Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Martha by Mail ~ Extra Deep Mixing Bowls

I love collecting mixing bowls, both antique & new, because they are some of the most functional vessels in my kitchen.  They're also beautiful when grouped together on a counter or on one of my shelves, particularly if they share a style, color or shape.  These Extra Deep Mixing Bowls from Martha by Mail get used a lot to mix cake batters, icings, breads, salads, pastas and for storing vegetables & fruit. 

The moment I first laid eyes on them in the Martha by Mail catalog back in 2001, I knew where their inspiration had come from.  The vintage prototypes can be found in one of Martha's kitchens (Skylands) where her staff puts them to good use for preparing meals.  They have been featured in her magazines throughout the years (at a milestone Leo Birthday Party) and on television segments (she once made popovers with one of her French bulldogs sitting on a stool next to her).

Hefty and sturdy with thick rolled rims (perfect for gripping), these mixing bowls can grace any number of kitchens, from a Connecticut River Valley Colonial to a modern city apartment.  I hope you like them.

"The proportions of an antique bowl charmed us, so we commissioned this trio in white stoneware.  Each is sturdy and deep - ideal for mixing vinaigrettes, batters or dough.  Exclusive"

The Extra Deep Mixing Bowls

Small Bowl (1 1/2 qts.)
Medium Bowl (3 qt.)
 Large Bowl (4 3/4 qts.)

A view from the top shows their beautiful proportions.  They nest perfectly. 

Coated in a thick white glaze, the undersides are stamped with a simple Martha by Mail logo.

A closer look at the logo.

The deep, white bowls (4 sets of them) with their thick rims sit proudly on Martha's 'Wall of China' at Skylands.  These antique bowls provided the inspiration. 

Image from Martha by Mail.

Here I am making my Moist Chocolate Cake Layers for a birthday cake.  I love using them on a weekly basis. 

If I'm not using the bowls for mixing, I will fill them with foodstuffs that can sit on my counter.  They also get stored in my Mise en Place cabinet. 

Since I own a couple of sets of these bowls, I like to keep them in rotation either holding or mixing ingredients in the kitchen, or decorating a shelf.  This particular bowl is filled with farmer's market produce that will be placed in my refrigerator. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Caring for Cutting Boards

A good, solid cutting board is one of those kitchen tools that every cook should have.  As one who spends a lot of time in the kitchen cooking up meals for my family, I rely heavily on my cutting boards to get me through many culinary tasks.  Although my boards experience a lot of cutting, dicing, slicing, chopping & mincing on a daily basis, I treat them gently by maintaining them well.  Any type of cutting board is an investment for the home cook, and it's one that shouldn't go to waste because of neglect. 

Wood is my preferred surface for cutting boards, but there are other types available to the home chef, such as polypropylene (these I highly recommend for cutting meats because they can be cleaned in the dishwasher) and bamboo, which are suitable for any kitchen.  A wooden board, however, is sturdy, beautiful to look at and is easiest on knives for cutting.  They are prone to splitting and cracking if not taken care of properly, but if you follow a few simple basics, a wooden cutting board will get you through years of meal preparations.  This is what I do in my kitchen.

This small collection of cutting boards sitting on my dough counter is due for a monthly oiling.

A good food-safe mineral oil can be found in supermarkets, hardware stores and at any kitchenwares store.  I don't recommend using a vegetable oil for cutting boards because over time it can grow stale and give off an unpleasant odor.  Not a good thing. 

  • A new wooden cutting board should be oiled every single day for the first week in your kitchen and then on a weekly basis for the first month. 

  • Every wooden cutting board should be oiled once a month.

Add a few drops of mineral oil to the cutting board.

Work the oil into your cutting board with a paper towel, making sure you get every inch and all around the edges.  After 5 minutes, wipe off any excess oil with a clean paper towel. 

Edges are the areas most susceptible to cracks and splits if there is excess humidity in your home or if the air is quite dry.  Wood likes a stable environment that isn't too humid or too dry.  

All done.  The boards are well oiled and ready to assist me in my next culinary endeavor.  Some of these boards have been in my kitchen for about a decade now.

 If I've just used my cutting board for preparing a meal and it isn't too dirty or stained, I simply sprinkle some coarse kosher salt on the surface.

Using a lemon half, I scrub the cutting board all the way around.  The lemon acts as a natural disinfectant and 'detergent', while the salt acts as an abrasive.  When I'm done, I simply wipe off the excess salt.  I then dry the board with a clean kitchen towel and store it either on my counter or on a shelf.   

