Archive for July, 2012

July 30, 2012

Kitchen Tools: Pots & Pans Part 1


I thought I’d share what pots and pans we use in our house to cook all our food. This will be a short series of posts, starting with today’s on five points to remember when shopping for pots and pans.  The key to having a good set of useful pans, is knowing what you’re going to use them for.  We’ve curated our collection to reflect our needs, which vary a lot so we have a wide range of cookware.  Your priorities will likely be different from ours, but hopefully this will help you as you sort through and add to your own set.

I hate numbered lists (they’re so overdone in the blogosphere and most of them are “DUH”) but here we have it, because there’s no easier way to do this. Five basic tips when shopping for pots and pans:

    1. Buy quality: Good pans are designed to last a very long time (see exception in #4). With pots and pans, the most important thing is to have an even heat distribution on the bottom of your pans. This means, you need a thicker pan.  The most popular are what’s called “tri-ply” with an aluminum core and stainless steel coatings on the inside and outside of the pans. Flimsy and thin one-ply aluminum or stainless steel pans (like those from big box or grocery stores) will just scorch your food beyond recognition.


    1. But don’t pay for it: A great place to look for high-end cooking pans is at discount department stores, or by waiting for large department store sales. At discount stores, just make sure to avoid pans with dents and scratches (especially for enameled and non-stick pans, as scratches can cause poisons to leach out and into your food – you don’t want that).


    1. Oven-proof is good: be sure you have at least one pot and one frying pan that can go straight from the stove-top to the oven. All our frying pans have metal handles, and a dutch oven is designed precisely to do this (we bought a cheaper Martha Stewart brand dutch oven and replaced the plastic nob with a metal one from Le Creuset so we can use it in the oven above 450F)


    1. Non-stick is sometimes good: Most of our cookware does not have non-stick coatings because we like to do a lot of scraping and banging on our pans, and non-stick just doesn’t stick up to that (har-har). We do have a few pans with Teflon coatings that we have been trying out, and I recommend one non-stick frying pan for cooking eggs. Otherwise, there is no need for non-stick. We almost always buy our non-stick pans from discount department stores because we can get quality pans for cheaper there (usually in the $20 range), so we can replace them when they start scratching. We don’t like eating poison.


    1. Maintain your pans: Not so much of a shopping tip as a preventing-from-shopping-again tip: Let your pans cool down (avoid putting a hot pan in a cold sink with cold/lukewarm water!), then wash them as soon as possible after using. Also, be sure to scrub the outside as well as the inside because oils build up on the outsides as you cook, and burn the next time they go on the stove, leaving brown and black film/marks on the outside.  They’re cleanable, but it’s just easier to clean them before they burn on. I admit I do both of these things wrong, and our pans have not yet warped, and we are not too picky about how the outside of our pans look. But honestly, I feel guilty every time because I know I should maintain our pans better. And one of these days, David’s saucepan is going to warp or crack under heat stress and then I’ll feel terrible that it was my fault.


Up next: A comprehensive list of our pots and pans and what I like about them, as well as some things that I don’t find so useful.  In the meantime, what are your tips for purchasing pots?  Where do you go for the best deals?


July 12, 2012

Cold-Brewed Iced Tea

I love iced tea in summer. It has less caffeine than coffee, doesn’t need sweetener, and still tastes delicious and refreshing.  I never worry about drinking my calories, because it has hardly any.  It’s also incredibly versatile – one can turn pretty much anything into iced tea.  I used to make iced tea during my time as a barista in the coffee shop in Cambridge, but I’d never really made it at home.  Until this summer that is.



I first made a batch of cold-brewed iced tea from bags of Trader Joe’s pear and white tea.  I was trying to use up teas in Boston to reduce the amount of stuff I needed to move, and iced tea was a great way to do so in the hot weather we experienced while we packed up our home.

This week, in Oregon, it’s been pleasantly hot as well.  I’ve turned the shady back deck into my own personal office, camping out with my laptop and books to get work done in the great outdoors. What an incredible difference from a few short weeks ago! I get to enjoy the sounds of squirrels chasing each other, bluebirds calling to each other, and the occasional annoying crow.  The flowers are in full bloom around the yard, and it feels like it couldn’t be more beautiful.




The memories of my refreshing first attempts at cold-brewed iced tea came back earlier this week.  I discovered an old quart canning jar in the basement,  picked out some loose-leaf black tea, poured it into a coffee filter, closed it up with a wire twist, and threw in a sprig of mint from the garden.  No lemon on hand, but that would have been good too.  A few hours basking in the sunshine (where it was hard to photograph without getting a reflection of myself and my camera) and it was ready to go into a glass of ice to savor at my outdoor desk.



