Worth Replacing: Cutting boards

October 6, 2008

Usually the items featured here as being ‘worth replacing’ are the kind of thing that I would replace if they were destroyed. Today, I present something that should be replaced frequently so that no one’s health is destroyed. A subtle but important topical distinction.

An article I read last week from a newsletter written for people who work in food processing reminds me of an important fact: damaged, scratched cutting boards can hold bacteria even after normal washing. So, I want to encourage all of you to do two things this week:

1. Examine your home cutting boards and replace any badly scratched ones.
2. Buy some bleach and a spray bottle then put the bleach and some water in the bottle. Use this cheap and effective cleaner often to clean your cutting boards.

And, since I’m at it, remember to change your dishcloths daily and to bleach your dish brush (if you use one) frequently, too.

This message was brought to you by someone who cares.

I just bought these four new cutting boards to replace ones that were looking too well worn in our test kitchen. When was the last time you replaced your cutting board?

Worth Replacing: Food processor

September 29, 2008

During the last several weeks as I’ve been working to perfect my butter tart recipe, it occurred to me how much use and value I’ve derived from my food processor. This workhorse is 13 years old and, until three years ago when I moved my test kitchen out of my house to its own location, this very unit was used both for personal cooking and recipe testing. The way I figure it, that makes this food processor’s age about 25 years old in domestic use terms.

I was surprised last spring during a recipe tasting for the Bakefest booklet that appears this time each year in Homemaker’s magazine to discover that a food processor isn’t considered a kitchen essential by everyone. In fact, more people at our tasting did not own a food processor than did. I was shocked since I truly would run out tomorrow and buy a new food processor if this one quit working tonight.

What’s the attraction, you ask? Although expensive as an initial investment, my food processor has paid for itself in pizza delivery savings alone. In about the same amount of time that it takes for the pizza guy to arrive carrying a $20 pizza, I can make the dough and shred best quality cheese in my food processor; roll and dress the pizza base and bake up a bubbling pie. I’ve estimated that the cost of the ingredients to make a 12-inch (30–cm) pepperoni and mushroom pizza using my food processor is less than $5. That means that each time I make pizza using my food processor instead of ordering it in that I save $15. Needless to say, if you like pizza (and we do!), it doesn’t take long for a food processor to pay for itself.

I also view my food processor as essential for making flaky pastry; I have warm hands which are great for kneading bread dough but not as well-suited for making pie and tart crust. Since I started making my pie dough in the food processor the quality of my pastry has gone up exponentially.

Do you have a food processor? If not, do you wish you had one? And, if you do have a food processor, what do you use it for most often?

Worth Replacing: A good chef’s knife

September 22, 2008

It seems obvious to me, a trained chef, that to cook efficiently and without frustration you need a good knife. Yet, so often when I visit friends’ homes, I see them struggling with terrible cutting tools. I don’t understand why. Sure knives are expensive but buy a good one when you’re 25 and it will still be in ready to cut through a squash when you’re too old to chew solid food.

I started my cooking career with a 12-inch (30-cm) Henckel chef’s knife with a black lacquer handle that sandwiched an inner core of steel. I used that knife all day long, every workday for about 10 years. It was a great knife during that time and it still gets used daily in our test kitchen. These days I use the Kasumi knife pictured above to prepare meals at home. It was a gift from my man with a pan and I love it. Smaller than my Henckel, it’s super lightweight and holds its edge well after being steeled.

I’ve written about knives here before and you can read my cutting edge advice (sorry, couldn’t resist!) advice by checking back a few months to this post.

I also recommend you address knife questions to Peter Hertzmann. He wrote the authoritative book Knife Skills Illustrated. To say he knows about knives is like saying that Britney Spears knows about bad press.

FYI: the latest issue of my quarterly online newsletter Topline Trends is now live and ready for your eager eyes. If you haven’t already, subscribe to Topline Trends so that you never miss an issue!

Worth Replacing: Papparadelle noodles

September 15, 2008

I know it seems a bit odd to be featuring a pantry item as part of my worth replacing series but you know, I do replace these wonderful egg-y noodles as soon as I place an empty package into the recycle box.

Although I only feast on them occasionally myself, my son Oliver eats this pasta as often as I’ll cook it. He loves papparadelle simply prepared with butter, salt and lots of cracked pepper; in homemade chicken broth studded with carrot coins and bits of celery; or – and this is when I always join him – under a cloak of my homemade Bolognese sauce.

