vrai-lean-uh

Cooking, eating, making sweeping pronouncements

Posts tagged implements

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My New Digital Scale

For a long time, I had a quaint and charming kitchen scale, the kind with the big dial and a bowl that you filled with food. To tare the scale, you had to reach under the bowl and carefully twist a little dial. It measured in pounds, not ounces, so there was a lot of mental math involved (I need six ounces of chocolate, and there are sixteen ounces in a pound, which means I’m aiming for…two very short hash marks north of the slightly longer hash mark). You were shit out of luck if you were interested in grams. This is America, for God’s sake.

And then I joined the leagues of Michael Ruhlman followers and drug dealers and metric system devotees and got myself a digital scale. It’s so great.

For my People’s Pops review I cut all the recipes in half, since my popsicle molds were smaller than the ones used in the book. It was convenient to just stick my bowl onto the scale and add strawberries til I got to 8 ounces, but I could have made that happen on my own. But then I got to the Pumpkin Pie pop recipe that called for simmering spices in 11 ounces of simple syrup (1 1/3 cups), which meant I needed 5 1/2 ounces of simple syrup to go into saucepan (or half a cup and half of a third of a cup, which is a lot of measuring cups for a popsicle recipe). But I just put my small saucepan on the scale, turned the scale on (meaning the weight of the container was subtracted, or tared), and poured in simple syrup til I got to 5 1/2 ounces.

It also takes up a lot less space in the kitchen, or would, if we got rid of our old scale.

We bought it with frequent flier miles that were about to expire on an airline that we don’t really ever fly anymore, but I think similar models go for $40 or so on Amazon.

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This is my vegetable brush.
A while back I read a book in which the protagonist was Indian, living in Britain for school. He sent his mother, who was still in India, a vegetable peeler as a gift (or he went back to visit for the first time with a number of gifts from London, among them a vegetable peeler). When he visited, not only did no one like the Western dishes he cooked, he discovered that his mother never used the peeler because she thought it was wasteful (why throw away all that good carrot?).*
Entirely aside from the story and British imperialism and the general conviction of young people that they know better than their parents, I was struck that the mother was right. Peeling a carrot is wasteful! And yeah, I guess you can save the carrot peelings for stock, but then why not just eat them in the first place?
Because I am a product of my culture, I bought a kitchen gadget to facilitate my new, less-wasteful lifestyle. I think I picked this up at LeRoux Kitchen for a few dollars, but it could just as well have come from Sur la Table or any other kitchen store of that ilk. In any case, it helps me scrub carrots and potatoes and other root vegetables that I’m not going to peel but that tend to be covered in dirt. Every once in a while I toss it in the dishwasher. I like it a lot.
Moral of story: Stop peeling everything.
* This would be better if I could actually remember the book. Obviously it was written with more grace than I’ve cobbled together here.

This is my vegetable brush.

A while back I read a book in which the protagonist was Indian, living in Britain for school. He sent his mother, who was still in India, a vegetable peeler as a gift (or he went back to visit for the first time with a number of gifts from London, among them a vegetable peeler). When he visited, not only did no one like the Western dishes he cooked, he discovered that his mother never used the peeler because she thought it was wasteful (why throw away all that good carrot?).*

Entirely aside from the story and British imperialism and the general conviction of young people that they know better than their parents, I was struck that the mother was right. Peeling a carrot is wasteful! And yeah, I guess you can save the carrot peelings for stock, but then why not just eat them in the first place?

Because I am a product of my culture, I bought a kitchen gadget to facilitate my new, less-wasteful lifestyle. I think I picked this up at LeRoux Kitchen for a few dollars, but it could just as well have come from Sur la Table or any other kitchen store of that ilk. In any case, it helps me scrub carrots and potatoes and other root vegetables that I’m not going to peel but that tend to be covered in dirt. Every once in a while I toss it in the dishwasher. I like it a lot.

Moral of story: Stop peeling everything.

* This would be better if I could actually remember the book. Obviously it was written with more grace than I’ve cobbled together here.

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Stock Pot with Pasta Insert

All-Clad Stainless Multi-Cooker from Crate and Barrel

I just came into possession of one and it is wonderful.

A few caveats:

1. I don’t think you need a stock pot with a pasta insert to cook pasta. That’s what a colander is for.

2. I think the vegetable steamer insert is kind of useless, because you can more efficiently steam vegetables in a smaller pot with one of those silicon steamers and save yourself washing a huge stock pot.

