Thursday, October 05, 2006

Confessions Of A Kitchen Junkie ...

The other day, my latest issue of Cook's Illustrated arrived. That night, I got ready for bed, issue in hand, and read the entire thing. Normally, when I read in bed, I throw in the towel within a few minutes. But when I'm reading about making Multigrain Pancakes Worth Eating or Updating Green Bean Casserole or answering the question on the mind of all cooks - Are Italian Olive Oils Really That Good? (The answer, in a word, is "No." The top two recommended brands are from Spain.) - I am rapt with attention.

My father balked when my mom wanted to buy a commercial range. Mom agonized over the decision - really - feeling pangs of guilt over laying out that kind of dough for six burners, a 24-inch griddle/broiler, and two commercial ovens. But eventually, she allowed herself the luxury (this was many years ago, before everyone and their brother started buying commercial ranges for their homes), contenting herself with the knowledge that she could cook and bake and share with family and friends. Which she does. All the time.

The point is, my father thought she was nuts to shell out that kind of money for a stove, but my brother Paul said, "Dad, when it comes to the kitchen, let mom have anything she wants." My mom is a phenomenal cook. She and I poke around housewares sections like he and my brother would poke around a hardware store. Dad finally came to understand that kitchen gadgets are our tools.

When L.A. Dave announced that he needed a garlic press, I insisted he buy a Zyliss. I gave one to English Teacher Dave years ago and he dubbed it the "garlic gun." I have a Zyliss cheese grater, too, like the kind you see in Italian restaurants everywhere, but I'm in love with my Microplane and the fluffy piles of grated cheese it yields. Yes, I have more than one set of measuring spoons, and so should you. I own a tomato shark, but I don't use it to core tomatoes. I use it to make perfect indentations in cookies. I love my toast tongs. Gadgets make me happy.

I am not an indescriminate buyer of gadgets, however. Oh, no. All gadgets are not created equal. Some gadgets are stupid. You do not need an egg separator (use the eggshells or your hand). You do not need an orange scorer (use a paring knife). You do not need a lettuce knife (lettuce should be torn).

But then there are gadgets that walk the line. Take, for instance, Williams-Sonoma's Personalized Silicone Spatulas. That's right: Personalized Silicone Spatulas. Now, silicone spatulas are nifty. I have one. (Mom bought it for me.) They can withstand really high temperatures and they stay nice and pliable, but why in God's name would you feel the need to personalize the handles? Do you have a history of loaning out silicone spatulas and not getting them back? Do you possess such silicone spatula pride that you must share it with the world (or those in your kitchen, anyway)? "... we’ll be happy to personalize their maple handles with your choice of name, monogram or short message" says the web site. Huh? What short message would you put on a spatula handle? Well, according to the accompanying photo, you might want to say "Chuck's Kitchen." You have 24 characters worth of message to play with. Start thinking of clever slogans now. Or don't. Because you don't need spatulas with messages on them, or monograms, or names.

On the other side of the "need it/don't need it" line is the Unicorn Minimill. How cute is this thing? If you're a pepper snob - and if you're a foodie, being a pepper snob is baked right into your DNA - you need this. That pepper dust that can be found in pepper shakers on restaurant tables everywhere is not pepper. Yes, technically, it's pepper, but in flavor, it's pepper dust. The volatile oils in pepper are at their peak the minute the pepper is ground, and then it's all downhill from there. At home, of course, you can grind pepper to your heart's content, but in restaurants, you're either stuck with the pepper dust, or you're at the mercy of the pepper man, who kindly offers freshly ground pepper but who never asks what kind of grind you like. And in my experience, it's always set for a coarse grind, and I end up biting into little pepper boulders. I don't like little pepper boulders. But with this lil' guy, I can have my pepper just the way I like it, and it'll taste like pepper, too. And it's just about the size of a lipstick!

And then there's my Calphalon colander. Years ago, I bought one for my father to give to my mother. Then, it was $75. I just looked at and the site doesn't even offer a Calphalon colander. Maybe Calphalon stopped making them, recognizing that they were ridiculous. But mom loved hers, and I loved hers so much that she bought one for me later that year. We decided that they were the kitchen equivalent of Academy Awards. I almost never used mine. It stayed in the cabinet and I grabbed my cheapie red mesh colander for everyday draining chores. Until the day that I noticed that my red mesh colander was rusting. So into the recycle bin it went, and I thought, "Well, I need to buy a new colander," and then I remembered that I had a $75 colander that I never used sitting among my other Calphalon. So now I use it. And my friends are impressed when they see it. It really is rather beautiful.

Someday, it will look nice next to my Oscar.


Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

They can withstand really high temperatures and they stay nice and pliable, but why in God's name would you feel the need to personalize the handles?

I'll get a set for my wife: Happy Anniversary! She'll love it (as he grabs the blanket and pillow and heads down to the couch for the night).

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree on the egg separator. Need it~ especially if it's the style with the little indentations that allow it to hang on the edge of your measuring cup or bowl. Pampered Chef makes a great one. Sure, you can use the eggshells, but why make things difficult when there's a handy little tool that does it for you?

2:18 PM  

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