Wednesday, November 30, 2011

John Boos Cutting Board (and it's short life in my kitchen)

Wood or plastic -- the never-ending debate about the least glamorous kitchen tool.  You'd think that after hundreds (if not thousands) of years of making cutting boards, people would finally perfect this piece of equipment, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

First of all, let me admit that I am a plastic board person.  The bacteria issue is just ridiculous.  The entire food industry uses them and NSF (National Sanitation Foundation ) approves them.  If you worry about bacteria in plastic boards, you'd better stop eating out.  If you have a dishwasher, sanitizing a plastic board is a piece of cake, and if you don't, there is always bleach.  My problem with plastic boards was their appearance in cooking videos.  Many vegetables are light in color and cutting them on a white board doesn't provide good contrast.  Why do you think all the boards on Food TV are wood?  Because that's what professionals use in restaurants?  Give me a break!  There was also the supposed issue of plastic boards dulling the knives faster than wood.  It never seemed to be a problem with my regular knives because I steel them daily, but now that I got a Japanese knife and spent hours reading very geeky knife forums, I bent down to peer-pressure and started looking for a wood board.  

Cook's Illustrated, whose recommendations on equipment are usually solid, changes its mind on cutting boards almost every year.  So, when I started looking at which board I should buy, I was scratching my head for about a month.  Finally, I picked John Boos Maple 18 x 12 x 1.75-in. End Grain Cutting Board for $76.  My past experience with a wood board was been terrible.  In spite of all the TLC, it still ended up warping and splitting in less than a year of use.  But that was a cheap board from Crate and Barrel.  I was hoping that John Boos would last longer.  I followed all the instructions to the letter.  Didn't soak in water, dried immediately after hand-washing, oiled couple of times in the first week of use.  The results?  4 days later, the board was warped, and it wouldn't stay put on the counter.  What about the wet towel trick to prevent the board from sliding?  That works great with plastic boards, but means death for a wood board.  Contact with moisture means more warping and splitting.

While the board lasted, it was a lovely surface to work on, so I was hoping there was some way to reverse the warp.  I contacted John Boos and they instructed me to wrap the board in plastic and put a heavy weight on it for 4 days.  I tried that.  It didn't work.  Luckily, I bought this board from, whose customer service was outstanding.  They said they'd take the board back, give me a refund, and even pay for my shipping back charges.  So that was the end of the Boos board, and I was back in the market.  

I decided to take a look at restaurant supply stores on-line, and found a Winco 12 x 18 x 1.75 edge-grain board for about $32 including shipping.  In theory, edge-grain boards are not as gentle on knives as end-grain boards, but they tend to warp and split a bit less since they absorb less moisture.  After 1 month of use, my board is still in exactly the same shape as it was new.  The working surface was a tad too smooth and slippery when the board was brand new, but now that I broke it in, it feels good.  Is it really better on knives than my plastic board?  Hard to tell, but the chopping motion does feel a little better.  As all thick wood boards of this size, it's heavy, so I can't comfortable lift it up to swipe the vegetables into a pot or bowl.  When I am dealing with small amounts, I can scoop them with a knife, but for large amounts, I have to dirty my pastry scraper that doubles as a food scooper.  Not the end of the world, but not ideal.  Washing this board is a bit of a pain because of its weight.  Ideally, the weight would help it stay put on the counter while I am chopping. It sort of does.  Sort of.  I feel it shifting a bit, so I end up putting a dry terry cloth towel underneath.  

In the end, I still reach for my plastic boards when I am making dinner.  My favorite one is an 18x12x0.5 Winco plastic (polyethylene) board.  Put a damp paper towel underneath, and you are ready to go.  It's large enough to fit a lot of veggies, and light enough to lift comfortably to a bowl or pot.  Doesn't nick much or grab the knife's edge.  10.5x111 OXO boards are not bad either.  They are smaller and lighter than my Winco plastic board, so even easier to clean.  The rubber feet wear out quickly and stabilizing them takes a lot more paper towel since it needs to go under the feel, not under the middle of the board.  They do get nicked a lot more, and grip the edge a lot stronger.  When I move the knife over a bit while rocking it back and forth on the board, I sometimes feel a snap around the edge.  It just doesn't feel quite right.  But with regular steel use, it's no biggie.    

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Julienne and Brunoise Video (and tips on madoline use)

YouTube link: Julienne and Brunoise

Videos you might want to watch before this one:
Jan 30, 2012 update: Thanks to the recommendations of my wonderful readers and students, I bought myself a pair of cut resistant gloves.  If your hand slips, you won't cut yourself (I tried to do it on purpose to see how cut resistant the glove really is).  But I find that holding the vegetable in the glove is a bit more awkward because they are a tad too big on me.  

