So what was I going to write about? Oh yeah, food. Kitchen stuff. Recipes. My great passion in life these days (after you guys, of course.)
To be honest, while I love to eat, I do not actually like to cook all that much. I mean, I like to cook more than I like to take the garbage can down to the road and more than I like to pick up all the puzzle pieces but less than I like sitting in the bathtub with a glass of wine.
Nor I am a particularly good cook. I know people who can look into the refrigerator and emerge with a divine clafouti (the last of the capers, the rind of a brie, a few olives- mon dieu it's amazing) but I am not one of them. I follow recipes with a grim determination and it is only after I have made the same thing over and over again for five years that I am able to start playing with it.
Still, despite my limitations, it would be hard for me to have spent as much time at anything as I have dedicated to making lunches and dinners and not emerge with a few ideas. As a lazy glutton I always try to make something that tastes as good as possible with the minimum amount of effort.
So, just in time for the holidays I offer the following thoughts (with gadget tips!):
For the most part I get recipes from cooking magazines. Fine Cooking is far and away the best one out there. The title makes it sound like it would be too haute for actual cuisine but in truth it is a very accessible, very good magazine. It could make an excellent gift, now that I think about it. I also get Bon Appetit and Cook's Illustrated, both of which have their moments. I can go months in a row with nothing appealing to me in either and then zing! they come up with a few things that work. Oh, and I have been receiving Food and Wine for some unknown reason. Have publishers just started sending out subscriptions at random (maybe they tell advertisers that they have a circulation in the millions and nobody bothers to notice that 200,000 copies are mailed every month to S. Claus, North Pole)? You would think, knowing my proclivities, that Food and Wine would be right up my alley but... I don't know. All of the recipes are a little over the top and I can never find the specific wines (Linda, I AM getting back to you, I swear) they mention. I am not much of a cookbook person, largely because I haven't found one that moved me since The Joy of Cooking. I am open to suggestions, though.
Oh, and in order to actually use the magazine recipes I have a system. A highly organized system that makes life happy and rich and melodious, as all organized things do.
First, I have a binder. The binder is divided into sensible categories like Entree- Beef or Side Dishes.
Then I have four plastic magazine holders that live in the kitchen cupboard next to the binder.
When Bon Appetit and Food and Wine arrive I sit down in front of a nice Timberwolves game and wield my mini box-cutter with alacrity. If a recipe sounds good I slice it out and tape it onto a piece of notebook paper, whereupon it gets put into the binder.
I cannot bring myself to cut up Cook's or Fine, so I just use a little sticky note on recipes that look good to me. Marked issues then get put into one of the magazine racks. If I knew you better I would confess that the sticky notes are colored-coded by food type, but I do not know you that well. So consider it unconfessed.
I start making my grocery list every week by flipping through the binder and the magazines, choosing (more or less) one seafood, one beef, one chicken, one pasta and one freebie. For some reason five planned meals always manages to cover the whole week around here. I know and love people who find the idea of planning a week's worth of meals appalling but for me the thought of revisiting the issue day after day... ugh.
It is a poorly kept secret in the family that I am more or less obsessed with eating, so I get a lot of cooking presents. Some of these are a waste of space but some actually make my life easier and for that I salute them -
THE LITTLE THINGS I LOVE:
Cuisinart mini-prep- My old one emitted an unpleasant burning smell when used, but I did not replace it until last week when a spectacular series of occurrences resulted in its plastic lid being cloven in two. I looked at the wreckage and promptly put my hat on to go out and buy a new one.
Odd-sized measuring cups and spoons- Williams-Sonoma sells a set of measuring cups in 2/3, 3/4 and 2 cup sizes. Ditto spoons in weird sizes like 2 TB. In addition to these I have three sets of normal 1/4 to 1 cup measuring cups and four sets of measuring spoons. Then I have the classic Pyrex 1 cup, 2 cup, 4 cup and 8 cup measuring cups and I use all of them all the time.
Hand chopper- Zyliss makes a great hand chopper. I seem to only use it for garlic but even then I use it all the time. I like the way you get to whack it over and over again until the garlic is nicely minced.
