Monday, May 4, 2015

CUT THE CLUTTER

SPRING IS TIME to clean, especially the kitchen drawers and cupboards. It's time to downsize all that stuff we don't use -- and upsize on the gadgets and accessories that we use and love. On my list of what to lose are mismatched bowls, chipped plates, a food dehydrator that burns everything I put in it, and a salad spinner that smells moldy no matter how many ways I try to clean it.
Here are a few tools on my UPSIZE list:
Ergo Chef Duo Tongs
These heavy-duty tongs are a huge win. They are made of thick stainless steel that won't fail under a heavy load, and they have a sturdy spring that makes them easy to close. As an added bonus, they are half silicone, half metal, which makes them perfect to use for every job -- including tossing food in a non-stick pan. The tongs come in both 12-inch and 9-inch sizes.  $11.99 - $16.99 at www.ergochef.com
SpinCycle Salad Spinner
Every other salad spinner I've encountered is outfitted with a large round bowl that's difficult to store because it's so bulky. This one is big enough, but it's flat, which makes it easy to stack, and the basket is just the right size, allowing plenty of space for the water that spins out. $25 at amazon.com.
VeggieSteam Vegetable Steamer
There's nothing wrong with those collapsible metal steamers that you drop into a pan, but this is the steamer you want when you're steaming food for a crowd. It fits into a 10-inch pan and comes with a platform, basket and lid, all made from heat-resistant and microwave-safe silicone. $19.95 at Sur La Table.

Friday, April 24, 2015

#SAUVBLANCDAY

SPRING IN A glass is the best way to describe a perfect Sauvignon Blanc. Depending on where grapes are grown, aromas range from orange blossoms to fresh-cut grass, peaches, grapefruit, barely ripe green grapes, bell peppers and juicy ripe pears.
Unlike so many other varietals,Sauvignon Blanc has a multitude of personalities, which means that nearly everyone can find a favorite. Some are ultra-floral and a bit sweet. Others are bright and acidic. But my ultimate favorite sport the character of this gorgeous 2014 Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. I love that it's bright and grassy without being too dry and vegetal. Serve this kind of wine with roast chicken with a side asparagus, pesto pasta, herby fish or Asian-style noodles with cilantro.
 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

MACARON MADNESS

Photo courtesy Hazy Lane Studios
PEOPLE OFTEN ASK me if I get to pick the topics I write about in my column, Taste-Off, that runs in the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and a multitude of other daily newspapers. The answer is yes -- but my editor has the power of veto.
There are times when I'm OK with a veto -- but when I pitched the idea of trying macarons, I was thrilled when she agreed. For the feature I got to try a large handful of colorful, sweet and chewy macarons from various sources. Some were good. Some were great!
The biggest problem with that story was sourcing product from my home base in Fremont, CA. I couldn't get my hands on good French macarons, which readers tell me are "IT." Nor could I even think about tasting the efforts of the hundreds of bakeries that dot the Bay Area.
Understanding that, one courageous baker reached out after the article was published. She hand-delivered a simply gorgeous selection of macarons that are spot-on in both appearance and flavor. Unlike the top-rated Miette samples that have beautiful flavor but a rustic, non-festive appearance... and unlike the colorful but just a bit too-sweet macarons from Tout Sweet by Yigit Pura... these are exactly right.
They're from Creme Si Bon in San Ramon, a bakery that makes all kinds of items -- but shines in the macaroon category. What makes these so stellar is the white chocolate ganache filling that are especially bright and authentic; the green tea tastes like green tea, the passion fruit like passion fruit.
If you're in the area, treat yourself! Creme Si Bon is located at 192 Marketplace, San Ramon. www.cremesibon.com 

Friday, April 17, 2015

OIL DISCOVERY, PART 2

LAST MONTH I posted comments on some healthy new oils that I encountered -- tasty oils that are either super-nutritious or add great flavor -- or both. A few weeks later, I got an oil of an entirely different ilk; Ghee (aka. clarified butter.)
This particular ghee is produced by Gurunanda, a company that specializes in ayurvedic oils that are designed to promote health. The line includes a sesame oil, pulling oil, and this Pure Cow Ghee, made from non-homogenized milk. I was fully aware that ghee is an essential oil in Indian cuisine, but what I did not know is why.
Ghee, as it turns out, has a really high smoke-point, which makes it perfect for sauteeing, searing or frying. Because it has a really pleasant, nutty flavor that adds much more flavor to any dish than a standard cooking oil. The list of benefits of ghee is exhaustive, but the one that I love most is that you can use up to a third less fat in most dishes if you swap oil for ghee. That's a massive calorie-savings. A 12.8-ounce bottle is $14.99 on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

SUSTAINABLY CLEAN

IT'S SO FRUSTRATING to realize that nearly every time I reach for a cleaning product, it's toxic. It's bad not only for me, but for the environment. Alternative cleaners are out there, of course, but if they don't perform, it's a pretty tough trade-off. 
That said, this week I checked out a new line of entirely sustainable cleaning sponges and cloths that don't just work OK... They are nothing short of terrific.
Made from bamboo, the NatureZway line includes paper towels that are ultra durable -- strong enough to mop a floor, wash a car, scour a tub and even wipe dust from the woodwork without falling apart. So cool. 
The other thing I love about these wipes and sponges is that the are super-soft, which means they function even better than those Lysol and Chlorox wipes that are clogging up our sewers. 
The line also includes sponges, drying cloths and floor wipes, all made from bamboo, which means they're sustainable (bamboo grows like crazy all over the world) and completely biodegradable. These are a win-win-win.

Monday, April 13, 2015

LEGAL SNACKS

KUDOS TO THOSE who eat three square meals and resist the urge to snack. That's a great practice -- but honestly, you're missing out on a whole lot of great stuff! Admitted, some snack foods are bad for you -- nothing more than delicious but empty calories. But lately, choices of healthy snack foods have been crowding my inbox -- and some of them are just stellar. Here are details on some of the best.
NAVITAS NATURALS
This company specializes in the kind of snacks that taste ridiculously delicious -- and add tons of vitamins and minerals to your diet. It's hard to pick favorites out of their lineup, so I'll stick to the newest. The Cacao Hemp Superfood Plus Almonds are a barely sweet, slightly salty treat that's perfect when you have a craving for chocolate. The Coconut Hemp Pepitas are sweeter -- more dessert-like. Both addictive. If you prefer salty snacks, check out the Turmeric Tamari Almonds. Ridiculously good -- don't be afraid of the turmeric, it's understated, adding just the right kick. (So good that I might try replicating it in my next batch of home-roasted nuts.) The snacks sell for $4.99-$7.99 for a 4-ounce bag.
NONNI'S MANGO COCONUT THINADDICTIVES
These crunchy little biscotti thins are barely sweet, super-tasty and packed with almonds, real mango and coconut. What I love about these is that they're cookies without the fat. A box of six 100-calorie packs is about $3.29.
PERKY JERKY
When hunger hits but you're hours away from a meal, this is a perfect and portable solution. The jerky -- which is spiked with a dose of caffeine -- comes in a handful of flavors to please, from super spicy to sweet. The jerky is nice and tender and contains no preservatives or MSG. I love that it comes in both beef and turkey. Find it at  Whole Foods, Target and Walgreens. A 2.2-ounce pack is about $3.25.