Cooking and Gadgets

ImageI remember so well my Mom making pancakes for us during the rather meagre times after World War 11. She would toss them up and often they would stick on the ceiling and we would find that so funny. There were always lots of eggs around as we would go to a nearby farm and get them and fresh milk and lots of herbs that me and my sisters would pick. We would lean over the side of the pig stys and watch with big eyes, what seemed like gigantic animals snorting in the mud! We ran after the chickens and were allowed into the coops to stick our fingers in and prise big brown eggs from under the nesting hens. Often the cock would frighten us off by screeching as we gathered the eggs!

My first cookbook was called ‘Round-the-Clock’ Cookery and was filled with awesome recipes for every meal, food and drink, and pictures describing how to truss chickens, make galettes and fill pies, baste eggs, the list of plates goes on and on. But as I love pancakes here is my favorite recipe. I often just squeeze lemon juice and a light coating of caster sugar on them.

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divinebrine.jpgIf you look in the dictionary under the word "impatient" you’ll most likely see my picture a few rows down. My disdain for playing the waiting game is a big reason why I don’t pickle, bake, brew or preserve too well, although I have aced the sauté, grill, and fry like nobody’s business. So you can imagine my dilemma when I first learned about brining meat. There were numerous knuckle biting moments when I had to accept that soaking meat for what seemed like an eternity really did yield a more flavorful, juicy bite. I may not have learned to deal with sitting around doing nothing, but I have certainly surrendered to the divine brine.

Brining is soaking poultry or pork in salted, seasoned liquid prior to cooking. It’s similar to marinating, but this process actually changes the texture of the meat. And it’s very simple. Depending on the brine and the cut of meat, the process can occur overnight or in as little as a few hours in your fridge–and the results are spectacular. The meat is juicy and flavorful, seasoned from within. And the best part happens when you grill: you’ll get that desired smoky char on the outside with a tender, moist texture on the inside. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time achieving both when I grill if I don’t brine.

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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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From the LA Times

perfectsteak.jpgAh, the first warm days of summer, when some mysterious force compels even the most hapless cooks to start a fire and burn some meat. Walking around my neighborhood last weekend, the smell of flaming beef fat was everywhere.

It made me wonder: Really, how hard can it be to grill a good steak?

You shouldn't even need a recipe. Take a good piece of meat (bright red color, nice flecks of white fat inside the muscle, not just around it, at least an inch thick), season it simply (salt and pepper, that's it) and put it on the grill over a moderately hot fire (not too hot or it's "Towering Inferno" time — when you can hold your hand about 5 or 6 inches over the grill for four or five seconds, that's right).

Beyond that, it's all detail. But, as in anything, those details are exactly what make the difference between good and great. Fortunately with a steak dinner, they're really pretty simple, even if they can be a bit geeky.

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mini_toaster_oven.jpgI am a Toaster Oven Top Chef. I’m by no means a professional like the wunderkinder you see on Bravo’s reality TV cooking showdown. I don’t have a fully stocked kitchen. I only own four knives. And although technically my kitchen has a real oven, it’s so marred with unidentifiable char no amount of Easy Off cleaning products could restore it to a serviceable condition. What I do have is the heart of a champion, and the spirit of a competitor.

My cooking challenges may not be as fancy as Bravo’s “Cook the Last Meal of a Master of the Culinary World” or “Imitate the Delicate Flavors of a Fish Dish from Le Bernardin” (though I did enjoy the episode when the Top Chefs had to cook a holiday meal using only a convection oven—been there) but they are very real. It’s the end of the week and your grocery supply is dwindling. All you have are 3 eggs, wonton wrappers, the stale end of a sourdough baguette, 1/3 cup shredded cheddar, frozen soy sausage, spices, olive oil, and a tomato. Okay. Go.

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