Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tools I Couldn't Cook Without: Microplane & Ikea Bowl Grater

I love this sucker! This microplane grater from Lee Valley Tools is an astoundingly good product. (Long skinny grater at left in picture.) It was originally created for woodworking, but has since become famous for its high quality grating of citrus zest, spices like nutmeg, Parmesan cheese etc... I introduced it to our friend Billy (who is a chef) and he loves it too. It's available with a cover that you can buy separately, but I don't have one. I just grate directly into the bowl and just store it safely against the side of a drawer. I found it worth the $14.00 (Note: I'm not affiliated with Lee Valley; I just love this thing.)

Sometimes you get an amazing product for a really great deal ($4.99 for two!) This bowl style grater from Ikea is just such a bargain. I love the bowl with its non-slip bottom (and the lid that keeps your grated bits fresh.) The grater has stayed sharp through lots of dishwasher cycles and even grates carrots (I go in circles with the carrots and it grates SUPER fast.)

:0) Mel

P.S. [Disclaimer: While I am not sure how I feel about Ikea's production politics (and I'm sometimes upset by poor quality of a select few of their products) I'm not in a budget-position that can always afford supremely ethical purchasing--one day...]

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ingredient of the Day: The Lovely Tomato (aka Love Apple)

This year, we were lucky enough to be given these canned homegrown tomatoes from C's Dad. (He also makes us mini pizzas with an amazing tomato sauce that is a reduction of the clear liquid that he saves from the tomatoes during canning<---HOT tip that; hope he doesn't mind me sharing his secret!) ;0)

Did Ya Know?: the forbidden fruit in the Bible was never specifically named as an apple. Perhaps it was a pomegranate (of Persephone fame) or maybe it was a tomato!?! lol. They were originally called love apples. Also, Brits first thought the tomato was poisonous (the leaves certainly are...) A number of people are allergic to tomatoes. The plant is in the nightshade family, which includes the Tobacco plant--and of course eggplant, peppers... [More about the history of the tomato here.]

Much thanks to this site for this photo.

Apparently, the peak of tomato nutrition is "achieved on the vine just hours before they are overripe" so growing your own is the very best. (Source.) The thing I find most interesting about tomatoes: they taste better (and are better for you) canned. Tomatoes are one of the best foods for flavour without low-fat, and with vitamins. They're rich in Lycopene: an antioxidant. (The canning/cooking process actually makes the good stuff more accessible to your bod!) More here.

If you're a purest and you want to avoid tinny taste, you can can your own in glass canning jars like my F.I.L. I haven't done my own canning for a couple years (we keep meaning to have a canning party--maybe this summer...) I have to try canning a little-known tomato gem that my mouth keeps remembering (and missing!): my Bam Bam's (my Grandma's) pickled whole green plum-tomatoes. I'll post the recipe here, if I can coax it out of her--and if I can get it to work well. ;0) I don't blog recipes until I've tried them, but in case you can't wait: here's a few links for pickled green tomatoes.

And here is a recipe I have tried (and love love love!) It's an unbelievably EASY snack or appetizer:

Tomatoes with cheese & fresh Basil:


(store out of fridge to retain the best flavour & texture.)
Cheese of choice:
Havarti, Mozzarella or Bocconcini
Olive Oil (Your favourite) & Balsamic Vinegar (dark or white)
Salt & pepper (fresh ground)
Fresh Basil
(or Oregano, Cilantro or Thyme)

Super-dee-duperdy EASY Assembly:

1. Slice tomatoes.

2. Add Havarti or your cheese of choice (room temperature cheese is loverliest!) I love Havarti (but you can use any cheese that you enjoy. This is inspired by friends of ours who make it traditionally--and fabulously--with Mozzarella or Bocconcini.)

3. Season (salt & fresh pepper to taste.) Sprinkle chopped Basil and drizzle on a great olive oil. (I like to garnish with extra Basil leaves, so people who really like Basil can just add their own.) You can even use Oregano or Cilantro leaves instead--they're are also natural pairings for tomato. Thyme is good too! I finish by adding a drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar.

Enjoy! :0)

More of my favourite recipes with tomato:

Salsa (of course)--Which is also great in seven-layer Mexican dip
or Taco Supreme Salad

Fresh Salsa & Roasted Almond baked goat cheese (yummmmmmmmy!)

and of course it's great in curries, chili, and spaghetti sauce. (Recipes to follow in the new year.

Tools I Couldn't Cook Without: Getting the most out of spices with a Mortar and Pestle

I love to use a Mortar and Pestle. It brings out the best of flavours. There are many many varieties available, but I love these two (although I do want a glass one with the frosted glass, just out of purely aesthetic commodity fetishism--> translation: I love the pretty things! heehee.)

