Tools & Utensils

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.

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!

Egg Poachers

Egg Poachers

I finally caved in and bought a pair of stainless steel egg poachers, for 3€ each.

When even the best advice and tips don’t help and your poached eggs are ugly ducklings everytime, you can either settle for a life without home-poached eggs (too terrible to contemplate), or humbly admit to your own failings, and resort to the tool that some genius designed — probably because s/he was missing that same gene.

We tested the poachers the other night, bringing water to a boil in a large saucepan, breaking fresh eggs inside the buttered hollows, and lowering them carefully into the water. We left them in for three minutes, shuffling anxiously around, worrying about the hovering white filaments, relieved when they eventually disappeared. We lifted the poachers out by their convenient tails, drained the eggs on paper towels, and served them on warm slices of garlic-rubbed toasted bread.

The result? A slightly unnatural shape (a sharp half-oval with tiny spots from the holes in the cups), but a perfect consistency. Not to mention, the poachers look like cute little rodents that work as fuzzy inverted mirrors, should you feel like practising goofy faces while you wait for the water to boil. And just how many kitchen utensils will do that for you?

Marble Mortar Finds True Soulmate

Mortar & Pestle

Finally!

Finally, I have acquired a pestle to go with the marble mortar my dear grandmother gave me as a birthday gift last summer.

Okay, I make it sound like I’ve been searching high and low for one but it’s not quite true. It’s been on my mind all that time, I was thinking well, isn’t it a shame to have such a marble beauty and just use it as a vide-poche, a catchall for keys and loose change — but for some reason a part of me could not believe anyone would ever sell me a pestle without a mortar : who in the world would they then sell the pestle-less mortar to? (Well, whoever holds hostage the pestle that should go with my mortar, that’s who!)

So in fact I never gave the quest a real chance, until just recently when I found myself (an utter fortuity, I swear) at Dehillerin. I enquired about mortar-less pestles, preferably wooden, and the salesguy shook his head no. But his colleague, overhearing the conversation (they’re always eavesdropping on each other’s sales pitches, contradicting whatever is said or adding their two centimes, it’s fun to watch) said they did in fact have one left. He even went so far as to fetch it and hand it to me — probably they don’t see too many 25 year-old female customers.

Holding it in my hand, feeling its nice, balanced weight and waving it around a bit (causing the salesguys to look at me with alarm and take a half-step back), I had the sudden, almost magical certainty that this was a perfect fit for my lonely marble friend. This was confirmed when I got home and placed the pestle in its hollow, where it nested itself with an audible sigh.

They go everywhere together now, and look so happy it’s a joy to everyone who sees them. Ah, matchmaker to the cooking utensils, there’s a new career to consider!

Mamy’s Marble Mortar

Mamy's Marble Mortar

I love it when unexpected things — be they gifts, ideas or opportunities — fall onto my lap. Luckily, in this instance, the thing didn’t literally fall onto my lap or I’d be limping as we speak, but you get my drift.

Last Saturday, my sister Céline and I went to visit our dear grandmother, whom we call Mamy (although my sister insists on spelling it Mamie), who lives not far from us, in the 17th arrondissement. My grandmother would hate for me to tell her age, but let’s just say that she was a little girl during World War I, so you know, she’s seen a thing or two. She loves to talk and tell stories, fascinating memories of times past — some of my favorites being the ones about the sweet and clever boy my father was, and how talented he was at scarfing down camemberts and apple cakes.

She loves to cook too, although now her health doesn’t allow much of that anymore, and I know that she is particularly glad to see me so passionate about it. We talk about things we like to make, and I’ve often asked her for recipes. They are endearingly fuzzy, and it takes a little while to get her to tell me exactly what she means, but that’s all part of the pleasure of course.

Continue reading »

Get the newsletter

Receive FREE email updates with all the latest recipes, plus exclusive inspiration and Paris tips. You can also choose to be notified when a new post is published.

View the latest edition of the newsletter.