Giveaway: The Art of Fermentation

Last week, I promised an exciting giveaway was in the hopper. And tell me — do I deliver, or what?

I would enter this giveaway, if I could.

The winner, who unfortunately cannot be me (did I say that already?), will receive a beautiful, brand-spanking-new copy of The Art of Fermentation, by Sandor Katz.

This is the bible of fermentation, friends. This summer I borrowed a copy from Suzanne, just long enough to read up on my beloved half-sour pickles, but returned it before she could hold it against me in our friendship and also before I could read it cover-to-cover (and yes, I would totally do that, on a Friday night — because that’s how exciting or shockingly anti-social my life is, depending on your age and personal obsession level with fermentation).

If you have any interest in making/understanding fermented foods — everything from cultured veggies to kombucha to yogurt to tempeh — seriously, I think he covers EVERY. THING. — then you want this book.

The only caveat is that, if you win, you have to let me borrow it.

(ok, not really — just if you live in Indianapolis)

No, really, I’m totally lying. You don’t have to ever show it to me, you just have to let me call you with all of my fermenting questions.

Enough, seriously — you really don’t have to do anything. Except fill out the form below (for real this time).

I’m rooting for YOU.
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To enter this giveaway, simply fill out and submit the following form before Friday, September 21, at noon EST. The information goes directly to Chelsea Green Publishing, and you will automatically be added to their e-newsletter list (unsubscribe any time). One entry per person; the winner will be selected at random by the publisher, notified via email, and the book will be shipped directly from Chelsea Green.

[This giveaway is now closed : ( ]

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I am super-grateful to the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing for agreeing to and facilitating this giveaway. I’ve received nothing in exchange for hosting, just the burning jealousy joy I’ll feel for the lucky reader that wins! Also, Kaitlin — you rock!

Do not taunt Happy Pressure Canner

It’s been baby steps, really.

It all started with an innocent batch of freezer jam. Jars, purchased for their cuteness, held runny strawberry jam, my first-ever batch, frozen until ready to consume.

Then came water-bath canning. I sneaked sideways into that venture — using an old stockpot as a canner, jars of crock-pot apple butter sitting directly on the bottom, I was officially canning before I could think too hard about what I was doing.

And then I started getting gadget-happy. I graduated to stainless utensils, and invested in a good, on-sale enameled water-bath canner. It was still fun and games until I bought my first case of tomatoes, and let’s just call those a gateway drug to pressure canning. Because it starts to get tricky with tomatoes — what with their new-variety acidity levels, etc. — and worlds of possibility would truly open up, if only you had a pressure canner.

But isn’t a pressure canner the equivalent of a stick of dynamite, handed to a toddler with a lit match between his teeth, standing in your kitchen? Isn’t it just so easy to blow you, your house, and perhaps your entire city to smithereens with one wrong move with a pressure canner? I mean, so-and-so’s grandmother lost her finger in a pressure-canning accident, right?

Is any amount of home-canned tomato sauce worth that risk?

Well, I was just dying to know. So I did something very characteristic of myself: I waited until I acquired a pressure-canner for free to find out. My mother-in-law had a Presto dial-gauge canner (similar to this new one) that had rarely been used. She decided there was a much better chance that I’d use it than she would, so she passed it on. And then, I refused to do anything with it* until a friend who’s taken the Master Preserving Class could come to my house and show me how to use it.

Because I’m just so daring that way.

And so I spent Tuesday in the company of uber-gracious Suzanne, who traded her vast pressure-canning knowledge,** her time, and her kind listening ears (I sort-of had a morning of emotional vomiting — she totally didn’t sign up for that) for a smoothie, a few dilly beans, and a spoonful of cashew butter. Seems fair, don’t you think?

Wanna know what I learned yesterday? I learned that pressure canning just isn’t that scary. That — while you should follow directions carefully and pay attention to what you’re doing, it’s not rocket science. A pressure canner is basically a big pot with a lid that has a good seal on it. When it gets really hot, it builds pressure inside. The dial (on my version) tells you what pressure you’re at, and if it gets too high, you just turn off the heat (not ideal, because you have to start over, but explosion-free). I learned that pressure-canning is often much quicker than water-bath canning, and causes less heat in the kitchen. That the biggest risk you run is not losing a digit, but losing a canner-load of food. Which would totally suck. But still — not dismemberment.

