Monday, December 10, 2012

Congrats to our winner!

Bev V, I know I am not the only one looking forward to trying your Pork and Three Bean Chili!

Shoot me your shipping address to staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) come and I will get your prizes out to you this week.

For everyone else, thanks for the great new ideas!

As for me, I'm back to finishing the new book, but I'll pop in and say hi again soon as I can.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tis the Season, for Braising!


I hope everyone has recovered from Thanksgiving and is gearing up for the rest of the festive season.

Charming Suitor and I have set up our first Xmas Tree/Hanukah Bush.  I think it is adorable.

(For the longer story of this special tree, CLICK HERE)

We kept it simple, little fairy lights, mini mirrored disco balls for sparkle, and a garland of felt balls in 40 different colors for bright.  And of course, the traditional Star of David topper.  It is made of salvaged staves from French oak wine barrels, and if you are curious, yes, wine does smell just as festive as pine.

Despite the fact that as I write this it is in the mid-60s outside, it is still Fall and for me, Fall means braising.  I love the way a slow cooked dish makes the house smell delicious, I love that they are dishes that are almost impossible to screw up and don't need fussing.  I love that they are the perfect thing for dinner parties, letting you make your main course the day or even two or three days before and reheat in a low oven, making for a relaxed hostess.

As promised, I want to share one of my new favorite braises, a basque-inspired stew of chicken thighs and chorizo sausage and chickpeas.  It is a wonderful bowl of spicy and savory warmth on a cold night, and is great for a casual Tuesday night dinner for two or a Saturday night dinner party for eight.  Serve it with a warming Spanish rioja or a crisp white Gruner Veltliner.  A simple salad of butter lettuce dressed with lemon, olive oil, and fried capers and some crusty bread are all you need for a complete and lovely meal.

And since it is time for a new recipe, how about a new gadget!

This is a recipe rock from Architec!  I'm loving this thing.  I keep all my recipes in my computer.  When I want to make something, I print a copy, that way it doesn't matter if it gets stained or shredded, I just throw it away when I am done.  But I'm always elbowing it off the counter, or trying to keep it out of my way.  For a while I was taping recipes to the kitchen cabinets.  Not anymore.  A very cool and simple item...there is a powerful magnet in the base, and a ball bearing.  You can take your recipe or recipe card and slide it between the ball bearing and the base and it holds it upright so you can read it easily, and it stays out of the way!  Even better, it is VERY reasonably priced and a perfect stocking stuffer or small Hanukkah present for your favorite cook, or a happy present for yourself.

Basque Braised Chicken Thighs with Artichokes, Chorizo and Chickpeas

4 ounces Spanish chorizo, sliced 1/4-inch thick  (this is a cured sausage red with paprika, do not substitute fresh Mexican chorizo here, if you can’t find Spanish chorizo, use a stick of pepperoni)
3 pounds chicken thighs (bone-in, skin on)
Salt and pepper
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
2 small red onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3/4 cup dry sherry
2 c chicken stock
1 cup diced plum tomatoes
2 teaspoons Espelette or Aleppo pepper (if you can’t find these, substitute sweet paprika,  but try to get the Espelette, it is worth it!)
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Handful fresh basil, torn, for garnish

Put a large deep saucepan or skillet over medium heat. Cook the chorizo, stirring occasionally, until chorizo has rendered its fat and is brown and crispy. Remove chorizo with a slotted spoon or spatula to your slow cooker, leaving the fat in the pan.

Season the thighs with salt and pepper on both sides. Add the chicken pieces to the skillet and brown well on both sides, especially making sure to render the skin so that it is crispy about ten minutes total. Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Remove all but two tablespoons of fat in the skillet. Add the onions, garlic, artichokes and thyme. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft, about five minutes. Add the sherry, tomatoes, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Stir well to dislodge any browned bits and simmer for one minute.  Add this mixture to your slow cooker, put in the chickpeas, and stir to be sure it is all well combined.

Nestle the thighs in the mixture in your slow cooker.  Put in enough chicken stock to come up to the thighs, leaving the top ¼ inch uncovered.  Cover the slow cooker and turn on High for at least 3 hours.  You can then turn to low and hold till dinner time, or cook on low for up to 8 hours.  Before serving, season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with basil. Serve.

If you don’t have a slow-cooker, you can cook in a covered Dutch oven at 350 for 1 ½ hours. 

I also love this over cous cous or brown rice.

Also?   Charming Suitor and I were so hungry for it, and it smelled so delish that I totally forgot to take pictures for you, so you'll have to believe me when I say it was lovely to look at, all burnished reds and golden browns.  Very Autumnal.

So, to celebrate this season, comment with your favorite slow-cooker or braised recipe by 11:59 CST on Sunday Dec. 9, and I will pick one for a little prize package of a Hampton Forge Paring knife set (one veggie, one fruit, one tomato all with covers) and a small folding cutting board to easily get your chopped stuff to the pan.  Winner announced next Monday!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Hello Chickens!

