Friday, October 31, 2008

Cuts Like a Knife

When it comes to Rachael Ray, you either love her or hate her. But regardless of your feelings on the Rach, I think you could really warm up to her East/West knife.

This little gem from Furi, part of Ray's flaming orange cookware line, has a nice weight, a grippy handle, and looks good sitting in my Kapoosh. What more could a girl ask for? Oh, it's also sharp.

Sure, it's no J.A. Henckels Twin Pro S 7-Inch Santoku Knife with Hollow Edge, but for $20 at T.J. Maxx, how can you go wrong? I recommend it. It's a fun knife to use. Especially on onions. With a wooden cutting board. When you say "Hiyah!" and drop the knife from three feet in the air. Being careful not to cut your fingers, of course. I mean, that's what I've heard.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Books about Food

Wake County has a fantastic library system. Procuring a library card was one of my first acts as an official Wake County citizen.

Since that day, I've been one of WCPL's most faithful readers. And lately I've been reading books about food.

My most recent read was Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, former restaurant critic at the New York Times. I spent most of the book wishing I was a professional restaurant patron and wondering if anyone -- even those with palates as sophisticated at Ruth's -- can taste a drop of squid ink in a complicated dish. It kind of sounds like the princess and the pea. Except with squid ink.

Okay, maybe that's a stretch.

In any case, Garlic and Sapphires was a fun read. I'd recommend it. And if you've got an appetite for more food books, here are a few others I've read recently.

Classic 30-Minute Meals by Rachael Ray
She's a little wacky, but Rach comes up with some good food ideas. If you can get past the cover photo (yes, her shirt does say "YUM-O!") I think you'll dig this cookbook.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee
Lee traces the history and rise of American Chinese food through her search for Powerball winners who played the numbers from their fortune cookies. Highly entertaining, except for the three pages in which Chinese food becomes a metaphor for life in the American melting pot. I'd skip those if I were you.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
Continuing on my Chinese food kick, I moved on to this novel, by the author of Lost in Translation. It's the story of a food writer named Maggie who travels to China to settle some legal affairs for her deceased husband. While there, she is assigned a story on the Chinese-American cook Sam Liang, who is preparing for a huge feast for a cultural festival in Beijing. The descriptions of food (and its preparation) are amazing. I loved the book until it turned into a love story, at which point I alternated between salivating (food descriptions) and gagging (love).

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
This novella is about the final evening at a Red Lobster restaurant in Connecticut, told from the point of view of the honest, earnest restaurant manager who will be reassigned to an Olive Garden when his restaurant closes. Doesn't make me want to eat at a Red Lobster anytime soon, but it's a good book.

Stand Facing the Stove by Anne Mendelson
The story of Irma Rombauer, author of The Joy of Cooking, and how her classic book came to be. Mendelson covers Joy from its initial self-publication to its current form. Who knew the history of a cookbook could be so interesting? It feels a little like a soap opera -- but in a good way.

Waiting for me right now, courtesy of interlibrary loan, is Melanie Dunea's My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals. Dunea, a photographer, documents the food that famous chefs would request before they, uh, died, I guess. Sounds a little morbid but the photos are supposed to be great. Count me in.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

It's Bean a While

For Ben's birthday back in August, we went to a restaurant that specializes in Southern favorites made with local ingredients. While neither of us were too excited about the okra (plea to actual Southerners: please do not kick us out of North Carolina!) I was very excited about my black bean cakes -- great texture and a fantastic crispy "crust," thanks to a nice panfry.

Last week I attempted to recreate them at home. The recipe I used needs a little tweaking but it definitely has potential. Also, it calls for two cups grated, raw sweet potato -- which stumped me a little bit, but it turns out that one largish potato turns out about four cups grated. That means you can make the recipe twice. I recommend enlisting a sous-chef to handle the actual grating work. Faithful sous-chef Ben prepped my ingredients while I was working late and reported that he thought his arm would fall off. (It didn't actually, in case you were worried.)

Black Bean Cakes
(makes eight)
  • 1 tablespoon oil, plus more for frying
  • 1/4 cup onion, minced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups grated raw sweet potato
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • Sour cream, for serving
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook onions until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and cumin; cook about 30 seconds.

In a bowl, mash black beans. Stir in onion mixture and season with salt and pepper. Mix in egg, sweet potato and bread crumbs.

Heat several tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Form 8 patties with the bean mixture; cook 4-6 minutes on each side. Serve hot; top with sour cream.

These were good as is, but next time I'm thinking about ginger, red peppers or maybe just lots more garlic. It's hard to go wrong with garlic. Unless you're planning on taking leftovers for lunch the next day. At which point your coworkers may have some specific objections having to do with garlic breath.

As an additional note, Ben liked the black bean cakes but said that eating only vegetables for dinner makes him feel empty inside.

The food: Black bean cakes
The verdict: According to Ben, they're "strong enough for a man but made for a woman"