Cooking and Gadgets

A Perfect Cake

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by Amy Ephron

flour.jpgI’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.

Grill-Roasting Red Peppers

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by Susie Middleton

grilledpeppersI’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.

The Day After

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by Michael Tucker

roastedtomatoesAfter 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?”

“Tomatoes?”

My Tomato Knife

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by Lisa Demberg

tomato-knife-simpleI 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.

Five Women and 60 Pounds of Asparagus

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by Sue Doeden

asparagus-pickling-007b-1024x682Mention 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.

Sun Dried Potato Chips

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by Susan Salzman

potatoes sundried.aPotatoes 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 Dregs to Delicious

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by Russ Parsons

From The LA Times

parmrindsHere 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.

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Superfood Cereal

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by Amy Sherman

superfoodI 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.

Baked Red Snapper with Lemon and Tarragon

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by Joseph Erdos

redsnapperFish seldom make a midweek dinner, but that shouldn't be a reason not to make this quick and easy recipe tonight. Most people think fish is too fussy to prepare and cook, so it's usually made on rare occasion. However, fish should be eaten at least twice per week for their many nutritional values including omega-3 fatty acids.

What better way to add fish to your diet than by using the easiest of methods, baking. With one fish per person, this recipe works well for a quiet evening alone or a rowdy dinner party among friends. Enjoy a healthy meal in well under a half an hour any day of the week.

Red snapper is one of the most popular fish. It's flavorful, flaky, and tender. It has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor that is complemented by many spices and fresh herbs. This recipe features the flavors of lemon and tarragon, with lemon adding a hint of citrus and tarragon lending an anise flavor. On the outside the fish is sprinkled with saffron for a unique flavor and earthy aroma.

Basic Dishes a Couple Can Build On

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by Russ Parsons

From the LA Times

cookingfortwoMeghan and Carter are getting married. Like so many friends of my daughter, they are bright, funny and, sometimes, almost preternaturally serious. A couple of weeks ago, they asked my wife if we would talk to them about how to stay married — and about how to cook.

The first, I'll leave to Kathy; after almost 34 years, it's still a mystery to me. But the cooking part is right up my alley, and, even better, I figured it would give me a chance to try out some of the ideas I've been on a soapbox about for the last couple of years.

A basic knowledge of cooking — not the intricacies of fancy restaurant dishes or the parsing of various ethnic cuisines — seems to me to be fundamental to a happy life, whatever your relationship status. A good meal gives such great joy, why would you want to leave it to the hands of a stranger?

So Sunday night, Meghan and Carter came to the house for a cooking class. But instead of doing the usual thing and walking them through a couple of recipes, I wanted to try something different. I love recipes as much as the next guy, but it does seem to me that they are an imperfect way to learn to cook. Sure, a well-written recipe can teach you how to re-create a specific dish, but that's a different thing from actually knowing how to cook, isn't it?

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Our trip across South Carolina continued as we...

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