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Oysters Deluxe at The Boston Wine School - a great gift for yourself or a friend

Aren't you starting to think about next year already? I know I am. In the last flush of holiday hustle, there are so many decisions to make. I've been intrigued by the notion of decision-fatigue. Even President Obama understands the power of eliminating decision-fatigue. I think I read that he wears only one or two suits, completely eliminating wasted energy on unimportant decisions. Having some constraints actually can be freeing since it turns out, our brains seem to have a finite ability to make decisions. Even unimportant ones seem to detract from our ability to make later decisions. This applies to critical and non-critical things. It applies to will-power and food decisions. If you're starting to think about resolutions, it's an interesting thing to consider. While I love diversity in food, I've found that having the breakfast routine really helps me start the day on a positive note and that leads to better food choices throughout the day. But before we get to resolutions, let's finish up our holiday decisions, shall we?

Should we bake more cookies? What should we put on the menu for Christmas dinner - duck? Seafood? Turkey? Is it too late to do a year-in-review TinyLetter? (TinyLetters are shorter and more personal than a newsletter, sign up here and let me know what you think.) What's the best gift I could give myself or my favorite person?

My goal is always to make your life more delicious, more grounded, more informed, and more fun. So here we go, I'm reducing your decision fatigue right here and now:

1. Cookies: While some of us have been requested to "stop baking cookies" by those watching their figures. I think cookies are such a simple joy. I say yes! Bake one more batch. You can help moderate your sweet tooth in a couple of ways. Most all cookie doughs freeze well. This means you can bake a small batch and roll the rest in parchment and wrap well for future slice-and-bake treats. I have a log of peanut butter cookie dough in the freezer now. Okay, most of a log of peanut butter cookie dough...

Cookie Platter

2. Christmas menu: Unlike Thanksgiving which tends to be traditional, with favorites requested again and again; Christmas dinner around here seems to be the time for a little flexibility. This year I think we'll do a seafood risotto Christmas Eve and a roast duck Christmas day. Or maybe a turkey breast. I've got that killer cranberry-raspberry sauce from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry and those crackly, sparkling cranberries are begging to be made again.duck_sugared_cranberries

3. TinyLetter: We do love to re-connect with loved ones this time of year. Newsy updates, photo cards, and year-end emails and "listicles". If it seems too much to create your newsletter from scratch, check out TinyLetter. I got great feedback on my first one sent just before Thanksgiving. (Included two recipes for apple cake, too. If you missed it let me know, I'll be happy to re-send.) I've got a special one coming out soon. BOLO: TinyLetter.

4. Killer gift ideas: Okay. I know some of you might still be hunting for the perfect gift. Only three days left to Christmas - how did that happen?  I love to give and get experience gifts. Who needs more stuff?

  • For Cooks: How about private cooking lesson in your own kitchen with a skilled and patient cook at your side? Learn to make food you love with Kitchen Confidence. Email me to set a time for a free consult call. What have you been dying to learn?
  • For the Bivalve Curious: A night out with a special meal, delicious wines, charming company sounds heavenly, doesn't it? Even better, how about a lobster dinner with the "snob-free" Boston Wine School preceded by an everything you always wanted to know about oysters but were afraid to ask class with me? Come join me for this fun tasting adventure, see what wines you prefer with your oysters, discover a few surprises, impress your friends with your new-found oyster lore. What better way to kick off the new year: well-fed, well-lubricated and full of new tastes and ideas. Also, did I mention? OYSTERS. Guests get Oyster Century Club membership and a special gift in addition to dinner and the oyster class. Jonathon's classes sell out and seating is limited so click today!

Oyster_Knife

30 Days of Vitamix - Say hello to Red!

I like red for so many reasons. It's lucky. It's life. It can pull me out of blue. It's the color of World AIDS Day, the color of Women's Heart Health. And it's just plain sexeh.

Meet Red

There's my early Xmas/Birthday present: a Pro Series Vitamix in Candy Apple Red. I'm calling her "Red." She's strong. Powerful. Occasionally loud. Gets the job done. I think we're going to be good friends. I hope she'll last half as long as my old handmixer did. (see Ode to a Handmixer.) That little Black & Decker handmixer, bought my first year of law school just died. I mean, like last week. The Waring anniversary blender a couple weeks ago. I thought I could make do with the food processor but I'm telling you, I'm a fool in love.

Red

There's Red. She's a beauty, isn't she?

 

As I registered her, I saw something about an affiliate program. Well, stay tuned on that.

#30DaysofVitamix

I'm starting a new series here: "30 Days of Vitamix". I'll be including posts on using the Vitamix. I'll cover techniques, ingredients to know, tips, and recipes, including some healthy and some boozy inspirations. Frozen Negroni anyone?  Here's a taste of just some of the things we'll be writing about soon.

 

 

Vitamix Collage

Thanks to my wonderful husband for this terrific gift! A great addition to the family!

Anything is Possible - Oysters and Out of the Shell Pairings at Urban Grape

Kicking off the news season of pop-ups at The Urban Grape, The Oyster Century Club co-hosted an evening of inventive pairings with five oystsers expertly shucked by The Boston Raw Bar Company.

