Archive for January, 2008

Bachelor Pad Kitchen

January 31, 2008

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A kitcheonette after my own heart, Cedric’s kitchen in Apartment Therapy smartly addresses many of the same concerns as The Littlest Kitchen. Judging by the size of his kitchen strip – which only fits an undercounter fridge, sink, and rangetop – it’s about the same size. I love the poured concrete countertop, an ingenious use of material. Equally inventive is the framed glass backsplash, a simple visual device which cleans up easily. I do question the Fisher & Paykel dishwasher instead of an oven, and the fact that it doesn’t align with range (I’m sure an internal hookup issue or external cabinet door issue). I understand the rationale to be a solution to clutter, but what about a European-style dish drying cabinet over the sink, or the Ikea rail system? Necessity would dictate an oven for me, but we all have our priorities.

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Tuna Warning

January 30, 2008

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Just as I’ve espoused my favorite tuna salad, I remembered last week’s front page article in the Times about tuna sushi. Laboratory tests indicate high levels of mercury in tuna sushi sampled from various restaurants and grocers in New York City. These levels were higher than EPA standards, a cause for concern for those with a regular diet of tuna sushi. Six pieces a week, what would normally be one meal, has an excessive amount of mercury, which should be consumed no more than once every three weeks. It has been a common warning for pregnant and nursing women to limit their tuna intake, due to a baby’s developing nervous systems. Excessive amounts of mercury has been shown to contribute to cardiological and neurological problems in adults. The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, was based in reality in that milliners used mercury for their hats, making them kind of crazy.

As I read about the shockingly high levels of mercury in one of the world’s more perfect foods, I was repulsed, ired, and then ultimately defeated. I felt completely helpless. Isn’t there anything that I, a conscientious, totebag-carrying environmentalist can do? Can’t I sign a petition? Boycott a certain company? Use less mercury?

Unfortunately, there isn’t mercury-free tuna, like dolphin-free tuna. Because tuna, as a big fish, eats little fish, which has smaller amounts of mercury. This all accumulates in their bodies, a hazard to being at the top of the food chain, which in turn gets passed on to us. The choices are few. Canned tuna has mercury, albacore can have as much as three times as much, making the cheaper chunk light, which comes from smaller tuna, a better choice. Cooking has no effect. We’re screwed.

Not that I’m giving up on tuna. As with all good things, it should be eaten in moderation. A rule of thumb for fats, sugar, and alcohol, but mercury?

Mind-altering tuna salad

January 29, 2008

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I like to think of myself as a progressive eater. I like bold flavors, interesting combinations, and a wide variety of foods. A discerning omnivore, I know what I like, but at the same time, I like to keep an open mind. The one thing that I am almost poutingly child-like and fussy over is onions. I hate raw onions. I like cooked onions that don’t have a bit of crunch left in it, even onion rings, but biting into a raw onion can ruin a perfectly good dining experience, making my mouth feel polluted. I’ve tried to like them, really I have, but I can’t get over it.

The only way that raw onions, not even onions, scallions, are exempt is in a tuna salad. And the scallions have to be minced to an almost paste-like state. My mind was changed with a tuna sandwich from the Excellent Dumpling House. A tuna salad in the most unlikely place, this $2.50 treat is served in a crispy sesame pancake. Minced scallions in the tuna add pungency, without being punishing, I found myself craving it.

Tuna Salad

-mince 1-2 scallions, white and a little of the green parts
-chop 1-2 celery stalks
-drain 1-6 oz. can of tuna
-in a bowl combine the scallions, celery, and tuna with 2 T mayonnaise, 1t mustard, and a couple of shakes of black pepper

This combination extends to egg and chicken salads. Mayo for creaminess, scallions for flavor, and celery for crunch are the golden rules. Parsley and lemon juice add brightness, if you have it around.

The Cabinet Chronicles

January 28, 2008

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Part of the plan with the kitchen renovation was that I was to keep the old original cabinet, as long as it was stripped down to the wood and then waxed. This sturdy old cabinet echoes the pre-war detail in the rest of the apartment to contrast the minimal new cabinets. And it’s a good, solid cabinet. I believed in my architect’s vision, so I was up to the challenge, even though I’ve never stripped furniture before.

