If you do an online search for “what not to get your wife for Christmas,” one of the top results is always things for the kitchen. No kitchen appliances, no pots and pans, no kitchen gadgets … nothing.
In Abby’s stocking this past Christmas morning, she found — among other things — a rolling pin and pie weights. And she was happy with both of those things. I received an assortment of peppercorns and three varieties of popcorn.
This isn’t the first year that food- and drink-related gifts have found their way stuffed in a stocking or wrapped under our tree. There was a red Lodge Dutch oven a few years ago. We always get or give bartending supplies or liquid refreshment. (The Trader Vic’s chocolate liqueur and Tito’s vodka with the ugly Christmas sweater bottle sleeve were both tasty. The Lone Star Bock — Lone Star Beer’s version of Shiner Bock — not so much.)
Since things to use in the kitchen are always welcome gifts in our house, we decided to look through drawers and cabinets to pick out a few of our favorites, or those things that we use quite a bit.
A bench knife is a metal or nylon rectangle with one long flat side and a handle. Also known as a dough scraper, this handy little device can be used for lifting a sticky dough from the granite countertop, moving chopped ingredients from the cutting board to a pan, cutting dough into portions and scraping all the stray ingredients off the counter during clean-up. We own three or four of these, and they are in constant use. The bench knife will be used when making the Savory Cheese Bread.
My friend and co-worker at Baylor Carol Perry gave us a dough whisk a few years ago. It is a wooden handle with a few loops of stiff wire formed into a couple of loops. It works better than a standard whisk in mixing together flour and liquid since the batter gets gummed up in the strands of most whisks. And it does a better job of mixing together and agitating ingredients than a wooden spoon. The dough whisk will also be used with the Savory Cheese Bread.
We use a Microplane — it’s a registered trademark for a tool that grates and zests — on chocolate, citrus fruit, cheese, garlic, fresh ginger and a number of other foods. We even use it when baked goods get a little overdone and end up with a few charred spots on top. We simply hold the bread or roll over the sink and run the Microplane over the burned bits until they are rubbed off and simply disappear.
Abby is such a fan of the Microplane that she handed out several as door prizes at a cooking demonstration she did last month. The Microplane can also be used while preparing the bread, as well as the Zucchini Tort with Tomatoes and Mozzarella, and the Orange and Pomegranate Salad. (See how versatile it is!)
There are exactly one dozen stainless steel mixing bowls of various sizes in our cabinet. They’re indispensable, and they’re indestructible. We use the larger bowls to mix batter and dough, and we use the smaller ones to hold prepared ingredients as we cook. And two bowls of similar size can be used to peel a lot of garlic at once. Just put the garlic cloves in one bowl and invert a second bowl on top of that one, rim-to-rim. Then hold the bowls together and give them a good shake for about 10 seconds, and the skin will be peeled from the garlic as it’s banging around in there.
Best of all, these bowls are not expensive. One online kitchen supply store had them for just a couple of dollars each for the biggest size, and local restaurant supply stores always seem to have them in stock. These bowls will come in handy when making the bread and salad.
Abby likes using a Y vegetable peeler instead of the more traditional peeler because it can take off long strips of vegetable peel in one swoop. And it is a lot more convenient than using a mandoline for thinly slicing vegetables, like in the tort recipe below, or for making pasta from zucchini or squash, for those looking to cut back on their carb consumption.
The peeler will also be used in preparing the salad.
Zucchini Tort with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
- 6 medium zucchini (about 2 1/4 pounds)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 3/4 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, minced
- 10 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 400 F.
Trim the ends off the zucchini. Use the Y peeler to slice the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips.
Lay the zucchini on 2 large baking sheets. Brush with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and saute over medium heat until golden, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce becomes thick and reduces to about 1 1/2 cups, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan (or an 8-inch square baking dish) with olive oil. Line the bottom of the pan with a layer of zucchini slices, cutting the pieces if necessary to cover the pan. Do not overlap the slices. Spoon 1/3 cup of the tomato sauce over the zucchini and sprinkle with 1/3 cup mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Repeat the process, making 3 more layers of zucchini, sauce and cheese.
Bake until the tort is golden brown in spots and the sauce is bubbling, for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes.
Remove the sides of the pan and cut into wedges to serve.
Makes about 6 servings.
Orange and Pomegranate Salad
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon shallot, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the salad:
- 3 oranges
- 1 large bunch spinach
- Seeds of 1 large pomegranate (See note.)
- 1/2 shallot, sliced paper-thin
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To make dressing, one at a time, whisk zest, juice, vinegar, mustard and buttermilk into olive oil. Add shallots, rosemary and salt. Set aside.
Cut the very top and bottom off the oranges. Carefully slice off peel, removing white pith while sparing as much flesh as possible. Cut into 1/2-inch thick slices.
Pour most of the dressing over the spinach; turn with fingers to coat.
Spread spinach on a large platter and tuck oranges throughout. Scatter with pomegranate seeds and shallots. Finish with a final drizzle of dressing, a scattering of rosemary leaves, a pinch of salt and several twists of fresh pepper.
Note: To remove seeds from a fresh pomegranate, first roll the fruit between your palm and the countertop to loosen the seeds. Then use a sharp knife to carefully score around the pomegranate and tear it into two halves. Then hold the fruit over a bowl and gently remove the seeds, or tap the back of each half with a wooden spoon to loosen the seeds.
Rinse the seeds and discard any of the white flesh before using.
Savory Cheese Bread
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 3 large garlic cloves, crushed
- 1/2 cup finely chopped scallion tops or chives, lightly packed; or green bell peppers
- 1/2 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes, lightly packed; or diced red bell peppers or diced pimientos
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
- 1 teaspoon pizza seasoning, optional
Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, cheeses and softened butter until well combined and crumbly.
Mix in the garlic, scallion tops and sun-dried tomatoes.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk (or half-and-half). Set aside 1 tablespoon of the mixture to brush on the top of the loaf.
Add the remaining egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring just until everything is thoroughly moistened.
Turn the stiff batter into the prepared pan. Using your wet fingers, smooth it to the edges of the pan. Make it slightly concave, so the edges are somewhat higher than the center.
Brush the top of the loaf with the reserved egg mixture. Sprinkle with pizza seasoning, if desired. Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, until it’s a light golden brown on top and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Remove the loaf from the oven. Run a heatproof spatula or table knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the sides. Turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.
Makes about 6-8 servings.
- 2 scoops of ice cream (chocolate, vanilla or coffee)
- 3 tablespoons strong coffee or espresso
- Dark chocolate, for garnish (optional)
- Chopped hazelnuts, for garnish (optional)
Place the ice cream in a coffee cup and pour in the coffee or espresso. Top with shaved chocolate and chopped hazelnuts, if desired.
Makes 1 serving.