February 26th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Just as I bestowed pom-pom topped club covers, golf ball retrievers, and rubber gardening shoes on my golf- and gardening-enthusiast father, I now am bombarded with egg poachers, cookbook weights, and whisks of all sizes and shapes. If a new culinary contraption hits the markets, chances are I’ll receive it as a Christmas, birthday or hostess gift. Yes, my lust for cooking has turned me into the goddess of kitchen gadgets.
Some sound too quirky to be useful. Take, for instance, onion goggles. Others, such as the silicon oven mitt, sound like a clumsy baker’s dream. Yet, often the reverse is true. Onion goggles are a godsend – no more tears! — while that hot, unwieldy oven mitt has been shoved to the back of a kitchen drawer, never to be used again.
With so many utensils at my disposal I have become somewhat of an authority on non-essential cooking tools. Below are a few of my favorites. I could live without them but why would I want to?
Onion goggles – If I sloppily — and improperly — chop an onion, I can forget about itchy, red-rimmed eyes. The foam around these glasses blocks out tear-provoking vapors. When not in use, I push them atop my head to hold back errant strands of hair. Nothing like a little geek chic in the kitchen.
Silpat baking mat – Banish environmentally unfriendly parchment paper from your kitchen and line your baking sheet with a reusable Silpat baking mat. With this silicon mat, you never have to grease another pan.
Silicon muffin cups – Often my muffins and cupcakes stick to the bottom of those cute, decorative, paper baking cups. Try tearing off the paper and end up losing half of the cake. With reusable “Sili-Cups,” I just flip the cups over and the muffins (or cupcakes) plop onto the plate. Voila! No more obvious baking mistakes.
Wire mesh strainer with pan hooks – Drain pasta, rinse vegetables and sift flour with this simple multi-purpose tool. www.cpapc.com/store/8-Single-Mesh-Wire-Strainer-P1947C226.aspx
Kuhn Rikon vegetable peeler – Okay, it’s more of a tool than a gadget. However, after going through piles of peelers, I have found the Kuhn Rikon Y-peeler to be the sharpest and, at $3.50, one of the cheapest. It skims off potato, cucumber and carrot skins in seconds. Fast, smooth, inexpensive and in a variety of colors. What’s not to love? swww.kuhnrikon.com/products/tools/tools.php3?id=36
February 11th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Usually, when I’m at home in southeastern Pennsylvania, I prefer either to cook or grab a simple meal at a nearby brewery or coffee shop. Driving 35 minutes into Philadelphia never sounds terribly appealing when I’m tired and hungry. However, over the past two weeks I broke from my usual routine and had some exceptional dinners in Philadelphia as a result. The restaurants? Amada and FARMiCiA in Old City, the Water Works in Fairmount Park and Vetri in Center City.
Authentic, earthy Spanish tapas with flavor and flair was what I wanted, and got, at Jose Garces’ Amada. www.amadarestaurant.com Lychee mojitos, cranberry-studded sangria and a cheese plate of Manchego paired with lavender honey, Cana de Cabra with a side of fig marmalade and Queso de Cabra accompanied by balsamic strawberries started the evening. Following this were small platters of bread slathered with tomato and garlic, patatas bravas or spicy potatoes topped with saffron aioli, salt cod croquettes, shrimp sauteed with chunks of garlic, and charred green onions as well as bowls of Spanish olives and chickpeas and spinach in tomato sauce. For dessert – the only miss of the evening for me – bananas torrijas or crispy Spanish bread topped with slices of carmelized bananas and surrounded by a mild-flavored banana anglaise and equally subtle maple syrup ice cream. A little too subdued to end such a flavorful feast.
At FARMiCiA, www.farmiciarestaurant.com, the emphasis was on local, organic, and humanely grown foods. Not terribly surprising as the chef, Kevin Klause, came from an archetype of socially conscious cuisine, the White Dog Cafe, but certainly a major selling point. From a menu friendly to vegans and carnivores alike I ordered pan-seared wild salmon served over sauteed Swiss chard and lentils. Roasted beets and a creamy yet light herb sauce accompanied the trio. My dining companion selected a vegetarian entree – two herb roasted portobello mushroom steaks, sauteed greens and baked parmesan polenta. Dessert was a warm walnut brownie, courtesy of the adjacent Metropolitan Bakery. Drinks? Pomegranate martinis or “pom-tinis.” Simple and delicious dining.
