I Have A Weakness For Kitchen Gadgets

“Only one in four has a chance at making it…. And right there, I knew that if one of us was getting off dope, and staying off dope, it was going to be me. I was going to live. I was the guy.”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets. I always have. By no means am I a gullible person – I believe nothing I see or hear until there is proof. Most of the time.

But show me a slick salesman on a well-produced infomercial hawking some hunk of slicing, dicing, heating, non-stick, time-saving machine and I will invariably think, “Hey, that thing will change my life – possibly even for the better.”

I’m too embarrassed to make a full list, but here’s a few I have purchased over the decades:

Fry Baby (can’t believe I bought one of these – it was in the 1970’s though)

Automatic Bread Maker (Fine if you like cylindrical bread with a big hole from the stirrer in one end – at least it made the house smell great at three in the morning)

Spiralizer (a good idea that didn’t work – too cheaply made and takes forever to set up and clean)

Fancy Mandolin (cut the end of my thumb off – afraid of it now)

Hot Dog Maker (another incredibly bad invention of the 70’s. You put the dogs between two electrodes and it heated them with 110 AC voltage shot right through the “meat”- tasted like burned ozone.)

Home Espresso Maker (there’s a reason that coffee shops use machines that cost thousands of dollars)

Toaster Oven (I already had a toaster and an oven)

Banana Slicer (OK, but half of my bananas curved the wrong way)

Dedicated Vegetable Steamer (Seems like a good idea, but converts crisp, flavor-filled, beautiful veggies into bland mush)

Crock Pot (yeah, you have one, they have stood the test of time – but I call it the “Flavor Removing Machine”)

On and on.

Probably it’s the simple combination of two more basic weaknesses of mine – food and gadgets. The intersection of these frailties leads to a synergistic and symbiotic effect that ends up, in my case as an addiction. The desire to purchase the last kitchen gadget I see is tough to resist.

Still, I usually do. I have a lifetime of cobwebby kitchen cabinets full of forgotten contraptions to learn from. My life doesn’t change and I don’t buy the stuff. Of course, the advent of the internet, especially Amazon Prime, has made resisting my obsession infinitely harder. A few keystrokes and a “buy it now” and that box will soon be at my front door.

So… I was doing better. And then, about a year ago, came the ultimate kitchen gadget. I resisted for about six months, but the pull became too much. I called up Amazon and ordered a six quart Instant Pot.

I have always used an old-school pressure cooker to make beans. It saves time and has the lure of having a bomb steaming away on your stove. And now there is an electric, computer controlled pressure vessel available for consumer use. I had to have one.

And, I must say, I really like it. I use it almost every day. The claims of, say, cooking a roast in ten minutes aren’t exactly true… they don’t include the warm up time to bring the food to pressure (which can take a while) or the cooling-down period. That’s not the point though, the big advantage over the old pressure cookers is that you don’t have to watch the damn thing to make sure it doesn’t explode. It’s all controlled by a finicky microprocessor which you command with an absolutely unintelligible array of buttons and an out-of-date red LED display which seems to display random numbers.

Still, as long as you ignore all the online recipes and printed instructions, it works. All you do is press “Pressure Cook” and some sane amount of time, and a hot, cooked meal will come out.

Oh, and one more thing. I can’t believe it, but I make yogurt in the thing. One of my weekend chores is to make yogurt for the next week. Half gallon milk, can of evaporated milk, boil, put in starter, heat overnight… and there it is. Save a little container for starter on next batch. It sounded so crazy and disgusting I made my first batch as a joke/experiment – but it is so much better than store-bought yogurt, it really is. I use it in a lot of stuff – smoothies, curries, salad dressing, coffee creamer, with walnuts for breakfast. It’s cheap and once you have the routine down, easy.

So now I’m happy. I have the ultimate kitchen gadget and I can stop looking… my addiction is done.

