Friday, January 25, 2013

Knife Skills

As a 2011 Christmas present Alex and Dan gave me a class in Knife Skills at the Cambridge Culinary Institute.  I thought I was doing fine, they thought I should shelve my trusty serrated knife; I procrastinated. Alex finally booked me for a class held on December 16th. I knew the minute it started it was going to be a good evening. The instructor David Ramsey, was extremely engaging and full of facts I found most useful.  He started with an introduction of knives, urging us to put maximum resources in a good chef's knife (either European or Asian - "an heirloom for your children") then add inexpensive paring and bread/serrated knives.  He recommended a filet knife for those who tend to bone their own chicken and bone and/or skin fish. The small, too short for bread, serrated knife, I had favored (top knife in photo) was not even part of the discussion. Hummm... maybe that's one of the reasons Alex and Dan thought I needed this course.  Ramsey, as he prefers to be called, then talked about knife care, honing and sharpening (use a stone and avoid "gizmos' and machines for the latter) and knife safety.

The six other students and I then followed Ramsey into the kitchen (I think I was the only one over 35).  There we learned not only how to use a chef's knife but many useful tips on how to cut particular veggies.  I'll recap a couple of my favorites below - for the rest and especially knife technique, I suggest a hands-on course; this one if you are in the Boston area.

To cube an onion:  Leave the root end attached. This will hold the onion together. Then score the onion in a quarter inch (or what ever size desired) grid cutting toward the root. Finally slice the onion and the slices will already be in the desired cube size. Don't follow my example, cut clear through the whole onion.

To slice a pepper: If uniform "sticks" are desired, cut off the top and bottom of the pepper.  Then make a cut in the remaining cylinder to open it into a flat strip.  Clean out the seeds and seed structure then slice in strips. Note I am using a (new) synthetic cutting board on top of my wood cutting board. I am careful not to cut raw meat on the wood, but realized from comments made during the course how hard it is to clean a wood cutting board properly.  Better to use a cutting board that can be thoroughly washed, or put in the dishwasher, when cutting food to be consumed raw.

Minimize the presence of annoying "strings" in celery.  Instead of doing traditional "sticks", when cutting celery for crudities, slice celery on the bias into thin oval pieces.

It's been over a month since the class, and I have been using my chef's knife almost exclusively.
Now I have a really special chef's knife, a Shun 7" Santoku Knife with a Hollow Ground Blade. A gift after a couple years of admiring Christopher's Asian chef''s  knife, Very sharp! And contrary to the addage "it is much easier to cut yourself with a dull knife", I did cut myself, however slightly, before this knife earned the full respect it deserves.  It is awesome :-)

Reviewed 9/22/2017

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cool Tools 2

In my August 2011 post, Cool Tools, I wrote about digital scales, a remote digital thermometer and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking.  I've since discovered another indispensable McGee book and an infrared thermometer.  Chris gave me the thermometer warning I should not let my non-stick pans exceed 400 degrees F. Umm... that seemed a bit intuitive, and I wasn't sure why I really needed a thermometer for this.  Then I came across Harold McGee's Keys for Good Cooking.  While On Food and Cooking focuses on the science and why of cooking and cooking ingredients, Keys for Good Cooking gives practical advice on getting food from the market  to the table with countless tips and explanations of processes (for example, Browning)  and food safety (for example, pastuerized eggs).  Alice Walters is quoted on the back cover, " 'This book is a vital reference tool for all who love food and cooking - a book to read cover to cover, and then keep, dog-eared on the kitchen counter.'" I agree.  I realized a loaner would not suffice. When I had to return this book  to the library, I ordered my own copy.

