Friday, November 30, 2007
Review: De’Longhi DCF212T Complete Frontal Access Coffee Maker
I've seen a lot of coffee makers in my day, and while for non-espresso type I still like vacuum brewing, I'm impressed by the practicality of De’Longhi's new machine. The DCF212T is smart because they designed it for people who live in real kitchens, and who often have to shove an appliance under a cabinet or shelf. A door swings out from the machine and gives you access to both the grounds filter and to a trough that directs water back into the tank. There's no need to slide the unit out any more.
The carafe holds up to 12 cups (six ounces each, I think). When I was running the first two obligatory tanks of water to clean it out before regular use, I found that if I didn't push the glass container back far enough, no water came out - an obvious and hardly innovative feature, but nice to know that it's there. Not only does the filter come out for easy cleaning, but so does the filter basket.
You can set the internal clock and then a timer, to prepare water and grounds the night before and then have it automatically start brewing in the morning. Setting the clock took some time, as you hold one button down and wait for the right time to come by. Keep the button pushed in, and it starts going through the numbers faster and faster, so you're not there all day. Another nice touch is the Aroma button - if you're making less than a full pot, press this and it drips water in more slowly to extract more of the flavor. I liked the results, though you do wait considerably longer for the coffee to be done. The built in warming plate kept liquid warm for hours, though I'd have to have coffee sitting around for that long. But if you don't mind, it won't be cold.
Not all is perfect. Although I filled the tank up to the 4 cup line, using the Aroma button I got more like 3 cups in the carafe. When I ran water straight through, it seemed to come out right, so I'm guessing that the difference is in water retained by the grounds. You might consider testing first, and possibly making a bit "more" than usual so it comes out where you want. Also, they recommend 1 TBS. of grounds per cup, which is a bit weak. Admirably, they also give the amounts suggested by some specialty coffee association, which starts off at 2 TBS. a cup and eventually lessens, so 8 cups of coffee don't need 16 TBS. of grounds. However, given the size of the basket, if you take these recommendations you can only load enough grounds for 10 cups at those recommendations.
However, that's almost to the level of a quibble. Overall, this is a great concept, and at $49.95, reasonably priced as well.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Review: Oregon Scientific Wireless BBQ/Oven Thermometer
The wireless version will let you monitor the food's internal temperature, in theory, up to 300 feet away. I only tried the wireless display maybe 100 or 125 feet away, but it was great. Instead of depending on hearing a beeper when the dish is done, you have the display unit with you. At first the display would not register the internal temperature, but on asking, I was told to remove the batteries from both the base transmitter and remote monitor units, and then to replace them, pressing the reset buttons, on the transmitter and receivers in order. That worked.
You choose the type of food, which brings up suggested times for your chosen degree of doneness, like rare or medium. If you like somewhat different temperatures for them, you can adjust things manually. There is a speaker that uses a voice generator that tells you what you're choosing. If you have vision problems, I could see how that would be useful, although I found it annoying. A belt clip lets you easily carry the receiver/monitor with you - good when you are entertaining company during the holidays. Also, bravo to the company for using a shielded cable from the probe, which would seem safer for dealing with the heat of an oven than the plastic-sheathed types you typically see on probe thermometers. On the balance, I can heartily recommend the unit, even if the voice does annoy.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tales of Two Drinks
Regarding the first, oh, please, give me a break. Yes, water can taste noticeably different depending on the source, and, yes, it's an amazing substance, but why must everything become an earth-shattering marketing tool? Please, let the water be water, and let people enjoy it. How about a freeze on the hype?