3. You don’t need to buy an All-Clad version, you could get something much cheaper. I think Marshall’s or TJ Maxx often have reasonable options.*

It is, however, incredibly useful for making stock. As Jolie “A Clean Person" Kerr pointed out recently on the Awl, the big hassle in making stock is straining. And I’m a little neurotic about straining, which makes it even more of a pain in the ass (I strain twice— once to remove the big chunks of bone and vegetables and then another time with a cloth laid over a fine mesh strainer to get the little bits of particulate). It’s just a logistical hassle that often results in dripped chicken stock everywhere and the dog compulsively licking the floor for the next day or so (followed by investigative licks every few days for the rest of his life).

But! When you use the pasta insert, you just lift out the pasta insert along with all the bones and vegetables! Then you’re just left with the fine-grain straining, which you can do directly into a measuring cup. It’s fantastic! It makes such a big difference in the whole process.

A few points now if you’re considering making this purchase:

1. I would strongly urge you to get a very large stockpot. I make chicken stock once every two or three months, and I don’t really want to make it more often that that. I also really want to use up all the chicken carcasses in my freezer in one go, you know?

2. I would also strongly urge you to get a stainless steel version rather than a non-stick version.** I don’t know why they even make non-stick stockpots. Nothing in a stockpot should ever be sticking. It’s not like you’re cooking eggs in the thing. Non-stick finishes are finicky and could possibly be poisoning you. You can’t ever use metal implements with them, and you shouldn’t be stacking them when you store them, and ultimately, they’re going to get scratched up or wear out anyway and you’ll have to replace them. I only buy a non-stick pan if it’s really, really worth it to me (see: one skillet for cooking eggs). A decent stainless steel version will last forever and your children can give it to your grandchildren when you die.

* I restrained myself from getting into a long and involved discussion of my feelings about buying super expensive cookware.

** I refrained from the expensive-cookware diatribe in order to save room for the pointlessness-of-nonstick-cookware discussion.

Filed under implements justsayjolie

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A while back Mark Bittman posted a picture of his kitchen. It’s a totally normal New York kitchen, in that it is approximately the size of my desk here in Maine. But this is where Mark Bittman, he of How to Cook Everything, presumably cooks everything.
I started cooking for reals when I was in college. There was a series of TINY New York kitchens (they were not actually “kitchens” so much as “miniature versions of traditional kitchen equipment shoved into a narrow hallway”). There was a kitchen in London that was fine sized but so atrociously filthy due to my roommates that I once got through the entire process of making myself a sandwich for the bus ride to Bath while standing on the remains of a broken glass. I still cooked.
In other words, you dance with who brung you.
My current kitchen is actually really lovely, except that if my oven had its way it would cook everything on “incinerate.” Which of course reminds me that one of the things I make sure to always have with me when I move is my oven thermometer.
Ovens are not consistent in temperature. I know, they have that knob that has the temperatures on it. But in my experience, there is no reason to think that that knob is anything but the vaguest suggestion. I turn that thing to 250 and my oven reacts approximately like a car full teenagers to a speed limit 30 sign.
So I am incredibly grateful for my oven thermometer. It is grimy and beat up and cheap, but it keeps me from broiling my rice pudding.
(I found an OXO version at Crate and Barrel for $15, but I think you can pick one up at a hardware store or Target for less.)

A while back Mark Bittman posted a picture of his kitchen. It’s a totally normal New York kitchen, in that it is approximately the size of my desk here in Maine. But this is where Mark Bittman, he of How to Cook Everything, presumably cooks everything.

I started cooking for reals when I was in college. There was a series of TINY New York kitchens (they were not actually “kitchens” so much as “miniature versions of traditional kitchen equipment shoved into a narrow hallway”). There was a kitchen in London that was fine sized but so atrociously filthy due to my roommates that I once got through the entire process of making myself a sandwich for the bus ride to Bath while standing on the remains of a broken glass. I still cooked.

In other words, you dance with who brung you.

My current kitchen is actually really lovely, except that if my oven had its way it would cook everything on “incinerate.” Which of course reminds me that one of the things I make sure to always have with me when I move is my oven thermometer.

Ovens are not consistent in temperature. I know, they have that knob that has the temperatures on it. But in my experience, there is no reason to think that that knob is anything but the vaguest suggestion. I turn that thing to 250 and my oven reacts approximately like a car full teenagers to a speed limit 30 sign.

So I am incredibly grateful for my oven thermometer. It is grimy and beat up and cheap, but it keeps me from broiling my rice pudding.