I’ve devoted three weekends to this task, and there is still a long road ahead. Using Rock Miracle, a chemical paint stripper, I was told that paint will come right off with a scraper Not if there are ten layers of paint! Feeling like an archaelogist unearthing different layers of strata, I have found layers of history in the paint – white, off white, black, purple with red trim, tan, and tan. All the layers react differently to the Rock Miracle – the white bubbles, the black flakes, the tans get watery/oily. It is a smelly, messy affair, but quite satisfying.

The active ingredient in Rock Miracle is methylene chloride, scary stuff, so thick non-corrosive gloves, a respirator, goggles, long sleeves, and protective footwear are a must. I’ve even had to buy a natural bristle brush to apply the semi-paste, which has the consistency of rubber cement. Some no brainer things that I’ve learned are:

-have lots of newspapaer on hand to wipe off the gooey scraped paint sludge and cover surfaces. I’m glad I’m doing this now, before all the new stuff gets put in, otherwise it would probably get wrecked.

-after every application of Rock Miracle, rinse the brush, otherwise it carries and respreads the thinned out paint. Always use cold water, rinsing with hot water makes chokingly hazardous vapor.

-timing is essential. Too much time, and the Rock Miracle evaporates. Too little time, and it doesn’t get significantly absorbed into the layers of paint.

It’s slow going and I can only do this on weekends, but I want it to be good, since it will stand out from everything else. In it’s half naked state, it’s already better than the 70 plus years of caked on paint!

Pain et Chocolat

January 25, 2008

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Out at a friend’s bar, another friend was insistent on a new menu addition – a chocolate sandwich. The only food choices were three paninis, all savory, to counterpoint the classic cocktails. Customers don’t want sweets at a bar, they want salty. The friend was incredibly tenacious, bringing it up throughout the evening at different times in the conversation. Finally, our barkeep friend put the kabosh on her nagging by declaring that if he had any chocolate at the bar, his employees would just eat it. End of conversation.

Faced with a good part of a baguette and some dark chocolate from crazy loot, I tried the much touted chocolate sandwich. Profoundly easy, it required tucking a few pieces of chocolate in a sliced baguette, and toasting it in a toaster oven for a few minutes, to melt the chocolate. The great feat in this endeavor is to wait a minute or two when it’s done to let it cool as not to burn the inside of my mouth from the molten chocolate. Outrageously good, it was not unlike what I like about grilled cheese sandwiches – crunchy on the outside, melty on the inside. Dark chocolate prevents the sandwich from being overly sweet; I think it would be a welcome complement to a Matty’s Old Fashioned.

Chocolate Sandwich

-halve a 3-inch piece of baguette lengthwise
-tuck a thin piece of dark chocolate in between the bread in a single layer
-toast for 3 minutes until chocolate melts
-wait a minute for the chocolate to cool before eating

Ikea Envy

January 24, 2008

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In dealing with my renovation, sometimes I wish I could just do an Ikea kitchen. The smooth lines of Akurum cabinetry mixed in with the
impressive compartamentalizing of Rationell interior fittings, the
utilitarian Grudtal rail system, even the appliances have a simple
beauty. And the prices can’t be beat for the style.

The Littlest Kitchen is way too small for the standardized
requirements of an Ikea kitchen. The appliances are too big for the
pre-war kitcheonette, and even thought the cabinets can be customized
to an extent, there are strange nooks and crannies to be dealt with.
The Littlest Kitchen requires thinking out of the Ikea box.

So there are a million choices to be made, an avalanche of
consequential decisions deserving of a flow chart. The beauty of Ikea
is the moderate number of choices fitting of a personality test.
Sleek and modern? Abstrakt. Homey and warm? Fagerland. Eco chic?
Nexus. Mixing and matching, which is fun, not overwhelming.

The Muji bag

January 23, 2008

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In my sermonizing about the evils of plastic bags, I practice what I preach by carrying my foldable Muji bag. This nylon sac expands to the size of a regualr plastic shopping bag, while when folded, is as small as a Nano. It’s big and strong enough to hold a melon, yet light enough to be unnoticeable in my purse. Made of material that is not unlike that of an umbrella, it’s waterproof and machine washable. Folding it back up into its pouch is a bit of a pain, and requires origami-like skills, but even loose, it squishes down small. It’s, quite simply, a godsend.

