Cooking and Gadgets

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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death-in-four-coursesotherwomanWhen two of my dearest friends were launching new novels -- Hank Phillippi Ryan ("The Other Woman") and Lucy Burdette ("Death in Four Courses") -- I wanted to throw the best bash ever to celebrate.

Before I knew it I had a crowd of about 80 people coming to wish the authors well and pick up signed copies of the books.

The challenge -- after figuring out where to put everyone -- was to offer up delicious finger food and drinks without breaking the bank, and doing it in a way that I could manage myself with the help of a few stalwart friends at the party.

I kept telling myself: Keep it simple, affordable, and delicious!

The solution: An antipasto table

  • Platters of meats and cheeses cut into bite sized pieces
  • Platters of grilled marinated vegetables.
  • A big basket of sliced french bread
  • Two kinds of crostini -- thin slices of barbecued steak on horseradish cream with arugula; and basil-flavored goat cheese with roasted red peppers -- assembled in advance.
  • Lots of cookies, baked that day.
  • Prosecco and sparkling water, augmented with whatever guests are generous enough to bring.
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ants-on-a-log.jpgI hate 3:00 p.m. on a school day. It means I’m a failure. Once again, I’ve failed to come up with a “healthy snack” for my ravenous Varsity Cheerleader.  Our routine was to just go over to Chipotle which wasn’t really great because those burritos, even though they were pretty clean, would stuff her until around 5:30, at which time, I’ve lost the will to live because I’m tired and I don’t want to come up with any kind of dinner, so she’s left to forage which makes me feel like an even worse failure.

And, for the record, all those parenting books that suggest those ‘healthy snacks’ are full of it. No kid I’ve ever known, except maybe one that grew up on a commune, would ever think that shit is good.  “Oh yummy, celery with peanut butter and raisins! Ants on a log! Thanks mommy!” There’s also Amir. He’s the Fox that led Pinocchio to the world of the Lost Boys, otherwise known as the guy with the snack truck parked outside the gym. I can’t tell you how many times my daughter has come to the car with a piece of cellophane wrapped cake bigger than her face along with a jug of orange Gatorade. Jesus!

It’s a landmine of insulin torment out there. BUT…there are flashes of genius.

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sourdough-starter-010b-1024x682.jpgJanice Buckner, of Fargo, North Dakota, has a personality that matches the sourdough starter she has kept alive for over 35 years – it bubbles. I know, it’s hard to believe. Who has time to monkey around with a bubbling mixture of flour and milk, giving it regular feedings and making sure it has plenty of rest time on the kitchen counter?

I had my first conversation with sourdough queen, Janice Buckner, by phone. Her voice bubbled with enthusiasm as she told me about her mysterious sour substance that has produced coffee cakes that have made her famous with friends and co-workers over the years.

Janice Buckner received her starter from a friend when she lived in Idaho. It was over 98 years old at that time. When she and her husband moved to Fargo in 1976, the beloved living organism made the long car trip sealed tightly in a jar.

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peachjamI am happy to be a "canbassador" for, a community site of the Northwest cherry growers and soft fruit growers of Washington state. They sent me a big box of juicy, sweet, ripe Country Sweet peaches which I agreed to preserve, of course. A post from Dorie Greenspan on Facebook about ginger, peach vanilla jam inspired me to create preserves with the same flavor combination.

The difference between preserves and jam is sugar. Jam uses a lot of it and preserves use less. I like the flexibility of preserves. You can use preserves in place of jam but you can also use preserves in recipes or as a dessert topping. It's particularly good mixed with plain yogurt. The ginger and vanilla complement the tangy sweet flavor of peaches. I used a combination of fresh ginger and candied ginger, something I found in a ginger peach jam recipe. The ginger is very subtle, you just get a hint of it towards the end of each bite. 

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