Popcorn!

I am a big fan of popcorn. I’ll take that over potato chips, or any other variety of chips almost any time. It’s just the thing to go with a good book while you’re having a duvet day.

PopCorn MakerYou can probably even make a case that it is at least “healthy-ish”–compared to most other snacks that come in bags from the grocery store–and it’s more fun. You can custom tailor the seasoning to fit your mood. At least I know what’s in it if I’ve popped and seasoned it myself.

I’ve gotten very fond of my Lékué PopCorn Maker for making popcorn in the microwave (and that’s about the only thing I do in the microwave).  I will admit to using oil (usually about 1-1/2  tablespoons of olive oil for about 1/3 cup popcorn) when popping popcorn. For some awesome popcorn, use just a little Baklouti chili pepper (fused) olive oil (about 1 teaspoon) with the regular olive oil. Wow!

Other favorite infused oils (all from Bull City Olive Oil) to touch up my popcorn with are harissa, chipotle, or garlic.

While I don’t often do stove-top popcorn, I did find some interesting suggestions for other flavorings to try from Taste in “Really Good Popcorn“: brewer’s yeast, dulse flakes (I know I like other seaweed seasonings), and Urfa biber (described as in that article as “a dried Turkish chile pepper with a raisin-like sweetness, a subtle spice, and the gentle acidity of a lightly roasted Ethiopian coffee”–that sounds totally great.  Since I’ve used Aleppo pepper on popcorn and that makes this sound very interesting to me.

A son gôut!

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Holiday time again….

Like it or not the holiday season approaches. I’ve one Christmas gift to order yet, but then I’m through. I thought I’d pass on a few suggestions for gifts for those of you who still have a cooking person on your list to shop for:

  • Volrath French carbon steel skillet: probably my most-used, it has the advantages of cast iron, without the weight.
  • Romertopf clay cooker: a go-to especially for one-dish meals in cold weather.
  • Home espresso machine: Can’t start the morning without my jolt of caffeine either straight espresso or café latte.
  • Clever Coffee Dripper: If I’m not wanting quite the jolt of espresso this gets something more like French press, with the benefit of a filter to eliminate the sediment.
  • Kunh Rincon garlic press: If garlic is a cooking necessity, a garlic press can be a time-saver, or it can be a total nuisance when you have to clean it, so you don’t use it. This is a good one, recommended by Cook’s Illustrated after testing lots of them.*
  • Max Burton Portable Induction cook unit: Live where it’s hot and humid in the summer? You just hate to turn on the stove? Induction cooking is much cooler–though it does require cookware that is either stainless steel or iron.  If a magnet won’t stick on your cookware, then you need the Hob Heat Diffuser that will allow you to use other cookware with the induction unit.
  • Pressure cooker: The Fissler FSSFIS5859 Vitaquick Pressure Cooker was the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated testing* and is pricey.  The runner-up was the Fagor Duo line, less pricey, highly recommended and noted as “best buy”. (This is the one I’ve used.) This cooker does work with induction cook units–a real plus in hot, humid weather when you still want those dried beans cooked.
  • Fasta Pasta Microwave pasta cooker: This is a real gem to have in the kitchen! So much easier than boiling that big pot of water–again great in hot, humid weather, but once you start using it, you’re hooked. Again this is a kitchen “gadget” that was tested by Cook’s Illustrated.*
  • If the cook you’re shopping for is just getting a kitchen set up, there’s always some of the essentials for good cooking: Penzeys herbs and spices, either basic, for bakers or for the cook starting to branch out, a do-it-yourself box of specialty herbs and spices.  If you have someone on your list who has to watch sodium intake, there are lots of salt-free blends. If you buying for a cook pressed for time, seasoning blends can be real time-savers–in my kitchen I don’t want to be without herbes de Provence for that time when I’m just too rushed to think blending my own.
  • For relaxation and enjoyment,  either alone or with company, a selection off teas to have on a leisurely morning, or relaxing afternoon break.  Harney & Sons Master Tea Blenders have a fantastic selection–black, green, herbal, flavored, and all the accessories necessary to make a special occasion. Teas can be ordered individually, or there are collections ready made.  If you’re unsure what tea would please your “giftee” most, then send a selection of samples–for a modest $2 you can send enough to brew a decent pot of many teas. Some very expensive ones–e.g. Black King which rings up at $240.00/pound–the sample may run $5. What a great way to let someone explore fine teas–treat yourself.
  • Like a liqueur to sip while relaxing? If you’re in North Carolina, there are some lovely liqueurs made in Durham by the Brothers Vilgalys: Krupnikas, a spice honey liqueur would be a real treat, or look at the unusual liqueurs they make: Beatmik, Beebop, Zaphod, and Jabberwok.  All are great in cocktails, for just sipping straight, added to hot chocolate or hot cocoa.  If you’re not in North Carolina you may still be able to get these delightful liqueurs through other distributors.

