Cooking and Gadgets

ImageWhen I was very young, one of my favorite books was The Campbell Kids at Home. While it may have lacked the pathos of another favorite on my list, The  Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, I found it equally fascinating. The narrative was slight, no more than a frame story, but I read the recipes over and over again, and I considered it my cookbook.

The Campbell Kids at Home was published in 1954 by Rand McNally; the back cover lists it as one of its “Famous Book-Elf books,” and it was just one of dozens of the Campbell Soup Company’s product tie-ins in the fifties. Part of the post- WW II surge in advertising, the company had already been involved with promotional objects since the start of the 20th century, and you can still send in soup labels in exchange for calendars, bowls, and mugs, although the Kids themselves have slimmed down quite a bit. (The “Kids” always go by this capitalized designation; they have no first names—and they always speak as one.) While I still have the book—my older daughter also went through a period of obsession with it—I destroyed all potential (hefty) re-sale value by inserting my name into the title on the first page. (But isn’t that what we do with books we love? Don’t we want to climb right into them and join in the adventure?)

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asparagus-pickling-007b-1024x682Mention a party that revolves around food, and I’m there. When my friend, Bobbie, sent an email out a couple of weeks ago asking if anyone was interested in getting together for an asparagus-pickling party, I hit reply and typed “For sure” without hesitation.

A file folder in my desk drawer had been holding a few recipes for pickled asparagus for years. Who knew what year I might get around to actually using the recipes, but pickling some spicy asparagus for adding to bloody Mary’s, nibbling between sips of wine and tossing into salads was definitely on my “To Do” list. For someday.

The night before five asparagus-crazy, party-hungry women were to gather in Bobbie’s kitchen, she sent us another email, letting us know she had 60 pounds of very fresh asparagus delivered from a local farmer and all the jars and other ingredients we would need. Sixty pounds? She wasn’t kidding. Good grief.

The party began at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon. On my way over, (I went right from my cooking demonstration at the farmers market) I figured we’d be finished pickling by 4:00, when I had to head home to prepare a dish to take to a dinner party that evening. I was wrong.

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perfectomeletteI was never a fan of the omelette until I tried the one at Petit Trois, Chef Ludo Levebvre’s LA-based French bistro. It is quite rich and intense - thanks to a very generous helping of Black Pepper Boursin cheese - yet light and creamy, just melting in your mouth. What other cooks call an omelette is just a dry, tasteless, overcooked travesty compared to this version. It is a simple plate of food perfectly crafted each and every time. Chef Ludo has exacting standards in the kitchen and he expects his cooks to make it the same, classic way plate after plate.

We aren’t overly talented in our kitchen, so we figured this dish would be relegated to our sporadic visits to the restaurant. Lucky for all of us, in his new video series, Ludo à la Maison, he shares the recipe and shows you how it’s done. Now you don’t have to live in LA to enjoy the Perfect French Omelette. The Boursin is a must - though thankfully widely available and inexpensive - and most kitchens should readily have the other ingredients on hand - butter, eggs, salt, pepper and chives. Only six ingredients. Totally easy, right?

After watching the video a few times - he talks you through it, but it’s still sort of freeform - we gave it a try and did, for two amateur cooks, a pretty good job. Yes, it took two of us. There were some tense moments in the middle when it looked like it was too wet and was going to color before it set, but we managed to keep it from browning (a super big no-no) and properly wrapped it. While not perfectly pretty, it disappeared from our plate as quickly as the true version does. Success!

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interiors_fridge.jpgWednesday was a hellish day. Because you left your Blackberry in a restaurant the night before, you failed to remember about the four people coming over for dinner that evening but were conveniently reminded of it when you listened to your messages after coming in the door just after 6 pm. “Really excited to see you guys tonight – what wine can we bring?” At that moment, just when you were looking forward to watching the Dexter episodes you missed over a leisurely dinner of re-heated pizza and beer did reality bite you in the ass.

You realize there is no time for shopping and you will have to go with what is in the refrigerator. You also know that the only help you will get from your partner is washing up after dinner is over. You open the fridge and that cold eerie incandescent light hits you as you search each shelf – no meat but some good looking kale, scallions and an array of great condiments. And then you thank god for giving man the insight to invent freezers.

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ketchup.1.jpgThe supermaket shelves are lined with bbq sauces, ketchup, salad dressings, and marinades. Over the past couple of years, I have stopped purchasing almost everything and anything, such as the list above, that can easily be made with pantry ingredients. I have always made my own salad dressings, I keep jars of homemade barbeque sauce in the fridge, and making fresh salsa could not be easier. My freezer is filled to capacity with chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, marinara sauce, bolognese, pesto, doughs of all kinds, and red enchilada sauce.

I have spent the last three months trying my hand at ketchup. The first few batches were very “vinegary”. Others were too spicy. The rest were too thick. I have lots of ketchup that I can not throw away. I have found ways to use up the not-so-perfect ketchup. My BBQ sauce calls for 4 1/2 cups, I slather my turkey loaf with ketchup before baking, and my homemade baked beans uses 28 ounces of ketchup. Needless to say, I have a lot of barbeque sauce on hand. Who wants some?

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