Saturday, November 29, 2008
Product Review: Swedish Designs Cookware Racks
A strip of wood at the bottom is at a slight incline, presumably to encourage you to stack from small to large. I think it would have been great to have an option that would hold multiple of the largest pans, in case someone is so equipped. There are also racks for vertical stacking, pot racks, and racks that combine some pots and a couple of pans. All are available in either maple or beech. Prices run from $62 for a skillet rack to $108 for the combination racks. Not everyone will find this method of storage to be ideal, but if you have a more limited number of pots and pans (or a smaller collection that is attractive and that you'd like to display), this would be worth considering.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Product Review: Zyliss Paring Knife
A Zyliss paring knife came in for testing just before Thanksgiving and it proved itself a pleasure in the kitchen. The hollow-ground stainless steel blade (the marketing copy says that the steel is from Japan, but I'm not convinced that matters) has perhaps the sharpest edge I've seen shipped. The packaging keeps it (and fingers) safe during shipping. The blade has a longer handle than I'm used to seeing on a paring knife, which I found a delightful match for my large hands. My wife, with considerable smaller hands, also liked the feel because it helps add control. A slide-on cover uses a friction fit to stay snug for safe transport and storage in a drawer. The thin blade is also good for peeling and making fine slices. Even at the list price of $7.99, it's inexpensive for a quality tool. There is a serrated version, but not having tried it, I can't speak for its utility.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Product Review: Electrolux Rapido
Product Review: Redi-Measure Light Brown Sugar
My wife, a busy baker, and I talked it over and came to some conclusions. If you bake often, then this probably doesn't make sense. Although brown sugar can stiffen, there are little disks you can add to your container that will absorb the moisture and leave the sugar loose. (If you're feeling particularly cheap, a piece of dry toast will do the same.)
However, if you don't do a lot of baking, or perhaps have limited room for canisters, this could be just the trick. It is a bit pricey because of all the extra packaging, but not horrendously so. And if you are going camping or otherwise having to cook during a vacation, bringing a few packets could be a smart way to minimize the potential mess.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Product Review: Grandma's Chicken Soup
Not all is perfect. While we liked the texture of the matzo balls, they are very peppery. My wife didn't care for the burn, though I enjoyed them, so this will be a strict matter of personal taste. The soup comes frozen and you're supposed to use it within three days, but defrosting it is quite the undertaking. At first we left it in the fridge, then transferred it to a counter, and finally ended up chipping away at the ice remaining in the plastic jar so we could get all the contents into a pot to heat. It would be good to have this arrive in some sort of container that would allow you to easily move the contents to a pot so the stove top could move the melting along.
Last big problem is price. The basic order of soup without any of the "extras" (we got a mug of highly respectable small brownies with ours) is $29 for a half gallon, accurately claimed to be enough to feed four to six. That's without shipping, which can run anywhere from $12, for next day in New England, to $51 for next day west of the Mississippi. That is a shame, because it turns what might be welcomed as a regular indulgence to a periodic treat. Perhaps one day Grandma could find a store chain that could offer the product in volume and make it easier to get when a cold first hit and not, between shipping and defrosting, a day or two after it was over.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Strange News from the Food Front (11/24/2008)
- A Pizza Too Far A video of someone's chocolate-covered bacon candy pizza. What more can you say? (Crispy on the Outside)
- TV Pizza Staying on the theme of places that pizza should not go, you can order a Domino's pie on your TiVO. (Silicon Alley Insider)
- Special Samosas A couple visiting India paid over $200 for four samosas. The shop owner explained away the price claiming that the fritters had "special" herbs that acted as aphrodisiacs. (Reuters)
- Two, Please Canada's Supreme Court upheld that obese people have a right to two seats on domestic flights. Do they also get seconds on the meal? (Reuters)
- Tons of Kimchi Thousands of volunteers in Seoul made 143 tons of kimchi in a bid for a world record. Unfortunately, the Guinness Book of World Records doesn't have an appropriate category. (AP)
- Meat Police Framingham, MA police don't know why someone is leaving top quality cuts of meat on the town commons. (AP)
- Revealing Phone A McDonald's patron in Arkansas left his cell phone behind him after a trip, clearly forgetting that he had nude photos of his wife on it. (AP)
- Whatchamacall It? Restaurants are considering alternatives to the term "restaurant" because it apparently causes already budget-minded consumers to tighten their purses even more. (Financial Times)
Friday, November 21, 2008
Product Review: American Masala Mortar & Pestle Set
There's a pleasure in seeing spices come together with some texture and not turned into powder by an electric grinder. It's like the difference between pureeing food and using a food mill. Grinding becomes an easier task when the mortar is a broad bowl offering a wide expanse of rough ceramic area on which to grind. The pestle bottom is similarly broad, which made quick work of a combination of anise, cardamom, and cloves that then went into a pot of hot water on the wood stove. (Great way to add scent to the air.) I was sent the larger 5-cup version in a pale green named for cardamom. The pestle handle is wrapped in a decorative pattern. It has a great feel in the hands and works the spices quickly, all without any electrical power, making it green in a different sense, as well.