Here are a few dishes to detox after Thanksgiving and practice your julienne and brunoise skills.
Barley Almond Salad with Zucchini and Red Peppers

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ginger Video (and Pear Ginger Tart Tatin)

YouTube link: Minced Ginger

Videos you might want to watch before this one:

Have you decided what pies you are making for Thanksgiving yet?  Do you have room for one more?  It's a show stopper, is very easy to make, and you can use store bought pie dough if you are short on time.  The pie I am talking about is Pear Ginger Tart Tatin.  The pears are caramelized in a skillet, then sprinkled with a generous amount of raw minced ginger and covered with pie dough.  Once the turkey is out, you stick this tart in the oven for 30 minutes and it's ready by desert time.  The flipping it onto a plate is way easier than it seems, but it is always accompanied with a suspense and drama as you lift the skillet to reveal a huge flower of caramelized pears.  Don't be alarmed by a large amount of ginger.  It caramelizes as the tart bakes and becomes quite mild.

Caramelized Pear Tart with Ginger

Note about skillet: I use a 10 inch stainless steel all-clad or tramontina skillet.  Non-stick pans also work.  Cast iron might be a bit heavy to lift and flip.  If you haven't done much weight lifting in the gym lately, this might not be the best pan for this tart.

In advance tip:  You can cook the pears and roll out the dough the morning of Thanksgiving, but start baking the tart no earlier than 1 hour before serving.  The pears tend to wrinkle as the tart cools off and don't taste quite as good as when it's just baked.

Burnt pears tip: If the pears burnt a little, don't panic.  Take a paring knife and slice a sliver off the top after baking and inverting the tart.  I prefer the pears and caramel to be more brown rather than less.

4 large Bosc pears
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tbsp minced ginger (optional)
Pâte Brisée (pie and tart dough) for one 10-inch tart

Peel, halve, and core pears.

In a 9- to 10-inch heavy skillet heat butter over moderate heat until foam subsides. Stir in sugar (sugar will not be dissolved). Arrange pears, cut sides up, in skillet, with the skinny end of pears pointing into the middle of the pan. If you have a half of pear left over, cut a circle out of it and place it in the middle of the skillet domed side down. The pears will make a sort of flower in the skillet. Cook without stirring until sugar mixture forms a deep golden caramel. (This can take as little as 10 minutes or as much as 25, depending on skillet and stove.) Cool pears completely in skillet. Sprinkle with cinnamon and ginger.

Preheat oven to 425°F and set a rack in the upper third of the oven.
On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin roll out dough into an 11-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick) and arrange over caramelized pears. Tuck edges into the skillet around pears. Bake tart in the upper third of the oven until pastry is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes, but not longer.

Have ready a rimmed serving plate slightly larger than skillet. Invert plate over skillet and, wearing oven mitts and keeping plate and skillet firmly pressed together, invert tart onto plate. Do this over the sink in case some juices spill. This is a bit scary, but it works! The trick is to do it in one very fast motion.

Let cool until warm, 10-15 minutes. Serve tart warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

12 down / 38 more to go

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Peeling and Cutting Butternut Squash Video

Peeled and diced butternut squash in a plastic package is probably not an option at your local farmers' market.  And for good reason.  Butternut squash lasts very well before it's cut (I once kept mine for 2 months!), and very badly after it's cut.  As tempting as the prepped butternut squash looks in the store, it often leaves the cook with regret when she finds half of the pieces to be slimy or dried up.

Believe it or not, butternut squash is not hard to deal with if you arm yourself with a sharp chef's knife (8 inches or larger), a peeler (I like OXO brand), and a few tricks.

YouTube link: Peel, Slice, and Dice Butternut Squash

Videos you might want to watch before this one:

The easiest and yummiest way to serve squash is to roast it in thick slices. I like to combine it with green beans, cranberries, and cashews for a Thanksgiving side dish -- tastes great hot, warm, or even cold.
Butternut Squash, Green Beans, Cranberries, and Cashews
11 down / 39 more to go

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Celery Root (Celeriac) Peeling and Cutting Video

When you pick up a celery root (also known as "celeriac") in the store, please remember that beauty is only skin deep, and so is ugliness.  Peel the warts, hairs, and dirt off him, and he is no more intimidating than a potato.