Wishing you and your favorite cook very happy holidays–lots of good food, friends, conversations, as well as wines and spirits!

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*Cook’s Illustrated equipment testing is done without manufacturers knowledge until after publication, and products tested are chosen for consumer benefit. They do not accept requests for testing from manufacturers.

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Rice-cooker pasta with tomato sauce

Some days  a big serving of pasta with a simple tomato sauce is really necessary–it’s kind of attitude adjustment on a plate. On some of those days, it has to be really hands-off since I’m slaving at the computer with a deadline and just can’t be mucking about in the kitchen even though I want something to eat.

One of my favorite “comfort-food” sauces is the very simple one from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking–“Tomato Sauce with Onions and Butter” (p. 152).  Not even any garlic.

Krups rice cooker IMG_3796Even though it’s not complicated to make, I wanted it even easier since I had to meet indexing deadline.  I decided to try it in the rice cooker since that’s work well for other pasta dishes.  (I’m NOT kidding–you can cook  pasta in the rice cooker, been doing it ever since I first made mac ‘n’ cheese that way from the recipe that was included with the Krups rice cooker).  This is one where I don’t mind having “leftovers”.

Pasta with tomato sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 14.5 ounce (411 gm) can of diced tomatoes (no added salt)
  • 1 small onion, diced fine
  • 2 tablespoons of butter (also good with olive oil, if you want to avoid the butter–or for a change)
  • salt to taste
  • grated parmigiano-reggiano (for the table)
  • 100 grams pasta of your choice
  • 200 (about 1 cup or 250 mL) water.

Preparation

  • Microwave the onion with the butter until the onion is soft and translucent. eat
  • Add the onions, butter, tomatoes (undrained), salt, and pasta to the rice cooker.
  • Turn on rice cooker and continue working until you smell it–about 15 to 20 minutes, and with a little minor adjustment, it should be ready to eat.

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The Krups rice cooker (with slow-cooking and steaming functions as well) is not one of the fancy “fuzzy logic” ones.  Just simple physics of boiling water–it turns itself to warm when the temperature starts to rise when the water has been absorbed and the temperature goes above 212°F.  Simple–and easy to manipulate when you understand how it works.

For this rice cooker, the ratio of liquid to pasta needs to be 2.5:1 for al dente pasta. If it’s not quite there, just add about 1/2 cup more liquid and turn it back on.  When the rice cooker switches to warm function, the pasta will be fairly dry since this depends on all the liquid being absorbed.  If you’re hanging about in the kitchen, peek in about 15 minutes later and check the pasta and the consistency of the sauce. –

I usually  add a bit less liquid –maybe 50 mL short–let the cooker switch to warm, and then add just a bit more liquid, stirring the pasta, to thin the sauce a little, give it a few minutes to heat, and  then eat!

I used spaghetti for this, but broke it in half since full length won’t fit in the rice cooker.  So far this has worked for all the pasta types I’ve tried–penne, conchiglie, farfalle, fusilli, gemelli, macaroni, orzo, and, now spaghetti.  (I’ve only tried “flat” pasta (read “noodles”) once and that has been the only time the pasta stuck together, though that might have been lack of oil during the cooking–or the difference in flour and eggs in the pasta.

It may not be fancy, but….a son goût!

A jar opener that actually works

Black & Decker Lids Off jar opener

.It works!

I’m not one for a lot of kitchen gadgets but I have one that I wouldn’t want to be without–a Black & Decker  Lids Off jar opener.  I had tried all sorts in the past and really given up on all of them until a friend brought me one of these that she found on a prowl through a thrift shop–so it was cheap.  From Amazon.com they are NOT cheap–but if mine were to crump on me I’d be trolling through thrift shops or Amazon.com looking for another one.

I’ve only found two jars that it wouldn’t open–one was a Costco-sized jar of roasted red peppers–in other word, huge–so the upper grips wouldn’t spread quite enough to hold the lid.  The other was a jar with very rounded edges to the lid–also a jar of roasted red peppers–though smaller size.

This is not a bottle opener–it’s not designed for beer bottles or lids less than about 1-1/2-inches in diameter–I’ve not had occasion to try smaller than that. I used it on jars about 2-1/2-inches in height. The jar with the lid that was too big was a 4-inch diameter, so it does do a good range of sizes. (Have another gadget from the hardware store to handle these now.)

Even with those two “failures” this is a kitchen must if you have difficulty with opening jars for any reason.  It folds down for storage so it doesn’t have to stay on the counter all the time, but the handle on top lets you move it easily–altogether a worthwhile kitchen gadget!