And, yes, Keys for Good Cooking also describes and then gives uses for the infrared thermometer:

"Infrared, noncontact, point-and-shoot thermometers measure the infrared radiation emitted by an object's surface.  They're moderately expensive, very fast, accurate and require occasional checking."*

 On non-stick pans, McGee advises:

     "Read pan instructions carefully for safe temperature limits.  Teflon and related fluorocarbon coatings decompose into toxic gases at temperatures above 500 degrees F/260 degrees C. Silicone degrades in the same temperature range, but without releasing toxic gases. Newer composite ceramic-silicone surfaces are safe to 800 degrees F/430 degrees C." **

To prevent sticking, he advises preheating the pan before adding oil:

     "To minimize sticking on a pan without a nonstick surface, preheat the pan without cooking fat or oil. Use clarified butter, which contains non-stick materials naturally, but only at low frying temperatures.  Dry food surfaces thoroughly  or coat with flour or breading.  Don't try to lift the food until it has had time to develop a brittle crust. Turn and lift using a spatula with a sharp metal edge that can slip under the crust."*** 

McGee expands on each of these instructions including,

     "Heat the pan on a moderate burner without oil to 350 to 375 degrees F/175 to 190 degrees C. Verify the temperature with an infrared thermometer, or with a drop of water that should skitter on the surface before it boils away. Add oil or fat to coat the pan surface, where it should ripple with the heat.  If frying on lower heat with unclarified butter, add it to the cold pan and heat until it stops frothing and becomes fragrant, around 300 degrees F/150 degrees C. Add the food and keep the burner on high to restore the pan's heat as it's lost to the food." ****

And if one needs guidance in how to clarify butter, as well as a safe procedure for doing so, this can be found in the MILK AND DAIRY PRODUCTS SECTION:

    "To clarify butter, heat gently until the melted fat stops bubbling, an indication that the water has been cooked out.  Lift off the protein skin at the surface and pour the yellow fat off the white protein residue at the  pan bottom.  To make ghee, or brown or black butters, continue the heating until the protein residue browns less or more deeply.
     Beware of eruptions when clarifying or melting butter, and use low gentle heat.  Because water is heavier than fat, it sinks to the container bottom as butter melts.  If the heat is too high, either from a burner or in the microwave, the water can suddenly boil, turn to steam, and explode through the hot fat above it.
     Use clarified butter or ghee for most sauteing, when the pan gets hot enough to brown or scorch milk residues.
     Use whole unclarified butter for gentle frying of eggs and fish.  At frying temperatures under 300 degrees F/150 degrees C, the emulsifiers in whole butter help prevent these delicate foods from sticking to the pan." (5)

The above excerpts are good examples of  McGee's easy to access format. I'm sure a few more of McGee's useful tips and comments will be found in future posts, but this will still be only the tip of the iceberg of information contained in this over 500 page resource which concludes with an excellent bibliography, WHERE TO FIND MORE KEYS TO GOOD COOKING.

*  Page 45
**  Page 60
***  Page 90
**** Page 91
***** Pages 202 - 203

Reviewed 9/22/2017


Friday, January 11, 2013

The American Home Menu Maker

My niece, Leigh, sent us a box this summer and Chris opened it to find a large, mechanical, now antique juicer that had belonged to his Kern Grandparents and a recipe box,  photo left, that had belonged to his Grandmother, Florence. The former has long since been put to good use in Chris's loft, the latter I recently decided to explore.

I started with the box itself. "The American Home Menu Maker", touted as "A Gift for Christmas She Will Like"  is advertised as "just the thing to give those friends who take pride in the efficiency and appearance of their kitchens. It is one of the most practical and simple methods ever devised for making instantly available all the delicious recipes your friends gather from current magazines, newspapers and the grocer."  Florence (1902 - 1996) was a writer; her early credits include a novel, As Strange a Maze, a story Heaven's Gate, the basis for the film  Our Little Girl, and many magazine articles. I was reminded of probably her most memorable article when her daughter forwarded a recent article from WellesleyWeston Online: "in her first job as a fledgling reporter, she interviewed Thomas Edison at the dawn of the television age. 'I asked him whether or not this new invention had any future,' she recalled. "He said he thought it did.'"After Florence was widowed in the late 60's, she began to write about Revenue Cutters. I don't think she thought about taking pride in her kitchen or particularly enjoyed cooking. She would have delighted in ski, skating or sailing gear under the Christmas tree, not so much The American Home Menu Maker.