I know that I don't make it a habit to apologize for absences, since you all know that I will post when I actually have something I think you might want to read, and that you would be bored to tears with anything I might throw up here just to have new content.

But I did want to stop in and say that some recent technological difficulties have impacted blogging capabilities more than usual.

The short version is that my three month old MacBookAir was having a glitch that required a full data wipe.  Since I am a back-up freak, and have three different backup plans, I was not worried about this.  Until I got the computer back and discovered that my three month old Netgear router had fried itself out for no apparent reason and taken my external hard drive backup with it.  Apparently my iCloud was also not set up properly, so no backup there.  Thank god for Mozy, an online autobackup system which had retained all my data except for all the music in my iTunes, which my computer network guy had luckily kept a backup of when he transferred all the data from my old computer to the new one.

Needless to say it was a full week without a computer, necessitated buying a new router (Oh Netgear, never again) and trying not to worry about getting off schedule on the new book.

Which, considering my penchant for procrastination is sort of a funny thing to be stressed about, but I was determined to not write this book in a ninety-mile-an-hour panic, and have been sticking pretty well to a set weekly goal that up until recently I was able to keep up with.

I am not doing a Thanksgiving-specific post this year, since I have beaten that horse to death previously, but if you haven't seen it before, this post says it all (just remember to ignore the contest, since that is two years old).  But I did want to tell you all as we head into the holiday week that I am as always so grateful for all of you who read and comment and enter contests and buy books and follow me on twitter and like my facebook page.

I am going to take a couple of weeks to get myself back on track writing wise, now that my technology is all back up and running, (and that I have uploaded the entire contents to Google Docs as a fourth layer of protection) and to spend some quality time with friends and family.  I will be back early December with some great new winter recipes (braised chicken thighs with chorizo and chickpeas?  its coming) and some very cool new products and giveaways.

In the meantime, I hope your Thanksgiving celebrations are warm and wonderful and full of delicious.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, October 29, 2012

Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Deanne and her fabulous zucchini bread recipe that I can't wait to try. You are the winner of a signed copy of Alison Pace's latest, You Tell Your Dog First

Shoot me your mailing addy to staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com and Alison will put it in the mail to you, probably after the Frankenstorm is over.

For the rest of you, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  And for those of you in the path of the storm, a perfect new read!  Download it on your Kindles before the power goes out!

In all seriousness, for those of you being affected by Sandy, I hope you stay safe.

Stay tuned later this week for another fab giveaway!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Guest post from my pal Alison Pace with a giveaway!

Hello Chickens-  

Stopping in to introduce you to my dear friend Alison Pace.  Alison is the author of such fab books as Pug Hill and A Pug's Tale, and her latest book of essays, You Tell Your Dog First I had the joy to read early, and it is a wonderful series of funny and heartwarming stories about the dogs she has known and loved.  I told her that she could stop by here to tell you about it and give away a copy, as long as she also brought a terrific Fall recipe for all of us.  And she has obliged.  Comment below with either your fave dog story or your fave fall recipe by 11:59PM CST Friday and we will pick one randomly to receive a signed copy of You Tell Your Dog First.

Ali-  Take it away!  Your Polymath

Hi All,

Alison Pace  here.  I’m a fellow writer and good friend of Stacey’s.  And because Stacey is such a good friend, she invited me to be a guest here in celebration of the publication of my new book, YOU TELL YOUR DOG FIRST  Yes, the book is about dogs and life lived with dogs. It’s also very much about family and friendship and finding your place in the world.

In YOU TELL YOUR DOG FIRST, I write a lot about all the dogs I remember from my childhood.  Another thing I remember, vividly, from my childhood is the Hungarian chicken my mom (who shows up a lot in the book) makes.  It’s up there on my list of favorite things to eat and it’s also one of the things I most love to recreate in my own kitchen.  This is a great cold-weather dish, hearty and comforting and fills the house with old-world smells and warmth.  And it’s really pretty easy to make:

HUNGARIAN CHICKEN (Chicken in Red Sauce)

4  Chicken breast half’s boned with the skin on
            2  Large Spanish onions
            3 TBS  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
            2 TBS Butter
            3 Small cans of tomato puree
            Salt and Pepper

Melt the olive oil and butter in a heavy pot.  Dice the onions, add to the butter and oil, generously add salt and pepper and sauté until just starting to brown, scraping up the brown bits as you go.  Add the boned breasts with the skin, mix with the onions and stir until the chicken looses its raw color.  Add the tomato puree and 1 and ½ cans of water.  Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook for 1 hour.  Peel off the chicken skin and discard (or feed to your dog*) taste for salt and pepper.

