Friday, December 11, 2009

My Favorite Kitchen Tools

I use the following kitchen tools all the time whether I’m cooking or baking. In one way or another, I couldn’t cook without them—or at least I couldn’t cook with as much ease and grace as I do. If you are searching for a stocking stuffer or a little something to give to a friend or loved one who cooks, look no further. You can find many of these items at Sur la Table or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, except where noted. Best wishes for a lovely holiday seasons filled with wonderful food coming from your kitchen.

Japanese knives. These are just the best. When I reach in the drawer for a knife, I reach for one of these. They keep their sharpness. In the Bay area, you can find great Japanese knives at The Japanese Woodworker in Alameda, CA or Hida Tool and Hardware in Berkeley.
Microplane grater. Great for grating cheese, ginger, lemon zest. Easy to use. I really like the handle on mine. If you grate a lot, it will grow dull—in which you need to get yourself a new one.
Pastry cutter. I’ve called for this tool in a number of recipes on this blog, including Apple Crisp, Apple Crumb Pie, Biscuits, and the Breakfast Cake. Probably others as well. Lots easier to clean than the Cuisinart and easier to use than your fingers.
Silicon pastry brush. I use this to paint anything that calls for being painted. Its primary advantage is ease of cleaning. Most pastry brushes have bristles like paint brushes and are the dickens to clean, especially if you’ve been painting with butter or an egg yolk mixture.

Silicon spatula. I love these most when I am trying to get every last drop out of a mixing bowl. They work better than anything else. Period.
Egg beater. Of course you can also use a whip or an electric mixer, but the hand egg beater works really well for whipped cream without the extreme effort of the whip or the noise of the electric version.
Measuring pitcher. This pitcher has the advantage of being able to read the measurement by looking down inside the pitcher itself as opposed to the traditional one which you read from the side. Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?
Potato ricer. I think making really excellent mashed potatoes is both a science and an art. You use the ricer after the potatoes have been properly boiled. The riced potatoes are light and fluffy ready for the warm cream, butter, and salt. No lumps.

Suribachi. This Japanese bowl has a rough surface on the inside and comes with a wooden pestle. The rough surface makes it really easy to make a paste of ginger and garlic, for example. I find it much easier to use than a regular mortar and pestle. You can find them at a store selling Japanese cooking equipment, like Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley.

Lemon juicer (electric). You may have noticed that I use a lot of lemon/lime/orange juices in my food. I just love the citrusy flavor. This machine makes it so easy to squeeze your juices. Those glass pitcher juicers are hopeless.
Spice/coffee grinder (electric). First off I want to say that I no longer ever use this grinder for coffee. If you want to use yours for both, make sure to clean it out very well between times. There is nothing that grinds up hard spices—like star anise or cinnamon sticks (broken up)—better than this kind of grinder. The one in the photo is over 30 years old but new models abound.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Holiday Breakfasts and Brunches

Holidays are a great time to think about breakfasts and brunches. So nice to gather friends and family together in a more casual and informal way. Check out my September 17, 2009 blog for more breakfast and brunch ideas, including the omelet which is great with the Breakfast Cake below.

Breakfast Cake 
This quick bread needs to be baked and eaten immediately. It loses its interest if allowed to sit around for very long. You can do steps 1, 2, and 3 ahead of time. Wait to add the liquids to the dry until your guests have arrived, assuming you want a little time to chat and drink something bubbly before eating. Your house will smell just wonderful. While the cake is baking, you can make some omelets if you want.


2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
½ cup (1 stick) butter, cut into ½-inch squares
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk

1. Blend the flour, sugar, and butter together with a pastry cutter, a food processor or your fingers until the mixture is crumbly.
2. Move ¾ cup of this mixture to a second bowl. It will become the topping. Add the brown sugar and cinnamon to the topping.
3. Add the baking powder and the coriander to the original mixture. Mix in well. Combine the beaten egg and the milk.
4. Stir the milk/egg mixture into the baking powder/flour mixture. Pour this batter into a buttered 8 x 8 pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the top.
5. Bake in a 350ºF oven for 35-40 minutes or until the middle of the cake bounces back and the cake has slightly pulled away from the side of the pan.
Serve hot or warm.

Makes one 8 x 8 pan.
Adapted from my handwritten cooking notebook from Japan, 1971-73. Unknown provenance.

Crunchy Granola
Believe it or not, there was a time when the only way to eat granola was to make it yourself. Way back in the 60s, Quaker Oats was still just rolling regular or quick-cooking oats—nothing as exotic as granola. I have recently started making this again thanks to my former husband finding the original handwritten recipe and sending it to me. It is just delicious with yogurt, fresh fruit, or milk. You can also put the granola into small jars from IKEA or the hardware store, wrap them with a bow (or not) and give them for holiday presents.

