Archive for December, 2008
To commemorate a certain special occasion that took place earlier this year, I decided to build the Eiffel Tower, in all its majesty, out of gingerbread. This isn’t the first gingerbread Eiffel Tower in the world, but this may be the first one made with only 4 pieces of gingerbread.
To achieve this marvelous feat of culinary engineering, I built a baking ramp with the same slope as the profile of the tower, so each face of the tower came out curved. As a result, each side fit together perfectly – er, close enough for gingerbread.
The Christmas shopping season is upon us and that means its time to find the perfect present for the food geek in your life. The list below include some of my favorite socket stuffers for 2008.
This is probably my favorite item on the list this year! This very clever cutting board uses dark and light end-grain “pixels” to represent those pesky aliens from the classic video game Space Invaders. Also, it gives you an excuse to make the PEW PEW noise when cutting vegetables. Now, if they could only build a Leisure Suit Larry cutting board…
$129.99 from ThinkGeek
If there is a better way to drink and drive, I’ve never seen it. This motorized cooler travels up to 15 miles on a single charge. That’ll get you far enough away that you won’t recognize anything when you wake up naked and covered mustard outside a Dunkin Donuts off the Jersey turnpike. With a maximum load of 210 pounds (you plus your chilled Chardonnay), it won’t haul your lazy ass up any steep hills, but you should be able to smoke those Rascal drivers on the quarter mile.
$399 from Smarthome
Folks, we’re living in the future. This induction burner is a portable, heatless, electric cooktop, which must have been sent back through time from the year 2025, at least. Induction cooking uses a yet-to-be-discovered principle of electromagnetics whereby a strong magnetic field in the thingamajigie causes heat due to some electrical resistance voodoo in the bottom of your frying pan. The result? Heat with 90% energy effeciency. Now, if we can only reduce our dependency on foreign olive oil…
$244.31 from Amazon
Proudly declare your geekdom with these sodium chloride and Pe +(Pe)r shakers. After all, cooking is chemistry, so why not make your kitchen look more like a laboratory? Order a whole mess of these things and keep them neatly arranged in a crystal formation.
$14.99 from ThinkGeek
Just can’t get enough Salt? I sure can’t. This book discusses the profound impact that salt and the salt industry have had on world civilizations since, uh, a lot BC. From the production and harvest of salt, to salt’s use as currency, to our modern-day culinary love affair with the compound, this book is a fascinating read. And, when you’re done, you can use the pages to kill snails.
$10.29 from Amazon
If 1 out of 10 geeks suffer from alcoholism, does that mean the other 9 enjoy it? If so, its probably because they one one of these sweet geek shot glasses! Use them for your next happy hour, all-night coding session, or anytime you’re drinking with the other Matheletes.
$3.99 from ThinkGeek
That’s right, there are multiple Star Wars cookbooks. And you can have them both! Learn how to make Jedi Juice Bars, Dark Side Salsa, Boba Fett-Uccine, and more delicious meals to eat by myself in my mother’s basement, er, I mean, to cook for dates. With women. Real life ones.
$14.99 from ThinkGeek
OMG, OMG, OMG. This has got to be one of the all time most superfluous kitchen gadgets I’ve ever seen. Which means it’s perfect for the food geek in your life. Just place your cake in the middle, then use the buttons to select between 2 and 12 slices. LED lights on the outer ring shows you where to cut. And, if that isn’t reason enough to buy this breakthrough digital portioning system, it even plays “Happy Birthday”.
$39.99 from Amazon
I’ve been drooling over these toaster ovens since they first came on the scene. With a .9 cubic foot capacity, this little oven is perfect for smaller jobs like pizzas, casseroles, and shrinky-dinks. Plus, the ceramic brick-lined interior promises even cooking, and the 500-degree temperature means you can tandori the night away! The built-in rotisserie is another reason to keep your big oven off. We are in an energy crisis, you know.
$279.99 from Amazon
Are your Star Trek: The Next Generation-themed dinner parties lacking a certain flair? You’ve got the costumes, the 3D chess set, even a sage, black ex-comedian to dispense advice and lend a friendly ear. But something’s still missing… a fiber optic table runner! Fret no more, Ensign Billy. You may now boldly decorate as no man has decorated before.
$85.99 from Smarthome
I had the recent privilege of attending a “Farmhouse Dinner,” a sort of underground dinner club hosted by a Seattle-area farmer and prepared by a local chef. Underground dinner clubs are neither new nor rare in Seattle, but I will remember (and rave about) this meal until I’m old and senile.
