Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving Checklist

Thanksgiving: Recipes for a Holiday Meal by Lou Pappas

 Back when I had the store, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It was always less stressful than Christmas and it involved dispensing cooking tips and tricks and often times, some beautiful equipment!

There were many customers who were hosting their very first Thanksgiving meal, there were those who were well-seasoned at the art of this holiday and of course, many who were in the middle.

It didn't matter whether it was their first or their twentieth time, there was still that excitement, anxiety and anticipation of hosting this kick off to the beginning of the winter holiday season. Our job was to calm their nerves by suggesting, supplying and delivering the knowledge and tools they would need to make the day a success!

To make this an easy process, I developed what I called the Thanksgiving Checklist- similar to a grocery list only for the kitchen tools and equipment you might need or will need to make that bird and the meal a knockout. Many cooks surprisingly will have a lot already on the list, so it's a matter of a fill in. If you are just starting out, beg and borrow is the way to go- especially if it's family! They can lend you the platters and the serving pieces, or the roasting pan- don't get discouraged! It's a work in progress so anything you do buy, you will use year after year if you choose carefully.

So, without further adieu in order of "necessary" to "man it would be awesome to have that....", is my list:

Thermometer ( instant read or leave-in type and oven)
Sieve (for straining the gravy)
Fat Separator
Chef Knife
Paring Knife
Box Grater
Turkey Lifter
Carving Knife and Fork
Cutting Board for carving
Gravy Boat
Timer ( esp a triple timer-great multi-tasker!)
Measuring Cups (wet and dry)
Measuring Spoons
Mixing Bowls
Pie dishes
Pastry Brushes
Rolling Pin
Apple corer/slicer
Turkey Lacers
Food Mill (comes in handy for applesauce etc)
Potato Masher
Platter (the essential to serve the bird on- I like vintage)
Potato Ricer (makes execellent mashed potatoes with great texture!)
Serving Bowls
Wine Glasses
Food Processor
Stand Mixer
Whip Cream Maker

I am sure I will be adding to this as the week goes on- there may be some things I completely left out! The links are just suggestions and by all means, please shop around for best price etc! I happen to love using vintage serveware and glasses, but you can mix it up however you like! Table linens will be necessary- a tablecloth makes for an elegant presentation, and of course you will need napkins- please try to use cloth- it's one time of year that you must ditch the paper (if you use those that is).


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cutting Boards 101

There are so many choices when it comes to cutting boards! Back in the day, the only choice was wood which I still believe is always the best choice when it comes to chopping veggies.

So let's break it down so it's not too complicated: it's my practice to have at least 3 cutting boards but I must confess that my cutting board obsession is like shoe obsession to some!- I have many and I keep collecting more!

Let's start with wood. It's definitely the choice of chefs and if you watch any cooking shows, you will also see a lot of boards from John Boos. Here is the one I use just about everyday. Now, there are "edge grain" and an "end grain" boards. Edge grain boards are constructed of long pieces of wood laid side by side, and end grain boards are more of a checkerboard with smaller pieces of wood glued together. If you are curious about this process check here for more details. The edge grain boards (see pic below) look nice, but in time, will show your knife cuts more prominently-still a great board so don't worry- I have been known to sand mine down and give them a new surface.

End grain boards (see pic above) are pricier because of the the extra labor involved in construction, but this results in a gentler effect on your knives- the wood cut this way is a bit softer. Either way you go, look for boards that are NSF safe (NSF certification ensures that the products designed for you to use at home meet the same public health standards as those used in hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, anywhere in the food service industry), like the John Boos boards and J.K. Adams to name a few.  Both of these companies are here in the USA, Illinois and Vermont, respectively.

 One should have a fairly good size board for general chopping of vegetables. A good size is at least a 12x18. This will give you enough surface area so that you have ample room to chop. Never try to cut vegetables with too small a knife or too small a board! It's just not going to work! And the cardinal rule for cleaning-listen up! DO NOT PUT IN THE DISHWASHER. EVER!! Do not soak in water either! You can use water to clean a wood board, but you must not soak it-it can split, crack and fall apart. Always oil your board at least every 4-6 weeks to keep it from drying out. You can buy mineral oil at the drugstore or a kitchen shop and it's all you need to keep your board in great shape for many years.

