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    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

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Archive for Kitchenware/Tabletop



The classic moka pot dons a red coat.
Photo courtesy IMUSA USA.


Here’s a no-calorie Valentine gift for someone who loves strong coffee: a red moka pot.

You can purchase the six-cup version at Macy’s for $14.99; it also is available in pumpkin orange and cobalt blue. A three-cup version is available at Kohl’s.

Bialetti, originators of the moka pot, make six-cup versions in solid red, orange, blue and violet.

Up until few decades ago, before the introduction of electric-powered espresso machines for the home, people with money made espresso in a moka pot, a manual Italian espresso maker. People without money, space or a frequent need for an electric espresso machine still do.


A moka pot is a stove top coffee pot that makes strong coffee. Instead of the more recent drip coffeemakers, where water drips down through ground coffee into a carafe below, the moka pot holds the water in its bottom half. When heated on the stove, the steam pushes boiling water up through the grounds into a top chamber, from which it is poured.



The aluminum Moka Express, with its octagonal body, was patented in 1933 by the Italian inventor Luigi De Ponti and acquired by Alfonso Bialetti. It enabled Bialetti, a metals engineer, to transform his company into a leading Italian coffee machine designer and manufacturer.

Before the moka pot, only people of means could brew café-quality coffee at home, using large and expensive commercial machines that required training. Most people drank their coffee at a café or coffee bar.

The creation of the small, efficient, user-friendly and affordable Moka Express allowed anyone to quickly brew at home the bold, robust-tasting coffee beloved by Italians. It replaced the more primitive coffee-makers developed in the late 19th century such as the Napoletana.

Although today there are electric moka pots, it the original survives in its original form—a feat for a kitchen appliance designed more than 80 years ago. The major change has been a move to stainless steel by some the versions, as well as novelty designs like the one above and Bialetti’s cappuccino moka pot with a fun cow-pattern enamel coating (there’s also a plain, elegant cappuccino pot).



The Red Sea port city of Mocha in Yemen was the major marketplace for coffee—grown in Africa—from the 15th century through the 17th century. The principal port for Yemen’s capital city, Sana’a, it was later eclipsed by the ports of Aden and Hodeida.

Because the name is transliterated from Arabic letters, there are a variety of spellings: Mocha, Mocca, Moka, Mokha, etc.

Even after other sources of coffee were developed, Mocha beans (also called Sanani or Mocha Sanani beans, meaning “from Sana’a”) continued to be prized for their distinctive flavor—and remain so today.



Be my Valentine—have an espresso. Photo courtesy IMUSA USA.


Remember that a “four cup pot” means four wee espresso cups. If you like a double espresso—or a standard coffee cup full—buy the largest pot you can find—typically nine cups. Bialetti’s largest makes 12 cups.

If you have the option, stainless steel will look better over time than aluminum.

Typically, Italian roast coffee is used in a moka pot; but you can use whatever you have.


What if you have two moka pots? Use one for tea. See our moka pot tip from ten days ago.



TIP OF THE DAY: 15+ Uses For A Culinary Torch


Making crème brûlée is just one of the
numerous things you can do with a culinary
torch. Photo courtesy BonJour.


Many of us have purchased a culinary torch (a.k.a. chef’s torch or brulée torch) for the sole purpose of caramelizing sugar on crème brûlée.

But a culinary torch has numerous other uses in the kitchen, for preparing both sweet and savory dishes. Here are 14 ways to use your torch, with thanks to Williams-Sonoma for some of these ideas.


1. Breakfast or dessert grapefruit brûlée. Cut a grapefruit in half and pat the cut surface dry. Sprinkle a thin layer of brown or white sugar and some optional cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Heat with the torch until the sugar bubbles.

2. Brûlée your oatmeal. Sprinkle cooked oatmeal or other porridge with a thin layer of brown or white sugar; heat with a torch until it gets crisp.

3. Caramelize beef and other meat.


Meat that’s served rare, like roast beef, is best cooked at a lower temperature. But this technique doesn’t produce a caramelized crust. Chef Thomas Keller shares his technique for prime rib: Before popping the roast into the oven, char the outside with a blowtorch. You can also do this with lamb. And, it makes any bacon wrap (like bacon-wrapped shrimp) crisper: just torch the bacon before putting the appetizers in the oven.

