our new grilling utensil

Terry and I both enjoy The Kitchen on Food Network and watch it regularly. During the pandemic the hosts initially shot their segments from home, but they eventually returned to the studio. When they did so they maintained social distancing, and Sunny Anderson regularly took up duty outside on the patio. (Apparently Sunny likes it outside. When the hosts were doing the show from home we saw in inside of everyone’s house except for Sunny’s. She was always outside preparing dishes that could be cooked on a grill.)

seafood grill basketOne week (back in the studio) Sunny was preparing a shrimp dish on the grill. She wanted a way to make sure she didn’t lose any shrimp when she turned them over. So she put the shrimp between two wire racks which she secured with thin wire off a roll from the hardware store. That struck me as rather kludgy and Terry asked why she didn’t just use a grill basket. And what was odd was that we never did see her turn the contraption over on camera, even after all the trouble she took to put the thing together. I suspect that an attempt to flip the homemade basket may have gone awry and been cut from the broadcast version.

That got me thinking, however, that we ought to have a basket for grilling seafood. I found exactly what we were looking for on Amazon. Our plan for its first use to be with shrimp didn’t work out, but I tried it out on the grill with some cod and it worked great. I learned that the inside needs to be sprayed with some non-stick spray or the safflower oil we keep in a spray bottle, but I consider the first use a success.

Terry then used the basket for shrimp. I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with the quality of manufacturing in the basket. After simply putting it in the drawer and storing it between uses, Terry had problems moving the bracket into place to lock the basket closed. I gave the top portion a twist to the right to enable the bracket to slip into place. That was annoying.

Still. it’s a useful addition to our set of grilling tools.


Cook, Eat, Repeat

Cook, Eat, Repeat coverCook, Eat, Repeat: Ingredients, Recipes, and Stories
Nigella Lawson
Read by the author
HarperAudio, April 20, 2021
$26.94 for Audible members, more for nonmembers
purchased with an Audible credit

I have long been familiar with Nigella Lawson. Her cooking shows from the BBC have been rebroadcast on American television for many years. Although there is no disputing her culinary skills, her credibility with me has been less than a hundred percent. One time she said that corn and flour tortillas were interchangeable. Um, really Nigella? No.

Then there was the time she introduced an episode on entertaining after a long day at work from the back seat of a town car. Yes, entertaining after work is much less stressful if your commute is via a chauffeured town car. Few of us had that luxury when we were commuting.

Nonetheless, I enjoy watching her various cooking series when they’re available, and so I paid attention when The New York Times Book Review New and Noteworthy column listed her new book. The writer specifically mentioned how enjoyable the audiobook version was, so I decided to make Cook, Eat, Repeat my next monthly Audible selection.

It was indeed a pleasure to listen to Nigella enthuse about food with her pleasing British accent. Unlike a traditional cookbook, she has an introductory section before each recipe in which she extolls the virtues of the dish and sometimes comments on how easy or difficult the recipe is. In the actual instructions, she elaborates on the process, rather than giving the pared-down steps. She will use phrases like, “as best you can,” or “if you like,” or “I must insist that you not substitute here.”

Many of the dishes are things I would never consider. She includes beef cheeks, oxtail, and rhubarb, none of which I would ever think of cooking. On the other hand, some of her chicken recipes look quite appealing, and she offers several desserts for the holidays.

While Nigella gives all the measurements in metric form in the audio, they are converted to cups and ounces in the accompanying PDF. (Oddly, she says things like “I use an American half cup measure for this.” Odd because cups and ounces are formally referred to as the English measurement system.)

As enjoyable as Cook, Eat, Repeat was to listen to, however, I wouldn’t recommend it as a definitive, must-have cookbook.


a nutty situation

I have been very fond of our kitchen since we had a new sink and countertops installed last November. It’s a really nice place to cook and bake. It’s unsettling then when something isn’t working right.

That was the case recently when the garbage disposal started making a grating metal-on-metal clanging sound like a fork or spoon had fallen into it. But there was no fork or spoon down there. I put my hand down there several times hoping I could locate what was causing the problem, but I came up with nothing. (In retrospect I should have shown a flashlight down there, but I didn’t.)

nutOne evening Terry said that I really needed to call our contractor about that, as it had only been seven months since the new garbage disposal had been installed as part of our upgrade. In fact, I had been debating whether to call him and ask about the length of any warranty, or to simply call our regular plumber. However, just a few minutes later I turned on the disposal and it tossed up a tiny nut. The metal kind that screws on to a bolt, not the kind you eat. How it got down there I have no idea.

