Thursday, December 13, 2018

Kitchen Gift Guide 2018 & Giveaway

This year my recommendations are short, sweet and all really practical but are things I genuinely enjoy using. Without further ado…
Save space 
I used to have two big clunky wooden knife blocks. My knives only fit in certain slots and the blocks took up a ton of room. Worst of all, they tended to tip over. So I bought this good looking bamboo knife block to replace them and am sorry I didn't buy it sooner. It holds an amazing number of knives! One block replaces two, and holds 14 knives of varying sizes and shapes. It takes up little space and won't dull knives the way wood blocks do. If you or someone you know are still using a wooden block, I highly recommend upgrading to this bamboo block with plastic needles. $22.99 



Season away
I have had various ceramic salt cellars and none of them quite suited me. I like to grab a pinch of salt and most cellars use a spoon or are too deep to reach into. This triple salt box has 3 levels and easily swings open so kosher salt, smoked salt and flaky salt are all within reach. But you could use it for other seasonings like ground pepper or dried herbs if you prefer. They also make a 2 tiered box. It’s reasonably priced and something I genuinely enjoy using. It's also rather handsome. $21.89 

Cook it
Non-stick pans  have come a long way since the days of Teflon. Today you can find pans that are free of harmful chemicals, yet affordable and durable. Everyone should have a good nonstick pan for frying eggs and making omelets. The light weight DiamoTech nonstick pan features a 4 layer design and is made with aluminum. It can be used in the oven up to 500° F and is scratch resistant. It’s free of PTFE/PFOA/PFOS and dishwasher safe but I cannot imagine ever needing to put it in a dishwasher. I used this pan consistently for 3 months and even made a huge batch of crepes and never needed to use any butter or oil. It's the best ceramic nonstick pan I've ever used. The 9.5 inch pan with a glass lid is just $19.99

If you're the kind of person who prefers cooking with nonstick (I can't blame you!) the Circulon Symmetry Merlot Twin Pack Skillets Set nonstick French skillets are incredibly durable, made from hard-anodized aluminum and have a magnetic stainless steel base so they are compatible with all cooktop ranges, including induction. The pans feature a unique cooking surface of raised circles that reportedly lasts 10 times longer than ordinary nonstick coatings. Unlike many other nonstick pans they are metal-utensil-safe, in addition to being PFOA-free and oven-safe to 400° F. and are dishwasher safe, though I find them easy to clean. The high sides to these pans make them perfect for frying, sautéing, as well as making pan sauces and gravies. A 10 and 12 inch pan set in gorgeous Merlot color is $67.39 (other colors are a bit less) 

Drizzle it
Laudemio extra virgin olive oil is made from Frantoio, Maraiolo and Leccino olives that come from an estate near Florence. It’s a very “green” olive oil with notes of artichoke and grass. It’s one of the best you can buy and because Laudemio is celebrating their 30th anniversary the bottle is a stunning gold this year. Great quality extra virgin olive oil must be used fresh, so don't save it, savor it! I wouldn't use this olive oil on salads, it's too good. But I would use it on plain cooked beans, grilled meats, potatoes, steamed vegetables, toast, vanilla ice cream, any "blank canvas" that will allow you to fully enjoy the flavor. $44.95

Bake, toast, roast or slow cook
I know everyone is going nuts for the Instant Pot but I'm still a fan of this great counter top oven. I just replaced my original Breville Smart Oven with a newer model and am really loving it. It heats quickly, has a convection feature, a light, and now has a slow cooking function so I can put a Dutch oven in it for hours and hours. My last Breville SmartOven lasted 8 years. It costs $215.95 

                                                  GIVEAWAY! 

Deiss Kitchenware is offering one of my readers a lemon zester/cheese grater (value $10.98). I have an earlier model and use it practically daily. It would make a nice gift or a stocking stuffer. To win you must reside in the United States. Please leave a comment telling me what's on YOUR kitchen wish list this year.  I will choose one winner at random on Monday December 17, 2018. 