Located on the bank of the Schuykill River beneath the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Water Works Restaurant, www.thewaterworksrestaurant.com, featured spectacular waterfront views, a spacious, crystal chandelier-lit dining room, and Mediterranean-inspired food. Although the surroundings were elegant and unforgettable, the cuisine seemed a tad tired, particularly for the prices charged. While my friends enjoyed their appetizers of lobster bisque, oysters, and onion soup and entrees of pan-seared black bass, pan-seared chicken, and duck breast, I felt that the herb-crusted salmon with fingerling potatoes and dessert of chocolate ouzo beignets had been done often, and better, elsewhere. Not bad but also not befitting the cost or amazing atmosphere.
What was amazing was Vetri. www.vetriristorante.com Nationally renowned for its classic and contemporary Italian cuisine, Mark Vetri’s intimate, 35-seat restaurant lived up to the rave reviews on this evening. The food and service were exemplary, surpassing anything that I ever experienced in New York at Mario Batali’s celebrated Babbo. My husband and I began the night with glasses of prosecco and blood orange bellinis. For appetizers we shared a sweet onion crepe and cauliflower flan with shaved parmesan and an egg yolk center that cascaded onto the gold-accented plate. Our entrees were pillowy spinach gnocchi dressed with brown butter and almond tortellini with a delicate white truffle sauce. We left room for desserts of chestnut custard napoleon and chocolate polenta cake. Extraordinary!
February 2nd, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
It all started with a request for a cookbook. Not any old cookbook but one filled with recipes that had been created, modified or copied by me. My deadline was Christmas Day 2007. My publisher? TasteBook.
With financial backing from Conde Nast and a partnership with the online recipe site Epicurious.com, TasteBook provides home cooks with a way to create their own illustrated, hardcover books. For $34.95 they can select 100 recipes from existing TasteBooks or from the 25,000 listed on Epicurious or they can type in recipes from their own collections. As my dishes originate with friends, from traditionally published cookbooks or me, I opted to write 99 and acquired only one – asparagus with tarragon sherry vinaigrette – from Epicurious. The latter I had used for years, ever since tearing it out of the April 2002 issue of Gourmet magazine.
Had I copied recipes from Epicurious or other TasteBooks, I undoubtedly would have completed this project in a matter of days. However, as I chose to type every title, ingredient list, set of steps, serving size and note, I labored for several weeks on “Kitchen Kat’s Cookery Collection.” Labor may be too strong a verb. The work was easy enough. Just click on the “Add a recipe” icon and type the information in the appropriate box, i.e. ingredients in the “ingredients” box, cooking steps in the “preparation instructions” box, etc. Decide in which of the ten, tabbed chapters the dish should appear — vegetables, appetizers, desserts, and so on –, tack on any notes or anecdotes, save the recipe and move onto the next one. Easy!
Once I had finished writing and organizing my collection, I selected a cover. With more than 40 color photos from which to choose I waffled between shots of a slate blue bowl of cherries and pie plate overflowing with fresh cranberries. I eventually picked the cherries. Cranberries seemed too seasonal for this venture.
Before placing my order, I took a virtual tour of my book. By clicking on the edge of each page, I could flip through and see how the recipes would appear in print. I even got to preview the different pictures that began every chapter. Scones opened the section on brunch and breads. A bowl of olives appeared on “appetizers and drinks.” I hated to admit it but none of the cookbooks lining my kitchen shelves looked as snazzy, or personalized, as this. One hundred of my best, and favorite, recipes at my gift recipient’s fingertips.
In less than two weeks the beautiful “Kitchen Kat’s Cookery Collection” arrived on my doorstep. Like most holiday gifts, it required some assembly before being wrapped and placed beneath the Christmas tree. Thankfully, all that I had to do was insert the recipes into the ring binder and snap it shut. Voila! The cookbook deadline had been met and with weeks to spare.
Should I ever wish to add more recipes or print out other copies of this book, I can go online, log into my account and either start typing or ordering. TasteBook is online at www.tastebook.com.