Cooking and Gadgets

fish.jpgDuring my first fall as a single person, I started eating fried fish for dinner a few nights a week. I cooked it with ingredients I bought at M2M, a Korean bodega across the street from my apartment building in the East Village. M2M sold three types of fish: salmon, sole, and basa. The salmon was bright orange and fat, the sole was thin and yellow with odd raised bumps like pores, and the basa was light pink and smooth-fleshed. I have a bourgeois distaste for salmon stemming from a childhood vacation to France where it had was served at nearly every meal, and I feared the wan, pebbly sole. So I always bought the basa, despite the fact that before moving across the street from M2M I had never heard of this fish.

Each package of basa contained two fillets; when I cooked dinner for myself, I used only one, leaving the other piece in its yellow Styrofoam tray and covering it with cellophane wrap to spend another night in the refrigerator. I rinsed the basa fillet under the water, sometimes squeezing the juice of half of a lemon onto the slippery flesh. Then I traced the seam that ran down the center of the fillet with my small ceramic knife and divided the fillet in two parts. There were no bones. I cut each of the twin pieces into smaller chunks, then broke an egg into a bowls and beat it. In another bowl I mixed together equal parts flour and cornmeal with half-teaspoons of black pepper and oregano and a pinch of salt. I dropped the pieces of fish into the beaten egg, rinsed them around with the fingers of my left hand, and then dropped them into the flour mixture. I tossed them in the flour with the fingers of my right hand.

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Sometimes the best gifts are ones that are home-made. I was especially charmed by this cookbook Paul Mones made for his son. Now, if he'd only teach my kids to cook! -- Amy Ephron

ALL THE BASICS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BE ON THE ROAD TO BE A GREAT COOK

spicesrackBASIC SPICES AND COOKING ITEMS YOU SHOULD HAVE

KOSHER SALT OR SEA SALT
BLACK PEPPER

GARLIC POWDER (NOT GARLIC SALT)
ONION POWDER
RED CHILI FLAKES
CHILI POWDER
CUMIN POWDER
CORIANDER POWDER
CINAMMON
SOY SAUCE
BALSAMIC VINEGAR
CANOLA OIL
BOX OF CORNSTARCH
MAPLE SYRUP (THE REAL STUFF NOT CORN SYRUP SHIT) OR HONEY
KETCHUP
TOMATO PASTE
HOT SAUCE OF YOUR CHOICE
POLENTA (INSTANT KIND)
BROWN OR WHITE RICE OR QUINOA
1 BAG OF FLOUR

*BOX OF ARM & HAMMER BAKING SODA THAT YOU OPEN UP AND PUT IN BACK CORNER OF REFRIGERATOR ON FIRST SHELF – GREAT FOR ABSORBING ODORS - CHANGE EVERY MONTH IF POSSIBLE – ONLY COSTS LESS THAN A BUCK AND WHEN FIINSHED PUT DOWN GARBAGE DISPOSAL – CLEANS IT WELL – ALSO PUT USED LEMONS DOWN DISPOSAL AS WELL.

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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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Sometimes we post letters that one of us receives just because they're so hilarious and on-point. That's how we feel about Don Seigel's response to Tracy Newman when she invited him to hear her play at Genghis Cohen.

Tray,

ImageRegrettably, we won't be able to make the show on Saturday night. I forgot that I invited my father-in-law over that night for dinner and the Pacquio fight. We will, however, catch you the next time you are there, or somewhere else.

As far as my cooking, I have discovered the absolute delight of the slow cooker. We've had one for years, but I never used it until a few months ago. Since then I have picked up a wonderful cookbook with recipes designed specifically for the slow cooker from Williams-Sonoma.

Yesterday, after dropping Julian off at school in the morning I returned home to make a Cuban Chicken. I cut up a chicken into eight pieces and browned the pieces for ten minutes in three tablespoons of olive oil and salt before placing them into the cooker.

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tortillas.jpgI am a control freak.

I think most good chefs are.  Leaving things to chance is how you get in trouble in the kitchen- so I’m an avid organizer, chronic double checker and maniacal listmaker.

But food is funny about control.  I am not a machine that orders chemically processed and manipulated items into submission.  The best ingredients we all cook with are fluid, not static.  They come from the land, sky, soil and sea.  As much as we understand the science behind nature, it’s important to remember its unpredictability.

And that, your honor, is the case for the defense.

Perfect food presentation is my Achilles heel.  I fantasize about serving scrumptious morsels of food that no one wants to touch – let alone eat- because they are just so beautiful.  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my inner critic (I call her Martha, for pretty obvious reasons) telling me I’m not good enough.

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