The small one is just your average marble one. I like to put my hand over it (like an inverted cup) when doing things that hop-- like peppercorns or coriander. The larger one was a purchase inspired by my family friend Nee--who lives in Thailand and visits occasionally (when she makes the World's most aromatic sauces and dressings in a big one like it.) So when I saw it at Granville Island Market I had to have it. It was surprisingly affordable.

I wouldn't be without my mortar and pestle for crushing spices, bringing out the oils in herbs and spices (even premixed seasonings benefit from a grinding!) It is also indispensable for marrying (smush-smashing!) garlic and herbs and spices and oils and other lovely saucy bits. However, if you can't afford a mortar and pestle, just use you hands to rubs the mixes of seasonings (better than nothing and it leaves nothing to wash up after.)

Thanks for lookin' & happy cookin'!
:0) Mel

Tools I Couldn't Cook Without: Cast Iron & Magnetic Knife Holder

My Dad and Charles's Dad have taught us well. They are masterful cooks who wouldn't dream a kitchen that had no cast iron. Neither would I! Besides leaving no teflon in your system, it just makes food taste soooooo good. Cast iron has the great advantage of being able to withstand very hight heat (won't warp like all of my non-stick pans.) It goes from the stove top to the oven, and it conducts heat very evenly.

Some basic ways to care for your cast iron:

1. Raise your right hand and repeat after me: "I solemnly swear to keep my cast iron seasoned." If you do, it will never stick! You can even wash it with soap & water if you keep it well seasoned and oiled. However, NEVER let water sit in it. I prefer to wash it with boiling water and oil it (only occasionally soaping it.)

2. Seasoning your cast iron: Oil it and put it in the oven to season. I use Canola oil (it has a higher smoke point and doesn't turn into trans fat like olive oil does.) I just preheat the oven to 250 degrees and check it occasionally--sticking a wooden spoon it the oil to be sure it doesn't congeal.

Here's a fantastic write up on cast iron. Interesting cast iron fact: it actually adds iron to your diet. To get the full benefits of this cook tomato sauces in it; they pull the iron out more.

Magnetic Knife Holder:

$10 bucks at Ikea equals sharp knives and a happy cook!!! 'Nuff said. :0)

Over the holidays, I cut my finger chopping carrots with a dull knife (forgot to bring my own to a cabin we rented, duh!) Granted, Lemon Drop Martinis were involved (recipe to follow after I perfect it.) ;0) However, I still blame the dull knife. I have had the occasional tipsy kitchen adventure and I never cut myself. Wouldn't live without a great way to store knives: cooking is more enjoyable when your tools are sharp.


P.S. I'm not affiliated with any of the makers of this schtuff--I just likes it! :0)

The Flame! Silver Sage 2004

Our great friends Matt & Nadia introduced us to this aperitif wine (and then were sweet enough to give Charles a bottle as a graduation present.) He loves hot foods (unnaturally hot foods)-- especially the delight that is Curry. I'm a Mellowish Madras kind of girl (recipe to follow in a post later) He's a Vindictive Vindaloo man. (Hurts!!!!) ;0)

So, characteristics of this wine: sweet and hot. Ha! I'm such a conoseur, hehehe. It's 14% Made in Canada, Baby! (At the Silver Sage Winery in Oliver BC.) On a heat scale of 1 to 5 it's around a 3.5 to 4. The bottle says that The Flame has: "a rich bouquet of peach and appricot natural aromas and the unique hot pepper spice." They suggest pairing it with meat and seafood; wouldn't go with a curry, I imagine.... I would drink it while nibbling appies: cheese and baguette (perhaps cold cuts or shrimp if you are not a vegetarian) to cut the heat.

Niftiest thing about this wine: the pepper goes up and down in the bottle--depending on the temperature of the wine!

:0) Mel

Crazy Eggs: Scrambled Nest

This is a little odd, but if you like scrambled eggs and you like sunny side up (or "dippin' eggs") but aren't so big on the whites, then you're sure to like it. (I've probably just described 1% of the egg-loving population of the world, but hey, if you're out there... then this is for you!)

How to:

--Put eggs in a bowl (Leave out one yolk per person, but leave enough yolks in to get your scramble the way you like it.)
--Beat eggs well (lots of air is good.)
--Add a tiny bit of cold water and beat more. :0)

--Add eggs to a pan that has melted butter and is on medium (lowish-medium) heat.
--Cook (stirring occasionally) until they are partially cooked (Overcooking equals yucky eggs-any brown colour is awful, lol.)

--Make a little nest in the scrabbled eggs and then nestle the yolk into it:

--Add cheese if you like. Finish eggs in the oven (350%) until it reaches desired 'done-ness.' (Be wary of overcooking.)
--Salt and pepper last (keeps eggs fluffier.)

:0) Mel