Shucking and Slurping

TJ Douglas knocked it out of the park with the pairings:

  • Wellfleets (Crassostrea Virginicas) welcomed our guests paired with a sparkling Gruner Veltliner.
  • Urban Hops' Ben Bouton chose a Leipziger Gose to pair with Sunken Meadows (Crassostrea Virginicas) from Eastham.
  • Kiapara (Crassostrea Gigas) from New Zealand were paired with Bride of the Fox Saké.
  • Kumamotos (Crassostrea Sikamea) from Totten Inlet Washington paired with light Sicilian red: Cos Frappato.
  • and we ended with Pangea's own Standish Shore (Crassostrea Virginicas)from Duxbury. This was paired with an intense new gin from the Schwarzwald, Germany's Black Forest.

I shared some thoughts on the oysters, sustainability, merrroir, demonstrated how to shuck with our Oyster Century Club shucking knife, and chatted with new members. Good time had by all!

Follow the hashtag #oyster100 to see news of upcoming tastings and tweetups.

Thanks to Boston Raw Bar, Pangea Shellfish and the Whole Urban Grape team for a delicious and eye-opening evening!

UGcollage

 

and you know me, if some is good, more is better...

 

my night cap:

nightcap

 

Sweet dreams indeed. See you at our next event!

Aprons inspire - Kitchenwares, Chef Scelfo & Yours Truly in the Boston Globe

How excited was I when none other than @SchmattaHari herself asked me if I'd like to share my opinion on aprons? Pretty darned excited. First of all it's Jill Radsken, smart, funny journalist and owner of the best twitter handle ever. Second, "share my opinion" are probably my three favorite words, maybe even as exciting as "dinner is served." Seriously, though. I'm now on the same page of the  The Boston Globe  with one of the best chefs in town, Chef Michael Scelfo, AND my favorite and most loyal sponsor, KitchenWares -- on the same page! 

 

aprons

Aprons inspire a jump-start in the kitchen - Food & dining - The Boston Globe.

Feels good. Now I better get a fancy new apron, don't you think?

The Wrong Kind of Surprise - Epi-Pen? Check. Clear tote? Check? Potential Disaster? Check.

I was packing for my quick trip to Maryland, having been invited to a pre-season Redskins-Patriots game by my brother. Thanks Mike! It was great fun and my first time Tailgating.

photo 2

My first time - I wasn't enjoying it at all.

Mike knows more about the game than most people, and also about the cheerleaders. If you get an invite, go. If you're lucky, like me, your team might spend their whole first half trying to get out of their own end zone, allowing you ample time to preview the team. It was the third quarter before New England earned their second first down and I think a minute 47 left before they put points on the board. But it was a fun time anyway. #HTTR

 

It's in the Bag

Since the NFL now has strict rules about what can or cannot be carried into a stadium, I had to take a close look at what I planned to carry. A wallet, a couple personal items, and that's about all that's allowed. See the statements and exclusions here. You can also carry a one gallon zip top bag, but I found this regulation clear bag was on sale, so why not?

tote

 

The regulation clear totes are meant to streamline the access to any game, making it easy for staff to check what you're carrying.

You'll Never Believe What Happened Next

Don't you hate those teaser headlines? Me too, but it's important info I'm conveying here, so I need to make sure you're paying attention.

Anyone who carries an Epi-Pen knows it's a pain in the butt. It cannot get too hot or it will lose effectiveness - so do NOT store it in your glove compartment. Not even for a short while. Don't think a gel ice pack is the answer, either. It cannot be too cool. So what does one do if one is tailgating and heading to a game in the heat of August? My plan was to bring my gel ice eye mask and place that next to the ice in the cooler, then wrap that loosely around the Epi-pen and bring that in the clear tote into Fedex Field.

I'm grateful to have an Epi-Pen and hope never to have to use it to save my life. Having been through this before, I can tell you, there's nothing in that experience that tempts me to repeat it. And I'm lucky to have lived to tell the story.

epipen

 

See that little window? Where it says "REPLACE if solution is discolored" -? Well I found my back up pen when packing and thought, "Hm, when was the last time I checked the one in my purse?" I couldn't recall. So I checked.

CLOUDY.

I tossed it and placed the newer (clear window) pen in my bag.

Imagine if I'd accidently ingested something that caused anaphylaxis and then took out my expired pen to save my life? Gives me the shivers just to think of it.

  • PLEASE check your pen NOW. Place a note on your calendar to check at some regular intervals - maybe the first of the month is an easy way to remember? It takes only a second to be sure you're safe. In the event of anaphylaxis you do not want to find out - as you're gasping for air - that your pen has lost effectiveness.
  • Please share this post with your friends and family and followers.

 

Skins

As you can see, we had a fun, safe evening at Fedex Field. My brother was sure to place food items for me in separate bags, cooked with separate tongs, and covered my side of the grill with foil. Bonus: it made cleanup easier. We shared food, but not allergens, safely. I picked up hotdogs and buns that were allergen free and my pen survived, too.

The Pats lost but it could have been so much worse. Get your game on and check those pens!

 

Could You Eat Well on $4 a Day? A Cookbook to Help Food Stamp Recipients Cook Cheaply Becomes a Massive Viral Hit

Four dollars a day. What could you do with four dollars a day that would feed your family? You might be surprised.  

four dollars

Maryn McKenna brings us this fantastic story of an upcoming cookbook (available now on PDF) that aims to fill in a critical gap between food assistance and eating well on a budget, even a food stamp budget.

Key ingredients missing? Recipes and skills.

This clever Canadian started out offering a free PDF on her site, that literally overwhelmed her site with 200K downloads more than once. She turned it into a Kickstarter (finally a Kickstarter we can get love!) and launched in May. You can buy it here still in PDF form and the book should be published by year's end.

