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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Spice is a state of mind: cabbage thoran

Good information for all of us who cook using spices.

The Odd Pantry

Cabbage thoran Cabbage thoran

Sometimes spice is just a state of mind. Plants don’t come with Dymo-printed labels that say ‘Spice use recommended’.

Now you might think I’m making an issue out of nothing. Obviously, plants that produce a strong appetizing smell can be used as spices, and others not, right? No mind tricks necessary.

But consider what happens during the process of blooming spices, otherwise known as tempering, or tadka. A sequence of spices are thrown into hot oil. They may be seeds — like cumin or black mustard, dry leaves like the bay, or even bits of bark — like cinnamon.

If the temperature is too low, nothing particular happens, while if the temperature is too high, the spice burns. But if the temperature is just right, two things happen. One, the outer surface of the spice browns. This browning, known as the Maillard reaction, is the perfect state of cooked food…

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Homemade Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

I just have to pass this along–chipotle peppers are something I use rather often. I think this will beat the tinned ones from the supermarket.

Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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My favorite kind of chiles are chipotles because of their smokiness. Chipotles in adobo sauce, a sauce made from tomatoes and ancho chiles, are a great condiment. I love them for instance with chicken, mushrooms and cream. Chipotles in adobo sauce are available in cans, but since I like to make everything from scratch, I wanted to try making my own chipotles in adobo. I used a recipe by Pati’s Mexican table. It wasn’t hard at all, and the result was amazing. Chipotles in adobo from a can are great, but these homemade chipotles in adobo sauce have a more complex and well-rounded flavor. I will definitely make them again. I made a few adjustments, most importantly not using fresh tomatoes because they are out of season (and even if they were in season, tomatoes here are not that great). Here’s my version.

Ingredients

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For about 850 ml (3…

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Popcorn….

For the most part I’ll pass on “snacks foods” except for popcorn! I love popcorn–not the microwave bags that come from the supermarket–but made from real popcorn kernels that come in a jar or a bag with nothing added.

Sriracha sauce bottles

“Rooster” sauce

I tend to sprinkle my popcorn with garlic powder, or chilli powder, or…whatever seems appropriate at the time.

While browsing the internet I found two “recipes” for popcorn that I thought I should share just in case there might be other popcorn lovers out there somewhere.

One of the staples in my kitchen is Sriracha sauce–never mind the Texas Pete or the Tabasco, but must have Sriracha around.  I’d not though of using it with my favorite snack of popcorn, so when I stumbled on a reference to that I just had to check it out.

One is for rosemary parmesan popcorn and the other for Sriracha popcorn, both from Taste Love & Nourish–from someone who is obviously a popcorn lover too.

chili garlic sauce

chili garlic sauce

Since I like garlic with my popcorn, I think I’ll try this with my other favorite condiment Chili Garlic (from the makers of Rooster sauce) though the consistency is different, but worth a try as well.

I think I’ll get out the chili garlic stuff and a paper bag–though I do have a microwave popcorn popper that you can use as a bowl, so I guess I dispense with the paper bag.

Now what do I want for a beverage with this one?

Potato and cabbage soup

I like soup for a meal–if it’s a good hearty soup with lots of veggies and maybe some meat in it. All it takes is cold weather and I’m especially interested in soup. Well, we’ve got the cold weather right now and it’s apparently going to last a while, too. I’ve a small “dinner” ham–I’ve sliced part of it to use for sandwiches, and cubed part–some will go in mac ‘n’ cheese (in the rice cooker), and it seemed that part of it would be good for soup–some to eat now and some to freeze for later meals.

Looking in the fridge, I discovered a head of cabbage and some red potatoes, and, of course, ham.

  • a medium yellow onion, chopped and lightly browned in a scant tablespoon of bacon fat (or oil).
  • Two good serving of ham, in 1/2-inch cubes, browned.
  • Garlic, about 6 good-size cloves, coarsely chopped, and cooked with the ham and onion until it starts to smell fragrant.
  • several healthy shakes of hot red pepper flakes added and “toasted” with the ham an onions.
  • about 1/2 teaspoon of kala jeera (black cumin) added to toast just a bit with the contents of the pan.
  • Two bay leaves added to the pan.
  • Three cups water to degaze the good brown fond from the bottom of the pan (add more later if needed when all the ingredients are in the pot). Bring to a simmer.
  • Three medium red potatoes cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes and added to the pot.
  • Cabbage, 1/2 small head cut into 3/4-inch pieces, or shredded if you prefer, added to the simmering pot. Add more water if needed to just barely cover.
  • Put the pot into a 250°F oven, and ignore for about 2 hours (I was working on an index and didn’t want to have to mind the pot on the stovetop).
cabbage, potato, and ham soup

meal in a bowl

Since cabbage keeps so well, I almost always have it in the crisper, and potatoes, too. I’ve done similar soups  (starting with the onions, potatoes, and cabbage–varying the seasoning, of course) with various sausages–kielbasa being a particular favorite. I’ve used leftover roast, steak, chicken, or chops in similar soups as well. If the meat is already cooked, I’ll use broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef) instead of water.