Divide and Conquer, part 2

January 22, 2008

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Now that I’ve successfully killed the tortilla pie, I’ve slowly been doing the same with the rice. Inspired by Heidi Swanson’s Poached Eggs Over Rice, the simple combination of a runny egg, spicy greens, and earthy rice would make for an easy, healthy meal. The flavorful Korean rice was waiting to be used up, and it would be a snap to whip up some kale and garlic, and a fried egg.

Spicy Greens

-mince 3 cloves garlic
-wash and cut out the large stems of 1 lb. kale, collard greens, or swiss chard
-heat 1T vegetable oil, add garlic and 1/4t crushed red pepper, heat 1 minute until fragrant
-add greens, stirring to combine with garlic until wilted, about 2 minutes
-when the greens shrink in volume, add 1/4 cup of water and cover, cook for 5 minutes until the greens are juicy, not chalky

The goal with this dish is to eventually stir it all up so that the yolk of the egg would bind the rice and greens together in a tasty mess. This reminded me of bibim bap. I happened to have some Korean hot bean paste and pickled ginger carrots to add to the mix, a makeshift vegetarian bibim bap was born. In under 20 minutes.

Microplane Rasp

January 18, 2008

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The Littlest Kitchen does not have room for much, let alone for kitchen gadgets that rarely get used. Life changing and attractive at the store, somehow when they get home, they become a pain to use, or don’t work, or are forgotten altogether. And they’re usually a hassle to wash, having so many moving parts and pieces. But, I swear by my Microplane grater/zester. Made by a company that started by making woodworking rasps, these tools have crossed over to the kitchen. Since the rows of specially designed three-edged teeth are sharp enough to cut wood, it easily glides through the hardest Parmesan, yet fine enough to skim off the zest of a lemon. It’s effortless, and yields a lot of fine food shavings. My only complaint is that the handle is made of cheap and dorky black plastic, wood would have been so much nicer and given it a good weighty feel, the substantiality that it deserves.

Oddly enough, Microplane has also expanded into the realm of personal care with their series of callous removers. Wood, cheese, feet, they all need the finest tools.

Divide and Conquer, part 1

January 17, 2008

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The problem with leftovers in The Littlest Kitchen is that I get bored with them. I cannot eat chili and rice five days a week, twice a day, which is about how much is left. I have to make them into something else.

I could have gone simple with sloppy joes and chili omelets, but I need more of a challenge – enchiladas. Adapting some of Cook’s Illustrated’s techniques for chicken enchiladas, I should be able to separate the meat from the sauce, soften the tortillas in the oven, fill the tortillas, cover with sauce and cheese, and be done with it. I could use up the blue corn tortillas, pickled jalapenos, and some stinky cheese.

In beefing up the chili, I added raisins (because I like fruit and meat together), and chopped pickled jalapenos (which also had pickled carrots), chili powder and cumin. A tasty boost, but the meat was fully integrated with the sauce and would not separate. Plan B – tortilla pie. Kinda of like a vertical stack of enchiladas, I merely alternated layers of chili and softened tortilla, finishing with with a protective layer of chili. The cheese was a no go, wrong for its grassy, goat-y taste. I baked it for 20 minutes to let the tortillas meld witht he chili. When it was done, it looked like a homely meat cake. To make myself feel better about this possible disaster, I made a face from the pickled carrots and jalapenos. Sure was ugly, but sure did taste good. The tortillas absorbed some of the spicy chili, while imparting its own earthy corn flavor. It also had structure and distinction. The raisins added little explosions of sweetness. I might be able to eat the whole thing on my own.

Tortilla Pie – serves six

-preheat oven 300 degrees
-reheat 1 quart chili over medium high heat
-add 1/3 cup raisins, 1/3 cup pickled jalapeno, 1T chili powder, 1t cumin, heat through about 5 minutes
-in the meantime, to soften tortillas, lightly brush 6 tortillas with vegetable oil. Bake until soft, about 4 minutes
-spread a thin layer of chili in a pie or cake pan, alternating layers of tortilla and chili, and ending with chili on top
-cover with foil, bake for 20 minutes
-serve with a drizzle of yogurt

Shredded cheese can be added for more gooey-ness, and would make the top more attractive. The chili/meat filling adheres to no hard rules, I happen to like a little more spice and a little more sweet. But softening the tortillas is paramount, otherwise it’ll verge on cardboard.