If your board is excessively stained or odorous, you can wash it with a mild dish soap and hot water. 

  • Never let a wooden board soak in water because it will absorb moisture; this will make it swell, warp or split.
  • A wooden cutting board should never be cleaned in the dishwasher. 
  • Keep a separate cutting board for meats, poultry and seafood; this board should always be washed with dish soap & hot water.  If there is excess wear & tear after years of use, replace the board.  Deep grooves and nicks can harbor harmful bacteria. 

This little piglet is one of my prized boards that gets a lot of use.  I bought it many years ago from the Martha Stewart Everyday line, which is no longer around.  I cherish this piggy.

If you own a cutting board or plan on buying one soon, make sure you have a bottle of food-safe mineral oil to help you maintain its beauty.  Cutting boards make thoughtful gifts for friends and family, especially for those who are just starting to put a home together.  It is my belief that every home cook should have at least two cutting boards in their kitchen (one for pungent ingredients & one for everything else).  As you can see, I have several ones that I use for specific tasks.  I'm not one who likes to use the same surface for strongly-flavored ingredients (think garlic & onions) and for something delicately flavored like fruit or a tea bread.  Having said that, I encourage you to keep a regular routine for maintaining the cutting boards in your kitchen; it doesn't require much to do this.  Caring for a cutting board is a wise thing for the home cook.  Cheers! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Sardine Sandwich

For a delicious and nutritious lunch, nothing beats a good sardine sandwich in my opinion.  I sometimes find myself eating sardines straight out of the tin when I feel the need for some protein during the day, but if I happen to have some outstanding bread in the house, I make a sandwich.  My sardine sandwich is served open-faced with only two additional ingredients.  The type and brand of sardines for this particular sandwich will depend entirely on your preference.  At my house we use skin-on, lightly to non-smoked sardines packed in olive oil that come from Spain or Morocco.  This is a heart healthy sandwich, perfect for a weekend lunch or quick weekday dinner.  Treat yourself to one this week.

My Sardine Sandwich

Begin with a perfectly ripe, small to medium-sized, Hass avocado.  I always have a ripe one in the refrigerator (they keep for several days) and one or two ripening on my countertop.  Slice the avocado in half lengthwise & pry it open.  Scoop out the half onto a cutting board and thinly slice.

Lightly toast 2 slices of a good quality, artisanal sourdough bread.  Spread each half with your favorite Dijon mustard and top with a generous amount of avocado slices.

Choose your favorite sardines and gently remove them from the tin (drain the oil or water).  These are my favorite from Season's; skin & bones are left intact.

Arrange the sardines on top of the toasts and devour.  Eaten open-faced like this, they are superb!

We're all trying to eat healthier and smarter these days by including foods rich in vitamins and nutrients, as well as Omega 3s.  Avocados not only provide essential nutrients & phytochemicals that our bodies need, they also complement sardines extremely well.  Sardines provide a good amount of iron, calcium (eat the bones!), and Omega 3 fatty acids.  What's not to love?  I can't think of a better way to include all of these good things in one meal than with this delicious open-faced sardine sandwich.  Even if you think you don't like sardines or are put off because of their pungent odor, I urge you to try this combination.  Bon Appetit!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cutting Up a Chicken

It's essential knowing how to cut up a fresh chicken if you like to cook and if your family likes chicken.  It makes economical sense to buy a whole chicken for breasts, legs & wings because it saves a lot of money in the long run.  Yes, it's convenient to buy parts already prepackaged at the supermarket, but cutting your own at  home is fast and easy.  The whole process of cutting up a chicken shouldn't make one squeamish whatsoever.  The most important thing to consider other than buying a good quality chicken (I always buy a humanely raised chicken from either Whole Foods or my local farmer's market), is having a very sharp knife.  Let me show you how I do it.  It may differ slightly from what your butcher does, but it gets the job done.    

Before you begin, either cover your counter with butcher paper (parchment also works) or place the whole chicken on a cutting board used exclusively for cutting poultry or meat to prevent cross contamination.  I like to keep cutting boards for specific jobs; one is for chicken, one is for vegetables, another for baked goods, and yet another just for breads. 

This is a free range, organic chicken.  I usually get one that weighs between 3 1/2lbs. to 4 1/2lbs., known as a broiler or fryer.  I always begin by removing the pocket of fat that hangs from the cavity opening.  This can simply be pulled off. 

