Sunday, September 30, 2007

"these are a few of my favorite things . . . "

(cue Julie Andrews . . . )

Away back when I began my retail position, several bloggers had asked me to pass on any wisdom regarding kitchenwares I gained during my time training at the store. It’s taken me almost a year, but I feel as though I may indeed be ready to share some of my acquired knowledge with you! While what I’m about to show you hasn’t all been purchased at my store, most of it has (because I shopped there long before I started working there!) The following items have permanent residence in my kitchen for the rest of my life (or their lives,) and nearly all of these items are used at least weekly, if not daily.

And now, a few of my favorite things . . .

The Toddy Cold Brew Coffee System:
I know I blogged not too long ago about my Toddy, so this will be a shortened version of that post. Cold-extracted coffee tastes amazing, has very little acid, stays fresh in the fridge for a week or longer, and although it takes a little pre-planning, it is extremely convenient because it is ready when you are ready to drink it. I also enjoy how low-tech the system is – it requires no electricity, other than to grind the beans!

salt pig:
This is a mini stoneware casserole from Le Creuset that I use to keep kosher salt near the stove. Many salt pigs are either open, (which I can’t have in my kitchen because my salt is stored so close to my sink,) too large, or hard to open, so this casserole fit the bill. My only regret is that I didn’t buy one of the super-cute mini-casseroles that they make, like the pumpkin, tomato, or green apple. Maybe someday . . . !

whisk, small and standard spatulae, and wooden spoon:
The whisk is a traditional French whip style from “Best,” and my spats are silicone heads with wooden handles. (I’ve finally gotten into the habit of removing the heads for washing and drying after some, um, interesting mold/mildew experiences!) The small one was a birthday gift a few years back from my friend Ann – it is by Le Creuset, and is blue and SPARKLY. My standard one is just plain clear, but it gets the job done. The spoon is, I believe, a French-style wooden spoon, and I just like that shape the best. Nothing too special.

potato masher, strainer, locking tongs, and Microplane:
The potato masher is also by “Best,” and is nice and small – good for a small batch of mashed potatoes (because who really wants to eat reheated mashed potatoes?), and also does a nice job of mashing up guacamole, refried beans, salsa, and other yummy things. I don’t know what brand my mini-strainer is, but it does a nice job of straining the seeds out of lemon juice, dusting powdered sugar, and other small odd jobs. Both pairs of locking tongs are by OXO – I don’t care for many of their products in general, but I love their tongs. I find them very easy to open and close, (using the “hip check” method,) and they hang nicely from the little loop in the locking mechanism. I received my Microplane as a free gift for subscribing to Cook’s Illustrated once, and I am so glad I did! Hard cheeses, ginger, citrus zest, chocolate, and whole nutmeg are no match for this baby. Notice I still own the one without the handle – why, you ask? Well, because the one with the handle is super closed up in the back and looks really difficult to clean! The handle-less model is nice and open, and you can also flip the cover around and put it on backwards if you want to catch and measure what you are grating. Handy.

measuring cups and spoons:
I have loved these oval cups and spoons from Cuisipro for years now. The spoons fit nicely into narrow spice jars, and sit up level on the countertop. The cups are sturdy and fit nicely into narrower bags/canisters. My only complaint is that sometimes a small clump of flour gets lodged in the crevice between the handle and the cup . . . which scrubs out easily using a fingernail brush. No biggie.

This is the Best. Flipper. Ever. (By Lamson Sharp.) The shape, slats, and slight flexibility make it perfect for flipping or moving just about anything – tofu steaks, pancakes, hash browns (the grease drains right through!), falafel, bean burgers, poached eggs, cookies, sweet potato fries, you name it. It is metal, so if you have nonstick pans you care about, well, maybe you should just get some stainless cookware and buy this flipper anyway. Tee-hee.