I opened it to find a stack of recipes on top of which was a cutout from a Styrofoam egg box with two methods for soft-cooked eggs.  The top pile also contained many post cards from me with recipes (mostly baked goods and desserts) that Florence had requested I send. Below the loose pile I found recipes from family, friends and publications randomly interspersed between the pale orange tabs meant to meticulously  organize recipes by category as well as intended day of use, and  transparent index card holders meant to keep recipes clean, a few even contained recipes Florence had typed.

I found lots of recipes for cakes, cookies and other desserts and for shellfish and fish with cream sauces, several recipes for quiches, crepes, and cheese fondues, and recipes for "tea punch" some alcoholic, some not. Salad recipes, with the exception of a recipe for Caesar Salad, in my handwriting, and Hot Potato Salad, photo left, in Florence's handwriting, all contained some form of gelatin. The only vegetable recipes I found were for baked lima beans and her era's ubiquitous green bean casserole (frozen french cut green beans and cans of water chestnuts, French fried onion rings, and cream of celery soup).

Makes sense that the most "used" looking recipe card, photo left, was the one with the recipe for Good Meat Loaf - Hot or Cold.  Along with Hot Potato Salad (holidays), deviled eggs, big steaks from the local market, Swordfish fresh from Vineyard waters, Beef Stroganoff, and green beans (over-cooked in the beginning)**, this is one of the things that Florence frequently served.  The meat loaf was one of her mainstays on Chappaquiddick and a meal that Alex and Chris especially liked.

I also found a Christmas card with the handwritten recipe for Daniel Webster Fish Chowder which Florence later typed and sent to me and a Aerogram letter from one of Florence's Leighton relatives from New Zeland, photo left,  with a "promised" recipe for Coffee Meringue (Pavlova) which I may try at a future date. The one recipe I had really hoped to find but did not was Florence's recipe for Beef Stroganoff :-(

An interesting afternoon and reminiscent of my rambles through My Grandmother's Cookbook.

* Last paragraph of cited article

** From My Grandmother's Cookbook: "As I recently explored Ms. Farmer's cookbook for the first time, I decided this must have been my mother-in-law's source for cooking string beans. Directions read: "Beans, string 30 min - 1 hour" or until tender.  When Ed and I were first married, his mother Florence would start cooking the green beans  just before we sat down for a cocktail (so they cooked until they were grey-green and mushy). To her credit, she soon, following my  suggestion, cooked green beans for just a few minutes."

Reviewed 9/22/2017

Thursday, January 10, 2013


When I posted the Veal Stew/Paprikash recipe in January 2011,  I began to think about browning and whether or not to dredge the meat in flour before browning.  Julia Child's seminal recipe for Boeuf a la Bourguignonne  does not dredge the raw beef in flour. Before sauteing in hot oil and bacon fat, it instructs, "dry the beef in paper towels;  it will not brown if it is damp."* After the beef is browned, it instructs, "Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper.  Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle portion of preheated [450 degrees F] oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to the oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.)"**

However, recipes in some of my other favorite cookbooks call for dredging the meat in flour before frying, as the Veal Marsala recipe in Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins The New Basics Cookbook. Wondering if one method is preferable, I consulted Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. He has excellent sections on Carmelization (simplest browning reaction is the carmelization of sugar which occurs at 330 degrees F and above) and The Maillard Reactions ("Even more fortunate and complex are the reactions responsible for the cooked color and flavor of bread crusts, chocolate, coffee beans, dark beers and roasted meats, all foods that are not primarily sugar."*** These reactions occur at 250 degrees F and above.  Given the high temperatures required for browning, McGee points out the browning must be done with dry cooking methods using oil rather than water which will never exceed 212 degrees F.  He concludes this section by stating:

" key to a rich-tasting stew is to brown the meat, vegetables and flour quite well by frying them before adding any liquid.  On the other hand, if you want to emphasize the intrinsic flavors of the foods, avoid high temperatures that create the intense but less individualized browning flavors."****

