Cooking and Gadgets

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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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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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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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.

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Shrimp brothIf you buy shell on shrimp or fresh shrimp with heads and shell you can make shrimp broth. It’s a very useful frozen pantry item to have for making risotto, fish soup or infusing a seafood pasta, or pan sauce with more flavor. And it only takes a half hour to make. In fact I never actually set out to make shrimp broth, it’s always a by-product of peeling shrimp for another dish, so it’s important to be flexible about what to put in the pot along with the peels in order to end up with a flavorful result.

With this batch I didn’t have any parsley in the house but I had carrots with tops. The tops taste like a combo of carrots and parsley so they’re perfect for any broth. I threw those in. Then I added a few peppercorns, some coriander seed (which for some reason I have in great quantity), a couple green scallion tops and some lemon zest and juice. I could just have easily added Italian parsley, red chile flakes, celery seed (I love the taste of celery in broths), chopped onion and some tomato sauce or fresh tomato instead of the lemon.

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