Monday, August 31, 2009

These are a few of my favorite things...

Seriously's about time I share some of the kitchen tools that I think are essential and I can't live without! Let's start with the tongs- these almost act like an extension of my hands as much as I use them! They are great for just about anything you need to turn or pick up out of a hot skillet or pot. The ones shown here are from where else? That's right, that wildly successful gadget company, OXO Good Grips. This size suits me but they do make a shorter and a longer variety. Next up is the all-purpose ladle. This one was a gift from one of my sales reps many years ago and it's from a company called Rosle. They make gorgeous and very pricey stainless steel kitchen tools so I am forever grateful that I got lucky with this gift! My ladle does overtime whenever I am making risottos or soups. And FYI...Cooks Illustrated just reviewed this ladle in their latest Soups and Stews Winter 2009 edition.

The Microplane grater is something I use a lot, almost daily I would say. Grating cheese, citrus zest, garlic and nutmeg are just a few of the foodstuffs it works well with. Moving along to the Japanese Mandolin- this tool is another one of those labor saving kitchen devices ever created. If you are looking for uniform slices of say, cucumbers or carrots, potatoes, onions or you name it, this is the right tool for you! It can also julienne and do a "french fry" cut. Just warning ya though, it is sharp so use the guard to keep your fingers in tact!

Then comes my all time favorite tool and this one has been with me since the beginning of my cooking days. Can it be possible that this little strainer is almost 30 years old?? Wow. Now that says something about the way things were made back then! I don't remember where I found this tool, but I hope I can get at least another 10-20 out of it! It's the perfect size flat strainer (or some like to call it a "spider") for hoisting things out of boiling water like dumplings, ravioli and my favorite thing, poached eggs.

I've had many variations on "kitchen shears" over the years, but this next tool, these herb snippers from Silvermark, are my new go to scissors. I use them for cutting anything from fresh herbs to kitchen twine, to cutting up a whole chicken. The best part of this particular model, is that they come apart for easy and thorough cleaning.

Ahh, the lemon reamer.....this one dates back to the days when I worked at Williams-Sonoma. I remember they really loved this variety, wood and all. The only challenge is that it doesn't strain the pits, so you have to work around that. It's great for limes because, well, they have no pits (not sure why this is but nature must have decided there was a good reason for it!).

Nigella Lawson, a cookbook author, food writer for the N.Y Times and host of her own television show, uses this next little item religiously so I followed her lead and I am a complete convert! It's a small whisk, but works great on beating eggs and making salad dressings. I have had this particular whisk for close to 10 years now, but I do believe that they are available at most kitchen stores. I checked Nigella's website and she also carries a version of it with a wooden handle. Super cute!

So now let's turn to the subject of timers and thermometers. If you do a lot of baking, or just need a "reminder" that you have something on the stove top or in the oven, then you really ought to have at least one timer in your kitchen tool repertoire. This small timer I am showing here is from CDN, a company that makes timers as well as thermometers. This little guy is digital, and has a magnet on the back so you can stick it on the stove or fridge or anywhere you find handy. The thermometer featured in the photo above is an "instant read" which is my favorite type. This one is also digital, and is from Polder. I like this particular model because it has a "hold" feature so you can test your roast, for instance, hit the hold and read it after you close the oven door back up. That way you aren't standing there letting all the heat out. But alas, it is an older model and not so sure they still have it, but there are other models to choose from as well.

And finally, last but not least on my list of essential kitchen tools, is the rubber spatula. These days, the best kind to get are those made of silicone because they can withstand very high temperatures so they don't "melt" like the non-silicone varieties do. I happen to love Le Creuset's spatulas not just for the variety of colors they offer but also because the silicone "heads" detach and you can put them in the dishwasher. Easy!

