Daily Dish

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Category: Cookware

Pimp my cupcake

July08cover54_3 The July issue of Family Circle just landed in my mailbox, and I think you'll agree that the cover is a showstopper.

Someone went and super-sized the cupcake.

How did they do it? I flipped to Page 154 in the magazine for details and found that there's a giant cupcake pan now on the market. It has two sides. One side is the "bottom" of the cupcake, complete with cute little ridges that look as if they were imparted by a cupcake liner. The other side is the swirly "top." You bake batter in both sides, pop 'em out, put them together and –- voila! -- giant cupcake.

My immediate reaction was, I'm sure, the same as yours: Launch a campaign to nominate this person for culinary sainthood, and have his or her visage carved into Mt. Rushmore.

But as I began fantasizing about a cupcake the size of my head, I began to fret: Doesn't this contraption cut down on the frosting?

To me, cupcakes are simply a delivery system for frosting. And the perfect frosting-to-cupcake ratio is roughly 55% frosting and 45% cupcake. (You think I'm making this up? No. I've really put some thought into this.)

So if the swirly part of the giant cupcake is actually cake ... that means less frosting, no? Has anyone tried one of these? Maybe I am missing something.

I do think the giant cupcake would be a hit at a kid's birthday party. I did a little scouting around on the Internet. It appears there are at least two manufacturers of these pans, and they all sell for about $30. They're at a variety of places, including at Target, Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. Family Circle also has instructions for a special deal for $25.99.

In the meantime, here's a link to a recipe for Auntie Em's coconut cupcakes, courtesy of Times Test Kitchen manager Noelle Carter. This one has been a hit with readers, and has been requested again and again. I know it's only June but I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say it has a shot at our our annual Top 10 list. Just remember, you read it here first!

-- Rene Lynch

Photo credit: Cover courtesy of Family Circle magazine.

Rice to the nth degree

I've been cooking more Asian food at home lately, but my cooking technique for short-grained Japanese rice leaves something to be desired. Fortunately, I have a Japanese friend, Sonoko, who is a wonderful cook, so I asked her how she cooks her rice. Don’t buy an electric rice cooker, she advised me. Good thing, because I wasn’t planning on buying one anyway. They’re too bulky — and ugly, too.

She uses a special clay cooker for rice called a donabe, which she carried back from Tokyo on the plane. It weighs a ton, Donabe1she said, but the rice it cooks is so beautiful! It’s made of heavy clay and has a double lid that captures the steam. And if you cook the rice a minute or two longer, it develops a delicious crust at the bottom.

Where can I get one? She didn’t know, but then generously offered to come over the next day with her donabe and show me how it worked. And since she was leaving that afternoon for a few weeks, she left it with me so I could try it and see if I liked it. Perfect.

I laid in what Sonoko says is the top quality of rice: Koshihikari from the northern rice region of Japan, about $29 for 5 pounds at Japanese markets. This weekend, I cooked my first rice in her donabe, and I’m never going back to a saucepan with a lid. I’ve got to get one of these. The rice is small-grained and firm, each grain absolutely distinct the way it is in a great risotto. It has a slightly grassy, nutty perfume, and a wonderful texture. It’s so good I could eat it plain. And I did. This rice is strictly special occasion, though: I figure it costs about a dollar and a half per person. But in the world of luxuries, that’s not so much, and absolutely worth it.

Now I just have to figure out how to get the clay rice cooker from Japan. I couldn’t find one online, at least not in English. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist somewhere. And if push comes to shove, Sonoko has offered to bring me back one on her next trip.

— S. Irene Virbila

Photo by S. Irene Virbila

Aebleskiver

Img_2341If you're tired of your pancakes coming in the usual size and shape (flat, round), consider making these glorious little cakes next time.  These are aebleskiver (AY-bel-skee-ver), and unless you spend a lot of time in Solvang, California, (or Denmark) or are lucky enough to have a friend with Danish family and thus an aebleskiver pan (mange tak, Karin), you might never have had the pleasure of eating them. 

Aebleskiver are lovely little spherical cakes, made by cooking a pancake-like batter in a peculiar cast-iron pan that looks like a cross between a small Lodge skillet and an escargot plate.  According to legend, the Vikings originally came up with the method by cooking griddle cakes in their battle-dented shields, heating the concave metal over a hearth and then pouring in some pancake batter.  (A pleasant domestic break from all that rowing and burning.)  If you don't have a shield handy, you can order aebleskiver pans from Fantes.com, find them at or by mail-order from Solvang Restaurant in Solvang (a bucolic little town up the coast from Los Angeles with a large Danish population) and from aebleskiver.com, where you can also get a recipe and download a video showing you how to make the things.  It's a rather tricky procedure, and involves rotating the cooking batter so that it forms a kind of popover.  Hint: My friend uses a knitting needle.Img_2343

Served with a dusting of powdered sugar or drizzled with syrup or raspberry jam -- you can also fill the cakes with slices of apple, which is how they got their name -- they're truly fantastic.  Spherical IS a lot more fun than flat.  Too bad restaurant supply companies don't stock dented Viking shields....

