Cooking and Gadgets

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?

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Wands-2I recently received a package in the mail at KCRW.  Opening it up revealed a thin, long package of wood strips of differing thickness held together with a loop of chain called Pastry Wands.  I was immediately intrigued.  

I tend to be a chaotic cook who forgoes attempts at perfection for simply making food that tastes really good, so often my dough is uneven when I roll it out. That never worries me.  

If it did I would have bought one of the few items marketed to bakers who want perfectly even crusts or cookies. There are adjustable rolling pins, thick rubber bands to attach to your pin, even sunken boards with height adjustable edges.

They’ve all seemed a bit gadget driven for me. But the Pastry Wands combine usefulness with beauty.

A well designed package of simple strips with measurements burned into the wood edge.  They have a distinctly tactile appeal.  So I took them home and put them to use.  A great holiday gift idea for your favorite baker.

cakeknife.jpgI had the world's strangest roommate. We were best friends in college and she seemed like  the perfect person to live with. She was a great listener, she was obsessed with Clive Owen and her purse was always stocked with remedies to just about anything – creams, lotions, pills, even powders. Everything was going great, until one day, it just wasn't. Her once mild room-dancing had started to rival the sound of a herd of elephants, her attempts to match our outfits had turned from sort of cute to sort of single-white-female (except that she's five feet tall and Asian) and she had invited her new best friend to come live with us for a month, without consulting me. She finally decided to move out, taking her friend with her. And they went amicably enough.

I came home with my friend Amanda that night to cook dinner, so excited to have the place to ourselves. We skipped around the apartment, lay down on the floor of the now empty second room and made our way into the kitchen to create a culinary masterpiece to celebrate our freedom. That's when we found out that she'd decided to take all of our utensils with her. Every last one, except . . . my dainty, little, silver cake knife.

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deerisleI 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.

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grilledpizzaI love making pizza, not just because it's fun, but also because I think mine can rival any pizza parlor's. I have the entire set-up, including a pizza stone and peel. But this time I put all that aside to try something new. Instead of the typical way of baking pizza, have you ever tried grilling it? For years I've been told that grilled pizza is the best, but I haven't actually done it myself until now. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the outcome.

Grilling lends pizza a smoky, charry flavor and makes the crust crispier than baking. This is pizza grilled directly on the grates, not on a stone. With this method you grill the dough on one side, then flip it over and top the just-grilled side with toppings. My recipe takes on the flavors of Caprese salad with slices of fresh mozzarella and tomato. Instead of tomato sauce, the base is pesto—it's a much more fresh flavor especially if you make the pesto yourself, which I do.

Recently Fleischmann's sent me packets of their new yeast, Pizza Crust Yeast. I was intrigued to say the least. Thinking it might just be a gimmick, I gave it a go anyway. Usually when you make pizza, the process of waiting for the dough to rise takes up a lot of time—it's almost as involved as making bread! But with this new yeast, all you have to do is mix together the ingredients, knead it a little, and you are ready to make pizza. Try it!

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