Friday, April 29, 2011

Road Trippin’ to Oregon for an Edible Garden

Road tripping – music to my ears. Especially when it’s with one of my best friends since seventh grade and we’re headed to a garden show! Pack up the VW, pump up the tunes, pump in the Starbucks, and – WOOHOO – we’re off!

I have been a gardener since I bought my home 8 years ago. But my friend, Angela, has been a gardener her entire life, thanks to her mother, and Snohomish County recently certified her a master gardener (check out her blog: Gardening In My Rubber Boots). I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from her over the years, mostly about which plants are great for my shady, woodland yard, but also about organic gardening, killing slugs, and, most recently, edible gardening.

Up until now, my boyfriend has been the veggie gardener in our little slice of the woods amid Microsoft country, growing mostly bitter greens and tomatoes, which I refuse to eat. (Yes, I am Italian and no, I don’t eat tomatoes, and yes, I know it’s a sin.) I’ve always maintained the herb terrace, which includes Italian and Greek varieties of oregano, thyme, cilantro, chives, and, of course, rosemary, among others. Cooking with fresh herbs is a staple and a luxury I insist on in my kitchen, but growing veggies: not so much.

Recently, thanks to my urban gardening friend, I’ve been introduced to growing the veggies I adore –green beans, edamame (soybeans), potatoes, and even Brussels sprouts! I don’t eat raw tomatoes, but I heart Brussels sprouts – go figure. We have pickled and canned green beans with garlic and dill from the garden, made the most amazing green tomato marmalade and even homemade mustard, which turned out exceptional. I’ve been told that I need to make it in bulk and sell it at farmers markets. Someday, maybe.

This year I’ve got even bigger goals, with the help of Ms. Master Gardener Angela: home grown and homemade tomato sauce, salsa and canning galore to last me through the long, rainy winters we have here in Seattle. Thus, this road trip to the Clackamus County Master Gardeners Spring Garden Fair in Canby, Oregon! (That’s a mouthful and a half!)

Us Snoqualmie Valley-raised girls are on a mission for new and unique veggies, fruits and herbs to create our edible gardens for the year and it’s gonna be a blast! Commence road trip in 3, 2, 1… WOOHOO!

I’m going to take you along on our journey, so stay tuned for pictures, stories and updates on the progress of our edible garden adventures from garden to table throughout the upcoming year.

Happy Edible Gardening!

ChefTools Foodie: Sara.

What's a fondant?

I have never been interested in fondant. I have never eaten it, nor have I seen it used outside of those extreme cake shows on the Food Network. Those shows actually drive me a little nuts. Fondant is also a little scary to me. It seems so delicate, and gives me flashbacks to the first time I tried to make dumplings, which ended with me nearly in tears and a kitchen that looked like the scene of a horrific crime.

So, I am in awe when I find a blog like Pink Little Cake. It is quite nice to find someone with such a delicate, subtle touch, and who is a good instructor. She does not work exclusively with fondant, but does a great job with it. Most recently, a simple (appearing) way to make tiny roses; an elegant cake topping. She combined punk rock aesthetics with Easter and fondant here (Steve Ignorant would approve of the homemade approach, I'm sure). And she goes all the way up the scale with a replica of a Burberry purse. (And just for the sake of salivation, she made this lemon cake.)

Is fondant the American contribution to the world of food art? If Japan gave the world sushi, has America given the food world (besides hamburgers) pop-culture cake sculpture? I cannot find any useful history of fondant on the Internet – does anyone have any thoughts as to its origins, and how it’s become so popular in contemporary cake decorating?

I will not be attempting to use fondant anytime soon. I like making food that’s more … durable? I will never get frustrated if my home fries come out looking like a compost bin, because there is no expectation of prettiness. But I will tune in to Pink Little Cake every now and then to marvel at the craftsmanship.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bodum sponsors latte art contest

You must know how to draw a rosetta to get a barista job at a coffee shop in Seattle. But that’s entry-level stuff. Most baristas around here can draw anything from Slimer (the green guy from “Ghostbusters”) to roses, Volkswagen Beetles, and baseballs. Pretty much anything – and all with a little bit of foam (soy or regular, doesn’t matter).

So, it’s kind of disappointing to see that no locals from here won in’s coffee art contest, which was sponsored by Bodum, one of the fine brands carries. I understand someone from Intelligentsia (supposedly the best coffee shop between Cape Cod and San Francisco) winning, but the grand prize went to a North Carolinian? Oh well, she definitely deserved it.

But it was cool of Bodum to sponsor the event. Pick up a stovetop espresso maker or French press, a frothing pitcher and a frother and practice making rosettas at home.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My friend, the cast iron skillet

This morning I was reading this article in Saveur Magazine about 9 kitchen items that are worth their weight in truffle oil; that is, they’re an investment, but guaranteed to last.

