We went to New Mexico this past summer, and a bunch of other Wacoans did too. It seemed like every time we talked to someone about their summer plans, they were headed west as well.
Since Santa Fe is northwest of Waco, we first headed north and made a stop in Archer City at Booked Up, the legendary bookstore that was owned by writer Larry McMurtry before his death on March 25. We spent a couple of hours there, and I could have stayed a lot longer. We browsed through just a fraction of the estimated 200,000 volumes that are housed in two buildings across the street from each other.
From Archer City, it was a night in Amarillo, then a few days in Santa Fe before heading home. We took a different route back to Waco, a course which took us through Alpine, one of our favorite towns in Texas. We were there for a week or so a few years back so I could attend a writers’ conference, and we had a lovely time. On this trip to Alpine, we came across Cheshire Cat Antiques and fell in love with much that we saw. In addition to a new piece of art, one of our purchases that day was an old, hand-forged metal whisk. It’s big, at 16 inches long, and heavy. I thought it might end up as a display piece once we got it home, but it’s turned into one of Abby’s favorite kitchen tools, as it’s used multiple times a week.
And that metal whisk got us to thinking about other favorite food- and beverage-related things that we love and use, eat or drink on a regular basis. Most of the items on this list are pretty easily available locally or, if you must, through your favorite online retailer. The whisk is probably a one-of-a-kind, however; we’ve never seen one like it anywhere else. And, unlike the top-10 product lists you might see online, we do not receive a percentage if you buy anything that we recommend.
Most of our stovetop cooking is done in a set of Magnalite Professional pots and pans that I bought at a store in the Hillsboro outlet mall a few years before Abby and I were married. (And this month marks our 25th anniversary.) The cookware shows no signs of wear and tear, but since it’s out of production, we can’t really make that recommendation. However, a couple of years ago we discovered a new tool to keep those pots and pans in almost like-new condition: a chainmail scrubber. It’s a small square of stainless steel chainmail that is designed for cleaning cookware. With a little warm water and a bit of soap, every baked-on bit of whatever we cooked comes right off. One online listing for a chainmail scrubber said it could be used on “fine glassware,” but we’ve never tried that.
Speaking of wire stuff in the kitchen, we have four stainless steel baking racks that fit perfectly into our sheet pans. When cooking bacon, we line the baking sheet with heavy duty foil, put a rack on top, then place the bacon on the rack. We bake it for 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees, and it’s just as good as if we had fried it on the stove. And clean-up is a whole lot easier. The rack goes in the dishwasher, and the foil goes in the trash. (Previously, we had some made out of another type of metal, but they would rust in the dishwasher, so we had to hand-wash them. We don’t have that issue with the stainless ones.)
A few years back, we ate breakfast at Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, Mississippi. We were sitting at the counter, and Abby’s seat happened to be the closest to the kitchen. Being the breakfast hour, she saw the guys in the kitchen preparing batch after batch of scrambled eggs. But instead of cracking the eggs into a metal bowl and beating them with a whisk or fork, they cracked the eggs into tall metal cups and placed the cup on the milkshake machine, whipping the eggs into a heavy froth. Unfortunately, our kitchen at home isn’t equipped with a milkshake machine, so Abby instead whips eggs using a stick blender. Using that device adds air to the eggs, and we end up with fluffier scrambled eggs. The stick blender also comes in handy in pureeing soup still in the pot, making milkshakes and adding froth to whipped cream.
In the August 2015 issue of this magazine, we wrote about our love for ice cream and how I inherited my love for ice cream from my father. We now have two KitchenAid ice cream makers in our house. They’re so simple and easy to use, especially compared to the old hand-crank machines that John T. used back in the day, and they’re a lot quieter than the electric mixer that he finally upgraded to. Our mixers have a metal bowl that needs to be placed in the freezer a day or so before you’re ready to make ice cream. Then simply pour the mixture into that frozen metal container and turn on the machine. In 15 minutes or so, you have soft serve ice cream. We usually pour the ice cream into a loaf pan, cover it with plastic and freeze for a day or so to let it harden up before serving.
One of the most-used tools in our kitchen is a microplane. It’s like a fine-toothed grater with a handle. We use it to zest citrus fruit and to grate chocolate, garlic, Parmesan cheese and fresh nutmeg. I’ve even used it a few times to remove the burnt crust of bread that I had been reheating in the oven and forgot about.
One of our favorite dishes when we’re cooking for a crowd is French dip sandwiches. We braise a big ol’ roast for a few hours and then shred the meat. When we pull the meat from the pan, there’s a bunch of yummy juice, but it’s usually covered with a layer of fat. That’s when our fat skimming ladle comes in handy. Simply press the skimmer down into the liquid, and the fat rises up and spills into the cup portion of the ladle. This device works much better than the turkey baster we had previously used, because it would suck up both the juice and the fat. The ladle removes only the fat.
In the lovely book “Dinner with Edward,” writer Isabel Vincent talks about her friendship with 93-year-old widower Edward. They meet weekly for dinner, and Edward dispenses life advice — after all, his marriage lasted 69 years — along with cooking secrets, such as his technique for making scrambled eggs, which he learned from St. John, a fellow who was a cook for Amtrak.
“He took farm-fresh eggs, their yolks glistening orange as he cracked them into a bowl, whisking them with a splash of milk or cream, salt and pepper. Then he melted sweet butter in a hot frying pan, adding only half the egg mixture to the skillet when the butter was just on the edge of turning brown. Never all at once,” Edward said. “You do the eggs in two steps.”
After the first addition of the eggs begin to sizzle and bubble, gently loosen the eggs with a spatula, reduce the heat, and add the remaining eggs until they’re light, fluffy and coated in butter.
The Nordic Ware bundt pan is great for those who like to bake cakes but hate to decorate them. The designs of the pan create a beautiful decoration on their own. To make sure that the cake turns out properly, spray the pan lightly with nonstick spray. Use a small pastry brush to make sure the oil gets into every nook and cranny of the pan. (We used a Nordic Ware pan for the cake in the photo this month.)
The most expensive item on our list — at about $80 — is a bottle of Jefferson’s Ocean, a bourbon produced at Kentucky Artisan Distillery, just outside of Louisville, Kentucky. What makes the Ocean bourbon unique is that it’s aged in barrels that are on a ship that’s at sea for six months. The constant motion of the waves means that more of the bourbon comes in contact with the wood of the barrels, imparting more flavor. The sea air adds another layer of taste to the bourbon, and those factors combine to make for a finished product that is smooth and complex.
Bourbon-Brown Butter Bundt Cake
For the cake:
- 1 cup Browned Butter (recipe follows)
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 4 tablespoons milk
For the Honey-Bourbon Glaze:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- 2 tablespoons honey
To make the glaze, add the sugar, bourbon and honey to a small bowl and whisk together. Add a splash of milk if the glaze is too thick, or a bit more sugar if it’s too thin. Drizzle the glaze over the cake. Makes about 8-10 servings.
- 1 cup unsalted butter
Place the butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Place over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes or just until browned. The butter will begin to emit a nutty aroma when it’s about done. Remove from heat and set aside.