Cooking and Gadgets

pickles.jpgWhat is it about vinegar plus ingredients that make me such a happy boy? Is it the complimentary tang of anything that's cured in brine brings? Is it that zippy puckerface that follows after chomping on a pickled cucumber? Or have I just encountered temporary culinary fatigue and needed something loud and strong to shock me out of my lull?

Perhaps it was D, all of the above.

To me, there are just some things that cannot and should not be enjoyed without their pickled counterpart. I refuse to enjoy paté and baguette without cornichon. I frown if a burger doesn't have pickles waiting for me under its bun. A ploughman's lunch isn't a ploughman's lunch without Branston pickle. Pickles, in whatever form, provide that sharp tangy balance that pairs beautifully with the smooth and savory. It's that last crash of a symbol in a symphony, that sparkling sour kick in a bite.

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spiral-1024x682Now, I generally steer clear of plastic cooking tools that look like the crap sold on tv at 3:00 am. It dices! It slices! Hey, guess what? I do too! But a client of mine had ripped a page from her Williams Sonoma catalog with a picture of a vegetable extruder and I was intrigued. I did some investigating and found one a little cheaper on Amazon made by Bitoni with the magic words… lifetime replacement warranty. Now we’re talkin’.

It’s important to say that I was, at that time, thinking only of my clients. I had no intention of actually enjoying this product myself. I like my pasta, dammit. You’re not going to convince me this is an acceptable substitute.

It’s also important to say that I don’t work for Bitoni. I’m not a Bitoni stockholder. I’m not trying to get you to buy one.

When it arrived, I had three challenges for the machine:

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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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From the LA Times

breadcrumb.jpgI've just discovered the magic of fresh bread crumbs. You might say it's about time, after 30 years of cooking. But I would remind you that I said the "magic" of fresh bread crumbs, not the "utility."

Everyone knows about using bread crumbs for coating a schnitzel or any other fried, baked or broiled thing. Or stuffing a bird or whole fish. Or scattering across the top of a gratin or tian before browning. I've even used them as toppings for fruit desserts, like a less-sweet version of a crisp.

But what I'd never really realized was the true potential of bread crumbs, how instead of being bland character actors toiling in the background, they can actually become the stars of a dish, or at least a very impressive second lead.

Top steamed or braised vegetables with some carefully toasted bread crumbs and the dish is transformed by the infusion of crunch and that golden brown flavor.

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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.”

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