Cooking and Gadgets

tomato-knife-simpleI have always loved kitchen stores. Long before I knew how to use just about anything you could find at them, I could always be convinced to buy that one cool thing that savvy cooks couldn’t live without and once home, they lived pristinely in my kitchen, except for when I was in a relationship. I always seemed to pick men who were stellar cooks and they happily used my well-equipped kitchen.

I was the customer that cash register displays were conceived for. This was how I acquired my inexpensive tomato knife...an impulse buy in Williams Sonoma one day when there was a particularly long line. I couldn’t imagine why one would need a special knife just for tomatoes but one day I might. And for many years, I abused it and used it for everything I was not supposed to.

Eventually, during a drought in the relationship area of my life, I finally decided to learn how to cook. As I traveled from novice to competent to really good cook - I don’t think I will ever be considered “un cuisinier sérieux” - I rarely had to race to the kitchen store to pick up something I didn’t already have.

And while I now use almost every piece of equipment I acquired so long ago, the one that has become my favorite is my old friend, my tomato knife.

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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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whippedcream.jpgSo whipping cream is delicious. It, like butter, just amazes me how many things can come from milk. It’s life’s first beverage. It’s a must on every trip to the grocery store. It’s milk! If you haven’t hooked onto organic milk and cream yet, you are missing out! The lactose free milk is about the best glass of anything you’ll ever drink! I digress…

Whipped cream is simply divine. The science of physically changing a liquid into a solid is astounding, but what is so amazing to me is the taste. With a scant bit of sugar, some good vanilla, and the inside of a vanilla bean pod, you can have the best of dessert toppings in a matter of minutes.

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applecorerGrowing up in New England, fall usually meant a trip to a nearby orchard to pick a bushel or two of locally grown apples. Most orchards sold more than just apples, they also had jugs of fresh Apple Cider (the official beverage of my home state, New Hampshire) which, until recently, was nearly impossible to find in California. The have plenty of apple drinks labeled “cider” but because most cider is pasteurized, which is quite different in taste and texture than unpasteurized cider.

Pasteurization is a result of health and safety concerns, primarily due to E. coli outbreaks from unpasteurized apple cider, and now all apple cider sold in the United States, other than sales directly to consumers by producers - such as juice bars, farmers’ markets, and roadside farm stands, must be pasteurized.

If good sanitation practices are followed, the risk from unpasteurized cider is negligible, so I prefer to seek out unpasteurized cider at my local farmer’s market. I use it quickly as it has a limited shelf-life, although it can be frozen for use throughout the year.

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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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