Wait… Wait! Someone I know has this new thing… an electric lunchbox. It’s a sort of Bento Box with a heating element built in. You fill it with stuff and cook it at your desk. Or in your car! It works on 12 volt or 110! This thing will change my life!

Weakness always rears its head…. once an addict, always an addict.

All Nature Has Is a Potential

“That’s all the motorcycle is, a system of concepts worked out in steel. There’s no part in it, no shape in it, that is not out of someone’s mind […] I’ve noticed that people who have never worked with steel have trouble seeing this—that the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon. They associate metal with given shapes—pipes, rods, girders, tools, parts—all of them fixed and inviolable., and think of it as primarily physical. But a person who does machining or foundry work or forger work or welding sees “steel” as having no shape at all. Steel can be any shape you want if you are skilled enough, and any shape but the one you want if you are not. Shapes, like this tappet, are what you arrive at, what you give to the steel. Steel has no more shape than this old pile of dirt on the engine here. These shapes are all of someone’s mind. That’s important to see. The steel? Hell, even the steel is out of someone’s mind. There’s no steel in nature. Anyone from the Bronze Age could have told you that. All nature has is a potential for steel. There’s nothing else there.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Future Sculpture, Clarence Street Art Collective, The Cedars, Dallas, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Is the intonation correct?

After a really rough day I needed a little victory so I made a sweet potato casserole to take to a potluck tomorrow. Is a well-cooked casserole a work of art? Probably not. Especially when its destiny is a long table already groaning under other casseroles also full of sweet potatoes (at least mine does not feature marshmallows – it has goat cheese and walnuts) or green beans mixed with oversalty industrial mushroom soup and canned fried onions. I’m sure mine will be ignored, no matter how delicious. Such is the ultimate destiny of all art.

P.S. After having written the above, I went to the kitchen to put my cassarole, which had been cooling on a rack, into the fridge to take to the potluck tomorrow. While transferring it, I dropped it, flipping it onto the kitchen floor.

The day continues.

The First Time

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Two, Tuesday, July 11, 2017

One snippet of what I wrote that day.

The first time Jambalaya Joe cooked for us he made – of course – jambalaya. A great black cast iron kettle, suspended over a ring of roaring blue gas jets fed by a rusty steel bottle mounted on his trailer, bubbled furiously and steamed like a witch’s cauldron into the humid Louisiana air.

Rice, mysterious lumps of meat, and bags of vegetables went in – to roil and cook.

Then Jambalaya Joe looked around as if to make sure nobody was watching (though we all were – ravenous after a long, hard working day) extracted a large tin box from a stained canvas bag, lifted it over the boiling pot, and opened the lid with the creak of old hinges.

A cloud of red spice tumbled out to disappear into the boil below. It changed the color of the stew from a flat brown to a fiery red.

“That’s his famous secret spice mix,” said some random stranger next to me, complete with a wink and a subtle elbow to the ribs.

Jambalaya Joe cooked the evening meal for us every night, hired by The Company to feed the work crew until the job was finished.

He made something different each night. Jambalaya became gumbo, then red beans and rice, Irish stew, chili, then spaghetti and meatballs… on and on – visiting every cuisine of the world. I never imagined a cast-iron kettle could be so versatile.

But every meal he dumped the exact same tin box filled with the same secret spice mix into the pot.

What I learned this week, November 28, 2014

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Dallas, Texas

Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Dallas, Texas

How Political Leadership Makes City Streets Bikeable

Bike tour group in front of the Belmont Hotel murals. (click to enlarge)

Bike tour group in front of the Belmont Hotel murals.
(click to enlarge)


Nasa Photo

Nasa Photo

All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there. Use them together. Use them in peace.

Europa Is Stunning In Close-To-True Color


GoPro Tour of my favorite Dallas hike/bike trail.


I’ll bet you thought “Dallas Culture” was an oxymoron. And here they found fifteen

15 Things We’re Thankful For in Dallas Culture

I’d add Dallas Aurora returning for 2015. The last one was more than fantastic.

