Archive for December, 2007

kitchen gadgets you never knew you needed III

December 19, 2007

Robin grew up in Virginia and she introduced what she and her family calls regular tongs in my kitchen. I use them for outdoor grilling and I thought that I never needed another pair of tongs.

Then Robin got a cast-iron wok, and with it came a pair of bamboo forceps. I got into the habit of using these for getting hold of the occasional warped bit of bread that gets stuck in the toaster (I don’t appreciate having to run down to turn on the main power switch again, every time I try to retrieve a piece of bread by using my fork). Of course the glue line between the bamboo parts was faulty and broke after a few weeks. Because I am a lazy workshop person, I never got around to flattening the surfaces properly, heating a pot of hide glue and re-assembling the parts. Instead I came across a pair of 28cm long heat-resistant plastic tongs at the local store.

For a kitchen item that was impulse-bought because of my unfocused laziness, they are having a glorious career. They still do reside on top of the toaster for the sake of convenience, but I use them for about anything in the kitchen. Breading fish or Wienerschnitzel, turning hamburgers, tuna chunks or chicken bits, tasting stew, removing bay leaves, lemon grass or bones from a stock, and stirring pretty much everything that needs stirring. No idea what I did before I got these.

kitchen gadgets you never knew you needed II

December 19, 2007

Five years ago I bought a milk frother, since I decided not to have a proper espresso machine with a foam nozzle. It was made, or rather, labelled and distributed, by a well-established Swedish brand, it had gotten good reviews for perfect foam and a good price-device relationship, and it worked well until it, 2 months after the warranty had expired, expired too with a scratch, a fizz and a bleep.

So I bought another one and took an effort to handle it extra carefully. It behaved exactly like the first one: perfect foam for a blissful while and then an unannounced exit from this world. I e-mailed the customer service of the firm, mentioned the exact nature of the problem (the motor’s collector gets damaged through normal use and cannot be accessed for repairs) and within days I got a third frother sent home for free. This summer, it quietly joined the others. Now I bought another frother, this time by a German fancy design brand. Let’s see how this one survives. It foams better, the motor makes less noise and it stands all by itself on the counter.

Why do I persist in wanting milk frothers? Because they are great. For someone who had his early milk-frothing training using a cheap and coarse wire brush in a battered aluminium pan, they are the symbol of coffee culture luxury.

kitchen gadgets you never knew you needed I

December 19, 2007

I encounter ever more recipes where the pepper is to be crushed with a knife handle. Okay, so we want freshly and coarsely ground pepper – I appreciate this. I also want my knife handles and cutting boards undented, and I hate cutting myself during the effort of preventing everything from slipping and rolling about. Ordinary pepper mills have improved from worthless-as-a-rule (25 years ago) to pretty reliable (if you can afford them) – but they don’t provide the knife-handle-crushed pepper that make mushrooms in butter and many other creations a real success.

In Sweden, I got hold of one of Skeppshult’s most archaic products, a two-piece cast-iron tooth-meets-tooth mortar which has served me well for sixteen years. While the teeth have worn down to match the advanced age of the device, the pepper-crushing works as fine as on the first day. The only impractical feature is the large cork stop for the pepper reservoire, which tends to crumble and becomes difficult to uncork. I will fit a handle on mine, which shouldn’t be too difficult.

This is easily the most used gadget in my kitchen, apart from the 24-cm frying pan.

hummus trial and error

December 19, 2007

During a harpsichord maintenance course in Jerusalem, all the participants contributed to lunch; I tried everything and afterwards I asked the person who had provided the – to my taste – most successful hummus for his recipe. Here comes an edited version of what Amit wrote, and my comments in square brackets:

