Cooking and Gadgets
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 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.
Mention a party that revolves around food, and I’m there. When my friend, Bobbie, sent an email out a couple of weeks ago asking if anyone was interested in getting together for an asparagus-pickling party, I hit reply and typed “For sure” without hesitation.
A file folder in my desk drawer had been holding a few recipes for pickled asparagus for years. Who knew what year I might get around to actually using the recipes, but pickling some spicy asparagus for adding to bloody Mary’s, nibbling between sips of wine and tossing into salads was definitely on my “To Do” list. For someday.
The night before five asparagus-crazy, party-hungry women were to gather in Bobbie’s kitchen, she sent us another email, letting us know she had 60 pounds of very fresh asparagus delivered from a local farmer and all the jars and other ingredients we would need. Sixty pounds? She wasn’t kidding. Good grief.
The party began at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon. On my way over, (I went right from my cooking demonstration at the farmers market) I figured we’d be finished pickling by 4:00, when I had to head home to prepare a dish to take to a dinner party that evening. I was wrong.
Potatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables and can be used for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Latkas and scrambled eggs for breakfast, creamy potato soup for lunch, and paired with some tomatoes, zucchini, and onions for a simple, but rich tian for dinner makes everyone in my house very, very happy.
When I was contacted to participate in a food challenge over at Kitchen Play, I gladly accepted. Upon finding out that the special ingredient was potatoes, I secretly jumped for joy. Potatoes, whether roasted, baked, sauteed, or fried are always a great accompaniment to any meal. I serve potatoes at least twice a week, and with us transitioning into a more gluten free lifestyle, potatoes have become our starch du jour!
I didn’t want to hide my potatoes in a gratin (don’t get me wrong, I love gratins) or a soup. My hopes were to keep the authenticity of the spuds while at the same time creating a snack (or appetizer) that both kids and adults could enjoy.
From The LA Times
Here in California we love to brag about our abundance of wonderful seasonal ingredients and how that makes good food easy. That's more or less true, but I have to confess that I've also always had a sneaking admiration for those cooks who can whip up something from nothing.
Sure, it's wonderful to be able to just pick up a sack of Ojai Pixie mandarins and a box of medjool dates and call it dessert. But you've really got to admire someone who can take a couple of wilted zucchinis, a sprouting onion and some canned tomatoes and turn that into something delicious — the real-life equivalent of the proverbial stone soup.
I've got my own version, and, in fact, it does start with something hard as a rock. In a battered plastic bag in the deepest recesses of my refrigerator, I've got a hidden stash of gold: rinds from used chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Whenever my wife finds them, she pulls them out and asks disbelievingly: "You're saving these?" And probably 98% of people would have the same reaction.
But those rock-hard rinds are flavor bombs, packed with umami. Simmer them in a pot of beans, in a soup, even in a tomato sauce, and you probably won't actually taste Parmesan, but you'll certainly taste the difference.
I love breakfast, but I also find it the easiest meal to skip. I get bored with traditional breakfast foods like eggs and cereal and pancakes day after day. Sometimes I eat leftovers from the previous night's dinner for breakfast but more frequently I just skip it entirely. I know skipping breakfast is not a good idea and so I'm always looking for tasty breakfast solutions, especially ones that take little time to prepare.
My latest weekday breakfast is what I am calling superfood cereal. It's based on a Canadian cereal I tried at the Winter Fancy Food Show called "Holy Crap." It's made from chia, hemp, buckwheat and some dried fruit and it soaks in milk for 15 minutes before you eat it. It tastes a lot like tapioca pudding with a bit of crunch from the buckwheat, though not quite as sweet as pudding. What's most amazing about it is how little it takes to satisfy. Just a few tablespoons of cereal and a quarter cup of milk and I swear for hours I am not even the slightest bit hungry.