December 8, 2013
A Great American Oil
For years food-savvy travelers returned from Austria with Styrian pumpkinseed oil for their friends. A classic Austrian ingredient, it’s an important addition to soups. Mixed with apple cider vinegar it makes a classic dressing. Bread tastes great simply dipped into the oil. In Austria they even use pumpkinseed oil like hot fudge, splashing it across vanilla ice cream for a very delicious dessert.
But why buy a European product when pumpkins are an indiginous American vegetable? Wholehearted Foods makes roasted pumpkin seed oil, from organic pumpkins grown in the Finger Lakes region of New York and very gently pressed. It takes 11 pumpkins to make one small bottle of oil, which explains why the flavor of this deep green oil is so intense.
But the Wholehearted people don't stop with pumpkins; they press oil from an entire range of organic squashes grown on nearby Martin Farms. At the moment they’re out of Kabocha, Delicata and Acorn Squash oil, but they still have some Butternut Squash Oil on hand. It has a warm golden color and a flavor so nutty that I often add it to dishes for people with nut allergies. And unlike pumpkin seed oil, which has a very low smoke point, you can use butternut squash oil as you would any vegetable oil in cooking; it's particularly good for sauteing vegetables, adding a lovely subtle flavor of its own. A bottle of oil costs about $12, but introducing your friends to this truly American product is a gift in itself.
December 7, 2013
I was introduced to Hot Bread Kitchen through their wonderful tortillas: handmade with stone-ground organic corn, they're like no tortillas I’ve encountered before. Deliciously resilient, they actually taste like corn.
The tortillas became such a staple in my house that I began sniffing around, trying to find out who was making them. That's when I discovered that Hot Bread Kitchen is more than a bakery; it’s an enterprise dedicated to giving low-income immigrant women professional experience. The breads, which are inspired by the native countries of the bakers, are merely the starting point of a very ambitious program of scholarships and job placement. (Some of their trainees have gone on to work at instututions like Daniel.) But this is a two-way street; part of Hot Bread Kitchen’s mission is introducing Americans to a whole new world of breads.
The breads themselves are wonderful. One of my favorites is
thin, floppy, flaky flat breads that have the texture of butterfly wings and the flavor of butter.
Persian Nan-E Qandi,
a sweet bread made with milk and honey, is a perfect afternoon snack.
Their crisp Armenian Lavash crackers
have real crunch when you take a bite.
And this time of year they’re making traditional German Christmas Stollen
filled with dried fruit and nuts. The layer of marzipan running through this sweet bread keeps it moist and tender.
Their Global Bread Box, containing all four breads makes a wonderful Christmas present. (The breads all freeze well.) At $70 it’s more than just another silly gift: it's a fine way to welcome new citizens to our country.
December 6, 2013
Let the Beats Go On
I love my Kitchen Aid mixer; every time I use it I’m reminded of the huge Hobart mixer we had in our Berkeley restaurant. That one was an antique, but it was relentlessly reliable, turning out dozens of cakes on a daily basis, year after year.
But much as I love my little mixer, it has one annoying problem: the beater blades aren’t deep enough. As every cook knows, you want your beaters to touch the sides of the bowl for maximum efficiency.
That’s why I’m so thrilled by the new Beater Blade attachment, which has rubber-sides extending all the way to the edges of the bowl. This allows you to get the most out of each pass of the beaters. The attachment is $20-$30, depending on the model, it's available online and at most kitchen stores, and I can’t think of a better present for a passionate baker.
Now if only they’d do something about the whisk attachment……
December 5, 2013
Just pulling this copper pan, with its warm shining color, out of the cupboard gives you instant bragging rights; it’s that beautiful. But when you start telling your friends about its amazing attributes, their jaws really drop.
