Cooking and Gadgets

clay-pot.jpgLet me be unequivocal here:  I hate my clay pot. 

I bring this up because of the front page article in the LA Times Food section on October 28, 2009 entitled “Clay Pot Alchemy” in which Paula Wolfert, the cookbook author, seen smiling broadly in front of her multitudinous collection, announces she’s ‘never met a clay pot she didn’t like.’

Allow me to introduce her to mine.  Such is my disdain for this thing that it lives in the very back of the very top shelf of our utility closet, reachable only by standing on the top rung of the step ladder, moving 8 bags of Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta, a dozen 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes, 4 giant bottles of Dijon and several extra large boxes of Q Tips which we bought at Costco more than 3 years ago and I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say we could have Q Tips for life.  Only then will you find my clay pot, wedged in the corner like some dunce who was sent there for getting the answer entirely wrong.

Because entirely wrong is what Clay Pot cooking is to me.  The roast chicken from the little recipe booklet included with purchase was not “moist and browned” as promised but wet and wan.  And the red peppers?  The Zucchini?  Those tomatoes?  Limp. Limper. Limpest. I would have donated my clay pot to the National Jewish Women’s Council Thrift Shop where once a year I haul outsized, green lawn and leaf bags full of unworn clothes, or left it out in our alley where, no matter what you leave on top of those garbage bins magically disappears by the next morning, were it not for that one time.

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herb-brush.jpgAny night this summer, you’ll find me hanging with friends, raising a frosty one in the backyard, while the kiddies run around and the guys flip steaks, burgers and chops. Is there anything better?

I’ll be using one of my favorite grilling tools, a do-it-yourself “herb brush” which I use to baste the meat while it cooks. Besides looking cool, it lets you slowly, steadily and subtly layer on the aromatic oils in those herbs, while keeping the meat moist. Using kitchen twine just tie a bunch of fresh herbs (any of your favorites will work: thyme, rosemary, sage, …) to the end of a wooden kitchen spoon. I like a really long spoon and it will make it easier to baste with.

And when you are done basting, you can chop up the herbs and add them to baked beans or sprinkle over grilled vegetables—you can’t do that with a regular basting brush! Herb brushes are great on beef, and on Fourth of July there's nothing I like more than an over 1-inch Rib Eye. Here's how you do it:

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umamibook.jpg Umami was discovered by a Japanese researcher one hundred years ago. Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University recognized that certain foods like asparagus, tomatoes, meat and cheese all shared a common taste. It's a bit hard to put your finger on, though it's often described as "savory." I think it's easier to think of it as the taste that makes your mouth water. It also has a distinctive mouth feel, it lends a fullness or roundness.

One of the first things I learned at a recent Umami Symposium is that while taste and flavor are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Flavor is determined by taste and smell. There are only five tastes--sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Just as sweetness is imparted by sugar, umami is imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods. It is also manufactured in monosodium glutamate. It is added or occurs naturally in products with hydrolyzed soy protein and autolyzed yeast such as Marmite, Vegemite, Maggi, and Kewpie mayonnaise. It also exists in most cheese flavored snack foods.

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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?”

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beefribs.jpgFor me, shopping isn't fun if I don't get a bargain. My grandmother taught me well, "Never pay retail. If you want to be a good shopper, you have to pay less than other people and still get as good." In our neighborhood, Gelson's is the quality supermarket, carrying a full line of antibiotic-free, naturally raised meats. Which is great, except that they're pricey. The trick is to buy the meat when its been reduced, when a rib steak that was originally priced at $18.99/lb, is discounted to $7.99/lb. Any meat that's been reduced is still fresh, but it needs to be cooked that day or frozen.

Yesterday I stopped by and it was like my birthday. There must have been a dozen packages of prime cuts of meat, all reduced. I couldn't possibly eat all that meat in one day. But no way was I going to walk away from those bargains.

I bought half a dozen packages and prepped them for freezing. Years ago, after much experimentation, I learned a cool trick: if meat is marinated in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, wrapped in plastic wrap, and sealed in a Ziploc freezer bag, it will stay fresh for months without any loss of flavor.

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