Thursday, May 12, 2011

The spears of spring are here!


Winter is over, asparagus is here. I spied my first display of the spring-green spears at my local Safeway last Sunday. Instinctively, like pressing the brake at a stoplight, I put the bundle of asparagus in my cart. Later that night, I ate them fresh from the oven, crunchy and dripping with olive oil, sea salt and garlic.

It was only a couple of years ago that I learned to love asparagus. I had steered clear of it for years, remembering how my parents used to overcook it, serving it up mushy, stringy and smelling unappetizingly pungent. My friend brought a bunch to a barbeque a couple of years ago and threw the spears on the grill wrapped in tinfoil, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. She’s from northern Michigan, where asparagus grows abundantly, and was well-versed in preparing the vegetable. So trying her version was a revelation.

I have since made sure, like tomatoes, potatoes, onions and carrots, to make asparagus part of my produce-buying routine. Asparagus is such a meaty, satisfying vegetable, like mushrooms or fingerlings. I still think grilling is the best way to prepare asparagus – a method I do not have access to in my current living situation. Head over to Bon App├ętit magazine, though, for a great reflection on the vegetable, and some tips (har, har) on preparing it.

Introducing: paper bakeware


Like a cupcake wrapper, but bigger.

That’s the best way to describe the line of paper bakeware by Welcome Home Brands that we just added to ChefTools.com.

My biggest concern as an occasional home baker is pan-to-baked good physics. Will this cake stick or come out clean? How do I cut these brownies with this metal pan in the way? Can I alter the particle composition of my spatula so it can pass through the wall of the pan and get horizontal underneath my treats (just like this X-Men character I’m thinking about)?

Of course, when baking cupcakes, you don’t have to worry about any of this. You just pour the batter into the wrapper, bake and remove the cupcakes when they’re ready to eat. And, peeling that wrapper back is kind of fun.

So, imagine if you could apply the same method to cake, brownies, crispy treats, or whatever other sugary baked good you create. Plus, the bakeware looks nice, so you can feel good about plopping it down in the middle of the table after Thanksgiving dinner, rather than your 20-year-old dented aluminum pan.

Oh, and I almost forgot: you don’t have to clean anything. I think we all know that sugar + flour + water + 2 hours left sitting on the counter = cake concrete.

So, check this stuff out. These are not a substitute for metal or silicone bakeware pieces – especially if you’re a voracious baker - but if you only bake occasionally and for special occasions (if you’re like me, it’s about 6 times per year), you might want to try paper bakeware.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Spaghetti scrubber test


How ironic: last night I used the Goodbye Detergent! spaghetti scrubber to clean out a pot I had used to make pasta. I mix pasta and sauce in the same pot, so it was quite soiled. Since I had been lazy about the dishwashing, the marinara sauce was a little dry, and some bits of pasta were still stuck to the bottom.

I was lucky to have the spaghetti scrubber (it’s another one of those products that we get to test; I was given it to take home last Thursday), since the only other implement I had was a plain old sponge. If you’re looking at the picture of the scrubber and wondering how it works – as I did when I first saw a picture – it’s basically a tangle of cotton and polyester strands embedded with corn cob smithereens. It’s a gentle abrasive.

I can report that the scrubber cleaned the pot well. It took one pass to clear off the sauce (keep in mind, this was a huge pot with deep sides, and I had succeeded in coating basically the entire thing with sauce), though I had to work at the pasta stuck to the bottom. I like the scrubber because it does not gross me out like steel wool, and it’s easier to maneuver than a brush. It also does not need soap to work, so it could be useful for non-stick surfaces and cast iron.

I still felt weird cleaning up pasta with “pasta.” I guess it’s not as weird as cleaning up after Thanksgiving with a turkey-shaped sponge, or cleaning the grill with a cow-shaped brush.