Serve over egg noodles.

*NB: my dog, Carlie, who also shows up quite a lot in the book, is a big fan of Hungarian Chicken. 

If you’d like to read the first chapter of my book, just click here

And if you’d like to enter to win a copy, just leave a comment.  Stacey will pick a winner!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Little Kitchen Miracle

Sometimes, Chickens, the universe is a magical place.

As many of you know, Charming Suitor and I love our apartment.

Okay, I love it and CS loves me, so he moved in here with me, which is about as amazing a declaration of love as anything, and for which I am deeply grateful every day.

I have lived in my apartment, now our apartment, for almost 19 years.  And it has much to recommend it, including expansive size, high ceilings, great location, all the original built-ins and hardwood floors.

Some things that are not ideal include radiator heat and no central AC, a tiny little corner tub in which one can only soak half their body at a time, and a kitchen that was last remodeled in 1976.

We fixed the AC problem by upgrading the electrical, and with five window units we keep the place very comfortable all summer long, even during the horrible heat wave.  The tub is not fixable, but it makes hotel tubs a special treat, and at least the shower has amazing water pressure and never runs out of hot.

But the kitchen.  Oh the kitchen.  I am sure in 1976 it was the height of elegance.  Dark wood country cabinets, faux brick lino floor in a harvest gold, ivory formica counters, and a heavy cast-iron double sink with almond enamel.  Intricate tiling backsplashes in almond with brown details.

However in 2012, not so much.  The floor we keep almost entirely covered in a rug and gel mats in front of the sink and stove, so it mostly disappears.  And the counters, while not our favorite material, were at least neutral and in fine shape.  But the sink.  Shallow, and neither side deep or wide enough to effectively deal with our big pots.  A short little faucet, and hand-held weak sprayer.  Not a kitchen sink for cooks.

When CS moved in we toyed with a mini-remodel.  I am lucky that my relationship with my landlord has always been that if it is functionally broken, he covers it, if it is cosmetic, I am welcome to do as I like as long as I don't damage the building structure or anything original to the house.

In talking to our handyman, he offered us a sink he had salvaged from a recent renovation...a stainless steel single sink, undermount, deep and wide and long and ideal for dinner party detritus.  Made by a company called Blanco, which is known for the high quality of their products.  I have always loved their stuff, any time I have ever been in "plan my dream kitchen" mode, I have looked longingly at their sinks and faucets.  We received this gift thankfully, and stored it in the basement, waiting to make a smart decision about how much we wanted to put into this place that feels like ours, even though we rent.

Then a few weeks ago, the universe sent us a sign.  A PR rep I had met at the Housewares Show contacted me to see if I wanted to test out a new kitchen sink faucet from one of her clients.  Inspired by commercial restaurant sprayer faucets, the faucet is tall and springloaded, with both regular and heavy sprayer functions, a swivel mount to get every area of your Uber Faucet.  The exact type faucet, truth be told, that CS and I lusted after during our initial thoughts of renovation.  Did I want to test it?  You betcha!


The company?

Blanco.  (insert little wiggly happy dance here)

Kismet!  The faucet was coming to live with us, and it seemed only fair that we should install it with it's friend, the Blanco sink.  United at last!

Of course, this begins a Project, which is almost always accompanied by what CS calls Scope Creep.

Here is how this works:

We have a free sink and faucet that need installation.  This is, as they say, a VERY good problem to have.  A problem of the very First World sort, and a problem we welcome gladly.

First obstacle, old sink is drop-in, new sink is under-mount.  Solution?  Need a new countertop on that section of the kitchen.

This is not so horrible, as a local store has large sheets of unfinished butcher block countertop for a very reasonable price, and we would only need one sheet.  Plus butcher block is the kind of counter that you can use in conjunction with any other counter and not have it look is friends with steel and granite and Corian alike.  So we call our handyman and pull the trigger.  Within a day we have a new counter, sink and faucet.


Lovely sink.  Lovely faucet.  Lovely counters, sealed with beeswax till they gleam.

But, now look.  Those tiles.  They were bad enough when they had their dated friends formica and sink nearby, but sad.


I have to paint them.  But if I paint them the color of the walls, they will just look like sad painted tiles.  But they are pretty intricate and patterned...  What it I painted them metallic pewter?  Might they not look like pressed tin, period appropriate to the Victorian house as opposed to the Disco era?  Let's see, shall we?


So. Much. Better.  I feel totally rejuvenated.  CS is delighted.  For ten minutes.  And then...

"I hate that formica.  We have to do the rest of the counters now."  Scope. Creep.

So another call to the handyman.  And another salvage idea.  I have a piece of marble that I have always kept next to my stove as a resting place for hot stuff and a cool place for pastry work.  It was originally the sink cut-out from a counter in my parents bathroom three houses ago.  An off-cut gift to me, which I have schlepped around since 1989.  What if we routed out a section of the new counter to inset the marble so that it was flush with the stove and became permanent?


