Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Cookware

Plastic plates too pretty to leave behind


After I ordered my family's Thanksgiving turkey the other day at the Los Angeles Farmers Market, I wandered into the food shop Monsieur Marcel.

They've got some pretty melamine dishes -- plates, platters, small and large bowls -- that could trick the eye into thinking they're ceramic (priced from about $6 to about $30). I bought a couple, one for holiday potluck meals and one to give as a Christmas present.

Turns out that while they're made in China, they come from an L.A. company, Le Cadeaux. There are plain colors, plus several patterns reminiscent of France or Italy.

Norman Kosser, who previously owned a French homewares shop in Brentwood, said that a few years ago he sent plates to a company he works with in China and asked them to copy them in durable plastic. They're meant, he said, to have a "sophisticated country French feel."

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Le Cadeaux

Cleavers and a sandwich

Cleaver_300Last Saturday, when I went shopping in Monterey Park, I also went in search of a cleaver. I had just one that a friend gave me years ago -- your basic, inexpensive Chinese cleaver.

But I wanted something heavier to cut crab and lobster shells, chicken bones and spare ribs more easily. At Action Sales, a cookware supplier on Atlantic Boulevard, not far from the intersection of Atlantic and Garvey, I found what I was looking for, a handsome, indestructible cleaver made in Hong Kong. It's called Kow-Kong  No. 1 and it's a beauty for $42, something I'll have all my life.

While there, I also picked up a thin-bladed cleaver for thin-slicing pork belly or anything else. That one's the Song No. 2 and it's just $27.

Continue reading »

Notes from the Test Kitchen: Behind the scenes for pasta with kids

Pasta2steveosman_2 OK, so who doesn't like to play with their food?  When we set out to shoot Amy Scattergood's cover story this week, "Homemade pasta, a perfect cooking project for kids," we had some young chefs-in-training who showed us just how much fun making, eating -- and shooting -- pasta can be.Pasta3bnoelle

We were lucky a couple weeks ago when Bridgette and her brother Bob happened into the test kitchen; they had the day off from schoool and Mom brought them by. We were prepping dishes to shoot for the pesto and kugel recipes and asked if they'd be interested in helping demonstrate the basic pasta recipe. We didn't have to ask twice -- less than five minutes later they were in the studio, already dusted with flour and ready to go.

Continue reading »

Clay pot lust

A recent e-mail brought the latest newsletter from L’Atelier Vert — Everything French Gardening, a website from American expat Barbara Wilde, who lives and gardens in France. An author for Rodale Press, Wilde also sells gardening tools and French kitchen items on her site, including some beautiful clay pots, such as a daubière from Provence (for making daubes or stews), and marbled clay gratin dishes. Evidently, Paula Wolfert lusts after some of those traditional clay pots too.Paulawolfert_3

In Wilde’s most recent Paris Postcard, she recounts the start of her long-distance friendship with the author of "Good Food From Morocco" and other cookbooks, when Wolfert wrote to ask a question about a pot she had purchased online.

This summer, the two of them met up for the first time for a short, impromptu tour of the French potters who make clay cookware. It makes for a lovely read. One of the spots they visit is Cliousclat, a tiny pottery village where ceramics have been made since the beginning of the 18th century. I treasure the one bowl I have from Cliousclat and won't let anybody else wash it after dinner.

— S. Irene Virbila

Photo of Paula Wolfert in her kitchen with her collection of clay pots by Myung J. Chun/ Los Angeles Times

Life without a mini-prep? Or a toaster? Them's fightin' words

Mini_food_processorThe votes are in: You love the mini-prep.

Today's Food section story about kitchen gadgets and ingredients that are worth it –- and those that aren't –- has rubbed a few readers the wrong way. They're taking issue with Times staff writers Amy Scattergood and Russ Parsons, who had the audacity to say that neither a toaster nor a mini food processor was worth the time or money.

One reader, Audrey, e-mailed to say that the mini-prep was the most used appliance in her kitchen. Ditto for Laura, who loves her toaster and said her mini-prep is her go-to tool for making, among other things, homemade meals for her dog: "I use it everyday for things such as mincing onions, making salad dressing and marinades and chopping chicken breast for my teacup poodle. It's a cinch to clean, takes up no counter space and is inexpensive."

And Chuck Z said he agreed with everything Russ said -- except Russ' take on the mini-prep:

I must quarrel with Russ Parsons' "Not worth it" for mini food processors. I'm quite adept at chopping onions and other things by hand, but when a recipe calls for a small amount of minced garlic or shallots, which are more difficult to chop finely, I reach for my mini-prep, which sits on my counter right next to the full-size processor that I use for larger jobs. It's also a lot easier to clean than its big brother and takes up less space in the dishwasher. As for all of Russ' other "Worth it" and "Not worth it" choices, good call!

What about you? Do you side with Amy and Russ? Or are they out to lunch? Weigh in here.

-- Rene Lynch

Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Monday night pasta

Garganelli2_5Over the weekend, my older daughter presented me with an annotated list of the types of pasta she currently will and won't eat. With visual aids.  On the yes column: penne, ziti, fusilli.  No: spaghetti, fettucini, lasagna. Since I was rolling out sheets of pasta on my old Atlas machine at the time (which makes the three she doesn't like, but not of course the three she does), this was somewhat disconcerting. (For the record, Isabel ate the ravioli that I gave her.)

So last night I made garganelli, to dry for any future pasta crises -- and just because I'd never done it before. It required that I cut up sheets of pasta into 1 1/2-inch squares, roll them around a pencil and press them into a gnocchi board (right, with garganelli). Time consuming, yes, but fun in a meditative kind of way and a cool way to use an under-utilized kitchen tool (the board, not the pencil). It's a calming activity too, handy if you're watching Monday Night Football or, say, a political debate. And with Tom Brady out for the season and moose-hunting suddenly an acceptable qualification for the vice presidency, occupational therapy is going to be critical in the coming weeks.

