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Mason Jars, Holidays, and Safety

Mason Jar Microwave Cakes

Mason Jar Microwave Cakes

I know putting things in mason jars is the very latest in foodie fads (if it’s 2010) but there are practical considerations to deal with. Here is one of them from Victoria-based private chef and recovering economist Janice Mansfield.

I know those little pies and cakes in mason jars are all over Pinterest, and they look as cute as buttons, but PLEASE do NOT bake your desserts in them!

Mason jars are made to be heatproof, but are not made to withstand dry heat (aka baking). Perfectly ok to use as serving dishes for things already cooked or made up. All it takes is one glass splinter to ruin your long-weekend barbeque!

Snack safely!!! and have a good one!

Happy Canada day to my friends in Canuckistan and Happy Independence Day to the Yanks!

Why Santa Gets Cookies at Christmas

Cookies for Santa

He's a handsy little fellas

We’re all familiar with the tradition of leaving out cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. Some smart households even supplement the offering with a glass of milk or eggnog, in the general interest of keeping the stealthy old bugger away from the liquor cabinet. But does anyone know why it’s cookies we offer instead of, say, aspic molds or cupcakes or platypus turnovers?

I do, and I’m here to tell you the secret.

Santa is a ninja.

No, wait, this makes total sense: Santa is a ninja, and he does not in fact eat all those cookies; goodness no! Imagine the calories in all those carb-laden treats! What Santa does is, he uses his magical powers, which already allow him to visit billions of homes leaving presents at each in a single night, to turn regular cookies into ninja cookies.

Stick with me here.

Before:

Christmas Gingerbread Men and Women, BEFORE

Christmas Gingerbread Men and Women, BEFORE

After:

Ninjabread men

Ninjabread Men: this is what happens when Santa gets his mitts on regular cookies

See how that works? And here’s a lovely Spode tidbit tray of Ninjabread Men, just exactly as you see them in the morning:

Spode Christmas tray chock full of ninjabread men

Cauldron Bubble

Why are Kathy and Bernard the ideal dinner guests? Because they bring their own dinner.chervil1.jpg

Saturday night Bernard braised a rack of pork in a marvelous dozen little artichokes, a few golden beets, garlic, chicken stock, white wine and some fresh chervil (also known as “gourmet’s parsley”). The sweetness of pork and beets nicely balanced the artichoke’s natural bitterness.

He cooked it in a huge cast-iron oval Dutch oven resembling the iron-clad USS Monitor. Manufactured by the venerable French ironmongers Cousances, now owned by Le Creuset, the pot seemed to lend its own unique flavors to the stew.

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Infinitesimal remains from dinners of yore boil and bubble imparting dark magic to the cauldron’s charmed ingredients.macbeth.JPG

Fillet of a fenny snake
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog

How can a pot contribute to flavor? Because it is never washed with soap.

While Kathy, good American girl, dutifully scrubs kitchen pots with soap and pad, Bernard the Frenchman gives his iron pot one hot rinse and calls it quits until tomorrow.

A Good Finish

finish-job.jpgLately Mr. Henry has been finishing things.

He has not been finishing half-written books, mind you, nor concluding business deals mired in the post-Bushian bog, nor even responding to stale holiday correspondence.

Mr. Henry has been finishing the chops, the fish filets, and the steaks. It’s quick and remarkably foolproof. Indeed, it’s the easiest way to look like a real chef.

Step One

Preheat your oven to 350º

Step Two

Having salted and spiced your pork chop, lamb chop, or what-have-you, sear it in a hot skillet with a bit of oil (and butter, too, if you want to live right). Get a good burn on one side, flip and do the same to the other. Your chop is now beautifully browned but raw in the middle.

Step Three

Pop the skillet into the oven. Depending on your chop’s thickness, this usually should not take more than 10 minutes. Poke it with your finger to feel doneness.

Step Four

Remove and let rest for at least five minutes. Slice and serve. (On a warm plate, if you please. Honestly, having come this far you can do that much extra preparation).

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For serious fun throw some sage leaves into the skillet at the turn. Crisped in the fatty oil they are a heavenly pleasure.ironskillet.jpg

 

On a fish filet Mr. Henry invariably adds a splash of white wine at the turn. Once in a while he adds capers or sage, too. Oh yes, and for a basic meuniere – dredged in flour – he doesn’t skimp on the butter.

Of course you will need a sauté pan with an ovenproof handle. For this operation a good old-fashioned twenty-dollar iron skillet is hard to beat.

Honeymoon pots and pans

Mr. Henry received this query from Oldersis:

Dear Mr. Henry,

Having read your postings on the most wonderful Manolo’s Food Blog, I am appealing to your expertise. My fiancé and I must register soon for all manner of kitchen implements. I already have my eye on the KitchenAid stand mixer (the one constant on every bridal registry I have ever seen) and I am taking your advice regarding the Cuisinart hand mixer to heart.

However, I am unsure about which pots and pans I should select. I am very much looking forward to removing the albatross of my current cheap pots and pans from around my neck and I think having beautiful and useful cookware will encourage me to try my hand at more cooking efforts. Do you have any suggestions?