The surfaces washed up pretty easily, though, like any mortar and pestle, some of the spice smell will linger. But then, the same thing will happen in an electric grinder, which will be much harder to clean given the usually small grinding space.
At $50, this isn't a cheap tool, and for some reason both the 2-cup and 5-cup versions are the same prices, which seems strange to me. As it's only available at the J.K. Adams online store, there's no chance to find a better price online at the present time, and it does make it hard for me to suggest it without reservation. If budget is a problem and the physical look isn't so important, check the Internet, or an Asian food store, if there's one nearby. We've had our stone mortar and pestle for years, and for most people the larger capacity won't be necessary.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Product Review: Olive Smart Sack and Trader Joe's Insulated Tote
There are a couple of drawbacks. One is minor: size. These sacks hold 20 pounds, which means they're not all that big. You probably get about the same capacity as two regularly-sized grocery bags. That's not such a problem as the price of $39. Add in shipping of $6, and you're up to $45, or $7.50 a bag, which is three to four times more than the grocery store prices I've seen for much larger (although not as compact) reusable bags. In fact, they may even be more expensive than the heavy insulated bags you can get to keep frozen and refrigerated foods cold on the trip home.
That brings us to Trader Joe's, which has its own insulated tote. Over time we've picked up a couple. Heavy and bulky, it will never tuck neatly into a small nook. However, they hold foods cold for extended periods and have a heavy zipper at the top instead of some finicky plastic snap-together gizmo. The straps are wide, making it relatively comfortable to carry and the cloth exterior adds a pleasant tactile dimension. I find that when we're shopping, I actually like to use this one. The price is on the order of $5 to $6.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Technique: Seven Tips and Ten Steps to Better Latte
- Get the timing right -- one of the advantages that a good cafe has over most home brewers is an espresso machine with dual boilers. That allows the steam and coffee brewing to occur simultaneously at the different required temperatures so everything finishes at once. But unless you're planning to drop a lot on the mechanics, your machine isn't capable of doing this. What I do is:
- put the porta-filter into place without grounds
- run a shot of water through to warm it
- replace the porta-filter and set the machine to steam
- when the machine is up to temperature, remove the porta-filter and dump the water
- grind the coffee
- dose and tamp the porta-filter
- place the porta-filter onto the espresso machine
- steam the milk
- change the temperature and immediately brew the coffee
- pour the coffee and the milk into the cup
This is not the way purists would do it, because you're letting the grounds sit too long, but I'm reasonably happy with the results, and only a few coffee places I've been to can do demonstrably better.
- Press hard enough on the grounds -- It is all too easy to think you're tamping the grounds when all you're doing is providing enough pressure for a therapeutic massage on an amoeba. Check this site and you'll see that "enough" means upwards of 30 pounds, followed by 20 pounds as you rotate the tamper to smooth out the coffee surface.
- Warm the cup -- Nothing like putting hot coffee into a really cold cup to defeat much of what you've just stood on your head to accomplish. Run some hot water (or the steam wand) inside the cup to warm the surface.
- Be cheap in equipment -- Any purists have just fainted. I'm being deliberately provocative, but serious. Forget all the it-grinds-brews-steams-the-milk-all-on-time-and-drives-you-to-work fancy equipment. I've had a chance to test many machines and keep going back to the Barrista I got from Starbucks years ago. It's one of the cheapest on the market and will give some of the most dependable results. That is, if they still sell it. (It was built by another company.) If you're going to splurge, do so on the grinder, not the brewer. Getting the grounds right is probably the most important thing equipment can do, and a good grinder is far less expensive than a good espresso machine.
