippings from my effort to thin the mint jungle, put them in a gallon juice container with water, set it out in the sun for a couple of hours, strained it and chilled it.

Yikes, who knew a cold drink could be so refreshing? I've made it multiple times since, including making it with boiling water on a day that the sun didn't cooperate (though the sun tea version is decidedly better), and now it's my new favorite summer drink. Plus I feel virtuous having a use for all that mint.

Long preamble to get to this: How cool would it be if I used the mint tea to make ice cubes in the shape of a penguin? Can't you just see a bunch of mint penguins floating on their backs in a big punch bowl? You could float the penguins in a bowl of regular iced tea since the mint would go very nicely with it.

The silicone penguin mold shown here makes 12 penguin cubes. (Of course you will find it on Amazon, because Amazon controls the world.) The same company also makes ice cubes in the shape of rubber duckies and seasheels.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Silicone salt pig

I wish I had seen this when I was writing about salt pigs. This little piggy, which is called a Pop Savor, is from a family-owned company called prepara (check out some of their other cool kitchen devices on their website).

The Pop Savor has a porcelain base and a silicone top that is designed to stay closed to keep the contents from getting wet/dirty, but that pops open easily when you're ready to use it. It also comes with its own measuring spoon. You can buy Pop Savor in lots of stores, including Bed, Bath and Beyond, or online at several places. It sells for $20 from Amazon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Colorful whisks

I'm not sure if silicone whips cream or egg whites better than metal, but you almost don't care because this rainbow balloon whisk from Kuhn Rikon is so fine looking. You can get them from a number of different sites (do a Google search on Kuhn Rikon silicone whisk), and though at one point they were sold at the MoMA store (see, I told you they were cool looking), you can now buy it from Walmart(!). There are two sizes: The 10-inch is about $20, the 8-inch about $16.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Corn Part Two: Crop diversity in Ecuador

OK, boring headline, but really cool picture. For the past decade there has been a concerted effort to record and preserve the astonishing variety of crops grown in the northern Andean highlands of Ecuador. In a survey of farms in the region, it was found that local farmers are growing a stupefyingly large variety of chile peppers, beans, squash, corn, and potatoes.

This includes 30, I say, son, 30 different kinds of corn!!

In addition to cataloging this incredible diversity, each year there is a seed-exchange fair (the photo above is from the fair) in the town of Cotacachi to help preserve varieties in danger of disappearing. And a food processing facility has been set up to provide a profitable outlet for local crops—thus encouraging farmers to keep farming. The artisanal products made in the processing plant appear to only be sold in Ecuador, but here's what they have (that I wish I could buy): Andean blackberry marmalade, dried cape gooseberries, roasted black squash seeds.

In case you've never seen a cape gooseberry, it looks like a tomatillo, to which it is in fact related. They are also called ground cherries, though they are not at all related to that fruit. Ground cherries, if they're grown in your area, might be appearing in farmers' markets about now.

Did anyone get the Foghorn Leghorn reference above? It's hard to write in a cartoon accent. If I'd said "I say, son" out loud, I'll bet you would have gotten it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Corn gadgets

I was talking with a friend the other day who mentioned that his bachelor great-uncle had had a large porn collection. Maybe because the acoustics were weird, or because I'm in the food business, I thought he said corn collection.

After some hilarious confusion (Me: "What did he have in his collection?" Friend: "The usual stuff." Me: "But what is the usual stuff??" Friend: "You're joking, right?" etc.) I decided maybe I should start a corn collection. I remembered that I had an old corn-shaped pitcher at home (see #1 above) and figured that was a good kick-off.

1 This pitcher is quite old but has no identifying marks on it, so no way to research it. It's stoneware and about 5 inches high. My guess is that it was either part of a sugar/creamer set or maybe it was to hold melted butter for corn-on-the-cob. I found an almost identical item in an online antiques store for $115.

2 A metal corn pitcher from Wilton Armetale in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It's made of a propietary aluminum alloy called Armetale metal and is about the same size as my ceramic pitcher: $65 from LaZinnia Decor, though it appears to be a discontinued item so it may be sold out soon.

3 Barbecue folks corn holders are $12 from Sur La Table. The prongs are stainless steel, but the little corn-holding peeps need to be handwashed.

4 There are approximately 1.2 zillion dishes painted to look like corn cobs, so it was refreshing to find this plain white porcelain rendition from Maxwell & Williams. $10 for the set (dish plus 2 corn holders) from Time Well Spent Gifts.

5 I actually wrote about this for Hallmark magazine, but it deserves a second mention. The OXO corn stripper keeps the corn kernels from flying around when you cut them off the cob. $13 from Williams-Sonoma.

6 Why didn't someone think of this before? These colorful plastic corn holders with a corkscrew-style "prong" are designed to screw into the corn before it's cooked so you don't have to struggle to get a corn holder into a hot cob. And because they are all plastic, they can be used in the microwave—though once you start cooking lots of corn at once (is there any other way?), the microwave ceases to be a time-saving device. The set of 16 corn holders is $15 from QVC.

Addendum. Another unusual take on the corn dish. This four-piece set (only 2 shown, duh) is available from Sierra Trading Post for $30, but it's a close-out.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bulgur Salad with Black Beans & Oranges

Finally, weather worthy of a cold salad.

[Someone told me that it's been 140 years since the month of July went without a single day over 90 degrees—in the Northeast, that is. I know that you guys on the West Coast would have welcomed a day under 90, but us Right Coasters have been wearing long pants and sweaters. Weird.]

On the subject of bulgur:
Bulgur is cracked wheat that has been parboiled to make it faster to cook (i.e., cracked wheat is not a good substitute unless you are willing to steam up your kitchen for longer to cook it). Bulgur can come in several different granulations, although the most commonly found supermarket brands don't indicate size. In well-stocked natural foods stores or specialized online sources you can find granulations ranging from fine to extra coarse (which is almost the whole kernels). A medium to coarse (shown above) grind works best for salads. You could also use other wheatlike grains—kamut, spelt, farro—that have been "bulgurized" (parboiled and cracked).

Bulgur Salad with Black Beans & Oranges
Make the bulgur ahead of time (like the night before) so you don't have to steam up the kitchen in the middle of a summer day.

Grated zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup lemon juice (2 to 3 lemons)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 medium-large (8-ounce) red onion, finely diced
1-1/2 cups bulgur
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups water
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 navel oranges, peeled and coarsely chopped
Chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, oil, salt and red pepper flakes. Stir in the onion. Let sit while you cook the bulgur.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the bulgur, garlic and water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the bulgur is tender, 15 to 20 minutes (if there's still some liquid, drain it off). Transfer the still warm bulgur to the bowl with the lemon-onion mixture and toss well to combine.
3. Add the beans and oranges, and toss well. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Makes 8 servings

Monday, August 3, 2009

Ice Cream Tubbie

Scenario: hot summer night, time for dessert. Someone hands out plates of blueberry cobbler and then puts out a couple of tubs of ice cream and a scoop. Everyone serves him/herself to a little ice cream and everyone digs into the dessert and everyone forgets about the tubs of ice cream. Ice cream soup.

Enter the Ice Cream Tubbie, an insulated container with a freezable gel lid that is a perfect fit for a pint of ice cream. The insulation will slow the descent into soup, and if someone remembers to put the lid on, the ice cream can last up to 90 minutes at room temperature (assuming you don't live in the tropics).

Tubbie comes in several colors and is sold by zak! designs for $15.