Shane Pennington's screen inside the Dallas City Performance Hall, with Jazz Trio.

Shane Pennington’s screen inside the Dallas City Performance Hall, with Jazz Trio.


This has always been one of my favorite movie scenes,“We will sell our bracelets by the roadside; you will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation; your people will have stick-shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, ‘Do not trust the Pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller. And for all these reasons, I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.”

Thanksgiving, as Told by Wednesday Addams…


Drug Overdose: The Real American Epidemic


Kindle

Call Me Ishmael

The Harvard Classics: Download All 51 Volumes as Free eBooks


Delicious, pretentious, and easy. What else do you want?

Bringing Sous Vide to the Home Cook

Homemade Habanero Hotsauce

According to WordPress, this is the one thousandth entry in my blog. I’ve written a little over one blog a day, not missing a day, for almost three years now.

This is the third or fourth blog I’ve done over the years – the first one, The Daily Epiphany, was the thirteenth (as best as I can tell) blog in the world, started in July 25, 1996. Of course, there weren’t any blogs in those days – we called them online journals. It was a lot of work back then – the entries were written in Notepad and all the HTML tags were written out by hand. Think of how much work it was to add new entries with back and forward links and tables of contents – all done without electronic help and uploaded by FTP. Within a year I had developed a series of Microsoft Word Templates with macros to help do all that – but it was a long way from today’s fully automated content systems.

I wrote every day for seven years or so, until my kids grew old enough to read the thing and share it with their friends and I had to give it up. For a long time then, I switched to paper – looking to my left I see a stack of Moleskines I filled up in the years I would write every day in longhand.

Finally, a friend of mine started a WordPress Blog and I thought it would be fun, so I cast my line in. Old habits die hard and I found that putting an entry up every day was important to me, even though I hadn’t intended to do this starting out. I don’t put much effort into the thing – most of my writing blood, sweat, and tears, nowadays goes into my pitiful attempts at fiction. I know I often only put up a single photograph… maybe a bilious quotation – but I have learned that if you are going to put something up every day you have to give yourself permission to sometimes do something easy.

If you don’t like it, I’ll refund your money.

At any rate, a while back I came across a recipe for Habanero Hot Sauce on the Facebook page of a friend.

6 habaneros
1/2 can peaches in light syrup
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 T salt
1 T paprika
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice

Whirl it all up in a blender or food processor until it’s smooth.
I poured mine into an old 12 oz Crystal hot sauce bottle I’d washed out. The ingredients sound a bit strange, but it works!

A similar recipe I found also added 1/4 cup of molasses, but I didn’t have any in the house.

I like hot sauce and this one looked good… so I bought a handful of red, round peppers and ground it all up.

It tuned out very good… and very hot. There is a lot of talk about bhut jolokia – Ghost Chilies and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion and such – but let’s face it – habaneros are pretty damn hot and they are readily available. I still have wonderful memories of fresh grilled seafood served with an Habanero paste that I had on Passion Island off of Cozumel – the best meal of my life.

When I first tried the sauce my lips were swollen, my face burned, and the top of my head was drenched with sweat. When I tried the same dose a couple days later, it wasn’t nearly as toxic. At first, I thought it was losing its punch – but I realized that I was quickly developing a resistance. I began plotting meals that I could use to eat a little (only a little) of the sauce.

When my two sons came home for the holidays, the remaining sauce quickly disappeared and I knew I had to kick up the production and at least triple the batch sizes. I had to go to work for a while today and on the way home stopped off at the local Fiesta Mart for a bag of habaneros.

Recently, Candy bought a Ninja Master Prep food processor – Hey… just because it’s on TV doesn’t mean it doesn’t work – and it’s perfect for the dangerous task of chopping up the toxic peppers. My first batch had the seeds in it, which tended to stop up the dispensing apparatus, so I thought about cleaning the peppers first – but that’s a tricky proposition, so I simply screened the seeds out afterward.

