Subscribe

Get updates sent to you for free by RSS, or by email:

Archives

Currently Reading


– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Just finished a stunning book, The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives (don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read and is reviewed below) and really liked it. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

Scroll down to the bottom to view my Blogroll

Posted in Utensils, on January 3rd, 2014.

the Risotto Plus™

At Christmastime, my hubby never knows what to get for me. So to help him along I usually give him a list or an idea, or something that’s easy. The last couple of years I wanted a single more-pricey item, and that was the only gift I received, which was fine.

Last year I wanted the newest Nespresso machine, the DeLonghi Silver Lattissima Plus Nespresso Capsule System, which has a milk container AND a special function that cleans out the frothing tube so you don’t have to wash that each time. I’ve loved it and use it every single day I’m home. Last year the box was wrapped and no, I couldn’t open it a few days before – no, I had to wait until Christmas morning to use it. Actually, a year later the thing isn’t working and needs to be packed up and sent to the repair facility, so they’ve sent me a loaner. Generally I drink but one cup of coffee a day, and it’s almost always one from my Nespresso machine. I’ve owned Nespresso for about 10 years, and finally gave my old machine to our daughter just a month ago – I didn’t need two of them (and she and her two children are in LOVE with it), so we’ve been without Nespresso coffee in our house for well over a week! The loaner arrived yesterday, so as I type, I’m enjoying a latte.

This year I decided after reading the reviews (copious numbers now since it’s been out for about a year) that I wanted him to buy me the Breville BRC600XL The Risotto Plus Sautéing Slow Rice Cooker and Steamer. I’m sure you’d agree with me that risotto is a nuisance to make. I make it several times a year and it’s usually a special occasion because it requires so much continuous stirring. You’ve heard it here before, that we try to limit carbs in our house, but still we do eat bread, pasta, potatoes and rice in small portions and not every day for sure. Yet I wanted this thing. As I write this, it’s $129.95. Not cheap for an electric device to cook rice, but it does more than just cook rice!

This one has several functions – making risotto is the most notable one, of course – but it also has a sauté function (higher heat, obviously) to use during the risotto-making process, a rice function (so that means I might be able to get rid of my regular Zojirushi rice cooker I’ve had for years), and a slow cooker function, which may come in handy because it’s a much smaller size than the gigantic Cuisinart one I own now and only use every month or so.

risotto_breville_risotto_cookerSo I made risotto the other night – using my all-time favorite recipe. If you want to try it, click this recipe link to go to my original post about it. You can see from the photo – if you know anything about what risotto is supposed to look like – that it’s creamy, ever so creamy. Exactly right.  Fabulous. Perfect texture. We didn’t plate it immediately because we had some kind of interruption, but 15 minutes later we added about 1/3 cup of water to it and it was right back to the perfect creaminess it’s supposed to be.  I did have to change the recipe slightly to use the cooker rather than frying pans. They were just procedural kinds of changes, and used fewer pans. The Breville Risotto Plus holds enough to serve at least 4 servings, maybe 5. Perfect for my risotto needs. If you were serving risotto as a side dish, it would serve more, of course.

Do I recommend this new gadget/cooking utensil? You betcha. As I try making different things in it, I’ll let you know how it works out. But so far, as a risotto cooker it’s met and exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. Bravo to Breville!

Posted in Utensils, on July 30th, 2013.

It’s not often that I buy a kitchen utensil purely for the beauty factor. The first time I saw this (at a cooking class, being used by the demonstrating chef) I was smitten with the gorgeous lines. Not knowing what it was called, I searched around and couldn’t find it. Three months went by and I went to another class and aha! They had them on their store shelves. It was my lucky day because the store was offering an anniversary discount, a one-time item discount AND my 10% off class discount. So I got it at almost half off!