I also learned, when my husband phoned mid-process from Portland, that there’s no shortage of euphemisms when it comes to pressure canning. My canner has a petcock, for crying out loud.

Long story short: with the exception of one hiccup that caused 2 jars not to seal, I now have 4 quarts of pasta sauce and 4 quarts of tomato juice, ready for storage (those jars of juice accomplished solo!). I’m no master, but I’m no longer afraid. I have dominion over the pressure canner — it is not a weapon of mass destruction. Might I go so far as to say — the pressure canner is my friend.

I’ve come a long way, baby.

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* I did do one thing with it, solo: I took it to my local county Extension office to get the gauge calibrated — something you’re supposed to do each year, to make sure your canner is operating at the right pressure.

** The Master-Preserving Class is FORTY HOURS of classes. I think that’s the equivalent of a PhD in canning.

 

Kitchen reno, part 3: the countertop and backsplash

Coming into our on-the-cheap reno story a bit late? You might want to first check our our Julia Child pegboard pot rack, or the window and open shelves that put the fung back into my kitchen schway.

kitchen-countertop

From day one, I didn’t like the countertops in our kitchen. I remember when we were looking at the house, the day I fell in love with the kitchen sink, the owner telling us that they chose them because they “looked just like granite” and were “so cheap.” The thing is, they don’t like granite, they look like dark-brown formica (exactly what they are). And I’m not even wild about granite, so the perceived similarity was wasted on me.

But when it came time to do our reno, we just didn’t have the budget to replace all the countertops — and, truth be told, they could be worse. Since in our last kitchen we loved the butcherblock eating bar, we got a wild hair to replace just a portion of our counters here with the same material. At first I thought we’d have to stain the wood a similar color as our dark counters — but once we installed it, the mismatched surfaces worked surprisingly well, and the lighter color wood helped brighten the room.

The counter is from Ikea — called some forgettable combination of too many consonants and an umlaut-ed vowel or two. It’s crazy cheap — you can order a counter-depth 8-foot section for $169 (about $10/sq ft). We got the deeper version, since ours would need an overhang for our eating bar — but the deeper one only comes in a 6-foot length. This was the reason Tim had to build out the cabinets at the wall end of the counter — the 6′ length wasn’t long enough to extend from the wall to the end of the peninsula. He built the shelves out about a foot, and the counter covered the rest. Problem solved — and as it turns out, I love the variety the built-ins lend to the open shelves.

I also love the counter because I can knead bread and roll out dough directly on the surface (no knives here!). I wanted a non-toxic way to keep them water-repellent and conditioned, so I make up my own spoon oil and give it a coat every few months. My kids took a ball-point pen to it once, which required a light sanding — but as far as spilled wine, berry stains, etc., they will fade on their own in a matter of a day or two. It’s a little harder to give the counter a daily wipe-down, but the trade-off is worth it, to have a soft eating and prep surface.

kitchen-tile2

The last major change was the backsplash. The original kitchen didn’t have one — and I wanted to go with something classic, something that wouldn’t lock us into a color scheme, something cheap. Enter the good ol’ white subway tile. Already precipitously close to being over-used, likely to become the infamous “avocado green” of the early 21st century kitchen, it was hard to argue against it. You can get 100 tiles for $60 (we used a shy 200 tiles, so the total was about $120). Plus, I love white. I have white cabinets, and wanted the white-on-white walls to match. My original plan was to have the entire kitchen wall, straight up to the ceiling, covered in tile. But in the end I decided a little splash of paint would be nice — it helped that my husband “strongly recommended” I not do that, and since he was doing all the work, well, you know.

kitchen-tile

In the last kitchen reno post, next week, I’ll wrap up the remaining details that brought the whole project to a close — as well as give a line-by-line breakdown of cost (as best I can manage, we’re not the best receipt-keepers). Anyone wanna take bets on the total project cost? Or, wanna guess the one thing I still hate about my kitchen? Leave it in the comments — the winner will get nothing more than the joy of knowing you guessed something right.

Who doesn’t want to be right?