Gnocchi board, about $6 at Surfas in Culver City, Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica and various sources online. 

-- Amy Scattergood

(Photo of garganelli pasta and board by Amy Scattergood)

Test Kitchen tips: calibrating your thermometer

Thermometers1Whether you use it to tell when a roast is done or to make sure that the frying oil heats to just the right temperature, a dial (instant-read) or digital thermometer eliminates part of the guesswork for the cook.  With Donna Deane's Hungarian pepper salad recipe this week (from "Hungarian peppers: a walk on the lighter side," by Donna Deane and Jenn Garbee), a thermometer might come in handy as you make sure that your chicken cooks to (safe) perfection before incorporating it into this colorful salad.

Indispensable as it may be, a thermometer is only as good as its accuracy. Calibration is key. Here are some quick tips to keep your thermometer on target:

Continue reading »

Here, piggy piggy

Saltpig2_2No, the odd-looking container on the left is not something I picked up at BCAM, nor is it a bit of haute plumbing paraphernalia: It's a salt pig.  And I didn't know what one was either, until I found this pretty white Emile Henry pig at Sur La Table the other day.  The earthenware pots are designed to store salt within easy reach of the stove.  The unglazed interior keeps the salt from clumping.  Unlike salt boxes, they don't have lids; unlike the ramekin I previously used for this purpose, they're designed to keep the salt protected from falling dust motes, culinary detritus.   They're not salt cellars either, although this distinction seems fuzzier.  Salt cellars can be little bowls or cruets; according to Larousse Gastronomique, they were originally hollowed-out lumps of bread. Okay, maybe these aren't absolutely necessary kitchen items--but how can you not love something called a salt pig? 

Why a pig?  According to a 2004 piece in Cook's Illustrated, this use of pig comes to us from "Scots and northern English dialect, where it means an earthenware vessel, specifically a 'pot, jar pitcher [or] crock.' "  Think piggy banks.  You can find salt pigs in various shapes (an actual pig), sizes (small ones are called, of course, piglets), and colors (check out Nigella Lawson's pretty blue pig), at places like fantes.com, cheftools.com and other kitchen supply stores.  If not kosher or sea salt, try Maldon (the big flakes look really cool), or consult Mark Kurlansky's brilliant book Salt for further inspiration. 

Emile Henry salt pig, $36.95 from Sur La Table; 301 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica.  (310) 395-0390.

-- Amy Scattergood

Photo: Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times

My second favorite kitchen tool is a ball of string


Actually, this is a cone of cotton butcher's twine, and it's one of the the most useful (and under-rated) tools in a kitchen.  Even before the economy tanked, I liked any cooking paraphernalia that I could get at a hardware store or that doubled as camping gear. (Uses for duct tape in the kitchen, anyone? Homeland Security?) String is great not just for practicing knots (see the chapter headings of Annie Proulx's "Shipping News") and cat's cradle, but for trussing chickens and tying up bouquet garnis and sachets. Wrap a roulade, tie a pork loin, section sausage links, string up a ham.

Chef Michel Richard's second cookbook, "Happy in the Kitchen,"(Want a copy? They have them at Citrus at Social.) has some awesome photographs of -- and recipes for -- what he does with string. (Richard is fantastic with plastic wrap too.)  And here's a space (______________) for that string theory joke when you think of it.

Butcher's twine, 3,600 yards, $20.99 at Surfas Restaurant Supply, 8824 National Blvd., Culver City;  (310) 559-4770.

-- Amy Scattergood

Photo: Amy Scattergood / Los Angeles Times

My favorite kitchen tool is a blowtorch

Ts3000kc_lg1 And not one of those dainty culinary brûlée torches, either, but a Bernzomatic propane torch. I got mine at Home Depot a few years ago, and it cost a whole lot less than the ones you can find in cooking stores — which are tiny and, in my mind, far too tame. Blowtorches are great for making crème brûlée, of course. You can also caramelize sugar on top of pies, cakes and plenty else. In last night's episode of "Iron Chef," won by Providence chef Michael Cimarusti, Providence pastry chef Adrian Vasquez took a torch to some red bell peppers — much more fun to do on television than simply parking them over a boring stove-top flame or under a broiler. You can also provide some last-minute color to a roast or gratin, quickly heat the bottom of a metal bowl to keep a frosting or meringue from breaking, or warm a chilled springform pan for quick release. (I got this trick from Spago pastry chef Sherry Yard, who does this for cheesecakes.) 

But what I use my blowtorch for the most is an amazing raspberry brûlée recipe I found in the July 2006 issue of Saveur.  It's insanely easy to make, a fantastic way to use seasonal berries (I've also used blackberries, strawberries, even peaches), and the only requirements are blowtorch, fruit, cream and sugar.  All you do is fold fresh berries into Chantilly cream, sprinkle with sugar and torch the top. The sugar caramelizes into rivulets and, after a quick set-up in the refrigerator, forms a crunchy sugar top.  It's amazing — and a very impressive party trick at twilight grilling dinners. Just be sure to get a fire extinguisher at the hardware store too!

— Amy Scattergood

Photo courtesy of Bernzomatic


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts
5 Questions for Thi Tran |  August 6, 2012, 8:00 am »
SEE-LA hires new executive director |  July 31, 2012, 9:34 am »
Food FYI: Actors reading Yelp reviews |  July 31, 2012, 9:16 am »
Test Kitchen video tip: Choosing a bread wash |  July 31, 2012, 6:04 am »



About the Bloggers
Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.