The can is part of Curtis Stone’s line of kitchen ware. He’s a celebrity chef (Australian) although I think he lives here in the U.S. The oil can is available online several places, and it’s at amazon too. It’s called the Curtis Stone Go With The Flow Oil Can 750 mil. There are 2 sizes – here’s the smaller one – Curtis Stone Go with The Flow Oil Can, 16-Ounce. My photos weren’t anywhere near as nice as the one above from chefscatalog. And it shows both sizes. The prices at amazon are not discounted, I don’t think – the big one is $69.99, and the smaller one $55.99. Expensive for a container for oil, I know . . . but I just had to have it.  The reviews on amazon do say that some people have a problem with the spout leaving a drip, and that the gasket in the middle (where you unscrew the top portion) doesn’t seal as well as some folks thought it should. If I have more data about this later, I’ll update this post. But for now, the ever-so pretty oil can is sitting right next to the stove, and it’s filled with grapeseed oil. That’s my go-to oil most of the time. I do use olive oil and EVOO  – those are both in bottles on a tray nearby.

Posted in pressure cooker, Utensils, on March 20th, 2013.

duocombi_large_horizontal_product

This post isn’t about a recipe. It’s just about pressure cookers, what makes them tick (ha! that’s a joke, the old-fashioned ones did kind of tick or jitter, new ones don’t). Most of this is synopsized (is that a word?) from my latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It was so interesting I thought I’d share it with you.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll already know that I particularly like to know the “why” of things. The science of cooking. I imagine this comes from the genetics I got from my dad – he was an engineer, and probably would have liked me to be one too, but I took a different path. Yet, when it comes to cooking, as I’ve gotten older (oh, excuse me, mature!) I really like knowing why things work. Like what is the maillard reaction (that’s the effect of caramelization or browning in a pan, mostly related to meat, but it could be anything that’s cooked to a high enough heat and creates a fond, that brown stuff that sticks to the pan, where all the flavor lies)? Or how/why does baking powder or soda makes things rise. Why is arborio rice different than long grain and why do they cook differently? You know, those kinds of things.

Just a bit of pressure cooker background here – I was given a pressure cooker in 1962 when I got married the first time. I used it, and then one unfortunate day I was cooking artichokes, got distracted, went outside and totally forgot about the artichokes jiggling away in the kitchen. When I came back through the door about 30 minutes later, the smell assailed me – burned is all I can say. The pressure cooker, one of those old-old Presto versions – was still on the stove, the jiggly top had blown off and the artichokes were burned to a crisp and obviously there was no more water inside. The interior couldn’t be cleaned up, and I discovered immediately that the bottom of the pan was warped. Big time warped. It had developed a rounded bottom – so bad that the pan wouldn’t sit level anyway, although it was still barely usable (amazing, when you consider what I’d done to it!). Plus, I couldn’t get that burned smell out of the pan in any event. I kept it for years, out of guilt, I think, that I’d been so careless as to ruin the darned thing. Hoping there would be a solution. (No.)

But I’d remembered all these ensuing years how much time they saved sometimes. It was at a cooking class about 5-6 years ago that the instructor (Deb Buzar) made short ribs, and she did it in the pressure cooker. It wasn’t a pressure cooker class – but she’d arrived at the class at about 5pm, was somewhat short on time to prep for the class. But, she explained that she always does her barbecued short ribs in the pressure cooker – mostly because the recipe she shared (linked just above – and is still my go-to short rib recipe) was from her mother-in-law, and SHE had always made it in the pressure cooker. It was at that class I decided to buy one.

Being a judicious buyer as I am, I went online and read reviews about PC’s. Mostly at amazon.com. There are all varying prices – from under $100 to nearly $300. After reading reviews, I decided to buy a Fagor, and purchased a variation of the 5-piece set (the one you see pictured at the top) – Fagor Duo Combi 5-Piece Pressure Cooker Set. It has 2 different sized pans, with two lids – one which includes the rubber sealing ring that allows the pan to come to pressure, and the second one just an ordinary glass lid,  and also came with a pasta/steamer insert. I think it’s about $150. The set I bought from amazon didn’t come with the pasta insert and didn’t have the glass lid. I’ve been nothing but happy with my purchase. I don’t use it every day. I don’t even use it every week, but when I use it – I’m very grateful I have it. Lately I’ve used it most often for cooking dried beans, which has been a revelation to me. I’m not trying to convince you to buy a Fagor. I’m only sharing my process and that I’ve been happy with my decision.