Begin by making a cut down the left & right legs; slice down, don't hack it.  Separate them from the breast area & cut down until you hit the bone. 

When you get to the bone, pop the joint to separate; notice where I'm pointing to.  Continue cutting through the joint until you separate the entire leg.  Repeat this process on the other side.  By the way, it's a good idea to use food safe gloves when doing this; it prevents having to go back & forth between counter & faucet.

A perfectly separated leg.

I'm pointing to the connective tissue which runs up & down between the thigh & drumstick.  This is where you're going to make your cut to separate these pieces.  Do so quickly & with a steady hand.  They will separate rather easily.

You will end up with this when you've finished with the legs.  The breast & wings are next.

Turn the chicken breast-side down.  Begin cutting between the wing & back.  Again, when you hit the bone, pop the joint (where I'm pointing).  Slice down quickly & separate the wing; repeat on the other side.  The wing tips can simply be cut off (don't throw them away!).

For boneless chicken breasts, find the breast bone & begin slicing on either side (above) to separate the meat from the ribs. 

If you wish to keep bone-in breasts, keep the bird breast side down & separate the spine with the knife or kitchen shears.  Then break the breast bone down the middle & separate the rib cages. 
When removing the breast from the rib cage, slice very close to the bone. You want to keep as much meat as possible.  This is why it's imperative to use a sharp, slicing knife that is NOT serrated.  A serrated knife would simply tear the flesh & make an unsightly mess.

Do you see how cleanly I've left the rib cage on the left?  That chicken breast is perfectly cut.

This is what you'll have when you're done.  The process just takes a couple of minutes.  Simple.  Easy.  These eight portions can be used any number of ways or frozen for later. 

The chicken carcass with a bit of meat here & there is just the thing to use for making chicken stock.  I sometimes freeze these & use 2 carcasses whenever I want to make a big batch.  Don't forget to include those wing tips!  After about 45 minutes of simmering the stock, the carcass can be removed from the pot and have the meat separated from the bones when cool enough to handle; return the carcass to the simmering stock.  You may have enough for 1 chicken salad sandwich.

One can, of course, have the butcher at the local market cut up a chicken in no time if you don't wish to bother.  As I just showed you, though, the whole process is quick (it takes no more than 2 minutes) as long as you have a very sharp knife and a steady hand.  Buying a whole chicken not only provides many servings to feed a family, it also has the added bonus of saving one money and of supplying meaty bones for a deliciously rich stock.  Knowing how easy it is to do at home, why not try it yourself if you've never attempted to? Happy Eats! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Martha by Mail ~ Great Big Mixing Bowls

The Great Big Mixing Bowls were commissioned many years ago from the Robinson Ransbottom Pottery Company (they were in business from 1900 to 2005) by the designers of the Martha by Mail catalog.  Generously proportioned and quite heavy for their size, the set of 3 nesting bowls came in either a white or yellow glaze (I've found this particular shape & style often referred to as 'mustard mixer').  Using traditional methods and the thinnest of glazes, one can see how the master potters at Robinson Ransbottom worked to make these bowls unique pieces of stoneware.  A small drip or pop in the glaze here, a nick in the clay there are just some of the endearing characteristics of these mixing bowls.  I invite you to take a closer look at these pieces from my collection.  They are beautiful bowls.

"These generously sized stoneware bowls are created using traditional methods and unrefined clay, then finished with a light glaze.  Made by a century-old American company, the hefty, vintage pottery bowls are pretty enough for baking and serving every day."

The Great Big Mixing Bowls. 

Nested, they don't take up a lot of room, but they are very heavy.  It takes a considerable amount of effort to move the entire set all at once. 

Note: these bowls were a bit problematic for Martha by Mail to ship because of their weight.  I had to order these several times (with a special request to have extra padding put into my shipping box) just to have them arrive in tact.  They were packaged (like picture above) with cardboard dividers in between each bowl, but the bottom of the box lacked the correct amount of padding.  More often then not, the set arrived cracked or broken. 

Small bowl measures 4 1/4" high with an 8" diameter. 

Medium bowl measures 5 3/4" high with a 10" diameter.

Large bowl measures 7 1/2" high with a 12" diameter.  This bowl is large and capacious.  The bowls are stamped with the diameter, Roseville, Ohio, U.S.A. and R.R.P.Co.

