Cooking and Gadgets

dumpling.jpgRecently my friend Alice, who is a very fine cook, e-mailed me the following:

“I am considering vegetarian pot-stickers for dinner. I’ve perfected the making of them — I have the innards tasting just right (not even like “oh, this is vegetarian) and I no longer swear like a sailor while trying to manage the wonton wrappers and the little cinching device from Williams Sonoma. I’ve learned to bring the wrappers to room temperature and oil the cinching device (and clean it and re-oil it as I go). Why am I telling you this? Because food is good and such a respite, from city and stress-inducing relatives and work and organizing one’s tax returns–and I know you get that.”

Alice has a husband, a child, a job, a house, and an academic appointment that involves commuting to and from Chicago every week during this time of year. Additionally, she and I are neighbors engaged in pitched battle against the city we live in, which is proposing large-scale development almost literally in our backyards. Although her husband was baffled about why she would choose to cook something so complicated when she had a day off from everything, I understood perfectly. Alice’s choice of culinotherapy is one I often make, and I am seldom sorry.

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plumber 2Catastrophe struck the other day. My kitchen drain backed up into the bathtub. Unfortunately the last thing I had cooked and washed down the sink was beets. Do you know what a white bathtub filled with red beet juice and bits of floating beet looks like? Let’s just say what follows will NOT be a recipe involving beets.

I’m truly dangerous with power tools (even the Cuisinart is off limits for me), so I called the plumber. The guy who showed up looked like your typical plumber—clean cut, with a baseball hat and sturdy boots. He began snaking the kitchen pipe, and I went into the next room. Minutes later, I could hear emanating from under the kitchen sink: “Nothing you can do cause I’m stuck like glue to my guy, my guy.”Is he singing “My Guy”? “No handsome face could ever take the place of my guy, my gu-y-y-y.” Yup. He sure is. The rendition continued replete with the backup chorus.

Now, I’ve heard of The Singing Detective but not the singing plumber. I got to talking to him, and it turns out he’s more than a singing plumber. I learned that he really wants to write science fiction novels and that plumbing just pays the bills. That’s the thing about L.A. -- so many people here aren’t what they seem. You think the plumber is just the plumber, but he’s an aspiring writer. Or take my cable guy who told me that his real vocation is poker and that he had even appeared on ESPN in a championship poker series. Then there was the shuttle bus driver who animatedly described attending a Donald Trump seminar. He said driving allowed him to pursue his real career goal: real estate.

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deerisleI spent last weekend at a workshop on Charcuterie: the craft of salting, curing and smoking pork under a hunter’s full moon with authors, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in the precious, coastal Maine town of Dear Isle. My first time off in 7 months and they had one more opening. How lucky am I?

All 30 fellow students gathered for the workshop at 3 o’clock Friday afternoon under a sunny sky with a warm ocean breeze. Everyone milled around the beautifully restored post and beam barn meeting each other and patting the vocal goats in one of the stalls that begged for attention. Jumbo bales of hay dotted the corners of the barn as kittens slept in the afternoon sun, unconcerned that the barn was slowly filling with a crowd.

There was a long communal table set with plates, flatware and empty platters for later. A large commercial stove was set up outside the large barn door on the dirt driveway connected to a small propane tank that was jerry-rigged, all sitting next to the jumbo winter wood pile. Next to the makeshift butchering table laid out with Chef Polcyn’s knives was a large livestock watering trough filled with ice blocks covering Lucy, a very lovingly raised and killed pig-she was the other ‘rock star’ of the workshop.

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mattbites_on_grilling.jpgThis weekend all over the country barbecue grills, Webers, hibachis and iron smokers will come alive with heat, delivering offerings of grilled fare that satisfy our most primal urges.

And while I’m no expert I do know my way around a grill. The good old Texas boy in me always surfaces the minute spring and summer roll around and before you know it I’m ignoring the oven and spending every night cooking al fresco.

Over the years I’ve learned some good lessons (blanching ahead saves time) and some bad lessons (keep an extinguisher handy or else) but there’s always room for improvement. Below are a few things I’ve learned over the years:

Armhair_is_overrated

1. Arm hair, while serving a protective biological purpose 10,000 years ago, isn’t entirely necessary. One can live a relatively healthy life without it. Eyebrows are an entirely different matter.

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mustardroastedpotatoes.jpgIn addition to being an absolute pasta freak, I am passionate about potatoes. I could eat pasta everyday and potatoes, probably every other day. I love them every which way. A number of years ago Oprah's personal chef at the time wrote a cookbook called In the Kitchen with Rosie. It was a huge bestseller and featured very low fat recipes. There were some good recipes and techniques in the book. One of the recipes that made a big impression on me was called Mustard Roasted Potatoes.

The Mustard Roasted Potato recipe was red potatoes tossed with Dijon mustard, cumin, paprika, chili and cayenne. The potatoes roast in the oven and become all crusty and delectable. It's a great technique and can be endlessly varied. I've incorporated plain yogurt, fresh herbs, and different kinds of mustard. I like the Moroccan mustard from Dulcet Cuisine for this recipe because it has so much flavor you don't need to add any additional spices, but feel free to experiment and try any spiced mustard you like or add some spices.

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