Leanne's blurb says:

I'm a food-studies scholar and avid home cook in NYC, by way of Canada.

I think everyone should eat great food every day. Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill.

Cooking is easy — you just have to practice.

Recipes are simple, and include photographs of steps to show someone exactly how to to prepare the dishes. Honey and Chipotle Glazed Sweet Potato? Yes, please.

 

good-and-cheap-cover-1024x1024

Read more from the always excellent Maryn McKenna see the National Geographic series "The Plate".

A Cookbook to Help Food Stamp Recipients Cook Cheaply Becomes a Massive Viral Hit – The Plate: Maryn McKenna.

 Eating well on a little more

For another take on the eating well on less theme, I highly recommend Amy McCoy's Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy's book is filled with delicious foods anyone can make and she gives the budget breakdown of every dish. For example: her Height of Summer Blueberry Crumble (p. 164) serves 6 to 8 for $5 - $10 depending on whether you add ice cream. It works out without the ice cream to about $1.21 per person. Amy's Chicken in Cider Gravy is a favorite here, and her Cornmeal Crust Peach Crostata gets rave reviews every summer.

PGG_bookcover

Essential Kitchen Equipment for Perfect Simple Mashed Potatoes: a Potato Ricer

In my Essential Kitchen Equipment series, I’m going to share overviews of what I consider to be the items no kitchen should be without. I’m not talking about the latest gadget. I’m talking about maybe a dozen or so simple items you must have to make your kitchen hum.

Of course one could spend endless amounts on all sorts of fancy equipment and gadgets. Most of those will not make you a better cook, these will: The Sharpest Knife in the Block.

A Stock Pot 

 

I'm putting an asterisk next to "essential" here. I know, I know, that's not what "essential" means, so this qualified "essential" what are we saying exactly?

  • Does every kitchen need to have a potato ricer? No.
  • Do you need a potato ricer to make very good mashed potatoes? No.
  • If you're a slightly food-obsessed Thanksgiving-lover with a husband for whom no amount of potatoes are ever "enough" - is a potato ricer really essential? You bet.

So, if you're in that latter category with me, this is definitely something you should acquire and I guarantee you'll be glad you did.

ricer3_OPT

Like a giant garlic press (thanks Carrie!), the ricer is a levered squeezer that allows you to force the hot, boiled potatoes through the holes.

ricer1_OPT

 

 

Recipe for Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Here's an instructographic for Perfect, Simple Mashed Potatoes, if you're more visual.

  1. First, choose your potatoes. I prefer Yukon Gold, they have a yellow flesh that is already flavorful. Second best, Russets. Also choose organic if at all possible. Potatoes are one of those items that are often sprayed with fungicides, and they grow entirely in the soil which can include an accumulation of herbicides, fungicides, pesticides.
  2. Next, peel the potatoes, cut into chunks and place in the pot, big enough to hold them with some room at the top.
  3. Cover with chicken stock or water. If gluten is an issue use water or carefully read the label. Chicken stock (low sodium, organic) lends a nice subtle flavor to the potatoes.
  4. Boil till a knife gently pierces the potatoes.
  5. Heat a small amount of milk, soy milk or coconut milk substitute and soften some butter. These amounts are to taste and I find I can almost eliminate butter altogether by choosing buttery potatoes like Yukon Golds and cooking in chicken stock.
  6. Once the potatoes are done, drain the stock off completely. Return the potato chunks to the hot pot to dry off any remaining liquid.
  7. Place your ricer over your warmed serving bowl, and begin forcing chunks of potato through the ricer.
  8. When all the potatoes are "riced" add hot milk and soft butter to taste, salt and white pepper.

That is it. Easy, perfect mashed potatoes.

Without a ricer, a simple masher will do, or a hand mixer, or even a large fork.

 

potatoes4

 

Common problems to avoid:

  • trying to mash cold potatoes - won't work.
  • using a food processor or blender - no! - you want to eat glue?
  • adding too much extra stuff - good potatoes should taste like potatoes. Not cream cheese, not sour cream, not garlic, not parmesan....In my house we always have delicious homemade gravy and the simplicity of that with simple potatoes is one of the true comforts of Thanksgiving.

 

Don't forget to check with Kitchenwares, our sponsor and our favorite Kitchen supplies store for helpful Thanksgiving prep tools and tips. Their new store Reflections is perfect for tableware for the holiday, too.

National Sushi Day - More Sushi Secrets

This book figured into an almost mystical, years-long unfolding story of sushi, secrets, family and friends. I learned after the fact that June 18 is National Sushi Day. Someone once said "if she didn't have bad timing, she'd have none at all." This may be the best timing I've ever had.

So let me take this timely opportunity to visit the book apart from my own story. First, let's address sustainability issues, after all part of how Marisa came to ask me for a jacket blurb was through my sustainable seafood writing.

Tuna or No Tuna or ???

I was contemplating a second post on the tuna we used for the dinner anyway, but I figure now that folks might be searching for sushi at home tips - may as well post it now.

If you love sushi, and whether or not you've tried to make it at home, I highly recommend this book. The author, Marisa Baggett is a pretty interesting character: an African American woman caterer from Mississippi who falls in love with sushi through a catering job, closes up shop, buys a one way ticket west to go to the California Sushi Academy and ends up publishing this book. I mean, who even ate sushi in Starkville, MS back then? On top of it, Marisa in true American fashion has taken sushi in slightly non-traditional directions. She not only encourages folks to riff on the classics, she gives great tips for incorporating local ingredients.

