Random Brain Drippings ...

It's been a slow week for food porn, with a lost camera battery charger and a few days of recovery from the Father's Day carb-loading comfort food fest. So, instead of some recipes, I thought I'd throw out some random and maybe useful thoughts. Hopefully, we'll have a few new toys soon and the food porn will make a triumphal return next week.

Cheap knives suck ass!

Nobody needs an expensive knife, but cheap ones should be treated like a kitchen plague.

Fact ... a cheap knife dulls fast ... fact too, dull knives require more force to cut the same items ... fact three, more force + dull blade (that could slip where a sharp one would dig in) = probable bloodshed.

Some uni-taskers rock.

I know, I know ... those of us who worship at the altar of Alton Brown (all hail the Food Geek GOD!) shun the uni-taskers. But sometimes I must break the No Uni-tasker rule while still sort of respecting its spirit. I try to keep my uni-taskers to things designed for tasks I do a lot and get ones which take up as little space as possible.

For example ...

The Folding mandoline! If you slice a lot, especially thin, and/or like fries, a mandoline slicer will be your bestest kitchen friend. I have a clever sort, a model that folds up when not in use. It takes up virtually no space on my kitchen (bookcase) shelf and I don't have to try making thin slices by hand ... win! If you disregard the safety holder thingie (as I do ... *tsk tsk* me), just be careful because these suckers are just itching to cut you. And blood cannot be considered a good substitute for anything in the cucumber salad.

The Porcelain Grater I use mine for ginger and galangal, which are a pain to dice, worse when they're stalky, to grate and get more flavor with smaller pieces. I'm sure it could be used to grate more stuff, but these are the biggest time/energy savers and well worth the tiny bit of space it takes up when stored on its side.

The Mortar & Pestle Okay, this one does take up a bit more space and is heavy as a motherfucker ... but it's damned useful quite often. Sometimes you just need macerated instead of chopped all to hell (with the food processor). And, with the huge amount of pestos, curries, and hummus going on around here, it's definitely worth schlepping it over to the prep counter. Besides, it's awfully fun to beat the crap out of stuff and have it be a good thing!

Cucumber + vinegar + oil + ____ = foodgasm!

When you have a mandoline, you find you do stuff requiring thin slices a whole lot more often than you used to before. Now, I wind up trying to find extra excuses to make cucumber salad because it's kind of fun to *schoom schoom* down the ramp of delicious thinness. So, I've also found that pretty much any good combo of complimentary vinegar and oil with a few extra crunchies is great with thin cuke slices. I've done olive oil with cider vinegar and shredded carrots, olive oil with red wine vinegar and onions, olives, and feta, sesame oil and cider/rice vinegar with scallions, shredded daikon and carrot with sesame seeds, sesame oil with cider/black vinegar and scallion, raw water chestnut, and sprouts, olive/chili oil and cider/white vinegar with scallions, mandolined red onion, lime juice, and a bit of chili powder and countless other permutations.

Oh yes! The GOOD cucumbers! If you can get them, use Persian cucumbers or Japanese, since they don't need to be peeled. Regular cukes have a horrid, waxy skin and seed areas with a nasty mouth feel so, if I'm stuck with them, peel and scoop out the squishy center with a spoon, but they still suck in comparison to the good ones.

Buying pickles is for when you eat all of your own ... fridge pickles with a few minutes work

Another great way to use the Persian/Japanese cukes is to pop in the fridge in a yummy brine & herbs for a couple days until they're pickles. Slice the cukes (longways at 2-3 on your mandoline ... *shoom, shoom* Yea!) and put into a container or glass jar with 2 cups warm water with 1/4 cup sugar and 2 TBSP kosher salt + 1 cup vinegar and let hang out for about 2 days ... you have just made pickles! Add a few springs of dill, a mess of smashed garlic cloves (I use about a head per dozen or so Persian cukes), maybe a little onion, some funky herb or a couple Thai chili peppers to add some bite and more flavor. If you want to get really creative, do another container of other stuff like carrot slices, bits of radish or daikon, florets of cauliflower ... whatever's yummy and crunchy ... and give a few extra days for the harder stuff. The pickles will stay good for a little while but not as long as the "canned (cooked)" kind ... I'm not certain, since I have always eaten them before there's any risk of them going wrong.

