Cooking and Gadgets

From the New York Times

cellphonecooking.jpgThe tech revolution has been a long time in coming to the kitchen. Our coffee machines are so advanced that they can practically drive us to work, but Internet-controlled toasters and Web-enabled refrigerators became punch lines.

One high-tech cooking tool, however, has transformed the kitchen lives of many Americans: the cellphone. It has become the kitchen tool of choice for chefs and home cooks. They use it to keep grocery lists, find recipes, photograph their handiwork, look up the names of French cheeses, set timers for steak and soft-boiled eggs, and convert European or English measurements to American ones.

“It taught me to cook, really,” said Kelli Howell, a college sophomore in Chicago, of her Nokia phone. Its photography, Internet and instant-messaging capabilities let her consult with friends, family and online sources as she got started in the kitchen. “I e-mailed about 20 pictures of a vegetable lasagna to my sister’s phone while I was making it,” she said. “And then I I.M.’ed with my mom about the topping.”

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asparagus-pickling-007b-1024x682Mention a party that revolves around food, and I’m there. When my friend, Bobbie, sent an email out a couple of weeks ago asking if anyone was interested in getting together for an asparagus-pickling party, I hit reply and typed “For sure” without hesitation.

A file folder in my desk drawer had been holding a few recipes for pickled asparagus for years. Who knew what year I might get around to actually using the recipes, but pickling some spicy asparagus for adding to bloody Mary’s, nibbling between sips of wine and tossing into salads was definitely on my “To Do” list. For someday.

The night before five asparagus-crazy, party-hungry women were to gather in Bobbie’s kitchen, she sent us another email, letting us know she had 60 pounds of very fresh asparagus delivered from a local farmer and all the jars and other ingredients we would need. Sixty pounds? She wasn’t kidding. Good grief.

The party began at 1:00 on Saturday afternoon. On my way over, (I went right from my cooking demonstration at the farmers market) I figured we’d be finished pickling by 4:00, when I had to head home to prepare a dish to take to a dinner party that evening. I was wrong.

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deerisleI spent last weekend at a workshop on Charcuterie: the craft of salting, curing and smoking pork under a hunter’s full moon with authors, Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn in the precious, coastal Maine town of Dear Isle. My first time off in 7 months and they had one more opening. How lucky am I?

All 30 fellow students gathered for the workshop at 3 o’clock Friday afternoon under a sunny sky with a warm ocean breeze. Everyone milled around the beautifully restored post and beam barn meeting each other and patting the vocal goats in one of the stalls that begged for attention. Jumbo bales of hay dotted the corners of the barn as kittens slept in the afternoon sun, unconcerned that the barn was slowly filling with a crowd.

There was a long communal table set with plates, flatware and empty platters for later. A large commercial stove was set up outside the large barn door on the dirt driveway connected to a small propane tank that was jerry-rigged, all sitting next to the jumbo winter wood pile. Next to the makeshift butchering table laid out with Chef Polcyn’s knives was a large livestock watering trough filled with ice blocks covering Lucy, a very lovingly raised and killed pig-she was the other ‘rock star’ of the workshop.

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clay-pot.jpgLet me be unequivocal here:  I hate my clay pot. 

I bring this up because of the front page article in the LA Times Food section on October 28, 2009 entitled “Clay Pot Alchemy” in which Paula Wolfert, the cookbook author, seen smiling broadly in front of her multitudinous collection, announces she’s ‘never met a clay pot she didn’t like.’

Allow me to introduce her to mine.  Such is my disdain for this thing that it lives in the very back of the very top shelf of our utility closet, reachable only by standing on the top rung of the step ladder, moving 8 bags of Rustichella d’Abruzzo pasta, a dozen 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes, 4 giant bottles of Dijon and several extra large boxes of Q Tips which we bought at Costco more than 3 years ago and I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say we could have Q Tips for life.  Only then will you find my clay pot, wedged in the corner like some dunce who was sent there for getting the answer entirely wrong.

Because entirely wrong is what Clay Pot cooking is to me.  The roast chicken from the little recipe booklet included with purchase was not “moist and browned” as promised but wet and wan.  And the red peppers?  The Zucchini?  Those tomatoes?  Limp. Limper. Limpest. I would have donated my clay pot to the National Jewish Women’s Council Thrift Shop where once a year I haul outsized, green lawn and leaf bags full of unworn clothes, or left it out in our alley where, no matter what you leave on top of those garbage bins magically disappears by the next morning, were it not for that one time.

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cakeknife.jpgI had the world's strangest roommate. We were best friends in college and she seemed like  the perfect person to live with. She was a great listener, she was obsessed with Clive Owen and her purse was always stocked with remedies to just about anything – creams, lotions, pills, even powders. Everything was going great, until one day, it just wasn't. Her once mild room-dancing had started to rival the sound of a herd of elephants, her attempts to match our outfits had turned from sort of cute to sort of single-white-female (except that she's five feet tall and Asian) and she had invited her new best friend to come live with us for a month, without consulting me. She finally decided to move out, taking her friend with her. And they went amicably enough.

I came home with my friend Amanda that night to cook dinner, so excited to have the place to ourselves. We skipped around the apartment, lay down on the floor of the now empty second room and made our way into the kitchen to create a culinary masterpiece to celebrate our freedom. That's when we found out that she'd decided to take all of our utensils with her. Every last one, except . . . my dainty, little, silver cake knife.

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