This batch came out even hotter than the first – but pretty darn flavorful. I have a feeling I might be making more of this stuff in the future.

Funny, they don't look that hot.

Funny, they don’t look that hot.

Habaneros and other main ingredients

Habaneros and other main ingredients

Ninja Food Processor with hot sauce and spices

Ninja Food Processor with hot sauce and spices

Final product - filtered into re-purposed containers.

Final product – filtered into re-purposed containers.

Taco Talk

This weekend we were at the North Texas Taco Festival in Deep Ellum. It’s a continuation of the events associated with the Deep Ellum Market (such as the Filipino Fest last year) and the most successful so far. There were a lot of people there. Unfortunately, more people than tacos and the lines were too long (I’ll talk more about that later).

But still, it was a beautiful day and a fun time. At the side of the street, next to the Curtain Club, I saw a sign that said, Taco Talk – 1 PM. Looking at my phone, it was about ten after, so we went in.

Inside was a lecture put on by three taco experts. It was sort of fun being a couple minutes late because we didn’t hear the introductions and had to figure out who they were by inference.

John Cuellar, Anastacia Quinones, and Alejandro Escalante - the panellists at the Taco Talk.

John Cuellar, Anastacia Quinones, and Alejandro Escalante – the panellists at the Taco Talk.

First was a man that kept referring to his “family restaurant.” He was the supporter of Tex-Mex among the three experts and knew a lot about the history of that branch of the Mexican food tree. He said, “When we needed to revamp a menu, we would go to California, Mexico City, or San Antonio. Each place has such a unique take on the history and style of Mexican Food, you could find something new to bring home and adapt.”

I realized that his was John Cuellar, of the El Chico founding family. His family sold their chain and now he is responsible for a restaurant in Oak Cliff, El Corazon de Tejas – a place we will have to check out. I’ll let you know about it.

Next to him was a woman that graduated from the CIA and was the representative of the expert culinary aspects of the humble taco – elevated to gourmet heights. She was Anastacia Quiñones, the chef at Komali. After the talk, we spoke to her for a few moments and she gave us a card and a free appetizer – so… well, another place to go and report.

She talked about the wonderful taste of fresh nixtamal. Most tortillas are made from commercial ground cornmeal or processed mix. She said her restaurant was the first in the city to make fresh nixtamal – whole kernel corn processed with lime (like hominy) and then ground fine on a metate each day. All three experts said that fresh nixtamal produces tortillas with a unique and wonderful taste and must not be missed.

Well, there you go then.

The third panelist was an expert on all things taco. He was Alejandro Escalante – the author of the book, Tacopedia. He talked passionately about the wide variety of tacos available throughout Mexico and all the variables in tortilla, meat, and salsa that can be used. The depth of his knowledge and the obvious love he had for the form made his contribution something to be enjoyed and savored.

One interesting point they made was when they were asked about Mexican Fast Food – about Taco Bell and Chipotle. These are Taco Experts and passionate about quality food and you would expect them to rant and complain about the bland and poor quality of fast food. They did not, however. Mr. Escalante pointed out that Mexican Food, tacos and nixtamal in particular, are an acquired taste and Taco Bell helps people become accustomed to the food style. Ms. Quiñones agreed and Mr. Cuellar used the phrase that occurred to me immediately – that Chipotle is the “Gateway Drug” to real Mexican Food. I thought their attitude to be refreshing and honest.

They all three spoke about their first memories of eating tacos and about their “Desert Island Tacos” – what they could not live without. In high school, in Nicaragua, there weren’t really any tacos, so my first real memories of great tacos were from Hutchinson, with flour tortillas filled with ground beef, sealed with toothpicks, and then fried crispy. You would crack them open and fill with lettuce, tomato, and salsa right before eating.