-- Amy Scattergood

Photos by Amy Scattergood

Hot seat

I stopped in at Surfas, the cooking supply store in Culver City, to shop for goodies for a convalescing friend. The first thing I saw as I stepped in the door Imgp1078_3wouldn't fit in my care package, but it surely belongs on some committed cook's kitchen-remodeling wish list: a custom-made stockpot stool.

Store vice president Diane Surfas was inspired to have employees assemble the prototype from materials the warehouse had on hand. It's a surprisingly comfortable sit and seems super-sturdy. The stools aren't listed on the store's website (surfasonline.com) yet but can be custom-ordered via the customer service department (310) 559-4770, ext. 301 (Mitch) or customerservice@surfasonline.com.

The price is $179 for either of two sizes (short, to pull up to a table, or bar-stool-size for higher counter-top seating).

-- Susan LaTempa

Photo by Susan LaTempa

A knife for small hands

Misono_2 I used to think my 8-inch chef's knife was indispensable in the kitchen. But I have small hands (I can barely reach a full octave on the piano), and always found that big a knife unwieldy. This year a friend gave me a 150-millimeter (about 6-inch) Misono UX10 for Valentine's Day (romantic, no?), and I have been in love ever since. With the knife. I love it for chopping vegetables, for boning chicken, for slicing meat. The blade is thin and its shape elegant; it fits in my hand comfortably and it's light -- I don't have to work to raise the knife. The UX10 series is made from Swedish stainless steel, and I'm not sure what exactly it is that's so special about Swedish stainless steel, but the claim is that it retains its sharp edge for longer ... mine's still sharp. And every time I see a carrot, I want to brunoise -- or at least dice.

-- Betty Hallock

Photo courtesy of Misono

Infrazapping in your kitchen

Infrawave_3   Infrared radiation cooks fast, up to 50% faster than flame. That's why the jazzier barbecues have long  featured gas-fired infrared heating elements, and why a lot of restaurants have electric infrared grills. But for the home kitchen, infrared has so far been concentrated in either super-pricey high-end equipment or gimmicky as-seen-on-TV gadgets. Black & Decker is positioning its new InfraWave Countertop Oven in the middle of this gap.

For convenience and space-age aura, the InfraWave includes scores of programmed food settings. I decided to take this baby out on the road and see what it could do, so I tried cooking a hot dog, a potato, a rising-crust pizza and a whole chicken. For most of them, I can report that the InfraWave did cook much faster than a regular oven. It's sort of like a microwave that can brown food.

But those programmed settings were flaky. The potato took 40 minutes, five minutes longer than the setting (but hey, still 30% less than it would have taken in a conventional oven), while the pizza and the hot dog cooked faster than their settings -- 6 and 11 minutes, respectively, though the settings were 12 and 15. Go figure. The chicken was supposed to take 40 minutes but still wasn't done at 75.

Long story short: It cooks impressively fast, but don't blindly trust those settings, and I get the feeling you basically shouldn't try anything as big as a whole chicken. But enjoy the hot dogs -- it's terrific on dogs.

Black & Decker InfraWave Countertop Oven, $119.99-$149.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and Wal-Mart stores and at various Internet shopping sites.

-- Charles Perry

Photo by Charles Perry

Vegas-bound cookware bargains

0I love the bleached desert landscape on the drive up to Las Vegas, a trip I make every few months to check out what’s new -- and there’s always something. On the way, I usually make one stop, at Primm -- not to gamble, but to browse at the Williams-Sonoma outlet store. I once picked up a reconditioned four-slot chrome Dualit  toaster (normally more than $300) for $79 and have been happily making toast on it ever since. I also found a greatly discounted Staub cast iron mussel pot, and another time a heavy Mauviel roasting pan for the Thanksgiving turkey. Over the weekend, I took a quick look around, turned up some black rectangular charcoal chimney starters from BBQ maven and author Steven Raichlen, originally $34, discounted to $12. Nary a peek in the mall’s purported 100 other stores and I’m gone, heading straight for those raucous neon lights and the next new restaurant in Vegas.

Williams-Sonoma Marketplace, Fashion Outlets of Las Vegas, 32100 S. Las Vegas Blvd. (I-15 at Exit 1), Primm, Nevada; (702) 874-1400. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo by S. Irene Virbila

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.