Cold-Brewed Iced Tea

1 quart jar (preferably see-through so you can watch the steeping progress)

4 tea bags OR 4 teaspoons loose-leaf tea (herbal, black, green, or white)

1 coffee filter (if using loose-leaf)

Optional: combination of mint sprigs, basil leaves, lemon slices, orange slices, or fruit (berries or peaches are delicious)

1. Fill the quart container with cold tap water (filter if you need to, but please don’t use bottled water).  Place the loose-leaf tea in a coffee filter and twist closed with a wire twist like the kind that come with bread or sandwich baggies.  Submerge the coffee filter package or tea bags into the tap water.  Add any flavorings you like or leave it plain.

2. Set out in a full-sun area (on a windowsill or outside if you have a space safe from roaming pets who might knock it over).  Let it steep for at least four hours, up to eight.  The longer it steeps, the more developed the flavors become.  Taste it the first time you make it so you can decide when you think it’s done to your liking.  Remove the tea bags and flavorings and chill it, or serve immediately over ice.


July 6, 2012

Broiled Salmon and Thoughts on Oregon Cuisine

Last week, as we were frantically packing up our lives in Boston, I kept telling myself that it was all going to be temporary.  That this craze was going to end, and suddenly we would find ourselves on the back deck in Oregon, under the oak trees enjoying a salmon dinner and a beautiful sunset.


It took a few days after our arrival home for this dream to come true, but finally today it was sunny and warm enough.  And the salmon was delicious.

As we had prepped for our trip, friends who knew our love of food kept asking us what Oregon cuisine was like.  I kept going back to one opinion I’ve recently come across.  At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, I met a Portland-based consultant for food and sustainability, Ron Paul.  Paul argues that Oregon cuisine is not so much about the dishes and method of cooking, as it is about letting the “pristine flavors of [...] regional ingredients [...] emerge.” He continues that this focus on the taste of ingredients over recipes and methods is what makes it possible for professional chefs and home cooking enthusiasts to be on even footing.  Therefore, a smoked salmon dip is just as Oregonian as a salmon filet with soy glaze and shaved Thai basil topping. I like this way of thinking, but want to explore it more in relation to other theories of cuisine.

Nevertheless, using Paul’s theory of Oregon cuisine, Oregon’s bounty of U-Pick produce farms, farm stands, and now CSA’s is an example of what we can do to promote our regional cuisine.  In short: if Oregon’s cuisine relies on its ingredients, then we need to make sure that those ingredients are available to both chefs and the public.  Paul is promoting the James Beard Public Market in downtown Portland precisely to encourage this farm-to-table, regional Oregon food system.


With this definition of Oregon cuisine in mind, through a truly Oregonian method, my parents recently acquired a beautiful, freshly-caught Chinook salmon.  Fishermen of the Yakama, Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Chinook tribes in the mid 19th century signed a treaty with the US government so that they could maintain their right to fish their traditional waters for salmon and other fish.  Today, this fish is sold in parking lots up and down the Columbia River, most often at Cascade Locks under the Bridge of the Gods.

The ten-pound fish was too much for my parents to eat in one go, so they portioned it and froze filets. To our delight, David and I now get to benefit from them.  Tonight, on the back deck, we enjoyed broiled salmon, lightly seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper and crispy brown on the edges.  I served it with sauteed zucchini and onion slices and some boiled potatoes tossed in butter and dill.  For the occasion, we opened a bottle of Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon, so you could argue that the majority of our meal came straight from the Columbia River Gorge.  It doesn’t get much more Oregonian than that!


Broiled Salmon Filet

Note: When picking out a salmon fillet at the fish counter, you want one preferably from the head (wider) section of the fish, which has more fat and therefore more flavor. Look for a fillet with thick white stripes of fat in between the pink flesh.  The pinker doesn’t necessarily mean better – most farmed salmon gets feed with pink food coloring in it.  Look for wild salmon if you can get it, which often will have a lighter-pink color compared to the farmed.

1 8 to 10-ounce fillet of salmon
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the broiler to high and place the rack in the middle of the oven. (Note: if you’re not sure how hot your broiler is, heat it to low – you can always turn it up if need be)

2. Wash the fillet and pat it dry with paper towels.

3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or tin foil.  Place the salmon skin-side up and coat with half the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

4. Place in the heated oven for three minutes.  Check to see how it’s doing after a minute and a half and adjust the heat as necessary.  If after three minutes it looks half-way cooked and the skin is nice and crisp, flip it over.  Coat with the remaining olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.  Cook for three more minutes.  Check to see if it’s done.  If not, adjust the heat if necessary and return to the oven to finish cooking.

5. Serve immediately.  If you don’t like the skin, you can easily lift the cooked salmon off and leave the skin on the parchment.  Otherwise, serve the salmon with the skin (which is very healthy and delicious).

Guten Appetit!