She also focuses on sustainability, bringing us around to the issue of tuna. I stopped eating bluefin a while back. The population is so depleted, the only hope for its survival is careful management and probably a moratorium on them altogether. That's not likely but I personally do not feel it's ethical to keep eating them in light of the overwhelming data about the pressures on the stock.

The good news is that you don't have to forego sushi. Bluefin was not always the most popular sushi choice, you know. In fact, Japanese used to bury it to lessen the bloody taste of it. Only now as demand for it worldwide has grown, and so the market opportunity in fishing it, have we seen such a crazy feeding frenzy for tuna. Read more about this once disparaged sushi choice by expert Trevor Corson. It's a fascinating bit of Sushi history that most people are largely unaware of.

As with most of our food choices, conscious carnivores know that every choice, like our choice of tuna, carries consequences. In addition to the numbers, there's also the ways that tuna are caught (methods typically used now include unconscionable by-catch). If that wasn't enough, there's mercury which accumulates in unsafe amounts in these top-line predators.

So what's the answer, no more tuna? I think there are some options. We found this frozen yellowfin

yellowfin tuna

under the brand "Sushi at Home" which lists it's country of origin at Korea (likely the processor only.) Anyway, it was an interesting option to incorporate and I was pleased with the texture and quality. I've written to the company to see if they will provide more information. Presumably Whole Foods Market has done their homework as well.

The other option now available here in Boston, is locally caught bluefin from Menemsha. I have mixed feelings about it, but I believe they're not using FADs and probably long lining or pole catching and limited in a way that's likely more regulated than the big international vessels. I'll drop an update here when I get more info on either the frozen or the fresh versions.

 

Sushi Secrets - the Book

Let's take a look at how the book is laid out, we'll use tuna as our example...and also highlight some Southern and some uniquely American items:

In the opening pages Baggett lays out what you need to know about making sushi at home, including a forward by Trevor Corson, Getting Started covers the 8 basic types of sushi. Planning, an overview of the basic types of sushi and tools - each of these include photographs and helpful tips. Buying sushi ingredients includes a suggestion toward local ingredients and a small note about why bluefin tuna is omitted. Great Sauces and Condiments for Sushi, is followed by the first Chapter: Appetizers. Included here are Japanese classics as you might find in a restaurant, Age Dashi Tofu, Chicken Gyoza, Soba Salad, Tempura.

Next is Sashimi including Poké, Oyster San Ten Mori, Tilapia, Tuna and Avocado tartar.

Pressed, Gunkan and Nigiri sushi - includes Tuna Tataki among many others. One I'm dying to try is Avocado and Pomegranate Nigiri. Buttery avo and tart pomegranate sounds fantastic to me.

Thin Rolls is next and includes some of the most interesting combos: Butternut squah rolls, Lamb rolls with mint, Roast Pork Rolls with Sweet Gingered Cherries.

Okra - and Crawfish - Southern staples - makes their appearance in the next chapter, Thick Rolls. (My Mom used to call all my attempts at thin rolls "futomaki" or thick rolls, not necessarily a compliment.)

Catfish and peanuts, two additional Southern favorites - appear in separate Inside Out Rolls.

The Sushi Bowls chapter includes: Egg, Goat Cheese and Green Bean Sushi bowl, Sesame Tuna, Ham and Peach as well as Ratatouille Sushi Bowls (where a tomato is the bowl!)

Next up: Te Maki or Hand Rolls - Crispy Chicken Skin Hand Roll, Glazed Bacon Hand Roll, Coconut Shrimp...Kimchee, Tomato, Anchovy Hand Roll. The Spicy Calamari Te Maki looks divine.

Desserts include plays on themes like chocolate Fudge Wontons and "Eggroll" Cherry Pies, cocktails and mocktails finish the book.

A helpful Resources guide is included as well.

 

This small book it packed with photos that enable even novice sushi fans to explore sushi at home, to get creative and to focus on local sustainable ingredients. Doing good tastes good.

Gochisosama, y'all!

 

Sushi Secrets is published by Tuttle Publishing. It is available by clicking on the cover above through Powell's or at your local independent bookstore. You can also order it through Amazon.

Get to know Marisa via her site: In the Kitchen with a Southern Sushi Chef.

Essential Kitchen Equipment: A Stock Pot

In my Essential Kitchen Equipment series, I'm going to share overviews of what I consider to be the items no kitchen should be without. I'm not talking about the latest gadget. I'm talking about maybe a dozen or so simple items you must have to make your kitchen hum.

Of course one could spend endless amounts on all sorts of fancy equipment and gadgets. Most of those will not make you a better cook, these will: The Sharpest Knife in the Block.

What are the basic pieces of equipment that will serve you well? Sometime people think the reason they can’t or don’t cook is for lack of fancy equipment. Listen, you’re not ordering take out (again) because you don’t have a sous vide machine or slow cooker.

With a very few items you can make delicious, home-cooked meals for one or for a family. You can choose better ingredients, use healthier amounts of fat and salt. You can enjoy cooking and enjoy the results.

Today we’re going to tackle stock pots: what they are, or aren’t, materials they are made from, pros and cons, features of each and I’ll end with some tips.

What is a stock pot?

A stock pot is designed for making stock. What is stock? Simply put, stock is the base for soups and sauces. Broth is “no bones” and stock includes bones. A good stock pot is designed to heat rapidly, to simmer long and evenly. It should be large enough to cover a whole chicken and lots of veggies with room to spare, for example. Boiling lobsters or a large batch of corn on the cob are two other commonly purposes for a stock pot.

