Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Salt cellars

I was reading a post on a random blog in which the author referred to salt cellars as being a "hip new trend." I find this at once hilarious and extremely nostalgic. My grandmother always had salt cellars on the table. Her family had emigrated to this country from Ireland in the 1890s and I think there was always a need to prove gentility. Cut-crystal salt cellars on the table were clearly a part of that effort.

What I liked best about her salt cellars (and they were scattered about the table so that no one had to ask to "pass the salt") was that they came with the cutest little pressed glass spoons for ladling out the salt. This obviously appealed to my miniature-tea-set, dollhouse mentality.

So, what's out there now, in this hip new trend? Well, mostly larger containers, often with lids, intended to be in the kitchen, not on the dining room table. Not a salt cellar as I understand it. (In a skim-search on the InterWebs, I discovered that what I'm calling salt cellars, collectors call "open salts.") But I pressed on and found a few things my grandmother might have deigned to have on her table.

This nesting hen salt cellar has been around forever. I found it a couple of years ago in the Walter Drake tchotchke catalog (only $9), but it's more likely these days to be found on Etsy or eBay.

Or, how about this little guy? $22 from Uncommon Goods.

And when you think about it, a salt cellar (OK, open salt) is no more than a little bowl. So create your own by looking for little sauce bowls in Asian markets. How about a set of fish bowls for $2 apiece from Pearl River Trading?
Then just look around for little spoons to go with. Maybe some old unused demitasse spoons (remember demitasse? very '50s) or look for wooden salt spoons. Just search on Amazon; a number of choices, though I'm kind of partial to these spoons made of palm wood.

*The salt cellar to beat all salt cellars was designed by 16th-century Florentine sculptor Benvenuto Cellini in the 1540s. La Saliera (as it is called) was commissioned by Francis I of Austria and is made of gold, enamel, and ivory. It was stolen from Vienna's art history museum in 2003 by a thief who, in classic Hollywood-plot style, was an alarms system engineer. He kept the piece under his bed for several years, then eventually demanded a $10 million ransom (the piece itself is valued at $50-60 million). He was finally undone by a text message he sent to the police.
So . . . . he was smart enough to dodge the alarm system in a museum, but not smart enough to know that cellphones can be traced. Ah well.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Rolled Stuffed Meat Loaf

Meat loaf!
It's great hot.
It's great cold.
It's homey.
It reminds me of my grandmother.
And it's only a bucketload of cholesterol shy of being pâté.

This summer, and well into these foothills of winter, I have been playing around with meat loaf in multiple shapes, ranging from little minis to big 2-pounders. My favorite so far is a rolled meat loaf—with a tip of the toque to Mario Batali whose elaborate wine-steamed, prosciutto-filled creation set me on this path.

There's a world of things that work well in a rolled meat loaf, but after much experimentation I've narrowed the ingredients to those that show up nicely when you slice the meat loaf and also contribute flavor.

Rolled Turkey Meat Loaf
Since I am not a fan of plastic wrap (buying it and then throwing it away, that is), I use a plastic produce bag that I cut open and lay flat.

2 large bell peppers (any colors), cut lengthwise into flat panels
2 pounds ground turkey breast
3/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 teaspoons ground fennel
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons bottled salsa
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon small capers
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup shredded mozzarella

1. Preheat the broiler. Broil the peppers pieces 4 inches from the heat for 12 minutes, or until the skin is charred. Remove from the oven and turn the pepper pieces over to cool. When cool enough to handle, pull off the skin.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly grease a rimmed baking sheet.
3. In a large bowl, combine the turkey, bread crumbs, Parmesan, fennel, salt and pepper. Add 1/2 cup of the salsa, the eggs and capers, and mix well.

4. Pull out a piece of plastic wrap about 15 inches long. Plop the meat loaf mixture onto the plastic and pat the meat out to a 9 x 12-inch rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.

5. Cover the meat mixture with the parsley, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Then add an even layer of the mozzarella, again leaving a border. Top with the roasted peppers, alternating colors.

6. Pull up one end of the plastic wrap to gently force the meat loaf to roll over itself.

7. Continue to lift and roll, tucking in the filling ingredients as you go so they don't just get pushed forward.

8. Pinch the ends together to completely seal in the filling.

9. Roll the meat loaf onto the baking sheet ending with it seam-side down. Coat the outside and ends of the meat loaf with the remaining 2 tablespoons salsa. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 minutes, until the juices run clear and the center registers 150°F on an instant-read thermometer.
10. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 to 10 servings

Saturday, August 29, 2015

4 good reasons to own a potato ricer

A potato ricer works like a giant garlic press. In go the cooked potatoes, out come long strands of "riced" potatoes. This particular model comes from OXO.