The kala jeera has a rather flowery flavor (and you want to use it in small amounts as it could be a bit overwhelming, but the hint of the floweriness was a nice contrast to the smokiness of the ham and the earthiness of the cabbage.

Cabbage with juniper berries

I’ve always liked cabbage–slaw, steamed, and even boiled if it was not cooked to mush. I’ll even just nuke a wedge with a little olive oil and salt sprinkled over it and call it a vegetable dish. It’s a good keeper that doesn’t get foul if it stays in the crisper for a while–especially if you just peel off the leaves from the outside of the head as you need them, instead of cutting the head in pieces.

Cover of book

Nigel Slater’s “Tender”

I’ve read a lot of Nigel Slater lately (Kitchen Diaries, Ripe, and Tender). I like his style: very descriptive of the garden, and the kitchen–almost makes me feel that I’m right there with him. I’m anticipating the followup volumes for Tender and Kitchen Diaries; his website is also well worth checking out.

Tender is a vegetable cookbook (as well as a gardening book)–not a vegetarian cookbook, though most recipes could be pretty easily adapted if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion.  The discussion of each vegetable includes cooking as well as growing information, and most delightfully, a discussion of seasonings for the vegetable.

His recipes are simple, designed to make the most of excellent fruits and vegetables without being at all fussy.  Quantities are rather loosely given, which makes it ideal for my improvisational style of cooking for myself (and the cat). I’ve found all sorts of thing I want to try, but here is one that particularly caught my fancy–perhaps because it’s fall, or maybe just because I had a head of cabbage in the crisper.

One of the seasoning he mentioned for cabbage was juniper berries. I’ve used juniper berries for other dishes, but can’t honestly say that I’d ever thought of trying them with cabbage.  Here’s what I did to try this out.

Cabbage with juniper berries

Ingredients

  • About 6 leaves from a medium head of cabbage
  • 3 juniper berries
  • dash of red pepper flakes if desired for spice
  • dash of salt to taste
  • small pat of butter

Preparation

  • Flatten the leaves on a cutting board and cut into bite-size pieces
  • Add crushed juniper berries, (see note below.), chili flakes if desired, and salt.
  • Toss the cabbage to distribute seasonings.
  • Add butter and 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Cover and microwave for about 4 to 6 minutes, until cabbage is still bright green, but tender (See NOTE).
  • Serve.

Cook’s notes

  • Though I used white cabbage, I’m sure this would be fine with red or savoy cabbage as well.
  • The juniper berries are very oily, so I did not put them in my spice grinder–I used a mortar and pestle that could be cleaned easily.
  • The microwave really seems to bring out the heat in the chili peppers, so add less than you might were you just going to sauté the cabbage.
  • The amount of water needed will depend on whether the cabbage is just washed and still wet, and/or how tight the cover is. I don’t usually use plastic wrap, but Pyrex bowls with vented covers, so I do lose some steam.
  • Sauté or steam-sauté would work as well–I just didn’t want to wash another pan when I was preparing this after a day of indexing work.

I’ve tried it now–right up there with caraway seeds.The combination is a winner–I’m not sure I can easily describe what the juniper berries do for the cabbage, but it certainly puts it in a different class from “boiled” cabbage that I grew up with and what is typical of “southern” cooking. I think it adds background earthiness and complexity to the flavor. It was no longer “just” cabbage!

It was a side for roast turkey thighs, but I can easily see this as a great side for pork, or most particularly for duck legs or duck confit.  I’ll certainly make it again–probably on many occasions.

I didn’t use extra virgin olive as I normally might with cabbage because I just could not get the flavors of that and the juniper berries together in my head. (Cabbage with a little extra virgin olive oil is excellent, though.) If I were making this to go with duck, I make it with duck fat instead of butter.

bowl of cooked cabbage

cabbage with juniper berries

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