The bourbon article I found interesting, though the initial web home page description got me frowning: "Complexity and elegance are qualities that have rarely been associated with bourbon." But getting into Eric Asimov's article was more telling - that bourbon had sat in the "unpretentious" brand category, and so couldn't underscore complexity. But things have changed, and now you can have a glass of a good bourbon without feeling the need to dress down and wear a pair of sunglasses. A tasting panel went through a number and has some recommendations - I can personally vouch for Elijah Craig.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Review: Clear2O Water Filtration Pitcher
As we live out in the sticks and depend on well water that already goes through one filter, we don't exactly have water pressure. It's more like water nudging. Still, I connected the hose, turned on the tap, and the pitcher filled in about a minute - longer than the 30-odd seconds they claimed, but that probably assumes a normal water system. Also, I found that the attachment that you screw onto the faucet didn't interfere noticeably with the water flow when the pitcher wasn't attached.
Four out of five people in our house gave the new water a thumbs up, and one said that there was a metallic aftertaste. Well, there is a bit of one, but I don't think that all minerals will come out, and it was greatly improved.
I like the design of the pitcher. Tall and slim, it fits nicely into our crowded fridge, so you can keep a ready supply of cold water on hand with a 72-ounce capacity. Pair this with some water bottles, and you can cut down on buying small bottles of water to take with you. The price on the company's site is about $30 for the original model with the white plastic lid and $35 with the "platinum" design. Personally, I'd stick with cheaper. You will need to get replacement filters that run $16 for one, or $35 for three. Each supposedly filters 40 gallons, or about 40 cents a gallon, which is significantly cheaper than most bottled water I've seen.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (11/26/07)
- Eating For The Hungry A competitive eater tucked away a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 to highlight the plight of the hungry. No wonder they were hungry - he didn't leave anything. (AP)
- Organized Professional Eating In the last story, the human vacuum was mentioned as a Major League Eater. Turns out there is an International Federation of Competitive Eating. I'd hate to take a turn buying refreshments for a gathering there. (ifoce.com)
- Doughnut Vows A Massachusetts couple tied the knot at a doughnut shop where they originally met. Thankfully, their rings appear to be made of something inedible. (AP)
- Sibling Roastery A brother and sister apparently try to outdo each other every year in the size of turkey they roast on Thanksgiving. The man won this year with a 72-pound bird. (AP)
Friday, November 23, 2007
Review: Empire Kosher Turkey - For The Birds?
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Wine Resources for the Holidays
- Start with bubbly. Sparkling wine is a great aperitif to sip while you wait for the turkey to finish cooking. It adds a celebratory note to the meal and goes well with starters like soup and salad.
- Consider the turkey. Unlike most poultry and game birds, turkey meat is very dry in texture. So you need a mouth-watering wine to complement it. Good options are crisp whites like riesling and pinot grigio. And yes you can drink red wine with white meat: pinot noir, beaujolais and zinfandel all have juicy, berry-ripe flavors that go well with turkey.
- Look beyond the bird. The range of side dishes means that you don't have to match your wine just to the turkey. Since Thanksgiving dinner is often a banquet-style meal, with everyone choosing the trimmings, why not do the same with your wines? Offer both red and white, and possibly more than one depending on the size of your group.
- Complement or contrast. A big, buttery chardonnay from California or Chile can complement the roasted, smoky flavors of squash, chestnuts and pecan stuffing. But if you'd rather have a contrast to the richness of cream sauces and dressings, try a crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
- End on a sweet note. If anyone still has room left when it's time for pumpkin or pecan pie, offer a late harvest wine or icewine. If you're a chocolate fan, try serving a liqueur with complementary flavors such as raspberry or blackcurrant.
For another view of what wines to serve, you can go to this page on the Subzero site (major kitchen appliances). I really liked the idea of serviing a Riesling.