YouTube link: Celery Root Peeling and Cutting

Videos you might want to watch before this one:

Some ideas for what to do with your celery root:

Braise it with vanilla bean and mash.  Here is the description of the braising technique that also works on parsnips, turnips, and sweet potatoes.  The vanilla bean addition was inspired by Bea's recipe on Tartine Gourmande.  Bea also has a fabulous recipe for potato and celery root gratin.  It was so good I've made it at least 5 times.  I also often mix thinly sliced celery root with potatoes in the Bluefish with Crispy Potatoes dish.

10 down / 40 more to go

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Triple Mushroom Pizza

I never got the concept of putting raw mushrooms on pizza (or in a salad for that matter).  As much as I love mushrooms, I can't stand what is usually sold as "mushroom pizza" in the US.  But this is not that kind of pizza.  I don't even know if it's technically a pizza at all, but whatever it is, it's wicked good.  I had some mushroom duxelles (finely minced mushroom mixture) left over, and some pizza dough left over.  As usually happens when one leftover meets another leftover, sparks fly, and something yummy is born.  Since I am a mushroom addict, I have 3 layers of mushroominess in my duxelles -- portabellas, porcini liquid, and truffle oil.  I didn't bother with cheese for this pizza.  Instead, I dressed some arugula with a truffle vinaigrette and spread it on top of the pizza before serving.  To keep it from falling off, I folded two pieces of pizza together to make the world's most mushroomy sandwich.  Oh, mushrooms -- what is it about you that make you taste like a controlled substance?

It almost made me wish I had a cute little cafe, so that I could share this sandwich with all the mushroom lovers.  But then I kicked myself and remembered that I would have to do back breaking work for minimum wage with no break for holidays or weekends.  

Triple Mushroom Pizza

Serves 1-2

Overall plan:
  1. 1-2 days before serving, make the dough and mushroom duxelles.  Refrigerate both until ready to use.
  2. When ready to serve, preheat the oven and pizza stone for 30 minutes. Stretch out the pizza dough, spread the mushroom duxelles on top and bake (see instructions in the dough post for how to do all this)
  3. While the pizza is baking, make arugula salad.  
  4. When the pizza is ready, cut it, pile the salad on top and serve.

1 batch Pizza Dough

For Mushroom Duxelles
1/2 oz dry porcini mushrooms (about 1/2 cup)
2 large portabella mushrooms, stems removed
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp dry white wine
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp truffle oil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

For Arugula Salad
2 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp truffle oil (optional)
2 cups loosely packed arugula
Salt and pepper to taste


Mushroom Duxelles
  1. In a small bowl, combine dry porcini mushrooms with 2/3 cup boiling water.  Stir and let sit for 30 minutes while preparing portabellas.
  2. Wash and dry the portabellas.  Cut into 1/2 inch dice.  Set a 10-12 inch skillet with 2 Tbsp olive oil over high heat.  The hot, add portabellas and a generous pinch of salt.  Stir well and have a cover for the skillet handy.  Add the wine and immediately cover the skillet.  Turn the heat down to medium and cook until mushrooms release a lot of liquid, 8-10 minutes.  
  3. Uncover the skillet, stir the mushrooms, and cook until all the liquid evaporates.  Continue to cook stirring occasionally until many surfaces are brown, 8-12 minutes.  Don't stir too often or mushrooms won't brown.  
  4. Line a sieve or colander with a damp paper towel and strain the porcini liquid into the skillet with portabella.  You need the paper towel to catch the grit.  Press on the porcini to get as much liquid out of them as possible.  Reserve them for another use or discard.  They are usually very gritty and cleaning them is a pain so I usually discard them.  All they aroma and wonderful flavor will be in the liquid.  
  5. Continue to cook portabellas stirring occasionally until the porcini liquid is almost gone (it will become a sort of syrupy glaze).  
  6. Cool portabellas slightly, add 2 Tbsp cream and 1/2 tsp truffle oil and puree using a food processor or immersion blender (if using immersion blender, move them to some narrow tall container.  don't puree in a skillet).
  7. Taste for salt and pepper and add as necessary.  
The mushroom mixture can be used immediately or refrigerated for up to 3 days.  It will solidify in the fridge.  To make it easier to spread, warm up in the microwave just until warm, but not hot.

Arugula Salad
  1. In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, olive oil and truffle oil and whisk vigorously right before using.  
  2. Put arugula in a bowl with plenty of room to mix.  Drizzle with half the dressing (from step 1), sprinkle with salt and pepper and use your hand to toss well.  Taste and add more dressing and salt as necessary.