The next board you will want to have will be for all your raw meats, poultry and fish. I like to use a polypropylene type-this is a type of plastic with anti-bacterial properties and you can run it safely through the dishwasher. Quality ones won't split and crack and will last for many years. Another great board that came on the market just a few years back and is everywhere now is the Epicurean cutting board ( photo below). This is what I use for my raw meat prep. Made of Richlite, a lightweight yet durable wood-fiber composite that won’t dull knives, it's also dishwasher safe and like the polypropylene boards is also anti-bacterial. And they come in many sizes so you can get a few. I especially like to have a couple of these boards on hand- for the meats yes, but also for my fruit cutting- nothing worse than cutting an apple on a board that an onion was cut on! Need I say more.

Another board I can't live without is a carving board. If you are a carnivore, you are going to want to invest in one of these. This one is from J.K. Adams and it has an indent for the meat and a well to catch all those tasty juices.

I can always find a need for any board even if I am not using it to chop on! It's nice to serve cheese on some of the prettier boards, like the bamboo boards that are out there. This one below if from Totally Bamboo.

I hope this helps when you are going through the cutting board section of your local kitchen store. Remember, you invested in some quality knives and they need to be partnered with quality cutting boards!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Knife: A Cook's Best Tool

Even though I have been preparing and cooking food since I was in my teens, it rarely crossed my mind to take a knife skills class. Guess I was feeling pretty confident with so many years of using and selling knives in my store. But then I thought what if I were to teach someone else? Maybe I need the tried and true techniques that professional chefs use- I'd feel better passing on this info to others in my new health coaching practice, hone my skill and a gain a new perspective.

So this past weekend I attended a knife skills class at The Chopping Block and walked away with more knowledge, more confidence and a better understanding of just how important it is to know your knives! I took 4 pages of notes so you know it had to be good!

It was no surprise to me what the most important knives are for any home cook to have- so I was right on par with the instructor.  There are so many on the market but it boils down to basically this: German vs. Japanese. Germany has been the home to knife companies for centuries- many of these companies, Wusthof-Trident, Henkels and the like, were forging swords and daggers long before any of us were on the planet. These knives tend to be of the fully "forged" variety and are made up of multiple metals they call high carbon stainless- which basically takes the sharpness of carbon and the hardness of stainless steel and rolls it into one. They tend to be heavy which is good, and well balanced.

The Japanese knives, on the other hand, are made of softer metals are often thinner and this results in  thinner slices of your food as well. These include Shun and Global to name a few.  Like Chef Michele, I think a combination of German and Japanese is the best way to go-  knife sets are not always a good choice as they often have knives included that you really don't need. So shop around and hand pick your knives. Oh- and spend the money! You will be making a lifetime investment and will be able to hand them down to several more generations if you take good care of them.

Drum roll please! Pictured above are the knives I use almost on a daily basis. From left to right:

A.  Paring Knife- this is for slicing lemons, limes, etc and for peeling apples and small fruits. I have a 3.5" parer from Wusthof.

B.  Chef's Knife- this is for chopping, slicing, mincing and cutting- an all-purpose knife. I like the 8" from Shun because it's just big enough to handle winter squashes and watermelons and it's a beautiful knife too! You could also do a 10" but I find those to be too large for everyday cooking. If you are small to average in stature, you really don't need the 10". A chef's knife gives you that "rocking motion" which is the most efficient way to cut.

C. Slicing Knife- here is where I differ from the chef instructor's choice. She showed us a flexible fillet knife as essential, and while I think that is a good choice for filleting fish and cutting up chicken, I am a carnivore and there's nothing like a good slicer to carve you meat with. I have had this knife for a very long time- it's actually an 8"Sabatier (French) and it does the trick! I do however want to get a flexible fillet knife now!

D. Bread Knife- if you are a fan of crusty bread, this is indispensable! A good serrated knife will last years and years without needing sharpening, and will cut through any kind of bread. I have one by Shun, but Wusthof makes a very good one too.

I already knew the importance of keeping your knives sharp, so this was great to relearn how, why and when to sharpen them. I learned the difference between a sharping steel and a honing steel, which I will share with you here.

