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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Monday, December 27, 2010

monique's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets

According to Monique, nothing says "dinner's ready" like her smoke alarm

Saturday, December 25, 2010

mame's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets

"These cookie cutters were given to me by my Aunt Bobo...over 70 years ago." Photos by Pete Brill.
There is nothing cookie cutter about my mother-in-law Nadine, known by everyone in the family as Mame. Her good deeds, as well as her cookies, are legend in her family and in her community of Newark, New York, in the FIngerlakes. Each year she bakes up dozens upon dozens of cookies, using cookie cutters from her childhood and the boxes full of others she's collected over the years. While snow from lake effect dusted the house, we'd be frosting dozens of cookies and decorating them with all types of confections - sprinkles, candy stars, chocolate kisses, etc. You cannot help but love them, and love her for all of the energy she puts in to ensuring that everyone has a delicious little taste of the holiday spirit. 
Mame's been using these cookie cutters over 70 years These cookie cutters were given to my by my Aunt Bobo, Bertha. I used to go to her house and we’d bake cookies and other things  – my mother didn’t do those things with me because of her illness. I started baking with Bertha, oh, it must be 70 years ago. These cookie cutters are metal with wooden handles, and my favorite is a Christmas tree. They are a little bent but work for my many sessions of baking.

Every Christmas for as long as I’ve been married, which is 60 years, I bake dozens and dozens of cookies for my family and friends. Everyone gets involved. My kids spent every Christmas decorating cookies. One year Peter brought home a friend, and we went out leaving her to decorate some cookies. When we got home she had frosting all over her clothes, in her hair, and she looked a little green. She ate ate more frosting than she put on the cookies - I’ll never forget that!  I also bake cookies on other special occasions, like Valentine’s Day and Halloween and send them to my grandchildren.

I bake cookies weekly for the children at Grandma’s Room, a special room at our local elementary school where kids go to get hugs and a little extra help. Over the years I’ve collected cookie cutters, and I now have a box about 3’ X 6” filled with them.
Mame's Christmas Cookies

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoons vanilla
4-5 cups of flower
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 TB salt
Whisk softened butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time with vanilla.
Sift 41/2 cups flour together baking powder and salt.
Mix together to form a dough, roll into ball and let it refrigerate several hours.
Sprinkle flour on board and roll out the dough. Cut cookies and bake for 7-10 minutes – dark pans take less time.
Frost with your favorite sprinkles, confectioner’s sugar frosting, etc.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

karren's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"Any association with Johnny Depp brings joy to my heart."
Karren gets a grip on her favorite gadget My sister, brother, and I used to love this old Peanuts cartoon of Snoopy dancing down a long hallway. A succession of 30 short scenes of just darling Snoopy prancing along, accompanied by one simple word—"Click".  Down the whole long hallway….Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click,Click,Click,Click…and then finally at the end of the page…Toenails!  We would read it aloud to each other and just howl with laughter when we got to the… Toenails!
I reminisce because I was thinking of why, beyond its infinite versatility and convenience, the age-old kitchen tongs brings me so much joy? Then it occurred to me that it makes the same Click, Click, Click, Click, Click sound as Snoopy’s err…toenails.
Another strange connection I have with the beloved tongs is with Edward Scissorhands/Johnny Depp. Any association with Johnny Depp brings joy to my heart. And I guess the thought of us cutting and clicking away with our sterling silver appendages sends me in a whirl.
All of the fantasies aside, the hard cold fact is that my love for the kitchen tongs began during a past life as a part-owner/slave of a restaurant and lodge in the Adirondack Mountains. “Friends and frolic in the heart of the Adirondacks” was our motto. We had over 200 bunk beds—the most beds in the North East, Dimitri was fond of exclaiming in his thick Greek accent.  Anyone who ever cooked breakfast for 200 hungry mountain- and ice-climbing lodgers is familiar with the spitfire pace and intensity of a simple country breakfast.
5AM the sun is rising, the air is crackling, a coyote is howling—yes folks, a coyote will be howling as you frolic in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains at 5 AM. The eggs are cracking, the bread is baking, and soon the doors are opening to 200 strapping beasts.
That’s when the tongs get clicking. Of course I’d wash them at each new turn, but the pace was fast and furious. Click—turn the bacon, Click—grab the home fries, Click—flip the eggs, Click—flick the French toast, Click—unravel the waffle, Click—retrieve the toast…When things were really hopping, I’d be known to break out in a Spanish dance…swirling in the kitchen joyously clicking my castanedas. Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…Kitchen Tongs!

