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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underpressure.jpgI don't know about you but I've got five extremely angry über chefs glaring at me from their cookbook bookflaps on my kitchen shelf and it's making me nervous:  England's Heston Blumenthal's "The Big Fat Duck Cookbook", Thomas Keller's "Under Pressure", Grant Achatz's "Alinea", and a couple of chefs from Spain – Ferran Adrià's  "El Bulli Volumes 2003-2004", and Joan Roca's "Sous Vide".  It sounded like a good idea at the time – assembling courtesy of Amazon.com the modern greats for a holiday feast using the latest sci-fi techniques of sous vide (cooking food in a vacuum packed pouch) – and then having at it. 

smokinggunkit-sm.jpgWhat these chefs failed to take into account – and the cause of their ire – was that I now see I don't possess any of the tools required to cook any of their recipes. They want to know why they are in my kitchen.  I don't have a Polyscience Minipack-torre Model MVS31 Vacuum Sealer ($2025.00), a 8306C Model Thermal Circulating Bath ($1799.00), or even a functional spatula.  I do have, however, from a previously deranged buying spree – The Smoking Gun™ ($79.00), which runs on 4 AA batteries and helps infuse dishes with a smoky flavor.  An excellent Christmas present for your foodie friends.  But I'm crushed to learn from their website that the gun is now being touted as "Excellent for finishing products that are cooked Sous Vide".  Back to the beginning.  I won't be dining in.

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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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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briepasta.jpgI love the story of stone soup. I love it for all the wrong reasons. You know the story, right? The moral is that by sharing what one has, everyone eats well. But for me, I am like the greedy villagers, still amazed that soup can be made with a stone.

While not quite stone soup, you might think of this as "stone pasta". A dish of plain pasta it is made better with a bit of bacon, onion and a knob of brie. The resulting dish is kind of like Spaghetti Carbonara only faster and easier, and possibly even tastier. And I love Spaghetti Carbonara!

Brie has long been considered by many to be the most popular of all French cheeses. It comes from a province once called, "Brie" now called Seine-et-Marne which is not that far from Paris (and now more famous for being the site of a Disney Resort). Real brie is made from unpasteurized cow's milk but the version available in the US is made from pasteurized milk so the resulting cheese is milder and less ripe than true brie.

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