Honing, can be done daily and it just "re-aligns" your knife's edge and doesn't remove any material, whereas, a sharpening steel will actually put a new edge on your knife. Most sharpening steels these days have tiny diamonds imbedded in the steel and these being harder than the metal in your knife, act to sharpen the blade- you don't need to do this but once every few weeks especially if you are honing everyday. If you have sharpening fear like a lot of folks do, there are sharpeners on the market that make it so easy. Pictured below is the Chef'sChoice® Diamond Hone® 2-Stage Sharpener #450. I love this one especially when I am in a hurry but actually have been using my honing steel (on the far right in photo) since taking the class- it really does make a difference!! More accidents happen in the kitchen when you use dull knives! The steel in the center is a diamond steel and this I use every month or so. Both steels are from Wusthof but there are many others on the market as well so shop around.

Bonus Section! 

You can always have more knives than just your core group of course! It's just that so many peeps have asked me over the years what are the most important, the most crucial.

I happen to be a big fan of the Santuko knife. And just about every knife company makes one now. Santuko means "three virtues"and has Japanese historical significance. They are best known for their sharp edges but the most significant feature is the "granton edge" release pattern (scalloped) on the blades that are designed to aid in the release of food after slicing.They also make for creating very thin slices.  They range from 5-7" and sometimes even smaller. I use the Wusthof 7" and highly recommend it. It's easy to sharpen and works like a charm. I did try Global's Santuko at the class and really liked it too.

Pictured below on the left is my favorite little slicer. I actually won this in a sales contest many years ago when I was working at Williams-Sonoma. It's a Wusthof (the logo has long rubbed off) 4.5 inch utility knife and it is great for small jobs. I think they still sell this one.

The knife in the center is a cheese knife that I use a lot for soft cheeses like brie. It's serrated and the cut out areas keep the cheese from squishing down as you cut. Love that. And speaking of serrated, I actually lost my small serrated Tomato Knife. This is another must have if you eat a lot of tomatoes and can double as a great sausage slicing knife- it gets through the tough sausage casings easily.

Well, there you have it. A not so brief knife lesson. Next up I will talk about cutting boards because the surface you cut on is equally as important! You want to maintain your knives by using the correct cutting surface. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Aromapot Love

I stumbled upon these gorgeously simple pots on a web-surfing expedition over the weekend and instantly fell in love!

When form and function come together it's a happy marriage- and these aromapots designed by Dottings in Austria for a company named Riess are both.

These babies are made of enameled steel- basically iron and silicate glass are fused together at a very high temperature creating a non-porous surface. They are even ready for induction cooktops.
The shape of the Aromapots makes them stackable, therefore saving space. The lids, when inverted, can serve as a bowl, plate or even a trivet for table side service! What a work horse design! But be careful though- if you drop them, their lovely enamel can crack.

 Now all I need to do is find them for sale in the States! I have been searching but to no avail! Perhaps some smart kitchen retailer will bring these in and share them with the rest of us??

dishwasher safe too! bonus!

all photos via truehomeware.com

Friday, October 7, 2011

Easiest Gluten Free Pizza Ever!

fresh fig, caramelized onion pizza with raw murcato goat cheese, greens and balsamic glaze

I have the simplest most delicious quick pizza you will ever make- it's more of a flatbread or cracker if you will but let's not get technical! No need for that here. So go get your oven very hot at 425°.

Simply take a tortilla, (I used rice flour tortillas from Whole Foods hence the gluten-free), brush with a little good quality extra virgin olive oil, top with the figs, caramelized onions (which you can make ahead of time) and cheese. You can also use regular flour tortillas- up to you.

Bake for 10-12 minutes and remove from the oven to cool a minute. Add fresh greens and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and presto! Easy.

Here is another version:

cherry tomato and pesto pizza with raw sharp goat cheddar cheese

In this version I used the same method but spread pesto on the tortilla first, topped with the fresh tomatoes and cheese then baked it for 10-12 minutes.

There are so many things you can top these with- and what a great weeknight meal with a salad and a glass of wine. Yum!

Monday, October 3, 2011

The High Line

Back from my adventures in NYC and I have to say the highlight was the High Line.

The High Line was built in the 1930's to transport freight trains and their cargo above the busy streets on the West Side of New York. It closed down in 1980 and was basically just an eyesore for many years. The city didn't quite know what to do with it.