Quick version: take a 400g-can of cooked chickpeas, drain and mix in the blender with the juice of half a lemon [that is not enough!] and a glass full [I translated this into 2 1/2 tablespoons] of tahini. The best tahini for hummus is the whitest one can get; so definitely not the unpeeled gray organic variety [if you want pureness, this is right, but organic tahini worked quite okay for my rough European taste buds]. It has to become creamy when you blend it with lemon and a bit of water. Best is if you can find Lebanese Tahini (they call it “crem de sessam…”) [I used Tahini from Larissa, Greece, a place I remember especially for their tough grilled chicken – it worked just fine; later, I actually did find crem de sessam, which was somewhat thinner and easier to incorporate into the mix].
Add salt [careful if you use canned chickpeas, they’re usually already salted], pepper [a teaspoon or so] and cumin [to taste, not too much] and add enough water to make the paste thin enough but not too liquid. [I found that processing hummus in the blender of the food processor required too much water, or the pulp just stayed halfway up the jar and didn’t mix. I believe that Hummus ought to be pretty stiff. So if you have one of these hand mixers for pureeing stuff, use it instead].

The real stuff version: take half a kilo of dried chickpeas and soak them overnight in water with baking-powder (one spoon full). The baking powder is absolutely necessary for getting the beans really soft.
Cook the chickpeas the next morning, using the soaking water, for at least 12 hours, at a low temperature (preferably on an electric plate with a precise thermostat). The water should move but not boil much. The peas are ready when they almost mash by themselves
[on the stove top, mine were really okay after 10 hours. However, this isn’t my favorite way of cooking beans. I am using a cast iron roasting pot with an iron lid, and cook the beans on moderate heat in the oven. It speeds up the works and prevents most of the water from evaporating, thus guaranteeing a more equal result].
This generates an enormous amount of cooked chickpeas; you can keep the rest of them for a week in the fridge, or in the deep-freezer for a very long time.
Proceed from here as in the quick version.
[End Amit].

[Start Tilman] (more…)

lemon grass and other stuff in your food

December 16, 2007

The other day, someone on Ask MetaFilter asked how to cut lemon grass for a spicy Thai sauce. They had been slaving away using a sharpened chef’s knife chopping up the hard and fibrous grass, and wondered whether there was a better way.

Some people answered that the best way probably would be to use the grass as one would use bay leaves. I was a little astonished that there was no greater consensus about this advice. Of course one uses lime leaves, Indonesian bay leaves, lemon grass and other fragrant fibrous matter in this way. Some day in the Hague, I even fished huge chunks of uncut ginger root out of my Nasi Rames. For generalization’s sake: One of the things about exotic food is that one should be prepared for bits of stuff.

I once found a large, pulled-out iron nail in my Indian curry, which had not been mentioned in the menu. The waiter then took the plate away without a word and charged me the whole amount for the dish. Spices are expensive.

(Sometimes one can buy dried and pulverized lemon grass. Like dried parsley, basil, garlic, or ginger, it has little in common with the fresh product and should be forgotten.)

traveling rijsttafel and spice pounding

December 16, 2007

In his famous and entertaining short story The vessel of wrath, W. Somerst Maugham depicts the eating habits of a comfort-loving Dutch Contrôleur of the Alas Islands as follows:

“Like all good Dutchmen in the Far East he began his lunch with a small glass of Hollands gin. It has a musty acrid flavour, and the taste for it must be acquired, but Mr Gruyter preferred it to any cocktail. When he drank it he felt besides that he was upholding the traditions of his race. Then he had rijsttafel. He had it every day. He heaped a soup-plate high with rice, and then, his three boys waiting on him, helped himself to the curry that one handed him, to the fried egg that another brought, and to the condiment presented by the third. Then each one brought another dish, of bacon, or bananas, or pickled fish, and presently his plate was piled high in a huge pyramid. He stirred it all together and began to eat. He ate slowly and with relish. He drank a bottle of beer.”