- Be restrained on the milk -- One of the biggest mistakes I was making was using too large a mug and adding too much milk. A normal coffee mug is what you want, with just enough milk to bring the mix to the brim. Less milk means more concentrated coffee flavor.
- Get good coffee -- This shouldn't even need mentioning, but it does. Find a coffee place somewhere that does the best latte and espresso you can find and ask what they use. I've tried a few different types. Danesi Gold are good beans, but do come in from Italy in kilogram packages (2.2 pounds), which is a lot of coffee to have on hand. I would keep them in a container that I'd vacuum seal. These days I buy locally roasted beans, which travel less (lower carbon impact) and are fresher, allowing me to buy in smaller quantities.
- Get good milk-- I have it on strong authority that the right milk makes a big difference in texture of foam. High protein milk (locally we have some available from Jersey cows) works best. My food science guess is that more protein molecules means a greater density of bubble-forming material and, hence, smaller bubbles, which means finer foam.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Strange News from the Food Front (11/17/2008)
- Wash Hands After Eating Greasy fingerprints on an orange juice bottle left at the scene of a break-in helped lead police to the culprit. (AP)
- Mexican Giant Bread of Death It's actually what it says. Ten feet of bread is a whole lot for $137. (Crispy on the Outside)
- Bake Sale Police The government push for healthier foods is threatening the existence of the school bake sale. (New York Times)
- That Tastes Like ... Oh. It Is. NASA is using a water recycling system, to purify urine into potable water, to handle larger crews on the international space station. (Reuters)
- Pumpkin Seed Aphrodisiac? An Austrian covered pumpkin seeds in chocolate, but then colored them blue and named them Styriagra. Now Pfizer is suing, saying that he's trying to make them look like little, blue Viagra pills. (AFP)
- Too Big for Prison to Hold A 490 pound gang member got sprung from a Canadian prison because he was too large for his cell. (Reuters)
- Food Records Feature On the fourth-annual Guinness World Records Day, food played an important part in a number of new records, such as the largest tea bag (hopefully inspiring the largest tea cup), and the fastest time to peel and eat a kiwi fruit (16.15 secionds). (AFP)
- EU Permits Wonky Fruit, Veggies The European Union, in its bureaucratic wisdom, has decided that bent cucumbers and other malformed fruits and vegetables may be sold in markets. (AFP)
- Tequila as Precious Jewels Researchers have reportedly found a way to turn tequila into diamonds. (The Guardian)
- Nestlé Pans Soda Nestlé has started anti-soda marketing to help increase sales on its bottled water brand as people, hit by the financial crisis, turn to tap. And then you can have a chocolate chaser to help keep the weight off. (Wall Street Journal)
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Review: Cuisipro Measuring Spoons
- They look cool, with a modern design sensibility.
- They are made of heavy-gauge stainless and are sturdy.
- The shape is not only aesthetically pleasing, but a case of smart engineering. Curves taper down toward the bottom, which means that when you pack something in, the contents release easily.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Strange News from the Food Front (11/10/2008)
- Bloodhounds Follow Pork Swiss police, acting on reports from motorists, had bloodhounds follow a long trail of blood that turned out to be a butcher's van with an overturned barrel of pork headed to a sausage factory (AP)
- Workers Unite at Your Fridges A U.K. nonprofit is urging people not to buy sandwiches at work but to bring leftovers from the previous night's dinner. (Daily Mail)
- They Have Expensive Tastes Chef Jamie Oliver, who really should stop making social pronouncements, claims that Britons don't know how to cook inexpensively at home, so aren't ready for an economic downturn. (Reuters)
- Soup for Spot Berlin has a soup kitchen intended strictly for dogs. (Reuters)
- But the Flavor Lasts so Long A man tried to pay his bar tab with chewing gum wrappers. (AP)
- All Hail Spud It's the international year of the potato. Have a Yukon Gold to lunch. (AFP)
- Mushrooming Music A Swiss researcher claims that he has duplicated the sound of a Stradivarious violin by treating a replica with mushrooms. (AFP)