Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What are your favorite kitchen tools? What couldn't you live without?

The Saveur 100 for this year (January 2012) lists the "antique juice press" (p.18) as their 12th favorite thing.  We were sort of thrilled because, although we have a large collection of retro kitchen tools (veg - o - matic, ice crushers, etc.) our Juice King IS our go to juicer.  People assume that being the crazed cooks that we are - and we are, we are aware of that - that we had some sort of big juicer. 

Frankly, over the years - and it did take some time - we learned that, indeed, less is more.  We have slowly been getting rid of all sorts of nifty gadgets and machines which have ended up stored in our basement.  Let's face it, a pannini maker takes up a lot of space (which in city kitchens most of us don't have) and a cast iron pan with a stone mortar sitting in it will flatten any sandwich on earth! Frying? Certainly a Dutch Oven, a thermometer, a "spider" to lift things out of oil and you're set as far as frying goes.  Life without a good, industrial grade Kitchen Aid Mixer would be tragic and I am blessed to have one - and the ice cream maker attachment and the sausage maker attachment, and a pasta maker attachment - you get the picture. These attachments are all small and easily stored (the ice cream maker lives in the freezer).  And they make great gift ideas for folks who buy you gifts!

And, of course, as we all should know, if you are going to spend some money on something - let it be knives.  Please, let it be knives!  Having cooked in other people's kitchens a lot over the years, I am now convinced that this is the big missing piece for many home cooks.  There's only one kitchen in which we find sharpened knives - along with lots of other good stuff  and really enjoy cooking away from home (you know who you are, Larken Springs Farm!).  Also, one 12 inch non - stick pan is probably enough.  Cast iron is a necessity.  A good chef's pan is very utilitarian.  A roaster is necessary if you do Thanksgiving or roasts at any time of year. A pasta pot is great to have.  A well aged wok is a thing of beauty.  We're partial to All -Clad - it's great, durable and made in Pennsylvania.  All of these contribute to the texture and flavor of what is cooked in them and are irreplaceable for some foods/dishes. You know what you use, what kinds of food you prepare and how much room you actually have, so start from there.

What I am saying is, if you are frustrated with your overflowing kitchen cabinets  - and again, most of us whose kitchens are in the city are constantly fighting that battle - give some thought to what you really need, what kinds of food you cook,  what can serve "double duty", and what you really use - and be honest, what is totally unnecessary and spends its life in a storage closet.

What kitchen tools could you NOT live without?  What are you contemplating for the Spring tag sale?  What tools have you learned multiple uses for?  Example here:  we have a wonderful cast iron mussel pot - we love mussles and make them a lot and the pot is fun and so great to bring right to the table loaded with steamed mussles and their liquer in which to dip crusty bread.  That said, I have also learned that the same pot - with no impact on its mussel steaming capacity - makes a great loaf of "no knead" bread.  Yipee two uses!

I'd love to hear from you.  We can definitely learn from each other.

Here she is - she's a work horse, she's ancient  - and she's very, very efficient!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where's Winter? The Olive Oil Cake Recipe - You'll be making it a lot!

Gardening Thoughts:  Who among us - and by "us" I am referring to gardeners, growers, small farmers, urban farmers, and the like - is not more than a bit concerned as we turn the corner into February and our area temperatures continue to act like it is Spring!?  This situation is not just affecting our tri-state area, but is impacting the whole of the Eastern seabord.  Any areas that should have predictably frozen ground by now and doesn't is feeling this impact. I go out to fill the bird feeders and I see buds on my flowering plants, daffs pushing up through the mulch and I cannot stop all of the garlic I planted from throwing off green shoots!  Add to all those things the fact that our ground is definitely not frozen.  The folks at Landreth Seeds are warning us that this weather may lead to widespread Blight.  They suggest using a copper fungicide, which will have to be tilled into the soil, and seedlings will need to be dusted regularly.  Worrisome.  But still I know that by now all of us have the catalogs marked up, have planting diagrams drawn, and are lusting after new "toys".  It's February and regardless of the temperatures, we're dreaming of Spring.

Food News:  Wasn't it heartwarming to see that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - who is supposed to represent the American people - decided to hide the identity of the chain restaurant (Taco Bell) guilty of a limited outbreak of salmonella?  Reports from both the Center for Disease Controls (CDC) and the FDA refer to "the source" and/or black out the words Taco Bell from written reports.  Huh?  Again, we see the FDA serving as handmaiden to agri-business at the expense of the health of the people.  For those of us who used to think that the lobbying strength of the NRA was potent; think again.  As I have said before, agri-business is running scared.  We as consumers are getting educated, we are asking the right questions. and we are more and more choosing local, seasonal, real food.  Keep yourself up to date; these seemingly little things add up to a lot.

Recipe - Olive Oil Cake:  This recipe is ancient and it is believed to have originated in the area of Verona, using the local olive oil of that region, which many Italians believe is the best olive oil in all of Italy.  It is delicious and versatile - enough so that my little "touch", the limoncello glaze, works very well, but is not necessary; the cake alone is delicious.

Cake Ingredients (Bakes best in a 2 1/4 quart tube pan)
2 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
The peel of 1 lemon, grated
1/3 cup of dry Marsala Wine
1/3 cup of whole milk
3/4 cup of the best extra virgin olive oil you can get, plus some oil for the baking pan
1 tablespoon baking powder
11/2 cup all purpose flour

Preheat Oven to 400 degrees
Beat the eggs and all of the sugar until the mixture becomes pale and foamy
Add the grated lemon peel, salt, Marsala wine, milk, and the 3/4 cup of the olive oil - mix until all is fully incorporated

Mix the baking powder to the flour and add to the other ingredients; mix thoroughly
Smear the inside of the tube pan with a thin coating of olive oil - best done with your hands!

Pour the batter into the pan; bake in the upper third of a preheated oven for 50 minutes - again, if your oven is at all finicky or unpredictable, I would start checking at around 40 minutes.

Let the cake cook for 10 minutes, loosen it from the tube and sides of the pan with a knife, unmold it and place it on a cooling rack until it comes to room temperature.

NOTE:  if you are going to glaze the cake, do it after you put it on the rack, but do it when the cake is warm.

Limoncello Glaze Ingredients:
The juice of two lemons (use the lemon you grated!)
1/4 cup of Limoncello
Four Tablespoons of sugar
Two pats of butter

NOTE:  Limoncello is an Italian liquer made from lemons and overproof alcohol or vodka.  It is served iced cold and can serve as an appertivo or a digestivo.  There is always a bottle of limoncello right next to the vodka in our freezer - it is delicious and verstatile. And, it is readily available in Pennsylvania State Stores!

In a saucepan, put the lemon juice, the Limoncello, and the sugar.  Stir and dissolve over medium heat; when the mixture is incorporated, raise heat to medium high heat and reduce the mixture by about 1/3 - you just want it to thicken a bit.  When you are happy with the consistency, add the two pats of butter and whisk it - off heat -  until the butter is incorparated.

Brush the glaze all over the warm cake - inside and out - be generous!  The cake will absorb the glaze and that's OK.  Sprinkle with confectioners sugar if you wish.

Limoncello Glazed Olive Oil Cake