This is part of my old, inexpensive, “Simply Calphalon” nonstick, anondized aluminum, cookware set. (Not pictured: the lid!) It is, however, a sauté pan, which I believe is the only fry pan I will ever need. Don’t get me wrong, I love my cast iron, but the straight, high sides on a sauté pan are just so darn convenient – they keep everything contained so nicely, and because of the straight sides, there’s more cooking surface area at the bottom. Someday, I’ll replace this with an All Clad piece.

salad spinner:
I don’t own a ton of Zyliss products, (just because I don’t own a ton of gadgets, and they tend to be very gadgetey,) but I have tried many of them. Zyliss makes products that work well all of the time. I love my salad spinner – greens are well-dried after only a few pulls, and the size I have came with a separate storage lid for the fridge. This spinner also is not too large or too small – just right for a head of romaine or a bunch of kale.

tick-tock timer:
Is it wrong to hate digital timers? Digital timers have always broken on me, or the batteries fall out, or they get bumped off the fridge into the dishwater and stop working. I like tick-tock timers. I especially like this die-cast aluminum timer that I bought ages ago – it is manufactured in Italy, and so sturdy, I will probably be able to will it to one of my grandchildren someday. I have seriously knocked it off the kitchen counter at least twenty times, and it keeps on ticking.

stick blender:
Again, I believe I have recently waxed poetic about my Bamix. Efficient, powerful, quiet, and comes with multiple blades for a variety of uses. (I think I can get rid of my hand mixer because of the Bamix! Wahoo!) Also, unlike traditional blenders, the Bamix does not require transferring liquids into a tall, narrow, akward container for blending, and it stores efficiently in the drawer. I love my Bamix.

I can’t tell you how I hemmed and hawed over this purchase – I think I had it on hold at work for over two weeks. After much debate, I ended up purchasing this All Clad MC2 3.5 quart casserole at a very deep discount (because it was the last one and we are no longer carrying it, although All Clad continues to manufacture it,) and I have never once regretted it. I love casseroles because they have those two little stubby handles, instead of one big, long one that is hard to control and gets in the way. Also, 3.5 quarts is the PERFECT SIZE POT – popcorn, no-knead bread, pasta, smaller batches of soups, rice pudding, curries, I can’t even begin to list what I’ve cooked in this pot. My general opinion on cookware is this: everyone needs 2- and a 3.5-quart saucepans (or casseroles,) a 5.5-quart Dutch oven, a 5 or 6-quart sauté pan, and a 10- or 12-inch cast iron fry pan, and that’s it. (Also, possibly a larger stock pot for big jobs.) Some folks think sets of cookware are the way to go, but I generally believe they contain extra pieces that you pay for, but just don’t need. I’m building my collection slowly, one piece at a time.

I had been suffering with a wire mesh colander for years, and just recently purchased this laser-perforated stainless-steel colander by Endurance from work (using a gift card I received as a staff incentive.) The holes are small enough that spaghetti does not wiggle through and rice rinses nicely, but large enough that they are easy to clean. (Still need to use cheesecloth when rinsing quinoa, however.)

mixing bowls:
I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved this set of three bowls with lids. The bowls are nice and tall, so it’s hard to slop stuff over the edges, sturdy but still comfortable to lift and pour from, and durable enough that I haven’t dented them yet, despite dropping them several times (and many adventures with the electric mixer.)

Free cutlery is a beautiful thing. Free excellent cutlery is indescribable. These are my two favorite knives for almost all prep jobs (excluding watermelon and squash, when I require a heavier-duty knife and a longer blade.) Top is my MAC Mighty 6 1/2 inch santoku, and on the bottom is my Global Small Vegetable Knife, at about 5 1/2 inches. Both are freakishly sharp, stay sharp for a long time, and hone beautifully.

cutting boards:
These three beauties are by Epicurean, a company based in Duluth, Minnesota, that manufactures NSF-quality cutting boards from recycled wood leftovers and a food-grade laminate. This material was originally used to make skateboard ramps! The boards are similar in hardness to bamboo, so they are gentle on knives, don’t show much wear, don’t stain (yet, anyway,) are dishwasher safe, and don’t require any oiling like hardwood or bamboo boards do. I love these! Score ones with visual defects at a discount (like I did) if you can!

