Cooking and Gadgets

porkstew.jpgBraising is one of those cooking techniques that's made for winter. When you've got the time and you're stuck indoors on a cold day, braising low and slow is the way to go. Almost anything can be braised, but tough cuts of meat like beef chuck, lamb shoulder, and pork shoulder are the best. Under a tight-lidded pot, these meats go meltingly tender—with the touch of a fork it falls apart.

The key to a flavorful braise is the liquid. Many classic recipes use red wine or beer, such as ale or stout. But braising in soda, either ginger ale or cola, also produces mouthwatering results. Since a standard cola recipe uses a number of ingredients (including roots, spices, and herbs), the soda acts like a very flavorful broth. It all lends wonderful flavor to the meat. This pork shoulder braise features the flavors of Mexican cola.

To enhance the flavor further, I add balsamic vinegar for tanginess and brown sugar for sweetness. Dried cherries lend another level of flavor as well as texture. Since I love cherry cola, it's a win-win. After braising the meat, I like to reduce the liquid to create a luscious sauce. Simply serve the pork thickly sliced with the sauce alongside plus some boiled or mashed potatoes—it's the perfect Sunday dinner.

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What do you consider a good beach read? Something entertaining? Light and fluffy? What about a bedside book? I like a vacation read that I can completely lose myself in, but next to my bed I need something I can pick up and put down endlessly. Right now I have a few of those books.

beabetterfoodie.jpg The first is How to Be a Better Foodie and it's subtitled "a bulging little book for the truly epicurious." Can I just say if there is anything more irritating than someone using the word foodie, it has to be someone using the brand name epicurious as if they made it up. It's a website, ok? Despite the annoying title, the book is a lot of fun. It's filled with little tidbits of information that you will either find essential or completely trivial but either way it is equal parts entertaining and informative. Do you know how mustard got its name? What to savor in Franche-Comte? What and who inspired the famous blue Le Creuset? What season to eat fresh lotus flower root? It's all in there and then some. It's not a book to read cover to cover but it it enjoyable nonetheless.

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peachjamI 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. 

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nudo_lemon_front.jpgI didn't really think much about food and what went into making a nice meal until I was somewhat forced to learn how to cook when I was laid off (again) about ten years ago. I needed something to do with my free time and felt like I should contribute something to the household, since I was no longer bringing in any dough, so to speak. While I had certainly thrown things together over the years, this was a new quest to eat better and see if time and effort really made a difference.

I know that seems ridiculous, but I honestly had no frame of reference. My mother always did all the cooking when I was growing up, preparing hearty meals from scratch for her family of six. Of course, this was in the days where the whole family sat down to dinner every night and you had to finish everything on your plate before you were excused and then were promptly put to work cleaning up the kitchen. It was her domain and we ate what was prepared. Now I got to choose what graced our table.

With a subscription to Cooking Light and The Betty Crocker Cookbook in hand I began to create and in time to actually innovate and uncover the joys of foods I never thought would ever enter my mouth. One of my biggest revelations in the intervening years has been the deliciousness of the olive. I am addicted to everything about this "fruit" and now instead of picking them out of things I put more on. I think I could actually subsist on crusty bread dipped in e.v.o.o. (at least for a weekend). If the oil is infused with something, even better. One of my favorite cooking "tricks" is to add a bit of infused olive oil, usually garlic or basil, to the dish to brighten it up and deepen the flavors. I'd always pick up a tin here and there to keep on hand, never very concerned with the producer. That's all changed now that I've found Nudo Olive Oils.

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galvestonstrand.jpgGrowing up in Galveston, Texas with parents who love good food gave me a million food memories. Chief among them are shrimp po-boys, fried oysters, endless Tex Mex and one little particular sandwich I’d always insist on grabbing from the Old Strand Emporium. Without giving too much of a history lesson about this "interesting" island off the gulf coast, Galveston was home to a booming port and bustling city during the end of the 19th century. While many things have come and gone, the Emporium is still there. Think high ceilings, Victorian-style general store with tons of candy. You can see why it was one of my favorite places to visit as a kid, but it wasn’t for the sweets or soda. It was for one particular sandwich that has been stuck in my head for over 30 years.

This sandwich-that-I-pine-for is like no other. Wrapped in foil and meant as a grab-and-go selection, it was a savory, salty spread layered between a fresh baguette. It was sweet, a bit hot, with a salami-esque and relish-style flavor that begged to be enjoyed with a cold Dr. Pepper (or Mr. Pibb, even better!) My mouth waters just thinking of it. I’ve asked just about every Galvestonian I know, including family members, but the response is usually the same: "Oh, I remember those sandwiches! Sure were good. I have no idea what it was."

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