Donna Maurillo, Food for Thought

Well, that’s one Eating Day taken off the list. All we have left is another month to go. I decided not to make cookies this year because I end up testing every batch. And eating failures. And the broken ones. , everyone I know is still trying to shake off the weight of COVID.

So if you don’t cook either, you’re probably looking for decent kitchen gifts. Right? Or you can give tips on gifts you would like. If you’re out of ideas, I have some here.

A good chef’s knife. This is a must for slicing, dicing and chopping. The slightly curved blade is ideal for a “rocking” movement that makes these tasks easier. Make sure it has a decent handle and a hard steel blade so it maintains a sharp edge. A good one that fits your budget is the Victorinox Fibro Pro, which costs around $50.

Large piping bags. The smaller bags you find at the supermarket are suitable for small jobs. But if you want to frost cupcakes, make mashed potato rosettes, make meringues, or do anything that requires more than half a cup of filling, you’ll need a bigger bag. I have a 12 inch that I bought at Chef’Store where they have great restaurant quality supplies.

Digital food scale. You can find some decent ones for around $20 or less. Measuring flour and other powdered ingredients is best done by weight rather than volume. If you like to make bread, for example, you will notice a big difference in the result when you weigh the flour. The scale is also great for measuring chocolate chips, nuts, and even fish and chicken. They’re also great when you rely on portion control to manage weight. I use mine all the time.

Air Fryer. Some people still don’t have one of these. With just two of us, I use my air fryer all the time. It heats up faster than the oven and uses much less energy. Don’t be fooled by the name. Most air fryers can bake, grill, toast, dehydrate, roast, reheat – and even fry with just a spritz of oil. Think of it as a countertop convection oven. Many cost less than $100.

Countertop Ice Maker. If your refrigerator doesn’t already have an ice maker, you can get a countertop version that quickly produces enough ice to keep you stocked forever. There is no need for a water supply because they have a reservoir. Most cost around $60.

Vacuum Sealant. I buy fish in large packages and my vacuum sealer allows me to package it in serving-sized portions and freeze it. The vacuum keeps out air, so there are no freezer burns. You can also use it to seal cooked green beans, corn, and dry ingredients like nuts and chocolate chips. They sell for about $100 plus the cost of the bags.

Portable Bag Sealer. They only cost about $10, but they are essential. They are great for resealing bags of chips, cereal, pasta, rice, cookies and more. Not only do they keep everything fresh, but a sealed bag prevents the contents from spilling out.

Rollable dish drainer. This is a stainless steel bar mat that fits over the sink. It can fold into the dish drying area and then roll up for storage. Most cost around $15.

A set of dishes. These are what most people call ice cream scoops – the kind with a lever. Use different sizes to measure cookie dough, meatballs, truffles, mashed potatoes and more. They are perfect when you need all the portions to be the same size. I also use mine to fill cupcake molds with exactly the same amount of batter. Depending on the quality and size, they cost around $10 or more.

Sad to see them go

Café Mare in downtown Santa Cruz Galleria is closing. Owner Jean Pierre is finally retiring and moving to Florida after 22 years of running the popular Italian restaurant. We had our last meal there on Sunday.

But don’t start crying yet. The owners of pasta bar Sugo (former employees of Café Mare) will expand to that location. Expect a soft opening soon, with full production by the end of January.

Lead testing

I mentioned recently that many dishes contain harmful amounts of lead in their glazes, especially if they are made in other countries. To check your own dishes, you can purchase test swabs. Wet one and rub it on the surface of the dish for 30 seconds. It will tell you how much lead is in the enamel. I bought 30 cotton swabs for about $10 online.

Tip of the week

For a little decadence, add some Torani or similar syrup to your coffee or hot chocolate. It’s also great in club soda. I like the sugar-free varieties.

Recipe of the week

Now that winter is knocking at the door, it’s time to make soup with real chicken broth. It is much richer than canned stock or broth. And it’s an excellent way to use up the carcass of those roasted chickens.

Chicken soup for the soul

Serves about 6

Ingredients

1 whole chicken carcass

3 liters of water or more

1 tablespoon of olive oil

2 yellow onions, peeled and diced

2 cups leftover minced chicken meat

4 large carrots, peeled and chopped small

3 chopped celery ribs

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

OR 2 tablespoons jarred minced garlic

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning or provincial herbs

1 teaspoon of saffron

Salt and fresh ground pepper

Juice and zest of one lemon

3-4 ounces of small pasta such as stars or alphabets, or use an equal amount of pasta or spaghetti broken into 1-inch pieces.

Instructions

1. Place the chicken carcass in a large soup pot. Cover with water. Place the pan over high heat on the stove. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2-3 hours.

2. When finished, remove the carcass. Remove any meat remaining on the bones. Reserve the meat. Pour the chicken broth into a large bowl and strain through a large sieve to remove any small bones and skin. Discard them along with the rest of the carcass. Reserve the chicken broth.

3. Add oil to the bottom of the pan and heat until shimmering. Add the onion. Cook stirring until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and all remaining ingredients except the noodles.

4. Cook over medium heat until the carrots are soft. Add the pasta and cook for another 10 minutes.

5. Taste and adjust seasoning. If the broth becomes too oily, add more lemon juice. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

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