For help in pairing specific foods with wines, you can go to Natalie's web site for pairing help. There's also the Lowes Hotela at Universal Orlando, which has set up a wine version of the turkey or pie hotline. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 407.503.WINE (9463). They're apparently happy to help people pair wines with foods. It sounds like this is the first year they will do this, so I have no information about how long it will take to get a response. Remember, they're working hard at tasting wine, so I'm sure things get a little ... relaxed.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Some Last Minute Thanksgiving Resources
If you want a moist and tasty turkey, I'd suggest one of two routes. The first is to get a good kosher bird. They really do taste better, and the pan drippings for gravy are unbeatable. If you can't get kosher, then look at brining the bird. You submerge it in a mix of water, kosher salt, and sugar, keeping your dinner from drying out and adding a touch of a salty undertone which improves the overall flavor. The Morton salt people have an online guide, which I had to dig out, as the press release that suggested I go to the main page didn't say where to look for the guide. Clicking on the cookbook link got some weird error, but the link I provide above should work. Or you can skip the suger, brine with salt and water (more traditional, I think), and get some hints from the Food Network and Alton Brown's Good Eats program.
For gravy, I'll provide some tips of my own, as I've often walked into dinners and heard, “Oh, there you are! Great to see you, here, let me take your coat, and could you make the gravy?” Here's a recipe:
- neck, heart, and kidneys from the turkey
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 4 1/2 Tbs. flour
- 4 1/2 Tbs. butter
- Mix the onion, celery, and carrots together and place in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the turkey on a roasting rack and put into the pan. Move the vegetables out of the way so the rack sits flat. While roasting the turkey, place the neck, heart, and kidneys in a small saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a simmer for an hour, making a light broth. Strain the broth and reserve.
- When the turkey is cooked through, remove pan from the oven. Take the turkey and rack from the pan and place to the side. If there is liquid in the pan, remove it from the pan, spoon off the fat, then add enough water to make three cups total liquid.
- Put the pan across two burners on a stove and turn the burners on. When heated, add the liquid and use a wooden spoon to dissolve any crust in the pan and to mix the roasted mirepoix. When all crust is dissolved, strain and reserve.
- In a heavy saucepan over a medium heat, melt the butter, then add the flour. Cook and stir with a whisk until the mixture turns a golden brown and bubbles. Add all the liquid and whisk until smooth. Season to taste, though if you used a brined or kosher turkey, salt may be superfluous. Serve with the meal.
While I'm on the subject of pie, you might pick up a copy of this month's Cooks Illustrated. It had an article on pie crusts and the suggestion of using half cold water, half vodka instead of all water when moistening the flour and fat mixture. As the vodka includes alcohol, the theory is that you reduce the amount of gluten that forms when water hits flour, and so the crust is easy to roll and form, but still stays flaky. They swear by it, though I haven't had a chance to try it myself. They also mix shortening and butter, which should combine flavor and handling ability.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (11/19/07)
- Ancient Candy Bars Researchers have found proof that Central America first used chocolate at least 500 years earlier than was previously thought - in a fermented drink akin to beer. A pint of extra-bitter to go, please. (Reuters)
- Candy Undies Inspected A Norwegian erotic store got a surprise inspection by the food safety police, which said that even handcuffs made of candy needed the proper labeling showing ingredients. But what age do you have to be to read them?(Reuters)
- Rodents Close World's Most Expensive Dessert Place Serendipity 3, which last week was crowing about getting the world record for the most expensive dessert (at $25,000) this week had to temporarily shut its doors because of mice and cockroach infestations. Hopefully they didn't cost diners extra. (Reuters)
- Vying for Vodka Finns stood in long lines to stock up on liquor as employees of state-run package stores prepared to go on strike. Good thing they weren't getting Prohibition. (AFP)
Friday, November 16, 2007
Review: Golden Moon Tea
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Review: Cutco Santoku Knives
The two Santoku knives - one with a 7-inch blade and the other with a 5-inch - are examples of a Japanese design that has become popular around the world. (If you'd like to read more about them, check this Wikipedia article.) The blades are thin and short compared to a French kitchen knife, and the profile allows a sharper edge, making them keener than a good chef's knife, even when newly honed. I generally like a larger blade, but find myself reaching for both of these pretty frequently. It actually surprises me that I've been sometimes using the 5-inch model, but I was cutting some small vegetables and found that I gained more control.
