Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cooking Tools That Rock: All-Clad Measuring Cups and Spoons and Spoons

My lovely, lovely sister gave me another gift card to Williams Sonoma recently, and I went on a very fun shopping spree! I spent over an hour in the store, and *still* forgot that I wanted to get a hand torch for brulee. Oh well. I'm sure there will be a next time.

One of the amazing items I picked up was a new set of measuring cups. I've been married for over 10 years, and don't do massive amounts of cooking, but have still managed to break no less than THREE measuring cup sets. My first set was cheap plastic. I graduated to stainless steel cups after that, and STILL broke two different sets. Usually I break off the handles. I've also managed to stab holes in the cups with knives...how, I'm not quite sure!

A few months ago, when my sister gave me another gift card, I splurged on a set of All-Clad stainless steel measuring spoons. They're absolutely fantastic. They are a very high-quality stainless steel, very solid and a good weight. The set I have is round and very deep, and all of them, EVEN THE TABLESPOON, all fit into standard size spice jars!

When I went back to Williams-Sonoma this time, I decided that I was going to just spend the money on the All-Clad measuring cups as well, since I was so happy with the spoons, and had just broken the handles off two more cheap measuring cups. I've been using them for a couple of months now, and am very happy with them! They have riveted handles that I doubt I will be able to break off, are a wonderful weight that feel great in your hand, are very stable on the counter top, and clean up nicely. I look forward to cooking and baking so that I can use them!

(I will admit that I also have a collapsible silicone set that another sister purchased for me, but I think they're harder to clean, and are not as stable on the counter...so they usually stay in the drawer.)

Actually, while drooling over the store, I realized that I could buy a box with both a set of the measuring cups and another set of measuring spoons, for just $9 more than the set of cups alone. The set of cups is $30, and the spoons are $16, but a set of both is $39.00. Because I am lazy efficient, and don't want to have to pause to wash out measuring spoons during a cooking and baking marathon, I decided to just go ahead and purchase the set. So now I have one set of the measuring cups, and two sets of the spoons. Bliss!

Actually, the specific measuring spoons are actually exclusive to Williams-Sonoma. The spoons I purchased look like this:

The spoons on Amazon are more round:

Because of the fitting-into-spice-jars feature, I'd much prefer the style at Williams-Sonoma.

And the measuring cups...they're so pretty!

All-Clad also makes an "odd-size" set of measuring cups with 1 1/2 tablespoons and 2 tablespoons, and then a 2/3, 3/4 and 1 1/2 cups. I suppose that some people would be interested in these sizes; I'd probably just get them confused with my other measuring devices, so I don't think I'll be splurging on them any time soon.

Please, do yourself a favor: If you are going to buy measuring cups or spoons, get quality! These are fantastic. My rating: 5 stars

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Decadent cheesecake recipe for Shavuos found!

Over the past couple of years, I've been finding more and more new recipes to try on the Internet, instead of finding them in cookbooks. I still buy cookbooks, but can be more selective about the cookbook topics, since I don't need as many general cookbooks in my collections. I also end up reading more books about cooks and food in general (Michael Pollan anyone?). As mentioned in my last post, I make two cheesecake recipes for the holiday of Shavuos. I've found one recipe that I plan to make this year.

I really enjoy Ariella's (Ari) Baking and Books blog. She always makes something really interesting, is a really good writer, and features mouth-watering pictures. I enjoy her cookbook reviews; my GoodReads list of cooking books to read and/or buy is growing rapidly!

Right around Passover, Ari featured a recipe for Honey Ricotta Cheesecake that looks amazing. I particularly like the fact that it only calls for 2 packages of cream cheese; many recipes call for 4 packages. She also calls for ricotta, but ricotta seems to be lighter to me (I haven't actually compared nutrition labels to see if the fat content is actually lighter), so I don't mind using this cheese in addition to the cream cheese. I can't bring myself to make a 4-packages-of-cream-cheese recipes; it's just too fatty. I've become more and more sensitive to what's in (or not in) my food over the past few years and such rich recipes just turn me off.

