Cooking and Gadgets

Shrimp brothIf you buy shell on shrimp or fresh shrimp with heads and shell you can make shrimp broth. It’s a very useful frozen pantry item to have for making risotto, fish soup or infusing a seafood pasta, or pan sauce with more flavor. And it only takes a half hour to make. In fact I never actually set out to make shrimp broth, it’s always a by-product of peeling shrimp for another dish, so it’s important to be flexible about what to put in the pot along with the peels in order to end up with a flavorful result.

With this batch I didn’t have any parsley in the house but I had carrots with tops. The tops taste like a combo of carrots and parsley so they’re perfect for any broth. I threw those in. Then I added a few peppercorns, some coriander seed (which for some reason I have in great quantity), a couple green scallion tops and some lemon zest and juice. I could just have easily added Italian parsley, red chile flakes, celery seed (I love the taste of celery in broths), chopped onion and some tomato sauce or fresh tomato instead of the lemon.

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wirewhisknewIn my opinion a great gift for the little one is a wire push type egg beater.  No, it’s not too early to get that little one comfortable with kitchen chores.  I say chores because if you strip away all the baggage of cooking “celebrity” and gourmandise what’s left is the truth that knowing your way around the daily work of the kitchen is a big part of a satisfying personal life.  

Learning how to cook at a young age is like learning how to drive. The younger you are when you begin the learning process the more ingrained and effortless the moves will be as you mature.  I use myself as an example.  I don’t even remember being taught by my mother.  A woman, by the way, who wasn’t by any measure a great cook.  However, she did get dinner on the table every single night of my childhood with very few exceptions.  So I learned the moves incrementally, effortlessly and naturally.

It started with pot banging.  Raised in a household where a “toy” was anything that would entertain me, I was encouraged to open the doors to the lower cupboard that held the pots, drag them out and bang on them with a wooden spoon made available to me for this purpose.  I don’t imagine mom understood that she was making a cook.  She was just trying to give me something to do where she could watch me while she made dinner.

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dumpling.jpgRecently my friend Alice, who is a very fine cook, e-mailed me the following:

“I am considering vegetarian pot-stickers for dinner. I’ve perfected the making of them — I have the innards tasting just right (not even like “oh, this is vegetarian) and I no longer swear like a sailor while trying to manage the wonton wrappers and the little cinching device from Williams Sonoma. I’ve learned to bring the wrappers to room temperature and oil the cinching device (and clean it and re-oil it as I go). Why am I telling you this? Because food is good and such a respite, from city and stress-inducing relatives and work and organizing one’s tax returns–and I know you get that.”

Alice has a husband, a child, a job, a house, and an academic appointment that involves commuting to and from Chicago every week during this time of year. Additionally, she and I are neighbors engaged in pitched battle against the city we live in, which is proposing large-scale development almost literally in our backyards. Although her husband was baffled about why she would choose to cook something so complicated when she had a day off from everything, I understood perfectly. Alice’s choice of culinotherapy is one I often make, and I am seldom sorry.

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ketchup.1.jpgThe supermaket shelves are lined with bbq sauces, ketchup, salad dressings, and marinades. Over the past couple of years, I have stopped purchasing almost everything and anything, such as the list above, that can easily be made with pantry ingredients. I have always made my own salad dressings, I keep jars of homemade barbeque sauce in the fridge, and making fresh salsa could not be easier. My freezer is filled to capacity with chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, marinara sauce, bolognese, pesto, doughs of all kinds, and red enchilada sauce.

I have spent the last three months trying my hand at ketchup. The first few batches were very “vinegary”. Others were too spicy. The rest were too thick. I have lots of ketchup that I can not throw away. I have found ways to use up the not-so-perfect ketchup. My BBQ sauce calls for 4 1/2 cups, I slather my turkey loaf with ketchup before baking, and my homemade baked beans uses 28 ounces of ketchup. Needless to say, I have a lot of barbeque sauce on hand. Who wants some?

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eggcoddler.jpgEvery once in a while I gain possession of some kitchen gadget or device that has fallen out of favor. Often despite my best intentions it just ends up on yet another shelf, unused, unloved. But aware of the risk, when my mother offered me her set of egg coddlers, I couldn't resist. They are so charming to look at that even if you swore off eggs you might want to put large blossoms in them for decorating a table or you could use them for serving jam or marmalade. They can also be used for heating up baby food.

Egg coddlers allow you to cook an egg to the consistency you like, and serve it up in a convenient and attractive manner. Personally I love the tecture of poached eggs, but there is no way to really get them dry enough once they emerge from their bath. I know Martha Stewart places them on the heels of bread and trims them just so, but they still seem drippy to me. I also like soft boiled eggs, but eating them out of the shell is a mess. I know they look cute in egg cups, but they really aren't that easy to crack the lids off and eat.

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