(I found an OXO version at Crate and Barrel for $15, but I think you can pick one up at a hardware store or Target for less.)

Filed under implements oven

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I am constantly hearing about how I shouldn’t have extraneous stuff in my kitchen and pare down and live a cleaner, less cluttered life. And I so want to be the kind of person who’s all, yes, I just have a cast iron skillet and one knife and a strainer and I just make do otherwise with a fork and my bare hands. But you know what? I lived in New York and had a studio kitchen that consisted of one section of a wall that was less than 3 feet wide, including the oven and sink (there was an eight inch sliver of countertop and the mini-fridge was in the “living room”). It sucked. I now have a whole ass room because I live in Maine and I’m going to enjoy my ridiculous kitchen tools* that each has almost an entire shelf of its own. I also don’t have a KitchenAid mixer or a toaster oven, basically exclusively so that when I feel uncomfortable about having so much kitchen space I can make myself feel better by saying Well, I don’t have a KitchenAid mixer. I also don’t have a yogurt maker, which I think I would enjoy a lot.
So the ricer. I bought this sucker when I made sweet potato gnocchi (they were fantastic). Since purchasing it, I forgot about mashed potatoes entirely, and how creamy mashed potatoes satisfy some sort of elemental hunger, so it has lived in solitude in a high cabinet for at least a year. Last night, though, I remembered about mashed potatoes and ignored Dave’s contention that he kind of likes chunky potatoes, and I whipped that sucker out of its cabinet and we had awesome awesome mashed potatoes.
I left the skins on, though, in a nod towards healthful eating and textural variety.
So the ricer is basically like a gigantic garlic press and it is the best way to get smooth mashed potatoes.
(Cut potatoes into 1 1/2” chunks— I leave the skins on, but you could peel them. Boil for 15 - 20 minutes maybe, or until tender. Drain. Press through the ricer. Add butter, maybe 3 tablespoons, some warmed milk, garlic if you like it, salt, and pepper. Stir.)
* Individually, I will deny that any of them are ridiculous to my last breath. In the last move, however, I was impressed by the sheer mass of the kitchen stuff.

I am constantly hearing about how I shouldn’t have extraneous stuff in my kitchen and pare down and live a cleaner, less cluttered life. And I so want to be the kind of person who’s all, yes, I just have a cast iron skillet and one knife and a strainer and I just make do otherwise with a fork and my bare hands. But you know what? I lived in New York and had a studio kitchen that consisted of one section of a wall that was less than 3 feet wide, including the oven and sink (there was an eight inch sliver of countertop and the mini-fridge was in the “living room”). It sucked. I now have a whole ass room because I live in Maine and I’m going to enjoy my ridiculous kitchen tools* that each has almost an entire shelf of its own. I also don’t have a KitchenAid mixer or a toaster oven, basically exclusively so that when I feel uncomfortable about having so much kitchen space I can make myself feel better by saying Well, I don’t have a KitchenAid mixer. I also don’t have a yogurt maker, which I think I would enjoy a lot.

So the ricer. I bought this sucker when I made sweet potato gnocchi (they were fantastic). Since purchasing it, I forgot about mashed potatoes entirely, and how creamy mashed potatoes satisfy some sort of elemental hunger, so it has lived in solitude in a high cabinet for at least a year. Last night, though, I remembered about mashed potatoes and ignored Dave’s contention that he kind of likes chunky potatoes, and I whipped that sucker out of its cabinet and we had awesome awesome mashed potatoes.

I left the skins on, though, in a nod towards healthful eating and textural variety.

So the ricer is basically like a gigantic garlic press and it is the best way to get smooth mashed potatoes.

(Cut potatoes into 1 1/2” chunks— I leave the skins on, but you could peel them. Boil for 15 - 20 minutes maybe, or until tender. Drain. Press through the ricer. Add butter, maybe 3 tablespoons, some warmed milk, garlic if you like it, salt, and pepper. Stir.)

* Individually, I will deny that any of them are ridiculous to my last breath. In the last move, however, I was impressed by the sheer mass of the kitchen stuff.