I am delighted to report that for the moment, the Creep has abated.  With the exception of some new cabinet door and drawer pulls which are the last piece of the puzzle, we have stopped with the upgrades.  The kitchen looks fresh and new, and while it is more money than we thought we might spend, it wasn't so much that it felt egregious for a rental.  Granted, the sink and faucet didn't cost anything, and the marble was a bonus.  But for those of you looking to freshen things up, salvage can be your best friend.

For us, it really was the function that made us pull the trigger.  Whatever gratification we get from the new look, it is the new sink and faucet that are the true game-changers.  The sink now holds nearly four times the dishes, and the faucet is everything we ever imagined and more, from filling big pots, to spraying off dried food bits like a little power-washer, and easy to maneuver to get to every nook and cranny, we are both madly in love.

There are plenty of places to save money in a project like this.  Looking for pre-made sheets of countertop materials as opposed to having them custom made saves a bundle.  We got our unfinished butcher block in 36x72 sheets for $180 each and this whole kitchen only needed two sheets and still left us with the sink cut-out as a bonus new cutting board!  Salvaged sinks can be a godsend, and not hard to find.  If you have a relationship with a contractor, let him know you are looking...often they are delighted to give you the pieces they save so that they can get the installation work.  And local marble and granite companies often have bits and pieces for a song.  Being creative about paint and other easy fixes doesn't hurt either.

But the two places you really want to spend your money?  Quality installation if you are not qualified to install yourself, and really good faucets.  Any plumber worth their salt will tell you to buy the best faucet you can afford, because cheap ones can be a lifetime of drips, leaks and poor functionality.  I think of the faucet like a good long black wool coat.  Spend a little more on a great one and it will last you a lifetime.  Buy a cheap one and it will pill and buttons will explode off and you'll need to replace it every couple of years.

Thank you to the lovely people at Blanco for inspiring my new kitchen, you have two new fans for life.

Now I had better get in there and cook, I think I owe you all a recipe!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, September 10, 2012


Congrats Lori C, you have won the Goodbyn lunch kit!

Shoot me your mailing address at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com and I will get it out to you.

Everyone else, stay tuned, more fab giveaways coming later this week!

The Polymath

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School

Hello Chickens!

Is anyone else blown away by the whole "Holy S**T its September already!" thing?  This summer appears to have simply dissolved out of nowhere.  Which means only one thing...

Back. To. School.

For 35 years, September meant Back to School for me.  Nursery School, Grammar School, High School, College, Grad School and then...four years of teaching high school followed by eleven running education programs at professional theaters.  When I was 37, I left full time employment as an educator for full time stay-at-home freelance writing, and suddenly my year didn't revolve around the educational calendar.

And yet?

I get to September and it still feels like Back to School time.   I have strange compulsions to buy back to school clothes, despite the fact that I work in my living room and spend an insane amount of time in yoga pants.  (And for the record, while I am inordinately bendy for a big girl, I do not actually do yoga.  I just like the pants.)

I look longingly at shiny new office supplies, and I get weirdly organized and focused on updating my Outlook.  I enter all the holidays into my calendar.  Some part of me will always probably be the hybrid student/teacher, and September will always be special.

September is also a weird time for food.  Football is on, so I want to make chili and braise things, but it is still hot and humid, so I don't really want to have anything cooking slowly and heating up the kitchen.  Despite having missed great salads and fresh veggies and juicy summer fruits and farm sweet corn during the long sad months of winter, I'm sort of bored with my summer recipes and ready to switch gears.

Since I work at home, lunch is mostly whatever I cobble together, and a welcome break from typing.  But Charming Suitor gets to work and gets sucked completely into his computer, and if I don't pack something up for him, it is likely he won't eat till dinner.  So I'm always on the lookout for good lunch-to-go supplies.  Which strangely puts me much in the same place as my pals with kids!

So I have two new lunch containment systems I wanted to share with you...

I met the Monbento team, a lovely French company, last Spring at the Housewares show.  CS and I were both taken by the simple and elegant styling of their product, a riff on the classic Japanese bento box.

Aren't they lovely?  I adore the colors.  The two stacked boxes both have lids that seal tight, adjustable separators, and the elastic band keeps them bound together.  They are so elegant, you don't feel like you stole your kid's lunchbox, and any teenager could have their own "Molly Ringwald Breakfast Club Princess" moment in the lunchroom.  They also have very cool collapsable chopsticks and flatware sets, as well as accessories like sauce containers that fit right into the boxes.  And of course, everything is dishwasher safe.  A very cool gift for a stylish person who has to take their lunch to work or school.  You can find their products on Amazon:  MONBENTO

The other company I am digging these days is Goodbyn.  Goodbyn lunchboxes and containers, also inspired by the Bento concept, operate on very simple principles.  Everything should be easy to open, so kids don't struggle.  Mix and match, so you can get a variety of containers that will all stack easily together, and be recyclable so that when they have served out their useful purpose, they don't end up in a landfill.  They even have dishwasher safe stickers so that your kids can customize their containers!