However, he offers no opinion of how to brown these ingredients.  This advice comes later in Keys to Good Cooking A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes where McGee writes, " Dry food surfaces, or coat in flour or breading to minimize spatter and sticking and speed browning.  Coatings prevent the food surface itself from browning, but add crunch and flavor."*****
As evidenced in the variation in of some of my favorite recipes, either browning well dried meat or flour coated meat works, producing subtle differences.  I have noticed that browned flour, which I use to make Enchilada Sauce has a much more interesting flavor than  plain white flour.  For recipes which call for browning meat, dried of excess surface moisture, first and then adding flour, I would consider either using Ms. Child's two step browning:  first meat, then flour with meat or where that is not feasible, browning the flour separately. I brown  flour by heating it in a dry pan over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to turn brown. Browned flour can be made in batches and stored for several months.

In his Section on Frying, Pan Roasting and Sauteing, McGee offers another piece of very useful advice: "Preheat the pan alone to 400 to 450 degrees F/200 to 230 degrees C, then add fat or oil.  Oil heated up along with the pan is more likely to get gummy and cause sticking."******  For this type of preheating it is best not to use a nonstick pan.  When following these instructions (photo at top) I do find there is much less sticking to the pan.

*  Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961 edition), page 316
**  Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961 edition), page 316
***  On Food and Cooking, page 778
****  On Food and Cooking  page 779
*****  Keys to Good Cooking A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, page 90
******  Keys to Good Cooking A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, page 260

Reviewed 9/222017

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Grilled Scallops with Parsnip-Fennel Puree

Make a recipe of  Parsnip-Fennel Puree for every two persons to be served. Recipe below is for 2; scale accordingly.

© 2013 Edward C Kern, Jr.

10 to 12 (1/2 to 2/3 #) dry* sea scallops

Heat a cast iron griddle/pan on the grill or stove. Lightly coat hot griddle with

olive oil

and when oil is hot place the scallops on the griddle.

Cook at high for 3 minutes, turn scallops and cook 2 -3 more minutes (depending on size of scallops), until nicely browned on both sides.

Divide the puree between two plates.  Place the cooked scallops on top. Garnish with

Lemon zest and/or grilled scallions

Grilled Scallions

Wash and trim
3 large or 6 small scallions.

If the scallions are large, slice then in half vertically.  Lightly coat with

olive oil

and grill until soft but not charred.
 "Dry scallops" are scallops that have not been soaked in phosphates ("wet scallops") which causes them to absorb water and loose flavor; the phosphates also make the scallops "look better" to some consumers and prevent them from losing water, hence weight, hence market profits. Dry scallops are occasionally, but not usually, advertised as such; you will probably need to ask the fish monger if the scallops are "dry"/unsoaked. They are also referred to as diver scallops and, especially on restaurant menus  as day boat scallops.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Parsnip-Fennel Puree

I started this post as "Scallops on Fennel-Parsnip Puree" but having made the puree several times I decided that the puree deserves its own entry. This mixture when completely pureed has an incredible silky consistency and a wonderful pale yellow, hint of spring, color. While it is delicious paired with scallops, it would be equally good with beef, chicken.... Grilled scallions make a good garnish. Took this for a spin at a dinner party last night, served with grilled scallops, and both were very well received.

Serves 2. Scale up accordingly.

Chop in small pieces and boil until tender, about 15 minutes:

5 oz parsnips
4 oz potatoes
3 oz fennel

Skim off any foam. Drain and puree in a food processor* until smooth, then blend in

1 t olive oil
The puree may be made a few hours ahead and then warmed again in the microwave just before serving.

* April 2013: Using an immersion blender (see Cool Tools 3) makes the prep time shorter and the clean-up easier. The resulting puree, however, does not have as silky a texture as the puree made in a food processor.