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You might enjoy following the rest of our reno adventure:
Part 1: Julia Child Pot Rack
Part 2: The Window and Shelves
Part 4: Final Details & Cost Breakdown

Kitchen reno, part 1: the Julia Child pegboard pot rack

potrack

Remember my bad kitchen feng shui? When, about 18 months ago, I decided I couldn’t live another day in a kitchen without a window above the sink? Because who can daydream about not doing dishes while doing just that and staring at a blank wall?

Well, I now have that window, plus much more, and it didn’t even take 18 months — more like a year. I just needed six more months to actually write about it.

I’m happy to report that my chee* now flows freely westward as I wash countless dishes every day. Freely westward for about 25 feet, until it stops dead at the window a/c unit of our neighbor’s house (6 yards is better than a foot, right?).

Anyway, I figured it was finally time for an update, and some pics. Because I really do now love my kitchen, and feel kinda like a proud grandmother whipping out her accordion of wallet-sizes.

So, in reverse-order of completion, I present the projects, one-by-one:

The Pegboard Pot Rack

The ice cream on the proverbial cake of our on-the-cheap reno was my Julia-Child-inspired pot rack. This is perfect in my kitchen — primarily because there is no place to have an overhead-hanging rack like we’ve had in previous houses. We have a 2-foot wall next to our stove that sits at a 45° angle, and it was begging for a large piece of peg board to house my collection of newish-and-vintage pots-and-pans right at arm’s length.

What I love about it:

  • the majority of my pots-and-pans no longer take up valuable drawer space
  • my cookware couldn’t be closer to the stove — I just turn on the burner and grab what I need
  • the wall rack allows me to use pans as color in the kitchen — my favorite is the tomato-red vintage Dansk enameled cast iron that my friend Sarah found on a Goodwill run.
  • the whole project cost about $20

Granted, my husband did the whole thing (I cook, he fixes things: it’s our agreement). But I totally could have done it on my own. If I’d wanted to.

You just need a piece of pegboard from your local hardware store — and if your board doesn’t come with them, make sure to pick up a package of hooks. While you’re there, go ahead and pick out a quart of paint, and some primer will help too (we had primer already, and used a $5 sample paint from Sherwin-Williams that had been a discarded kitchen color). If your board doesn’t come with spacers, you’ll need some small scraps of wood to use for that purpose.

Cut your board to size, and prime/paint it. Then using 1/4″ spacers (the board can’t sit flush on the wall, or the hooks won’t go through the holes — we made this mistake in our previous home’s laundry room), screw the board to studs in your wall. Tim used 8 screws for our 2×5.5′ board. Touch up any paint flaws (paint over screws), let dry, and arrange hooks as needed.

Julia drew the outlines of her pots on her board with a black sharpie, but I just can’t commit like that.

Voila. Pot organization, kitchen color, efficient use of space, dirt cheap. What more could I ask for.

Check back for a future reno post featuring: The Window, and The World’s Trendiest Backsplash.

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* I know, I know. It’s qi. But even with a reno’d kitchen, I’m still as low-brow as I was in 2010.

You might enjoy following the rest of our reno adventure:
Part 2: The Window and Shelves
Part 3: The Countertop & Backsplash
Part 4: Final Details & Cost Breakdown

This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday.

Got a gift card burning a hole in your pocket?

Chances are, that even if you come from a family of local-business supporters, opening carefully-wrapped gifts of books, handmade crafts, and local artisanal edibles, you still managed to receive a gift card or two. And if you’re like me, you’ll be spending the next few days pondering your choices — splurge or practical, wanted or needed? I thought I’d share a few items from my own lists — of course kitchen-related — either things I continue to wish for, or items I own, love, and wouldn’t do without in my kitchen.

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Richie Rich level ($250 and up — I mean, who gets these?)


Cuisinart Stand Mixer ($270)
This is perpetually on my wish list. My Kitchenaid Classic has worked for the past decade, but not without packing tape holding it together. The Cuisinart won the Cook’s Illustrated equipment review, and seems to be an all-around better mixer. I’d go for the 7-quart, to mix a double-batch of whole wheat bread dough.

Vitamix Blender ($380)
The Mercedes of blenders. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Or, maybe just do everything from grinding wheat into flour to making smoothies from whole pieces of fruit, skin and all. I don’t have one, but continue to wish.