So there you have it and congratulations if you got through to the end of what turned out to be a longer post that I had intended! Stay tuned for my "Favorite things Part 2- Pots and Pans" coming soon!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bicycle Dreams

You might be wondering why am I writing about bicycles? You thought this was a blog about food, no? Well, I have had an itch to get a bicycle ever since I moved to downtown Chicago. This is a very bicycle-friendly city and just about everyone who lives here seems to have one but me! So in my research for the ultimate in commuter style bicycles, I thought I would share some of my favorite finds. Most of the photos are from the website and some from individual bicycle companies. My favorite so far is the Pashley made in Great Britain. A majority of the photos are from places in Denmark, Amsterdam and England. The Europeans really have it right as far as being green and into cycling anywhere, everywhere and no matter what the weather holds!

This is my dream bike right here...the Pashley Sonnet Pure. So me! sweet is this one!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lunch at Chez Jo

Just thought I would share what I had for lunch today. A simple, healthy and light meal and oh-so-not complicated! There's tuna salad (made with some very special tuna-more on that later) with capers, celery, red onion and a squeeze of fresh lemon, and a warm green bean and potato salad with hazelnuts and balsamic vinaigrette. There are some tiny yellow and cherry tomatoes (from my balcony garden) and some thinly sliced radishes added for garnish. Simple goodness and a tribute to the end of summer's bounty.

Now about the tuna: I was reading the September issue of Martha Stewart Living Magazine and saw this article about Tuna You can Trust, so I tried it. Now the article says it is $5.00 a can, but I found another company making it at Whole Foods for $2.49. The brand I purchased is Wild Planet. Anyway, I really think it tastes better than some of the other cans of tuna out there. And even if I am just imagining that, it feels good to "do the right thing"......

Monday, August 24, 2009

Herbs and Spices 101

Someone told me years ago that the best place to get herbs and spices was through a catalog called Penzeys Spices. Well, I took her advice and have never looked back! This is it as far as I am concerned. The best part is that there are so many options on every single item. For instance, I am a big fan of cinnamon. I actually put it in my coffee every morning. My choice is the Chinese Cassia Cinnamon for it's extra sweet and spicy flavor. This is the best for making cinnamon sugar to sprinkle over your pancakes, waffles or toast (or if you're me, over your coffee!). There's also Korintje Cinnamon which is a mellower and smoother cinnamon. In England and Mexico, they prefer the Ceylon Cinnamon for it's complexity and citrusy overtone.

My three favorite go to herbs are thyme, rosemary and oregano, but if you are not fortunate enough to grow these very fragrant and versatile herbs in your garden or on a windowsill, they offer enough choices to make up for that! My favorite thyme to get from Penzeys is the French Thyme. The Turkish Oregano is perfect in any type of Mediterranean dish and especially in tomato sauce. The Spanish Rosemary Leaves are perfect paired with roasted chicken and roasted vegetables.
They have just about every herb and spice you will ever need! But do remember that herbs and spices do have a shelf life so it is best to replace them every 6-12 months for optimal flavor.

Oregano, rosemary and thyme from my container garden

Gourmet Foodie Oasis

This past weekend I discovered Chicago's version of Dean and DeLuca called Fox and Obel. It's a world class food market that includes locally grown organic produce, prime beef dry-aged on the premises, freshly baked artisan bread and pastries, seafood flown in the day it is caught, a collection of the finest cheeses, and a list of boutique wines. There's also a gourmet-to-go section that rivals the cooking of any fine dining restaurant. All this and in a beautiful setting on the east side of the city near the lake. So next time you are in Chicago, be sure to have this wonderful market on your list of things to do! You won't be sorry.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Chocolate and Zucchini?

Mom always said, "eat your vegetables" but have we gone too far? I came across a recipe for Lemon Zucchini Cornmeal Cookies in the latest issue of Everyday Food Magazine. I thought that sounded really interesting and different. So, I decided to make them and as I was preparing the dough, I suddenly had a thought: why not replace the lemon with chocolate chips? I mean doesn't everything go better with chocolate? Just as I had suspected, the cookies came out even better than any regular chocolate chip cookie, with a wonderful crunchy exterior (from the addition of the cornmeal) and a lovely soft interior- you really don't notice the zucchini except for the pretty flecks of green that you get.