One thing to remember is that these are knives made for slicing, not for chopping or for cutting through tougher material like poultry bones. I'd be concerned that the thin blade would be too brittle and could chip, so don't toss that chef's knife yet.
Another point is that buyhing from Cutco is a little complicated ... and expensive. The site points everyone to a company called Vector Marketing, which sends college students out on appointments with people who want knives. Smells like potential high pressure sales, but at least the products are superior to many in the market, you never have to follow up on a magazine subscription, and apparently you can buy over the phone. (Although not over the web, which is what makes me suspect advanced sales tactics.) At these prices, that's good, because the two-knife set runs $186. The 7-inch is $99 and the 5-inch is $87. At prices like that, they'd better last a long time.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Bad Idea Department: Mustard Cocktails
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Review: Welch's Sparkling Grape Juice Cocktail
Monday, November 12, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (11/12/07)
- Fuel the World with Chocolate A new process turns the byproducts of making chocolate into biofuel. Even your car wants a bite of that chocolate bar. (Reuters)
- A Really Rich Dessert A Manhattan restaurant has offered a dessert sporting cocoa, edible gold, truffle shavings, a take-home bowl decorated with gold and diamonds, and a $25,000 price tag, making it the world's most expensive dessert, according to the Guiness Book of World Records. Do they charge for a second spoon? (AP)
- Ham Soda Jones Soda has developed a holiday-themed soda pack, including such flavors as sugar plum, Christmas tree, Egg Nog, Christmas ham, and latke. Suppposedly even the ham flavor is kosher. Sure, and your rabbi is going to suggest hame and swiss sandwiches for lunch. (AP)
- Comparing Grapes and Apples The EU is close to deciding that wine can be made out of fruits other than grapes. Quick, someone pass the smelling salts to the French. (Reuters)
- It's Christmas - Drop the Mince Pie Apparently, there is an old English law, never repealed, making it illegal to eat mince pie on Christmas Day. this is one of a number of odd laws still on the books, including it being illegal to die in Parliament. (AFP)
- Lift, Separate, and Eat Sushi A Japanese lingerie manufacturer has developed a new bra that will allow women to stash their chopsticks. Hopefully, the rice girdle will shortly follow. (AFP)
Friday, November 09, 2007
Review: Gel Pro Chef Mat from Let's Gel
The mats are heavy, come in a variety of surface treatments and colors, and have some sort of gel on the inside that doesn't just cushion your steps, but lets the surface give way slightly to your feet, almost conforming to them. The company advertises the bottom as non-slip, and it certainly seems that way; the mat doesn't slide about. The mats aren't cheap and start at $100 for a 20x36 inch model with a plain basketweave pattern, and $150 for something fancier. There is also a 20x72 inch, with the price for the fancier surface topping out at about $300. You know what? If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen and you find your legs and feet hurting, this will seem like chump change - because you'd have to be a chump to change back to a more painful existence.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Review: Jennie-O Turkey Store Oven Ready Turkey
The company sent a test bird in a completely frozen state, and I put it directly into our chest freezer, so it was hard as a rock when I cooked it yesterday. Oven went to 350 degrees, I tore open the package (easy to do), and placed the turkey, sealed in a cooking bag, into a roasting pan. I cut a couple of slits and pulled the bag away from the bird, put it into the oven, and waited about four hours.
I checked the temperature a couple of times with an instant read thermometer, but let a little too much time go between the last reading and taking the turkey out, so it over-cooked a bit and was a little dry. There is a pop-up indicator, but I've found that trusting those is often a mistake, and they don't help if you aren't looking often enough. Even slightly dry, the taste was reasonably good - not as good as, say, a properly brined thawed or kosher bird, but the whole freezer-to-oven trick makes up for that.