Poem by Jeanne Marie Beaumont

When I Am in the Kitchen
by Jeanne Marie Beaumont
I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend's
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt's sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit 
the silverware of my husband's grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother's 
teapot, my mother's Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law's Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin's egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father's hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, "sift and mix dry ingredients"
with his note that this makes "3 waffles in our
large pan" and around that our an unbearable
round stain—of egg yolk or melted butter?—
that once defined a world.

wendy's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"Maybe it’s because I got it from a Welcome Wagon Lady many years ago..." 
Wendy's essential Sockarooni Sauce jar openerOut of a deep drawer full of assorted gadgets (including some with still-unknown identities), there’s one that I’ve never been able to part with, through multiple kitchen purgings…my yellow rubber Am Pro Jar-Opener.
Maybe it’s because I got it from a Welcome Wagon Lady when I moved into my house many years ago (do Welcome Wagons exist anymore, even in Ohio?) Mostly, though, it’s just darn handy…reliably helps me get a grip when I need it the most.
Some culinary purists might argue that a floppy rubber disk doesn’t qualify as a true kitchen gadget. But as one who shamelessly uses Newman’s Own Sockarooni Sauce as an essential ingredient for home-made chili, it’s been a meal prep lifesaver.
I’ve attempted to upgrade my jar opening image: acquired a more impressive tool from my mother in law’s old kitchen.
I even bought a still-unopened package of shiny new Progressive Grips (can jars really be politically liberal?)
But despite being torn up and slightly grimy, my Am Pro original has prevailed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

bill's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"...the Panasonic SR-NA 18...Sure, it looks like a fugitive alien from a Pixar movie...but I LOVE it!"
Bill makes an airtight case for the rice cookerBeing partially of Middle Eastern descent, rice has always been my staple staple, favored over potatoes and pasta. I have cooked it for over thirty years according to the directions of my grandmother and mother - 2:1 water to white long grain rice, a can of tomato sauce. Oh, I have changed the tablespoon of chicken fat to a sprinkle of olive oil, but I'm sure that I can be forgiven. Let's just say that we Americans don't need as much fat in our diets as our ancestors did.
Of course, in recent years, many variations of ingredients have joined the repertoire, which include saffron, mushroom broth, coconut milk, Sazon, brown rice, black rice, red rice...yummmm!
Yet, for reasons I have yet to comprehend, my rice cooking skills did not improve with age. Most times, my rice would come out fine, but other times... well, to my taste, a failure.  And predictably, I would be having a big dinner party, maybe with a Thai curry chicken as the main dish, only to discover upon removing the lid on a big traditional pot, that all that beautiful Basmati rice had gone as gluggy as the Elmer's glue that my kid keeps finding spilled in his book bag.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

kate's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"I still don't have an electric mixer, so all of my baked good are mixed by hand with a wooden spoon."
Kate pays tribute to the simple, indispensable wooden spoon - I have been trying to think of my favorite kitchen gadget, and even though I do have some fancy things in my kitchen these days (we just got a cast iron grill pan, which is quite amazing, especially on rainy nights), I think my favorite kitchen tool is the good ol' wooden spoon. I think it is the most useful and most used piece of equipment in my kitchen. I still don't have an electric mixer, so all of my baked good are mixed by hand with a wooden spoon. There is something comforting about a smoothed out wooden spoon to me too, it reminds me of learning to bake with my mom when I was little.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

lucy's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
When not writing books, reviewing craft beers, or staging environmental events, Lucy Saunders likes to flip a pancake with her cool Androck spatula
Author Lucy Saunders -, "Grilling with Beer" - reveals her favorite gadget and, surprise, it has nothing to do with beer  -  This spatula belonged to my mother-in-law, Mary, and has a futuristic design -rocket-shaped tapered handle made in brown Bakelite and, as you can see in silhouette, an off-centered slightly wavy shape to the metal spatula that makes it so easy to use turning eggs, etc. It's the pancake flipper of the 30s -so cool, and made in the USA by Androck. I love making breakfast with it.