Friends of the High Line was formed in 1999, a community-based non-profit group, and they saved  the historic structure that was then under threat of demolition. Friends of the High Line worked in partnership with the City of New York to preserve and maintain the structure as an elevated public park.

 It's over 3 years since it first went public and it was such a thrill to finally walk above the street and take in all the amazing sights. Below are more of my snapshots. This is a must see sight if you are in NYC and need something special to highlight your day- this place will amaze you......a true urban oasis.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Brooklyn, Brooklyn Bound

So excited for my trip back east. Food, family and fun. Not necessarily in that order. Be back soon!

Listening to the Avett Brothers to get in the mood.....

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Summer's Bounty

Sometimes I think I am nuts because I get such joy in going to the Farmer's Market and ogling over how perfect all the vegetables look in their baskets and bins. All the work the local farmers do to bring it to use each week- yes it costs more but this is a labor of love. To me, if it was my last dollar, I would give it for the taste of an apple, peach or a juicy ripe tomato straight from a local farm anyday!

When I look at this bounty I don't just see picture perfect produce- I see a ratatouille with zukes, eggplant, tomatoes and fresh herbs- I see a juicy sweet plum, peach and raspberry crisp. I see a Swiss Chard and potato tart......I see my body saying thank you for feeding me all this healthy food. I see people gathered round the table sharing stories, sharing this great food- staying healthy. There is nothing better than that and that's why I hope you will try to get out and support you local Farmers Markets. It's a great community of people and they are all bound by one single thread- to bring you fresh, delicious produce straight from the farm to your table. Don't be afraid to try something you never have before- there are a million recipes out there for you to try. Enjoy!

 teeny tomatoes about to go in a salad

colorful plums at Seedlings farm stand at Green City Market

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Simple Quinoa Salad

If you haven't yet discovered the wonders of quinoa, I am about to give you a delicious recipe for you to put into your side dish repertoire.

Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is a great source of protein with a slightly crunchy texture. It is available now in most grocery stores and of course health food stores as well. Make sure you always rinse it before cooking and strain it in a fine mesh sieve. What I find is that it's very adaptable to whatever ingredients you want to mix in with it. You can do something as simple as adding a little butter and fresh herbs or really get creative with combinations of flavors and ingredients. Any way you make it, you will start to wonder what you did without it! Here is the recipe:

 Quinoa Salad with Asparagus, Pesto and Sun-dried Tomatoes

1 cup white quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 white or yellow onion, diced small 
1 clove garlic, minced
2 small carrots, diced
1/2 red or orange pepper, diced
6 stalks of asparagus, sliced in 1/4 discs
1/2 of a zucchini, diced
4-6 sundried tomatoes, sliced thin
olive oil for sauteing
2 tablespoons fresh pesto sauce (can be store bought!)
1/4 fresh parsley, chopped
handful of walnuts, or pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Cook quinoa in salted water until tender.  This can be anywhere from 15-20 minutes depending. Drain off any excess liquid and set aside to cool.
Next, saute onion in a little olive oil until soft, add the the carrots and saute for 5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables, and cook until soft but not mushy. Cool.

Transfer the quinoa to a bowl. Add the vegetables, pesto, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Gently fold to incorporate all ingredients. Top with toasted nuts. This makes enough for 4 healthy servings.

 It's funny because my sister and I were having a conversation about quinoa salads just the other night so she just sent me a recipe she tried and liked. I am going to make her version next and maybe I'll post it here! Hope it's good MB! :) I am sure it is!

Monday, August 15, 2011

What to do with all that zucchini you ask?

Zucchini or as the Brits refer to them, courgettes, seem to be overflowing this time of year at local farmer's markets, grocery stores or perhaps out in your own vegetable garden.

That is probably why, when you google zucchini, you will find a ton of recipes from breads and muffins to gratins, pizzas and pastas (yes you can turn these green gems into fine strands of "spaghetti" if you have the right tool.)  My all time favorite way to eat these little beauties is in the form of fritters. I know what you are saying: that can't be healthy if it's fried, but the way I justify it is that they are "lightly" fried in just a smidge of olive oil and if you use a non-stick pan, you will need even less!

