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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

New Labelling System for my Kitchen

Over the last month or so, I've done a complete OVERHAUL of my kitchen.

We cleaned, consolidated, and covered (drawer liners can cover a cabinet too!) all our cupboards and cabinets... but I think I'm most pleased by my new labelling system.

For the last decade or so I've frustrated the shit out of the wife, by not labelling my spices or other dry goods.  I've needed labels, as I know where everything is, and perhaps more importantly what everything is.

Well, the wife grew tired of asking me to find stuff for her when she was in the kitchen, I guess...

And when the kitchen was all up-in-the-air we took the opportunity to neatly organize and label all the spices and dry goods.


All of them!

Here's my spice drawer now:

It's not the prettiest, but for the price, this was a good solution.

But, myself, I really liked the look of my chalkboard labels.  They're cool and retro looking, and although they are arguably less needed than spice labels (I'm pretty sure anyone could tell the contents of these containers) they are considerably more attractive!

The chalk has a tendency to rub off, but I've already gotten accustomed to grabbing these containers more carefully to avoid that.

They look particularly great on my Le Parfait sealed containers, I think.  My sugars:

And even coffee

For my transient, often changing, coffee supply, I find the temporality of the chalk a boon.  It is really convenient (and neat!) to fill up these canisters with a new type of bean and then write it down.

The ONLY thing that I have a problem with in this set up is keeping the chalk sharp!


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Magnetic Knife Rack

I have always wanted a nice magnetic knife rack.

It's right up there next to a hanging pot rack.

Well, just like a hanging pot rack, I always thought that I'd never be able to accommodate one in my tiny kitchen.

Well, then I actually looked into some.

And I found some knife racks are actually magnetic on BOTH SIDES, which meant that I could attach it to my fridge!

How cool is that?

The answer?

Very cool.

No more knife block.  Man I really hate knife blocks.  ESPECIALLY in a small kitchen where every appliance's footprint needs to be weighed carefully.  Counter space is at a premium, so that's why my butcher's block prep station is literally INUNDATED with hanging or otherwise suspended tools all within easy reach.

To some, I'm sure this looks quite cluttered.  To them I merely say you need to see just how small my kitchen is.


Anyway, this knife rack I bought from an Etsy shop, and it is 100% hand-made.  One of the nicest features about it is the fact that - unlike many knife racks - this one is not finished with a varnish or is made out of a metal or similarly damageable material.  Nope, this is 100% wood and is treated with a food-safe mineral oil.

So, my knives only touch food-safe wood, and I don't have to worry about scuffing the rack, nor about dulling the knives.  

It's really quite awesome!

At first, I'll admit, I was a little apprehensive about having a bunch of sharp (really, really sharp) objects all poking upwards.  I am not a graceful human after all.

But I think it would take a very extenuating set of circumstances for there to be an accident occurring with these.

Of course, don't put that past me.  I'm sure I will be the one to break all expectations and be the only one to ever slip, trip and slice myself real good on this.  :)

Until that day, however, isn't it so pretty?!?

Friday, January 16, 2015

New KitchenAid Hand Mixer

So... the wife rarely pressures me for kitchen devices.  She acknowledges that I usually have a better sense of what goes on in there... :D

However, she has ALWAYS wanted a KitchenAid stand mixer.  Those gorgeous-looking pieces of counter-candy that are always prominently featured on any graphic cooking show or (in particular) baking media.

I certainly don't blame anyone for falling for their allure.  They really are quite attractive.

The only issue I had was the cost/utility value.  Sure I'd spend close to $500 on a kitchen appliance... but only if I think I'd use it often.  

And that's where this device just wouldn't really pay out.  We just don't do enough baking to make it worthwhile.  I mean, it would be AWESOME... in particular I wanted one with a dough-hook, as one thing I do make semi-regularly is freshly-baked bread.

That, actually, was one of the things I was able to use in my justification for our new-ish Ninja kitchen system.  It has dough blades (among many, many other things).

