Cooking and Gadgets

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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From the L.A. Times

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Value is a relative concept. Just ask the folks at Lehman Brothers. But when it comes to ingredients and kitchen tools that beckon to the enthusiastic home cook, it's important to the bottom line -- in this case, a great meal -- to take a look at what's really worth your hard-earned cash -- and what isn't.

We scrutinized our kitchens and the merchandise. Our thumbs-up, thumbs-down verdicts on a couple of dozen popular or hyped cooking items follow. No apologies – we're opinionated. Some gadgets and goodies are grossly overvalued, others just don't get their due. We considered cost, efficacy and practicality – as well as the happiness factor. Because for a true chocoholic, a 3.5-ounce bar of Michel Cluizel Noir de Cacao 72% cacao really is worth $6.

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ImageI’ve been working in the kitchen like a galley slave for the last few weeks – since before the holidays, actually, and it’s time for a parole.

Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking – every aspect of it: I love schlepping the four heavy grocery bags (“Don’t forget – we need six bottles of San Pellegrino”) through the slush-filled rivers at each corner on Broadway; I love the insistent bump of the grocery cart into my Achilles tendon during the holiday rush at Fairway; I love the cutting, the chopping, the blanching, the browning. Oh God, do I have to make another battuto? I have battuto nightmares with hostile little cubes of celery coming at me brandishing Wüsthofs. I’ve got to get out of the kitchen.

Do you know battuto, by the way? It’s the Italian version of a mirapoix – onion, celery and carrot are the basics; sometimes you add parsley and sometimes even a bit of pancetta – and you cut them into small dice. A battuto is the beginning to many a good meal, the first step in recipes from pasta sauces to osso buco. A good rule to remember is that it’s always twice the volume of onion to each other veg. i.e. a half cup onions; a quarter cup carrots; a quarter cup celery; quarter cup parsley. You can’t go wrong. Put it all in a hot pan with butter and oil (or lard) and you’re off to the races.

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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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ImageWhen I was very young, one of my favorite books was The Campbell Kids at Home. While it may have lacked the pathos of another favorite on my list, The  Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, I found it equally fascinating. The narrative was slight, no more than a frame story, but I read the recipes over and over again, and I considered it my cookbook.

The Campbell Kids at Home was published in 1954 by Rand McNally; the back cover lists it as one of its “Famous Book-Elf books,” and it was just one of dozens of the Campbell Soup Company’s product tie-ins in the fifties. Part of the post- WW II surge in advertising, the company had already been involved with promotional objects since the start of the 20th century, and you can still send in soup labels in exchange for calendars, bowls, and mugs, although the Kids themselves have slimmed down quite a bit. (The “Kids” always go by this capitalized designation; they have no first names—and they always speak as one.) While I still have the book—my older daughter also went through a period of obsession with it—I destroyed all potential (hefty) re-sale value by inserting my name into the title on the first page. (But isn’t that what we do with books we love? Don’t we want to climb right into them and join in the adventure?)

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