Cooking and Gadgets

From the L.A. Times

smokingchicken.jpgThe other day, I just couldn't shake the thought of slow-smoking some ribs. I was in the mood for Memphis-style baby backs, the meat fall-off-the-bone tender, a simple dry rub tantalizingly complicated with deep hickory notes, the flavors drawn out with a tart vinegar-Dijon mop.

There's a primal wonder to smoked food — that such depth of flavor can come from so simple a technique. And then, of course, there's the lure of the sunny afternoon spent in a lawn chair with a cold beer while you're waiting, patiently, for the Weber to work its magic.

But then it started raining.

The audacity of winter. Even in Southern California, we have our seasons. I took a good long look at my kettle grill through the kitchen window as it rained, but those ribs wouldn't stop dancing through my head, like a song that just wouldn't let go.

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popovers.jpgThinking about Inauguration Day food festivities all of a sudden I realized that this can’t be a beer and popcorn afternoon grazing session, or late night ice cream buffet.  No, Inauguration Day is a morning celebration.  We need to begin Tuesday morning with a bang, with a dish worthy of taking a day off to immerse ourselves in simple happiness.  The popover popped into my mind (yes, I did actually think that).   When was the last time you had a popover? 

I don’t know any friends who make them regularly.  I admit to occasionally running into Neiman Marcus just to have a bite of eggy, chewy buttery goodness with a bit of butter beaten with jam.  It’s that bit of jam that puts the popover into high gear.  Now’s the time to take that jar of special friend made or artisanal farmers market jam or preserves and crack it open.  Lay out an assortment of jams, jellies and preserves, maybe some lemon wedges, powdered sugar and if you want to be decadent some fresh ricotta whipped with a bit of sugar till super smooth in the food processor.  Dust some cinnamon on top.  Yum, no….YUM.

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ImageI LOVE risotto. It's one of the many things I had never eaten before I moved to California. Never even heard of it in my two decades of growing up in Western Massachusetts. I know that seems hard to believe, but I made my parents risotto when they came out to visit 5 years ago and they had no idea what it was. Seriously. Italian food growing up was lasagna, pasta with red sauce or pizza. I can't remember the first risotto I ever ate, but I know I was instantly hooked because it's the dish I always order whenever I see it on the menu...or hear it as the special. I just can't help myself. I love the creamy, chewy consistency of it, the homeyness, the endless possibilities. It's a dish I make at least 3-4 times a month, as it's fairly simple and hard to screw up. Or so I thought. Apparently, I've been serving it all wrong.

I got a hint of my wrongdoing when I watched a recent Top Chef All-Star show and Tre, one of the chef/contestants, got lambasted by Tom Colicchio and Anthony Bourdain, two of the judges, for making risotto that was too thick and sticky. Apparently, it's supposed to be more fluid and al dente, spreading out to cover the plate without any help – like a wave. He offended their risotto sensibilities and was sent home. It got me thinking. Clearly I had rarely eaten a "proper" risotto and never, in all my delicious attempts, ever made one either. Apparently, I was making an Italian rice bowl. I had to do better. And that's where another All-Star contestant comes in.

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cacio-e-pepe-300x225-1My friend Gianni — one of the original Fat Boys – called me today. He’s been buried in work for a couple of weeks and we haven’t been much in touch.
“Mikey, I had the cacio e pepe at Eataly last night. You gotta try it; it’s the best cacio e pepe I’ve ever had.”

This was at 2:00 in the afternoon and it was raining. I had kind of settled in for the day.
“Life is short, man. Have I ever led you astray in terms of a plate of pasta? This is the stuff of legends.”

“I’ll meet you at the subway in ten minutes.”

Gianni, of course, was dead on about the pasta. We ate at the bar, so that we could watch the guys work the pasta station. Also because the tables were full. I sipped a primitivo; he had rosé. We shared a cauliflower, fennel, celery root and Asian pear salad – all sliced trasparente — which cleansed our palates and sharpened our senses.

Then came the spaghetti cacio e pepe and I must say, Gianni was not blowing smoke. This was a first-rate bowl of pasta, which, by the way, we did not share. Neither of us feels particularly comfortable nor genetically directed toward that concept. We each had our own privately owned and controlled bowl.

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redcabbage.jpgLast time I was at the supermarket, the cashier picked up my head of radicchio and punched in the code for red cabbage. The price came up as 70 cents.

I said, "Actually, that's radicchio, not red cabbage."

She voided it and punched in the correct code for radicchio. The new price came up as $5.50.

"Wow! That's expensive!" she said. "You should just get the red cabbage instead."

Get the red cabbage instead? Is she serious?

So what's behind this $5 difference between red cabbage and radicchio? Is it cabbage inflation? Is the Mafia getting kickbacks on radicchio sales?

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