So fast forward to the other day when I was reading Cook’s Illustrated, and they had a lengthy article about PCs. Purposely I didn’t flip the couple of pages to read which ones were their winners. Here’s what I learned.

Pressure cookers function based on a very simple principle. In a tightly sealed pot, the boiling point of liquid is higher. As the pot heats up, pressure begins to build. This pressure makes it more difficult for water molecules to turn to vapor – therefore raising the boiling point from 212 to 250 degrees. Why does this matter? The superheated steam generated in the cooker makes food cook faster. And because the pot stays closed, cooking requires much less liquid than usual, and flavors concentrate.

steam_digesterContraptions for cooking under pressure have been around for a long, long time. They were first invented by Denis Papin in 1679. He was a French mathematician and physicist and invented it because he wanted to reduce bones (probably from cows, pigs and sheep) to bone meal. Some time in the 1900’s, after World War II, there was a big surge to develop them for the home cook. At one time I used my badly warped pressure cooker to cook chicken backs and necks (which were dirt cheap back in the 1970’s), reduce them to mush, and feed them to my female dog who had just whelped and was quite thin and weary from caring for and feeding her litter of puppies. It worked like a charm to give her lots of calcium. The bone mixture was loaded with calories too. She wolfed it down.

Anyway, early pressure cookers had some inherent problems (and the article said there were some unscrupulous manufacturers too), but as the years have gone by they’ve been tested and designed for ease of use – and safety for home use. No toggle thing that ticks. With mine, I bring it up to temperature and it starts to spit steam. Once it’s a steady stream of steam, I reduce the temp, and it sits on the range with no need to watch it at all, until the minutes have ticked away. Once done, you can just let it cool down on its own. You can flip a toggle and release the steam, or I put it in my kitchen sink and run cold water over it for about 15 seconds and it’s down to a regular/no pressure. Mine has a tiny little plastic plug and when it’s under steam pressure the plug sticks up (kind of like those little plastic thingies that come in turkeys, that supposedly pop out when the turkey is done). Once pressure is released, the plastic plug slips back down into the lid so I know it’s safe to remove the lid. It’s very easy and I feel very safe using it.

The article concluded that 6-quart pans aren’t very useful. Mine is an 8-quart, which was the preferred size. They also highly recommended a 9 inch width. Some are 7 1/2 inches, but they didn’t like them much. The bottom of pressure cooker pans enclose a heavy-duty aluminum ring, encased in stainless steel, that regulates and retains heat. If that ring is too small, food on the outer edges can burn. And they cautioned about using pans on a burner where the flame can lick up the sides and can damage both the locking mechanisms in the lids and the rubber gaskets. So don’t use the cooker on a really high BTU burner (those are always a wider ring of flame). Better to use a regular burner, although it will take a bit more time to bring it up to temperature. The 2 winners had base thicknesses of over 7 millimeters thick. Several other models were under 7 millimeters and didn’t perform as well. Some models didn’t quite reach/maintain the 250 degree desired temp. Only the top one did. fissler_vitaquick_pressurecookerThe 2nd best, their Best Buy model (the one I own, above) didn’t quite get to 250 degrees, but was very close. All the others were less, so cooking times were longer. Some models also lost fluid (meaning they vented too much steam). The two top models lost a very tiny amount, which is ideal. The number one model was the Fissler Vitaquick Pressure Cooker, 8.5qt.  It’s $279. The #2 choice was the one I own (see link in top paragraph if you’re interested).

Electric pressure cookers were also examined and found wanting, for a variety of reasons: smaller size (too small), the nonstick coating inside was less durable than the stainless steel in regular models, they lacked handles, they spun around when stirring, and weaker heating elements. The only model they half-heartedly recommended was Emeril by T-fal CY4000001 6-Quart Electric Pressure Cooker, Silver.

