The most satisfying experience on my trip back to the US this time, besides spending time with my parents, will have to be my shopping spree of kitchen products.
Jason's 5-day trip to Atlanta to visit his brother proved very conducive for the expansion of my kitchenware collections. Without him rolling his eyes and tapping his watch, I could browse through the endless collections of stylish toys for the kitchen for as long as I wanted. I lingered for hours, losing myself in front of all kinds of baking pans, pastry tools, and everything I have ever wanted for my kitchen, and some that I didn't know I needed or even existed.
The Discount Route
I was not discriminative as to where I shopped. Did you know Ross and Marshalls, the discount clothing stores, have an amazing range of household products? It was at Ross that I fell in love with the cutest 4" spring form pan and bought out the stock (only two, but I would've bought more if they had any). As long as I was going the mini route, I also bought six tartlet pans. Images of mini New York styled cheesecakes and mini lemon tarts danced in my head. Aaaaaah, the potentials are endless. Gone are the days when I look at a recipe and sigh because without inviting people, there is no way for Jason and I to finish a whole cheesecake without doing some serious damage to our waistline and cholesterol level. Now, I can simply cut the recipe down and make cake for two!
At Marshalls, I found a treasure trove of J. A.Henckels knives at a steep discount and told myself that one can never have too many knives. With some self-control, I managed to only buy a chef’s knife, a bread knife, and a paring knife (just in case one day I get inspired to make my own turducken). Admittedly, Henckels knives are not the sharpest but they sure look good, and at that price, it wouldn’t be too wasteful to replace them in a year or two.
Other finds include a cheese slicer with marble board; a pizza stone; mini loaf pans; shiny brass maple leaf shaped cookie cutter (it’s so huge that I will probably never use it to cut out cookies, but such a beauty to behold); and a Kitchen-Aid garlic press with ultra ergonomic handles (with this super smasher, Jason will never know how much garlic I put into our food, mwahahaha!).
Did you know crafts store also sell cake-decorating tools? Ever heard of a cake even-bake strips? Neither had I, but I am now the proud owner of two sets. It is a long strip of silvery insulating material. You soak and saturate it with cold water and wrap it around the outside of a cake pan before putting it in the oven. I am guessing that the theory behind it is that it provides an even temperature all around so the cake doesn't rise too fast in the middle and doesn't crack on top. From the same crafts store, I also bought a cake leveler, which looks like a saw with notches to help you slice cakes horizontally for easy decorating.
Please do not think of me as totally out of control, because I do know where to draw the line, or rather, the weight limits of airline luggage drew the line for me. Not far from my house, there is a Le Creuset store. These things cost a fortune in Japan, which is why I still cannot justify buying one. The day I went, the entire store was 25% off (American price)! Imagine my delight when I felt the weight of the caste iron frying pan in my hand and admired the tomato shaped casserole. The sales clerk was ever so polite and knowledgeable (and very much gay), but I was firm. I was not going to haul back a heavy caste-iron pot in my suitcase, no matter how cheap. In the end, I only bought a book (Crème Brulee The Bonjour Way by Randolph Mann) and these cute little guys.
Were you able to guess what they are for? They are pot-lid holders. Aren't they the darnest things? Well, if I can't have my Le Creuset caste iron casserole, I am entitled to indulge myself in these virtually weightless essential items, am I not?
It seems that silicone baking pans and tools are the latest trend in home-baking nowadays. I’ve read about them, but had always imagined them to be stiff shapes like the metal pans, only made of plastic. The first time I saw one in the store, I was taken by surprise, for they are totally pliable. Sure, I had my doubts. Can they really withstand temperature up to 500F as said? Will things really not stick to them?
Doubts not withstanding, I decided to give these light and packable things a try. Factoring in how often I use each type of baking dish, and how likely things are to stick to each type, I narrowed down my purchases to just a 9-inch cake pan and a 10-inch tart pan. Cakes are notoriously hard to get out of pans, and although my tart pan with the removable bottom ensures my tart comes out undamaged, I could never manage to pry the bottom off and always had to serve the tart with the bottom of the tart pan. I also bought two silicone baking mats for lining cookie sheets, and a butterfly-shaped cake pan for when I am in the mood to make a butterfly cake, maybe in the spring? Throw in a couple of spatulas, I’ve got all the silicone my kitchen needs, for now.
* Saw some silicone baking pans at a special event’s corner in my supermarket after I came back to Tokyo. They are coming to Japan too! But get this! They cost 4300yen! That’s like 40USD for a frigging baking pan! Boy am I glad I loaded up on them at $8 a piece.
The Crème Brulee Torch
You probably noticed that I got a cookbook on crème brulee at Le Creuset. What good is a book if you can’t make it; and how can you make it without a proper torch? The nice gay clerk at Le Creuset apologized for running out of the torch but pointed me to another store, Le Gourmet Chef . There I found a Crème Brulee torch set (complete with four 4-oz ramekins) on sale for $19.99. How could I resist? I chose a red one with heart-shaped ramekins, and bought a canister of butane as advised by the clerk, as the torch came unfilled.
It was only after I got home that I realized the problem: the butane canister would never in a million years get past airport security! So I did the only reasonable thing to do: I made a batch of crème brulee before returning to Tokyo, so as to use my brand new torch at least once, in case it gets confisticated. Then I burned off the remaining butane in the torch and packed it in my carry-on, hoping that at least this way, I could explain that without fuel, it doesn’t pose any danger to anyone. Luckily, the torch made it through security check without fanfare. Now I just have to find a butane canister in Tokyo to fill my torch so I can churn out crème brulees from my very own humble kitchen.
Classic creme brulee with some homemade cran-apple-orange relish