Archives for September 2011

Vegetable peelers

In some homes they live together, organized into the same drawer as friends, laughing about all the vegetables they’ve peeled. There’s Jerry, the oldest peeler, who doesn’t see much action anymore, but he gets along well with the newer model version of himself—Mike. Mike’s new, sharp, and gets lots of use. He’s joined by Jim, a sleek ceramic model peeler whenever there are loads of veggies to process from the farmers market. They live as buddies of varying ages, and they get along because they’ve all done time at the same job.

Other homes may keep them separate. The oldest peelers live in some hard to reach cobwebbed kitchen cabinet, counting down the days until eventual donation while only the newest and still razor-sharp peeler lives in the glorious top drawer for every day use.

I’ve got just one in my home, but I think it may be time to upgrade. Erin told me she uses only one as well—this trusty OXO model (pictured above).

How did you come into owning your vegetable peeler? Was it a hand-me-down, or did you research the internet for the best device based on reviews and cost?

Deciding on the right peeler

If that’s your game, then start your search with the greatest gadget and gizmo grandmaster of them all: Alton Brown. In this Good Eats video, he highlights some great options, explaining their pluses and minuses in wonderfully geeky detail. You might also check out this totally sweet peeler list I found, lovingly written up on goodeatsfanpage.com.

With enough use, the edge of any peeler will eventually dull and become a real pain in the butt to use. The blade will slip around, making it hard for the edge to get a good grip, wasting your time and patience. However, there are two ways around this predicament: you can learn to sharpen your metal peeler, or look into purchasing one with a ceramic blade. Ceramic stays sharper a lot longer than metal, and if it does get dull you can always send it back to the manufacturer to be factory-sharpened.

Additionally, you might consider purchasing a julienne peeler. These neat gadgets contain a row of sharp teeth which are turned perpendicular to the blade, splitting the food as you peel to save time in the kitchen. I used to own this OXO model, but the flimsy teeth bent after a few uses, just as others have mentioned on amazon.com. By the positive reviews, this Swiss model seems to have sturdier construction and is worth further investigation.

A case for owning multiples

How many do you have in your home? An uncluttered kitchen should contain as few unused gadgets as possible. If you own more than one peeler and never use the rest then they are just taking up valuable room in a drawer and should be headed for the donation bin.

Or is there life still in those old peelers? Using the sharpening trick mentioned above, you could hone your aged tools into a more youthful shape, returning them to the top drawer for use. With newly sharpened peelers at your disposal, you really should put them to work.

Find a recipe which uses something like potatoes, eggplant, or zucchini, then buy loads of these vegetables now that they are in-season. Seasonal veggies are abundant & best of all cheap! Gather some friends and family to lend a hand peeling your purchase. When everything is peeled, cook the recipe and share the finished product with everyone as a way of saying thank you for the help. You get bonding and a good meal from a little team effort. How great is that?

Here are some recipes that will give your peeler some mileage while simultaneously using up the season’s bounty.

And if your peeler isn’t smoking from all the use after that, you can always use it to shave off some cold butter.

Happy peeling.

Kitchen round-up: Erin’s pots & pans

Matt’s questions last Friday about the pots and pans in our kitchen got me thinking about the cookware I own and how I use it. When I surveyed my collection, I was surprised by its size. I use all of the pieces regularly, and I feel that the size of my collection represents the diversity I have in my cooking repertoire. In a given week, I’ll roast, fry, saute, steam, bake, broil, and poach. Our family might enjoy French country cooking on a Monday and Chinese-style steamed pork buns on a Tuesday. My collection:

1-3

8″, 10″ & 14″ Stainless Steel Fry Pans – All-Clad

Used for browning, frying, sauteing and searing, these fry pans are the backbone of my cookware. I actually have two of the 10″ fry pans because it’s common that I’ll need both working on the stove at the same time during a single meal preparation. The 8″ gets the least amount of action, but it’s perfect for breakfast omelets or egg scrambles, which I make a few mornings a week.

4, 5

3 Quart & 6 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpots & Lids – All-Clad

The smaller stockpot is perfect for beans and lentils because it doesn’t have a long handle to get in the way of other cooking, and also keeps a consistent heat evenly over a long period of time. The larger stockpot is my go-to pot for soups.

6

3 Quart Stainless Double-Boiler Insert – All-Clad

I use the double-boiler when making rice, melting chocolate and sugar, and doing anything that I fear may burn if placed directly on a burner. The double-boiler fits in both the 3-quart stockpot and the 3-quart saucepan.

7, 8

2 Quart and 3 Quart Stainless Steel Saucepans & Lids – All-Clad

These pots are perfect for sauces, poaching, and simmering. My stainless pots and pans are all a decade old and still heat quickly and evenly. They are also dishwasher safe and have held up beautifully under brutal treatment.

9

14″ Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Wok – wokshop.com

The wok takes center stage when I want to steam and quickly fry foods. In combination with three bamboo steamers, this workhorse produces incredible dumplings. It’s the newest member in my collection.