Mashed potatoes: There is nothing like the light, fluffy texture you get from mashed potatoes made with a ricer. Riced potatoes are also the foundation for gnocchi and a Norwegian bread called lefse.

Spätzle: These are tiny little German egg noodles made by pressing dough through the small holes of a specialized tool directly into boiling water. A potato ricer can also be used for this purpose although it makes thinner noodles than those made with a real spätzle maker.

Mont Blanc: This is a grand French dessert. It's a sweetened chestnut puree that gets extruded through a ricer into a mound that is meant to represent a mountain. The top of the mountain is covered with something white—crème fraîche, whipped cream or confectioners' sugar—to resemble the snow on top of Mont Blanc.

Spaghettieis: I love this German dessert. It's vanilla ice cream pushed through a ricer to look like spaghetti, topped with a red berry puree for the tomato sauce and dusted with something white (coconut, white chocolate, ground almonds) to be the Parmesan.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Early Bird Granola

Just happened to be discussing with my son, Julien, the number of good-for-you foods that were invented in the 19th century. (OK, I know it sounds phony that we were doing that, but honest, we were.)

Sylvester Graham—a diet reformer who advocated a vegetarian diet and whole foods—invented Graham bread in 1829. It was made with unsifted, coarsely ground, whole wheat flour, and no additives. (And you're probably familiar with his other invention, Graham crackers.)

Dr. Caleb Jackson, who ran a sanitarium in upstate New York, invented a cereal called Granula in 1863. It was made with Graham flour (see Sylvester Graham, above) and resembled giant Grape-Nuts.

Then there was John Harvey Kellogg, a doctor who ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, who advocated a vegetarian diet (and enemas). In 1894 he patented, with his brother, a cereal called Granose, later to become Corn Flakes.

Flash forward through the 1960s, where a cereal called Granola became the calling card of the hippies, to today where granola (no longer a tradename) has become an art form.

Early Bird Foods, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is a good example of how good granola artistry can be. We'll start with the packaging. It makes you want to buy the granola just so you can have the cleverly designed bags the cereal comes in. It's a resealable plastic bag that looks like rice paper and the label is a wonderful interpretation of an old fruit crate label with a bird flying above a city skyline (I'm guessing it's meant to represent Brooklyn).

Moving on to the contents: There are six recipes, Farmhand's Choice, Jubilee, Aloha, Choc-a-Doodle-Doo, Gets the Worm, and Kiss My Oats. The base recipe includes organic rolled oats, pumpkin seeds, toasted organic coconut, Vermont maple syrup, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt. Where the recipes differ is in the kind of fruit and/or nuts that go into them, including pecans, mango, dried apples, chocolate, macadamia nuts, cherries and pistachios. The balance of sweet to salty is seductive. These are really wonderful granolas (and I've eaten my share of granolas over the years).

The granolas are sold in 38 states or you can order it directly from Early Bird.

This brings me to a small sticking point, which is the price. The granolas are made by hand in small batches, which is why they are so good and why they are pricey. They cost $10 for a 12-ounce bag, but you won't be disappointed, and you'll be a patron of the granola arts if you buy it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Gurgle Pot

There are very few folks from the British Isles who wouldn't recognize a glug jug when they saw one. Many households have one (Queen Elizabeth has at least two), and it's not uncommon to give it as a housewarming or wedding gift.

A glug jug, which had its origins in Devonshire, England, is designed to make a glug-glug noise when you pour from it. Here's how it works: When you tip the pitcher to pour liquid out, air gets trapped in the fish's tail. Then when you turn the pitcher upright again, the air escapes out of the tail and comes up through the liquid in the pitcher, causing a loud gurgle, or glug-glug noise.

I actually owned one back in the day, although I knew it as a Gurgling Cod pitcher. The Gurgling Cod was designed by (and is still sold by) a famous jewelry and china store in Boston called Shreve, Crump & Low.

Sadly, somewhere along the line I lost track of the gurgling cod. This is why I was happy to run across the Gurgle Pot. The Gurgle Pot comes in 12 colors and has a nice sleek design. The pot itself is extremely sturdy. It holds a little over a quart of liquid and would make a great lemonade or iced tea pitcher. It's $40 from Gurgle Pot.