4. Char bell peppers. Instead of holding them over the stove, use your torch. You can also use the torch to roast small chiles (jalapeños, e.g.).

5. Cook a pizza, no oven required! Your torch will brown a ready-to-eat crust, melt the cheese, even roast the veggies.

6. Glaze a ham or a pork roast. Brush with chutney, honey mustard, preserves etc. If you’re adding fruit, lay the pineapple slices or other fruit over the ham. (If you need to use toothpicks, first soak them in water.) Sprinkle with brown sugar. Heat with the torch until the sugar caramelizes.

7. Melt cheese. Add a finishing touch to the cheese atop onion soup gratinée, chili or any hot dish with grated cheese, including mac and cheese.


8. Peel tomatoes. When making sauces, chili, etc., you can blanch the whole tomatoes in boiling water, or use your torch to sear and easily peel the skin. When skin starts to crack, set the tomato aside to cool, then peel.

9. Sear fish. You may have seen a sushi chef use a torch to sear the outside of a raw piece of tuna or other fish. Try it at home for an appetizer, atop a bed of frisée, mesclun or seaweed salad; replace some of the olive oil in your vinaigrette with sesame oil, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds. For a more cooked alternative, use the torch to crisp the skin and of the fish that hasn’t gotten it crisp enough in the pan (how to crisp fish skin).

10. Singe the pin feathers off poultry. Easy peasy!



Charred bell peppers. Photo courtesy Zabar’s.

11. Toast a bread crumb topping. Stuff tomatoes, bell peppers or avocado halves with chicken, crab, lobster, shrimp or tuna salad. Sprinkle with buttered bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, then heat with a torch until golden brown. You can also torch the bread crumb topping on mac and cheese and spaghetti or other pasta dishes.


12. Brown meringue. Use the torch to brown the meringue atop Baked Alaska, fruit tarts, meringue pies and other desserts.

13. Create burnt sugar garnishes. Place a greased cookie cutter on a Silpat liner and sprinkle a thin layer of sugar inside the cutter. Heat with a torch until crisp, then lift off the cutter. Use the burnt sugar decoration to garnish desserts such as frosted cakes, ice cream or pudding.

14. Make s’mores. Do this in the kitchen; or if your guests are handy adults, place graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows on a platter and invite them to spear marshmallows with fondue forks and toast and assemble their own.

15. Flambé your food. Make delicious, festive desserts: Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee, dessert crêpes, fruit compote, etc. Pour Grand Marnier or other liqueur into a metal measuring cup and heat with the torch. Pour the warmed liqueur over the dessert and then use the torch or a long match to ignite. How to flambé.

16. Unmold frozen desserts. If they resist popping out of metal molds, the torch is neater and quicker than hot water.

17. And of course, crème brûlée.
Have other suggestions? Let us know!



TIP OF THE DAY & GIFT: Knife Sharpening By Mail

Want a holiday gift to make any cook happy? Sharpen their knives!

Well not you, exactly. But for an online payment of $34.99, you can send them a shipping box from USA Sharp that includes four knife guards plus prepaid, insured priority shipping labels for quick and easy USPS turnaround.

Then, just slip the knives into the knife guards and drop the box in the mail. The company promises a 24-hour turnaround, which means that the USPS will return the sharpened knives within 3-5 business days.

And sharpen your own knives, while you’re at it.

USA Sharp is a family knife sharpening service that founded in the 1930s by an immigrant to Massachusetts who hand-wheeled a pushcart around town. His granddaughter has taken to the Internet to sharpen knives from kitchens and foodservice operations nationwide.

And that’s a good thing, since no matter how good (or average) your knives, if you don’t sharpen them regularly, it’s harder to cut. Worse, you run the risk of the blade slipping off the food and into your flesh. Using a sharpening steel or gadget at home is in intermediate step until you call in the big guns (professional sharpening).


While you can get knives sharpened at local establishments and traveling trucks, there’s nothing easier than dropping your knives in the nearest mailbox.