If you’re interested, the article says that 5 recipes from Cook’s Illustrated’s new book, Pressure Cooker Magic (not out yet, I gather, since I can’t find it online anywhere), are available for free for 4 months (until May 13th, 2013). You will have to sign in/up (free) in order to access the recipes. There’s one for Asian-Style Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Chicken Broth, Easy Chicken and Rice, Easy Ziti with Sausage and Peppers, and Parmesan Risotto.

I do have a number of recipes on my blog prepared in the pressure cooker. In case you’re interested, click on the links below. And I just posted 2 days ago an article about cooking beans – if you click on this link, you’ll go to that one, and do print out the 2-page chart which includes the cooking times for cooking every possible kind of bean in a pressure cooker.

Malaysian Inspired Pork Stew
Parsnips in Orange Sauce
Lamb Shanks with Garlicky Madeira Gravy
Sweet and Spicy Barbecued Country Ribs
Carnitas Tacos
Italian Pot Roast
Mushroom Risotto
Beef Stew with Dumplings
No Heat Beef Chili (the beans are made in the pressure cooker)

Posted in Equipment, Utensils, on March 6th, 2012.

sous_vide_supreme

Have you heard about sous vide? That’s pronounced soo veed for the uninitiated. It’s a new method of cooking. Oh my goodness, is it ever a new method of cooking. Most people I talk to have never heard of it. You’re going to see sous vide cooking here on my blog now, since I’m embracing it for some of my cooking (not all, however). It utilizes a very precise temperature controlled water bath to cook food (mostly meat, although it’s also used for cooking fruits and vegetables as well). This post is all about the technique.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Utensils, on January 22nd, 2012.

belkin_stand_collage

I got the niftiest thing for Christmas. And it’s interesting enough, and works so well, I thought you should know all about it. I put it on my amazon wishlist and one of our kids got it for me. It’s a stand for holding my iPad. I suppose it works for most tablet computers, and it works like a charm for me! I use it here in the kitchen – when I’m cooking and need to refer to my blog, for instance, where most of my recipes have been posted. Or, I can go anywhere online – not just my own blog, of course. My iPad lives here in our kitchen. We have a very large island and my desktop computer lives on one side and my iPad on the other (that sounds really decadent, doesn’t it – two computers in the kitchen). But, you know, the iPad won’t do a lot of things – like print anything – and it doesn’t display things in my Google Reader very well. And I don’t blog from it. But it’s fantastic for looking up things. It’s great for travel (reading email). It’s connected to our wi-fi, so I can go almost anywhere in the house with it.

And when I’m cooking, it’s such a waste of paper, these days, to print out another copy of something when I can just read the recipe online. I merely unhook my iPad from its charging cord and set it up right in front of my kitchen prep area on this stand. The rubber type wand will move the screen up/down/left/right as necessary. That way I won’t get grated cheese on the screen, or smear butter on the edges. If my hands are messy, it’s easy to clean it off the wand – a whole lot easier than getting it off the iPad screen! And I’ve set up my iPad to never go to sleep, so for the duration of my cooking time it’s “on.” It’s called a Belkin Kitchen Stand and Wand for Tablets. It’s $29.26 at the moment from amazon. A great tool for cooks, I think.

Posted in Utensils, on August 10th, 2011.

bob_kramer

Until a few months ago I’d never heard of Bob Kramer. First I read about him in one of my cooking magazines. And then I noticed he was teaching a class at Sur la Table. My DH is the one who carves meat and sharpens the knives most of the time. Though, I’m the one who bought the Furi knives a few years ago – stainless steel ones – and also purchased a knife sharpening system from Furi too. Those I use in my everyday cooking. But we – neither one of us – seem to have perfected the sharpening process very well. Some months ago Dave spent an hour or more with all the equipment out on the kitchen counter trying to get a good edge on my most favored knives. Unsuccessfully.

So, when I saw the Bob Kramer knife and sharpening class at Sur la Table, I signed us up for it. This was not a cheap expedition, I’ll tell you. The class was $100 apiece, so we decided to make that our birthday presents to each other.