Stock Pot

What is the difference between a stock pot and soup pot or a Dutch oven?

Stock pots may, or may not, serve double duty as pot for making soups or stews. The deciding factors will be how much storage and budget you have to devote to cookware and what you plan to use your pot for. The critical difference is the material the pot is made of, and especially the base of the pot. (A Dutch oven is heavy and used for long braises in the oven. We’ll cover those on another day.)

A soup pot must have a heavier base that heats evenly so a thicker soup (think peas or squash) or stews won’t burn as easily. Since your stock pot is typically designed for a higher liquid content the base can be thinner and the material lighter. In general though, go with the heavier, best material you can afford.

Decide whether you will want to use your stockpot most often for stocks, for soups, stews, chili and this will help you determine what sort of stock pot to buy. In my kitchen, I have both a Dutch oven, a pasta pot (which can double as stock pot for many cooks), and a brand new stock pot which I highly recommend.

Shape, Material, Features

Let’s start with shape. Many stockpots are quite tall. Tall is better in as much as the narrower surface of a tall pot will allow less dissipation of water from the stock.

If you’re short like me, tall is also cumbersome. We want to make our lives in the kitchen easier, not harder! Also, if you’re thinking of a tall pot, imagine the heat source at the bottom and how different the top of the pot and the bottom of the pot will heat. Imagine standing at your stove and stirring or picking up and pouring the contents of the pot.

Choose a stock pot that has the volume you desire and the shape that works for you. I’ve seen some that have a flared base, sort of eggplant shaped. I don’t know if it purports to have any benefit but it certainly will take more space to store. Go straight side especially if you don’t have oodles of extra space. Likewise you will find oval pots in many lines. I find it difficult to get even heating end to end since my burner is not oval shaped.

The material from which your stock pot (or any cookware) is made is probably the most important feature in my opinion. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages   and the choice is yours, people who cook a lot are usually pretty devoted to a type.

Here’s a quick overview of the key choices:

 

Material Advantages Disadvantages
  • Copper
Beautiful, heats rapidly and evenly.$500+ Prohibitively expensive, constant upkeep; if you want a show piece and have a housekeeper to polish, polish, polish for you...
  • Aluminum
Heats quickly, cheaper models available in hardware, home goods stores.$21 w/o cover Earlier research seemed to suggest aluminum and Alzheimer’s connection. FDA FWIW does not currently say it’s a risk. Does not heat as evenly as stainless and will react with some foods discoloring and changing flavor.
  • Stainless steel
Lightweight, heats rapidly evenly, sturdy without being too heavy.As low as $10 Caveat emptor.
  • Anodized aluminum
Heats fairly evenly and quickly. Brands like Calphalon are well made.$125-200.  Anodized aluminum is expensive. You cannot wash in the dishwasher.
  • Coated Carbon Steel, enameled
I had an 8 Qt stock pot Le Creuset (best known for their enameled cast iron Dutch ovens) for years. Lightweight.$80.00 Enamel coating can discolor. The size was not large enough to suit me. The lid sputtered. Paint can chip.
  • ★ Stainless Steel w/aluminum or copper core base
With rapid heating of either aluminum or copper sandwiched in the base, surrounded by stainless steel, you get the best of both worlds. Easy cleaning and clean cooking of stainless.$59.95 Copper core bumps you into triple digits price range. Save copper core for sauce pan. For stockpot, unnecessary.

 

 

Features:

  • Vented lid. Genius. My old stock pot would bubble and spit leaving a fine spray all over the stove top. The new one has a small hole in the glass lid with a grommet.
  • Sturdy handles bolted on not simply pressed and adhered on. Remember you’re going to be picking up a heavy pot with hot liquid.
  • Lids can be glass or made of the same material as the pot. Glass has the advantage of allowing you to see the progress of your stock. If you plan to use the stock pot as a Dutch oven, be sure your lid and your handles are oven safe.
  • Curved interior base rather than absolute straight side makes less likely small bits will stick in perimeter.

Size Matters:

  • A 4 or 6 Qt pot will be sufficient for making soup.
  • 8 Qt is good for poaching a chicken, but can be small for making large quantities of stock.
  • 12 Qt is a good size for home cooks who will be making stock, boiling the occasional lobsters.

Stock Tips:

  • Roasting bones (turkey wings or beef or veal bones) in the oven prior to using for stock makes a richer, deeper stock. In addition to developing fond (foundation, the little sticky browned bits) and flavor, it also yields collagen which makes a richer stock with better mouthfeel. Stock Tips of the Culinary Kind: Wonderful Thanksgiving Gravy Begins Here.
  • When straining stock be sure to place a large bowl or pot under your colander! More than one cook (ahem) has simmered a beautiful stock for hours only to watch it flow right through the colander they placed in the sink, and down the drain.
  • Using an egg white raft to clarify stock is a very cool thing to learn and produces a deep, rich, elegant consommé from a humble stock.

 

My recommendation:

The Chef's Catalog 12 Qt Stainless Stock Pot, a great value for the price. So far has performed really well and cleans up easily.

 

12 Qt Stock Pot Chefs Catalog

 

The Sharpest Knife in the Block - Essential Kitchen Equipment Series

In this occasional series, Essential Kitchen Equipment, I'm going to share overviews of what I consider to be the items no kitchen should be without. I'm not talking about the latest gadget. I'm talking about maybe a dozen or so simple items you must have to make your kitchen hum. Of course one could spend endless amounts on all sorts of fancy equipment and gadgets. Most of those will not make you a better cook. 