Pasta was one of the 10 chapters in my last book Dana’s Top Ten Table, because it is, year-after-year, one of the 10 favourite things that research shows people choose to make for dinner. In fact, if I were to look back over the last 10 years, pasta would likely be in the top 5 (maybe even the top 3) every time. This popularity wasn’t always the case for pasta. In fact, until the 1960’s, pasta was lucky to play second fiddle to the long established Canadian concertmaster of meal time, the potato.

What changed? We did. Immigration brought people from all over to Canada and many of our newcomers were Italian born. In fact, until 1981, Italy was the #2 birthplace for new Canadians. Even now that immigration patterns have shifted, Italian remains the second most often spoken unofficial language in this country (Chinese is first). This influx brought with it many good cooks and offered all of us an opportunity to meet and fall in love with Italian foods including pasta, pizza and risotto: the holy trinity of Italian starch.

Now that I’ve turned your thoughts to Italian food, I hope you’ll jot over to Charmian Christie’s blog where she’ll be celebrating this much loved cuisine with recipes and words all week long. Today I believe she may even be posting my very popular Stromboli recipe; but, if you prefer to have papparadelle tonight, I offer here my Bolognese recipe as well.

Rich and Meaty Bolognese Sauce*

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour & 30 minutes

Authentic Bolognese sauce is a zesty, full-bodied meat and tomato concoction that is the backbone of Northern Italian home cooking. The secret ingredient to a true and satisfying Bolognese sauce is milk. Added in such a small amount that it is not perceptible as a flavouring ingredient, the milk mellows and helps to blend the stronger flavours such as white wine, garlic and tomatoes.

Another of the key ingredients in a successful Bolognese sauce is bacon. Added in a small amount, the bacon helps to deepen and extend the flavour of the veal (or beef) and adds richness that helps to emulsify the sauce.

Once you try this authentic Bolognese sauce recipe, tossing spaghetti with jarred pasta sauce will definitely feel like settling for a half measure. So, since you’ll want to use this sauce often, I’ve written it as a big batch and recommend that you freeze family meal size portions. Having this frozen asset on hand will make many weeknight crunches easier to endure and more delicious, too!

2 each peeled onions, carrots and celery stalks, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves
1/4 cup (50 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) salt
3/4 tsp (4 mL) pepper
1 tsp (5 mL) each dried basil, oregano and thyme leaves
1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped bacon
1 1/2 lb (750 g) ground veal or beef
1 cup (250 mL) dry white wine
1/4 cup (50 mL) tomato paste
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) crushed or pureed tomatoes
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk

Place onions, carrots, celery and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Place vegetables and oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Stir in salt, pepper, basil, oregano and thyme leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add bacon and veal. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps until no longer pink, about 6 minutes. Stir in wine, tomato paste, tomato puree and milk. Reduce heat to low and simmer, gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Makes about 8 cups.

Tip: Sauce may be made ahead. Cool, uncovered, before chilling, covered. Freeze sauce in batches of 2 cups (500 mL) each, enough to cover 8 cups of pasta.

*Recipe from Dana’s Top Ten Table: 200 Fresh Takes on Family-Favourite Meals. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright (c) 2007 by Dana McCauley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Worth replacing: gas range

August 25, 2008

For years I endured an electric range and oven (and yes, before you say it out loud, I will admit habitually overstating my misfortunes!). Since statistically few Canadian homes had gas, I couldn’t indulge my chef’s preference for this kind of appliance and still develop recipes for cookbooks, magazines and major corporations and be able to say that the cooking times would work for most people. I was sad in a stoic, noble way.

Thankfully, today many more Canadian (and American for that matter) households are installing gas stoves so I can have one again, too. (Although readers should know that I often do a final test of recipes I develop on an electric stove if I have any doubts about timing.)

When choosing my gas range I went for one with heavy-duty cast iron burner racks and pilot lights with automatic starters. Although I didn’t realize it until my range was installed and in use, another benefit of the model I chose is that it has a very low simmer setting. I use this ultra low setting often for braising since it makes slow cooking very efficient and allows me to coax the maximum tenderness out of tough cuts of meat such as brisket and shanks. Likewise, it makes regulating the temperature for poaching very easy, too. Interestingly, a friend of mine who purchased a very high-end gas cook top found that her flame could never be tamed adequately to use these two cooking methods. In fact, she had to use a slow cooker for all braising because her stove was just too hot on its lowest setting.

Whether I move one day or live long enough to wear this unit out, I’d replace it in a heartbeat. I love my gas range!

What kind of a stovetop do you prefer? Although all comments are welcome, I’d love to hear from any of you that have chosen the new induction models. I’m very curious to hear how home cooks like this technology.