Friday, May 24, 2013

Kitchen Gadgets

This gadget is a keeper!

I am always suspicious of kitchen gadgets. Many are not worth the space they take up. Others work wonderfully, like this strawberry huller, and I am delighted to have them.

The perfect gadget is never a one-size-fits all. A tool may be very useful to one person, but not to another. An egg separator is the perfect example of this. I grew up separating eggs by cracking them in half, and pouring the yolk back and forth from one half shell to the other, letting the white drip into a bowl below.  Sometimes I just pour the egg into my well-washed hand and let the white drip out through my fingers. Both of these methods work well for me.

Then someone gave me an egg separator. It works a bit like the second method I mentioned earlier; this gadget is a plastic bowl-shaped object with open slits around a center receptacle. In theory, the yolk fits neatly into the receptacle, and the whites drip out the slits. However, if the yolk is large or double, it gets torn open. Also, you have an extra tool to wash. And it's a pain to use.

Other not-so-great gadgets include an egg piercer, which insisted on piercing my finger; a garlic press that was almost impossible to clean; a grapefruit knife that was designed only for right-handed people; a cake tester made of wire (what's wrong with a broom straw?); and a lettuce crisper, which took up a huge amount of refrigerator space and was no improvement over my usual method, which is to wash the lettuce, wrap it in a clean towel, swing it around a few times to get rid of the excess moisture, and then chill it for an hour or so.

Good gadgets, though, make food preparation easier. I'm going to list a few that I like. Your list will be different:

  • the above mentioned strawberry huller works beautifully, removing the entire hull neatly and cleanly, which is a real help is you are cleaning and chopping a large number of berries
  • a shrimp deveining knife makes removing the shells and dark vein simple
  • a hand juicer that fits on top of a measuring cup, for measuring small amounts of citrus juice juice
  • a good garlic press that can be cleaned
  • a garlic peeler, which is simply a sticky tube that removes the papery outer shell and is very useful when I'm peeling lots of garlic
  • a micro plane, which can be used for cheese, chocolate, or fruit zest
  • silicone egg poachers, which float in the water and keep the eggs tidy and dry
  • a salad spinner, which does dual duty; you can use the bowl to wash the lettuce; then it quickly removes excess water from the leaves. (Also, it doesn't need washing; only rinsing.)
What are your favorite and least-favorite gadgets?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Food Fight!

This time of year, the battle lines are drawn between the two strawberry shortcake factions: those who want the dessert served with real biscuit-like shortcake,  and those who want it served atop sponge cake. Both camps are fierce in their loyalties, although I think that the name "shortcake" actually weights the argument in favor of the biscuits.

In the context of food, short means crumbly or friable. Dough that is short contains a lot of fat, or shortening. The biscuits are crusty on the outside but crumbly when attacked with a fork. Spongecake, on the other hand, is not crusty and not crumbly. It just soaks up the juice and turns to mush.

To my mind, strawberry shortcake is best when ripe strawberries are sliced and dusted with sugar, then set aside to macerate. Meantime, the shortcake is prepared, using lots of butter and maybe even some cream. After the shortcake has baked and cooled somewhat, it is sliced in half horizontally. The bottom layer is covered with strawberries and whipped cream (real whipped cream, not CoolWhip), the top layer is set on this and more berries and cream added. The result is a grand mixture of crunchy creamy tangy juicy goodness.

When spongecake is used, though, especially those little preshaped cakes with little rims, the result is an overly sweet dessert with no crunch and little tang. I can't imagine why anyone would prefer this, despite the fact that this group includes some of my friends. It's a subject we never discuss.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Little Limes Pack Loads of Flavor

a Persian lime
I admit that I have never had either a mojito or  a margarita, two of the more popular uses for limes. Still, I keep them on hand, because they are wonderful in Mexican foods, Thai dishes, and summer recipes. Although frequently mentioned with lemons, they have an aroma and taste that is distinctly different from that of lemons.

As far as I'm concerned, limes are a necessary ingredient to good guacamole, as is cilantro. (Limes and cilantro have an affinity for each other, and are often found together in marinades.) I use limes in fish recipes, with chicken, and in numerous warm-weather drinks. One average lime creates about a teaspoon of juice.

Limes have been around for a long time. British sailors used them to combat scurvy, which is why they were sometimes called Limeys. They are available year round, although the height of the season is from now through October. Americans mainly use two types of limes: Persian limes and Key limes. Persian limes are sweeter and larger and much easier to find.

One odd thing to beware of with limes is that they have a chemical that can cause a bad skin condition in some people. The juice alone doesn't cause the problem—it's the combination of sunlight and lime that can make some folks break out in a blistery rash. So if you make a recipe using many limes, wash up carefully and use sunscreen for the next day or so.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lovely Lox

This is lox, not smoked salmon.

My Uncle Harry said he ate smoked fish for breakfast every day of his life. I envy him. When I was growing up, smoked fish was a regular part of my diet. Mainly we ate salmon, whitefish, and sable. (Sable is a type of black cod.) Today, I have it seldom, mainly because of the expense. Still, every few months I treat myself to a quarter pound of lox, which translates into two glorious breakfasts.

Although most people consider lox and smoked salmon to be synonymous, they are not. Lox is actually brined, with the exception of Nova lox, which is lightly brined and then cold smoked. Lox is moist and translucent; smoked salmon is dryer, thicker, and opaque.  (Gravlox is still another form of cured salmon, but this food is Nordic in origin.)

In my birth family, there were long discussions about which type of lox was tastiest: Nova or belly lox. Frankly, I don't care. I love them both. According to some, lox is an aphrodisiac, which might explain its popularity in my family. I don't think I have ever attended a Jewish celebration or funeral where lox was not offered.

Lox is traditionally served with bagels, cream cheese, red onion, and capers. I also like it on crackers and with cottage cheese or scrambled eggs. The saltiness pairs well with bland foods. For years, I avoided buying lox because it cost so much, but my British friend Pat started a tradition of serving lox and bagels on Christmas morning. I have continued her tradition to this day, and have even expanded it somewhat. Compared to many other fish, lox no longer seems as extravagant as it once did, and a little goes a long way.