Archive for August, 2012

Make the mortar and pestle work for you

In this age of induction ranges and sous vide cooking apparatuses, there remains a kitchen tool whose simplicity belies its utility. Meet the mortar and pestle.

This bowl and elongated stick that’s rounded at the end — the mortar and the pestle, respectively — have been around since man had to make his own fire before making a meal. Yet thousands of years later, cooks the world over still use this simple duo.

These culinary tools are made from a variety of materials, from stainless steel to glass and porcelain to the volcanic rock popular in Mexican versions that are called molcajete. Mortars and pestles can be found under $15, and are available at discount stores and of course kitchen stores and online shops. During a recent trip to Cost Plus, I was impressed with the variety of these tools that they offered.

So what, exactly, is a mortar and pestle used for? So glad you asked.

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Take the sizzle out of summer with homemade smoothies

It’s hot. You don’t want to cook. The kids and/or you want something sweet in your mouth, pronto, and the temptation to pull into a convenience store, grab the biggest reservoir you can find and fill it with semi-frozen sugar water churned from a machine is running at a 99.9 percent chance.

Hang on.

It’s times like these where a little planning can save you and the family from catastrophe, not to mention the crazed state of mind resulting from sugar rush. You can easily make a better-tasting and better-for-you summer treat in less time than it takes to run to the corner quickie mart.

Homemade smoothies require only a blender, juice, fruit and your imagination. There are, of course, many juice shops eager to sell you their version, but more often than not those drinks are overpriced and over-iced. You can make your own for much less money, and you’ll know exactly what went into the thing.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s literally throwing ingredients into a blender and turning it on. If there’s one tricky part, it’s getting the right consistency and enough “frozen-ness” instead of liquid.

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Recipe: Bruschetta is like summer in your mouth

Bruschetta is one of those dishes that sounds complicated but in reality is a cinch to make. The name is technically used for crisped bread rubbed with garlic, but most of us know bruschetta as a savory, herb-licious tomato topping that sits above crostini. And there’s another, similar term, as crostini is simply bread that has been crisped in an oven or under a broiler.

If you have the grill going, there’s no reason not to create your crostinis over the fire or coals. When making them indoors, I prefer to brown the bread under a broiler in the oven. If you’re watching your carb intake or can’t do gluten, you can substitute the bread entirely for a piece sturdy lettuce such as romaine, making what I dub bruschetta boats.

Bruschetta is a perfect appetizer any time of year, but really shines in summer when tomatoes are cheap, plentiful and – most important – in season. I prefer Roma tomatoes because their thick flesh and relative lack of seeds, which are to be scooped out anyway for this recipe.

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