Tools & Utensils

L’Aide de Cuisine

KitchenAid Stand Mixer

[The KitchenAid]

I have given in to the demon of temptation, and I can tell you this: it is poppy red, it weighs twenty-two pounds, and it comes with a dough hook, a flat beater, a wire whisk, and a stainless steel bowl (which conveniently doubles up as a kitchen mirror).

After so many years of lusting and wishing and yearning, resisting the urge because a stand mixer is not exactly cheap and counter space is a scarce commodity, I finally caved in and ordered one from a French online store. Just three days later, my shiny new friend showed up on my doorstep in its styrofoam jewel box, and I’ve been admiring it with the eyes of love ever since.

As one might guess, my recent brush with brioches is not entirely unrelated to this lavish purchase, and was certainly instrumental in getting Maxence’s blessing — he owns half of said counter space after all, so we make that kind of life-altering decision together. I chose red because everybody knows red cars drive faster, and my kitchen looks beside herself (yes, my kitchen is a she) with pleasure from this new accessory.

So, what have I used it for so far? Well, after carefully considering what recipe would be the most suitable for its inauguration, I decided on a simple pâte brisée to make the tartlets I was testing for a magazine article. The simplest ceremonies are often the most elegant, no?

Now I wish I could take it on the train with me to my parents’ mountain house for Easter so we could make hot cross buns with it, but that sounds like a stupid and back-breaking thing to do, so perhaps I won’t.

~~~

If you would like to know how and where such stand mixers are grown and harvested, you can read all about it in David and the KitchenAid Factory — perhaps Tim B. would like to buy the motion picture rights for that?

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Wine Charms

Wine Charms

When I was much younger, I loved fiddling and tinkering with things, building little trinkets, putting bits and pieces together, deconstructing toys and objects to see how they worked, and trying to get them back together afterwards — not always successfully I might add. Duct tape and scissors were my very good friends, and I loved using my mother’s sewing machine to assemble miniature purses or hair scrunchies (I know, I know, but this was the 80′s remember?) with fabric chosen from her big treasure chest of scraps. And scoubidous, of course, I really liked scoubidous.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a crafty person, as nothing admirable ever emerged from my little fingers, but I loved how these activities sucked you in, making you lose all sense of time until suddenly you looked up, night had fallen, and it was time for dinner. Time also to show your family what you had made, and they oohed and aahed because they loved you very much.

As I grew older I gradually stopped doing those things, mostly for lack of time, but I realize now that it is this same urge to create things with my hands that drew me to cooking. That, and the fact that you get to eat the fruits of your labor, which did not work so well with the scrunchies.

I haven’t quite abandoned my crafty ambitions though, and I have drawerfulls of beads and strings and fabric, but to be truthful I don’t do much with them. Naturally, this doesn’t stop me from buying more when I see pretty things. But I did recently manage to complete one small project, and since it is somewhat related to the main topic of this blog, I thought I would share it with you. Ladies and gentlemen, I made wine charms.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, let me explain. I’m sure you’ve all been in this situation: you have guests over at your place, you give everyone a glass so they can drink some of that fine little wine you bought at your favorite winestore, and after about ten minutes of conversation nobody knows which glass is which. Sometimes telltale traces of lipstick might settle the case, but mostly everyone just laughs it off and adopts a random glass, assuring that they don’t have cooties (in French: “Ça va, j’ai pas la gale.”). And this is when wine charms come in handy, helping you identify each glass with a little thing that dangles from its foot. Smart, no?

Here’s the recipe. (Of course in my case, it might have helped to choose beads that were more clearly different from one another. Bead and learn, right?)

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Introducing… la cocotte!

La Cocotte

Finally! It’s here! My birthday present and new best friend, my stupendous cast-iron cocotte by Staub!

My parents came by my apartment yesterday and were kind enough to lug it on the metro with them, after driving it all the way back from Les Vosges, snuggly bundled up in multiple layers of bubble-wrap.

31 centimeters in length (12”), weighing in at 6.3 kilograms (14 lbl) when it’s empty — I’ve been buffing up my arms with dumbbells in preparation for its arrival — it can hold 6 liters (6 qts) of something yummy and stewy and even-better-the-next-day to feed six happy friends.

And how could anyone resist a kitchen implement that so proudly brandishes its name? Ever thought how convenient that is, when you see it lying around somewhere in the kitchen and think, “hey what is this thing?”, and you get closer, read what’s on the lid, smack your forehead and exclaim, “but of course! it is la cocotte!”

The secret of the Staub cocotte, I am told, lies beneath the surface (am I scaring you yet?), on the underside of the lid, where all around the cocotte’s belly-button are tiny little pikes — the technical word I believe is picot — that gently invite the evaporated liquids to drip back down onto the food, thus preserving all the flavors and juices.

I feel a little like Calvin when he collects the points from his boxes of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs* to receive a propeller hat, with which he thinks he will be able to fly all over the world. I really believe my cocotte is a magic wand that will make whatever I cook so good my guests will go into tastebud shock and faint.

*Calvin describes these cereals as “tasty, lip-smacking, crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, and they don’t have a single natural ingredient or essential vitamin to get in the way of that rich, fudgy taste”. Quite the little food writer.

What Did I Ever Do Without You?

Presse-Purée

I recently had an epiphany. No, not that kind, it was a cooking utensil epiphany: I suddenly realized how badly I needed a potato masher.

In just a few weeks, I had repeatedly found myself in the painful situation of having to puree things without a self-respecting tool, resorting to the use of a simple fork and expending large amounts of precious energy, to pitiful results. Enough was enough, and as soon as I found myself in the vicinity of my favorite kitchen supply stores, I bought myself a beautiful old-fashioned presse-purée with a wooden handle. A downright splurge, at 3.52 € a pop.

This little guy has already earned its keep by perfectly mashing a simple soup the other day, producing the exact chunk-to-mash ratio I wanted, after just a minute of a gentle and strangely soothing gesture. My quality of life has just been raised a notch. Oh, and did you know they found utensils just like this one in Egyptian tombs? Well, they did.

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On another note, I am honored to be the January Featured Blogger on the Is My Blog Burning? website: read my interview here!

On another note (bis), I am snugly between Claudine and Chika on Book 3 of the 1000 Recipes project! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here to find out (and sign up).

On another note (ter), today is Maxence’s birthday: Joyeux Anniversaire mon chéri!

Fondue Pot

Fondue Pot

This is the fabulous gift that Maxence’s mother got us for Christmas: an electrical, nonstick, multiuse fondue pot!

We’ve already broken it in with a fondue bourguignonne shared with Maxence’s aunt and uncle: fondue bourguignonne (literally “fondue from Burgundy”) has you cook little cubes of beef in oil, to be enjoyed with a variety of dipping sauces (whipped up with talent by Maxence). This was my first fondue bourguignonne ever and I loved it: undoubtedly rich, but delicious and highly convivial.

Fondue is a great dish to serve for a casual dinner: most people find it fun to cook their own food (and if they don’t, do they really deserve to be your friends?), and everything can be prepared beforehand so you can fully enjoy the company of your guests. One word of advice: close the door to your bedroom before you start, unless you enjoy sleeping in the lovely fragrance of supersized fries.

As suggested by the multitude of recipes in the little accompanying booklet, our beautiful fondue pot can also be used for fondue savoyarde, fondue chinoise (slices of beef cooked in broth), fondue armoricaine (fish cooked in broth), or better yet, fondue au chocolat!

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