Friday, March 24, 2006

Through the years, I have seen a lot of trendy kitchenware products presented at trade shows. Oftentimes I’ve wondered how they could have even made it past the boardroom.
I've had enough practice that I can spot a gimmick a mile away -- and often cringe at the time and energy that is put into a product that is going to be as short-lived as the trend it was created to fulfill. (I do have to admit, I had one of those defrosting trays in my kitchen for many years – never really sure if they worked or if I just kept it around for so long because I had convinced myself that it was a ‘miracle’ product.)

Because my kitchen has always been on the small side, I have always been careful as to which products I really need, which ones will truly be useful, and which ones might be a bit frivolous.
When silicone kitchen accessories hit the U.S. consumer market several years ago, I thought, “Wow, this is good.” Silicone initially made its way into the U.S. kitchen with the must-have Silpat liner. This liner, which chefs have used for years, is made of a combination of fiberglass and silicone, and turns any pan into a nonstick surface ( Its success in the consumer world led the way for more silicone products to be introduced. Today silicone has permeated almost every aspect of the kitchenware industry, and is on everything from gadgets to oven mitts, to trivets, spatulas and more.

The main benefits of silicone in the kitchen are that it is heat resistant to upwards of 600 degrees Fahrenheit and is non porous – two important attributes when it comes to the kitchen. Take the potholder as an example. Traditionally made of fabric, the potholder doesn’t always keep our hand safe from the heat, gets dirty, and needs to be replaced on a frequent basis. On the other hand, the silicone potholders (and oven mitts) are much more durable and useful. They can withstand the heat that a typical cloth potholder or oven mitt might not. As an added benefit, the silicone potholder is slip resistant and waterproof. And, if it is a coordinated kitchen look you’re going for, these potholders are available in a variety of colors. Lamson & Goodnow’s HotSpot is flexible and easy to grasp, and come in a wide array of fun colors including transparent colors or even novelty designs such as snowflakes, snowmen or hearts. (
On the Oven Mitt end, there are a couple versions out there including the iSi ORKA oven mitt and the SiliconeZone version which offers left- and right-handed mitts. The silicone oven mitt is perfect for a variety of tasks – including reaching into a pot of boiling water to grab a lobster. But, if lobster isn’t a frequent item on your menu, the mitt is useful when reaching into the oven or even the barbecue. Heck, it is also pretty handy if you need to reach into the fireplace to quickly adjust a log or place a new one on the fire – just keep in mind that it is heat resistant to about 600 degrees F
How a silicone product performs is dependent upon several factors such as the thickness of the silicone as well as its grade. Because silicone has become so popular, there are a lot of products out there to choose from. Some silicone products are made using bulk fillers – which is cheaper than using all silicone. They aren’t as effective, though. A quick test someone once showed me that will help determine if fillers are used is to bend it in half- If the color remains solid, then there are no fillers. (If you bend a red baking pan, for example, and you can see some white – then fillers are used).
I haven’t used silicone for baking too often, simply because I have found success with my metal pans, and I don’t want to experiment with results in the silicone baking. When using silicone for baking keep in mind that the form is floppier than a metal pan, so it will take some time to get used to placing the pan in the oven without spilling the batter. Additionally, when using silicone for baking, there won’t be a browning effect – so, if that’s what you’re looking for, you might be disappointed. However, if you’re frosting a cake then the browning doesn’t matter.

Some kitchen tools that I have found indispensable include the spatula. The nonporous nature of silicone comes in handy especially when stirring tomato sauce. The silicone won’t discolor, and since it is heat resistant, you can use the silicone spatula in a pot of sauce or even to cook up scrambled eggs.
Also handy is the stainless steel kitchen tongs that have silicone on the ends. Now available from Cuisipro, the silicone is on the grabbing portion of the tongs, making them great for grabbing slippery foods – such as lasagna, and are perfect for use all the time because the silicone end keeps it from scratching the bottom of pots and pans. They are colorful too – and come in yellow, red, blue, orange and frosted tips. (

Another great silicone product from Lamson is thefoodloop – it is a silicone trussing tool that replaces kitchen string (or toothpicks) when cooking. I don’t use it very often, but when I need it, thefoodloop is very handy to have around.
One of my favorites – especially for the kids to use is the SillyBowl – a small bowl made of silicone. Beyond using it for the kids, the Silly Bowl is perfect for serving spreads, dips, or sauces – especially at an outdoor barbecue. (

The Sili Gourmet Measuring cups and spoons (from William Bounds Ltd.) come in very handy. They are color-coded cups and spoons that have stainless steel handles that are easy to grip (even when hands are wet). The cups and spoons are color coded so you can easily grab the correct cup/spoon size when needed. Making them even more functional is the flat bottom design so that they sit securely on the counter when filled without spilling. The cups can be used for cooking functions such as melting butter, and are ideal for measuring sticky ingredients such as peanut butter, (