However, that ninja system also made it easier for us to justify NOT getting a KitchenAid stand mixer, as the Ninja is capable of handling many of those tasks.

But, I still do use a hand-mixer sometimes.  Not often, but I'd say about once a month.  And my old one was quite poor.  I think it was literally the cheapest model available at the time, as I bought it when I first moved away from home and was assembling my kitchen with whatever Ikea and Superstore had that was cheap at the time.  :)

And I've been using the same piece of crap for almost 15 years.  It worked OK.  I mean, it started to smell like an ozone electrical fire if you turned the speed up higher than 2 or 3, but it worked.  :)

Anyway, one day we were out for an unrelated errand, and happened to see a KitchenAid hand mixer on sale.  Plus it came in one of the gorgeous colours normally reserved for the stand mixers.

So, we bought it.  And it satisfied the wife's desire to have a candy-coloured KitchenAid mixer.  :)

And it is MUCH nicer than my old one.

And, on the plus side, it actually came with a decent amount of attachments, including some curly dough-ish kind of beaters.  Very handy!

But, perhaps the best thing, is it takes up SIGNIFICANTLY less room than a stand mixer would!  It very compactly resides in a small space in (fittingly) my baking cupboard.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fried Polenta in Tomato Sauce

So, I just posted about a polenta I made a couple days ago.

Ever since I had that, though, I wanted to try making some crispy, fried, polenta as a main.

In this case, in a quasi-traditional Italian main, in tomato sauce.

I chopped up the remaining "bricks" of polenta I had, which had been leftover in the fridge.

And then I fried them in some avocado oil.  Why avocado, you ask?  Well, it has one of the highest smoke points of any cooking oil, and it doesn't impart too much flavour, so in my opinion it makes a great frying oil.

As for the tomato sauce, I didn't take any photos of it while I made it, but it was fresh organic roma tomatoes, puréed with some fresh garlic and onion and some fresh thyme.  Why thyme?  The only reason was because I had some fresh thyme in the fridge needing to be used up.  Normally my go-to herb for a good tomato sauce is basil or oregano.  But thyme works great sometimes too!

Anyway, once the polenta sticks got nice and crispy, I plated them, covered them in fresh, piping-hot tomato sauce, and then a light dusting of parmigiano reggiano.


This was really, really good, and very hot and filling on a cold January evening.

The polenta was crispy and slightly tough on the outside, but delightfully soft and fluffy on the inside.  And the flavour worked very well with the tangy tomato sauce.

Even though this was the first time I had made something like this, I think I would definitely try it again.  It was worth the effort.

Of course, you'll remember I put some cheese and butter in the polenta, but you wouldn't need to, and this could very well be a great vegan dish otherwise, if you were so inclined.  Just add a pinch more salt and pepper at the end and you can skip the cheese.

Anyway, a delightful use of polenta if I do say so myself.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

White Wine Polenta

Polenta is good.  I mean... I like it... I suppose.  I'm not, however, one of those vehement proponents, who'll extol its many uses and variations and just sheer greatness.

It's just cooked corn meal people.

Now, that said, it can be a delightful switch from your everyday side or otherwise starchy medium.  

Well, today it just so happened that I had some white wine I needed to use up... my Mom was here over the holidays and is literally the only reason we even keep white wine on hand.  So, when she left half a bottle of Pinot Grigio behind... I had to get creative with how to use it up.

It also happened that I was craving some eggs, but didn't have any bread products.  So... that's how this particular meal was born.  

Every one of my meals has a long and storied history, after all.

Well, making polenta is actually pretty easy.  Incorporating white wine into it, a little less so.  But still quite simple, really.

Corn meal is needed, obvs.

I like to sift through the meal and look for discoloured bits.  They occur naturally (from the corn kernal) but polenta needs all the aesthetic help it can get in my opinion, so it's not hard to just take a minute and fish those bits out.