They have everything from one-piece lunchboxes with all sorts of separated sections for every part of your lunch, which have integrated handles for easy transport, to kits with different mix and match elements from flat sandwich containers to small dippers.  They also make some cute insulated lunchbags and flat disk-shaped ice packs to be sure everything stays safe.  You can find the full line of their products at Amazon: GOODBYN or on their website

And for a special added treat, Goodbyn has provided a lovely giveaway for one of insulated lunch bag, with a three-compartment lunchbox, a two-compartment lunch box, and a smaller two-compartment snack box, as well as a set of the stickers!  Happy Back to School for someone in your life...

To win, just comment below with a good back to school tip or recipe, an organizational idea, a new way to get your kids excited about carrot sticks, a delicious transitional "get out of your rut" end of summer recipe that might make some good leftovers for me to send with CS for lunch the next day!  Entries must be submitted by 11:59PM on Sunday September 9, winner will be announced on Monday September 10.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, August 27, 2012

New Anthology

Hello Chickens!  Hope your summer is winding down happily, I for one am excited about football and braising and boots!

Just wanted to share some fun news.  A while back I contributed a chapter to an anthology called Living Jewishly.  It is finally in print, just in time for the High Holidays!

You can buy the book on Amazon or at Academic Studies Press.

The perfect host or hostess gift for Rosh Hashanah dinner or Yom Kippur break fast!

And, as always, if you want signed or personalized copies of this or any of my books, just contact The Book Cellar in Chicago and they will hook you up.

In the meantime, stay tuned for some more good news in the next couple of weeks, including my debut as a regular contributor to Chicago Foodies Blog, some cool product giveaways, and some great end of summer recipes!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Friday, August 3, 2012

Contest winner!

Congrats to Hilary! You have won a pair of signed books from the lovely Elizabeth Flock. Email me your shipping info at staceyballisinfo (at) gmail(dot) com and Liz will send them out.

For those who did not win, go buy the books, I promise they are their own prize. What Happened to My Sister is in the Sept issue of O Magazine as one of Oprah's 10 books to read right now!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Liz Flock Rocks!

One of the first authors I met when I started publishing was Elizabeth Flock.  Lucky for me, since she is one of the coolest people I have ever had the great good fortune to know.

Is she not GORGEOUS????
Liz is huge fun, a true gamer who is up for anything, and equally excellent company at a fabulous party or at a bust of a booksigning.  We once sat together at a signing table and had a contest of who would sell the fewest books since we appeared to be invisible to everyone in the room.  I won, but only because I cheated. My mom bought a bunch of Liz's books right at the end.  We have laughed our butts off together in three different states, both geographical and metaphysical.  She is quite frankly one of my alltime favorite people.

Also? She is one helluva writer.

When Jen and I were in NYC for Book Expo, we had a great night with Liz, expanding our usual twosome to become Stennifliz.

Do. Not. Mess. With. Stennifliz.

Back in 2005, Liz's book Me & Emma hit the bestseller lists, including the coveted New York Times, and I like so many other readers was riveted by this tale of a young girl surviving against terrible odds in rural North Carolina.  I lost myself in the story of powerful sisterhood and self-reliance, and the surprise ending hit me right where I live.

Random House has re-released the book, with a snazzy new cover, and I am so glad!  Especially because the new release is for a very good reason....

The sequel to Me & Emma is coming out next week!

What Happened to My Sister picks up a few months after Me & Emma ends, and is another page-turner.  I loved returning to these characters and finally finding out "what happened next"!  What Happened to My Sister is available for pre-order now, and you know how I feel about pre-orders!

I cannot recommend this pair of books enough, they are both wonderful summer reads, and I hope you will check them out.   And when you are done, you can get all the rest of Liz's books  and have an equally wonderful time.  You're welcome.

And because Liz is the coolest, she has graciously offered to giveaway a pair of signed books to one lucky winner!  So comment below to enter and on Friday I will announce the winner of a signed copy of both Me & Emma  and What Happened to My Sister!

Yours in Good Taste,

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Contest winner

Congrats to fgirl! Your immersion blender is going to have a little Dhun knife to hang out with! Email me your shipping address including phone number to staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com

More giveaways next week!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The First Cut is the Deepest

Chickens, I am nothing if not a true Gemini. 