 

One really fundamental barrier or enabler in terms of producing good meals, with joy and efficiency, is knife skills. Buying a good knife or a bad one, is one of the best or worse kitchen purchases you can make. If one buys cheap knives at the supermarket, one might be called "not the sharpest knife in the drawer." Maybe you remember the Ginsu infomercials?

Heck, most of those fancy gew-gaws won't even make you want to cook. They make me feel foolish. A good knife. A good cutting board. A proper pan or pot.

Think of the meals you've most enjoyed, possibly cooked by a Grandma, Bubbe or Amah. Chances are the most comforting, delicious memories were not created with sous-vide machines or molded plastic corn zippers, probably not even with slow cookers.

In cooking with Shop, Cook, Eat -Better   clients, we focus on the basics. Yes, we do some fancy stuff, too, but I really love working with clients that want to learn or refresh basic skills. So this series was borne of the need to share basic buying info. I'll cover aspects such as:

  • What it is - e.g. sauté pan vs skillet; Dutch oven vs Stock Pot
  • What are the options or varieties - e.g. which is better wood cutting board or plastic?
  • Benefits or drawbacks of one or another option
  • My recommendations
  • Suggestions for where to buy, both online and brick and mortar

Fairly often, we'll have friends over for dinner and I like to have drinks around the island while I'm doing final, or sometimes not so final meal prep.

I'm tickled when someone stops mid-sentence to say "Whoa!" while I'm chopping and chatting. I forget that for many people, things that take me very little time, seem daunting. But as Kathleen Flinn says in this excellent video: anyone can do this!

People sometimes think they need to invest heaps of money in huge knife sets. The fear of knives drives others to use cheap, dull blades. These are far more dangerous!

Since knives are the most essential equipment in the kitchen, I thought I'd begin here with basic knife skills tips and recommendations.

About Knives

1. Sharper knives are better. Sharper knives are safer. (And if you're a little clumsy like me, sharper knives actually make cleaner cuts that hurt less and heal faster, too. Just sayin'.) You might enjoy Kathleen's first book The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry.

2. Take a class. Here's one coming up in Newton at Stoddard's. You could also take one with me! Or check your local Adult Ed center or culinary store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table.

3. Get your hands on a good book. Two solid books I recommend:  A great kitchen resource, with large, clear photos and overlaid arrows and graphics to really give you a step-by-step explanation of various cuts. This is for any cook from the novice to the expert. Learn the difference between brunoise and batons. Understand why different cuts are important and when to choose which.

 A cookbook that has recipes to reinforce basic skills. This is more of an enticement or a seduction, than pure lessons. Just look at that cover photo! Don't you want to make that food and eat it?

4. Knives I love. I'm often asked "which knife is best?"

I use my Globals more than any others I own. I also love my Zwilling J.A. Henckels 8" Chef's knife. And the Chef's Choice offset serrated blade. Ultimately, you want to look a few key factors (the material the knife is made of, the construction, the weight and feel in your hand) then pick the one that fits best in your hand. That is the one you will use most often.

I like the high carbon /stainless steel knives over ceramic. Each maker has their own manufacturing specs and it's interesting to visit websites of each and "tour" their processes. Links below.

Knives

Top to bottom:

  • Global Chef's knife - small and light, it fits my hand perfectly. I use this most often. It's perfectly balanced: (bonus party trick: balance the knife on your finger blade on one side, handle on the other.)
  • Zwilling J.A. Henckel's Chef's Knife - this is heavier and best when I'm doing lots of chopping. The weight of the knife actually makes cutting easier when you're doing lots.
  • Chef's Choice Serrated, offset - the simple offset really helps ergonomically, too. A gift from my chef brother-in-law, I use this for bread and for tomatoes.
  • Global paring knife - this is a small paring knife, handy for tight work, like cutting the core of a small tomato, those jobs when a larger knife is too cumbersome.

Avoid buying a whole knife set, you will undoubtedly end up with knives you cannot or will not use and sets are quite costly. Buy one good knife at a time and you'll be so glad each time you use it.

If you really want to invest in a special knife, there are custom knife makers that will create a knife for you that will be a work of usable art. These we leave for another day. I'm addressing the basic knives that most of us will be looking to buy for every day use.

Storing Knives

Knife blocks are good, too, but if you have a lack of counter space, the magnetic knife bar is invaluable. I also like that it seems handier, and imagine rummaging through a drawer if a homicidal stalker entered your kitchen. HA! My knives are at the ready!  Okay I watch a lot of crime shows...

That's not really the reason to use the knife bar, but think about that drawer for a minute. In a drawer, nothing protects the blade! And, you will be more prone to cutting or nicking yourself as you rummage for one or another tool. On the knife bar, it's always at the ready, no drawer to open. When I was the knife, I simply slap it right up on the bar.

knifebar

 

I also have a knife block on the counter, that's fine, too but I'd happily get another knife bar and reclaim that space.

Honing vs. Sharpening

Most people don't do either often enough. And the two terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly, so naturally, confusion ensues.

The basic difference is whether you're taking away any material (sharpening) or straightening it out (honing).

A sharp knife is a safe knife and and to use a sharp knife, you hone it. I know - it's a mess, isn't it? To keep it simple, just run your knife on a steel (called a sharpening steel or a honing steel, y'know just to keep it all perfectly muddy) each time you use it. Then once a year or so, take it to a professional service to get the blade realigned.

