Cooking and Gadgets

Pasta Water

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by Michael Tucker

cacio-e-pepe-300x225-1My friend Gianni — one of the original Fat Boys – called me today. He’s been buried in work for a couple of weeks and we haven’t been much in touch.
“Mikey, I had the cacio e pepe at Eataly last night. You gotta try it; it’s the best cacio e pepe I’ve ever had.”

This was at 2:00 in the afternoon and it was raining. I had kind of settled in for the day.
“Life is short, man. Have I ever led you astray in terms of a plate of pasta? This is the stuff of legends.”

“I’ll meet you at the subway in ten minutes.”

Gianni, of course, was dead on about the pasta. We ate at the bar, so that we could watch the guys work the pasta station. Also because the tables were full. I sipped a primitivo; he had rosé. We shared a cauliflower, fennel, celery root and Asian pear salad – all sliced trasparente — which cleansed our palates and sharpened our senses.

Then came the spaghetti cacio e pepe and I must say, Gianni was not blowing smoke. This was a first-rate bowl of pasta, which, by the way, we did not share. Neither of us feels particularly comfortable nor genetically directed toward that concept. We each had our own privately owned and controlled bowl.

Smoke Gets in Your Food

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by Amy Sherman

smokepowderThey, asked me how I knew,
My true love was true,
I of course replied, something here inside,
Can not be denied.

They, said some day you'll find,
All who love are blind,
When you heart's on fire, you must realize,
Smoke gets in your eyes.

Written by Jerome Kern (music) and Otto Harbach (lyrics) for the musical "Roberta" in 1933

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is supposed to be romantic, but it just makes me hungry. It's completely primal. With all due respect to raw food adherents, smoke has been appealing every since we discovered that the combination of fire plus food equals delicious. The smell of smoky bacon or barbecue has been known on occasion to make even committed vegetarians weak.

Sadly, I have nowhere to put a grill let alone a smoker. I use my cast iron grill pan, and make-shift smokers in the oven and stove top and char my eggplants and peppers under the broiler. But it's not the same. Smoky flavors are elusive. So far my favorite smoke-enhancers are chipotle pepper, cumin and smoked paprika. But now I have a new weapon in my arsenal.

For Stress-Free Veggie Grilling, Grab a Basket

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by Susie Middleton

grilledveg2I love grilled veggies, but sometimes prepping veggies for the grill, and then standing vigil over them patiently, is just a little more time than even I’m willing to give. So this week I grabbed my grill basket to make life easier. And I wound up improvising a number of different veggie dishes, using both my Morning Glory haul and the contents of my refrigerator veggie bin. (Just two samples–in the basket above, and finished, below.)

Grill baskets are inherently destructible. They won’t last forever, so don’t bother spending a lot of money on one. Just buy one—you won’t be sorry. (Mine is a particularly cheap, lightweight one that I picked up at a housewares store. But this new stainless steel one from Weber looks like a good bet.)

Basically, using a grill basket is like stir-frying on the grill. But better. Because you don’t have to pay close attention. Stirring every three or four minutes, as opposed to every 30 seconds, is just fine. As long as you follow a few guidelines, you can cook practically any combination of your favorite veggies in about 10 minutes of mostly hands-off time.

Homemade Teriyaki Sauce

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by Susan Salzman

sauce teriyaki smSpring has sprung! When it comes to weather, we Californian’s have it pretty darn good. Crisp mornings, sunny afternoons, and cool evenings reminds us that soon enough, we will be sporting the occasional sun dress, tank top, or skirt. My cooking is starting to reflect that.

Lean grilled meats, roasted salmon, and lots of organic, grass fed chicken keeps the calories and the carbs to a minimum. Introducing layers of flavors is the key to any good meal. Fresh salsas, marinades, sauces, and condiments help turn what could be a boring, weeknight meal into a flavorful, happy dish.

Homemade staples can always be found lining our refrigerator shelves; ketchup, salad dressings, pasta sauce, jams, fruit soda mixtures, and this teriyaki sauce.

It’s the perfect addition to simple, grilled chicken breast, Asian marinated skirt steak, and roasted salmon. Served with a side of oven baked brown rice and kale chips, no one leaves the table hungry!

Kitchen Upgrades

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by Amy Sherman

pansNon-stick pans, kitchen tools and storage containers. Your kitchen is filled with them, some good and some not so good. Sometimes your kitchen deserves an upgrade. Here are a few of my recent discoveries:

I've reviewed a lot of pots and pans over the years. I love the convenience for non-stick pans, but no matter what the brand or cost, eventually they flake. I like the ceramic non-stick, but they are a bit delicate and can chip if you're not careful, well, not the Earth Pan II from Meyer corporation. The non-stick surface is made from sand, and has no PTFE or PFOA and it can be used with high heat! It's stovetop safe up to 600 degrees. I've been using a 12-inch pan for several weeks and it is easy to clean, and shows no signs that it will chip and there is no coating to flake off. Of course, the true test is how it performs in the long term, but so far so good.