Disclaimer: I purchased some of these items, but received the oil as a gift, the pans for review purposes. This post does include some affiliate links. I was not paid to write this or any other post. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Interview with Jim Kempton author of First We Surf, The We Eat


There are many parallels between surfing and cooking starting with the fact that both can be an adrenaline rush. But has there ever been a surfer’s cookbook? That was the question I asked Jim Kempton, a jourmalist, chef, restaurater and surfer. Kempton is the author of First We Surf, Then We Eat: Recipes from a Lifetime of Surf Travel. The answer? Not like this one. Even though I’m not a surfer (yet!) I love this book which combines the best of a memoir and travelogue with recipes. Recipes run the gamut from banana pancakes from Hawaii, Basque tuna steaks, machaca and eggs from Mexico and Rujak, a spicy sweet fruit salad from Bali. 

How important is the communal aspect of dining to you and to surfers in general? 
It’s important to me because it’s part of what attracted me to certain cuisines, even though we don’t always practice it everywhere it is very important in some places. It’s especially true for surfers. A lot of surfers don’t cook so they dine with whoever does! Surfers travel a lot and so it’s also practical. Also bringing it [BRINGING WHAT?]brings back the communal aspect of living, the idea of hanging out with people is missed and is being revived. Eating together is a way to do that. 

How have you gathered recipes from so many places? From chefs, other surfers? 
Every recipe I have is something I came across somewhere—a friend, at a hotel, a restaurant—and I was so taken with it that I had to learn it. The hardest thing was standarizing the recipes because I’d been cooking them for so long I never thought about it. Recipes  were on the back of envelopes or tucked into books or in books I’d received as gifts. I learn so much from reading cookbooks. 

How did you learn to cook? 
The same way I learned to surf! Unless you go to school, there’s no way to learn except by doing it. Both my parents loved to cook. We lived in a lot of places where you cooked differently. I always enjoyed it and was an observer of it. 

You grew up in Guam and have some recipes from Guam, what can you tell me about it? 
I would say, it has some of the best fish dishes, although no match for Tahitian restaurant cuisine which has a French influence. The fresh fish and variety there is incredible. 

What are your favorite surf destinations for food? 
People don’t think of the Atlantic coast of France but it has great waves. It’s also a beautiful coastline, the Basque country with rocky ledges and long stretches of beach are amazing. Stop anywhere and the food is great and the quality is high. 

The food in Bali is really a fusion of different Indonesian elements and the Caribbean with different cultural influences from other places. It’s tropical but there are different kinds of dishes you wouldn’t find ther. The food in Morocco is getting better all the time. Peru is a booming place for food. 

What’s your favorite comfort food recipe from the book? 
I was raised in the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. My wife was born in Southern California. She wants rice and beans and I grew up on rice and noodles. So the first recipe is Pancit noodles. It’s one of the first things I learned to cook along with fried rice, I have one fried rice recipe from Peru and another from Hawaii and another from Central America. Fried rice is a good way to clean out the fridge! Another is soups and I have quite a few soup recipes. Soups are better the next day. The eggplant and shrimp soup is a favorite.

What’s your most impressive recipe from the book? 
The Moroccan lamb with fruit. You can’t screw it up. Cooking with fruit is not something Europeans have done since the Middle Ages but the Arabs have always done it. The combination of savoriness and sweetness, and the textures, is a real mind blower. It’s got the wow factor. 

Thanks Jim!

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book and this post includes an affiliate link

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Remembering James Beard at the Stanford Court

Erica Peters, Marelene Sorosky Gray, Jacqueline Mallorca and John Phillip Carroll
In the 1970’s and 80’s James Beard, the "dean of American cookery" took up residence at the Stanford Court hotel. The hotel was his home for three months out of the year. The San Francisco Professional Food Society recently hosted a conversation with three of his friends and co-workers, John Phillip Carroll, Jacqueline Mallorca and Marlene Sorosky Gray who reminisced about his time at the Stanford Court. It was moderated by food historian Erica Peters.  

Here are just a few highlights from the event: 

On his time in San Francisco: 
This city and this hotel room were great refuge for him. It was chaos in New York. Julia Child once referred to his New York house as being full of loonies but here he was invited to everyone's home for dinner and he was taken care of. He said, “the city just gets into my blood.” - John Phillip Carroll (JPC)

He loved the West Coast and he had a lot of friends here from years back that pampered him. Chuck Williams would have him for dinner at least once a week. He kept his private life private.  He enjoyed his life, he had a good time and he lived it up. - Jacqueline Mallorca (JM)

Even towards the end of his life he loved to party, he would tell me--"Jackie don't get old." –  (JM)