Spoon rest: Mine is a ceramic cat. At some point various people noticed that I cook AND have an abnormal quantity of cats, thus a shopping tradition was born (note: cat spoon rest and cat coasters and cat trivets and cat mugs... Shoot me.) You wouldn't think a spoon rest could make someone happy but it does.
Microplane graters - Um, just because they are cool.
Knives - An extra chef's knife (or two) never comes amiss.
Lots of rubber spatulas - Steve bought me about a dozen in various sizes a few years ago. Very useful so I hope Patrick gives them back soon.
THE MEDIUM THING I LOVE:
12 inch Stainless Steel saute pan- For YEARS I wondered why I could never get anything to brown properly and then I discovered it was the damned nonstick pans I was using. Not that nonstick doesn't have its place but you really need at least one stainless pan. I have heard tell of the new Calphalon ONE which supposedly offers nonstick convenience with the ability to brown. Anybody used one? Are they good?
BIG THINGS I LOVE:
Whole lotta refrigeration: Somehow we wound up with two refrigerators and I have to admit (since I thought it was really really stupid originally) that it is actually very nice indeed. I mean, when it isn't winter here. Now we can just open the door and put things outside to stay cold. It's a little like being an Eskimo.
Whole lotta ovens: This house has two wall ovens and I use the second one more than I thought I would. As a corollary it also has a five-burner stove and you know what? That is just one burner too many. I would rather have four plus a griddle. I'm just saying is all.
KitchenAid Standing Mixer: Makes double-batches of chocolate chip cookies BY ITSELF. Enough said. My in-laws sent it for Christmas last year and it is why I love them. Sort of.
THREE REALLY QUICK DINNERS:
Spaghetti and meat sauce- I will post a link to my spaghetti sauce recipe. I make it about once every two months (actually, I use the same sauce for lasagne so I double the recipe as I go and wind up with about 10 containers to freeze) so I always have some sauce in the freezer. When I am in a hurry I use capellini (also known as angel hair pasta) because it cooks in half the time as spaghetti. Defrost the one, boil the other - voila.
Jambalaya - Zatarain makes a decent boxed Jambalaya mix. I add andouille sausage (keeps in the freezer forever) or sautéed shrimp or leftover chicken to the rice mix. While it is cooking I chop some green peppers and celery and toss it in to the pan after it is done but before it has rested. Meal in a bowl. Don't be sparing with the Tabasco.
Scrambled eggs - Or an omelet if you don't want to stir it. Add: tomatoes, peppers, celery, cheese, ham, onion, sun-dried tomatoes...
Bread freezes really well. I buy interesting breads when I am at a bakery and store them for whenever.
Every so often I make double-batches of chocolate chip cookies (or rather, my standing mixer does) and scoop tablespoon-sized balls of dough onto baking sheets. I freeze the dough and throw the frozen balls into Ziploc bags. When we want chocolate chip cookies we just bake 'em frozen adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. I have to admit this does not make for excellent cookies but even a bad chocolate chip cookie is pretty good.
I keep the spices I use most in a drawer next to the stove, face up.
Steve and I drink whole milk. I tried a lower-fat milk once, 20 years ago, and it tasted weird. I have never gone back.
I had Steve cut a panel out of a silverware drawer thing-y for me. You know those things you can buy at Target that keep the silverware separated in a drawer? I bought an extra one and with the slight modification by Steve, it nicely holds my measuring spoons, measuring cups and strange cooking implements (like the pizza cutter) in a drawer on the other side of the stove.
I store my pot lids in the cabinet under the stove in an aluminum dish draining rack (any day now I am going to send this winning tip into Cook's Illustrated and get my free year's subscription- so don't steal it or I will not get my name in the front with its own black-and-white drawing and I will be pissed.)
I used to make 13x9" lasagnes but we got sick of eating it before we were close to finished with the whole thing. Then it occurred to me to make two 9x9" pans instead. I bake one the day I make it and freeze the other, unbaked. I have since extended this to other things, like enchiladas and everything casserole-y.