So our garbage disposal is now working fine again, for which I am grateful.


upgrading our food containers

Food Storage 1Terry and I have long made use of plastic food containers. We put leftovers in the fridge or put them in the freezer so I can later seal them up in plastic with our FoodSaver vacuum sealer appliance. When we had our china cabinet built and installed six years ago, shortly after moving here, we allocated one of the lower drawers for our plastic containers. Our container collection has been growing ever since. We had a set of plastic containers that we bought at Costco ages ago. We’ve also been collecting takeout containers from our local restaurants since well before the start of the pandemic. So our plastic food container drawer became unruly and overgrown. We decided it was time to do something about it.

Food Storage 2Recently Terry and I were watching Pioneer Woman (as we do each week), and Ree was packing up food in containers that looked sleek and practical. Terry commented on them, saying how much she liked the appearance. I agreed with her.

I went online thinking they must be part of Pioneer Woman’s merchandising empire at Walmart. But there was nothing like that there (which was fine from my perspective, since I hate Walmart). I then went to my go-to source, Amazon (of course) and quickly found containers that exactly matched the ones we saw Ree using. I ordered a seven-piece set (the listing said fourteen-piece, but they were counting the lids). When they arrived Terry was delighted and I very much liked what I saw. However, there were only two of the medium-sized Food Storage 3container, the 3.2 cup size. I knew that wouldn’t be enough. We give that size container a lot of use. Not only do we use them frequently for leftovers, but when Terry fixes her make-ahead three-bean salad for her lunches she uses three containers that size. I went back to Amazon and discovered that they had a five pack of the 3.2 cup containers. Exactly what we needed. I ordered the set.

We now have a very neat and well-organized food container drawer with plenty of containers for our leftovers (and for Terry’s three-bean salad) that are freezer, dishwasher, and microwave safe.

I like that.


Butter Chicken

I love Indian food, as you may know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. Sadly, my options are limited these days. Our local Indian restaurant here in Hemet was short-lived, though Terry and I did all we could to support it. We could drive thirty minutes south to Temecula and go to an Indian restaurant there called Mantra, but their primary business is buffet, and such service is, as you well know, not currently allowed in California. (Besides, neither Terry nor I are comfortable with restaurant dining right now.) And then, to add insult to injury, some time back my favorite brand of frozen Indian lunches, Tandoor Oven, disappeared from the freezer cases of the two stores here that carried it.

So what’s left? Right. Fix it yourself.

Butter ChickenI have a lot of Indian dishes in my recipe database, and multiple versions of some, such as Chicken Tikka Masala and Butter Chicken (two recipes that are hard to distinguish from each other). Last week I decided I had gone too long without Indian food and planned Butter Chicken for Friday. I chose a version that recently appeared in Food Network Magazine.

I didn’t follow the recipe exactly; I rarely do. The recipe called for sautéing an onion while adding some of the spices, but I can’t do that as Terry is allergic to onions. The recipe called for tomato, so I blanched and peeled a fresh one. I threw the tomato into our Dutch oven along with tomato paste (in the recipe), and a small can of tomato sauce (not in the recipe). I then added all the specified spices.

I had previously browned the chicken with the indicated spices. I cooked the tomato mixture down, threw it in the Vitamix, and put it back in the Dutch oven. I put the chicken back in and let it simmer for a while. At the last minute I added heavy cream and butter.

Meanwhile, I had been cooking a cup of Basmati rice on another burner.

The result? I was happy. Terry was pleased. If you can’t go out for Indian food you can certainly make it at home. It is a lot of work, but the finished product is well worth it.


a new approach to dried beans

Bean Soup -1Some months ago a food writer wrote, tongue only slightly in cheek, words to the effect of, “Shouldn’t you make use of that big bag of white beans you bought when there was nothing else on the shelf at the store?” I did and I should. Guilty as charged, your honor.

So when Terry showed me this recipe for winter white bean and Italian sausage soup and we had a cold, wet, rainy Monday in the forecast, I decided to make use of that stash.