I'll make another post in the future, as I collect more can't-live-withouts! Until then, I guess I'll just have to keep cooking?

Garlic and Potato Soup

from Vegetarian Times . . .
olive oil or margarine
vegetable broth
parsley for garnish

I was expecting this soup to be sort of like liquefied mashed potatoes, but I was quite wrong! Light, refreshing, and very simple, this might even make a nice chilled soup during the summer months.

On the side: a wedge of brown soda bread and some sliced tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

It's not even October yet, and I'm already loving Soup Month. Wahoo!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Escarole, Three Bean, and Roasted Garlic Soup

From Cooking Light magazine . . .

roasted garlic
fresh sage
olive oil
veggie broth
Basic Marinara (I blogged about this recipe a couple of days ago)
black pepper
Great Northern beans
kidney beans
pinto beans
Parmesan cheese

Other than roasting the garlic, this was incredibly easy to make, as you can see by the short ingredient list. Rich, smoky (from the fire-roasted tomatoes I used in the sauce,) slightly sweet, and downright delicous.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

getting my money's worth

A bittersweet post this evening:

I have to retire my Rocket Dogs. Today at work, I discovered a very large hole in my right shoe, just near my big toe -- large enough that I could stick my finger all the way through and touch my sock. Bummer!

I loved those shoes -- super-comfy with plenty of toe-wiggle room (once I added memory foam insoles, which are not pictured,) slip-on convenience, pink and brown color scheme (one of my favorite color combos,) and those weird plastic spiky things were just plain cool. I was sad to throw them away.

However, there was a bit of satisfaction in getting rid of those shoes, because I had truly worn them out. It's nice to feel as though I've gotten my money's worth.

R.I.P., Rocket Dogs:

And, healthy food is always a worthy investment! Sweet Potato and White Bean Soup with Sage-Walnut Pesto:
Extra-yum, let me tell you. Good way to get in some healthy, highly-colored veggies, and a good way to use fresh sage, which I don't typically care much for. Don't forget the Omega-3s from the walnuts, and healthy fats from the olive oil.

Let soup month begin!

October = SOUP MONTH!

Before I get into Soup Month, a few food photos:

Basic Marinara (from Cooking Light):
A very, very easy recipe (we're talking, 20 minutes of prep and an hour simmering virtually undisturbed on the stove,) which I haven't actually tasted yet! This past issue, Cooking Light ran a master recipe for "Basic Marinara" that could then, in turn, be used for upwards of 10 different recipes. Most of the recipes weren't vegetarian, but a few of them were, and the sauce also freezes well. Super-cheap, compared to buying bottled sauces all of the time, and I had the option of using FIRE-ROASTED TOMATOES intead of regular ones. (Mmmm . . . fire-roasted tomatoes . . . !) This recipe yielded four 2-cup packages for my freezer, plus a quart to keep in the fridge for now (12 cups total.) I think this recipe could also be easily adapted to use zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, or whatever other veggies you really like in your pasta sauce. I may never buy another jar of bottled sauce again! (P.S. It calls for fennel seed, which is just plain yummy.)

Coconut Rice Pudding (with Banana!):
This is a recipe that I significantly modified from this month's issue of Cooking Light as well. I would like to continue to tinker with it, since I used Arborio rice this time, but would prefer to use brown rice in the future. I also used a couple of eggs this time, since they have been hanging out in my fridge for a while, but I would like to come up with an eggless version in the future, too. (P.S. This has stored and reheated well for breakfast all week long!)

Roasted Tofu 'n' Veg:
Oh, how I love purple potatoes. :) This is just a total, cheater, go-to meal for me, but it still tastes good and gets those veggies in!

And now . . .

With all the power of my Food Snobbery vested in me, I officially declare October to be . . .


(At least in my kitchen, although you're welcome to hop on the Soup Month bandwagon.)

