Cooking and Gadgets

lemonchickenOne of this Farmer’s favorite meals is a basic meat, veggie, and salad trio dolled up and flavored for the season. With summer in full swing, fresh herbs are abounding in the garden and flavoring my favorite basic meal with seasonal flair.

Basil...what a delicious flavor, smell, and plant in general. There are as many types of basil as you could ever imagine. ‘African Blue’ is one of my favorites for its small leaves, intense flavor, beautiful flower, and fabulous fragrance. With basil bolting, blooming, and bursting in the garden now, I’m using it now as my herb de jour.

Pairing well with lemon, garlic, and chives, I concocted a vinaigrette of the aforementioned herbs and fruit for a salad. This dressing fares well as a fresh condiment for the grilled chicken. I like to weave my flavors throughout my meal thus carrying a theme from course to course. With herbed vinaigrette on tap, an herb infused marinade for the chicken was in store.

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atelier-des-chefsI was recently invited to join a Master Class in bread making at the L’Atelier des Chefs school in London. It is really a wonderful concept – a wide variety of classes are guided by expert chefs who have top restaurant experience and a great desire for teaching and sharing their knowledge. They have two locations in London - Oxford Circus and St Paul’s - and more in France and Belgium. Offering diverse cuisines and skill levels six days a week, it’s easy to find one that’s right for you. Prices range from just £15 (for their signature Cook, Eat & Run class which promises to teach you to cook a delicious main course in just 30 minutes) to £144 for their four hour Master Class.

My class was held on a sunny Saturday afternoon at the St Paul’s location, and I was joined by six other eager-to-learn students. It was an eclectic bunch, all ages with mostly beginner to intermediate cooking skills. There was a mother and her teenage son, who seemed less than thrilled to be there; a handsome bearded fellow from the northeastern part of France; two baby boomer types, one woman eager, the other somewhat timid; and a hip twenty-something guy, there on his third visit who shared rave reviews about his previous experiences. We were greeted warmly by the receptionist who presented us with new aprons (to keep as a souvenir) and led us to our classroom. The courses are conducted in a bright state-of-the-art kitchen with a large stainless steel work station which we gathered around to meet our instructor, Chef Daniel Stevens. Initially I had visions of Hell's Kitchen with some fire breathing Gordon Ramsey type instructor who would bark orders and humiliate us for any culinary mistakes

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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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porkstew.jpgBraising is one of those cooking techniques that's made for winter. When you've got the time and you're stuck indoors on a cold day, braising low and slow is the way to go. Almost anything can be braised, but tough cuts of meat like beef chuck, lamb shoulder, and pork shoulder are the best. Under a tight-lidded pot, these meats go meltingly tender—with the touch of a fork it falls apart.

The key to a flavorful braise is the liquid. Many classic recipes use red wine or beer, such as ale or stout. But braising in soda, either ginger ale or cola, also produces mouthwatering results. Since a standard cola recipe uses a number of ingredients (including roots, spices, and herbs), the soda acts like a very flavorful broth. It all lends wonderful flavor to the meat. This pork shoulder braise features the flavors of Mexican cola.

To enhance the flavor further, I add balsamic vinegar for tanginess and brown sugar for sweetness. Dried cherries lend another level of flavor as well as texture. Since I love cherry cola, it's a win-win. After braising the meat, I like to reduce the liquid to create a luscious sauce. Simply serve the pork thickly sliced with the sauce alongside plus some boiled or mashed potatoes—it's the perfect Sunday dinner.

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interiors_fridge.jpgWednesday was a hellish day. Because you left your Blackberry in a restaurant the night before, you failed to remember about the four people coming over for dinner that evening but were conveniently reminded of it when you listened to your messages after coming in the door just after 6 pm. “Really excited to see you guys tonight – what wine can we bring?” At that moment, just when you were looking forward to watching the Dexter episodes you missed over a leisurely dinner of re-heated pizza and beer did reality bite you in the ass.

You realize there is no time for shopping and you will have to go with what is in the refrigerator. You also know that the only help you will get from your partner is washing up after dinner is over. You open the fridge and that cold eerie incandescent light hits you as you search each shelf – no meat but some good looking kale, scallions and an array of great condiments. And then you thank god for giving man the insight to invent freezers.

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