measuringcupsMy old measuring cups were so ugly! They were stained and I hated looking at them, never mind using them. When someone from Trudeau offered to send me something of my choice from their line of kitchenware, I knew it would be their 5-piece measuring cup set. Each piece is a different color and the shape is particularly easy to use. I also got their can opener since my old one had melted from being to close to the stove one day. If you don't have a can opener that lifts the top rather leaving sharp edges this is a great upgrade. I already have and love the Trudeau pot clip spoon rest and one piece silicone spatula (no wooden handle to burn or stain).

l.c. finn's Roasted Pears Warm the Soul

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by Sue Doeden

l.c.-finns-roasted-pears-028Some say it makes no difference what kind of vanilla is used in cookies, cakes, quick breads and custards. Some home bakers are sure artificial vanilla flavoring works just fine for giving the best flavor to their baked goods. Others would argue that you shouldn’t waste your time baking if you use artificial flavoring. Only the real deal, pure vanilla extract, will work for giving the best flavor to desserts.

I’m a member of the pure vanilla extract club. I would never use an imposter in the custard for our family’s special banana cake, layers upon layers of homemade vanilla custard, sliced bananas and vanilla wafers covered with a thick blanket of real whipped cream. My special pound cake would have something missing if it was made with artificial vanilla. Pure vanilla extract costs a bit more than its artificial look-alike, but to me, it’s worth every penny.

Chad Gillard and Lee Zwiefelhofer favor the real deal, too. The two Twin Cities guys were discussing the absence of locally-made vanilla extract – extracts of any kind, really, as they downed some Finnegans together. They decided they’d make it themselves. In 2010 they started a company called l.c. finn’s Extracts, l. for Lee, c. for Chad and finns for those Finnegans that were downed as the business ideas developed. A few months ago, they launched their first three extracts: vanilla, cinnamon and cardamom.

Open Kitchen

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by Michael Tucker

boiling_pasta.jpgI have an open kitchen in our New York apartment. It’s perfect for me because I like to be at the party while I’m cooking—rather than boxed away in another room, away from the fun. I’m an actor, after all – an entertainer; I want to be part of the show, out in the light – not backstage
toiling in the dark.

However. There’s always some bozo – I’m sorry, did I say bozo? I meant some charming dinner guest – who comes over to shoot the breeze just when I’m about to perform a delicate, crucial step – like tasting the pasta for doneness. This is a holy moment, a private moment that demands the cook’s full attention and focus; because if the pasta goes past its moment – even just a few seconds past — it becomes a mass of wormy, mushy crap and you may as well toss it. But inevitably at that moment, as I’m fishing out that first, crucial strand to taste …

“So, Michael, two Jews go into a bar. You know this one?”

“Not right now.”

Sausage Party

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by Phil Nigash

chorizo.jpgI consumed so many delicious things this year, it's really hard to pin down one meal or one bite. But if there was a night that stands out, and a single dish that truly made me happy, it has to be a sausage sampler that I consumed with my best friend Don in early November.  He showed up one night with some Spanish chorizo sausages, a blood sausage, a couple of wedges of runny cheese, and a small cooler with a few kick ass craft beers in it.

We pan fried the sausages with a little olive oil, then poured some of Stone's Vertical Epic 11.11.11 into the pan to finish them off. This year's offering from Stone (their 10th beer in the Vertical Epic series) is a strong Belgian ale spiced with cinnamon and anaheim chilies from Hatch, New Mexico.  It was the perfect compliment to the sausages. We drank the rest of what the sausages didn't swim in.  Then we drank another bottle.

Among the sausages we stuffed in our faces that night was my homemade catalan-style pork and garlic sausage.  If you like the simplicity of pork and garlic, you'll absolutely love this.  And who doesn't like meat in tube form?

My Tortillas Are Like Snowflakes

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by Alison Wonderland Tucker

tortillas.jpgI am a control freak.

I think most good chefs are.  Leaving things to chance is how you get in trouble in the kitchen- so I’m an avid organizer, chronic double checker and maniacal listmaker.

But food is funny about control.  I am not a machine that orders chemically processed and manipulated items into submission.  The best ingredients we all cook with are fluid, not static.  They come from the land, sky, soil and sea.  As much as we understand the science behind nature, it’s important to remember its unpredictability.

And that, your honor, is the case for the defense.

Perfect food presentation is my Achilles heel.  I fantasize about serving scrumptious morsels of food that no one wants to touch – let alone eat- because they are just so beautiful.  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my inner critic (I call her Martha, for pretty obvious reasons) telling me I’m not good enough.