Next I brought a water and wine mixture to a low boil, and then added some salt (truffle salt) and some fresh chives.

At this point, I took out some of this liquid, let it cool for a few minutes, and then added that to the corn meal.

If you just dump all the corn meal in there dry, it can clump and then not cook evenly.  And polenta is ALL about evenness.  In fact, I would argue that is its most important concern...

Anyway, at this point it's just a matter of patience.

It is easy, but time consuming, and you'll need to stand at the stove and stir frequently.

For the first 10 or 20 minutes I like to use a whisk.

But as soon as it thickens to the point of being problematic for the whisk, switch to a wooden spoon.

At this point, it is almost done cooking in the pan, so I got a baking pan ready by greasing it heavily in butter.

Of course, any oil would do here, but I already had some butter softening on the counter (for other things), so why not?

Well, the polenta is done cooking when it's thickened to the point of a spoon sticking straight up.

Or thereabouts, anyway.

Now... you can serve this as it is, and often this is sufficient.  Especially if you're serving it up on it's own as a dish in and of itself.

However, I wanted to make polenta squares.  For no particularly good reason other than that I wanted them to retain their square shape under the pressure of further contents lain upon them.  You'll see later.

I also wanted them to be a little more flavourful than usual.  So I put in some parmigiano reggiano, some more chives, and some white peppercorns.

Not all of this, mind you, the butter and some of the chives and pepper are saved for a white wine egg sauce I'm going to make later.

But the cheese and some of the spices get mixed into the polenta while it's still malleable.  Then the whole thing gets poured into the baking pan.

Smooth it out as best you can, but it's not crucial it be pretty at this point.  Stick it in the fridge to cool for at least an hour, and when it's done it sets nicely, and forms one gross clammy brick.

Gross and clammy maybe, but it is very easy to work with.  Especially if you want to cut it into squares.  :)

I put most of these in some plastic containers to store in the fridge, but I plated a few of them, to be ready for what came next.

That butter I had been softening is ready to melt, and have some white pepper and egg yolks added.

Add the remaining white wine, heat it up gently, and you've got a delicious white wine hollandaise-esque kind of sauce.


I decided to sauté some green beans as a side dish, so got those goin'.

As everything became ready, they each got plated.

Some fresh mixed greens will go very well with this dish, look great next to the heavier fare, and also serve as a light go-to when feeling overwhelmed by the rich egg-y stuff.

That's a piece of prosciutto di parma and some parmigiano reggiano on top of the polenta, BTW.  Cause why not?

Last thing to do is to poach up a couple of eggs.

Don't want these bad boys to cool, so we want them to go on the plate pretty much right before eating.

Free poaching eggs is my favourite way of making eggs, and if you've followed my writings before, you'll know that.  As such, I've gotten quite good at it, if I do say so myself.  I've written dedicated posts on this, but a quick refresher: bring some lightly salted water to a rolling boil.  Add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (not vinegar!), lower heat until it is now a moderate-to-gentle boil.  Get your eggs ready.  Get a slotted spoon ready.  Give the pot a rather vigourous stir in one direction.  The object of this is to create a strong circular current.  Crack an egg and gently plop it directly in the middle of this current.  You'll see that this current will 'sweep' the albumin nicely around the yolk.  Without that the egg can be all over the place.

 You can see the egg being 'shaped' by the water current.  It's pretty neat.

Anyway, for a medium poach, an egg only needs a minute or two in there.  So, with your slotted spoon, gently pull the egg out, hold it above the pan for a few seconds to drain excess water, and then plate that gorgeous sucker.

I garnished with some more chives, and then, some of that white wine sauce.

I'm not going to call that a hollandaise, because the white wine kind of messed up the consistency a little bit.  I probably could have 'fixed' it by adding another yolk, but at this point I was hungry, and I didn't care if my white wine egg sauce was starting to separate a little bit.

It still looked pretty good I think.

It tasted even better, though.