Note for the collector: I advise you to carefully examine this particular bowl for cracks or signs of breakage.  This was perhaps the most damaged bowl of the entire set during shipping. 

Do not confuse this company with Roseville Pottery.  The stamp R.R.P.Co stands for Robinson Ransbottom Pottery.

These are certainly heirloom pieces.

Martha uses these in her kitchen at Skylands, her home in Maine (pictured above).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hot Lemon Drop

I love making a Hot Lemon Drop as soon as the weather gets cold because it's so comforting, soothing & surprisingly refreshing.  This tart drink is just the thing to warm & brighten you up during the day, but it's also good to have at night when you want to wind down.  If you crave something hot & relaxing without the caffeine found in teas & coffee drinks, treat yourself to one of my Lemon Drops.  All you need is a lemon, some water, a bit of sugar and a pot.  You can make one to have while reading a book in bed or you can make several to serve to guests after an invigorating walk.  It's sour and puckery with just the slightest hint of sweetness, yet it's positively satisfying.  I hope you like it.

Choose a lemon that is heavy for its size & thin skinned in order to extract the most juice.  This is a Meyer lemon that I brought back from California.  They're delicious!

The Recipe: makes 1 drink
  • 8 oz. (1 cup) water
  • 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon granulated or superfine sugar
In a pot over high heat, whisk the ingredients and bring the mixture up to just under a boil.  The sugar should be dissolved.  Don't let the drink boil or you may end up making it bitter.  Voila!
Pour into a cup, mug or heatproof glass.  Enjoy!

I don't know about you, but a drink like this really hits the spot sometimes.  Tailor the tartness of the drink to suit your tastes and those of your family, but if you must know, my preference is for a sour one.  The next time you're outdoors jogging, walking or working around your home, make a Hot Lemon Drop when you come in out of the cold.  It's the quickest thing in the world to make and one of my all-time favorite Good Things.  Cheers!

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Pets

I adopted 2 adorable cats many years ago from a no-kill shelter when we moved into our first home in Haddonfield, New Jersey and I'd like to introduce you to them.  It seems like just yesterday that I rescued them from the Animal Adoption Center, but in reality they're already "middle-aged" kitties with stubborn personalities.  Having grown up with pets all my life it was only natural to fill our home with the pitter-patter of little feet, in addition to the hissing, scratching, growling, meowing & the occasional biting that we seem to love.  For those of you who have pets, you'll agree with me when I say that these little creatures become members of the family who require love, attention and special care.  Go through these intimate pictures of my little ones; I can't imagine our lives without them. 

Lion is a domestic short hair red tabby with the cutest face ever.  He has a fluffy "turtleneck" that is kept pristine white, along with white socks & white mittens.  Truth be told, he's a gourmand at heart.  There isn't anything he won't try to eat and he likes to supervise me while I prepare meals.   

My domestic short hair grey tabby Mistress, is the Queen of the house (Ma Reine de Saba).  She is feisty, talkative, likes to watch "Animal Planet Live" (looks out the window at nature) every single day and enjoys long naps.  She too has a very white turtleneck, white socks & white mittens. 

Her gaze is very soulful and very loving.  Mistress loves to follow us around the house like a dog and rushes into whichever room we're about to go into (I have to anticipate her or else I end up tripping).  In the picture above, she's sitting on my dough counter next to a moss-filled porcelain cafe au lait bowl. 

I do so love it when cats clean themselves this way.  Lion almost looks like a sea otter. 

He's people you know.  I think his preferred way of drinking water is from a glass.  Here he is using a Martha by Mail glass that is kept on the counter at all times with fresh water.

Sleepy eyes is sitting on a kitchen towel that has moved into his "collection".  The kitties will claim certain items for themselves and of course, we don't deny them a thing. 

Lion doing what he does best.  If he has a sunbeam and a soft cover or bed to sleep on, he's in cat heaven!

Mistress sitting in front of some apothecary jars (I'll blog about that collection soon).  Since I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, kitty will almost always keep me company.  She has very nice markings. 

Give her something soft to sit on & she will get some shut eye.  Her "turtleneck" has never been dirty.  She keeps it snowy white at all times

Under a waffle weave coverlet in the master bedroom.  Very comfortable.

Brother & Sister sharing a rare moment together.  Although they've lived together for more than a decade, they still argue and get on each other's nerves.  Cats will be cats.