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Honey Vanilla Fleur de Sel Caramels

I’ve had a running wish list of interesting ingredients to be added to my cooking cabinet, and I am proud to say I can finally cross one off as it is now nestled away among spices, vinegars and oils. Several weeks ago, I purchased fleur de sel, a hand-harvested, artisanal sea salt that is used in finishing a dish and looks very elegant; the salt appears in a crystallized flake form, reminiscent of a beautiful snow flake. 

Considering fleur de sel (French for flower of salt) is somewhat obscure, I had always planned to make a special trip for the flaky salt when I found time, perhaps to the Reading Terminal or a specialty cooking store. Who would have thought I would have stumbled upon a little tub of it when I was furniture shopping?

Discount stores like Marshalls and Home Good sell specialty food items mixed in with their cooking tools and kitchen appliances. Fine olive oils, flavored coffees, even fancy snacks grace the shelves for a fraction of the prices they are usually sold for; my belief is, as long as the expiration date isn’t a thing of the past, it’s a done deal. When my eyes spotted a container of fleur de sel for $2.99, I was a happy camper.

Since the salt is typically added as a finisher, I wanted to make something that looked and tasted equally elegant. This recipe for salty-sweet caramels can be summed up in one word: addictive. Read More…

I Hate to Brag, But…: Martha Stewart 5.5 Qt. Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

I hate to brag, but I am the proud owner of a new 5.5 quart Martha Stewart Dutch oven. It’s a solid piece of cast iron, a sturdy new kitchen toy, versatile and just plain beautiful. Quite frankly, I’ve been pining for a Dutch oven for months, so much so that my desire for one would creep up on me as I looked through cookbooks and magazines. Recipes that called for using the pot gravitated towards me, almost taunting me because I didn’t have one. Granted, I realize there are instances where another hefty pot could be substituted, but it got to the point where I just had to have a Dutch oven, once and for all.

Macy’s was having an awesome “one day sale” around the Easter holiday, and as soon as I could get to a computer, I checked the status of the Martha Stewart inventory. Her products are reliable and affordable, and if I found a Dutch oven with those characteristics that was on sale I’d pretty much take it as a sign that it was meant to be. The selection was pretty extensive with various sized of enameled cast iron pots, and a few colors to choose from. The sunny, happy mustard pot caught my eye, and I quickly added it to my online shopping cart. As if I needed any more assurance that this Dutch oven and I were made for each other, regular shipping at Macy’ had it in my possession in three days, way sooner than expected.

The hardest part about the entire process was finding the perfect recipe to christen my new toy. After perusing the many recipes I once had to pass on due to a lack of the feature tool, I decided on a delicious Bolognese to accompany homemade pasta.

Bolognese Sauce

From Gourmet Magazine, 2002

2 medium onions, finely chopped

4 celery ribs, finely chopped

2 medium carrots, finely chopped

5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground by butcher or thinly sliced and pulsed in food processor until finely chopped

1 pound ground veal

1 pound ground pork (not lean)

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 cup whole milk

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup water

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cook onions, celery, carrot, and garlic in oil in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add pancetta, veal, and pork and cook over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up lumps, until no longer pink, about 6 minutes.

Stir in tomato paste, milk, wine, water, and thyme and gently simmer, covered, until sauce is thickened, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Add salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Sauce may be made 2 days ahead and cooled, uncovered, before chilling, covered. Frozen, it keeps for 1 month.

The end result had many levels of flavor without being too complicated. As soon as I smelled the aroma of the onions, carrots, garlic and celery as they cooked down, I knew I had chosen the right recipe to begin my Dutch oven love affair. Instead of pancetta, I added bacon, which really stood out but was not too overbearing. The wine, tomato paste and milk elevate the Bolognese to another level of flavor, and allowing the three to simmer into the meat for about an hour gives the liquids the opportunity to develop, combined, their own unique taste.

Cooking with the Dutch oven was as fun as I thought it would be, and it really retained heat while the ingredients didn’t stick to the bottom or sides at all. This certainly would not have been the case with the other hefty, stock pots I own. Clean up was just as easy, as the remnants from the Bolognese just wiped easily off the inside surface of the Dutch oven.

The Bolognese was delicious, and though I definitely would like to make it again in the future, I can’t make any promises it will happen soon. I have many, many recipes I once passed on that I can now make with my beautiful, perfect, new Dutch oven.

I Hate to Brag, But…: Wüsthof 7″ Santoku Knife

I hate to brag, but…I got a new toy this weekend. One that I’ve dreamt of for quite awhile now, even going as far as to put it on my list for Santa. Thanks to by absolutely perfect and dreamy-in-every-way boyfriend, I am the proud owner of a 7” Wüsthof Santoku knife…and it is as perfect and dreamy as the person who gave it to me.

Let me start by saying this is my first top of the line knife, let alone my first Wüsthof. The knives I have been working with aren’t poor quality, they’re just hand-me-downs that had been used frequently before I got my hands on them. Though I do own a steel, I am well aware that this is really no substitute for having your knife sharpened, which I never really got around to doing (oops!). Still, my old cook’s knife worked just fine. Until my Wüstfhof stepped in.

Like I said, my original, hand-me-down, cook’s knife worked fine; it did its job, and with a few classes of knife skills I could mince, dice, chop, and julienne comfortably and with confidence. However, working with the Wüsthof Santoku knife has made recipe preparation a truly smooth experience. First, the knife is super sharp so there’s really no need to use much pressure – it seems to glide right through anything the blade touches. Second, the hollow pattern along the sides really does work – food doesn’t stick, which makes the whole process of mincing less time consuming and, overall, tidier. Third and simply put, the Wüsthof Santoku knife just feels good. It’s the perfect size, and not too heavy, so I can’t help but feel it was just made for me.

There’s no doubt in my mind you’d feel the same, too.

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