The dichotomies I possess are infinite and mostly ridiculous.  I am so often of two minds about things that it is staggering and exhausting, requiring many naps.  For example, I have long believed in the following truths:

1.        If I cook a lovely dinner for my sweetie, I have worked long and hard to bring him pleasure, and he should clean up the kitchen.
2.       If my sweetie cooks me a lovely dinner, he has messed up the kitchen and should clean up after himself.

You can see the problem.

(I mean, beyond that I am lazy and hate to clean the kitchen.)

When it comes to kitchen tools, I am at perfect odds with myself.  On the one hand, I do actually believe that one only needs possess a dozen simple basic pieces of equipment in order to produce wonderful meals.

On the other hand….

I genuinely believe in my heart of hearts that as long as you have a good sharp paring knife, 8” chef’s knife and one serrated blade, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.

And yet….

I know, I know.  It is embarrassing.

But I have no choice but to embrace it, and recognize that I can support both sides of the coin.  So you can imagine my delight when Shun knives, long respected for the superior quality of their products, sent me a care package!  I had connected with them at the Housewares Show in Chicago this Spring, and was drooling over their products, as was Charming Suitor.  Shun knives are made using traditional Japanese methods of steel production for blades that are super thin, super sharp, and gorgeous to look at, with Pakka wood handles specially shaped to fit in the hand solidly for perfect control.  I only previously owned one Shun knife, a lovely little mini cleaver vegetable knife that I find myself turning to again and again for small work for garnishes, and making supremes of citrus fruits.   So I was very excited to open a box to discover four new knives that they were offering to let me test.


All of these knives appear at first blush to be specialty knives, which would put them solidly in the “only if you can afford it/are a crazy person like me who has compulsion to collect things” category.  But one of the fabulous things about writing this blog is that many companies recognize that their products need actual testing, and are generous about letting people like me play!  What I discovered was that these knives are much more useful than their “specialty” appearance might make you think.

The 8” rocking knife has become my go-to for anything that needs fine mincing or chopping.  It makes quick work of delicate herbs, but tackles toasted nuts equally brilliantly.  Its large flat blade is perfect for crushing a clove of garlic. 

The Serrated Offset Bread Knife does indeed make genius slices of bread, goes like a dream thru crusty baguettes but doesn’t crush or tear tender brioche.  But it does so much more.  In the heart of tomato season, nothing does a better job of slicing smoothly, as thin as you please.  I love it for trimming artichokes, and slicing steaks right off the grill.  I haven’t touched my regular serrated knife since it arrived.

I’ve talked about the usefulness of an 8” Santoku knife before, since the little divots in the blade mean that the items you are cutting don’t stick to the blade.  Shun’s version is wonderful, going thru meats and cheeses and veggies smooth as silk.  A new favorite task?  Melons of every size and shape.  The large blade takes off rind like a dream, but the dimpled blade ensures that as you cube, the cubes stay on the cutting board.

Finally the little Bird’s Beak paring knife, with its flat cutting surface, I’m using for slicing shallots and spring onions, peeling small fruits and veggies, and creating strips of citrus zest for cocktails.

And because they are fabulously cool, Shun has given me one of their fabulous paring knives to give away to one lucky reader!

So, comment below with a tale of a piece of kitchen equipment that surprised you…something you thought was a unitasker that has revealed multiple uses, or something you use for an unusual or unexpected purpose before 11:59pm on Thursday July 29, and our friends at Random.Org will pick a winner who we will announce on Friday.

In the meantime, thank you to all who wrote to tell me you saw Off The Menu mentioned by Jennifer Weiner on CBS Sunday Morning, it was very exciting.  If you missed it, you can watch it HERE, I cannot recommend all of the other books heartily enough, and of course, Jennifer’s new book The Next Best Thing is one of the best things I have read this summer, so be sure to check it out as well.

And if you loved Off The Menu, I do hope you will continue to help me promote it…word of mouth is everything, and those great Amazon reviews don’t hurt either!  Don’t forget that if you missed being able to see me at one of my appearances, you can always get signed or personalized books shipped to you.  Just head to my snazzy new website and go to the Contact page.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, July 16, 2012

Friends Don't Let Friends Type on Ambien...

Dear Chickens-
Popping my head up to say hello and address a recent event that some of you might have read about over on my pal Jen’s blog
Now you all know that Jen is my bestie.  I get the benefit of her company, counsel, and generosity of spirit.  We make each other laugh till we almost pee.  And we are women in our 40s, so that is NOT a euphemism.   Being Jen’s BFF is a constant source of joy for which I am always grateful.  

But never so grateful as when something happens like happened today.
In order to best explain this, I am turning to Jen herself, who has posted the event from her perspective on her own blog.  I am reprinting her post with her permission, and you will see my notes interspersed….