You need to understand my relationship with dried beans. I have never been a soak-the-beans-overnight person. When I cook dried beans, which is almost always to make tostadas, I Bean Soup - 2use my old, reliable stovetop pressure cooker. This time, however, I decided to be different. I took some of my white beans and soaked them for twenty-four hours. I then cooked them on the stove for another hour. Next, I drained the beans and added the ingredients specified in the recipe. Along with the canned tomatoes and basil I put in the sausage, which I cooked in a frying pan, and the broth, using vegetable rather than chicken, something I always do. In the aftermath of the Christmas rush, the grocery store was out of frozen spinach, so I used frozen peas and corn, which I had on hand.

The result was a very tasty and hearty dinner (to which I added garlic bread), on a cold, rainy winter evening on which Tasha kept going out into the back yard and getting herself wet. (She loves Terry toweling her off.)

A small measure of comfort and pleasure in difficult and unsettling times.

Bean Soup - 3


a great cooking and recipe resource

If you were to look at the list of programs recorded on our DVR you would see that most of them are shows from the Food Network. No surprise there, right? All of those programs have been promoting the Food Network Kitchen app for some months now. (Not to be confused with my favorite television program on the Food Network, The Kitchen, which airs on Saturday mornings.)

Rising above the cacophony of Black Friday sales was an offer of Food Network Kitchen at half price: $19.95 for a year, as opposed to $39.95. I couldn’t resist. The content is available across all of one’s devices, including the PC, where it is accessed from the Food Network web site. That means that I can save a recipe on my desktop and then access it from my laptop where my recipe software is. That’s a lot easier than the intermediary text file I have been using to save web address for quite a long time now.

Food Network Kitchen logoThe heart of Food Network Kitchen is classes: both live and recorded. These are real-time instructional videos. I believe that the original intent was that these classes be broadcast from the spacious Food Network kitchen facility in New York City. But COVID-19 and corresponding stay-at-home and social distancing orders made that unworkable. So what I have been watching is skilled chefs offering instruction from their own homes. These folks live in New York City (Brooklyn and Harlem, for example) where housing is expensive and apartments are small. A small apartment means a tiny kitchen and we get to peer into these tight spaces. (In two kitchens the toaster oven sat on top of the microwave. In another kitchen the refrigerator door hit up against the butcher block food prep island.) The chefs don’t apologize; they simply show us what great food one can cook in a small space.

There is much that I love about these classes, and at the top of the list is the fact that they are strictly cooking. There is no underlying plot point, as seems to be mandatory on most Food Network cooking (as opposed to competition) shows. (“Aunt Freida is coming over for dinner this evening, so I am making three of her favorite dishes.”)

The Food Network stars on The Kitchen, the Saturday morning television program, have been taping the program from their homes during the pandemic. Jeff Mauro, Katie Lee (Biegel), Geoffrey Zakarian, and Alex Guarnaschelli have let us see their large, fully equipped, to-die-for kitchens. (Sunny Anderson has not let us into her kitchen at home. We only see the outdoor grills on her deck. I’m not sure why.) But the rank-and-file staffers who bring us the live Food Network Kitchen classes from their cramped cooking spaces really know what they’re doing. I am impressed by their skills.

Food Network Kitchen is designed for a tablet. It needs more real estate than a smartphone offers, and the pause and rewind functionality doesn’t work on the PC when you watch a live class. But whatever platform you use, you can type in questions and have a good chance of getting an answer.

I received a generous thirty-day trial and have kept the subscription going. This is cool stuff.


enjoying our upgraded kitchen

You have probably read all you care to about our upgraded kitchen, but I feel compelled to write about how much we have been enjoying it in the month we’ve had it.

kitchen upgradeI’m not sure I knew how much I was going to love the improvements. What started as replacing the sink and faucet became those two items plus new counters, a reverse osmosis water system, and a new garbage disposal.

The solid surface acrylic counters are great to work with, and the light color brightens up the kitchen. The sink, being stainless steel rather than porcelain, is deeper and wider, making it easier to clean our pots and pans. More of them now lie flat in it.

I love cooking on our somewhat new stove with the new counters alongside. It’s nice to have accessible filtered water at the sink and to be able to make ice cubes in which we can see the ice crystals. We certainly still use the ice maker in the refrigerator, but I like seeing the clear ice cubes with my Scotch in the evening.