Even if you regularly use a sharpening steel, your knives still need to be wheel-sharpened a few times a year (depending on how often you use them). Photo courtesy Inside Woodworking.



Put knives into cardboard box, drop box into the nearest U.S. Postal Service box.


It’s worth noting that hardware stores and kitchen shops often use small tabletop machines—or even the knife-sharpening gadgets you can buy in their stores—in a “one machine fits all” sharpening operation. There’s little or no differentiation among the various types of knives and their unique requirements.

USA Sharp inspects each knife to determine which a sharpening method will create the finest hard edge.

Not only can USA Sharp sharpen the knives; they can fix most knives that have been improperly sharpened elsewhere and recondition most blades that are chipped, bent, or have broken tips.

The company also has a knife recycling program for food pantries and soup kitchens. “Retired” kitchen knives are turned reconditioned to provide the gift of sharp cutlery to the chefs who help to feed the hungry.

So get sharp: Send for your shipping box today at



GIFT: WellnessMats

One of the new styles—we have it in front of
our kitchen sink! Photo courtesy Wellness


In the search for holiday gifts that will be used and treasured, we recommend WellnessMats.

Anyone who spends a lot of time standing on a hard kitchen floor will be thrilled. Every person who’s stood on our WellnessMat has expressed intent to purchase one.

The anti-fatigue floor mats are ergonomically engineered and medically proven to provide unsurpassed comfort, safety, relief and support while you stand. If only the Earth were paved with wellness mats: No more back pain, leg pain, knee pain, foot pain (at least, for those moments when standing on a WellnessMat).

Mario Batali, Todd English, Guy Fieri, Duff Goldman and Top Chef Sarah Grueneberg are all fans. Even people who are in tip-top shape and don’t spend hours in front of the stove or sink will appreciate the pillowy comfort.


WellnessMats come in just about every size, color and pattern that a decorator could desire. There are also choices for the bathroom, garage, grill, laundry room, workplace and for fitness. There are even mat covers, so you can change the look with the seasons.

Prices vary by size. Our 3′ x 2′ mat, shown in the photo, is $129.95—the best money you can spend for kitchen comfort.

See the choices on You can buy them online for the best selection, and at fine retailers such as Williams Sonoma and Sur la Table. WellnessMats come with a seven year warranty (you can’t puncture them with stilettos), and are 100% made in USA.



GIFT: Le Creuset Dutch Oven Ornament & Candle

A tree ornament for the serious cook. Photo
courtesy Le Creuset.


Here are two special gift items for a serious cook: new ways to enjoy the classic Le Creuset French ovens.

Designed to look like a trio of French ovens, this tree ornament announces that a cook is in the house.

The artisan-blown and hand-painted glass ornament is three inches wide by four inches high. It’s available in red, green and orange for $25.00.

Not into tree ornaments? How about candles?

The Holiday Mini Cocotte Candle is a gift-within-a-gift.

A miniature cocotte holds a candle; when the candle is used up, it turns into a small dish for condiments, olive pits or whatever.


The candle is 100% soy wax and blended with essential oils. It provides 25 hours of burn time and fragrance, in two options:

  • A cherry red cocotte with a vanilla-scented candle
  • A fennel green cocotte with a pine-scented candle
  • The Holiday Mini Cocotte Candle is $40.00.
    Both items are available at or at Le Creuset Signature Stores.


    The French Oven as a candle. Photo courtesy Le Creuset.




    HALLOWEEN: Lenny Mud Ceramics

    Drink your milk or else! Photo courtesy
    Lenny Mud.


    Trying to track down a clever tea pot, we followed a trail from website to website and ended up at the Etsy store of Lenny Mud, based in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

    Lenny is the studio cat; the ceramist is Lorrie Veasey, who creates handmade ceramic cups, mugs, teapots, bowls, vases, ornaments and other pottery items.

    The Frankenstein mug in the photo has a built in holder for the cookies. The price for this work of art? Just $18.

    The ceramics are made from earthenware clay and kiln fired twice to over 1900 degrees. The glazes are lead free and the pottery is dishwasher- and microwave-safe.

    What will Lorrie think of next? Head over to to see her other nifty creations.