For a very good explanation of both see Honing vs. Sharpening.

  • Hone, wash, use. Get in this habit and you'll thank me later.

Also, get rid of any glass cutting boards you may be using! They will dull your knife and make your cutting dangerous and un-fun! More on cutting boards shortly.

Knife Lore

  • If you give a knife as a gift, always give it with a penny. That prevents the luck from being severed. I've also heard the recipient is to give a penny to the giver.
  • Some believe a dropped knife should never be retrieved by the person who dropped it, but only by the next person to enter the room.

What's your go-to knife?

Have a knife question?

Favorite knife superstition?

Holiday Gift Ideas 2011

In our family, we draw names at Thanksgiving for the "grownups" to each get one other "grownup" to get a gift for. We decided after my niece and nephew came along, that it was more fun for us to buy gifts for them and none of us really needed more stuff. I like that idea more as time goes by and we re-think what is important. Who needs more stuff? The myriad ways that we take care of each other during the year are more precious to me than any item someone may purchase with hard-earned dollars in an uncertain economy. (God forbid you risk pepper-spray or stampedes to get a popular item for someone! How is THAT in keeping with the spirit of the holidays?)

This year, my family, like many others has our share of challenges, financial and otherwise. We drew names and have begun asking others for "wish lists." I never have one, really. It occurs to me that not only would this be helpful to the person who drew our names, but that the ideas I may have about what make a useful, thoughtful gift might be helpful to anyone shopping for friends and family at this time of year.

So there may not be anything earth-shattering or newsworthy here, but I'll bet there's one or two things you may not have heard of, or hadn't thought of. I hope it helps you choose wisely, give well and enjoy the giving.

Remember, it's not about checking items off the list, it's about bringing a smile to someone you care about.

 

Homemade Gifts:

How about some easy-peasy Orange Pecan Bourbon chocolate truffles or a hand-blended spice rub in a pretty jar?

Five spice powder on left. Thanksgiving spice rub on right.

Both of these hand-blended spices have multiple uses (pork, chicken, turkey) and the reusable jars will last and last. I love my homemade Chinese Five Spice Powder.

 

 

Get a pretty tin they can reuse, or just stuff any old box with pretty tissue paper and wrap a batch of cookies inside. Try these Snappy Gingersnaps.

 

...or these Monster Cookies from Robin Asbell's Big Vegan cookbook (Vegan cookies my husband loved!)

 

How about a big jar of homemade granola? Delicious and healthy - this DIY Granola with a touch of chocolate - would be a welcome gift.

 

  • Reminder: when giving food gifts, please have a list handy of the ingredients, you never know when an allergy might have developed and it could really ruin the surprise.

 

Practical gifts:

Get Organized: Who doesn't love the Container Store or your local independent hardware or kitchen store? I bought those cute little jars above at the Container Store. I also installed a sliding rack to access deep cabinets. Oxo storage bins, and other organizing tools for any spot in your home make this a go-to destination for obsessives on your list. Gift certificates make it easy.

New Babies/Growing Families: Have a new Mom on your list? Why not give Oxo measured baby food storage containers. Slip a "free babysitting" coupon in an empty container.

Gifts for Cooks: Support independent stores like KitchenWares on Newbury St. and get your favorite cook a new kitchen gadget. Think of pairing a small tool like a melon baller or apple corer with a cookbook like Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. New silicone spatulas, or Oxo tools would be appreciated by any cook. (Remember if you give a knife for gift to also give a penny for luck!)

Tea, Please: I love the idea of a proper cup of tea in a china cup. Why not find a lonely survivor of an antique set at your local vintage store. Buy it and give it along with a sachet or tin of a new tea.

 

Consumables:

Homemade treats, cookies and spices are great for everyone who loves to eat, right? Other consumables make great gifts, the real cooking enthusiasts on your list:

Real Southern Cooking: Virginia Willis has developed fragrant spice blends (Pecan Smoked Salt, Quatre Epices and more), local artisanal grits, brownie mix and so on under her "My Southern Pantry" label. You could get any of these for a lucky person on your list and if they've been extra good - pair it with one of her books: Bon Appetit, Y'all or Basic to Brilliant, Y'all.

Hit the Turmeric Trail: Raghavan Iyer has just come out with Turmeric Trail spices. While I've not tried them yet, you can rely on this recommendation, as his 660 Curries is splattered and dog-eared proof of his reliable and friendly introduction to Indian cuisine at home. We have enjoyed so many terrific meals thanks to Iyer's guidance. So many different dishes will come together easily with the addition of his new spice blends, and this Thanksgiving I began to ruminate on how lovely Indian spices are with so many traditional Thanksgiving foods.

Oil and Vinegar: Next up on the consumables gift list are oil and vinegar. An artisanal vinegar or oil will elevate most any meal. Katz Vinegars are a favorite around here and Pasolivo makes lovely pressed olive oils with old Italian varieties of olives. These are so well-crafted they stand head and shoulders above anything you might find in the grocery store.

Gourmet Foods: This Thanksgiving we were hosting an extra-large group and I was delighted to put out some D'Artagnan pâté. One of our guests brought a D'Artagnan ham that was so good it disappeared before I got a nibble! Locally we buy our D'Artagnan hams from Panzano in Sudbury. Panzano also carries a lovely selection of artisanal products from various parts of Italy as well beautiful cookbooks and of course, great wines.

Fennel Pollen: A unique gift any cook would enjoy experimenting with - then quickly find indispensable. Try Fennel Pollen Ranch.

