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|August 14-20, 2008
• Here comes the sun
The Sun Deli shines psychadelic
by Clay Fong
• Wine movie strays from real ‘judgment of Paris’ tale
by Bill Daley
The tools for the task
A look at the importance of the right culinary ware
by Cathy Thomas
You would think I’d thrown her off a cliff onto a pile of jagged spikes. That’s the kind of look my daughter Christy gave me.
Browning six pounds of tri-tip chunks has its hazards, and tiny pockets of sizzling bacon grease stung as they pelted her forearm.
Szzz. Ouch. Szzz. Ouch.
I should explain that it was her idea. It was her wish that my weekend visit to her home in Oakland, Calif., include a dinner party for 18 guests.
She wanted me to teach her how to make the dazzling French stew, Boeuf Bourguignon. I don’t often get the chance, but I love to cook with my oldest daughter. It’s the single activity in which I know she will follow my advice.
Although I’ve cooked in her kitchen a couple of times, I overlooked how ill-equipped it is.
No large pots. No large skillets. No long-handled tongs.
We borrowed big pots and pans from her neighbor. The only tongs we could rustle up were about 5-inches long with hard-to-manage loop handles, a far cry from the 12-inch spring-loaded tongs required for comfortably turning meat in sputtering fat.
Christy has the face of an angel, the smooth taught skin of a newborn’s bottom. But by the time we slipped two huge stew-filled pots into the oven for their long final simmer, her sizzle had soured.
Long tongs could have prevented the mood shift. And although wine and convivial company along with some really delicious beef stew, eventually sweetened her mood, if we had the right tools for the task, the cooking process would have been painless.
Part of the problem for cooks, both for novice and experts alike, is the vast amount of cookware that’s available in the marketplace. It’s hard to get a handle on what’s what. There are mountains of basic everyday essentials, along with loads of glamorous-yet-unfamiliar global gear.
A new book, the first in a series coming from retailer Sur La Table, demystifies culinary equipment.
Written by award winning cookbook author Marie Simmons, Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes. (Andrews McMeel, $35) offers comprehensive kitchenware advice along with 125 mouth-watering companion recipes. The featured cookware ranges from humble items such as baking dishes and whisks, to more exotic equipment such as the Indian karahi (a deep cast-iron skillet) and the cataplana (a Portuguese hinged pan designed to clamp shut).
Simmons stopped by my home kitchen to show me how to use a stovetop smoker, one of the subjects featured in her book. It’s an easy to use contraption that infuses food with alluring smoky taste and aroma. We’d wrap large shelled-and-deveined shrimp in prosciutto and cook-smoke it in minutes.
According to Simmons, stovetop smokers come in several price ranges; the lightweight stainless steel smokers are less expensive than the cast-iron models. We opted for the lesser-priced Camerons’ smoker (about $49.96), a beauty that folds to fit into a 12-by-19-by 6-inch box for storage.
It consists of a pan with a handle, a tray with a rack that sits atop a small mound of superfine wood chips (inside the handled pan) and a slide-on lid.
She explained that different types of wood chips deliver subtle differences in taste and aroma. For the shrimp, cherry wood chips are best because they impart a fairly mild flavor. For smoking salmon, she prefers the bolder, more intense smoke flavor produced by oak, hickory or alder chips.
I was amazed at how quickly the whole shebang came together. It took her about 5 minutes to wrap the shrimp, 2 minutes to position the 2 tablespoons of wood chips and put the contraption together with shrimp lined up in three rows, and about 12 minutes to cook-smoke on a burner set at medium heat.
The shrimp were incredible, juicy and beautifully infused with a just-right smoky flavor. I gobbled up several, eating them like finger food, grasping each pink crescent by the still-intact tail. Simmons said that they are delicious used as a garnish atop a chef’s salad. I bet they’d be good on just about any mixed green salad.
Twenty minutes with Simmons made me a smoker aficionado; maybe I’ll spread my wings and try cooking a Portuguese concoction in a cataplana.
But first, I need to buy Christy an assortment of tongs and an enormous ovenproof Dutch oven.
Christy’s Bouef Bourguignon
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
8 ounces bacon, cut into thin, crosswise strips
3 pounds beef round or tri-tip, or other boneless lean beef, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1⁄2 cups chopped red onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
About 2 cups full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Pinot Noir or Australian Shiraz
About 2 cups beef broth, reduced-sodium preferred
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf 1 pound pearl onions, unpeeled
3 tablespoons butter
8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, trimmed, sliced
3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
Optional garnish: fresh chives
1. In large ovenproof Dutch oven, cook bacon on medium-high heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, remove bacon to paper towels to drain; reserve. Pour off and reserve fat, leaving about 1 tablespoon in pot. Add beef (as many cubes as will fit without crowding pot). It is best to brown in several batches. Brown the beef on all sides. Remove meat and add more, again being careful not to crowd pot; add more drippings if needed. Repeat until all meat is browned.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To same pot, add about 1 tablespoon of drippings. Add onion and sautée until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Season beef with salt and pepper and sprinkle with flour. Add meat to onion and sauté until flour is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
3. Carefully pour in wine (it may splatter) and broth. There should be enough liquid to barely cover beef. If necessary, add a little more broth. Stir in tomato sauce and herbs. Bring to boil, cover and place in preheated oven for 1 1⁄2 to 2 hours. Add a little more wine or broth if stew becomes too dry.
4. Meanwhile, cut small X in root end of each pearl onion. Drop onions into pot of boiling water. Return to boil and cook 5 minutes. Drain onions and rinse with cold water. Drain and when cool enough to handle, peel and reserve.
5. In large skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Set aside.
6. When stew has finished cooking and meat is tender, stir in reserved bacon, pearl onions and mushrooms; heat through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle each portion with minced parsley and garnish with chives, if using. Serve with rice or rustic mashed potatoes or egg noodles.
Nutritional information (per servings): Calories 330 (48 percent from fat), protein 40g, carbohydrates 3g, fat 17.6g (saturated 3 g), cholesterol 23 mg, sodium 452 mg, fiber 0.8 g
Christy and I visited a farmers market the morning of her party. The shiitake mushrooms at the market were gorgeous — huge, aromatic and very fresh. So Christy doubled the amount of mushrooms (16 ounces instead of 8 ounces), which gave the stew an alluring earthiness. Be sure to remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms before slicing; cooking doesn’t soften the stems, so I usually discard them. If desired, you can use the stems to flavor broth.
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