Archive for the ‘equipment’ Category

As Seen on TV


Having once bought the mother of all infomercial products, the fabled Veg-O-Matic, I’m like the child once burned.  Oh, that Vego-Matic.  Oh, the pain of placing the tomato in the Veg-O-Matic, just as one had seen it placed on TV, the pain of lifting the lever or the handle or whatever it was, the bitter pain of lowering the blade or the trap or whatever it was and exploding the tomato all over the kitchen.  Tomato on the wall, tomato on the cabinets, tomato on the ceiling, tomato on the windows, tomato on the floor.  (Who would’ve thought the old tomato had so much juice in him?)

Once burned, twice shy.  Never again, I swore.  Never would I be a deluded fool.  Never again would I buy a product advertised in infomercials.

These Debbie Meyer Breadbags were for sale in one of the kitchen shops I frequent.  Now that I’m baking bread in my bread machine, I need to preserve the loaves.  All bread stays fresh longer.  Active storage.  Re-usable.

Luckily, I decided to ignore “As seen on TV.”  The damned things work.  They really do.  Even though.


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I haven’t reported recently on adventures with my bread machine.  I quit making bread during April while we were working on Indonesian food, but here we are in May, and bread comes once more to the fore.

I’ve decided that I want to learn three breads.  They mustn’t duplicate anything I can buy; there’s no point in competing with professional bakeries.  They must be all or mostly whole grain.  And we must like them a lot, look forward to them as treats.

My first candidate is a savory (not sweet) whole wheat loaf with nuts , based on Beatrice Ojakangas’s Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand (Wiley, 1998).  I’ve been working on it since January, off and on, and I’ve learned several things that aren’t in Beatrice’s book or the machine’s booklet:

Before I start loading in ingredients, I grease the paddle stem to make the paddle easy to remove.

I use the “add mix-ins” bell as a signal to scrape down the sides of the bowl/pan.  The previous owner scratched up the nonstick coating on my machine.  If it were intact, I might not need this step.

When the “remove paddle” bell sounds, I take out the whole loaf, remove the paddle, grease the whole bowl/pan (see damaged nonstick, above), shape the loaf, put it back into the bowl/pan, glaze the top of the loaf, and press in any topping I decide to use.

The one thing I haven’t figured out is how to integrate the nuts with the dough.  No matter what I do, they pop out.

I’ve tried everything I can think of.  I’ve used them whole and chopped them tiny, tiny.  I’ve added all or part of them at the beginning, at the mix-ins bell, at the remove-paddle bell.  I’ve rolled them into the loaf like a giant cinnamon bun.  I’ve pushed them into the dough with my index finger at a hundred different spots.  I’ve read that I could put the whole loaf in the refrigerator for an hour and then work the nuts in, but I draw the line; I mean, really, at some point you have to ask yourself why you’re using a bread machine at all.

Through all of these experiments with the nuts I have been grinding more and more of them into nut flour, and from now on I intend to grind them all to flour.  The nut flour gives the bread a great flavor, not immediately identifiable.

I’m going to make it one more time, with only nut flour, no nut pieces, and then move on to another kind.

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Chinese Crockpot

crockpotWhat can I tell you?  It’s a Chinese crockpot.  It’s not compatible with U.S. wiring (but I could get an adapter).  Its controls are all in Chinese (but I could get a translation).  It’s huge and brown and decorated with ink drawings of cascading mountain scenery.  I want one.

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Egg-Poaching Kit


Many a cook prefers an absolutely minimalist batterie de cuisine, kitchen tools consisting of a chef’s knife and stropping stone, one 3-quart Windsor pan with perhaps a lid, and an assortment of sheet pans, half and whole.

I am not that cook.

Not only do I have a fabulous and gigantic collection of tools and pots and gadgets and machines, some of them going back for more than 40 years, I am perfectly willing to have implements that serve to make only one dish, as long as it’s a dish I like well.

Take the case of my egg-poaching kit: a pan, its lid, a bunch of glass custard cups, a plastic slotted skimmer, 4 small sieves, and some cloth towels.