Usually terms like locally grown, organic, hormone-free, hell, even fresh have a distant, intangible relationship with the foods we normally eat. When I stand in front of a pile of organic grapes at Whole Foods, I’m not necessarily moved by the extra care and attention paid to the grapes in order to earn that badge of superiority. But, when you eat a meal knowing that all of its components were grown, raised, picked or slaughtered within a triangle bell’s ring from the dining room… there is a tangible relationship.
Anyone could, presumably, go to the farmer’s market and grab a dinner’s worth of locally grown ingredients and invite some guests over – I’d even recommend it. But that is child’s play compared to the dinners served at the farm. Literally everything except salt, pepper, flour, coffee beans and wine came directly from the farm. Everything. That includes butter, cheese, pancetta, pickles, chilies, and of course all the meat and vegetables you can shake a fork at. And if you’ve ever doubted that freshness makes a difference, I hope you get an invitation.
We ate 10 or so courses, beginning with thin crust, wood oven fired pizzas eaten casually with a glass of wine as the evening’s guests arrived. We moved to the table to enjoy a divine beef broth and pea soup. Next we tasted thinly-shaved pigs heart with pickled shallots, braised ox tail, tomato jam, fresh pickles, and an assortment of homemade cheeses. Then there were several vegetable courses: the freshest, most vibrant carrots I’ve ever seen, a slaw of brussels sprouts and roasted peppers, and a superb roasted squash. The main courses (yes, there were multiple) included handmade pasta with braised lamb shoulder and what I declare to be the best roast beef I’ve ever tasted. I guess it helps when the guy cooking the beef knew the cow personally.
So, what’s the message here, that we should slaughter our own cows and only eat carrots that we’ve personally removed from the ground? Of course not. For most of us, its infeasible – both economically, and practically. However, if you have the opportunity to experience the staggering impact of really fresh ingredients in a place where you are one degree of freedom away from the person who grew your food, don’t let it pass you by. I guarantee it will be an meal to remember!
Coronets may be a little oldschool, but I’m a sucker for shapely finger food. These fish cones are a little labor intensive, but totally worth it. Plus, there’s something I love about toiling over the intricate details of hors d’oeuvres in anticipation of a party. If you don’t have coronet molds lying around, you can use large pastry tips, or anything else cone-shaped to roll the parmesan crisps into a lovely conical form.
Makes: about 9 cones
Total kitchen time: 1 hour
- 9 coronet molds (or large pastry tips)
- 1 Silpat Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat
- 1 pastry bag
- 1 4” circle pastry ring (optional)
- 1 lb. parmesan cheese, very finely shredded
- 1/2 lb. lox (smoked salmon fillet)
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 2 tbsp. chives, finely diced
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. butter
- crème fraîche, to garnish
- Preheat your oven to 350°F and place the top rack in the middle of the oven.
- Prepare the silplat on a baking sheet. Place the pastry ring on the silplat and gently sprinkle with an even layer of the shredded parmesan. The layer should only be thick enough so that there are no large holes. Repeat, leaving at least 1” of space between circles. You’ll probably have to make parmesan rounds in 2 batches.
- Lightly salt the parmesan rounds and bake for 5-7 minutes. Keep a close eye on the rounds – once the cheese is completely melted and just barely starting to brown around the outer edges, remove the pan from the oven and rest it on the open oven door. The heat from the door will keep the cheese soft and warm as you shape the rounds into cones.
- Working one by one, roll each round of cheese onto a coronet mold and place on a stack of paper towels to dry. The cheese will be hot to touch, and you may want to use an offset spatula to help lift the first edge of cheese off the silplat.
- Once all of the cheese rounds have been formed onto the molds, let them rest for at least 10 minutes to cool. Wipe any grease off the silplat, then return the cheesy molds to the baking sheet and bake 2-3 minutes more, until lightly browned. Its important to keep the molds in for this step, otherwise your cones will deflate into triangles. Place the cones on paper towels to drain until ready to serve. Can be made the day before and refrigerated.
- Using a knife (not a food processor) finely chop the salmon lox. In a large bowl, smash the butter with the back of a fork until it is lightly whipped. Stir in the salmon, shallot, chives and lemon juice. Can be made up to 4 hours ahead and covered and refrigerated.
- When you’re ready to serve, pipe the salmon mixture into the cones carefully using a pastry bag with a wide tip (or no tip at all). The cones will be very fragile, so you may want to recruit a second pair of hands for this part of the operation.
- Finally, using a small, decorative tip, pipe a dollop of crème fraîche on top of the salmon. Serve on a platter, or standing up on a plate full of holes!