Archive for January, 2011

I came to the realization recently that I spend more on vanilla extract than I do on Bourbon. And I drink pretty good Bourbon.
The thing is, this vanilla extract is really delicious. You don’t really taste the difference in something like chocolate chip cookies, but in custards and caramels you definitely can tell. There is a smoothness to it that really pays off in more delicate desserts. I’ve always used pure vanilla extract, and have long used the Kirkland label one from Costco. It’s affordable, but lately I’ve noticed it has a metallic, bitter taste that a higher quality vanilla does not.

My mother-in-law gifted me this Nielsen-Massey vanilla in my Christmas stocking a few years ago and I’ve been buying it ever since. It’s not cheap, but it’s Madagascar Bourbon vanilla so I can kind of justify the cost. At least Bourbon is somehow involved. If you bake a lot, it’s worth getting the large 32-ounce bottle. It costs about $35, but since the 8-ounce bottle costs $16, the large bottle is a much better value. If you have a baker in your life – or don’t bake that often – the 8-ounce bottle is still worth the price, and makes a nice gift.

Admittedly I’ve spent much more than $35 on a bottle of Bourbon, but I’ve also discovered that most Bourbons I like fall within that price range. The only question that remains is which lasts longer?

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The case for the microwave

We’re remodeling our kitchen. In the 12 years since we moved into this house, the kitchen has served us very well. The remodel is largely cosmetic, since we aren’t expanding or moving any walls. Our plan is to update the cabinets, appliances, flooring, and lighting.

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been slowly dismantling the kitchen. We hope it’s the last thing we demo upstairs before we have to move downstairs entirely. Last weekend we removed the cabinets above the stove. And then…we removed the microwave.

There’s a common foodie battle cry that goes something like, “Oh, we don’t have a microwave.” I too, could live without a microwave. If I had to. Since we are in the process of reexamining how we use our kitchen and how to most efficiently use every square inch of it, I think there is a case for the microwave.

Reason #1: Popcorn. WAIT! I know you can make popcorn on a stovetop. And I did. For YEARS. But I think popcorn in the microwave is vastly superior. It’s fluffier and doesn’t require any oil. I don’t buy the prepackaged stuff. I learned a simple microwave popcorn technique from the Alton Brown show Good Eats. Take a paper lunch sack; add ¼ of popping corn; fold the bag over once and staple twice (the staples don’t have enough metal in them to spark); and zap the bag for 2-3 minutes. It takes 1:48 in my microwave. Add some butter and salt = instant snack.

Reason #2: Reheating meals. We cook a lot. We don’t buy frozen or prepared meals. Sometimes we get Thai take-out. Usually though, we have some leftovers to reheat. Reheating is easy to do on the stovetop and in the case of leftover steak for steak sandwiches, is even preferred. The thing is, if you have a bowl of leftovers, it is easier to just zap it. You don’t need to dirty another dish. I make steel-cut oats in big batches to reheat for quick breakfasts. I can just reheat them in the bowl I am gonna eat them from. I freeze soups in single serving containers that I can reheat in and eat from. To me, the microwave is a more efficient way to reheat meals.

Reason #3: Making potato chips. That’s right bitches, potato chips! The microwave somehow transforms them into the crunchiest, tastiest homemade potato chips I’ve ever had. Try it for yourself.

Reason #4: Knäck. I grew up making these Swedish candies and am completely addicted to them. A couple years ago, I found a microwave version that is a snap. We used to make these in a cast-iron skillet, then used spoons to transfer the molten caramel into little paper cups. Today? I put all the ingredients into a Pyrex, nuke it and pour the caramel with the aid of the handy pour spout. Sure, I only make these caramels a few times a year, but since they are easier to make with the microwave, I may start making them more regularly.

Reason #5: Cooking vegetables. You heard me – vegetables! Vegetables cook in the microwave in less than five minutes. No added fat, just the steam they create in a covered microwaveable container. Even Harold McGee – esteemed food scientist and New York Times columnist– recommends this method for cooking vegetables quickly, without cooking out their nutrients.

Reason #6: Hot cocoa and hot cider. I have a hot water kettle for everything else, but sometimes I want a cup of something warm. Just one cup. It is so easy to pour milk or juice into a mug, zap it for 2-3 minutes and drink. No fuss, no muss.

So, we’ve decided there WILL be a microwave in our new kitchen. Now, the only quandary is WHERE to put it. In the old kitchen, the microwave was mounted above the stove (see photo below). We know we won’t be repeating this set-up. Our house has semi-vaulted ceilings throughout, and smoke and smells waft from the kitchen through the entire house. We need a restaurant-strength hood. I want one so strong it sucks my hair up when it’s running on high speed.

We will likely retrofit one of the new top cabinets on the other side of the kitchen to hold the microwave. The efficiency we are gaining with the new cabinets (better access in the corner cabinets, pull out drawer/shelves, etc) will greatly make up for the small amount of real estate we give up for the microwave.  And, given the reasons above, having a microwave is worth it to us.

Do you think the microwave is an efficient and useful kitchen tool? Vote here.

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The view from here…

Things have gotten a little dusty around here…and I’m not just talking about the cobwebs on this blog.

We’re remodeling! We have been in our home for 12 years and have had enough! Enough of the mismatched flooring, the blackened grout, the outdated kitchen, the poor lighting…ENOUGH. So, we dove right in. Two months ago.

Needless to say, we’ve been busy for the last couple of months. We’re still cooking, still dining out, still enjoying life. Things are just a little more hectic these days. I’m still at my day job and Gavin’s still at his. In the evenings though, we’ve been ripping out drywall, making countless trips to the hardware store, revising designs, talking to sub-contractors, and shopping for cabinets and fixtures. Gavin does most of the hard work. He’s the skilled labor. I offer the moral support, but at times I provide the manual labor. I’m the master of the dump run. And hauling wood and concrete to the recycler. And fixing the cocktails.

I am still writing cookbook reviews for the Seattle Weekly. Every week I cook through a couple of recipes in a new book and write about it. It’s a blast and the best parts are that I have a byline and get lots of free cookbooks. They even pay me a little bit. And ask me to write about booze. Or a happy hour.

A couple of week’s ago, after ringing in the New Year, I thought about resolutions and goals for 2011. Surrounded by sawhorses, power tools and dust made it easy to make the first resolution:

  • Finish the remodel

That’s not really a resolution, but it’s along the lines of the resolutions I usually make. I like to make aspirations. Things I want to accomplish or experience in the coming here. This year’s list was pretty short:

  • Blog here more regularly
  • Continue freelancing and get published in a magazine
  • Start curing & smoking meat (think salami, prosciutto, bacon)

There are only four things, but as you can tell, they all pretty much center around food. I hope that means I’ll be here more often. Here to tell you about what I’m craving, cooking and eating.  Here to reveal our new kitchen when the dust settles. Here to share our charcuterie challenges with you. And here to tell a story about food, or drinking, or cooking. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more.

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