Cooking and Gadgets

benedettocavapasta.jpgI come home from work, I’m exhausted from running around shopping and cooking, but wait! It’s not over! I have to shop and cook for dear Mom. But there are those days that the thought of stepping foot in another food store / ethnic grocery / supermarket / even, yes, even a farmers market is more than I can bear. And in a really stupid move I didn’t bring anything home from my restaurant Angeli in a take out box. But wait! Now I remember, I have my secret stash of it’s simple stupid ingredients waiting for me in the pantry.

First I make myself (if it’s over 75 deg) a Gin and Tonic or (if it’s over 90 deg) a Michelada. Aside for drink recipe – Take out a big glass. Fill it with ice.  Add a healthy squeeze of fresh lime or lemon, some squirts of Tapatio or Tabasco, Worchestershire or Soy Sauce and some inexpensive light beer. Gulp and wait till your temperature drops and you feel like someone cracked an egg on your head.

Ahhh, now I feel better. It’s time to make Spaghetti Aglio e Olio garbage style. I always have (or try to) a couple of pounds of Benedetto Caveliere’s Spagattoni around. You can only buy it at Williams-Sonoma and it’s shockingly expensive, but worth it just for moments like this.

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From the L.A. Times

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Value is a relative concept. Just ask the folks at Lehman Brothers. But when it comes to ingredients and kitchen tools that beckon to the enthusiastic home cook, it's important to the bottom line -- in this case, a great meal -- to take a look at what's really worth your hard-earned cash -- and what isn't.

We scrutinized our kitchens and the merchandise. Our thumbs-up, thumbs-down verdicts on a couple of dozen popular or hyped cooking items follow. No apologies – we're opinionated. Some gadgets and goodies are grossly overvalued, others just don't get their due. We considered cost, efficacy and practicality – as well as the happiness factor. Because for a true chocoholic, a 3.5-ounce bar of Michel Cluizel Noir de Cacao 72% cacao really is worth $6.

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grilledveg2I love grilled veggies, but sometimes prepping veggies for the grill, and then standing vigil over them patiently, is just a little more time than even I’m willing to give. So this week I grabbed my grill basket to make life easier. And I wound up improvising a number of different veggie dishes, using both my Morning Glory haul and the contents of my refrigerator veggie bin. (Just two samples–in the basket above, and finished, below.)

Grill baskets are inherently destructible. They won’t last forever, so don’t bother spending a lot of money on one. Just buy one—you won’t be sorry. (Mine is a particularly cheap, lightweight one that I picked up at a housewares store. But this new stainless steel one from Weber looks like a good bet.)

Basically, using a grill basket is like stir-frying on the grill. But better. Because you don’t have to pay close attention. Stirring every three or four minutes, as opposed to every 30 seconds, is just fine. As long as you follow a few guidelines, you can cook practically any combination of your favorite veggies in about 10 minutes of mostly hands-off time.

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herb-brush.jpgAny night this summer, you’ll find me hanging with friends, raising a frosty one in the backyard, while the kiddies run around and the guys flip steaks, burgers and chops. Is there anything better?

I’ll be using one of my favorite grilling tools, a do-it-yourself “herb brush” which I use to baste the meat while it cooks. Besides looking cool, it lets you slowly, steadily and subtly layer on the aromatic oils in those herbs, while keeping the meat moist. Using kitchen twine just tie a bunch of fresh herbs (any of your favorites will work: thyme, rosemary, sage, …) to the end of a wooden kitchen spoon. I like a really long spoon and it will make it easier to baste with.

And when you are done basting, you can chop up the herbs and add them to baked beans or sprinkle over grilled vegetables—you can’t do that with a regular basting brush! Herb brushes are great on beef, and on Fourth of July there's nothing I like more than an over 1-inch Rib Eye. Here's how you do it:

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chutneycheesepuff.jpg I'm a cheater, in the kitchen anyway. While I may not be a fan of mac and cheese from a box, I positively love using gourmet specialty products. What kinds of products? Jams, mustards, chutney, tapenade, Chinese sauces, so many things! Two of my favorite secret weapons are in the freezer--phyllo dough and puff pastry.

You could easily write a book on all the things you can make out of phyllo dough and puff pastry. I suggest the title "How to Succeed in Baking Without Really Trying". Once you learn how to handle them, the possibilities are endless. They even turn something mundane into something special. For example you could make a stew into an elegant pot pie. You could turn a fruit compote into pastries. You could make fancy little appetizers to serve hot from the oven. How fancy? I suggest little napoleons or tartlets. It's really easy.

A few weeks ago I had a lot of goat cheese languishing in the fridge. I had promised my friend Alison I would develop some recipes for her fabulous chutney and it dawned on me that using puff pastry I could make a delicious pastry with nothing more than goat cheese, puff pastry and chutney. 

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