The pan is a shallow nonstick 4-quart, 3.5″ high and 11″ in diameter.  It was from the very first generation of nonsticks available in the U.S., and the only nonstick pan I kept from that era.  Because the pan never needed to be scraped or scrubbed, the stickproof surface didn’t fail as it did in all my other nonstick pans.  (Margaret has just recently convinced me to give modern nonstick pans a try.  I now have two, and they’re holding up brilliantly.)  The nonstick surface serves an important purpose in poaching an egg, which may want to stick to the bottom of a poaching pan and then split when you try to remove it.

The skimmer is plastic, so it won’t scratch the nonstick, and broad, for lifting a whole poached egg gently.

The poached egg then goes into one of the small sieves, which is resting on a small pile of cloth towels.  The towels wick the excess water away from the egg.  The sieve makes a pattern on the eggwhite, but it’s not unattractive.

I fill the pan with 3 quarts of water and add 2 Tablespoons of salt.  Eight or ten years ago I started adding a teaspoon of white vinegar to the egg-poaching water, and it does seem to help the whites firm up without making the eggs taste vinegary.  I put the lid on the pan to make the water come up to a rolling boil as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, I break 4 eggs, each into its own glass custard cup.  If I mess up and break a yolk, I can set that egg aside and crack another in a different custard cup.

When the water is roiling and boiling, I quickly and gently slide the eggs into the water, one at 12 o’clock, one at 3, one at 6, one at 9.  I don’t let the water boil again, but keep it right below a simmer.  I judge doneness by looking at the egg sac around the yolk of the first egg I put in the water; as soon as it starts to turn white just the tiniest bit, I scoop the whole egg out with my skimmer and place it gently in its sieve.  Numbers 2, 3, and 4 follow in quick succession.

I never make more than four poached eggs at once.  Two for Mark, two for me.  If I need more eggs for company, I make fried eggs.  Or baked eggs.  Or shirred eggs, which are eggs baked on a base such as sour cream.

I also use the pan for making sweet-milk cocoa, and I also use the custard cups for holding prepped ingredients.  But I would hang onto them and treasure them for poaching eggs even if that were the only service they performed.

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A discussion of spaetzels has arisen on Bitten, Mark Bittman’s food blog for the New York Times.  (I know registration is required; I’m not sure whether you need to be a subscriber.  My contribution requires drawing a picture, so I’m posting it here and posting a comment there that points to here.  The discussion springs from Daniel Meyers’s piece “A Dinner Made for TV.  Unfortunately, the word can be spelled two ways, “spaetzle” and “spaetzel.”)

Spaetzels are variously described as noodles or dumplings.  They’re made of a batter like crêpe batter, flour, milk, eggs, and a pinch of salt.  The batter should blob and splodge; it shouldn’t be runny.  Some people make spaetzels by pressing the batter through a colander into a pan of boiling water; others use an implement called a spaetzel-maker, a sort of specialized food mill.

I like my grandmother’s way of making spaetzels much better than the colander or the spaetzel-maker way.

She held a rimless cookie sheet in her left hand and spread a layer of spaetzel batter on the upper right-hand corner.  (She was right-handed; reverse the directions if you’re left-handed; or if you’re like me, can’t tell which is which, decide on a handedness for this task and always do it the same way.)

Then with a spatula or a butter knife, scrape quickly up the edge of the batter, forming a little torpedo-shaped blob of dough and flick it into boiling salted water.

Repeat until you have five or six torpedoes in the water.  Sometimes they want to attach themselves to the bottom of the pan; scrape them up with your same spatula.  When they float, they’re done.

They’re dense and stick-to-your ribs.  Five or six per person is usually sufficient.  Try them with brown butter; or gravy; or in chunky vegetable soup; or with beef stew.

This method is better than others because a spaetzel is a little sparrow, and these spaetzels look like little sparrows.  Other methods of making so-called spaetzels produce things that look like worms.  My spaetzels will eat your spaetzels.

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Chidden by Margaret, a gentle but firm chider if there ever was one, I resolved to give my bread maker a second try.