On his career:
He had a genuine interest and admiration for American cuisine and how special it was. In his hands it was new and fresh. - JPC

I think he knew he was doing something important but he was humble. - JC

During his entire career as a freelance writer he did not make a ton of money off his books and he was never good on television. He was a bit envious of Julia Child’s success but they were very good friends and spent time here together. - JPC 

Illustration of James Beard by Jacqueline Mallorca
I worked with Julia Child and James, Julia was a teacher, that was what she loved to do, she was curious Jacques is the best technical cook in the country, no one can touch him and James was like an encyclopedia when it came to food. If you wanted to know anything you could ask him and he would go into a dissertation on it. – Marlene Sorosky Gray (MG)
Kraft offered him a huge amount of money to promote squeeze Parkay. Marion Cunningham and I made toast and he wanted to like it but he hated it and said no.  - JPC

He told me, “I wouldn’t do Aunt Jemima. I don’t look good in a bandana.” -  JM

Some funny anecdotes:
Jim (James Beard) was a very jovial man. We had gone to New York for a book signing at Bloomingdales and Jim walked very slowly. We were making very stately progress and a drunk came up and said, “Aren't you Winston Churchill?” Jim roared with laughter and said, “I wish I was!” he was always fun and very social, he loved to party. - JM

In a cookware shop a woman came up to him and said excitedly, “I can’t believe it, James Child, aren’t you the famous chef and he responded not unless there is a Julia Beard. He was never insulted; he just made light of the experience. - MG

In the holiday season in the mid 70’s in the corner suites, on the top floor was Julia and Paul Child, James Beard on the 7th floor, Marcella & Victor Hazan on the 6th floor and Craig Claiborne on the 5th. If the hotel had crumbled the food world would have changed. For me it was a golden age to be involved in any aspect of food, wine and hospitality. It was a much smaller world. We were all very good friends. We were lucky to all be there are the same time. - JPC

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Instant Indian Cookbook Review


Indian cooks have discovered the Instant Pot and how well it works for Indian cuisine—it can be used to cook everything from rice to yogurt to complex layered meat and vegetable dishes. There are at least 10 Indian Instant Pot cookbooks on Amazon at the moment, and I suspect there are more e-books out there on the topic as well. There are also a ton of blogs that focus on Indian recipes made in the Instant Pot.

I recently purchased an Instant Pot but had never used it. I tried it out with a recipe from Instant Indian: Classic foods from every region of India made easy in the Instant Pot! By Rinku Bhattacharya. The recipe I chose was Cozy Butter Chicken. The instructions for this dish were incredibly clear, so much so that I was able to make this dish without having ever used the Instant Pot before. The author points out that timing is an issue “You need to factor in the time it takes to come to full pressure, the actual pressure cooking time, and the time for steam release. I have accounted for the complete cooking cycle by noting a total time needed with all my recipes.” But that was the problem I had with the recipe which states:

TOTAL TIME: 40 MINUTES
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Sauté Time: 15 minutes
Pressure Cook: 10 minutes
Pressure Release: 10 minutes

I found that this does not include the time it takes for the Instant Pot to come to full pressure, and an accurate time for pressure release. It took almost another 10 minutes to reach full pressure and over 15 minutes to release naturally rather than the stated 10 minutes. That is a considerable amount of additional time.
Cozy Butter Chicken
Cozy Butter Chicken, on the right according to the instructions and on the left with the sauce reduced 
The other issue I had with this recipe was that the finished dish was incredibly watery and the chicken was somewhat overcooked and falling apart. The sauce did not resemble the thick creamy sauce I know from having had this dish in the past. I spent almost another 10 minutes reducing the sauce in a saucepan. Once I did, the sauce and the dish were absolutely delicious.

I struggled with the decision to purchase an Instant Pot because I really don’t have room for it. But I thought perhaps I would be able to replace my rice cooker and my pressure cooker with it. But I found it took longer for the Instant Pot to come up to pressure than it takes my old pressure cooker, so I’m not sure that it will replace it after all. The biggest convenience factor to making this dish was the built in timer which allows you to set the cooking time. I also like that it has settings for things like yogurt and rice.

So would I recommend the Instant Pot and using it for Indian Recipes? Probably, but I will need to do some more experimenting.

Disclaimer: A pdf of this book was given to me for review purposes