A gourmet pantry: stocked with giftable ideas: The Earthy Delights site ships chef quality specialty ingredients to you. I remember how wonderful my harissa was, using their dried peppers. Must. Make. More.

 

Experiences:

Explore: Give a parks membership like Friends of the Reservation membership which includes entry to Crane Beach. Or, how about a Children's Museum or New England Aquarium membership? Long after the baby outgrows the onesies everyone gave them, the expectant or new parents will be thanking you for giving them a gift that helps the new family share an adventure.

Excite: "Museum" sounds dusty and ossified. A favorite thing to do is to visit the ICA Institute of Contemporary Art when a new exhibit comes to town. They also have dance performances, guest lectures, and classes for a wide range of interests and ages. This cantilevered ice cube hovering over the harbor is like a giant gift box you can open again and again. Even gift certificate for the super cool gift shop would be great. (Hint to Mom: I love this swirly leaf candleholder.)

Expand: The Museum of Fine Arts, with its soaring new wing and dedication to improvement, have made a good museum even better. Spending time there was truly one of the highlights of going to Northeastern Law School across the street! Classes, exhibitions, concerts in the courtyard and films are bringing record crowds to the MFA. Free days exist but a membership affords one the luxury of enjoying the museum without the crowds.

Miscellaneous:

How about a Terrarium? Bring a little green promise into a friend's winter by creating a terrarium in a reusable vase or hurricane vessel.

 

My Days of Naan and Rices

It's a supreme compliment when a meat-loving husband says "you know, Indian may be the one cuisine that when you're eating it, you don't miss the meat." It happened to us as it has for so many. We met, we fell in love and food was a integral part of our story. Still is. We are the stereotypical couple that plans the next meal while consuming the current one. We get very excited by new food finds, whether it's Patel Brothers Indian market on Route 9 in Shrewsbury (forgive the iPhone pics, this one from moving car)

 

patel_brothers

I had a blast going aisle by aisle looking at ingredients, wondering what the English name for this or that vegetable might be, and of course the Wall o' Dal was too hard to resist! wall_o_dal

 

With amazing self-restraint we came home with Curry leaves, green papaya, Indian cucumbers, fresh mint leaves, tamarind concentrate, masoor dal (the beautiful salmon colored lentils in the photo), Kabuli chana dal (chick peas) and toor (pigeon peas). I'm positively addicted to curry leaves - they're essential in my opinion for a fragrant, nutty nuance in curries that cannot be achieved without them. papaya_left_close green papaya, cucumbers (I think they're what we sometimes see as "Armenian" or "Persian" cukes in other stores),  mint in background and my beloved curry leaves in foreground)

I have written about my growing love for and confidence with Indian cuisine, thanks in large part to Raghavan Iyer's 660 Curries (see, Cooking with Ghee and Gratitude). This book has helped us write a new chapter in our food history. We've added a few new dishes including this wonderful naan to our rotations. As our cholesterol and triglycerides begin to tick upward and our waistlines, outward, I am trying to find satisfying ways to incorporate less meat-centric meals. I'm sure to be relying on Raghavan's guidance through this book.

Another book which is due out soon is available on pre-order now at Amazon the indefatigable Kim O'Donnel has written the newly re-titled: The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook (Da Capo Press). Having met Kim a year ago at IACP and followed her progress from WaPo to True/Slant and now soon-to-be published book author - I've been very grateful to have her guidance and support in my own quest to be published. I can tell you, we have lots to look forward to in this book.

Here's my green papaya salad which is more Thai or Vietnamese than it is Indian, but it pairs well with Indian dishes. green_papaya_salad

 

Another chapter opens with me trying to introduce other grains into our diet. White rice is something we both love and we have our comfort-food associations with "our" rice. We've had mixed success. Some really fine brown basmati rice worked well with curry. Pedal-powered, coarse ground polenta (technically not a grain, I know but used as one). Barley was a big hit. Millet, enh. Researching for a post on the Spoonful of Ginger benefit for the Asian American Diabetes Initiative of the Joslin Diabetes Center, I found even more reason to improve our diet.

  • Asian Americans are nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as the general population—approximately 10 percent of all Asian Americans have diabetes and even more remain undiagnosed.
  • The rate of diabetes in Chinese Americans is notably higher than the rate in the Chinese population living in rural China.
  • Likewise, studies show that rates of diabetes are higher in Japanese Americans living in the U.S. compared to Japanese living in Japan, pointing to environment and lifestyle as an important contributing factor.
  • On the other hand, second and third generation Japanese Americans, who are well acculturated in the mainstream American lifestyle, still have higher diabetes rates compared with Caucasians, suggesting a strong role of genetics in the development of diabetes.

Read more about the Asian American Diabetes Initiative An Ounce of Prevention and a Spoonful of Ginger.

One of the fun discoveries of late is how wonderful and easy homemade naan is. See how, at Naan the Wiser - Master Indian Flatbread at Home. In this recipe, I subbed in about a half cup of wheat flour for white. It's a small step but lots of small steps add up. Plus, our Indian meals are full of good soluble fiber and much less if any, saturated animal fats. naan_in_bowl

 

More soon on the Spoonful of Ginger, bop over to Suite101 and see how the Naan thing goes. Check out Patel Brothers for Indian groceries and produce and start adding a few delicious, saucy curries, some naan, and maybe some brown rice into the mix. Remember, in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. Improving our diet, joyfully and deliciously, I'm shooting for both!