You do have to be careful about pulling the bag away from the skin before it goes into the over, otherwise the bag sticks, as happened in a couple of spots. The skin is decently browned, but not the deeper shade of a traditionally roasted fowl. Because a few cups of liquid get trapped in the bag, the turkey ends up a cross between roasted and steamed, but even the pickier members of my family didn't find that off-putting.
A few other considerations: You aren't going to be stuffing this bird, so you'll have to cook that dish on the side. The skin seems to have some kind of rub on it, but I didn't find it unpleasant. Oh, and you'd better hope that you can find these birds at a local grocery store, as an 11 to 13 pound one from the web site will set you back $57, which would let you buy a fresh bird, forgetting the entire freezer experience. (The one I tested seemed closer to a 15 pound or heavier bird, and the packaging suggests that they do come that large.)
If you have a critical dinner, one possible approach, if you can find one of these turkeys locally at a reasonable price, is to keep one in the freezer just in case something goes wrong with the main bird. That way you can still recover and serve dinner with no one else the wiser - and I promise not to tell.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Review: Cuisinart Programmable Espresso Maker EM-200
On the plus side, it has a water tank that slides into position at the rear of the machine and doesn't require you to move all sorts of things out of the way to get at it. That may not sound important until you find yourself out of water in the middle of brewing espresso or steaming milk. The top of the plastic tank lifts up and out of the way, making it easy to pour more water in. However, I prefer to take the opportunity to rinse a tank out, as they can get a bit slimy when not regularly washed and rinsed.
Another strong point is both programmed settings for single and double shots, a manual button (if you prefer to time extraction rather than waiting for a specific amount of water to run through), and a button to let you change the programmed settings to what you like. The heated machine top for warming cups is nice, though on a cold morning, I hold my fingers there to thaw.
You get three holders for the basket: one for pod-packaged coffees, one for single shots, and a larger one for doubles. I didn't try pods, as I had none on hand. The double container felt a bit thin, and the basket lighter than I'm used to. The maker comes with two pins set into holders so you can unplug a blocked hole, a smart addition that more manufacturers should add.
Now for the slight drawbacks. The steaming wand seems to emit less steam than I'm used to, so getting milk to the right texture and temperature takes longer. The included milk pitcher is small, and the wand doesn't pull out far enough to make it easy to get a larger pitcher into place (though I've gotten the hang of it). The wand also has some sleeve over it, that turns the tip into a broad space that forces you to plunge it into the milk, making the bubbles too large. However, that sleeve actually slips off (as I accidentally learned while cleaning after a use), leaving you with more of a nozzle that lets you get the necessary angle for proper steamed milk.
The machine is also pretty noisy. Even when you're done brewing or steaming, the machine suddenly starts erupting steam through the base where you place the espresso pitcher to catch the liquid. It doesn't do any harm, but it's a bit distracting the first few times it happens. It would be nice if the maker also had a storage spot to keep the paraphernalia that comes with it. One other thing - be careful about putting a bit too much coffee into the basket, as it can get blocked up, building up pressure and not shooting out water. And opening the basket can turn into a mildly explosive and majorly messy experience.