Dry ingredients:
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 cup dried coconut, unsweetened
1 cup wheat germ
½ teaspoon salt
Add any seeds or chopped nuts you have on hand

Wet ingredients:
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup canola or other vegetable oil
¾ cup brown sugar (I know it’s not wet but it works best in this group)
¾ cup hot water

1. Combine the dry ingredients.
2. Combine the wet ingredients.
3. Add the wet to the dry. Mix well.
4. Spread evenly on two rimmed baking sheets.
5. Toast in a 275°F. oven for about 60-80 minutes, stirring every 20-30 minutes, until it is golden brown and crunchy enough for your taste. You might want to rotate the sheets halfway through baking. You can use convection bake if you have that setting on your oven. Regular works fine too of course.
6. Cool on sheets. Store in an air-tight tin or a large glass jar.

Found originally, I believe, in a newsletter for Albany Village, (University of California married student housing) sometime between 1966 and 1970. To the left is my handwritten copy, recently acquired.

Holiday Sweets

I’ve written before (July 11, 2009 blog) about my issues with making desserts, especially baking. While I’m over being scared, I still don’t make desserts very often. For weekday dinners, Katherine and I try to stay away from sweets—for several reasons, all with an eye toward our spreading mid-sections. I do make them whenever friends and family come to dinner, especially during the holidays. I prefer them to be small and not too sweet. My daughter-in-law-Michelle and her friend Nicole continue to instruct me on these matters.

Chocolate Pots
These little pots are so good. And so easy. Nigella calls for 70% cocoa solids but I find that percentage just too intense. You can experiment for yourself. Some folks might be nervous about putting the raw egg into the chocolate mixture. If you are, don’t make this recipe. I’ve never had a problem.

6 ounces best-quality chocolate, minimum 62% cocoa solids
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon allspice, optional
1 egg at room temperature, use the freshest you can find
8 ¼-cup pots, sake cups, or tiny custard cups
Roasted strawberries during strawberry season, optional
A dab of slightly sweetened whipped cream, optional

1. Crush the chocolate to crumbs in the food processor.
2. Heat the cream and milk until just about boiling. Add the vanilla and the optional allspice to the milk and pour it through the funnel over the chocolate. Let it stand for 30 seconds.
3. Process for 30 seconds. Then crack the egg down the funnel and process for 45 seconds. It’s done.
4. Pour into whatever little cups you have and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Take them out about 20 minutes before you want to serve them.
Note: Don’t be tempted to use larger dishes. The chocolate is very intense and just a little is sufficient.

8 servings
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites

Apple Crumb Pie
This is such a delicious dessert. Basically it’s an Apple Crisp with a granola-like crust. A little more complicated than I usually make. But after a nice simple dinner, it is a splendid holiday treat. Plus I get to use more of my apples from the backyard tree.

1 cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
6 tablespoons butter, melted

6 cups peeled and sliced apples (about 7)
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon coriander
Zest from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice (½ Meyer lemon)

¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter
¼ cup finely chopped candied ginger, optional
Serving options: whipped cream or ice cream

1. Take your 8½-inch spring-form pan apart. Place a large sheet of aluminum foil over the round base/bottom of the pan. Place the sides on the base over the foil and attach to the base. Fold the excess foil up around the outside of the pan. (This procedure is an attempt to prevent leakage in baking.)
2. Place the crust ingredients in a bowl and stir with a fork until completely combined. Press the mixture into the bottom of the spring-form pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350°F.
3. Turn the temperature up to 375°F.
4. Place the apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl and stir until the sugar is evenly distributed. Pour the apples into the crust and press down lightly to even them out and pack them down.
5. Place the topping ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork, a pastry cutter, or your fingers until crumbly. Distribute evenly over the apples.
6. Place the pie in the oven with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drippings. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the apples are soft. If the top browns too quickly, cover the pan loosely with foil and continue baking. Cool on a rack.
7. To serve, slip a knife around the sides of the pan to loosen the filling; release the sides of the springform pan. Slide the pie off the spring-form bottom and onto a serving plate leaving the foil underneath. Peel the foil from around the edges, leaving the rest hidden underneath the pie. If you find an easy way to remove all of it, let me know. When you cut the pie, leave the foil on the serving plate. Serve the pie with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

6 servings
Adapted from Megan and Jill Carle’s Teens Cook Dessert.  This is a great cookbook for any young person you know who likes to cook.

Persimmon Bread

Finally my hachiya persimmons are soft enough for eating and baking. Slices of this persimmon bread are great with tea, as an appetizer with goat cheese, for dessert with whipped cream, or anytime you want a sweet holiday treat. These mini-loaves wrapped up with a bow make great holiday presents.

3½ cups flour
1½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2-2½ cups sugar (I use the smaller amount)
1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup Jack Daniels or cognac
2 cups persimmon purée (about 7 medium very soft hachiya persimmons)
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

1. Sift flour, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, and sugar together into a bowl. Mix together the melted butter, eggs, Jack Daniels, and persimmon purée.
2. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the melted butter mixture. Mix together. Fold in the nuts and raisins and mix well.
3. Pour the mixture into 6 buttered mini pans, filling ¾ full.
4. Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes; then turn out of the pans onto a rack to finish cooling. Wrap well in plastic wrap or foil. They freeze well.

Makes 6 mini loaves, 4 small loaves, or 2-3 regular loaves.
You’ll need to increase the baking time for the bigger loaves.
Adapted from Susan Weeks, Co-President, Meals on Wheels, Sonoma, as it appeared in The Sun, December 2005