Also, I’ll tell you that I have lots of knives in my kitchen. Years and years ago (this would have been the early 1970’s) I’d acquired a full set of Cutco stainless steel knives. They’re very good knives, and they’ve been a sturdy go-to group all these years. I have nearly every knife they make. Once you have Cutco knives, you can send them back to the factory to be re-sharpened (no charge except for the shipping to them). But it takes a couple of weeks to get them back. A nuisance, for sure. I try to remember to do it when we’re about to leave on a vacation. That way I won’t miss them so much! In the meantime, though, I mentioned above, I bought a couple of Furi knives too – the Santoku style. And those have been my day to day knives for mincing and chopping.

This Bob Kramer class, though, was fascinating. I was riveted to his every word (he’s a great story-teller) as he shared his life history and how he came to be a knife maker. A custom knife maker. But he also (now) has contracted with Henckels to make a specialized line of knives, using his lifetime knowledge of how to construct a knife (including the forging aspect of it) and sells them at Sur la Table. Some years ago he even spent time at a steel forge so he would really understand the composition of steel and the process of hand forging. He came to the conclusion after years of work that carbon steel is the only way to go to make a knife and keep it sharp.

bob_kramer_knivesHe didn’t disparage stainless knives at all; he just doesn’t use them. He finds them much harder to hone an edge, and the edge doesn’t hold as long as knives made with carbon steel. The only problem is that carbon steel will stain and discolor. He suggested that whenever you’re using a carbon steel knife keep a dry cloth next to your cutting board and use it frequently to keep the knife dry. Even water will stain a carbon steel.

Kramer also sells a line of stones (sharpening stones). His are water stones (not oil, as some are), and you can buy several types. We bought one. I learned a lot about stones during the class. I remember watching my dad sharpen knives for my mother when I was a child. He’d spit on the stone and use the same round motion Bob Kramer uses. The trick is the angle. We learned that most knife sharpening units (the free standing types you pull a knife through) are set to sharpen at about 20° tilt. He recommended about 12-15°. He also explained that to get an edge you need to exert about 4-6 pounds of pressure on the knife. How do you know? Simple! Get out your kitchen scale, set a soft surface on it (like a towel), zero out the weight, then press the knife blade onto the scale until you reach 4-6 pounds. It’s a whole lot more pressure than you think. It’s clear to me that whenever I’ve sharpened knives before I’ve never exerted enough pressure on the blade.

He also talked about testing the burr. That’s the little tiny edge (bend) that develops from using your knives on a hard surface (cutting boards). The chopping motion eventually curls the edge over slightly. And as long as there’s a burr, you’ll never get the knife sharp. I knew that part – from another class I took some years ago, and at that time I bought a Chantry which I’ve used with regularity ever since. Successfully. But now that I know more about better sharpening methods (using the water stone) I’ll probably retire my Chantry.

In the process of sharpening he tested each blade periodically – he did the magazine test, he calls it – you take a page out of a magazine, or a piece of newsprint and cut with the knife. If it doesn’t slice right through it, it’s not sharp enough. Back to the stone it went. And he tested it at several places on the knife edge – you want that sharpness the full length of the blade. If you use a larger, longer knife for chopping, and you  use the pivot method (leaving the knife point down, just picking up the back end and moving it over to continue chopping) or something close to it, you know that the bulk of the cutting action is done toward the rear – nearer the handle end of the blade. And all the way to the rear end of it too.

In demonstrating the sharpening process (with the wet stone he’d soaked in water for about 20 minutes), after he’d finished sharpening each knife, he took them a couple of feet away where he had taped down a regular, ordinary piece of cardboard. Probably about 6 x 14 inches long, approximately. He gently massaged the knife on the cardboard – just like he was honing with the stone. That smooths out the edge. Cleans it, too, of any steel shavings. Then he wiped it very clean with a cloth. All of his knives are stored with a knife guard too. Good thing since they were razor sharp when he got done! You can buy those at Sur la Table also.