Friday, December 17, 2010

vicky's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"...not my great grandmother’s potato masher that she carted across the plains.."
Native Idaho-an, Vicky Virgin, takes us on the long, strange trip that led her to her favorite gadget of - what else? - a potato masher  - My favorite kitchen utensil is the potato masher.  How can it not be? 1) I was born and raised in Idaho. 2) I have fond memories of romping through the potato fields as small toy like airplanes buzzed overhead spewing a toxic cocktail of pesticides. 3) My father was born in the middle of the winter in a spud cellar. And one more thing, 4) Our high school drill team sold baked potatoes for $1 as hand and feet warmers at football games.  OK so we established that. And no, this is not my great grandmother’s potato masher that she carted across the plains. It is someone else’s great grandmother’s. 
It was our maiden voyage to Idaho – a trip out west to meet the land and family that reared me. Not sure how much time to allot for the mixing of my future NY Jewish husband and my Mormon family, but anyway.. I thought it would be wise to plan a nice 4 day road trip – an escape valve if needed – a little loop through that wild western landscape. The road opened up in front of us. Just as we had successfully negotiated one hair-raising mountain pass, another one would open up in front of us and there was one behind that one and another one behind that one - ad infinitum as far as the eye could see.  He was terrified.  It was the scale he kept saying. This much I remember. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

shelly's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets 
" can just throw those other more primitive gadgets away..." $10 and up
In rhapsodizing over her modern grater, Shelly poses a counter-argument to Sarah's old-timey cheese gadget - The Microplane is not a personal transportation device, it's a personal CHEESE transformation device.
In my world, just about anything is better with a little grated parm: eggs, soups, chili, toasted bread with butter...but oh, the work, and bloody knuckles that one had to endure just to get a taste of Italy on savory edibles. Until the Microplane, that is.
I received the Microplane, a simple, ergonomically designed gadget, as a gift from a friend a few years ago, and it quickly became my "go to" for grating fresh parmesan. With a few quick and nearly effortless passes along the blade, the Microplane renders your block of parm into fluffy, micro-particles of shredded delight. The Microplane is light enough and so well-balanced that you can hold it with one hand, and grate the cheese with the other. You can brace it across a soup bowl, or hold it in mid air and pass it over a plate or a pot cooking on the stove, grating all the while. Long gone are the days of rooting around in the kitchen for the latest version of a "grater."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

sarah's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
Sarah's old-school gadget makes grating less of a chore  - I always enjoy grating cheese with my mom's back-in-the-day cheese grater. It's still satisfying, functional...and always a little challenging to put together.

Cheese grater - or wheel barrow?
Sarah's unique take.

A greater wheelbarrow? 

Make the holidays even greater
with Sarah Sills' Artwares collection

Check out Sarah's playfully sophisticated designs on mugs, bags, tshirts, notes, more. This BK-based designer will even customize!

Monday, December 13, 2010

kevin's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets 
"...straight out of the sci-fi film War of the Worlds," $50 and up
Kevin's favorite gadget beamed down once a year - The thing I remember most from my mother’s kitchen is a vintage citrus press like this one. In my imagination it was a one-armed robot alien straight out of the sci-fi film War of the Worlds.  Every Christmas my grandmother would send boxes of oranges from Florida, and we would have fresh-squeezed juice for the holiday season only. Then it was back to Tropicana from a carton. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

jed's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"More useful than a snail-stuffer," $6 and up

Jed's fave gadget had a starring role on TV - In 1991, I moved to Los Angeles to work as a writer for a game show. Both undertakings were foreign to me. Unused to such scattered urbanity and having no car, I rented an apartment a few blocks from the studio. The neighborhood, so innocent by day, turned out to be in the middle of gang territory, with helicopters and bullets flying overhead at night.
Work was equally strange. I had never written for television, didn't know anything about scripts, or how television was made, and it seemed odd to spend one's day trying to thing of antics designed to amuse a demographic of 54 year old women...(continued)

lori's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
When dedicated to tuna, a two-bladed mezzaluna is a tuna chopper, $15 and up 
Lori's beloved gadget is a tuna chopper (aka, double-bladed Mezzaluna) - My favorite kitchen gadget is my tuna chopper. It is double-bladed and decades old and was part of my used to have a red metal handle but now the paint's mostly gone. No matter. The blades work perfectly. Since tuna is one of my favorite foods (the way I make it, of course) that tuna chopper is part of my soul, my family, and when I use it I always feel a comfort, like all is right with the world...(continued, with Lori's famous recipe)