Unlike most French copper pans, which are lined with tin, this Atelier du Cuivre beauty is lined with silver. Why? Because silver, which is a fantastic conductor of heat, melts at 1825 degrees, meaning that this pan gets really, really hot. (Tin melts at 425.) Most American copper pans are lined with stainless steel, which is not a very good heat conductor. (The purer the metal, the higher it's thermal conductivity; stainless steel is made of iron, chromium and nickel.) I’ve never cooked with a pan that got so hot, or responded so quickly to the flame.
The pans are hand-crafted by a master artisan, Jean Pierre Couget, who's been named a Meilleur Ouvrier de France. M. Couget works in a town called Villedieux-les-Poeles, which translates roughly as “God’s village of the frying pan.” Pick up the pan, and you'll understand.
The handles are made of wrought iron, a poor conductor of heat, which means they won’t burn you. Unlike so many clunky handles, they hug your hand in a very comfortable embrace.
Finally, you can have your pan personalized. The engraving is not just a vanity move: a pan this beautiful is a constant temptation to others.
I'm in love with my pan, which sears steaks and lamb chops like nothing I've ever used, works wonders with pancakes, and maintains such a low temperature that it roasts pine nuts without burning, makes fabulous sauces and is the perfect pan for caramelizing sugar. Still, I’ll admit it has a drawback: you pretty much have to polish it after every use. (I should note that Atelier du Cuivre sells the best copper polish I’ve ever encountered). I've copied their advice on caring for your pan below.
A ten-inch pan is $500. That’s a lot of money for a frying pan. On the other hand, amortized over a lifetime it's a fair price for an instant heirloom.
The Atelier du Cuivre website is great to browse, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of ordering advice; to order, email the American distributor: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or call 212 371-7358.
Your heirloom cookware deserves the attention and care that matches the attention to detail by which it is made. We like to say, “Show your cookware the love that it shows to you.” Always use wooden or rubber cooking utensils to protect the lining of the pot. Do not use abrasives when cleaning. Use warm soap and water, finish with a wipe of silver polish for the interior, soap and rinse again. Chefs vary in the care they give to the copper. Some love the dark colored, worn look of its use, while others prefer to polish the copper to its gleaming finish. Atelier du Cuivre offers a superb copper-cleaning product that allows you to do this is a matter of seconds, quite easily, thus removing the barrier for some to copper because of the perceived maintenance of it. (For difficult food stuck to the pot, simply put water in the pot while it’s still hot and scrape with a wooden spoon, much the same as you would for deglazing. It’s that simple.) Rinse copper with cold water. Dry immediately to prevent rust on your cast iron handles (rust is easily removed by a sponge and towel dry, should any present itself.) Do not use a dishwasher for cleaning your pots. We also recommend seasoning your cast iron handles with olive oil or dish detergent that is gently wiped off before the first use. With frequent use by chefs, the oils from their hands keep the cast iron handles in beautiful condition.
December 4, 2013
An Extravagant Baking Kit
There are people who know how to give great gifts. Thomas Keller is among them. Lately I’ve waited with bated breath to see what was going to arrive for Christmas… and it's always exciting.
Keller’s presents arrive in a gorgeous wooden box emblazoned with the French Laundry’s iconic clothespin label. One year the box contained a spade and wonderful little packets of seeds – along with everything you’d need to get them started: soil, little pots, even gardening gloves. Another year it was bottles of Armando Manni’s extraordinary olive oil.
One of my favorite gifts was the chocolate tart kit that included a reusable tart pan, pre-measured dry ingredients, a Tahitian vanilla bean in a glass jar, a Vic Firth rolling pin, a Bouchon oven mitt and, of course, Bouchon’s chocolate tart recipe. There was even a small bottle of Meyer Family Port that perfectly complements the finished tart.
Keller’s now selling the chocolate tart kit, along with a number of more extravagant gifts (like his personally chosen set of knives for $900). The boxes make quite an impression, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't be thrilled when they arrived. Prices vary; the boxes are shipped from the Napa Valley on Wednesdays.