The knives he manufactures have a few unique characteristics. All things he learned over the years of professional cooking he did, and during the years he ran a knife sharpening business (mostly for restaurant chefs) in Seattle (he doesn’t have time for that anymore). He makes all of his knives with wider blades, because he (like most cooks) uses the flat side of the blade to carry mounds of food to a bowl or cooktop. He also rounds the top of the blade (the non-cutting edge) because he learned that most professional chefs develop a mean callus from constant pressure on that part of the blade. Made sense to me! He also constructs a heftier handle. He does make custom knives (now he does an auction on his website for them – you don’t even want to know how much they sell for – but they’re stunningly beautiful) and makes different shapes of handles with different woods. This line of knives at Sur la Table, though, all have the black handles as you’ll see in the photo above.

imageThere were lots of questions at the end, which he was happy to answer. One was meaningful to me – he recommended using an end grain wood cutting board.  Here’s a photo of the Boos brand available at Williams-Sonoma, although you can find them at numerous kitchenware stores.  You can tell they’re an end grain because it has a checkerboard look to it – each square is an end cut of wood. The point is that chopping is what’s hard on a knife, obviously. An end-grain board is softer because the knife blade will be cushioned slightly by the grain itself. He also said that bamboo boards are inherently soft, so they’re okay too. He particularly discouraged us from using the type of boards I use all the time – I have several of them, the Epicurean line (I bought them because they have a very tight grain, they’re actually some kind of wood composite, can go in the dishwasher and supposedly inhibit bacteria growth). Unfortunately, for just those reasons, the surface is extremely hard, so it’s hard on knives. I don’t own an end grain board, so guess that will need to be added to my wish list in the future.

My DH had said before we went to the class, that he thought we should buy one of the knives. We did. I’d really liked to have purchased two of them, but they’re pricey. Beyond pricey, so one will be fine for now. If you want to learn more about his sharpening techniques, he has videos with better explanations than I’ve given you. Click on over to the sharpening page on his website for that.

If you have a Sur la Table store near you, you might look to see if Bob Kramer is teaching there. I’d definitely recommend the class. You’re going to want to buy one of his knives, though, so take your checkbook or credit card!

Two years ago: Sizzling Rib Eyes with Red Pepper Sauce
Four years ago: Goat Cheese Chive Muffins

Posted in Utensils, on August 2nd, 2011.

corn_cutter_closeup1

Regularly in the summertime we eat corn ON the cob. But, I do dislike how corn gets stuck in my teeth – and you just hope somebody tells you you have some corn messing up your smile – so when I can remove the corn and make something wonderful, I’m usually happier. I’d had a corn “thingie” I bought a couple of years ago. Oxo’s, to be exact. I’m usually  happy with their products. But no, I really wasn’t. It didn’t zip off the corn as easily as I thought it should. And it had big teeth on the underside that scared me to wash it! Although my DH does 99% of the dishes in our house, so I was worried about him scraping a hand.

So, when I saw somebody at a cooking class using this one, by Kuhn Rikon, I grabbed one in a flash. It has a plastic protector for storing in a drawer. It removes several rows of corn at a time too. Don’t confuse this with their other two corn zippers – this is a new one, made of plastic except for the blades. It’s dishwasher safe, also.

What can I tell you except you need to have one of these, that’s all. It makes removing corn from the cob as easy as slicing soft butter, almost. Maybe not quite, but close. I zipped 5 ears of corn in about 2-3 minutes, maybe less.

corn_with_cutter1

Posted in Utensils, on July 31st, 2011.

It was a few weeks ago that I was watching America’s Test Kitchen (I Tivo it every time there’s a new episode). And in the gadget section of the program they talked about ice cream scoops. I took careful note of the discussion because I’ve not been happy with the scoop I’ve had for several years. The testers decided that by far the best was this Rosle ice cream scoop. I think I own just one other Rosle kitchen utensil. This one really works.