Reviewed 8/23/2017

Christmas 2012

This Christmas we enjoyed some of our old-favorite traditional dishes* as well as some new ones.  The house was full with family which justified huge plates of cookies, some old favorites** along with Chris's Oatmeal Cookies (made with dried cranberries instead of the usual raisins) and Brownies and Alex and Dan's Candy Cane Cookies.

Dan's Scandinavian heritage was recognized by some family baked gifts:  "Fattigman",  and Norwegian Cardamom Christmas Bread. Dan's Mom sent a box of Michigan treats recalling Dan's Marquette roots and Alex and Dan made a rendition of Dan's Mom's Swedish Meat Balls for dinner one night.  These recipes are all special to Dan's family so with the exception of the Candy Cane Cookies were not shared and will not be a subject of future posts.

For the first time in many years, I made Dilly Beans this fall and they were a special addition to the holiday d'oeuvres as well as a holiday gift for family.  Alex and I blind tasted the two versions: (1) the way I have always made them and (2) a hot water bath version I made for the first time this year.  Especially given the varying sizes of the beans it was hard to distinguish between the two. Final verdict was, given same size bean, the hot water bath beans may be a tiny bit less crisp.

Since Dan had never been to Cape Ann, between Christmas and New Year's we picked a clear (but cold and windy) day right after a snowfall and headed in that direction.  We walked around  Eastern Point and Halibut Point, prominences we are more used to seeing from the water. We stopped at Rockport enroute and then had lunch at Woodman's, the home of the fried clam. Ninety years and five generations later Woodman's is still frying clams in lard. When I questioned this choice, they justified the use of  lard saying lard has no trans fats.
Checking online sources, including Wikipedia,, I found this is true but, "By the late 20th century, lard had begun to be considered less healthy than vegetable oils (such as olive and sunflower oil) because of its high saturated fatty acid and cholesterol content. However, despite its reputation, lard has less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, and less cholesterol than an equal amount of butter by weight. Unlike many margarines and vegetable shortenings, unhydrogenated lard contains no trans fat."
Given the special occasion I just enjoyed the clams and did not point out there are healthier non-transfat options for frying these whole bellied delicacies. 

After lunch we drove to the entrance of the Crane Estate and walked up Castle Hill and around the grounds overlooking Essex Bay and Plum Island Sound, then ended our afternoon with a chilly but pretty walk on Crane Beach.

New's Years dawned. We took Alex and Dan to their plane and returned home to an empty house and 3 cookies left  from the holidays.

*  Roasted Almonds
    Hot Potato Salad (Christmas Eve)
    Strawberry Shortcake (Christmas Eve)
    Cranberry Stollen (Christmas Morning)
    Cranberry Bread
    Cranberry Pudding (Christmas Night)
** Nut Puffs
    Ginger Snaps
    Mexican Chocolate Meringues

Cape Ann photos © 2012 Edward C Kern, Jr.

Reviewed 9/22/2017

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chris's Brownies

Chris brought some awesome brownies to share with family over the recent holidays.  The recipe he used and gave me is Supernatural Brownies in the April 2007 edition of the New York Times, adapted from “Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers,” by Nick Malgieri.  We not only added some to the cookie platter but had them as a stand alone dessert, their richness tempered by a clementine or small scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.  

Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking pan and line with buttered parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a double boiler [or microwave] melt:

8 oz  butter [2 sticks! not a typo - these definitely fall in the category of "special/holiday dessert"]

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate

In a large mixing bowl whisk together:

4 eggs [why bother with my usual "egg product" when using this much butter]

then add:

1/2 t salt
1 c dark brown sugar
1 c granulated sugar
2 t vanilla extract

Whisk the slightly cooled chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients, then fold in

1 c flour

Then add (optional)

1/2 c chopped walnuts

(The recipe also gives an option of arranging 3/4 c of whole walnuts on top of the batter; Chris used the chopped nuts but not the topping nuts.)

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes "or until shiny and beginning to crack on top".