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Benefactor Level ($100 – $200)

Kitchenaid Blender ($100)
Well, Kitchenaid still does some things right. If you’re not ready to shell out $400 for a blender, this one costs significantly less and won the Cook’s Illustrated review for blenders. I doubt it will mill wheat berries into flour, but will likely make a good smoothie.

Cuisinart Food Processor ($100)
I recently read a post from a blogger who was swearing off her food processor. I couldn’t live without mine, and only sometimes wish it had a larger liquid capacity. From making nut butter to pesto to my favorite almond-tomato spread — I use mine every week, sometimes 3-4 times in one day.

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Familial level ($30 – $100)

<a href="High-quality Chef’s Knife ($100)
This is the exact knife I’ve used for a decade, the one I returned wedding gifts to acquire. It works as well today as it did in 2001 (I sharpen it somewhat regularly). I’m not loyal to the brand, but believe Henckels and Wusthoff are likely the best choices.

Stainless Steel French Press Coffee Pot ($70)
Love, love our Bodum French Press, for brewing my husband’s home-roasted coffee. It holds four (American-sized) cups, and keeps it warm (though it tastes freshest right after it’s brewed). My favorite part is that I no longer have a big coffee maker taking up valuable space on my counter top.

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Realistic Level ($30 and under)

Victorinox Chef’s Knife ($25)
I don’t own this knife, but after reading great reviews from America’s Test Kitchen, I’ve long considered buying one to have an extra chef’s knife in the kitchen. This is an economical way to have a high-quality chef’s knife in your collection — it will totally change your food-prep life.

Lodge Cast Iron 12-inch Skillet ($25)
I’m an admitted toxi-phobe, and several years ago attempted to rid my kitchen of non-stick cookware. I bought a pre-seasoned Lodge skillet, and with careful care (no soap! no hard scrubbing! oil it every now and again!) it has become as non-stick as my old Teflon-coated pan.

Conical Fine-Mesh Strainer ($15)
I received one of these this year, to replace the one my kids destroyed by using it as a hat. This is perfect for straining sauces, sorbets, anything that has bits and pieces you don’t want in your final product. I like the conical shape because it fits into my wide-mouth funnel and the liquid goes straight into the jar or bowl.

Stainless Steel Wide-Mouth Funnel ($8)
I bought this for canning — see the previous post about toxi-phobia, but I don’t think boiling items should come in contact with plastic. To my surprise, I use it ALL. THE. TIME. For everything from ladling homemade yogurt neatly into jars to filling up my canisters with granola. It gives just enough extra width to keep mess to a minimum.

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What’s your gift-card plan? What can you not live without, always buy as a wedding gift? What’s your ultimate splurge? Please add to my list!

 

 

 

 

Tea strainer **giveaway**

I’ve hosted a grand total of 2 giveaways on this little blog.

The first was eons ago, I fell in love with a milk frother, so much so, that I bought one on Amazon to give away (how’re you liking it, Rebecca?). This was long before I had a single PR pitch in my inbox, before anyone offered me anything at all to review, ever. It was simply an obsession that I wanted to share, and it felt good to do it.

And it’s not like I’m getting showered in freebies now — but occasionally I do get an offer for a product or book to review, and such is the situation that led to my second giveaway. I wrote an honest review about a book I was really excited about, and a lucky reader got a copy.

But — I’ll admit it — the whole process just felt a little weird to me. I felt pressure to write a positive review — and even though no one asked me or directly influenced me to do that, I felt it just the same.*

So I’ve decided that, for the time being, I’m no longer doing those. But what I can & will do is find random cheap stuff that I can buy, and give it away to whomever might be interested.

Case in point: today’s tea strainer. The source? My favorite Fall-Off-The-Truck Store, Angelo’s. I paid $4 for it. No, I am not PioneerWoman (but how I love her in all her unmatched hilarity), and will not be giving away Kitchenaid mixers or trips to my ranch (you did know I had a ranch, didn’t you? I just like to keep it all to my lonesome is all). But, on the bright side, you probably have a 1-in-15-ish chance of winning my $4 discount tea strainer, versus a chance somewhat equal to getting struck by lightening whilst finding a needle in The World’s Largest Haystack (I believe that’s somewhere in rural Ohio, by the way).

Come on. You know you want to win, even if it’s just a little tiny something. Don’t you.