Mr. Henry is not a man to shirk responsibility. Having received this request weeks ago, a heavy request for expertise in preparing the foundation of a marriage, no less, he has walked the streets of New York carefully mulling over a suitable response, one he hopes may still be timely.

The choice of wedding register cookware begs more fundamental questions. What sort of cook are you? What sort of cook do you hope to become? Do you want to feed your friends and relations on a weekly basis? Do you have plenty of cabinet space?

Because you are already a food blog reader, Oldersis, you likely take a serious approach to eating, a good sign for a healthy marriage. Mother Henry always admonished her son to choose a girl with a hearty appetite, a sign of robustness in all worldly pursuits.

Great food can be made with rudimentary implements. If you want to stock a mountain cabin, all you need is a cast iron skillet and an enamel (or other non-reactive) stock pot, either of which can be used on the stovetop or in the oven.

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In Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners, Alice (Audrey Meadows) cooked on a typical city stovetop barely big enough to hold two cheap pots at once. Ralph didn’t seem to miss any meals.

As a rule, the heavier the pot, the better the performance. Cast iron hold heat so well that when you throw in your meat or vegetable, the cooking surface temperature doesn’t reduce very much and everything cooks evenly. Likewise for sauce and soup pots, a heavy pot cooks from the sides as well as from the bottom and thus yields consistently good results.

But unless you have exceptionally strong wrists, handling a cast iron skillet is a difficult task. You risk dropping it, scratching your sink and countertop with it, or burning your hand from its hot handle.

Worse, if you don’t clean it quickly it will rust. Mr. Henry imagines that after a hot dinner on a cold night newlyweds have other priorities than cleaning up pots and pans.12-inallclad.jpg

Therefore, he no longer includes the cast iron skillet on his list of first essentials. He begins, instead, with the single most useful pan of all for two people, the 12-inch anodized aluminum non-stick skillet by All-Clad (either the LTD or the MC-2, your choice of finish). Anodized aluminum is a brilliant invention that replaced teflon a generation ago.

The reasons he keeps coming back to All-Clad are several: First, the rivets holding the handle to the pan fit snugly with no gaps to harbor bits of old food. The handle is well-balanced (an empty pan won’t tip), long enough to grab easily, constructed to resist getting too hot to hold bare-handed, and made of metal so you can begin a dish on the stovetop and finish it inside the oven.

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All-Clad makes five lines. The copper core line, unbeatable for conductivity, is very expensive for everyday use. If you think your in-laws really want to please you, however, get a few of these.

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Next on the list of essential implements is the 5.5 qt. LeCreuset enameled iron round dutch oven, the most versatile single kitchen pot, ideal for tomato sauces, soups, pot roasts, or steaming vegetables. It’s beautiful as a serving dish, too. (The 7.25 qt. model is so large that when full it becomes too heavy to handle.)

sauce.jpg

Mr. Henry adores his covered Le Creuset enameled sauciér, too, an all-purpose vegetable and sauce pot ideal for a two-person dinner. (You may use its heavy lid, as well, in a fry pan as a weight to help brown onions or mushrooms.)

To cook well, you need above all the ability to imagine with your nose, as well as an impish, insouciant predilection for flinging things about in the kitchen. The right pan helps, but can’t replace the right enthusiasm.

What you do not need are sets of pots and pans devised not by chefs but by merchandisers aiming squarely at you, the nervous newlywed who wants to get started on the right foot.

Buy yourself a new pan when you feel inspired to try a new dish or to establish a new direction.

[Mr. Henry has a personal, somewhat quirky, slightly misanthropic habit: Whenever he invites guests for dinner, he serves something he has never prepared before. In this way he imposes upon himself a certain obligation to pay attention to what he is doing lest he embarrass himself and his guests, too. Without this challenge his attention is likely to wander away from what’s happening on the fire.]

Years ago without explanation Mrs. Henry started making crepes on Sunday morning. Although she rarely buys anything more than a pair of sensible shoes in September, one day she sallied forth and bought the All-Clad crepe pan, a one-dish wonder that Mr. Henry scoffed at, thinking it would clutter up the pan drawer. Many hot crepes later, he wants to declare here and now how very wrong he was about this.

In response, Mr. Henry bought the LeCreuset oval gratin dish (in flame, of course). She scoffed, but now her roasted potatoes demand it.

Appliance science

Kitchenaid stand mixer

Can there be a more beautiful object anywhere in the home than the aristocratic KitchenAid stand mixer? Countertop-challenged New Yorkers gaze longingly at such a status vehicle the way other Americans gaze at a Jaguar.

KitchenAid blender
The KitchenAid bar blender is equally sleek, but there is dissent about its practical application. Mrs. Henry maintains that it is too noisy and, worse, that its beaker is too wide at the bottom. As a consequence her modern morning smoothie of banana, berries, juices, and Dr. Schulze’s SuperFood (a sinister green concoction of algae, seaweed, grasses, and yeast) gets stuck inside.