Sometimes what I write and what I mean to write are diametrically opposed... like, when Ambien is involved.
Stacey’s Note: Jen and I have had many discussions about the Ambien thing, where I have STRONGLY encouraged her to turn off her computer before she takes the pill, and then to immediately get into bed without her iPad after.  Jen, does not always take this sage advice.  Especially since, despite the air of authority I adopt when discussing this with her, she knows that I am not, in fact, an MD.
Now, a quick caveat before someone signs me up for the Betty Ford Center - the Ambien stories are few and far between.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, I take my pill, read my book, possibly eat a piece of cheese, and then fall asleep, exactly as God and Sanofi-Aventis intended.
Stacey’s Note: Ninety-nine is not one hundred.
It's only about one percent of the time that anything happens, e.g. ordering Barbie heads, skinny jeans, or seatbelt extenders.  And the odd reaction is usually the result of either being dehydrated or not having consumed enough protein during the day.
Last night, I was the one percent.
Stacey’s Note: Like I said.
To backtrack, I had guests up here this weekend.  One of my friends mentioned first how her dentist doesn't do teeth whitening and then later that her dermatologist doesn't perform cosmetic procedures.  As I am nothing if not business-minded, this made me twitchy.  I kept exclaiming, "Your doctors are leaving money on the table!" 
(Note: no one else seemed bothered.)
Stacey’s Note:  This is because MOST people are not concerned about their medical professional’s bottom line, and are just grateful that these people are not hocking at them to whiten teeth or pump face full of fillers when we just need our six month cleaning or annual mole check.
Such was the extent that the doctors' lack of entrepreneurial spirit bothered me, I kept thinking about business-type ideas after my friends left. 
Stacey’s Note: Even sober, this is not a good idea. 
I would look at the most basic of household items and then come up with suggestions on how one might profit from it. 
Stacey’s Note:  And before you ask, no, this is not the first time this has happened, and yes, I do my best to talk her off the ledge before she goes public.
For example, I happened to be cleaning out the fridge when I came across a bunch of little tubs of ranch dressing left over from a packaged salad that accidentally froze and I thought, Ah, yes.. there's an idea here.
Stacey’s Note: If you think this is not going to go well, you are correct.
So I began to figure out how one might monetize ranch dressing. 
Stacey’s Note: Apparently the whole multimillion dollar ranch dressing industry that ALREADY EXISTS did not occur to her.
I came up an "I'd dip that in ranch!" campaign, envisioning it as a Stuff White People Like-type tumblr.  Every day I'd feature some beautifully photographed item that would be made more delicious when dipped in ranch dressing, e.g French fries or grilled cheese sandwiches.  Seriously, name almost anything and it would taste better dipped in ranch.  Like, a stalk of broccoli is nice, but dipped in ranch?  It's a treat worthy of a dinner party!  But I'd make each entry funny, like one day showing a shot of Channing Tatum, because, come on, ladies. 
Stacey’s Note:  Oy.
Channing Tatum dipped in ranch? 
Stacey’s Note:  No.
Then I pictured said website becoming a cult favorite and all of a sudden Big Dressing comes a-calling and offers to buy the whole thing for a check containing many zeroes.
Stacey’s Note:  Jen fails to see that once you run through the gamut of readily available produce and the cast of Magic Mike, this very quickly becomes boring.  Anyone else really tired of Iron Chef America?  Want to know why? They have used all the good secret ingredients and are now just going through Bob’s Big Book of Fish and filming episode after episode of Fish Battles.  I don’t care if this is the white flaky fish from Hawaii, or the white flaky fish from the Caribbean, I. Am. Bored.  Fish Battle, schmish battle.  No one is making ice cream.  But I digress…. 
Stacey’s Note:  No.
 (FYI, Fletch thought this idea was dumb, particularly the Channing Tatum part.)
Stacey’s Note:  Fletch is correct, on both counts.
(Fletch is not a visionary.)
Stacey’s Note: This is irrelevant, it doesn’t make him wrong. Steve Jobs was a visionary.  I'm not seeing the iRanch in my fridge.
Yet I cracked myself up about this the whole night and at random intervals, I'd shout, "I'd dip that in ranch!" to the point that Fletch went upstairs to watch Falling Skies by himself.  (He said he was going to anyway.)
Stacey’s Note: I cannot blame him.
I kicked the phrase around so much that it actually began to morph into an idea for a television pilot - I envisioned a couple of best friends who adore each other but are polar opposites, yet circumstances force them to live together. 
Stacey’s Note:  Oh, here we go…
I'm talking The Odd Couple meets Two Broke Girls only less Tony Randall and fewer graphic discussions of ones downstairs ladyparts.
(By fewer, I mean none.)
Stacey’s Note:  NIPPLE.  Nipplenipplenipplenipple.  Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Somehow they'd come together in this pilot and all the action would turn because of the one roommate's passion for trying to make the "I'd Dip That in Ranch!" website happen.
Stacey’s Note:  Hmmm.  Wonder which roommate this would be?
  They'd end up fleeing from corporate America to run a food truck and would have hilarious and delightful misunderstandings in the neighborhood and with one another.