I love this strainer. How completely adorable is it? (though, admittedly, not this adorable). And, true to its word, the tea leaves stay in the stainless basket. It even comes with a little stand to catch the drippings after steeping. It likely cost way more than $4 on its original shelf. Probably even, like, $10. And it kind of looks like a witch’s hat, which is seasonally appropriate.

Who knows. Maybe I’ll start giving away items I dig out of the bin at Goodwill. That’s the underwhelming reach of my generosity. And pocketbook.

To Enter this Mind-Boggling Giveaway:

1) leave a comment, telling me what you would buy if you had $4 burning a hole in your pocket.

2) for a second entry, follow me on twitter, and tweet the following: “I just entered an amazing FOUR DOLLAR GIVEAWAY from @katyshecooks [insert link to this post]!!!!” If you want the tweet to count as an entry, you must leave a comment here w/ a link, or else I’ll never know. I’m just not that organized.

3) can’t think of another way to self-promote at the expense of your energy. So, just review numbers 1 & 2.

A winner will be selected, at random, via random.org, randomly, at 9pm (or maybe 10? whenever I remember to do it) on Sunday, October 16. Winner will be notified by email sometime in the early days of next week.

Also, no choice on color. All they had was yellow.

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* This is totally my issue. Many, many bloggers do giveaways with honesty and generosity and without having to spend their own money at junk stores. You should definitely be reading their blogs, not mine.

** Congrats to OrdinarySarah, who’s lifelong dream was realized the day I told her she won the strainer. Ok, maybe not lifelong dream… but apparently she did dream that she was at my house, asking about the strainer, the day before she won it. This did not in any way influence the contest, unless random.org is able to be controlled by the dreams of pregnant women. Thanks to all of you who confessed your love of $4 coffee drinks, I’m right there with ya.

I might have a problem

thrift-enamelware-before

I’ve covered before my love of thrifting. But recently I have harbored a suspicion that my quaint hobby could actually be a clinical problem.

I’ve been caught sneaking thrift trips. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: Hey, do you have plans tonight? I need to run to Target — we’re completely out of toilet paper (which may or may not have happened due to intentional oversight on my part).

Tim: Uh, sure. I mean, we can’t be without toilet paper.

(we eat dinner, I leave, return in two hours)

Tim: Get lost on the way to Target?

Me: I know! Traffic was so bizarrely heavy for 8pm on a Wednesday! And Target? It was a total mess! And, well, you know, I was just driving right by Value World, so I just ran in for a second.

(At this point, I sheepishly bring in the piles of junk discoveries, eager to win him over to my cause by telling how little I spent after using my 50% off coupon. He is not convinced, and just responds with something completely oblique like where are we going to put all that crap or did you really need another enameled pan we already have five that look just like it.)

The past couple of weeks, my obsession has been fueled to new, dangerous levels. We have a Goodwill Outlet in town — and if you’ve never been to one, I’ll offer a description: a huge warehouse room, where big bins of junk are wheeled out 4 times a day. People literally run to the bins, to be the first to start digging. After my first visit, I stashed a pair of rubber gloves in my purse for future trips. It’s junk, it’s trash. But in there, buried, is sometimes a treasure. They price it by the pound — 69¢.

I think of it like stopping at one of those kitschy mines in the mountains, to pay to pan for gold.

I’ve been subconsciously rearranging my schedule in order to have reasons to drive by the outlet. I might not get in a trip this week, and — no exaggeration — this is causing much anxiety.

And I’m not alone. My friend Erin (her blog brings me joy every single time I read it, she is both magical and real, and has a knack for making everything beautiful) has started a weekly post called Out of the Bin — where she shows a photo of her recent Goodwill find as she first sees it in the bin, and then a photo of the item in her home. She’s the one who introduced me to The Outlet — rumor has it she can go 3 times in one week — and has found (or witnessed others finding) things such as brand-new Danskos and Phil & Ted strollers.

And while I would not think twice about scooping up a $500 stroller to resell on Craigslist, when thrifting I am mostly looking for kitchen goods.