In spite of the fact that this is one of my favorite passages in literature, it must be said that, for the person who has been devising eight or ten different combinations of spices and ways of preparation, scooped everything on to separate dishes and managed to keep them warm until the moment of serving, the feat of, after a glass of genever, being able to stir together a huge pyramid of rijsttafel without it spilling over the edges of the plate, is totally lost. In fewer words: Mr Gruyter’s rijsttafel-stirring is a horrible crime, no matter how much pleasure he had in eating that pile of food. (more…)

colonial cookbooks

December 15, 2007

Two important Indonesian cookbooks, written in Dutch, were originally meant to help the Dutch handschoenbruidjes, that is young women who married a man who was serving in the colonies, with their exotic culinary enterprises. Both books exist in relatively modern Dutch editions.

The content of the bigger one of these, Het nieuw Indonesisch Kookboek by J.M.J. Catenius-van der Meyden, has been modernized in the last edition from 1983. When I mentioned this work at the small Indonesian Toko (a traditional home-cooking takeaway place) in the Amsterdam Utrechtsestraat, the owners abandoned their tasks and came forward to discuss cookbooks with me. They were in fact using the original version of the book for their own cooking, and they were furious about the altered recipes of the last edition. According to them, many of the spice-relationships had been completely upset, and the replacement of the command “grind finely” (in a mortar) by “chop very finely” was a silly outrage. (more…)

breathe (mach e hauch…)

December 14, 2007

Before I became a musician, the people visiting the workshop of my father usually stayed in my mind not because of their artistic achievements but because of their stories and jokes. One went like this:

— Guess what I’ve eaten
— ?? No idea. Breathe (“mach e Hauch”)!
— HAAAAARHHH!
— Hmmm. Onions??
— No.
— Breathe again.
— HAAAAAARHHH!
— Hmmm. Garlic?
— No.
— Breathe again.
— HAAAAAAAAAARHHH!
— I don’t get it. What have you eaten anyway?
— Wild strawberries…

If you ever wondered, why someone has dumped two cups full of one-inch-thick raw red onion rings on top of your lunch salad, you now know the answer. They want you to tell this joke at the afternoon meeting.

belgian fries

December 14, 2007

I almost feared that I mis-tasted on my first visit. Not so, it is true:

The Göteborg based Delirium Café not only has one of the widest beer selections imaginable, but some person in the kitchen also seems to replace the frying fat at reasonable intervals. This is the third Swedish restaurant in sixteen years where I have found high-end deep frying.

As a web-search on “delirium cafe göteborg” will show, some people object to the roomy atmosphere of the place. [Nope. A web search on July 21, 2011, strongly suggests that they have gone out of business. Pity]  Others are put off by the fact that Delirium “brags” with 2000 kinds of beer while, in practice, many of these can be sold out. I do not agree. We got all the kinds of beer we fancied (even the spiced “Jacobite” brew of Traquair House), I like their wooden tables and the high ceiling (although the huge vent pipes are a bit out of place), and yes:

I ordered Belgian fries, listed here as “Pommes frites with aioli”. In view of their wide range of fancy and pricey main courses, it might seem unfair to judge the kitchen by the fries. But these fries were absolutely fantastic. (more…)

the country of kartoffelsalat

December 12, 2007

So I spent three days in Germany. Transportation logistics excluded proper restaurant visits, so I made the stay a wursty experience, in spite of my freshly triggered reservations about meat freshness. Sausage consumption began on Friday afternoon at the Göteborg bus terminal, where the Frankfurter & Cabanossy grill sells what I believe to be the best sausage to be bought anywhere in Sweden (as a touring musician, I’ve tested them all). I remember that their many kinds of sausages are made by an Austrian specialist – I don’t know whether this is still true, but the products are in any case better than what you get in the kiosk at the other end of the station. They also provide unsweetened German mustard, if you ask for it.

One cattle-shuttle flight trip later I found myself back in Frankfurt Hahn airport, a place lost in the countryside somewhere between Koblenz and Trier that has as little to do with Frankfurt as Berlin has with Hamburgers. Here I bought a dry slice of hot ham-cheese-something that kept me chewing until the bus to Koblenz arrived. (more…)