The scoop itself has relatively sharp edges – not sharp like a knife – but thin edges that “cut” ice cream well. That, of course, is what’s most important. The handle is heavy – the whole gadget is heavier than most, their entire line is heavy, actually. But not heavy enough that it’s hard to hold. I do like this new scoop a LOT. I’d highly recommend it. It is pricey. I had a coupon at Sur la Table, so I got 10% off, therefore it was under $20. Even at amazon it’s $22. Maybe Rosle won’t discount their stuff . . .don’t know. In any case, add it to your amazon.com wishlist. If you don’t have a wishlist, maybe you need to start one? What I photographed is the Roasted Strawberry and Buttermilk Ice Cream I wrote up just yesterday.

Posted in Desserts, Utensils, on June 12th, 2011.

image

You’ve seen this picture before, if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile. It’s something I make every spring when fresh Bing cherries are available. It’s a fantastic topping for vanilla ice cream. Or better yet, the way I served it the other night to dinner guests, in a kind of Eton Mess, a mixture, or layers, or parfait rather, of crumbled meringue cookies, vanilla ice cream, these cherries and a bit of whipped cream, then some of the magnificent juice drizzled on top.

olive_cherry_pitterbings_pitsWhat I like about these is that they’re incredibly easy to make – you do have to pit the cherries. Well, I guess I should say you don’t have to pit them, but I prefer them that way. I use my olive pitter – pictured at right – and it seems to pit cherries like magic.  Once they’re all pitted, marinate the Bing cherries in a little sugar, then add some red wine (or use cranberry juice if you don’t want to use wine). Place them in a large flat sauté pan with a curl of stick cinnamon, a clove, an allspice berry (whole) and you bring it to a simmer and cook for just a short time. Cool. Add a little good, thick balsamic vinegar. Done. They don’t cook long enough to truly “cook” the cherries – they’re almost still fresh/raw, almost but not quite, so they still retain their lovely color.

I try to make this twice during Bing cherry season, and once this compote is made, it keeps for awhile in the refrigerator, so I’ll still have some maybe into late July. You should too.

printer-friendly PDF of just the recipe, or read the original Fresh Bing Cherry Compote blog post I did in 2009. It’s a recipe from Russ Parsons.
Two years ago: Garbanzo Bean, Feta and Cilantro Salad (a real favorite)
Four years ago: Baby Back Ribs with Peanut Butter Slather

Posted in Desserts, Utensils, on June 8th, 2011.

teddies-apple-cake

My plan had been that the next recipe I’d try was the Green Goddess dressing in my newest cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century. But we were invited to some friends for dinner and there would be a crowd, so I offered to make two desserts. With that in mind, there was no question that the 2nd most requested recipe from the New York Times’ recipe archives would be the one I’d try first.

teddies-apple-cake-sliceThis is an easy recipe. In fact, in Amanda Hesser’s headnote to the recipe she says: “For reasons that elude me, cakes are reputed to require long hours in the kitchen, when anyone who actually makes cakes knows that cookies are the true time suck . . . “ She goes on to say “if you look back in the Times’ archives at recipes from 30+ years ago, when most people cooked every day, there were many more cake recipes. Cake was a staple you whipped up every couple of days, after the previous one had vanished into crumbs.

What’s great about this cake is that there’s nothing odd in it – you might even have all the ingredients in your pantry right this minute. To me, that’s a bonus if I don’t have to go to the grocery store, or send my DH for me. You just need apples, vegetable oil, walnuts, raisins and eggs. The other items are baking staples. The cake has no frosting or topping at all. That certainly makes it an easy cake.

Picnik collageThe cake batter uses vegetable oil instead of butter, which, according to the headnote, makes for a very light crumb. It’s really simple to put together, just as Hesser suggests. The apples can turn brown, so I didn’t do those until the batter was complete – then I just folded them in with the raisins and walnuts. I used my handy-dandy apple corer-cutter. It’s my newest, fun gadget in my kitchen. And when I need apples, this make such quick work of it. You do have to peel the apples first, but it really didn’t take me long then to wham this thing down to get wedges, then I cut each slice in half and into the batter they went.