In my 2 trips to the Goodwill Outlet, I’ve yet to be coordinated enough to snap a photo of an item before I grab it out of the bin (if you read Erin’s post, she too might start second-guessing this habit, as it can be risky). But I did snap a semi-before and after photo of a recent thrifting find — not at Goodwill, but at another chain of stores called Value World. First stop is kitchen wares — quirky vintage, high-end pots and pans, old popcorn poppers to use as coffee roasters. I came across a pile of vintage enamelware — 16 pieces in all — for $7.50. Why buy 16 pieces of enamelware? The plan is to fill my kitchen with vintage items that are often better quality than modern-day counterparts, on the cheap. A bonus would be to sell things in my Etsy Store (don’t bother browsing, there are currently no items), and make my millions.

A perfectly logical fantasy from a woman who spends her time donning gloves and digging through other people’s junk.

Next stop, dumpster-diving.

thrift-enamelware-after1
{you can put your weed in there}

Three things you need in your kitchen, even if you don’t yet know it.

Hey, Mother’s Day is this Sunday!

(You probably already knew that. Unlike me — because, since a decade ago I got married on Mother’s Day weekend, I always think it’s right around my anniversary. And since we’re celebrating our anniversary next weekend in Chicago, I’ve been thinking that’s when Mother’s Day will also occur. I have obviously been wrong, as discovered last night. Related: sorry Mom, but you won’t be getting a card from me today, or tomorrow. But maybe next week? It will never be said that your birthed a punctual middle child.)

In the spirit of having an impending day that often includes gift-giving, I thought I’d share my recommendations for a few (mostly) inexpensive things that are — in my mind — near-indispensable tools in the kitchen. You might not have time to request them for yourself, but if you are a mom, and your weekend plans include some shopping time to yourself, perhaps this is a good time for a self-gratifying splurge at Target (where you can possibly purchase all of these things, last I checked).

 

1. Oven Thermometer: $6

If I could make a set of rules for the kitchen that everyone in the world had to live by (that should happen at some point, right?), one of the first ones would be to require an oven thermometer in every single oven. No matter how fancy or expensive the oven in your kitchen, you need one of these. The vast majority of household ovens do not accurately display the oven temperature. Frequently, an oven will tell you it’s preheated when it’s not yet up to temp. And then, it will over-heat, often up to 50º higher than the setting. In a best-case scenario, you have to wait 10 extra minutes for your scones. But more often, you’re taking burned food out of the oven. And all of this can be fielded by using a $6 oven thermometer.

I don’t assume my oven is adequately preheated unless my thermometer tells me so. I also check it during the cooking process, and adjust the knob as necessary to keep a relatively even heat. For a while, I gave one of these as part of wedding gifts, even if the bride didn’t request it (I know, I was one of those annoying people who went “off-registry,” probably leading to the return of dozens of oven thermometers across the country — but at least I tried). If you don’t have one of these in your oven, put it on your list. You and your baked goods will never be sorry.

Also, plan to buy a new one every year or so — if you’re like me, yours will get so splattered with cooking food that after that length of time you will no longer be able to read it.

2. Instant-read Thermometer ($3-$10)

These run a range of prices. For many years, we used a cheap analog version ($3) which works great, especially if it’s that or nothing at all. But a couple years ago I splurged (seven more bucks) on the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated equipment reviews, the CDN ProAccurate quick-read digital ($10). I love this thermometer.

Last week, on my infamous day of inconvenience, I took it with me to Emily’s house to read the temperature of our grilled steaks. Her adorable 18-month old dropped it in the grass, and it stopped working (I hold no one responsible but myself, since it was my thermometer, and something of mine was just bound to break that day). I chalked it up to a used-up battery (we’ve never replaced it), and brought it home to deal with later. This week, no less than three times, I needed that thing. I had no idea how often I reach for it — to check the temperature of everything from warm milk in yogurt-making to warming custard in ice-cream making. Not to mention cooking sausage, roasting chickens, grilling steaks, etc. Cooking meat well requires a knowledge of internal temperature — it’s not just for Thanksgiving turkeys!

Tim checked the battery on ours last night, and it must’ve just needed to be tightened, because now it’s working like a charm. I like the pricier CDN for it’s speed and digital accuracy, but even the $3 ones will make any cook a more accurate one.

3. Digital Food Scale ($40-$50)

Ok, I know, I just threw a $50 one in there, like it’s nothing. But if you know me, you know I don’t spend $50 on much of anything — so it must, for some people, be worth it.