Ari's recipe also has 7 tips for making perfect cheese cake - I suggest you take a look before your embark on your Shavuos baking. I already knew about tip #4 - don't use low-fat cream cheese if the recipe doesn't call for it. You'll mess up the fat ratio in the recipe, and the cake just won't taste that good.

Oh, and another thing about Baking and Books - Ariella gives away cookbooks every month to commenters. Enjoy!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Something decadent to make for Shavuos + two blog recommendations + new cookbook. Whew!

The next big Jewish holiday coming in up just a few weeks is Shavuos, where we celebrate the anniversary of receiving the Torah at Har (Mount) Sinai.

During Shavuos, we celebrate by eating dairy foods. There are a number of explanations given for this custom; Rabbi Shraga Simmons provides a number of explanations for eating dairy on Shavuos on Aish.com. This is one of the few times a year that I make a festive dairy meal, and actually bake something dairy. I usually make one somewhat low-fat cheese cake (Heh! Like that exists!), and one incredibly decadent cheesecake. I've been wanting to make something else really decadent this year, and may have found my target recipe.

One of my favorite culinary authors, Michael Ruhlman, has published a new cookbook that I can't wait to get my hands on, called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Hmm. I got a Barnes & Noble 20% off coupon yesterday in my inbox...maybe this would be a good use for it. (Sorry, Amazon, but I do love you too. You just don't send me coupons like B&N does.)

Ratio is a cookbook that explains, basically, the ratio between ingredients in order to make a recipe. It's something that I knew existed and that is taught in cooking schools, but needed a good, inexpensive guide to the details, particularly since my math skills are horrible.

Anyways, this Vanilla Sauce from Michael's cookbook sounds fantastic. I buy cream exactly one time a year (for this holiday only) in a 32 oz container (not sure it's 32 oz, but it might be*), but don't use all of it and hate wasting it. This recipe will be fabulous for using up the container. I'm not sure what preparation I'll use, but I'll figure it out before the holiday. If I'm really ambitious, maybe it'll be a flourless chocolate torte or some decadent chocolate-y dessert, with the regular vanilla sauce preparation. Yummy!

I must give a hat tip to Jaden of Smitten Kitchen who mentioned Michael's book in this post. She has a podcast up that I haven't listened to yet, but I'm sure it's fantastic. Jaden's blog is one of my favorite cooking blogs because she's entertaining, has great pictures, and focuses on Asian cooking, which is one of my current interests. Jaden has a giveaway of a kitchen scale featured on her site right now, but since I don't need more competition, please don't enter, 'kay? But you can sign up for her newsletter - it's a fun, informative read.

Hey, if you're thinking of buying the cookbook, please buy it thru this link...maybe I'll be able to feed my cookbook habit with your help:

* I only cook with Chalav Yisrael products. Chalav Yisrael is milk produced and packaged under constant Jewish supervision. Heavy cream is not a high demand product in the Chalav Yisrael industry, so I've only seen it in large containers. They don't come in the little 1 or 2 cup containers like the general cream market.

P.S. Michael's blog looks really interesting. It's been added to my Bloglines list. Enjoy!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ode to spring

Mostly as a result of reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.) by Barbara Kingsolver and family, which brought many food production issues to my attention, I made a serious effort to visit local farmer's markets in my area over last spring and summer, and into the fall. I had attended one farmer's market sporadically over the past couple of years, but wasn't really commited to it.

One of my peeves about farmer's markets is that most of them seem to take place in the middle of the day, on a weekday. Is their target market only stay-at-home mothers, senior citizens (and now, the increasing numbers of the unemployed)? Only 3 somewhat-local markets were on the weekend, and only 2 were on a Sunday. As an Orthodox Jew, I can't attend the Saturday markets. I almost wish I lived in Manhattan, as they seem to have some pretty fabulous farmer's markets a few times a week, including Sundays. Mmm.

Of the two Sunday markets, only one was actually well-stocked. It was also held at a very picturesque area on the waterfront, so my husband and I could take a really pleasant walk afterwards. I took pictures during many of my visits and intended to post them here regularly, along with pictures of various recipes that I prepared with the produce, but, um, never got around to it. But, at least I can post some of the better pictures here, to help us look forward to spring.