    PRODUCT: Electric Rice Cooker

    The more sophisticated rice cookers double as
    slow cookers. Photo courtesy Blendworx.


    An electric rice cooker can make fluffy, light, perfect rice every time, without the stove top mess-ups that some people encounter when trying to cook rice.

    You don’t have to lower the flame and watch that the water doesn’t boil over. Just add rice, water and salt, set the dials and walk away until it’s time to serve the rice.

    The rice cooker can cook other grains as well. So if your goal is to pack more fiber and nutrition via barley, brown rice, quinoa and other whole grains, consider adding a rice cooker to your countertop.

    Thanks to and for some of these tips.


    You can find an electric rice cooker for under $20, or a superpremium Zojirushi model for $150 or more (take a look at this beauty). You’ve got decisions to make, starting with capacity. Size: Is a a four-cup rice cooker enough, or do you want the option to make 10 cups? Then, consider your other options:

  • Slow Cooker: Some rice cookers double as slow cookers—a great idea. You can also use them to make soups, stews, breakfast cereals, even desserts.
  • Keep Warm Function: Rather than turning off, the rice cooker will switch to a lower temperature after cooking to keep the rice warm and moist until serving.
  • Steam Tray: A useful attachment that fits over the rice to simultaneously steam fish, meat and/or vegetables.
  • Delay Timer: You can program it in the morning so the rice is ready to eat when you return from work.

  • Brown Rice/Sushi Rice: An option to cook rice longer.
  • Fuzzy Logic/Smart Logic: A microprocessor senses and adjusts the amount and type of rice to generate the right amount of heat at varying points in the cooking cycle. These tend to be the best rated and most expensive rice cookers, and are ideal for people who enjoy different varieties of rice.
    Other rice cooker features include slow cook, quick-cook (a cooking cycle that bypasses the soak stage for faster rice), cake “baking” functions and more.

    The rice cooker includes a measuring cup that conforms to rice cooker industry standards. Different from U.S. cooking standards, it measures 180 ml or about ¾ cup.


    Advanced rice cookers can make conventional white rice, brown rice, sushi rice and more. Photo courtesy Zojirushi.


    If your recipe does not call specifically to measure a “rice cooker cup,” you may need to adjust your recipe accordingly.

    How many different types of rice have you had? Check out our rice Glossary and discover some new options.



    FOOD FUN: FunBites Cuts Food Into Mini Squares

    Have fun with it! Photo courtesy


    Typically we avoid gadgets that clutter up drawers and have limited use (mango slicer, anyone?).

    But FunBites is a new kitchen tool that cuts food into 12 perfect bite-sized squares that make food fun for kids and adults alike.

    The curved blade cutter and matching popper top pop out mini-squares of brownies and pound cake, cheese, fruit and vegetables, pancakes, sandwiches, and more.

    This little gadget makes food so much fun that even the pickiest eaters will dig in. The little squares tempt the wary to try new things.

    For kids’ recreation, you can have “make your own snack” art contests at the table.


    The BPA-free plastic is dishwasher safe. At $12.99, it’s a gift idea for kids and adults alike.

    Get yours at

    Then, have fun making bite-size:

  • Burgers
  • Cheese
  • Grilled Cheese, peanut butter and other
  • Melon
  • Omelets
  • Pancakes, waffles, French toast
  • Pizza
  • Tofu

    What are you going to “square” first?


    We’re not lion: This is fun! Photo courtesy Fun Bites | Open Sky.




    FOOD FUN: Convert Canning Jars To Drinkware

    If you’ve been to restaurants or parties where the drinks are served in canning jars, you can be just as trendy at home or on the go.

    And you can do it with an improved approach: a spillproof drinking lid adapter.

    The Cuppow is a new invention that lets you up-cycle a canning jar into an eco-friendly beverage travel mug or sippy cup—although since glass is breakable, even extra-thick Mason jar, you’ll have to judge the portability based on your own habits.

    “The canning jar already makes an awesome platform for a travel mug,” say the manufacturers. “It’s easy to clean, made of heat-resistant glass, cheap, durable, and when sealed it doesn’t leak. The only problem is that with their large openings, canning jars are not great for spill-free sipping while on the move. So we adapted it [into] a simple, eco-friendly alternative to poor-performing and messy disposable hot cups, and over-built and expensive travel mugs.”