My first kitchen scale was purchased at a yard sale for $2. It was plastic, with an old-fashioned red line that marked the weight. For weighing out pounds of potatoes, apples, dried beans, etc. in recipes, it was just fine. Accurate, but not down to the gram. Which is what you need in baking.

So a couple years ago, I bought one of these using birthday money — and have never looked back. I would replace it in a heartbeat if it broke, for by now I can’t imagine my kitchen life without it. The reasons why:

  • bread-baking
    For years — and I mean at least 10 — I baked bread using cup measures. I fluffed and scraped, just as recommended. And for each and every one of those years, my bread dough was different every time I made it. I chalked it up to humidity, to living in the deep south — and even scoffed at books that told me accurate measurements would mean consistent bread dough. They don’t live in the South, I’d say, eyes rolling at their NYC-ness. 

    And then one day, I bought this OXO scale on yet another Cook’s Illustrated test recommendation. And I kid you not, my bread dough is always the same, every time I make it (it might bake a little differently, based on weather, but the bread dough is consistent). I’m so wed to this contraption, I’ve put off posting my new-and-improved pre-fermented sandwich bread recipe because I just don’t want to figure out the measurements by volume (so do me a favor, and if you bake bread, ask for one of these for your next birthday, so I can then post the recipe w/o suffering a backlash of frustrated non-scale-owners).

    No exaggeration: if you bake bread with any regularity, you need one of these.

  • all the rest of your baking
    Even when I’m not making yeast bread, I’d much rather use a recipe that uses weights rather than measures. For no other reason than the fact that I only dirty one bowl. No measuring cups to wash, no butter knife for scraping flour. I put my mixer bowl on the scale, and add my ingredients one-by-one, zeroing out the scale between additions. It’s a thing of beauty. And my kids like to push the buttons.
  • your ebay & etsy goods
    Wanna skip the post office? Your kitchen scale will weigh, down to the ounce, the crap you sell on eBay — so you can buy your shipping label online and arrange for a carrier pick-up. Save your gas money, baby — the scale will pay for itself (make sure you get the 11-pound capacity for those bigger boxes).

So go, ye, and purchase! Spend $3 or $65 for one or all three — no matter your list, your kitchen life will improve. And just so you know, the links above are affiliate links — so if you use the link to purchase an item from Amazon, I will add your pennies to my virtual change jar, saving up for that Kindle (which according to my calculations I should be able to purchase in the summer of 2016). Of course you can also get them all at Target (perhaps not that version of the OXO scale) or your local kitchen store.

And if you’re a mother, happy day on Sunday! Work it for all you can — unless of course you are my Mom, with a forgetful daughter, and then you can just be looking for videos of cute grandkids in your inbox.

 

Just doing my part to fight crime

My husband and I are not picky about the cars we drive. This has nothing to do with any sense of self-denial for the greater good (if so, we’d ride bikes everywhere, right?) — but everything to do with the fact that we’re cheap, stingy, sons-of-motherless-goats. Both of us.

So, while I’ll admit to admiring my share of late-model Volvo wagons; will confess that I secretly, mildly curse every woman I watch open the hatch and both side doors of her minivan by pressing a sleek button from a distance of 100 feet as she balances a toddler and five bags of groceries on two shoulders; reveal that in-dash navigation systems make me tingly all over — I do hold tight to an advantage my stripped-down, used, pre-cool-model, blend-in gold Honda Odyssey has over all of these things:

No one is breaking into it.

(Knock on faux wood-grain interior.)

We are just not flashy people (again, cross-reference the part above about our frugality, our miserliness, our motherless-goatness). We have a flat-screen tv, but stash it way up in our attic playroom so no potential ne’er-do-wells can see it from street view (we do live in a city, a city where most every neighborhood has its share of petty thievery, usually targeting flat-screen tvs).

I take comfort, walking in my 7-year old Danskos, that nobody could possibly want what I have. Why should someone try to steal from me?

This thought is so prevalent in my mind — this precious way I have, of balancing the scales of covetousness — that it was my first thought today as I wiped the splattered egg white and flour from my Kitchenaid stand mixer, like washing down a thoroughbred after a good race. I’ve had this tilt-head classic for almost 10 years, but by looking at it you would think I inherited it from my grandmother. Packing tape holds the hinge pin in place, and motor grease seeps out underneath. The butter, oil, flour, and eggs of countless loaves and cakes past has given the once-pristine white sheen a yellow haze, like teeth in need of cleaning.

