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Joy of Cooking – Gadgets

kitchen-decoded-book-coverWhile I received several beloved small kitchen appliances for shower and wedding gifts nearly a half-century ago, most of them were resigned to the graveyard for kitchen gadgets over the years. I abandoned the electric can opener decades ago, along with the electric wok and labor-intensive turn-the-crank ice cream maker. If one of my small appliances was left abandoned in the cabinet above the refrigerator, or to the garage shelf behind the holiday décor, it was out of sight and out of mind. Those items never made the trip on the many moving vans as our family drove or flew to our new home. If it did get packed for the move, it may have stayed packed. Mice and spiders found cozy homes in tangled cords or Teflon coatings, and entire boxes were tossed into dumpsters in eventual clean-outs.

There are, of course, those favorite kitchen gadgets that I adore and use often. In the 1970s, I served my sister-in-law Minute Rice for dinner. She was the daughter of Japanese-Hawaiian parents, and she promptly gifted me with a Panasonic rice cooker that Christmas. (Rice, after all, is a sacred dish to be cooked properly!) I’ve cherished that cooker for nearly fifty years, and amazingly, it still works perfectly after hundreds of uses.

In the mid-80s, I joined millions of home cooks around the world who added Cuisinart food processors and KitchenAid stand mixers to their culinary repertoire. I took classes in the local mall’s cooking school, perfecting pie crust and pizza dough. I abused and overused both the food processor and mixer to their deaths, but happily replaced both of them recently. The Kitchen Decoded, by Logan Levant and Hilary Hattenback, published in 2014, is a perfect introduction to kitchen tools and accessories such as the food processor and stand mixer. The book is a “fun, new cookbook with chapters organized according to gadgets and appliances, and accompanying recipes that can be prepared with each tool.”

This past holiday, I found myself using many of my favorite countertop time-savers as they played musical chairs, coming and going from their cozy storage places in cabinets and closets to space on the countertops. We have a family holiday tradition of squeezing fresh orange juice on Christmas morning, so the electric juicer shared space with the automatic bread maker. The ice cream compressor was later replaced by the pasta machine which was then replaced by my trusty rice cooker an hour before dinner.

Immediately after our early holiday breakfast opening gifts, my young granddaughters ooohed and ahhhed as red-and-white-striped peppermint chunks slowly churned into creamy vanilla ice cream. It all turned decidedly pink and when the compressor was done- the luscious frozen cream was packed into the freezer to harden. I started with the basic recipe in Jeni Britton Bauer’s 2011 Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. It’s my go-to book for delicious homemade treats.

Later that morning, we slowly poured a mixture of water, eggs and oil into semolina flour that rotated in the Phillips pasta machine. The girls excitedly awaited the moment they could begin to cut the emerging macaroni into uneven lengths that don’t seem to matter when they are mixed with cheese sauce to become Boxing Day’s macaroni and cheese. At the same time, my daughter arranged meaty lamb chops in the sous vide water bath so that they could slow-cook to perfect tenderness for a few hours in the afternoon. Before dinner, we would sear them on the gas stovetop until all six sides were crispy. The best thing about the sous vide process is that food can sit for hours at a warm temperature, awaiting just that right moment of preparation for the table.

A great book for anyone wanting to try out sous vide equipment and recipes is Hugh Acheson’s latest book published in 2019, Sous Vide: Better Home Cooking. Acheson has been a professional chef for years and at first he scoffed at younger chefs who used the sous vide technique in restaurants. Over time though, he realized that the sous vide method also had a huge impact on preparation and on taste and he has written this book for home chefs.

Later in the afternoon, I guarded the stand mixer as it creamed sugar and eggs and flour, and blended in and fruit for a spongy orange-cranberry cake. As my husband Gerry cleaned and dried each kitchen gadget, lifting it to its storage place, I swept flour and baking powder dust from the floor and washed butter, sugar and egg drippings from the counters. I wondered how 19th and 20th century grandmothers managed to get everything done in time for holiday dinners. Did they smile and grimace as little ones insisted on helping? I imagined that an army of cousins in huge households of extended families entertained the littlest ones, while the older ones took on tasks of cutting fruit and vegetables or creaming butter and sugar with a rotary beater. Gerry tells me of watching his Italian grandmother roll pasta into thin sheets with a clean broom handle, cutting it precisely while using that same handle as a straight edge.

Speaking of Gerry, he came home a few weeks ago with an Instant Pot. Giving in to chatter about this recent phenomenon (a recent and safer alternative to the pressure cookers of the past), he thought it would be fun to figure out how to use it. Facebook Instant Pot 101 posts rave about its miracles. “You’ll want at least two or three of them!” or “You’ll never use your oven again!” I took it out of the box and made several attempts to use it. I am not convinced that it will become one of my cherished kitchen gadgets. An entire chicken took nearly as long as it would have if it had been roasted in the oven (after allowing for browning, cooking, and pressure-release). This new Blueberry French Toast had no crisp or crunch that I expected of my oven-baked rendition.

Perhaps I just need more time and a few books from the library. The Instant Pot Bible (“the only book you need”), by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, might be useful, and my daughter swears by the Instant Pot Vegetarian Cookbook by Nadine Greeff. With time and plenty of books from the library, anything is possible in my kitchen, and in yours, as well. Happy new year of joyful cooking.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, MA. Look for her article in the January 9th, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.


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