In these grim COVID-19 days it’s a delight to have a kitchen that brings us so much joy and pleasure.


an incremental kitchen remodel

When we lived in Gilroy we did a complete remodel of our kitchen. And remodel we did. The contractor completely gutted the kitchen and built a new one from scratch. The only thing that remained was the dishwasher. (Which we had to replace soon thereafter because the contractor didn’t anchor it when he reinstalled it.) We loved that kitchen and hated to leave it.

Here in Hemet we have done a sort of incremental kitchen remodel, but it was not something we planned. Not long after we got here in 2015 the thermostat in our refrigerator (that came with house which had been built nine years earlier) gave out and we replaced it with a Frigidaire as the part for the thermostat was no longer available.

Things were rather quiet for a few years, but in early 2019 the oven quite working. It simply refused to heat up. We called the repairman who returned to the shop and called us with an estimate that amounted to half of what a new stove would cost. Since I badly missed the convection oven we had in Gilroy we went shopping for a new stove. This was in February, before my surgery that month. We found a Samsung model we liked and ordered it. It finally arrived in April, after my surgery and after I had recovered from a setback that landed me in the hospital for a week in March. By then I was ready to get back to cooking. And back to baking bread again, with that new convection oven. I write about the new oven here.

Then, in May, we decided we had had it with the Frigidaire refrigerator. We were constantly fighting with the ice maker, and it had several other annoyances that made it frustrating to deal with. We bought a new Whirlpool with a larger capacity and a bottom drawer freezer. We’ve been quite happy with it, despite the occasional annoyances with the ice dispenser.

In May of this year our built-in microwave, which was also was the same age of the house, stopped working. We replaced it with a Frigidaire and have been quite happy with it. It lacks a couple of features that the old one had, but it’s much quieter and it does everything we need.

sink

Then there was the case of our kitchen sink. It was porcelain and had begun chipping. We tried to repair it, but it simply looked ugly. And the faucet, which had a removable nozzle attached to a hose, had been leaking for some time. I called the contractor we used to install our artificial turf about getting a new sink and faucet. He suggested replacing the countertops as well. Neither of us were fond of the tiles that were in place. We also knew that we were going to be in a COVID-19 world for quite a while longer, and while we have always done a lot of cooking in normal times, current circumstances mean we are cooking as much as or more than ever. So it didn’t take long for us to decide that replacing the counters was a good idea. While we were at it I thought installing a reverse osmosis water filtration system would be a good idea. That meant that we could have nice, clear ice and free up the space in the refrigerator taken up by the Pur water filter. No more filling it up at the sink and lugging it back to the fridge. No more dropping it when it slipped out of my hands, as it once did.

So we ended up with entirely new countertops (of the acrylic solid surface variety), a new sink and faucet, a new garbage disposal, and a reverse osmosis water system. All of that took three days, as opposed to the three months that our Gilroy kitchen remodel took, with everyone who came into the house following COVID-19 protocols and wearing masks.

That’s pretty darn good, and we have nearly the kitchen we want. We are both quite happy.

counter top


thoughts on cooking techniques

I think it is fair to say that I am a foodie. The bulk of the television programs I record on my DVR are from Food Network. I cook dinner most evenings. So what is on this foodie’s mind? Cooking techniques.

kitchen utensilsI think it makes perfect sense to say that cooking is cooking, but I tend to divide cooking into two categories: conventional cooking and cooking using a specialized appliance. Conventional cooking uses the stovetop, the oven, and the outdoor gas grill. Specialized appliances include the electric pressure cooker, the air fryer, and the slow cooker.

I have all three. The slow cooker seems to me to be the most conventional while the other two might be a little more gadgety. I have been happy with most of the meals I have made with my ancient and appreciated slow cooker. I have cooked plenty of electric pressure cooker meals as well, but for me the results are often not quite as satisfying as a conventionally cooked meal. Somehow pressure cooker meals can end up all tasting the same. The exception is pot roast, where I have adapted a tried, tested, and true recipe from the pressure email group. It always comes out marvelous.

The air fryer is great for things you might normally deep fry, and far healthier besides, but I have had mixed results. One has to be vigilant. The various models vary so wildly that a given recipe can’t be trusted for your individual air fryer. I have learned the hard way that you need to calibrate a recipe you might want to try against the time chart for your specific air fryer.

Ultimately I’m a conventional cooking kind of guy and that works out well for me.