My first step is always to find the right books.  (Tell me I’m not the only person who, happy upon finding herself pregnant, went immediately to the reference room of the public library.)  I had been using Linda West Eckhardt & Diana Collingwood Butts’s Rustic European Breads from Your Bread Machine (Doubleday, 1995), and it just wasn’t working for me.  So instead I turned to Beatrice Ojakangas’s Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand (Wiley, 1998).  An Amazon customer said it was the best beginning book, and I’ve been liking it.

Beatrice has been writing cookbooks since I started reading them, and she’s still going strong today.  A Finnish-American, she specializes in Scandinavian cooking: pancakes, brown beans, red and green and white cabbage, codfish, fruit soups, herring, cucumbers, mustard, dill, mild cheeses, salmon, berries, open-faced sandwiches, meatballs, the best potato recipes of all time, and a baking tradition that has given us the name Danish for just one group of its pastry delights.

Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand gives for every bread recipe three lists of ingredients for three loaf sizes, sampler, regular, and large, and instructions:

to mix the dough by hand
to mix the dough with a heavy-duty mixer
to mix the dough in a food processor
to mix the dough in the bread machine
to mix and bake the bread in the bread machine
to shape the bread and bake it in the oven

The one I’m interested in is mixing and baking the bread in the bread machine.

I started with the sampler size of Buttermilk Wheat Bread and discovered that although my bread machine has a setting for a 1-pound loaf I have to scrape the dough down from the sides to get it to mix properly.  Not my aim.

So next I tried the regular size of Cracked Wheat Bread and — this is what I’ve had in mind all along — I used the delay start feature on the machine to have the bread finished at 8:15 in the morning, which is when we’ve been getting out of bed during this protracted lazy period of snowfall.  Hot bread straight out of the machine with high-fat Irish butter.  Mmmmm.

Some problems remain.  If the bread is baking while you’re sleeping, you can’t take the paddle out, so the loaf has an unappetizing rathole in the middle.  And the paddle is hideously difficult to remove, rending the hole even bigger.  I’m going to try greasing the paddle post to see whether I can get the paddle out more easily.  That there has to be a hole I’m resigned to.

But those are details to be worked out in the long run.  Meanwhile, thank you, Beatrice, thank you, Cuisinart, thank you, crooked little Irish cows, and especially thank you, Margaret.

MB:  Well, no problem.  I myself have been using my bread machine for a while now, but I’m not experimental in the slightest.  I have the book that came with the machine and that’s what I’ve been working from.  Obviously though, reading this has made me realize that there are actually cookbooks out there specifically about this, so I should probably check into them.  It would be nice to have some delicious and fancy-sounding Cracked Wheat Bread instead of the simple, fairly uninteresting (but tasty nonetheless) whole wheat bread that I’ve been making.

Last night, for Christmas, I actually did my biggest bread machine experimentation ever.  I used the dough setting to make the recipe for the dinner roll dough.  Then when the dough was done I shaped it into a snake, shaped the snake into a circle, and then snipped it and made … my very first bread wreath!  It was very festive and totally delicious.

And yes, I am ridiculously proud of myself for making something so incredibly cool looking.


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What’s New at MB’s

This, my friends is the wonderful, amazing, incredibly awesome Christmas present that J and I got for ourselves.  That’s right, folks, it’s a freezer.

See, I’m the only person in our house who cooks.  J is the master of mack n’ huck (which  is, for those of you who don’t know, macaroni and cheese from a box), but he doesn’t cook anything other than that.  So on the nights when I’m exhausted or busy or sick we either eat mack n’ huck or we order out.  Normally we end up ordering.

Here’s the plan:  I am going to send Darwin away for a weekend and spend the entire weekend cooking lasagne, and loaves of bread, and cinnamon rolls, and giant pots of soup and chili, and anything else I can think of to stock the freezer full of huge amounts of tasty home-made food.  That way we’ll always have delicious and healthy food made by me to eat, even if I’m not actually cooking that evening!

And if this actually works the way I think it will, the freezer will pay for itself in 3 months.  That’s pretty damn good.

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