We once purchased a replacement — a Kitchenaid Professional, with larger capacity and improved dough hook — but it couldn’t whip a small amount of heavy cream, a task the least of which I felt I should ask my mixer to do with ease. So we returned it, and kept our Little Engine that Could. No, I will never be able to mix enough dough for 4 loaves of bread — and I fully expect one day for the hinge pin to break free from its cellophane binding, sending the mixer head crashing to its death on my cold tile floor.

Until then, though, it’s safe in my kitchen, safe from would-be culinary thieves. No one will peer into my empty house one day, and break glass with eyes set on this mixer as misdemeanor prize.

But since I do occasionally leave my Le Creuset dutch oven in full-kitchen view, I’m double-locking my doors, just in case.

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday, at GNOWFGLINS.

Me and my crock pot.

Yesterday, as I needed to cook a MASSIVE quantity of soaked chickpeas for tonight’s smoky fried chickpeas, I happily dug out my slow-cooker. Knowing the beans needed to cook for quite a while, at a relatively low temperature, to reach a desired consistency; and knowing that my kitchen might get a tad bit warm since we hit a record-high temp of 95º yesterday — the crock pot was ideal. I was reminded, yet again, of how much I love it. I don’t use it very often, but when I do — it’s the perfect countertop appliance.

It inspired me to recycle a post I did a couple years ago when I first realized my feelings of adoration. Even now, two years later, my love is just as strong.

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I love my crock pot.

Before you get all “oh, and next your gonna tell me your favorite recipe uses a can of cream-of-mushroom soup” on me, let me qualify that statement:

  • If someone held a gun to my head and told me to choose either the crock pot or my Le Creuset dutch oven, I’d throw the crock pot by the cord into the nearest body of deep water, without blinking.
  • I’ve never made a dessert in it.
  • I don’t use it as a dumping ground for a variety of canned goods and then, eight hours later, call it dinner.

I first requested this appliance after hearing an interview on NPR with the author of a “gourmet” crock pot cookbook (my memory is fuzzy on where I heard that interview, so don’t go looking for it in the NPR archives). She described some quite useful ways of utilizing its convenience, including the fact that, in summer, you could cook a whole chicken without heating your entire house and by consuming the same amount of energy required to light a 60-watt bulb. These things appealed to me.

For example, I am making a dish tomorrow night that requires cooked, shredded chicken. About a half-hour ago, I pulled 3 pounds of bone-in chicken leg quarters out of their packages, rinsed and dried them, seasoned them with salt and pepper, and dropped them in the crock pot. Turned it on low, and that’s it. They’ll be done around 8 or 9 this evening, when I’ll take them out, let them cool on a plate for a short while, and stick them in the fridge. Tomorrow all I have to do is pull the meat off the bone. So easy, and so perspiration-free, I was inspired to write a post describing my devotion to a small kitchen appliance.

Before you continue to write it off, thinking in your Amish way, “yeah, but I don’t need cooked chicken that often, and if I do, I’ll just poach it on the stovetop, the old-fashioned way,” consider two more favorite uses (mainly utilized in winter, when it’s not the warmth of the kitchen that pains me, but the gas bill):

  • Stews. The crock pot is really wonderful for beef, chicken, and lamb stews. I prefer the boneless meats over bone-in chicken, because the extended cooking time can make chicken bones fall apart, which I find unappealing.
  • STOCK! STOCK! STOCK! This is the reason I can almost always use homemade chicken and vegetable stock in soups and sauces. There are a variety of ways to do it, explained quite nicely in a book called Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook(I’m not a fan of every recipe in the book, but overall it’s a good resource). No, you don’t end up with pristine, clear stock like you would if you watched it boil over the stove for 6 hours, skimming impurities until you were blind from the effort, but the end result makes canned broth seem like salt water. It makes all our winter soups taste, well, homemade.

Oh, and if aesthetics are an issue, they do make lovely stainlessones these days. I’m not quite cool enough for that yet, so mine has little flowers on it. You might argue that this is one foot inside the door of the “I Heart Country” club, but if it means a cooler kitchen, I just might be willing to pay the dues.