On the whole, though, it's a decent machine and has more versatility than one of the fully-automatic variety that forces you to make do with whatever some engineer decided was the "proper" amount of water. At a suggested retail of $399, it is on the pricier side, but my experience with the durability of Cuisinart products has been good, so I doubt it's money you'd be throwing away. Plus, think of all the money you could save not heading to the local expensive espresso drink chain.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Strange News from the Food Front (11/05/07)
- Terminal Air Velocity of a Kalamata CalTech has a new fall activity - picking olives from the trees that grow on campus and making 1200 bottles of oil as a fund raiser. (AP)
- Mass Crackdown Irish priests are worried that saying more than one mass a day, and drinking the wine as part of it, might trigger the drunk driving limits in proposed new rules. (Reuters)
- Rush On Aisle Three Wisconsin's governor scuttled a part of a new state budget that would have allowed grocery stores to hand out up to 1.5 ounces of liquor for free. (AP)
Friday, November 02, 2007
Review: tsp spices
You know, I still think a measuring spoon and some small containers go a whole long way. And getting spices - from Pensey's, as one source - would seem cheaper. The tsp spices site sells organic basil, for example, for $9 for 12 one-teaspoon packets, or 75 cents a teaspoon. According to at least one conversion chart I found on the web, one ounce of dried basil equals about 35.6 teaspoons. A one ounce bag of California basil (not organic) at Pensey's is $2.59, or just over 7 cents a teaspoon - about a tenth the price. Go to Frontier Coop (just as a comparison - I've never used them so cannot comment pro or con) and a 2.4 ounce bottle is $7.09. That's just over 8 cents a teaspoon. Going traveling? Get some small Nalgene containers and bring some spices along. Although an interesting gimmick, I think serious cooks could better spend their time and money elsewhere.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Yet Another Lapine Supporter in the Broccoli Wars
It was so sad to see mean Jerry go on TV to try to salvage Jessica's reputation. What are the facts:Sure, he should have kept out of it, but it's his wife. Can you imagine the grief he would have faced if he said, "You know, dear, I think it makes sense for me to stay uninvolved." As for the "facts," I'm guessing from this opening that I'm about to see a carefully chosen recitation of convenient bits of information.
Chef and baby-products mogul Missy Chase Lapine came out in April with a book, “The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals.” Lapine baked her spinach brownies with Al Roker on the “Today” show; Seinfeld shared her spinach brownies with Oprah on that show last week.How did I know? If you're going to mention who came first, why not mention the book or two on this various subject that came out before 2007? How about that recipes for brownies with spinach started showing up on the web at least in January of 2006? Oh, wait, that might suggest neither author was all that original.
Mothers on Oprah.com and parenting sites have noted similarities after perusing the puree-spattered pages of both. Some wondered whether the wealthy Seinfeld didn’t have cooks who helped cook up her recipes.Oh, dear, mothers on Oprah.com - could they have been anonymous posters related to this one? Maybe Lapine found recipes on the web or in the books that were already in print before hers. Any interest in doing some comparisons there? No, I didn't think so.
Seinfeld writes about having an epiphany that, “While I was cooking dinner, pureeing butternut squash for the baby and making mac and cheese for the rest of us, I had the crazy idea of stirring a little of the puree into the macaroni. … The colors matched -you couldn’t really see the squash in there -and the texture was perfect.”And how could you expect that anyone might think of matching colors? Just because peopel have been doing things like this for, oh, DECADES.
Lapine, who founded the Baby Spa natural products line, writes: “If you want to hide something in macaroni and cheese, you have to match the color of the dish. You could easily introduce white bean puree in the mac and cheese.”
Seinfeld and Lapine both have recipes for mashed potatoes with hidden cauliflower, grilled cheese with secret sweet potatoes, green eggs made with pureed baby spinach, and carrot-laced tacos.For three out of these four, I was able to find something on the web showing that neither book could have been the original of the concept:
- Mashed potatoes with cauliflower (2002)
- Green eggs with pureed spinach (2000)
- Carrot-laced tacos (2007, but apparently a tradition in Mexico)
Lapine stayed hidden herself when we called, but Craig Herman, an executive at her publisher, Running Press, said ominously: “I won’t be able to comment until next week.”Sorry, but isn't it plagiarism to quote something without indicating the source? Or does that only count for cookbooks? (I couldn't make heads or tails of what this "fact" was supposed to mean).
Let's just look at the facts. And, if I was Ms. Lapine, I would certainly challange Jerry for his slanderous comments.Still waiting for those facts that prove this to be plagiarism. And I'm sure you can challenge Jerry (didn't know you were on a first name basis) - anonymously, of course.