The best naughty-for-your-diet breakfast, ever!

Okay, it's not really a tip, but it's true that homemade biscuits with sawmill gravy and bacon is the best fucking breakie you can put in your mouth. And it's super-easy, if you have the basic stuff to do it. Heat the oven to 400º. Mix 2 cups of flour, 1 TBSP baking powder, and 1 cup (1/3 oil and 2/3 milk) liquid and mold into biscuit shapes onto a lightly buttered pan to bake for 10-12 minutes. While they cook, fry a large frying pan of bacon (If you live near Hollywood, get the Hungarian bacon at the Jon's market in the deep fridge with sausages and such ... trust me!) and keep the run-off bacon grease in the pan. Whisk in 2TBSP of flour and some fresh ground pepper, then 1 cup of milk and enough chicken broth to get to the consistency you want. There you go!

Speaking of bacon, don't waste the best part!

orWhen you make bacon, you may not be making sawmill gravy, fried eggs, or other groovy stuff to make with or in bacon fat at the same time. For the love of the Food Gods, don't waste it! It's badass for starting a warm dressing, doing a quick soften for veggies for hearty potato salad, is incomparable for starting soup, stew, or chili aromatics and veggies.

Hell, anything you'd use olive oil for or many uses for butter, you can use a but of bacon "drippings" for a bit of extra flavor. I tend to store mine in the fridge, since I'm all about the food safety like that, in a lidded coffee can (because I'm cheap, too, and coffee cans are free when you buy the beans). Just scoop out whatever TBSP you need and *yum* extra swine goodness! As I recommended before, if you can get Hungarian bacon or another less smoky, much less salty variety, DO IT! Bacon doesn't need to mean a salt lick accented with imitation flavors. The better your bacon, the better the flavors added with the drippings when you use them.

If you've overdone a bit and feel over-full, have a bit of sorbet.

Yeah, I know. It sounds a bit weird to lessen the feeling of fullness by consuming more stuff, but it does work. If you eat it slowly and let it kind of melt in your mouth, for some reason, it gets rid of the worst of it. I'm sure Alton Brown (you know ....) could say why, but I'm stumped.

Stove-top coffee pots are crafted of pure awesome.

If you've never used one of those magical, little coffee thingies that look like an hourglass with a lid, do try it! We had our coffee-maker break, spending a few weeks actually employing a filter and strainer before finding what we REALLY wanted. If you dig rich, bold coffee that tastes like coffee was meant to or hate running out of filters because you always forget, you may never go back to the electric monster on the counter. After all, it is a pretty big uni-tasker.

Tears-free Onions and Shallots!

I've seen this trick here and there on the inter-webs, but have had several people point out that they've never seen it before, so here goes ... (thanks Nana!)

Helpful fact: If you didn't heed tip #1, this will be more difficult.

For onions:

1 - Cut off non-root end, cut in half, peel and lay flat-side down.

2 - With the tip of a knife, make cuts like the (bad) drawing.

3 - While CAREFULLY holding the onion together from the root, cut across like the other (bad) drawing.

4 - Using a rocking chop (holding the knife tip steadily down to the board with your non-cutting hand and using a rocking motion to chop through), dice bits that may have escaped your cutting wrath.

For shallots:

Basically the same thing, with straight cuts instead of slanted, using a paring knife for initial cutting and dicing before the rocking chop ... because there's nothing more crazy-making than trying to deal with tiny things with a big ol' knife. And, of course, detail work with a huge knife makes it so much more likely to need that trip to the ER, which really makes a nice dinner that much more festive in a fucked-up bizarro-opposite-world sort of way ...

Making dinner together is a sexy date.

Well, so long as nobody cuts off any fingers or gets burns, etc. The Boss and I have some of the best nights when we both get into the kitchen to make dinner. Of course, we try not to do any random groping when the knives are out, that sort of thing, but spend a lot of time sneaking in a kiss here, a little grope there, a little rubbing up on each other in our little galley kitchen. Then, making dinner is not a chore, it's having fun, tasting as you go, and adding a bit of sexy to the food. And, the best part, once you've had a great time making it, the food will always seem to taste that much better ... just because you did it together.

Well, that's enough random drippings from my brain pan ...

Have a great week, everyone!