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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Messermeister knives

Messerschmidt cooking tools.

This past summer, just before Little Bean was born, the Chef and I went to a picnic in the park. We brought brownies, which were gobbled up immediately. No one knew they were gluten-free. No one cared.
In a rush before the party, we grabbed the first knife from the drawer for the cutting of the brownies. The sharp little knife that has Gluten-Free Girl emblazoned on the blade.
As someone lifted the dark brownies from the pan, she saw the writing on the blade of the knife underneath the chocolate. "Gluten-Free Girl? I've heard of her. Doesn't she have a blog?"
I sort of shyly raised my hand. "Yep. That's me."

That's the first (and hopefully the only) time I've been recognized via a knife.

The good folks at Messermeister knives sent me two knives, quite awhile ago. They asked if I'd try them. I like a good knife. I said yes. To my amusement (and a little embarrassment), both the chef's knife and paring knife had Gluten-Free Girl on the blades. Putting the knives on this site felt too self-referential. I didn't.

Life happened. A lot of life happened. (wedding, book tour, baby, move) Meanwhile, I've been using those knives -- and the julienne peeler they also sent me — nearly every day. The knives sit comfortably in my hand, with a heavy weight and a light blade. I feel powerful when I use them. Capable in the kitchen.

The writing has worn off. (You can still sort of see it if you squint.) But the knives have stayed in our kitchen, when others have gone away. I'm not sure what I'd do without these, and my white-handled Russell chef's knife (cost about $30), which feels as familiar in my hand as my baseball glove does about July. The sound of these knives tapping on the cutting board and the sight of them in the Chef's hand as he works are part of the daily beauty of my life.

If you're looking for a great knife you will use for years? Here you are.

What are your favorite kinds of knives?


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bariani olive oil

Bariani olive oil

These days, we don't have the same luxuries I lived by when I was single.

In my book, I wrote about sampling expensive bottles of olive oil, slowly, and sipping them in tastings on warm spoons. After much deliberation, I bought bottles the price of two tickets to the movies. (And we all know ridiculously expensive those are these days.) Well, I haven't been to a movie theater since Little Bean was born. And we're not buying expensive bottles of olive oil much anymore.

Certainly, the economy has its effect on all of us. But more importantly, I have learned more about food than I once knew. Before I met the Chef, I glugged olive oil onto everything, sautéeing all my food in those bottles quickly emptying of precious liquid. He gently led me to the bottles of canola, sunflower, and grapeseed oil instead. And back in the thick of making dishes all day long for the cookbook, the Chef and I bought giant cans of pure olive oil -- not as good as extra virgin, by any means, but serviceable for all the cooking we were doing.

Still, when a great olive comes through the door, we certainly don't say no.

Last month, Anita and Cameron from Married with Dinner came over for lunch. (I know. How lucky were we?) When they came in, both of them went right for Little Bean. But not before handing us a small bag, with a jar of rosemary salt from Eatwell Farms and a bottle of Bariani olive oil.

Oh, we love them. (I mean Anita and Cam. But also, those two ingredients.)

Bariani olive oil is something special. Crushed from Mission and Manzanilla olives, this is Italian olive oil grown outside Sacramento. The Bariani family comes from just outside of Lombardy, in northern Italy, and they brought traditional methods and a stubborn insistence on doing things right.

Thank you for those qualities.

This is such a lovely oil. It's green and silken, not assertive or peppery. Warm and robust, the Bariani olive oil tastes of hot summers and cool evenings, like the handmade press that crushes the fruit, like family business and the green drizzle of olive oil on good mozzarella at the end of a hot day of work. And really, given all this (and because we don't have to pay importing costs), Bariani olive oil is our favorite olive oil of the moment. Slightly more expensive than the cheap jugs at grocery stores, Bariani Olive Oil is pretty darned affordable for such fine oil.

Since olives don't grow in western Washington, we'll call this our local olive oil.

What is your favorite olive oil at the moment? The one that you can afford?


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Secret Stash Sea Salts

Secret Stash salts

Remember the days when salt meant only the fine white stuff that poured from the blue cylinder? When I was a kid, I had never heard of sea salt, much less tasted sea salt flavored with coconut marsala.

Thanks goodness I'm not a kid anymore.

A few months ago, a friend walked into our home and stuffed my hands with little jars of colored salts. "Here. You have to try these!" In the midst of welcoming people, I nodded and smiled, looking askance at what appeared to be specimen jars filled with odd flavors. The salts were shoved to the back of the counter by the pile of arriving food and people's drinks splayed haphazardly about the kitchen. It was only days later that I remembered the salts.

"Bloody Mary?" I said to the Chef.
"That sounds weird," he harumphed. (He has a sort of stubborn wall up about new food sometimes, which I can tumble down, eventually. And it also allows me to use harumph as a verb.)
"Yeah, but think about it. Tomato, celery, cayenne pepper. You love those."

A few days later, I opened the Nicoise olive salt. Give me an olive, any time. I was poaching eggs for breakfast. At the last moment, I crushed some of the salt onto my eggs, leaving the Chef's bare. He noticed, right away.
"Want a taste of mine?"
He loved it. So did I.

Every salt in the Secret Stash collection, at least the ones we have tried, brings a surprise kick to the foods we make, a sort of ohhhhhh! in the mouth. That's because they're not flavored salts. They're infused with real food: vanilla beans; lemon zest; dried lavender; cumin; fresh pineapple juice; ground cardamom. Because the folks who make these salts are dedicated to doing this right, they don't use any preservatives or un-recognizeable ingredients. And no anti-caking agents, which is good news for those of us who are gluten-free. These are safe.

The people behind Secret Stash? Two folks, partners who worked in a Seattle restaurant that has now folded. Even in these economic times, they are trying hard to do what they love, live a life of food, and make a few moments taste better. Hm. Sounds like someone else I know. Of course we like them.

But the salts really are the story. The Chef ended up liking the Bloody Mary salt, after all. We've sprinkled a bit of vanilla salt on top of creme brulees for a surprising bite. I like lavender rosemary salt and jasmine rice. But I always go back to the nicoise olive, especially on the top of bread I've baked, just before pulling it out of the oven.

Food just tastes better with salt.

For those of you in Seattle, the Secret Stash folks have a stand at the Sunday Ballard farmers' market. If you're not from around here, then you can order on their website.