Filed under mashed potatoes ricer implements

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Large Fine Mesh Strainer
Today, in Kitchen Implements That I Love, the fine mesh strainer.  This looks almost exactly like the strainer I have, but I have a hard time imagining that I spent nearly fifty dollars on a strainer.  On the other hand, I use this thing nearly every day, so it was probably worth it even if I did.
I’m sure you can find a cheaper one out there, but make sure it’s large and has a fine mesh.  Also, see the little mini-handle in the picture above, on the bottom left-hand corner?  That’s really important, because it allows you to rest the strainer over a pot.
You can use this to:
Rinse beans, grains, etc, including things that are very small, like quinoa.  You want one large enough that you can fit a pound of beans in it.
Drain beans, grains, pasta, etc.
Sift flour (heh.  I never sift flour except when I’m making biscuits.)
Wash/rinse vegetables.
Strain stock.  You can use it once to get the big chunks of meat and vegetables out, then line it with cheesecloth or other not-super-tightly-woven cloth to do a second strain.
Strain custards.
SO MUCH MORE.
My mum doesn’t have one of these, which I forget almost every time I’m cooking at her house, and then I wonder how anyone could not have one of these because it is so useful. 

Large Fine Mesh Strainer

Today, in Kitchen Implements That I Love, the fine mesh strainer.  This looks almost exactly like the strainer I have, but I have a hard time imagining that I spent nearly fifty dollars on a strainer.  On the other hand, I use this thing nearly every day, so it was probably worth it even if I did.

I’m sure you can find a cheaper one out there, but make sure it’s large and has a fine mesh.  Also, see the little mini-handle in the picture above, on the bottom left-hand corner?  That’s really important, because it allows you to rest the strainer over a pot.

You can use this to:

  • Rinse beans, grains, etc, including things that are very small, like quinoa.  You want one large enough that you can fit a pound of beans in it.
  • Drain beans, grains, pasta, etc.
  • Sift flour (heh.  I never sift flour except when I’m making biscuits.)
  • Wash/rinse vegetables.
  • Strain stock.  You can use it once to get the big chunks of meat and vegetables out, then line it with cheesecloth or other not-super-tightly-woven cloth to do a second strain.
  • Strain custards.
  • SO MUCH MORE.

My mum doesn’t have one of these, which I forget almost every time I’m cooking at her house, and then I wonder how anyone could not have one of these because it is so useful. 

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This is one of my microplane zesters.  I use it all the time.  Zest in everything.  I love it.  You can buy them everywhere.  Buy one now if you don’t already have one.

This is one of my microplane zesters.  I use it all the time.  Zest in everything.  I love it.  You can buy them everywhere.  Buy one now if you don’t already have one.

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This is one of my absolute favorite kitchen tools ever, and I love it and if you don’t have kitchen tongs you are SERIOUSLY missing out.  They’re so useful all the time! 
One of the big tong debates* is whether to go with all metal or silicone/nylon tips.  The all-metal likely have better grip, but the silicone ones can go in all range of pans and cookware. 
Sometimes I find myself standing in the kitchen absentmindedly opening and closing the tongs like lobster claws.
* I have no idea whether that’s a real debate.  I based that comment largely on the fact that I had a small debate inside my head when I was trying to figure out which tongs to get years ago.

This is one of my absolute favorite kitchen tools ever, and I love it and if you don’t have kitchen tongs you are SERIOUSLY missing out.  They’re so useful all the time! 

One of the big tong debates* is whether to go with all metal or silicone/nylon tips.  The all-metal likely have better grip, but the silicone ones can go in all range of pans and cookware. 

Sometimes I find myself standing in the kitchen absentmindedly opening and closing the tongs like lobster claws.

* I have no idea whether that’s a real debate.  I based that comment largely on the fact that I had a small debate inside my head when I was trying to figure out which tongs to get years ago.

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Perhaps you noticed this in my earlier photo?  This is my favorite oven mitt ever.  Not necessarily because it’s the greatest at protecting your hand from heat (it’s okay, sometimes things get uncomfortably warm), but because it is A SHARK.  It makes me happy all the time, and I’ve had it for a while.
You can buy it for just under $8 at Sur La Table.  They also have one shaped like a salmon, and one shaped like a lobster claw.  I bought the shark because that’s the way I roll in the kitchen.  No one respects you when you’ve got a salmon on your hand, but when it’s a shark, watch out!

Perhaps you noticed this in my earlier photo?  This is my favorite oven mitt ever.  Not necessarily because it’s the greatest at protecting your hand from heat (it’s okay, sometimes things get uncomfortably warm), but because it is A SHARK.  It makes me happy all the time, and I’ve had it for a while.

You can buy it for just under $8 at Sur La Table.  They also have one shaped like a salmon, and one shaped like a lobster claw.  I bought the shark because that’s the way I roll in the kitchen.  No one respects you when you’ve got a salmon on your hand, but when it’s a shark, watch out!

Filed under implements