The idea for Soup Month began, away back in August, when it was still hot and humid. I love soup, and boy, did I miss soup when it was so hot out. I also have a mountain of delicious-looking soup recipes that I have never tried. SO, the idea of Soup Month was born -- not that I will only eat soup in October, but that I will try my darndest to try out a whole bunch of new soup recipes, and also, stock up my freezer with leftovers to last the winter through!

Soup Month will begin with a preview couple of recipes later this week. Let me know if you want to join me in Soup Month, and I'll link you in my next post!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I've been tagged!

Judy tagged me. Here goes! (I'm supposed to come up with an adjective that described me for each letter of my name. Tricky . . . )

C = creative (We all express our creativity in different ways. My creative outlets are food, obviously, and also, music and writing.)
A = active (I'm not an athlete or anything . . . I just can't sit still. Type A, always busy doing something or on the go. It's very, very good that I'm dating a very low-key, self-described "lazy guy." He makes me slow down!)
T = thinker (I like to think things through a lot, and talk about them with other people. Sometimes I overthink things, too.)
H = happy (I feel like I'm a reasonably happy person -- I have a lot to be thankful for!)
E = earnest (I am an honest, somewhat serious person. I tend to be quite reserved, but an observer. What you see is what you get!)
R = responsible (Goes along with the active and thinker adjectives -- I'm generally on top of my life, and get stuff done.)
I = intense (I just have a lot of energy that tends to ooze out of my pores. People sense this when they first meet me, and they either really like it, or really don't.)
N = naive (In the good sense of the word -- I tend to assume positive intent, and hope I am reasonably compassionate.)
E = even (I tend to be pretty even-keel most of the time, which is strange, because when I was young, I was very emotional. All those years of teaching must have taught me to just roll with it!)

Now, I'm supposed to tag as many people as there are letters in my name. Since there are nine letters in my name, consider yourself tagged, if you haven't been already!

Segue . . .

My two trips to vegetarian restaurants this weekend have fallen way short of my expectations. Dan and I went to Evergreen, a local Taiwanese restaurant that specializes in mock meats, and I was sorely disappointed. My curried noodles were greasy, and contained a whole plethora of mock meats, which I was not expecting . . . I don't really care for mock meats, and I was expecting a plethora of vegetables, because I thought that was what the menu said. Dan said his curried mock duck was good, although it needed soy sauce and chilis. We'll try it again -- next time, I'll just stick with the tofu. :)

I was also supposed to go to Hard Times with Courtney tonight, but she had to cancel, because she has a stress fracture in her right leg! Poor Courtney! (Some of you may receive regular comments from Courtney on your blog, although she does not have her own blog.) We'll reschedule.

I'm currently working on a big batch of marinara, and also some coconut rice pudding, so I'll take pictures and post later this week. :) Until then!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

poor little dudes . . .

"Pea Kebab"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


. . . STIR-FRY?!?!?
(I am, can't you tell? I think the frilly apron and military-style baseball hat make a lovely cooking ensemble, don't you? I don't usually cook in a baseball hat, except when I'm stir-frying . . . keeps all that floating grease off my glasses, ya know.)

I forgot to take a picture of my "mise en place," which I don't usually do, except when stir-frying, again. Why? Because stir-frys happen so fast, you just have to be ready. :) I don't tend to use an individual bowl for each ingredient, however -- I just mound everything that goes in at the same time in bowls. (Sort of, "step 1," "step 2," etc. bowls.) Anyhow, finished product:
Again, from Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian." This one's called "Bean Curd with Tomatoes and Cilantro." Very good -- salty, slightly sweet, slightly spicy . . . yum. Technically hailing from China, this is not what I'd typically associate with Chinese food -- not really a stir-fry at all. A little closer to a very thick stew, with all the liquid from the spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Just goes to show what I know about Chinese food, eh?

It appears as though Oliver is completely disinterested in all the stir-frying action.

Coming up this weekend . . . visits to TWO local vegetarian restaurants! (Let's hope I remember the camera!)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Extra Yum!

First, some co-op finds:

Fresh Figs! (Eat 'em quick!)

Crimson Pears! Pluots!

Caramel Apple!