10

12″ Square Cast-Iron Griddle – Lodge

This griddle makes French toast, pancakes, tortillas and hamburgers like a champ. It holds heat for a long time and puts a gorgeous brown crust on most everything it touches. Could also be used as a weapon if necessary and requires a little bit of elbow grease to wield it on the stove.

11

3.75 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Deep Skillet & Lid – Le Creuset

The deep side walls of this enameled cast iron piece make it perfect for going between the stove top and the oven. Any recipe the requires browning before baking gets put into this pan.

12

6.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Casserole & Lid – Tramontina

I roast small cuts of meat and small-to-medium-size birds (chickens, turkeys, ducks, pheasants) in this amazing piece of cookware. I’ve had it for three years now and it performs as wonderfully as my Le Creuset, and for a quarter the price. It came from Target and was highly recommended by Cook’s Illustrated.

13

9.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron French Oven & Lid – Le Creuset

Large turkeys, ample cuts of beef and pork (including a full rack of ribs), and casseroles heading to picnics get made up in this behemoth of a pan. It’s heavy, takes up a lot of space, and gets used the least amount of all my cookware, but I can’t imagine parting with it or using anything else on a Thanksgiving turkey. I got it on sale at 70% off the sticker price at the Le Creuset outlet in Leesburg, Virginia, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have purchased it (the thing usually retails for more than $300!).

Kitchen round-up: Matt’s pots & pans

How would you describe the pots and pans you use in your kitchen? Do you own a rough and tumble crew of misfits? Maybe your collection is more akin to a massive extended family with brothers, sisters, and cousins all working together?

The cookware we own cycles as we age. The skeleton crew I owned during college was just a 10-inch fry pan and a 2-quart sauce pot, but their numbers grew when I was gifted an inexpensive starter set after graduation. By now, everything from my immediate-post-college era has been replaced with a miss-matched crew of pieces forged for specific tasks (and pictured above).

1

11″ Kavalkad Sauté Pan – Ikea

A light non-stick pan that doesn’t need tall sides, can hold a tortilla, and is cheap enough that I can replace it easily if it scratches. I use it for quesadillas and pan-fried fritters.

2

2 Quart Anodized Saucepan & Lid – Calphalon

A somewhat non-stick pot which quickly heats a small amount of water or cooks a small volume of liquids. I use it to cook pasta sauces and reheat soups.

3

8″ Sauté Pan – Pampered Chef

This tiny pan holds heat well and has an efficient non-stick surface. I use it for eggs in the morning or to quickly saute some garlic.

4

3.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Casserole – Le Creuset

Great for searing and even-heated braising in the oven. I use it for baked sausage with rice and slow roasted vegetables.

5

11 Quart Stock Pot & Lid- Ikea

The thick base on this pot boils water at blazing speeds, and it’s huge capacity make it great for large volumes of liquid. I use it to make chicken stock and boil water for pasta.

6

3.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Crock Pot- Le Creuset

Another great one for searing and even-heated braising, but this version is better at large round roasts. I use mine for swiss steak and braised chicken.

7

4 Quart Sauté and Simmer Pan- All-Clad

This pan does such a wonderful job of evenly searing, and it can finish thick cuts of meat in the oven. I use it to cook steak, chops, sausage, and fluffy white rice.

8

3.5 Quart Cast-Iron Crock Pot – Lodge

Great for fire-side cooking at a camp-out. I use mine as a dedicated no-knead bread baker.

So what does your collection look like and how would you describe how they work together?

Fresh pasta walkthrough

If you’re anything like me, your youth involved eating pasta that started its life packaged in a box, living on a grocery store shelf until it was purchased by your family. My mom created wonderful things out of that dry pasta, like her Tuna Frittata or famous spaghetti and meat balls. I get a warm cozy feeling when imagining a pantry lined with boxes and boxes of pasta-based meal potential.

You are also like me if you tried fresh pasta for the first time in your twenties. My post-college years became a time for food exploration when I lived in Chicago. I gladly handed over roughly half my monthly earnings to the many restaurants that city has to offer. Chicago is a young foodie’s dream come true with all the diversity of flavors represented in such a tiny place. It would have been a crime to live there and not explore. Seems like it was only a matter of time before my wandering pallet experienced a bowl of freshly made pasta.

I recall eating it for the first time and thinking the texture was a lot like German spaetzle, yet it was much thinner and had a subtly different mouth feel thanks to the tomato sauce. It was delicate and chewy at the same time. It was different, and I was in love.

Despite this intense attraction, until recently fresh pasta has been something which only shows up in my home via the chilled plastic packages sold in grocery stores. The texture of that stuff is different than the fresh pasta from a restaurant. Less chewy. Yet making it from scratch seemed like a process which took too long. Was my desire for that unique texture enough reason to pass up the convenience of opening a box and having a meal in ten minutes?

Yes and no. Making fresh pasta takes time, but if you can find some joy in each step of the process it seems less like work and more like a project. Projects that end with a bowl of deliciousness are what I call fun.

I do not own a pasta rolling machine, so the steps listed below use only the bare essentials of what you need.

Step 1

Begin by scrubbing down your counter top until it’s nice and clean. Dry thoroughly.

