Cooking and Gadgets
As in a good movie with scenes of tears, laughs, and tasteful delights, your venture with onions will boast the same sentiments. Vidalia, Spanish, yellow, white and red - onions can and should be your flavor backbones in the kitchen.
Thinly sliced in a salad, fried in rings, sweated and sweetened, or adding zing to a burger or hotdog, these powerhouse bulbs have flavored meals and dishes for centuries. No other vegetable brings tears to my eyes as these subterranean roots do…I digress.
Synonymous with onion across the Deep South and country is the Vidalia – a sweet, crisp member of the genus Allium. Soil conditions in that part of South Georgia create an anomaly for these surprisingly sweet onions to grow and flourish. Yet, even if you and your garden are not in the legislatively approved section of Georgia to produce quote Vidalias unquote, growing onions and other members of their family in your home garden is easy and quite rewarding.
Sometimes the best gifts are ones that are home-made. I was especially charmed by this cookbook Paul Mones made for his son. Now, if he'd only teach my kids to cook! -- Amy Ephron
ALL THE BASICS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BE ON THE ROAD TO BE A GREAT COOK
BASIC SPICES AND COOKING ITEMS YOU SHOULD HAVE
KOSHER SALT OR SEA SALT
GARLIC POWDER (NOT GARLIC SALT)
RED CHILI FLAKES
BOX OF CORNSTARCH
MAPLE SYRUP (THE REAL STUFF NOT CORN SYRUP SHIT) OR HONEY
HOT SAUCE OF YOUR CHOICE
POLENTA (INSTANT KIND)
BROWN OR WHITE RICE OR QUINOA
1 BAG OF FLOUR
*BOX OF ARM & HAMMER BAKING SODA THAT YOU OPEN UP AND PUT IN BACK CORNER OF REFRIGERATOR ON FIRST SHELF – GREAT FOR ABSORBING ODORS - CHANGE EVERY MONTH IF POSSIBLE – ONLY COSTS LESS THAN A BUCK AND WHEN FIINSHED PUT DOWN GARBAGE DISPOSAL – CLEANS IT WELL – ALSO PUT USED LEMONS DOWN DISPOSAL AS WELL.
Sure, you could buy that grilling fanatic on your holiday gift list a new smoker or cutting-edge grill accessory. (For some suggestions, check out our barbecuers’ gift guide.) But sometimes, the most meaningful gifts are the ones you make yourself. Homemade gifts help you stretch your holiday shopping dollars, and in inclement weather, they’re a great way to channel your inner pit master without having to don your parka or fight for a parking spot.
Which brings us to one of my favorite homemade holiday gifts: made-from-scratch barbecue rubs. Simply defined, a rub is a mixture of salt, spices, and herbs used to flavor grilled or smoked meats, seafood, and even vegetables and tofu.
There are two ways to use a barbecue rub. The first is to apply it right before grilling or smoking, in which case it acts as a sort of seasoned salt. The second is to rub it into the meat a few hours or even a day before you plan to cook it, in which case the seasonings partially cure the meat, resulting in a richer, more complex flavor.
I spent last weekend at a workshop on Charcuterie: the craft of salting, curing and smoking pork under a hunter’s full moon with authors, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in the precious, coastal Maine town of Dear Isle. My first time off in 7 months and they had one more opening. How lucky am I?
All 30 fellow students gathered for the workshop at 3 o’clock Friday afternoon under a sunny sky with a warm ocean breeze. Everyone milled around the beautifully restored post and beam barn meeting each other and patting the vocal goats in one of the stalls that begged for attention. Jumbo bales of hay dotted the corners of the barn as kittens slept in the afternoon sun, unconcerned that the barn was slowly filling with a crowd.
There was a long communal table set with plates, flatware and empty platters for later. A large commercial stove was set up outside the large barn door on the dirt driveway connected to a small propane tank that was jerry-rigged, all sitting next to the jumbo winter wood pile. Next to the makeshift butchering table laid out with Chef Polcyn’s knives was a large livestock watering trough filled with ice blocks covering Lucy, a very lovingly raised and killed pig-she was the other ‘rock star’ of the workshop.
Growing up in New England, fall usually meant a trip to a nearby orchard to pick a bushel or two of locally grown apples. Most orchards sold more than just apples, they also had jugs of fresh Apple Cider (the official beverage of my home state, New Hampshire) which, until recently, was nearly impossible to find in California. The have plenty of apple drinks labeled “cider” but because most cider is pasteurized, which is quite different in taste and texture than unpasteurized cider.