Next, some cooking projects:

Vanilla Ricotta Muffins (from Mollie Katzen's "Sunlight Cafe"):
I knew these were going to be excellent, and boy, was I right! Rich, buttery, and filled with enough protein to keep you going for at least a couple of hours. The only glitch? She suggested the recipe makes 8-10 muffins, so I decided to make 8 . . . and they poofed up and ran into each other. (Hence the square corners on these muffins.) Next time, I'll go with my gut and just make 12. :)

Tomato-Basil Soup (From La Dolce Vegan):
I skipped adding the soy milk to this batch, and packed it all up for the freezer. Now I won't be tempted to buy boxed tomato soup when I have a craving! Just thaw, add milk, and heat -- just like Campbell's, only WAY, WAY, WAY better. I was lucky enough to receive a big bunch of basil (and of mint . . . coming up next . . . ) from one of my choir colleagues, Dora. She had an abundant herb patch this year!

Chickpeas and Chana Dal in a Mint Sauce (from Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian"):
Now, I realize this doesn't look like much, but . . . this has got to be the most extra-yum chickpea dish I have EVER made! It was a little bit time consuming, (soaking and draining the chickpeas, simmering the chickpeas for an hour, adding the chana dal and simmering for another hour and a half, and then finishing the stew,) but it was well worth it. So amazingly tasty! She suggests serving the stew with naan, yogurt, and vegetables -- I was unable to find naan at the store this week, so I used lavash instead, and added a big dollop of plain yogurt to my stew after I snapped this picture. "World Vegetarian" is one of those cookbooks that I tend to forget I own, and then get so dang excited when I remember it's on my shelf! I've only made a few of her recipes so far, but they have all been fabulous.

That's all the extra-yum I have for you now . . . more to come later this week! More cooking planned, for myself as well as the boyfriend (he's been on tour for two weeks and we'll finally get to hang out this Thursday,) and I'm also planning on going to dinner with Courtney this weekend!

For now, however, I have a never-ending mountain of dishes to tackle. (The only negative side-effect of cooking, if you ask me!)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

still more food

Another shot of the tabouli, accompanied by a falafel sandwich:
My falafel went kind of crazy this time -- no matter how hot the oil was, the patties sort of fell apart and didn't cook very thoroughly. Hm.

Gnocchi with Zucchini Ribbons and Parsley Brown Butter:
Where's the zucchini, you ask? The Wedge didn't have any the last time I went shopping, so I substituted eggplant instead. Very yummy. (Gnocchi, butter, cheese, veggies . . . what's not to like?)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

food; bummer; kids say the darndest . . .

First, the tabouli that I made to take to the work potluck on Sunday night:

After I made the tabouli, I got all excited about massive amounts of guacamole. I made a big batch of baked chips from the leftover tortillas I had hanging around:

And then I cut open the avocado to make the guacamole:
MAJOR bummer. There was not a salvageable part of this ginormous avocado. Worse even was that when I tried to scoop out a tiny bite from the top that wasn't all gross, the flesh tasted starchy and disgusting. In the future, I will stick with the Haas and Fuerte avocadoes that I have had mostly successes with. (Just so disappointing! Sometimes, I guess things are too good to be true, right?)

Last, a story from work:

One of the little girls in my class was being pushed around by one of the older boys yesterday afternoon. I said to her, "the next time he does that, turn around and say to him, "stop pushing me! I don't like that!" Use a strong voice." She replied, "Like a pirate?"

Tee hee. Kids say the darndest things.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bamix, Glorious Bamix!

After work on Friday, I hopped on the bus and headed down to the store to buy myself a new stick blender. (Sort of a practical "new job treat.") Since I burned through my last stick blender in just about a year, I decided to invest this time -- spend a little more on a near commercial-quality blender that will definitely last longer than a year! Meet my new Bamix:
It's efficient, powerful, and remarkably quiet. I can actually hear myself think while blending, and am no longer tempted to don earplugs. (P.S. I am totally sold on stick blenders in general -- never will I buy a traditional blender again!)