The author notes, "For best flavor, bake 1 day before serving, let cool and store, tightly wrapped. "

September 2013: I was recently asked to bake brownies for a Dartmouth College First Year Trip.  My few attempts at brownies have been pretty disastrous, and Chris's comment about a dessert  pot-luck he recently attended did not boost my confidence:  "If I'd just gone for the food, I would have been better off to stay home and eat the Linzertorte I made.  Most of the other desserts were gooey brownies,  definitely not worth the calories."  Oh my!  But Chris said this recipe was pretty fool-proof and fortunately he turned out to be right; I made two batches and both met my expectations. 

Lining the pan definitely helped.  After the brownies had cooled, it was so easy to carefully lift them out of the pan on the paper.  Even the first piece cut cleanly!

I melted the chocolate and butter in a microwave instead of a double boiler.  I checked and stirred the mixture each minute for the first two minutes then every 30 seconds. In my microwave, which does not run as hot as some, this took 4 minutes.  

Since the batter is so stiff, it is needs to be smoothed level once it has been poured (and scraped) into the pan.

Because I could not make these right before the event, I froze both batches.  I removed the paper from each sheet, wrapped each sheet (un-cut) tightly in aluminum foil and placed one sheet on top of the other in the cleaned baking pan so that the brownies would be protected in the freezer and while traveling to the event where they were enjoyed by all :-)

December 2014:  Chris just brought us some brownies made in his Edge Brownie Pan. Many more edges and corners --- very yummy.  

Reviewed 5/14/17

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Awesome Oatmeal Cookies

In late November I was in Cambridge and wandered into the Coop Bookstore. In the stacks of newly arrived books, Smitten Kitchen caught my eye.  I had come across the Smitten Kitchen blog on some of my searches in the past, and the book really showcases Ms. Perleman's excellent photos. However, I have learned to remember I do have a library card and restrain myself from buying cookbooks. After perusing the book, I did resolve to visit the blog and try a few recipes. Then I went to Chris's for dinner one night and, apologetically noting cookies are hardly a dinner party dessert, he served the most awesome oatmeal raisin cookies (and ice cream). Shortly after I suggested (begged) he make a batch of these cookies for the Christmas holidays.  "You know they are good because they have butter in them," he warned, referring indirectly to my butter-deprived Oatmeal Cookies and Cranberry-Orange Oatmeal Cookies. Just before Christmas, he arrived with a double batch of the delicious oatmeal cookies and awesome brownies, reading my mind and proffering the recipes for both.  "SK" on top of the cookie recipe.  Ah!  These are from Smitten Kitchen I exclaimed and quickly launched into a summary of  an article about Deb Perleman and her Blog/Book Smitten Kitchen I had just read in the New York Times and about the book I had seen in The Coop.  Christmas came and I found a copy of Smitten Kitchen under the tree :-)  Chris had purchased the book several weeks earlier and, given my recent SK enthusiasm, worried it would be a duplicate....

You can go to Smitten Kitchen and get the recipe for thick, chewy oatmeal raisin cookies  as well as the delightful commentary and photos or (in case this recipe moves from the SK blog to the next SK cookbook) just follow my condensed directions below.

Makes ~ 2 dozen cookies

In a large bowl cream together until smooth:

1/2 c (4 oz) butter, room temperature
2/3 c (4.4 oz) light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1/2 t vanilla extract

In a separate bowl mix:

3/4 c (95 g/3.35 oz) flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t table salt

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients along with:

3/4 c (4.2 oz) raisins [or dried cranberries (especially good for holiday cookies!)]
1/2 c (2.3 oz) walnuts, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Ms. Perleman writes, "The last trick to getting a really thick, chewy cookie is to chill the dough before you bake it."  So "At this point you can either chill the dough for a bit in the fridge then scoop it, or scoop the cookies onto a sheet and chill the whole tray before baking them."  She also notes one can scoop and freeze for later baking .Maybe this theory should be applied to my oatmeal cookie recipes!

Cookies should be ~2 inches apart on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.  Bake 10 - 12 minutes "until golden at the edges but still a little under-cooked-looking on top. Let them sit on the hot baking sheet for five minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool."

Reviewed 5/14/17