Cooking and Gadgets

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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clay-pot.jpgLet me be unequivocal here:  I hate my clay pot. 

I bring this up because of the front page article in the LA Times Food section on October 28, 2009 entitled “Clay Pot Alchemy” in which Paula Wolfert, the cookbook author, seen smiling broadly in front of her multitudinous collection, announces she’s ‘never met a clay pot she didn’t like.’

Allow me to introduce her to mine.  Such is my disdain for this thing that it lives in the very back of the very top shelf of our utility closet, reachable only by standing on the top rung of the step ladder, moving 8 bags of Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta, a dozen 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes, 4 giant bottles of Dijon and several extra large boxes of Q Tips which we bought at Costco more than 3 years ago and I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say we could have Q Tips for life.  Only then will you find my clay pot, wedged in the corner like some dunce who was sent there for getting the answer entirely wrong.

Because entirely wrong is what Clay Pot cooking is to me.  The roast chicken from the little recipe booklet included with purchase was not “moist and browned” as promised but wet and wan.  And the red peppers?  The Zucchini?  Those tomatoes?  Limp. Limper. Limpest. I would have donated my clay pot to the National Jewish Women’s Council Thrift Shop where once a year I haul outsized, green lawn and leaf bags full of unworn clothes, or left it out in our alley where, no matter what you leave on top of those garbage bins magically disappears by the next morning, were it not for that one time.

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eggcoddler.jpgEvery once in a while I gain possession of some kitchen gadget or device that has fallen out of favor. Often despite my best intentions it just ends up on yet another shelf, unused, unloved. But aware of the risk, when my mother offered me her set of egg coddlers, I couldn't resist. They are so charming to look at that even if you swore off eggs you might want to put large blossoms in them for decorating a table or you could use them for serving jam or marmalade. They can also be used for heating up baby food.

Egg coddlers allow you to cook an egg to the consistency you like, and serve it up in a convenient and attractive manner. Personally I love the tecture of poached eggs, but there is no way to really get them dry enough once they emerge from their bath. I know Martha Stewart places them on the heels of bread and trims them just so, but they still seem drippy to me. I also like soft boiled eggs, but eating them out of the shell is a mess. I know they look cute in egg cups, but they really aren't that easy to crack the lids off and eat.

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umamibook.jpg Umami was discovered by a Japanese researcher one hundred years ago. Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University recognized that certain foods like asparagus, tomatoes, meat and cheese all shared a common taste. It's a bit hard to put your finger on, though it's often described as "savory." I think it's easier to think of it as the taste that makes your mouth water. It also has a distinctive mouth feel, it lends a fullness or roundness.

One of the first things I learned at a recent Umami Symposium is that while taste and flavor are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Flavor is determined by taste and smell. There are only five tastes--sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Just as sweetness is imparted by sugar, umami is imparted by glutamate, a type of amino acid, and ribonucleotides, including inosinate and guanylate, which occur naturally in many foods. It is also manufactured in monosodium glutamate. It is added or occurs naturally in products with hydrolyzed soy protein and autolyzed yeast such as Marmite, Vegemite, Maggi, and Kewpie mayonnaise. It also exists in most cheese flavored snack foods.

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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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