The recipe I loosely based this weekend's fritters on comes from Nigella Lawson- I added and subtracted a few things to make it my own- which is what I highly recommend you do as well- using any combo of fresh herbs that suite your own taste. If you want to, you can omit the cheese (although it does give it a nice salty bite!) Get the recipe here.

 photo via marthastewart.com

For instance, I used shallots, red pepper and cilantro as my base and omitted the feta cheese-I also used GF flour to make them gluten free but feel free to use regular all-purpose flour if that's the way you roll. ( I ate mine so quickly I forgot to snap a photo. The one above is borrowed to give you a visual of how they look.)

I like to make a side of yogurt sauce to layer on more flavor and some tartness- all you need to do is repeat some of the herbs and add some lemon juice salt and pepper to some plain yogurt. It's that simple!

Serve these alongside any meat, chicken or fish dish or have them alone with a salad. It's a nice way to pay homage to one of the summer's most abundant vegetable!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Balcony Garden

My city garden is doing pretty well this year! Must be all the freakin' rain! It's good for nature in reasonable amounts as long as we're not floating away which was the case with this last wacky storm! At least it relieved the steamy weather we had this week......here's hoping everyone's power is back and running!

 love this succulent- it's actually sprouting a couple of flowers

 teeny green tomatoes

 big fan of coleus especially for shady areas

 beautiful basil

 lemon thyme

 tender rosemary

delicate succulent in a vintage planter~love the chartreuse color!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Easy and Healthy Dog Treats

My dogs love these sweet potato chips. In fact one of them adores anything in the vegetable kingdom! You name it he will try it- green beans, zuchini, carrots. I've got my very own food adventurer on four legs. If Jackson doesn't like it, then it must not be good!

 You might ask why sweet potatoes? Well, for one thing they are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and are a great supplement to a grain free diet should your dog be on one.

These treats couldn't be easier- all I do is scrub a large sweet potato and slice it really thin on my mandoline. You lay them out so they are not touching, on a couple of sheet pans lined with parchment or a silpat and bake for an hour or so in a very low oven set to 225°F. Turn them about midway through. What you are doing is dehydrating them so that you can store them- mine don't last long as they are eaten pretty quickly! Just make sure to put them in an airtight container once they have cooled. If you do make these for your fur babies, I  guarantee they will become fans for life!

Enough talking...can we have our treats now?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Herb Omlettes

herb omelettes from Plenty

 I have always had a love affair with cookbooks. I love to sit and read the recipes, drool over the photos and imagine the end product and how it will taste after I fidget with it.

After waiting for what seemed to be an eternity, my copy of Plenty  arrived last week. I quickly set to work scouring, reading and taking in all the lovely photos of what I had hoped would be delicious vegetarian recipes. After all, this book has gotten a lot of press. It was sold out for a while and I wanted to see if it would lived up to my now lofty expectations.

Ok- first the good news: after only a week of experimenting and making several of the dishes in this book, I can already declare that I have a favorite and I have even made it three times already! A definite winner in my book for sure.

This is the best omelette I have ever made hands down. I believe the appeal lies in the whisper thin and herb packed "wrapper".  I made the filling according to the recipe, which was Swiss chard, potato and saffron. Yum. Not too heavy and packed with "good for you" ingredients (click on the link above to get the recipe).  I did substitute goat milk yogurt for the creme fraîche that he calls for.  I used a combination of fresh parsley, dill, chives and tarragon for the herbs, but any combo you like will due just fine. I imagine all kinds of other fillings you could create with this. Imagination is limitless.

The not so great news (at least for me) is that there are a lot of recipes which include wheat and dairy-  that is tough because I try to eliminate both of these ingredients in my cooking mainly for the fact that I am highly sensitive to these food allergens.

But, still and all, with some creativity, I know I will be able to "tweak" those pesky ingredients into something I can eat without fear. Take for instance his recipe for "Socca" which translates into a kind of variation on pissaladière ( a Provençal type pizza).  And this is gluten free! Made with garbanzo bean flour. This is my second runner up and will be a great meal all summer long. It was so good in fact, that I ate it before I could take a pic of it! I look forward to making this again when the local tomatoes appear- maybe add some summer squash to it as well?

Socca by Ottolenghi, photo via tastespotting.com

I will spend this summer trying more of these wonderful recipes and putting my own personal spin on them. I highly recommend you try getting a copy. Your stomach will thank you!