First, my vegetable crush. Patty Pan Squash. Mmmmmm!
Okay, it really doesn't taste dramatically different than zucchini, but it's so adorable that I pounce every time I see it. I admit that I was very sad when its season was over.

How cute are they? Hellllooooo, adorable!
I had a lot of fun preparing the Patty Pan Squash with Eggs recipe. I took pictures of the finished product, but since they weren't so pretty (I was a little overzealous when removing the squash's innards, so there was egg leakage), I won't be sharing them. Plus, I need new dishes; my dishes are not photogenic *at all*. I think it's time for me to use my blog as an excuse to buy some plain white square dishes that will highlight my food creations appropriately. Oh, and an external flash or other lighting device.

Ok, moving on to...even more squash. These avocado squash were very unique. I really enjoyed trying something new. I just sauted them, and enjoyed.

And these yellow avocado squash were also quite nice:

Just to illustrate that I don't eat just squash all summer, here are some lovely peppers. Who knew peppers came in purple?
(Why yes, I am pretty much a city girl. Why do you ask?)

I won't eat peppers, but I'll certainly take pictures of them.

Also, lovely eggplants. I think these were called Fairytale Eggplants.

I don't eat eggplants either. Am I losing my status as a foodie?

And of course, lovely heirloom tomatoes. Yes, I eat tomatoes. I'm not crazy.

Hey, they're not square! And they come in different varieties and colors. What a shock!

Oh, and purple carrots! Purple, people! Wow.

And this is what they look like inside:

Very cool. They tasted slightly different that regular orange carrots, but I must admit that they made for a colorful plate. I just roasted them in the oven with a little olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Ooh, I nearly forgot. These are a little more mainstream (which means that I've actually seen them before). Purple potatoes. Very cute. They don't look all that exciting, but they're fun. I sliced them thin, without slicing all the way through, put slices of garlic in between the slices, and sprinkled with... a little olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Fun.

I also tried kale for the very first time. I really don't eat greens that often, so it was a pleasure to try Eggs in a Nest from the aforementioned book. I made this during the Sukkos holiday, and my nieces and nephew were very impressed. Such a simple dish...

I'm also proud to report we bought and ate beets pretty much every time we went to the farmer's market, and even ate the greens. Gasp. Sauted with garlic, the greens are pretty good. And, as usual, the beets were...roasted in the oven with a little olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. They weren't that pretty, so no pics. My oven was working overtime in the summer heat. At the end of the season, my sister (who I also managed to get hooked on roasted beets) bought beets at the supermarket and roasted them as usual. Can anyone say horrible? Gah! I haven't bought beets since.

And, last but certainly not least. Squash Blossoms. I had never heard of squash blossoms in my life. This is the northeast people, and they do not show up in local supermarkets. The blossoms were presented like rare jewels in a little box at my favorite farmer stand. I learned that they had to be made the same day, or very carefully wrapped individually in paper towels and prepared the next day. Any later, and they'll just be rotten and gone.

I couldn't find a definitive recipe that I liked on the Internet. What I've settled on, after a few different attempts, is to:
- Wash them very carefully, making sure there are no...surprises...inside the blossoms. Don't rip the petals!
- Stuff the blooms carefully with ricotta cheese. You can use cottage cheese instead, but it won't be as good. Twist the blossoms a little at the top to hold in the stuffing.
- Dip the blossoms in beaten egg.
- Dip the blossoms in a bread crumb mixture of sorts, whatever you usually use. I make it up every time, so I don't really have a set recipe. Just don't make it really spicy like you might do for chicken cutlet shnitzel.
- Fry the blossoms in oil

Eat immediately!

Since I usually only made 3-4 blossoms at a time, and had so much egg and breading left over, I'd usually fry some squash slices at the same time.

It's hard to describe the taste of squash blossoms. All I can say is that they taste really...green. You feel like you're eating nature. It's really amazing.

Ah. Now I have to wait until May or so till I can go back! I'll just have to come back here often to drool over pictures.

P.S. Excuse the pictures. I'm still learning Adobe PhotoShop, so I'm sure that some of these would be considered entirely too bright or something by professionals. I have to start somewhere!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cooking Tools That Rock: Mortar and Pestle

I can't tell you how much in love I am with my marble mortar and pestle. I was looking for an affordable mortar and pestle ever since I saw the one that my father-in-law uses, a wood mortar and pestle that is over 40 years old. It's all worn down and absolutely gorgeous.