The cake bakes for 75 minutes in a greased and floured tube pan, then cools before you remove it. I will tell you that my heart skipped a beat when I tried to remove it from the pan. I used a plastic knife kind of thing to clear the edges, pulled it out of the outer form, but then I had to turn it upside down (off that center tube part) and turn it out. My hand isn’t all that big and it was a precarious moment or two before it came loose and plopped, still barely warm into my hand, then I carefully balanced it on its side until I could put it onto the footed cake plate. Whew. If you have a second set of hands, I’d recommend it. I hadn’t let it cool completely to room temp, either, so that might have made a difference since it was almost bendable. It could easily have broken in half – do the deed in a hurry so that doesn’t happen!

The texture of the top of the cake is so interesting – it’s craggy – that’s the best word, and one used by somebody else who made this. You can barely see some of the cracking shards on the top of the cake in the picture –  they cracked even more when I balanced the cake in my hands. A couple of pieces broke off (oh darn, I had to taste them right then and there, of course).

apple slicerIn my book, this would serve a whole lot more than 8 people, but that’s what the recipe says. And the original suggests serving it with vanilla ice cream. By all means do, but Amanda Hesser thought lightly whipped and sweetened heavy cream was better. That was my first choice anyway – for both of the desserts. Amanda suggested mixing some crème fraiche with the whipped cream, which I did. For a cup of whipping cream, after it was whipped I added about 1/3 cup of crème fraiche.

I do want to share with you about my newest gadget for the kitchen. It’s an apple corer. But it’s a different apple corer than some – note the differences between the two photos – in the top one the cuts make 8 wedges. In the bottom one I’ve twisted the unit and it now has 16 cutter blades. That’s what I used for the cake.

The unit is made by Amco, costs about $17, and it’s available through Amazon, if you’re interested – the Amco Dial-A-Slice Adjustable Apple Corer and SlicerGraters, Peelers & Slicers).

IMG_4563You can see how it works – it cuts out the core itself – in the picture at right. I have two other such slicers, but not as good as this one. None of them peel the apples – that’s about the only down side to it. I’ve used it several times, and been pleased each time. It has small clips on the red outer edge – once pulled out slightly the corer rotates to adjust to either setting. It also has a clear base that fits on the cutter blade side so you won’t cut yourself if you leave it in your kitchen drawer.

So, the bottom line? We loved the cake. It was really extra tasty. I cut it into about 20 slices instead of 8. I’ll make it again. In fact I have just one tiny slice that didn’t get eaten and I’ll be enjoying that in the next day or two. Some people eat it for breakfast. That also sounds good! The cake is different – the texture (with the raisins and big chunks of apple) – the top, crackly edges – even the cake part itself. All delicious. Worth making. I see why it’s such a highly requested recipe.

printer-friendly PDF

Teddie’s Apple Cake

Recipe: New York Times, 11/2007
Serving Size: 8 (and up to about 20)
NOTES: This recipe appeared in The Times in an article by Jean Hewitt. It will serve a WHOLE lot more people than 8 – I think I served about 20 small slices, although it’s difficult to cut small slices of this cake. Do serve it with sweetened whipped cream with a little added creme fraiche (1 cup cream, 1/3 cup creme fraiche added at the end). I did everything before I peeled and sliced the apples, then added them to the batter.

Butter for greasing pan
3 cups flour — plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups Granny Smith apple — peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, can also use Honeycrisp
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) while assembling the remaining ingredients. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.
2. Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts and raisins and stir until combined. Do not overmix.
3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired. [I prefer sweetened whipped cream.]
Per Serving (for 8 – you’ll get many more servings than that): 923 Calories; 52g Fat (49.7% calories from fat); 12g Protein; 107g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 80mg Cholesterol; 455mg Sodium.

A year ago: Italian Spaghetti and Meat Sauce, with Meatballs (my old-time favorite I’ve made for about 40 years)
Two years ago: Grilled Caesar Salad

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...