Stacey’s Note: To be clear, Jen and I could absolutely live together.  We are both very respectful of each other, have an awesome time, and recognize that we are of an age when we need separate bathrooms.  I have total faith that if we were young and single we could be awesome roomies.  Provided it was just Jen, and not “Jen and Menagerie”.  Two Broke Girls?  We can do.  Stacey and Kate Make Eight?  Uh uh.  I’d be out the door, banging younger girls with tramp stamps and endorsing Ed Hardy within a week. 
I'm not kidding you, I would watch this.
Stacey’s Note:  Yes.  Yes she would.
I would.
Stacey’s Note:  Jen would watch “I’d Dip That in Nair” if Andy Cohen produced it.
I mean it.
Stacey’s Note: We know.
Oh, come on. 
It's not the worst idea in the world. 
Stacey’s Note: Yes.  Yes it is.
(Cavemen, anyone?)
Stacey’s Note:  Touché. 
So, I knew I was seeing Stacey for lunch today and I made a mental note to mention it to her.
Then I took my Ambien.
Stacey’s Note: You all see where this is going.
That's when my silly little idea began to take on epic proportions.  I figured I'd best get this down on paper before anyone stole it from me or did it first, so I grabbed my iPad and wrote Stacey:
Stacey’s Note:  I woke up this morning to find three things in my inbox…two e-mails from Jen and a note from Twitter that Jen had mentioned me in a tweet.
This is the first e-mail, arriving in my inbox at 12:30am, annotated:
 Okay,do not let my Ambien buzz dissuade you for the badness poroporotins i'mma put I from of you to tomorrow with out new pilot we're writing based Ion the nicotine "I'd dip that in ranch!".
Stacey’s Note:  I know immediately that Jen has ignored my excellent advice once again.  I can mostly deduce that she has a proposition to bring up to me at lunch, and that it involves a tagline involving ranch, and apparently, smoking?
See, yiu're an uptight felix foodie and I'm your bestie Oscar who just lost her house and has to move I wit tiy.  We clash over our differences but bond ove the one. Niversal truth - evening tasted better dipped in ranch.
Stacey’s Note:  Okay, Felix and Oscar I get, and I get that in this pilot we are apparently writing, they have to live together.  So apparently at the moment this pilot idea is entirely cribbed from the plot of The Odd Couple,  but with girls and ranch dressing.
Stacey’s Note:  I do not like beets with ranch.
Friend pickles in ranch!
Stacey’s Note:  Pretty sure she means FRIED here, and yes, that I can get behind.
Freshu veg with ranch!
Stacey’s Note: Closer to English, and sure, who doesn’t love fresh veggies with ranch?
French friens with ranch!
Stacey’s Note:  Most of my French friends are good without dressing. 
And we ciudk go to town with a food truth and lake stander shy try all out four shit with ranch and theync'd be all RANCH RANCH YES YKU ARE GIRL GENUSISES
Stacey’s Note:  This is just fairly incomprehensible.  The combo of Jen’s finger/iPad problem and auto correct is not helping.
Stacey’s Note:  E I O?
We ciudk trademt k "I'd dip that in ranch' and the sell to the hidden valley consortium for ALL OF the THINGS
Stacey’s Note: Not just SOME of the things, ALL of the things.  Also?  Exactly what is this consortium of which you speak?  Is this like The Authority?  The Tribal Counsel?  Can they vote us off the island?  Is Austin Powers getting involved?
Stacey’s Note:  Yup, you are telling miu.
All UR buttermilk are belong to us!
Stacey’s Note:  Anyone need buttermilk?  Apparently Jen and I are cornering the market.
pS copied fletch o case he needs to ruthis past the lawyers land accountants and they keepers of the RWNCH
Stacey’s Note: Fletch was, in fact, CCd on this email. This is why Jen is not allowed to have the email addresses for the lawyers or accountants or “keepers of the RWNCH”
Stacey’s Note: To be clear, this part I like.
See YIU tomotto!!!
Stacey’s Note:  Sigh.  Here was the second e-mail, sent precisely seven minutes after the first.
Well.  Did YIU read it yet..?.
Stacey’s Note:  Oh yeah, I read it.  Then I saw the tweet:
@staceyballis - checch your email for brilliant Ambien bindersest plan! He who controls The RANCH CONTROLS HE WORLD,!!
Stacey’s Note:  Bless her heart.
I particularly like how I misspelled/autocorrected everything except for the "Hidden Valley Consortium."
Stacey’s Note:  This did not go unnoticed by me either J  Jen and I had lunch today.  Imagine my surprise when she ordered fries…with Thousand Island dressing.  Stay tuned to see what new porposieshumns come my way tonight….