I was very intent on not spending a fortune on my purchase. I kept on stalking the kitchen items section at TJ Ma*xx and Marsh*alls, until I found one last year. The following is a link to a 4" marble mortar and pestle on Amazon (I think mine is 5" or 6"), and it's $10 cheaper than the one I purchased, of course:

Fox Run 4-Inch Marble Mortar and Pestle

It sat on my kitchen windowsill for a few months as I really did not have many whole spices to use it with. I was finally inspired to crush some whole cumin seeds with the mortar and pestle to add to my cholent last Friday.

I put in about a teaspoon of cumin seeds, crushed away (man, that was FUN), then leaned in for a sniff.


I almost passed out.

Freshly ground spices are amazing!

Freshly ground cumin smells about 100 times better than jarred ground cumin. OMG.

Anyone want some bottled ground spices? Between this cool tool and my new microplane grater, I'll be using as many whole spices that I can pretty soon and will have lots of spices I no longer want. I feel a shopping spree coming on.

Not only do freshly ground spices taste better, whole spices last a lot longer than ground spices. According to The Frontier Natural Co-op, ground seeds, barks and leaves lose their potency after one year, and ground roots lose their potency after two years. Whole seeds and barks last two to three years, whole leaves and flowers last one year, and whole roots last 3 years.

I'm warning you...one you try freshly ground spices, there's NO going back.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Sorry people, but I'm talking about Chanuka. It's not a very stressful time for me, I get to cook yummy things, and it brightens the cold winter nights.

First, I have to link to the Baker's Banter post about Potato pancakes without the frying pan: Easy-Does-It Latkes. I've been wanting to bake latkes instead of frying them, but was always wary of other people's recipes. I think I can trust the brains behind King Arthur Flour (their White Whole Wheat Flour has changed my baking!), so I'll definitely give it a try.

The bonus is that I can multi-task a little better, and bake batches of regular potato latkes while frying my favorite sweet potato latkes. Yummy.

Note to self: Make sure to do a self-clean on oven this Saturday night, to prepare it for dairy baking. Oh yeah.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How have I not heard about this until now?

I have found a new obsession to fuel my food fantasies. How come it took me this long to find it? Tastespotting.com is fascinating. It aggregates pictures of food and recipes or articles about food from food blogs everywhere. Want to salivate over some good lookin' food, or find some new recipes or inspiration? This is the place to go!

I signed up for an account and have already added 3 favorites that I'd like to try:
How to Cook a Turkey: Part 1 - A No-Fail Method for People that Would Rather Watch Football than Wash Dishes - I've made turkey several times. When I purchased my first turkey, probably about 12 years ago during our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, I read a lot of articles about turkey and how terrifying it is to deal with it for the first time. I bought a fresh turkey, took it out of its packaging and took a good look at it, and started laughing. What is the big deal? It's just a really, really big chicken!

My turkey was fabulous. Really, people, turkey is not such a big deal.

The recipe in the aforementioned link (I haven't watched the video yet), seems to call for brushing butter over the turkey before cooking it. This sounds really interesting. Obviously, since I keep kosher, I'd use a pareve substitute like margarine. I usually use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks to replace margarine in all my recipes.

Steamed Broccoli With Grain Mustard Vinaigrette - I love, love, love broccoli, but never really do anything interesting with it. This looks like a simple, tasty recipe.

Turkey Chili - I have been having really bad luck with with our traditional cholent that we eat for lunch on Shabbos. My husband and other people like it, but I take one look at it and just don't want to eat it. I've been making it in a tiny crock pot when it is just my husband and I for the meal, so that we don't have so many leftovers. I'm thinking that the crock pot is just not made for this type of cooking, plus I could use a break from traditional recipes. So I'm planning to make larger batches of cholent replacement every few weeks in my 6 quart crock pot, freeze the leftovers in smallish containers, and heat them up the small crock pot. One of the items I'm thinking of making is chili, so I may try this recipe. (Without the green pepper. I hate peppers.)

Ok, now I'm hungry. Must go eat supper now ;).