Pasteurization is a result of health and safety concerns, primarily due to E. coli outbreaks from unpasteurized apple cider, and now all apple cider sold in the United States, other than sales directly to consumers by producers - such as juice bars, farmers’ markets, and roadside farm stands, must be pasteurized.
If good sanitation practices are followed, the risk from unpasteurized cider is negligible, so I prefer to seek out unpasteurized cider at my local farmer’s market. I use it quickly as it has a limited shelf-life, although it can be frozen for use throughout the year.
I am happy to be a "canbassador" for SweetPreservation.com, a community site of the Northwest cherry growers and soft fruit growers of Washington state. They sent me a big box of juicy, sweet, ripe Country Sweet peaches which I agreed to preserve, of course. A post from Dorie Greenspan on Facebook about ginger, peach vanilla jam inspired me to create preserves with the same flavor combination.
The difference between preserves and jam is sugar. Jam uses a lot of it and preserves use less. I like the flexibility of preserves. You can use preserves in place of jam but you can also use preserves in recipes or as a dessert topping. It's particularly good mixed with plain yogurt. The ginger and vanilla complement the tangy sweet flavor of peaches. I used a combination of fresh ginger and candied ginger, something I found in a ginger peach jam recipe. The ginger is very subtle, you just get a hint of it towards the end of each bite.
I’m not really a baker. I make perfect oatmeal cookies (once every three years), perfect chocolate chip cookies (if really bored – Laraine Newman thinks the Joy of cooking recipe is the best, I just use the one on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate bits bag) The secret to chocolate chip cookies is fresh nuts, if you ask me, the quality of the pecans or the walnuts, changes the equation. Sometimes, if I’m feeling really wild, I’ll make butterscotch chip cookies, same recipe, but butterscotch bits instead of chocolate and totally delicious.
I went through a phase where I made bread (when I was at boarding school in Vermont and there was a Country Store down the road that sold 100 varieties of flour from the grist mill down the road) so it was sort of hard to resist. And we didn’t have a television, but we had a kitchen in our dorm with a sweet old Wedgwood stove and somehow, the smell of bread, and an occasional roast chicken, made it feel somewhat more like home. But I can’t really find good flour any more and fresh baguettes abound.
I’m not a big raw bell pepper fan, but the smoky sweetness of a roasted pepper always appeals to me.
Over the years I’ve roasted peppers many different ways—under the broiler, mostly, and sometimes over a gas flame or charcoal grill. But my favorite way is roasting in a covered gas grill. Not only is this method simple and hands-off, but it also yields a roasted pepper that’s easier to peel, because the skin really blisters and pops off, rather than getting too cooked and sticking to the pepper.
The convected heat in a hot gas grill quickly surrounds the pepper on all sides and blackens it in less than 10 minutes. (A couple of flips with the tongs helps.) I take the peppers out when they’re mostly, but not completely, blackened so that they don’t overcook.
After the Great Sprinkler Disaster of ’13, which drove our guests, sopping wet, to their cars, Bruce checked the forno, our 500-yead-old pizza oven, for temperature and said it was a good time to put in the tomatoes. JoJo had prepared them earlier in the day — a dozen or so juicy red beauties that had been trucked up from Sicily where tomatoes ripen a month earlier than in Umbria.
She simply halved them, scattered them with sliced garlic, oil, salt and parsley from our garden and put them aside to wait for the heat of the oven to drop, which happened around 1:30 in the morning, after the cleanup.
We put the two trays of tomatoes into the oven, said goodnight to Bruce and JoJo and went to bed. I woke the next morning, made some coffee and attacked the crossword puzzle. Halfway through, Jill called down:
“How are the tomatoes?”
I have always loved kitchen stores. Long before I knew how to use just about anything you could find at them, I could always be convinced to buy that one cool thing that savvy cooks couldn’t live without and once home, they lived pristinely in my kitchen, except for when I was in a relationship. I always seemed to pick men who were stellar cooks and they happily used my well-equipped kitchen.
I was the customer that cash register displays were conceived for. This was how I acquired my inexpensive tomato knife...an impulse buy in Williams Sonoma one day when there was a particularly long line. I couldn’t imagine why one would need a special knife just for tomatoes but one day I might. And for many years, I abused it and used it for everything I was not supposed to.
Eventually, during a drought in the relationship area of my life, I finally decided to learn how to cook. As I traveled from novice to competent to really good cook - I don’t think I will ever be considered “un cuisinier sérieux” - I rarely had to race to the kitchen store to pick up something I didn’t already have.
And while I now use almost every piece of equipment I acquired so long ago, the one that has become my favorite is my old friend, my tomato knife.