Each and every morning brings a fresh episode of the same drama. Chasing Little Henry round the table she cries, “Drink! It will change your life!” By the time she coaxes the last dollop out of the blender, however, Little Henry, who has never tasted the stuff, has made a clean escape out the door to catch the bus.

Color choices for kitchen appliances are style decisions that tellingly reflect family values. Though never one to foist his opinion upon others, Mr. Henry maintains that appliances which reside on countertops should be (like underwear) either white or black. Blaring colors like pistachio and pink deflect the eye from the machine’s (or the torso’s) principal attraction, namely, its sublimely engineered shape.

horst.jpg

With regard to the KitchenAid bar blender, however, since Mr. Henry never uses the thing, he really doesn’t care.

The Waring or the Osterizer have narrower bases and might be better. He simply admires their shape – pure modern aerodynamic heaven, like the 20th-Century Limited, New York to Chicago, a voyage into the future.

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The gadget he reaches for time and again, however, is the Cuisinart hand blender. For apple sauce, cream soups, mashed root vegetables, and the like, it’s perfect. Immersible in hot liquids, it comes apart for easy cleaning.

Cuisinart hand blender

Microwave ovens perpetually annoy. The door closing with a sharp clack succeeds in awakening both the noble hound sleeping deeply on her bed and the worthy father napping earnestly on his couch. When foods are suitably nuked, infernal micro-beeps pierce every corner of the household. Microwave ovens are NOT on Mr. Henry’s Christmas list. He longs to construct a kitchen without one, but they are too darned useful.

Battleship for braising

Mr. Henry’s notion of holiday cheer comprises eating, drinking, bah and humbug in equal parts. He resists participating in national frenzies like Christmas bargain-hunting, college football rivalries, or presidential primaries. He admits to being a complete devotee, however, of religious music, and in pursuit of it will spend long hours seated on cold cathedral pews.

For the benefit of his faithful readers and in collegial competition with Twistie’s suggestions last week, Mr. Henry here reveals the first installment of items personally used by and personally endorsed by Mrs. Henry herself – high arbiter of practical good sense. You may present these at Christmas fully confident of escaping the whispered ridicule of loved ones.

dutchoven.jpg

Twistie’s endorsement of the Le Creuset 5.5 quart enameled iron Dutch oven is not overstated. The Dutch oven Mrs. Henry recommends, however, is the 6.75 quart oval Le Creuset (in flame), a veritable battleship for braising, the superior combat weapon for pulled pork or pot roast, big enough to ensure plenty of leftovers and commandingly beautiful on the table.

 

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Although the round oven yields marvelous roasts and stews and works fine enough for risotto, for his own risotto Mr. Henry prefers something with a shallower lip and a non-stick surface. His uses the Swiss Diamond 4.3 quart sauté pan with transparent ovenproof lid and steam escape valve. Although lightweight, the Swiss Diamond conducts heat reliably. The risotto will cook to crunchy perfection yet not stick. (The trick for risotto, no matter which pan you choose, is to make sure the broth you add is piping hot.)

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For sauté pans, there is no finer instrument than the All-Clad non-stick. If you are ambitious enough to attempt a béchamel or other eggy French sauce, however, you may want to spend the vacation money on an All-Clad copper core sauce pan. It holds heat so well that as you add cool ingredients to your sauce its temperature doesn’t drop very far. With this pan you become a magician of the wooden spoon.

coppercore.jpg

Mr. Henry falls in love

When Mary came in from the country carrying a diapered basket of fresh-laid hens eggs, Mr. Henry stared at their beautiful light blue and speckled brown shells wondering, “How can he do justice to these most perfect of nature’s industrial designs?”

eggs.jpegFor the preparation of perfect scrambled eggs unsullied by even the slightest fatty aroma from his trusty cast iron pan, a pan that did such yeoman service these many years, he decided that the time was finally ripe to spend an astonishing $99 on the ultimate professional stove-top tool – a pan that would not waste even one morsel of Mary’s eggs stuck to its sides, a pan that would not force Mr. Henry to further inflame his mouse-flicking right forearm tendon in a heavy-duty clean-up.

Mr. Henry is in love with his new 8-inch All-Clad copper core fry pan with stainless steel face.

For the ultimate three-minute breakfast or lunch, place your copper core pan on a low flame for a good two minutes until its magical golden center is ready to radiate. (A dollop of crème fraîche in the eggs lends a marvelous creamy tanginess.) You may use a metal spatula here – none of this mamby-pamby plastic – because the stainless steel is not harmed by tiny scratches. Toast two slices of Amy’s organic peasant wheat sourdough bread on which to place your velvety confection. Throw in butter. Almost as soon as your eggs hit the pan they are done.

If you soak your pan while you dine, the clean-up is effortless. The gently flared lip, the long metal oven-ready handle, and most of all the superior browning capabilities of the stainless face with copper core have left Mr. Henry in a swoon not matched since he first drove Mrs. Henry’s BMW. Car owners speak of the interface between man and machine. Mr. Henry is fully satisfied by All-Clad’s high-speed performance.