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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chorizo.jpgI consumed so many delicious things this year, it's really hard to pin down one meal or one bite. But if there was a night that stands out, and a single dish that truly made me happy, it has to be a sausage sampler that I consumed with my best friend Don in early November.  He showed up one night with some Spanish chorizo sausages, a blood sausage, a couple of wedges of runny cheese, and a small cooler with a few kick ass craft beers in it.

We pan fried the sausages with a little olive oil, then poured some of Stone's Vertical Epic 11.11.11 into the pan to finish them off. This year's offering from Stone (their 10th beer in the Vertical Epic series) is a strong Belgian ale spiced with cinnamon and anaheim chilies from Hatch, New Mexico.  It was the perfect compliment to the sausages. We drank the rest of what the sausages didn't swim in.  Then we drank another bottle.

Among the sausages we stuffed in our faces that night was my homemade catalan-style pork and garlic sausage.  If you like the simplicity of pork and garlic, you'll absolutely love this.  And who doesn't like meat in tube form?

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no-knead-1.jpgFirst, it’s important to distinguish No-Knead Bread from No-Need Bread. The former is a very laid back way to make bread if you have no food processor, stand mixer, bread machine or time. The latter is what you keep eating out of the little basket with a napkin in it, even though your pants are a little tight, just because it tastes really good, and look! There’s Ciabatta in there, too!

I have had this recipe forever, in many forms. It was sent to me via snail mail by an old friend, I found it again on line and bookmarked it, but I just kept losing it. Frankly, I don’t mind making bread that has to be kneaded either by hand or machine, but when this recipe appeared in my life a third time last week on someone else’s blog, I decided it was a cosmic sign.

It’s really, really good bread that emerges looking beautiful and crusty and artisanal, and tasting far more flavorful and nuanced than your average white loaf. It has real, shatter-y crust, and lots of texture. I really think you could pass it off as something from a bakery (which is fitting, since that’s where the recipe came from). Best of all, you really need nothing but a bowl, some plastic wrap, two towels and a big pot with a lid. (Well, and an oven). No hard labor, and easy clean-up.

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atelier-des-chefsI was recently invited to join a Master Class in bread making at the L’Atelier des Chefs school in London. It is really a wonderful concept – a wide variety of classes are guided by expert chefs who have top restaurant experience and a great desire for teaching and sharing their knowledge. They have two locations in London - Oxford Circus and St Paul’s - and more in France and Belgium. Offering diverse cuisines and skill levels six days a week, it’s easy to find one that’s right for you. Prices range from just £15 (for their signature Cook, Eat & Run class which promises to teach you to cook a delicious main course in just 30 minutes) to £144 for their four hour Master Class.

My class was held on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the St Paul’s location, and I was joined by six other eager-to-learn students. It was an eclectic bunch, all ages with mostly beginner to intermediate cooking skills. There was a mother and her teenage son, who seemed less than thrilled to be there; a handsome bearded fellow from the northeastern part of France; two baby boomer types, one woman eager, the other somewhat timid; and a hip twenty-something guy, there on his third visit who shared rave reviews about his previous experiences. We were greeted warmly by the receptionist who presented us with new aprons (to keep as a souvenir) and led us to our classroom. The courses are conducted in a bright state-of-the-art kitchen with a large stainless steel work station which we gathered around to meet our instructor, Chef Daniel Stevens. Initially I had visions of Hell's Kitchen with some fire breathing Gordon Ramsey type instructor who would bark orders and humiliate us for any culinary mistakes

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ImageAlthough accustomed to a table full of eaters, eating alone at home is no problem for me. Cooking for one, however, is. My usual repertoire for solitary meals includes either heating up leftovers or making sunny-side up eggs and toast. The meals with leftovers vary, of course, but the eggs and toast is a bit of a never-boring treasure. Now there are people I know who cook fairly extensively for themselves, but I am not one of them.

My own mother was known to sit down to a fully set table and enjoy a first course of homemade soup followed by a meat, potato and vegetable main course, all topped off with a cup of brewed coffee and possibly a cookie or piece of cake, once again homemade. Not me. That much effort without the pleasure of watching someone else relish what I made, or at the least, having them eat it with no complaints is just not worth the trouble.

On one recent solo evening though, the meal I made both cracked me up and delighted me. On a lark, I spent a couple of hours baking Ina Garten’s Honey White Bread. (Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten, Honey White Bread, p. 57). As the contessa claimed, it was an easy recipe to follow, and the bread was delicious.

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