The Bamix is in for a work-out this weekend, but not immediately. Spring rolls:
I make a super-simple dipping sauce made of roughly equal parts peanut butter, low-sodium tamari, and rice vinegar.

Lasagna Rolls with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce (Got Bamix's feet dirty while pureeing the sauce):
This recipe tasted fabulous (Ann joined me for dinner after giving me a ride to drop off some stuff at the Goodwill,) but was FUSSY to prepare. I may slightly alter the recipe in the future, or switch to stuffed shells or something.

And now, the tale of my crepes. Thanks to many years of high school and college French classes, I have made and eaten many a crepe in my day. (I possess an "official" recipe, according to an old French teacher.) I love, love, love crepes, but they take an eternity to make, are super fatty and not all that healthy, (especially when you slather them with Nutella,) and don't really fill me up at all. In the end, I probably haven't made a batch of crepes for at least three years.

I have been craving crepes lately. Every once in a while, someone comes in to the store to buy a crepe pan, (either stovetop or electric,) and that gets me thinking about crepes. Lately, I have been thinking about crepes a lot. So much so in fact, I had a dream last night about making and eating crepes. (That really was the whole dream -- I dreamed I made and ate crepes.) So, tonight, I decided to "make dreams come true," and whipped up a batch of basic crepes (courtesy of the Bamix, again!)
I pathetically attempted to make the crepes slightly healthier by substituting half whole-wheat pastry flour, with excellent results. (I honestly couldn't tell the difference . . . but with that much egg and butter, the flour is merely a backup singer, right?) I made up a caramel-apple filling for them, which turned out quite tasty, especially since I didn't use a recipe and didn't measure anything. I have a bunch of crepes left, and will munch on them over the course of the next week. Yum.

Lastly, this is what I get for forgetting to take the placemats off the table after dinner:
Silly Oliver. (Now I have to wash the placemats . . . ! Argh.)

More cooking tomorrow . . . off to tackle the dishes.

Friday, September 07, 2007

shopping, shopping, and more shopping

I have been away from the blogosphere for a variety of reasons: life/work/being insanely busy, having no food in the house (and subsequently, not cooking,) and just not having much to say. My apologies. :) However, I'm back, with a full kitchen's worth of groceries, and a picture of the largest avocado that I've ever seen (and ever purchased!)
This is called a Simmons avocado. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet -- probably just an insane amount of guacamole. (Need to cut up some tortillas and bake some chips, too!)

My co-op has started doing the coolest thing -- listing the total dollars spent and percent of purchase on local products/companies on your receipt. Isn't that cool? Yesterday, I spent $40.97, or 28.2% of my total purchases on local items. Not too bad, since I wasn't even trying. :) Next time, we'll see if I can get that number even higher!

I discovered the greatest website/resource the other day --! A friend of mine had told me about this website ages and ages ago, and I have just not gotten around to checking it out . . . and placing an order. They have a ton of natural health and beauty products at super-deep discounts (we're talking anywhere from 30% to 70% off retail price,) and charge a flat $5 shipping rate, no matter the size of your order. (As an example, the face moisturizer I use is so cheap on Vitacost, if I buy just one of those, the shipping pays for itself, plus I still save, like, two bucks.) Check it out!

I need to head down to the store after work tonight to buy a new stick blender. My old one died, (it literally fell apart in my hands while I was using it,) and I have been sorely missing it! I want to make soup and smoothies and hummus and other great stuff!

I have very little to do this weekend, other than clean up the kitchen and turn around and mess it up again. Cooking projects planned over the next couple of days:

tabouli (to take to a baby shower for one of my coworkers,)
spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce
tomato soup (to pop directly into the freezer,)
gnocchi with roasted eggplant
lasagna rolls with roasted red pepper sauce
possibly a giant batch of guacamole (I'm so excited about the ginormous avocado!)

I also may cook up a bunch of the dried beans that I bought at the store yesterday. But, I've been eyeing several recipes in Madhur Jaffrey's "World Vegetarian," and she often calls for the bean cooking liquid, so I may just wait for now. :) We shall see . . . stay tuned!