There were a couple of obvious ones, like Global chef’s knives, or the Le Creuset Dutch Oven (which we are extremely proud to carry), or a sturdy mandoline. But the one that stuck out to me was the cast iron skillet.

“My roommate's mother bought him this cast iron skillet when he moved into this apartment 13 years ago. This is an easy, incredibly affordable piece to invest in. Seasoning takes time and care, but a good cast iron skillet can last generations. You can bake in it, you can fry in it, the heat distributes evenly, and all it requires of you is a little bit of TLC. Its weight also makes it excellent for weighting down grilled sandwiches,” reads the article.

Last for generations, indeed. I inherited a cast iron skillet from my grandmother a couple of years ago. I have no idea how old it is; one would have to use carbon dating to find out. All I know is that when I picked it up for the first time, I could feel the 20, 30 or 40 years’ worth of baking, frying and sautéing in it.

The heft of the thing appealed to me more than any newer nonstick pan. I recognized the skillet as a primitive instrument; something from before the Industrial Revolution. You could cook cornbread in it over an open fire, or use it as a hammer (I have done both). It can be dangerous: I once grabbed the handle barehanded after removing it from the oven; it burned like nothing I have ever felt before. I threw the skillet across the kitchen, and it landed on the floor, cracking the linoleum and sub-floor (it was an old apartment, with a rather shoddy floor).

I clean my cast iron skillet with Kosher salt and a damp rag. I use my cast iron skillet to regulate the temperature of my oven. I use it as a weight to drain tofu (a new experience for it, I imagine). I throw ice in it to proof bread in the oven. It tells me when it is preheated with the distinct smell of warm iron and hot oil. The black bottom still shines when it is clean.

The cast iron skillet is an indispensable kitchen tool. It can cook rice, or a birthday cake, or prop open a door. And it won’t complain. Just make sure to wear a potholder.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Beautiful, mouthwatering ... ice?

I never thought I’d be hungry for ice, but this Wall Street Journal article makes me crave a drink with a big, sharp cube. Even better, has one of the products they highlight for perfect ice. Tovolo ice cube trays are silicone, which anyone who has ever banged a plastic tray on a counter knows is superior. The WSJ writer expounds on the need for perfect ice:

"When it comes to ice, size does matter, not to mention shape, density and clarity. If you prefer your Scotch on the rocks, beware: Small, brittle ice will quickly dilute years of cask aging. No one wants a Bruichladdich slushie.

But large cubes or spheres of ice will melt more slowly, bringing your drink closer to the temperature of the ice without over-diluting it. Larger pieces, such as spears the length of a glass, are ideal for keeping tall, carbonated beverages chilled. And there's a place for pebbled and crushed ice, too: mint juleps, swizzles and many tiki drinks wouldn't be possible without them."

Check out our full line of Tovolo ice cube trays, including the Tovolo King Cube Extra Large Silicone tray.

Easter baking bonanza: Le Creuset cooking tool challenge

I had the extremely good fortune last week of being able to take home a Le Creuset silicone spatula and basting brush. Sometimes we get a couple of extra products here at, which means free tools for our kitchens, and product reviews for you.

Christopher Kimball I am not, but I did put the Le Creuset tools through some paces this past Easter weekend, and I’m proud to report they did great. I have actually never owned a silicone tool before – I prefer wooden spatulas, turners, mixing spoons etc. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well these Le Creuset tools performed.

I made a loaf of French bread on Sunday morning, and I used the spatula to scrape down the side of a mixing bowl. The spatula (it’s the medium sized one) made great contact with the stainless steel bowl, and didn’t leave any extra dough stuck to the sides. The silicone conformed to the bowl’s shape and was nimble on corners.

Next, I used the basting brush to spread olive oil over the dough as I was preparing to let it rise. The bristles held the oil well. However, the bristles did pick up little specks of wet dough; I thought it would be a bit of a dish washing nightmare, but I was surprised to find that the silicone cleaned great. The dough came right off under the faucet, even off the inside bristles.

Later on Sunday, I made a cake. I do not like using a lot of sugar in frosting (I get sugar headaches), so I wanted to frost the cake with something light, but tasty. All I had was a couple of chunks of dark chocolate (the bitter kind). So, I melted it in the microwave, added a little soymilk, salt and strawberry juice (from the bottom of the strawberry container) and ended up with a nice, smooth frosting. I microwaved the chocolate in a cappuccino mug (it was all I had), which has steep sides. I used the Le Creuset spatula to spoon the frosting out of the cup and onto the cake, and to spread it. It worked great – actually, as I looked around my kitchen, I didn’t see anything else that I could have spread frosting with; and certainly nothing that could get around all the corners inside that cappuccino mug.

The Le Creuset tools were great, not to mention they look nice. The handles are sturdy and made of wood, and the silicone is wrapped tightly around it. Some of my co-workers took home these tools, too, so we’ll have more reports on how they perform. I’m curious to see how they do in a non-baking setting. Check back to find out!