Using your hands, create a mound using two cups of unbleached all-purpose flour. Poke down the center to form a well for the eggs. Add a half teaspoon of salt.

Step 2

Crack three eggs into the center of the well.

Step 3

Using a fork, gently scramble the eggs. Begin incorporating flour from the sides of the well, making sure not to allow the eggs to escape through any cracks in the wall.

Step 4

Continue moving the eggs around with the fork and incorporating flour until it starts looking dry. Scoop more flour into the eggs with your fingers. You should be able to start moving the dough around with your hands.

It should look something like this.

Step 5

Form into a ball and scrape down the counter to get rid of excess flour and dough crumbs. Knead the dough for about five minutes, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking.

I like to put all the scrapings into a colander which I can shake over the dough to add flour.

Step 6

Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for thirty minutes.

Step 7

Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest for ten minutes.

Step 8

Flour your counter top and begin rolling out the dough. It helps to start from the center and roll towards the edges. Be generous with the flour as you go to prevent the dough from sticking. Aim to roll out the dough to a sixteenth of an inch in thickness.

It should probably be even bigger than my example, since my batch ended up a bit thick.

Step 9

Visually divide your dough in half, then roll up each side of the dough towards the center line.

It should look something like this.

Step 10

Cut the dough using a long sharp chef’s knife, applying just enough pressure to go through without scratching your counter top. Make your cuts as wide as you like. I aimed for the width of pappardelle noodles.

Step 11

Insert your knife under the cut pasta and lift up…

VOILA! The pasta un-rolls itself.

Step 12

Dust with additional flour to prevent sticking. You can use the pasta right away, cooking it in plenty of salted boiling water for five minutes, or it can be frozen for up to three months. The noodles are best used immediately, but can be stored in your fridge for a few days before the texture starts to degrade.

Fresh pasta works best with sauces of light to medium body, so I thought to pair it with some of the simply magical butter and onion pasta sauce I’ve cooked in the past. The rich chewy egg based pasta combined with the buttery tomato sauce creates something truly wonderful.

When did you first try fresh pasta? Do you have fresh pasta making success stories? I’d love to hear some.

Fancy up a frozen pizza

If you aren’t familiar with her show, Sandra Lee hosts Semi-Homemade on the Food Network, which is where she creatively combines pre-packaged foods with other ingredients to create unique and time-saving meals. She’s received criticism for lacking real cooking skills, but in my mind her ideas are no less inventive than using exclusively fresh ingredients. For example, she loves using store bought rotisserie chicken as a base for pot pie. This kind of shortcut-minded thinking has a place in any kitchen, regardless of the ingredients you use.

The way I shop now has almost entirely scrapped any of the pre-packaged stuff I used to consume in college. I primarily purchase from a farmers market, then supplement my pantry with whole ingredients from the grocery store. I consider it a smart lifestyle choice to cook and eat this way because knowing exactly what I’m putting into my body is healthier than blindly diving into a plate full of chemicals, preservatives, and colorings. Additionally, it’s super convenient to cook large meals, which I split up and freeze for easy reheating. The last TV dinner I ate was locally made and was purchased at a farmers market.

Not too long ago, I was still doing the majority of my shopping in the center aisles at my local mega mart, and every visit included a trip through the frozen foods section to hunt for pizza sales. This was also right around the time I first caught Sandra Lee working her magic on Semi-Homemade. It was under these circumstances that I created my version of gussied up frozen pizza. While I’ve prepared it many times since then (especially as a quick party appetizer), I hadn’t thought to make this garlicy treat for a while since banishing convenience foods from my home. On a whim, I found the wheels of my shopping cart turning down the chilly frozen foods aisle, stirring up memories and a hunger for my yummy pizza concoction.

While this method would work perfectly well on some freshly homemade pizza, I have a spot in my heart for that crispy fresh-from-the-freezer crust, as well as the ridiculously convenient preparation.

Begin with any frozen pizza. I like to use one with minimal toppings so my additions properly shine through. Margherita pizzas are my favorite. On this occasion I grabbed one from Newman’s Own.

Begin by preheating your oven to the temperature listed on the box, then thinly slice up some peeled garlic. I go for about four nice big cloves. The thickness of the slices will determine the garlicy bite intensity, which is why I try to get them as thin as possible using a slicer with a nice sharp ceramic blade. In a small bowl, mix the sliced garlic with about a half teaspoon of olive oil and a big pinch of kosher salt.

The salt helps flavor the garlic, and the oil will help it cook, taking off the raw edges and producing a bit of sweetness. Spread this evenly on top of the pizza, then drizzle just a little more olive oil over the whole thing.

Add any additional herbs and spices per your preference. I like a few dashes of dried oregano, some dried thyme, and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss it in the oven and cook per the directions on the box.

When it comes out, the surface should have some nice browned spots thanks to the extra olive oil, and the garlic will have cooked ever so slightly in the heat of the oven.

Finally, drizzle on some red wine vinegar to cut through the richness of the cheese and give the whole thing a nice tart bite. Slice up your pizza and serve with some of the classiest two-dollar wine you can find. Enjoy!

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