So here is the recipe with my adaptation:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1 medium zucchini, grate on the small holes of a box grater (about one cup)
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until pale and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Add flour and cornmeal and stir until mixture is crumbly. Before adding the zucchini, squeeze out the excess moisture by wrapping the grated zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and gently squeeze until excess moisture is released. Add the zucchini to the rest of the mixture and stir to incorporate. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoons, 2 inches apart, onto parchment -lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are light golden brown at edges, 25-30 minutes, rotating sheets about halfway through. Let cool completely on wire racks. Makes approx. 24 cookies.

I think Mom would be proud! After all, I am eating my vegetables right??

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Makes me want to go back to school

Check out these cute lunch totes from dabbawalla. They are a safer alternative than the conventional lunch bags that are out on the market. These are constructed entirely out of durable neoprene, which protects, insulates and cushions without worry of lead or PVC. Machine washable, stain-resistant and built to last in colorful, fun designs sure to please the young and young at heart as well! Check for availability in your area here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ginger Lovers Listen Up!

Ok, so I love ginger! I can't help it! Not only does it pack a punch of flavor and is used in many cuisines around the world, it has medicinal uses too. You will find it in cookies, candies and cakes as well as carbonated beverages like ginger beer (not to be confused with ginger ale). It is said to be a great digestive aid and an effective cure for congestion, cough and cold.

If you are feeling the need for a ginger fix, I highly recommend that you run out immediately and get yourselves a pint of the new Häagen-Dazs Five ginger ice cream! Five is the new line by Häagen-Dazs that uses only 5 ingredients per flavor and has less fat than their regular ice cream. I mean it is incredible! Goes perfectly with a summer fruit crisp or heck, just all by itself!
So c'mon live a little! Life is too short not to enjoy this delectable indulgence!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dinner with friends

I recently rang my sister who happens to be ace at entertaining, because I needed an idea for a fun appetizer to bring to a dinner party I was going to this weekend. And just like clockwork she came through! This recipe was a major hit. Thanks! And thanks MB!

Brochettes of Melon, Prosciutto, and Fresh Mozzarella

  • 1/3 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves plus sprigs for garnish
  • 1 medium shallot, quartered
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 small (about 2-pound) cantaloupe, halved crosswise, seeded, cut into 6 wedges, peeled
  • 6 small fresh water-packed mozzarella balls or one 8-ounce ball,* drained
  • 6 thin slices prosciutto, cut in half lengthwise, gathered into ruffle
  • 6 8-inch wooden skewers
Using on/off turns, puree olive oil, 1/3 cup basil, and shallot in processor until basil and shallot are finely chopped.

Cut each cantaloupe wedge crosswise in half. If using large mozzarella ball, trim and cut into 6 cubes. Alternate 1 melon piece, 1 piece ruffled prosciutto, 1 mozzarella ball or cube, 1 more prosciutto piece, and 1 more melon piece on each skewer. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 15 minutes before serving.)

Arrange skewers on platter. Drizzle with basil oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper. Garnish with basil sprigs.

*Available at Italian markets, cheese shops, and some supermarkets.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Beer with Buddies

I am not much of a beer connoisseur but on a recent excursion to The Map Room in Chicago, I tried a raspberry beer from Belgium and all I can say is it was like a glass of pure raspberry essence. Not sweet at all but you really get the sense that you are drinking a pint of raspberries! My friend described it as "dessert in a glass".

Long before hops were common in most beers, various fruits and vegetables were used to season beers. The acidity of Lambic beers blends perfectly with raspberries.

Taste: Magnificent aroma, delicate palate of raspberries with undertones of fruity acidity; elegant, sparkling clean natural taste.

Style: Raspberry Lambic.