    Turn your canning jars into drinkware. Photo courtesy Cuppow.


    The plastic circles, that insert into the metal rim of the canning jar lid, are available in clear, blue and pink for regular jars and clear, mint green, and orange for wide mouth jars. The adapters enable you to drink sippy-cup-style or insert a straw.


    Photo courtesy Cuppow.


    At $7.99 each they are pretty expensive for the plastic inset only: You BYO jar and metal lid. For a one-off, the price is affordable; but if you want to use them for the whole family or for entertaining, you have to trade off cost versus fun. One hopes that the company will find a way to bring the price down.

    The Cuppow is made in the U.S.A. from 100% recycled BPA/BPS-free rigid plastic. It is dishwasher safe (top rack only).

    They are available at retailers nationwide and at

    The manufacturer is committed to diverting as much waste as possible from landfills and contributes 5% of profits to domestic charities and social initiatives.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Parchment Paper Vs. Waxed Paper

    Cookies on parchment paper. Photo courtesy
    King Arthur.


    We’ve gotten a few inquiries about waxed paper versus parchment paper. The easiest way to remember which to use is that wax melts when it’s near heat. So:

  • Parchment paper can take the heat. It’s coated with silicone, which is nonstick and heat-resistant.
  • Waxed paper can’t take the heat. The soybean or paraffin wax surface will melt and can even catch fire!
    For some tasks you can use either.


  • Baking. Most brands can withstand temperatures up to 420°F for up to 30 minutes. (For higher-heat and longer baking, check the package to be sure.) Popular uses include lining cookie sheets instead of greasing them. This also keeps grease from fragile cookies like meringues.

  • Cooking. The most popular use is “en papillote,” a technique of wrapping food in a pouch of parchment paper before baking. It locks in flavor and keeps the moisture in as it steams the fish and other foods—a low calorie preparation. You can also microwave leftover pizza on a piece of parchment to help crisp the bottom.
  • Lining. The elegant-looking parchment can be used instead of a napkin.
  • Serving. Restaurants use it to present cones of French fries and other fried foods. You can also use it to serve popcorn and other snacks. Use a piece of tape to seal the cone.
    Don’t use parchment in the broiler: It can catch fire. Use foil instead.

    Parchment paper can be purchased in rolls or in precut sheets that fit different size baking pans. There are two “grades”: the original silicon-treated parchment and a newer, much cheaper variety treated with Quilon. The Quilon parchment has a lower heat tolerance, but is fine for most baking needs.

    Some bakers use Silpat: washable, reusable silicon pan liners. They’re great for some needs, but don’t give cookies the crispiness they need on the bottom.



    Wax paper was designed to repel moisture. It was first invented to keep bags of potato chips from getting soggy.

  • Covering. When slicing raw meats, lay a sheet of wax paper atop the cutting board to keep the surface sanitary.
  • Lining. Line the produce drawers of the fridge, and you won’t have to remove and wash the entire bin as often. Similarly, you can use it to line kitchen drawers.
  • Mixing. Here’s a baking tip: Mix the dry ingredients on a sheet of wax paper on the counter. Lift it to form a funnel and easily transfer the ingredients into the mixer bowl.
  • Dustbuster. Mom’s favorite use: Place wax paper on top of the upper kitchen cabinets where dust and grease accumulate. Every few months, change the paper.


  • Dripping. Catch the drips from candy apples, chocolates and other foods that “drip dry.”
  • Pouring. Roll the paper to make a funnel/cone.
  • Separating. Layer squares of paper between burgers, steaks, or chops before freezing. It will be easier to separate them for thawing.

    Caramel apples on wax paper. Photo by Karcich | IST.


  • Separating. Separate burger patties or other foods prior to cooking.
  • Wrapping. While waxed paper works for longer periods to keep the moisture in, you can use either for cheese, meats, sandwiches, etc.

    Since the product is made from unbleached paper that’s coated with wax, the proper name is waxed paper.

    “Wax paper” would imply that the sheet is made of wax.



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