Cooking and Gadgets

raviolimaker“I was thinking… when we get back, we could make homemade ravioli”, Francis nodded to the pasta roller on the counter and pulled a box from his kitchen cupboard. It was a ravioli press. A Raviolamp 12, to be exact, in a slightly worn box. I was breathless. This was ringing all the right bells – crafty, foodie, flea market finds. Francis and I have cooked a few times together, very successfully, in fact, but I still get performance anxiety. Present me with a brand new $300 pasta machine, with all the bells and whistles, and I know what perfection is expected of me. But a used ravioli press with a piece of packing tape holding the box together? Well now, you just wanna play. THAT, I can do.

The day before, we had hiked through the woods near a cabin we rented in Rhododendron, Oregon, and had seen people gathering mushrooms. They weren’t tourists, they were definitely pro-shroomers. I say that because they were small and bent, wearing waterproof boots and ponchos with bags to contain their findings. They stayed targeted on their tasks, not looking up to say hi to wanderers. They were like fungus gnomes, trekking through the misty woods with determination and focus. That’s not judgment you hear in my voice, that’s jealousy and admiration. Their collection sacks were full. They were magical mushroom hobbits and I was in awe.

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nudo_lemon_front.jpgI didn't really think much about food and what went into making a nice meal until I was somewhat forced to learn how to cook when I was laid off (again) about ten years ago. I needed something to do with my free time and felt like I should contribute something to the household, since I was no longer bringing in any dough, so to speak. While I had certainly thrown things together over the years, this was a new quest to eat better and see if time and effort really made a difference.

I know that seems ridiculous, but I honestly had no frame of reference. My mother always did all the cooking when I was growing up, preparing hearty meals from scratch for her family of six. Of course, this was in the days where the whole family sat down to dinner every night and you had to finish everything on your plate before you were excused and then were promptly put to work cleaning up the kitchen. It was her domain and we ate what was prepared. Now I got to choose what graced our table.

With a subscription to Cooking Light and The Betty Crocker Cookbook in hand I began to create and in time to actually innovate and uncover the joys of foods I never thought would ever enter my mouth. One of my biggest revelations in the intervening years has been the deliciousness of the olive. I am addicted to everything about this "fruit" and now instead of picking them out of things I put more on. I think I could actually subsist on crusty bread dipped in e.v.o.o. (at least for a weekend). If the oil is infused with something, even better. One of my favorite cooking "tricks" is to add a bit of infused olive oil, usually garlic or basil, to the dish to brighten it up and deepen the flavors. I'd always pick up a tin here and there to keep on hand, never very concerned with the producer. That's all changed now that I've found Nudo Olive Oils.

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rub-630x407Sure, you could buy that grilling fanatic on your holiday gift list a new smoker or cutting-edge grill accessory. (For some suggestions, check out our barbecuers’ gift guide.) But sometimes, the most meaningful gifts are the ones you make yourself. Homemade gifts help you stretch your holiday shopping dollars, and in inclement weather, they’re a great way to channel your inner pit master without having to don your parka or fight for a parking spot.

Which brings us to one of my favorite homemade holiday gifts: made-from-scratch barbecue rubs. Simply defined, a rub is a mixture of salt, spices, and herbs used to flavor grilled or smoked meats, seafood, and even vegetables and tofu.

There are two ways to use a barbecue rub. The first is to apply it right before grilling or smoking, in which case it acts as a sort of seasoned salt. The second is to rub it into the meat a few hours or even a day before you plan to cook it, in which case the seasonings partially cure the meat, resulting in a richer, more complex flavor.

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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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chickenbeerWhat? Where?

My personal trainer, Antony, likes two things in life: Picking up girls and cooking.

Re: picking up girls… his technique of choice is to borrow a baby from one of the female trainers and take it to the park. “Babies are chick magnets,” he declares. I suggested using puppies. He said with a sigh, “People are quite willing to give you their babies for the day, but they will not part with their puppies!”

Re: cooking … Antony is, guess what, Italian and Mama’s youngest, so he gets the good stuff. But, being a bachelor he personally confines most of his own cooking to what’s easy – and BEER BUTT CHICKEN is easy. Apparently it is also rather wonderful, and I am going to try it!

Since I got his recipe while doing 3 miles on a stationary bike I went to the net to see what’s what, and clearly the world loves BEER BUTT CHICKEN and not just because people feel like naughty 12 yr olds when they say it, nor because it sounds like an answer to a Newlywed Game question, but because it is friggin’ brilliant!

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