Color: Rose. Serving suggestions: Chocolate desserts (especially chocolate decadence), fresh raspberries, ice cream with a raspberry demi-glaze sauce, créme caramel, baked Alaska, Olympia oysters, caviar. Serve in flute-shaped Lambic glasses at 45 degrees.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mixers: the Essentials to Summer Cocktails

Q Tonic is hands down the BEST tonic water I have ever had the pleasure of mixing in my Grey Goose.

Unlike other tonic waters, Q Tonic is made with:

  • Hand-picked quinine from the Peruvian Andes
  • Organic agave as the sweetener
  • 60% fewer calories than regular tonic water
  • All natural ingredients
  • No high fructose corn syrup
  • 85% lower glycemic rating than other tonic waters

Q Tonic tastes clean and crisp, as tonic water was intended, with a quick sharpness and a gently rounded sweetness. The bottle is perfectly proportioned for one proper drink.

And there’s a reason it’s called tonic. Q Tonic’s natural quinine is believed to improve circulation and accelerate digestion. For centuries natural Peruvian quinine has been used by naturalists and herbalists to improve health, increase energy, and stimulate blood flow.**

Click here to find it in your area. You won't regret it!

**excerpted from the Q Tonic website.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stelton Vacuum Jugs

These oh-so-stylish, streamlined and simple Danish vacuum jugs are the clever design of Erik Magnussen for Stelton. I have been eying these for some time now and just may have to splurge! The hefty price tag is worth it because this perfect pourer, with its clean-lined exterior, was 6 years in the making for this clever designer.

A stickler for detail, Magnussen spent a great deal of time agonizing over the finer points of the jug's practical and aesthetic construction. Which is why, despite being made of only two components, (a hard-wearing colorful plastic container and a glass lining with an easy-to-operate lid with a rocking stopper), this a must have serving piece for your next party, brunch or get together. Or just leave it out on display. The real question is, what color should I get? These are available at Tarzian West in Brooklyn NY, Bloomingdale's, and Amazon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shaved Fennel, Radish & Walnut Salad

I have been eating a lot of salads this summer and this is one I happened to put together with what I had in the fridge at the time:

1 small head of romaine hearts
1 head of endive, chopped
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 head of fennel, sliced very thinly (on a mandoline if possible)
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
parsley leaves and fennel fronds for garnish
walnut vinaigrette (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, tear romaine hearts in large pieces and add the remaining vegetables.
Top with toasted walnuts and drizzle with vinaigrette to taste. (Add feta, goat or blue cheese if desired.)

Walnut Vinaigrette (adapted from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison)

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 small shallot, finely diced
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon walnut oil, or more, to taste

Combine the vinegar, salt and shallot in a small bowl, stirring to dissolve the salt. Whisk in the oils slowly to emulsify. Taste and adjust the ingredients if necessary.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Brooklyn in July

I can't believe that in the 5 or so years that Franny's has been open in Brooklyn, that I had never been so it was high time for me to go see what all the fuss was about! They have the most wonderful and unusual pizzas with the thin crust that I happen to love. They don't overdo it on the toppings either, they are very light and fresh (if pizza can be light!). We had the Buffalo Mozzarella, Garlic and Basil Pizza. Check out the zucchini salad that Allyson and I shared. I guess I should have shot the pic before we started devouring it! Next time I am back in Bklyn I will be sure to go back!

Franny's just opened a new place on Flatbush called the Brooklyn Larder. Dad and I stopped in to check it out and get a bite to eat. We had some really great sandwiches. Here is a peek at the inside. It's very clean and minimal. They have some really cool new packaged food products showcased and I happened to love the packaging on this Piri Piri Sauce. (for those of you who don't know what Piri Piri Sauce's the East African hot sauce made from dried and soaked piri-piri chillies that is a staple condiment used to accompany many East African soups and stews. Though the origin of this sauce is probably Portuguese, it is now well established as a popular East African condiment and is considered an essential accompaniment to any meal these days).