Friday, December 10, 2010

robert's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"The flavors have plenty of time to warm up to each other..." about $100
Robert likes to let the food cook itself - I’m not one to concern myself with details. I have nothing specific against them, but rushing around to accommodate their unimaginative stringency just isn’t my thing. It’s how I work, and it’s also how I cook, which is why I love my slow cooker. It requires no precision and only a cursory understanding of how to plan ahead. Need food for the football game at 8? Start slow cooking in the late morning or early afternoon, or early morning, or the day before. It doesn’t actually matter, yet come game time, your turkey corn chili will be ready! But the best part is that it can handle all the experimentation I throw at it, so I can double the garlic content of almost anything. That’s because in a slow cooker, the flavors have plenty of time to warm up to each other, and after 6 or 7 hours, they’ve really begun to get along; the details will sort themselves out in there. A slow cooker never misses the forest for the trees.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

susanne's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
Spaetzle Maker, $6 and up

For cold winter nights, Susanne's spaeztle maker (plus recipe) - I have two favorite gadgets: the meat pounder my grandmother (who was a pediatrician and an awful cook) brought form Austria; I think it was her mother's originally, and I've been making my kids' favorite schnitzel with it with it for years. In a related vein is my spaetzle maker. It is new. My old one rusted. Everyone is so impressed when I make them, and they are so easy; definitely the right tool for the job.
What is spaetzle?
For the uninitiated, like me, spaetzle is a type of German pasta - dumpling or noodle - that's served as a side dish. Susanne likes to serve it under a good Austrian Goulash.  A good recipe in English comes from Austrian native Wolfgang Puck.  Ausgezeichnet!
Basic spaetzle recipe
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs
Pinch salt, white pepper, nutmeg
Place flour in bowl. Add eggs and milk. Whisk just enough to incorporate. Let rest half hour. Press through spaetzle maker into large pot of salted water. Cook until they float, about 5 minutes. Saute with butter until golden brown. Salt to taste. Add-ons: cheese, parsley, lemon juice, carmelized onions.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

jasmine's and sharon's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
The Mezzaluna comes with bowls, chopping boards, or alone, $15 and up
Two passionate reviews for the Mezzaluna (single blade)
Jasmine's Mezzaluna channels her Italian spirit  - I fell in love with this rocking half moon knife watching my Italian friend Sabrina's mama chopping veggies and herbs in their farm house kitchen in Umbria with a waft of sunshine and rich tomato-y sauces in the air and vino flowing! Molto Bene!!!  It's a real Italian mama tool  -  you can rock it back and forth while talking with your free hand - freestyle Italian cooking!! I love the feel of the motion and the crescent shape as well as the resultant finely chopped and rocked herbs!
For Sharon, the Mezzaluna makes chopping orgasmic - 
My Mezzaluna! I know that sounds like a song your feisty Italian grandmother used to sing but it’s really the most amazing kitchen tool I’ve ever had.  The translation is ‘half moon’. Doesn’t that sound romantic?…"Mezzaluna" said with an Italian accent and a glass of red wine nearby  makes chopping orgasmic. It has something to do with the rocking motion and the smell of great food in the making.

The sky is the limit with this simple kitchen apparatus.  I use it for spices, mushrooms, nuts, vegetables, to make breadcrumbs for stuffing…and on and on.  Just throw something into the rounded wooden bowl and rock back and forth with the sharpened cutting edge for a very hands-on product.  Here’s the ridiculously amazing part: you can use the back of a glass or a pestle in the indented bowl part it to  crush ingredients (like graham crackers for crusts!).  Also, feel free to use the cutting edge for a pie or pizza (I’ll never tell), and if you flip the wooden board over, you have a lovely small square cutting board. There is something so archetypical about it.

Like some great Italian chef, circa 1750, is pressing my hands back and forth for me...oooh Antonio!