One for the Table's Favorite Kitchen Tools & Gadgets

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by The Editors

We asked our regular contributors what's the one cooking utensil or gadget they just couldn't or wouldn't want to live without. We were suprised to find there was one clear winner...

microplanezester.jpgMy favorite kitchen tool is our Microplane Grater/Zester. Peter and I took a basic cooking class right before we got married, and on the first day we both accidentally sliced our hands open and had to wear giant Band-aids. At the end of the class series, we got a little gift certificate to Surfas restaurant supply, and we bought the lemon zester, and now when I use it I think about how hard we laughed when we both sustained consecutive ridiculous kitchen injuries on Day One of cooking school. It was pretty embarrassing; no one else in the class shed a drop of blood the whole time. — Emily Fox

Okay, don't laugh. For several years I've had a Microplane Grater/Zester that I just would never be without. Can't be beat for grating chocolate, parmesan, citrus. I was shopping at Target recently and noticed this foot buffer (made for TV commercials) that looked a lot like a food grater. So, I went home and tried my Microplane on my calloused feet. Yep – worked great. So, now I have two of my favorite graters – one in the kitchen drawer and one in the bathroom drawer. I'm not sure what the people at Microplane would think of this!
Sue Doeden

microplane.jpgMy favorite kitchen tool is the Microplane grater, it works for cheese, chocolate, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, etc. I recommend all the different size graters that the company makes. I use it daily. — Brenda Athanus

This is the desert island question: what kitchen tool I can't live without.  Without a doubt, that would have to be a freshly sharpened chef's knife.  Beyond that it would be a Microplane Grater/Zester, possibly one of the smartest, coolest tools ever adapted to the kitchen.  Mine makes fluffy grated cheese for pasta and fantasy-small shavings of chocolate to top ice cream and cakes. — David Latt

My favorite kitchen utensil is the oft ignored chef's knife. It is essential to have a very sharp and versatile knife in the kitchen in order to ensure efficient and in fact safer preparation. It has been proven that a sharper knife minimizes the risk of cutting hands and fingers because of the sureness of the blade which reduces the risk of overexertion, slippage, etc. The chef's knife is hands down my favorite kitchen tool. — Jackson Malle

cleaver.jpgMy Kyocera Ceramic Nakiri Vegetable Cleaver, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love how you never ever get dull - never and when you do (about 1 or 2 times a year) I send you off  to some strange little shop in Irvine along with $10 and you come back resharpened with all the nicks honed out. I love how you can slice a garlic clove as thin as Ray Liotta was able to in that great jail cell scene in Goodfellas. I love how I can cut perfect geometric squares out of diamond hard celeriac. But most of all I love how easy you make every single cutting job known to man. You, my black Kyocera vegetable cleaver, are even more dear to me than my 33-year-old ginsu knife. — Paul Mones

oxocup.jpgI would personally like to kiss the ring of the genius who thought of the
Oxo Angled Measuring Cup. No longer do I have to execute a Grand Plié every time I need an exact 2/3 - cup liquid. Now, you just pour, look down into the cup from a standing position and watch the liquid rise to the desired line. A revelation. — Katherine Reback

peanut-butter-mixer.jpgI have to call this a thingamajig. It is a device that has a jar lid on it, a crank and hook on the bottom. Can you guess what it's for?  Peanut Butter. You know how the oil is separated on the top and how much work it is to mix it together. It's messy, too. Well, with my  thingamajig, I simply replace the jar top with my thingy, screw it on, turn the crank and voila....less of a mess.  I used to have one of  those apple peelers that gives you perfect round slices in an  accordion, along with the peel in a single strip, but it broke, and  THAT was my favorite.
Laraine Newman

cookbookholder.jpgI have a countertop book stand that keeps my cookbooks clean... and open to the right page.  It makes me feel like a professor with a lectern, which is a good way to feel when you're cooking.
Agatha French

An antique herbal appetite stimulator  grinder. The one that looks like a metal pill box. Perfect for chopping basil, tarragon, and other legal substances. — Michael Elias 

My favorite kitchen tool is my phone because I can order in, tell Len what to pick up, find out what Emily wants to eat for dinner after she is done playing soccer and seek out recipes from friends all over. — Betsy Sherman

I cannot live without a salad spinner.  There is nothing worse than watery, wilted lettuce and since I eat salads nearly every day it is essential to my well-being. — Nancy Mehagian

kitchenaidmixer.jpgMy favorite kitchen gadget is my red KitchenAid stand mixer. My husband bought her for me for Christmas several years ago, and her name is Mildred, after the woman who “did for” my grandmother. I love Mildred more than words can say; she kneads my bread dough, whips my cream and looks impossibly cheerful on the coldest, darkest days. I also love my chef’s knife, but it’s hard to get all sentimental and cozy about a knife.
Ann Nichols

winepull.jpgThough it has nothing to do with cooking – unless you consider wine essential to food – my favorite and most used "kitchen gadget" is my Legacy Corkscrew. Sure, it takes up some counter space and seems a bit over the top, but it looks fancy, can pull the cork out through the foil (which is cool, but not classy and not recommended) and also allows you to re-cork the bottle as well. All it takes is one simple pull. Receiving this item as a "gift" from someone who didn't want it cluttering their kitchen, only made me cherish it more. In fact, when I broke it (a dark day and not easy to do), I loved it so much I spent the money to get another one. I could certainly live without it – though my regular corkscrew skills have dulled over the years since its arrival – but I'm glad I don't have to.
Lisa Dinsmore 



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