I still have on hand an old basting brush my great grandmother made with goose feathers. I don’t use it, but remember my mother and grandmother using them to spread melted butter all the time. Mine sits on a shelf in the kitchen and when I glance at it I cringe as to all the yuck that has accumulated on it. That’s what makes the silicone basting brushes my friends. The silicone bristles make them easy to clean, and there is never any leftover residue from past use. Many companies have them available, iSi has a silicone baster that allows you to store the basting liquid – butter or glaze – in the handle. With a soft squeeze, the liquid is dispersed into the bristles for basting. They also have a small ‘Squid” baster that draws up pan juices by suction into the reservoir, allowing you to then brush them on ( Kuhn Rikon has a 8 ½ inch long Silicone Brush that has a version that is perfect for basting in the oven or for the barbecue. The non-shedding brush is heat safe to 500 degrees F and doesn’t absorb flavors. It is easy to clean in the dishwasher or by hand. Best of all, it retails for around $7. (

As I mentioned before, I’ve had some relatively small kitchens, so bulky cookware and accessories are always an issue. A recent introduction from SiliconeZone is the answer to at least one of my dilemmas – the Flexible Silicone Strainers/Colanders. This tool collapses into a flat piece for easy storage. Beyond its ability to store flat, the strainer makes clean-up of starchy foods (such as potatoes and pasta) a breeze. (
One other great SiliconeZone find is the Universal Easy Lid. There is no organization to our plastic container cabinet, and it is made even worse by the fact that we allow Nicole and Grayson to open it and grab a plastic cup or bowl for snack-time. (It also serves as a mild diversion when I need to get something done in the kitchen). The Universal Easy Lid eliminates the time I spend looking for the right lid to fit a container. Now I can store a bean salad, leftovers, or whatever in a bigger bowl and plop on one off these lids. It includes a 12.5-inch, 10.5-inch, 8-inch and 6-inch size, so it fits nearly every bowl we have. It also provides a vacuum seal to melamine, glass, metal or ceramic bowls. I also use the lid as a splatter guard on the stove. (

That’s about it from me today – I’m off to cooking in my silicone-infused kitchen.
Until next time, enjoy your time with Food and the Family.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

Time for Yourself – even if it is a couple of minutes.

It’s been a hectic weekend, as most are, and I long for the quiet time that I don’t usually get until after 8 p.m. when both the kids are down. With one out of the house grocery shopping with Daddy, and the other taking a nap (which I hope lasts until they return from the store), I sit down to relax with my computer and a cup of tea. Having consumed my daily share of coffee at 6:30 a.m. when the kids dragged us out of bed, I opt for something more soothing, with less caffeine.

No doubt you are all aware of the health benefits of tea, but if you need a reminder, here they are:
Tea provides various nutrient supplements including potassium, vitamin C, and a number of trace minerals including chromium.
Tea is rich in antioxidants which help protect cells that may otherwise mutate into cancer and other diseases.
Green tea exhibits anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties making it useful in warding off some forms of flue, colds and other illnesses.
Polyphenals and catechins found in tea have been found to lower undesirable fats in the blood including cholesterol. While green tea continues a higher percentage of the catechin antioxidants, research has documented that black and oolong teas have many of these same healthy effects on the human body.

I usually mix it up, trying different kinds of tea – green, oolong, black, even mate and rooibos, which are not officially ‘tea’, but are often lumped into the same category.

While my intentions are to grab some quiet time, it doesn’t always happen. Inevitably, my tea is brewing and the kids wake up – and my tea gets cold. My big find has been the Timolino Travette Tea Maker. It is a vacuum insulated tea ‘pot’ that includes a basket infuser that sits inside the pot, giving the tea leaves room to properly release flavor. The vacuum insulated container holds the tea at the perfect temperature for up to three hours. It has a padded base so it sits securely on the table, desk or counter without marring, and the stainless steel interior makes it easy to clean. It has a 20-ounce capacity. (

That’s my pick of the week! With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, we’ll be getting ready for a festive dinner. Check back later this week to hear about our plans.
Until next time, enjoy Food and the Family.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Well, we did it. Grayson helped make the pasta. He participated in every stage, helping mix the ingredients for the pasta, then kneading it, and of course, his favorite part 'cranking the machine.' All in all, it didn't take much time - yes, a bit more time than store-bought pasta, but the experience of the family making it together is well worth the few extra minutes. When running the pasta through the Atlas pasta machine, Grayson was amazed at how the machine performed - he decided which size spaghetti we were to make - actually making two thicknesses. days later, he is still talking about it. In fact, he had a little 'tantrum' because we were making left-over pasta and not making it from scratch!
Until next time, enjoy Food and the Family

Thursday, March 02, 2006

This week's San Francisco Chronicle (3/1) Food section featured an article about the recent Winter Fancy Food Show held in San Francisco in January. I have attended this show too many times to count over the past 12 years. The show is put on by the National Association of the Specialty Food Trade, which holds three versions of the Fancy Food Show throughout the year - Winter in San Francisco, Spring in Chicago and Summer in New York City. This truly is the place to find the best of the best food products ranging from imported cheeses, to condiments, specialty meats, confections, cookies and more. As the author of the article noted, the show is literally a food fest, where trade members (not open to the public) have the opportunity to taste a wide, wide variety of specialty foods.

