Marcus has covered food for Newsday since 1998.
Which kitchen essentials should I plan on bringing with me to my vacation rental?
I usually rent a place on the North Fork every summer, and it's a challenge for me not to drag my whole kitchen with me. Here's what I consider the bare necessities for a week of cooking:
I always bring a big jar of kosher salt, a full pepper mill and a full bottle of good extra-virgin olive oil. I also bring along my own coffee and a stovetop Moka espresso maker. After that, I'm at the mercy of the local supermarket and farms.
In the equipment department, first and foremost, sharp knives. I can make a good meal in anyone's kitchen as long as I have a chef's knife, a serrated bread knife and a cheap little paring knife. I've gotten into the habit of wrapping them up in an apron and tying the parcel with the apron strings.
Vacation rentals always seem to have warped cutting boards, and small, rickety colanders, but I just make do. I cannot make do with an old, dull vegetable peeler. I bring along either a horizontal-bladed Kuhn Rikon original Swiss peeler or an OXO Good Grips swivel peeler -- or both. Other essential small tools: an instant-read thermometer and a Microplane grater.
I can also make do with whatever pots and pans are on hand, but I always bring along a 10-inch cast-iron pan that not only works on the stovetop but, in a pinch, can be used to bake a cobbler or roast a chicken.
It's the rare rental that has a pair of spring-loaded tongs, which I use to saute, lift spaghetti out of the pot, flip steaks, even to squeeze lemons. I usually bring along a few pairs.
Depending on how much space I have in the car, I do not always bring a salad spinner. I've learned you can dry washed salad greens pretty well by putting them into a pillow case, going out onto the lawn, and twirling the case (lasso-style) until your arm hurts and the greens are dry.
I bought cream of tartar to make a lemon-meringue pie. What else can I do with it? -- Anonymous, Central Islip
Cream of tartar, aka potassium bitartrate or potassium hydrogen tartrate, is a fine white powder that is a byproduct of winemaking. According to Cakespy.com, a "dessert detective agency" headed up by Jessie Oleson Moore, its most common use is to "stabilize egg whites when making meringues or meringue toppings. The cream of tartar not only ... allows them to maintain their texture when whipped into stiff peaks, but it also increases their tolerance to heat, which is very helpful, say, when you put a meringue-topped pie or a baked Alaska into a hot oven."
According to Care2.com, an online community promoting a "green lifestyle," cream of tartar has a number of household uses as well. You can clean aluminum cookware with a paste of cream of tartar and water: Apply on stains and wash as usual. Polish your stainless steel and small metal appliances with a paste of water and cream of tartar. Clean your stained bathtub, sink or toilet with a thick paste of cream of tartar and hydrogen peroxide: Apply paste to the stain and let it dry fully before wiping clean.
Baking powder is nothing more than baking soda (an alkaline powder) mixed with an acidic powder such as cream of tartar. I once ran out of baking powder and amazed myself and my friends by making my own. Simply combine 2 parts cream of tartar with 1 part baking soda and 1 part cornstarch.