They talked about what makes a taco (who knows?) and the close relatives of enchiladas and tamales. I thought about the Nicaraguan Nacatamles – giant savory concoctions layered with masa and served in steaming packets of banana leaves – and how I can’t get them anywhere (although the Salvadoran tamal served in local pupuserias does come close).

They talked about the future, about lengua, cabeza, and authentic barbacoa, and about how far can the form be taken. I thought about the Ssahm Food Truck here in Dallas and their wonderful Korean style Kimchi tacos.

They even mentioned puff tacos – which were really popular when I first moved to Dallas in the 1980’s. That’s when you take a disk of masa and drop it in oil… and it puffs up crispy, so it can be cracked open and filled. John Cuellar said there was an art to getting everything, temperature, moisture, oil, just right and if you had a sixty percent success rate, you were doing good.

It was a very fun and interesting talk. We spoke to the folks for a minute afterward, but they had to get set up for the judging of a taco contest. We walked out the side door where a handful of local chefs were preparing their contest entries – they looked wonderful.

A long ways from Taco Bell – the gateway drug.

Professional competition Tacos

Professional competition Tacos

tacotalk3

PHOTOS: Inaugural North Texas Taco Festival draws huge crowds

Yum! Chocolate fruit, zen pork tacos highlight North Texas Taco Festival in Deep Ellum

The First North Texas Taco Festival (Photos)

The Day Tacos Ruled Deep Ellum: Recapping the North Texas Taco Festival

Recap: How the North Texas Taco Festival Stole Deep Ellum’s Heart

Photos: Omar Flores of Driftwood won throwdown at DFW’s first taco festival

Happy Chefsgiving: Anastacia Quinones


El Corazon de Tejas in Oak Cliff opens softly, with seductive mole on menu

Amazon – La tacopedia. Enciclopedia del taco (Spanish Edition) [Paperback]


Read: It’s Finally Here… La Tacopedia

Flippin’ Out

The other afternoon we were trying to figure out what to do for dinner. Candy asked if there were any places in Dallas that sold crepes. We go to Cafe Brazil all the time, and they have the thin pancakes on the menu, but she meant someplace new. Luckily, there is that internet thingy and a quick search turned up a place in Addison called Flippin’ Out. It was on Beltline Road (isn’t everything?) and a bit of a drive… but it looked different and interesting so we headed out.

It is a tiny place tucked in the parking lot of a strip center… a little to the West of the hopping heart of the Addison Strip. It advertises Crepes and Coffee, so it couldn’t be bad. There is no seating inside, only a tiny room crammed with menu boards and equipment for cooking an brewing.

Out back there is a neat covered patio and someday I’d like to go back there and sit outside, but this day was too damn hot so we ordered our crepes – I had a Gulf coast (Sauteed shrimp, lump crab, roasted Pasilla peppers & Pontchartrain cream sauce)… Candy had a Cuban (Slow roasted pork, pickles & onion topped with Dijon mustard & Swiss cheese) and she also ordered a dessert… I think it was the Honey Badger (Handpicked strawberries, bananas & blueberries topped with honey, yogurt & granola).

We took the food home and it was good. I was impressed with the idea even more, though. Crepes are easy to make, very thin and don’t have a lot of calories, and very versatile. So on a whim, we ordered a Cucina Pro cordless crepe maker off of that internet thing again.

A couple days and there was a box on the doorstep. On Saturday I made up a blender full of crepe batter and stood there cranking out a couple dozen thin little pancakes. We ate a couple and put the rest in the fridge in a bag.

I’m surprised, but it looks like this is going to work out. A bit of fruit, or some leftovers… really anything… and you can roll it up in one of those things and there’s a meal. It’s like a big, thin tortilla… only Frenchier.

Flippin’ Out – it’s not very big, but it’s hard to miss.

The main menu.

Drinks menu… the coffee looks good, but “Treats from the Teat!” – I don’t know if that’s as catchy or as appetizing as they think it is.

Not a lot of room to spare inside.