The foods introduced at the show are literally, the foods that will appear at your local stores in the coming months.
So, I thought I'd write a report of my findings at the show. This, of course, will not be exhaustive, since there are hundreds of booths, hundreds of new products and often not enough time to see everything.
Here are a few snippets of what is up and coming to your neighborhood store.

Chocolate, chocolate everywhere. High quality is what it is all about. Great new offerings - as well as those previously introduced - from a host of companies include the Torn Ranch Tea Bar, with European dark chocolate infused with green tea and a hint of jasmine (
For the wine lover, there was the Wine Lover's Chocolate Collection from The San Francisco Chocolate Factory. Each different cocoa percentage is paired with a red wine varietal. Scharffen Berger introduced the 3-ounce El Carmen 75% Cacao Limited Series dark chocolate bars as well as the Gianduja bars. (
The new dessert sauces collection from Fran's Chocolates is a tasty trio. The Dark Chocolate, Classic Caramel and Pure Raspberry Sauces - are Fran's most requested sauces and are now available in a three pack. (
For the tea and chocolate lover, Serendipitea is offering unique and distinctive blends such as romantic tea and flower blends, along with tea/tisane blends with real dark chocolate (

Fair Trade labels continue to expand beyond the coffee realm and include Fair Trade certified sweeteners from Wholesome Sweeteners. The line includes organic Fair Trade sugar, organic Fair Trade sucanat, organic Fair Trade powdered sugar, organic Fair Trade light and dark brown sugars, organic Fair Trade molasses, and Fair Trade raw cane sugar.

Lots of healthy and tasty beverages to keep an eye out for. New to the show was the Ardea Beverage Company which offered airforce Nutrisoda, nutrient-enhanced sodas that are made with natural fruit flavors and colors (
For those wanting to experience the healthful benefits of mate, Pixie Mate showased their offerings including The Original Mate latte, Mate Mocha, Mate Chai and Dark Roast Mate Latte (
The portable T-Buddy from TzuThe International serves as both a mug and a tea pot. A built-in infuser allows for brewing full leaf teas, herbal 'teas' and even coffee. They also offered a green tea bar, that is made with green tea leaves and Sapporo brewer's yeast. The bar is high in protein and fiber and comes in Multi-grain, Japanese Germ Rice or Tropical fruit.
Honest Tea introduced certified organic bottled iced teas in unsweetened varieties as well as lightly sweetened flavors including Mango White Tea, Heavenly Honey Green tea. From ITO EN, two new varieties have been added to the all-natural, unsweetened Teas' Tea line - Lemongrass Green and Rose Green.
Great for entertaining is the Stirrings Cocktail Essences from Nantucket Off-Shore Seasonings. The herbal and floral infused cocktail essences come in Summer Basil, Hillside Lavender, Mediterranean Rosemary and 60 Petal Rose flavors, and are a great way to give a martini a bit of flavor.
For those who demand the real thing, Nielsen-Massey vanillas introduced four new pure extracts - Chocolate, Almond, Orange and Lemon for a variety of baking and cooking applicaiotns.

Flavors of the world include the Maya Kaimal line of all-natural, refrigerated Indian sauces. A delicious shortcut to some of your favorite Indian dishes such as Tikka Masala, Coconut Curry, Tamarind Curry and Vindaloo. ( And for those who love to stir fry, Republic of Tea's cold-pressed extra-virgin tea oil is great. The Tea Oil ensures a balance of texture, flavors and color, while preserving valuable nutirents. (
A tasty blend of sesame, garlic, coriander and ginger with a hint of star anise make up the Asian Brining Blend from Victorial Gourmet. Perfect for pork tenderloin or shrimp. (
An interesting snack find -- Lasagna Chips. Made from fresh sheets of lasagna, cooked and seasoned to create several flavors: Garlic & Oregano, Tomato Basil, Sea Salt and Barbecue, as well as a new, whole-wheat Lasagna Chip (
Recipes from the Aztec and Mayan recipes are replicated from Xochitl in slasas, dipa dn corn chip[s. Salsa/dips are available in Chipotle, Roasted Jalapeno and Habanero. Voted best Chips in the Country by the Rosengarten Report in Sept. 2005. (
Madras Curry Mustard, from Bear Creek Fine Foods, is a blend of Madras curry spice with organic mustard to offer exotic flavor with ahint of sweetness and a punch of spice. (
- Three new buttery crackers from the Fine Cheese Company of Bath England include Charcoal (yes, charcoal), Wholemeal and Natural.
- Tasty new fig sauces at The Girl and The Fig - Spiced Fig Caramel and Spiced Fig Chocolate.
- Numerous companies highlighting distinctive gourmet sea salts - many hand-harvested and certified authentic, including those from SaltWorks Inc. (
- Emeril's All Natural Chicken, Beef, and organic vegetable Stocks.
--** Fruit/Flavor to keep an eye on - Goji Berries - The TIbetan Goji Berry is chock full of lots of good things: 18 amino acids, more beta carotene than carrots, more iron than spinach, 500 times the vitamin C by weight than an orange, lots of protein . . . .
- The list could go on and on . . but I must move on.

Keep and eye out for these new products . .
Until next time, enjoy Food and the Family