Safe, Safer, Safest

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Lately, Sam has become more sensitive to loud noises in the kitchen.   Anything that bangs or grinds or clangs startles all four feet off the floor and backwards about a meter.  What has changed that every pot lid that clamps down on a pot, every dropped fork makes him jump out of his skin?   He finds it safer now to stand in the doorway of the kitchen while we’re cooking, to be safe from anything that might disrupt his delicate sensibilities.

If the kitchen drama becomes too scary, he will go off for a nap, sometimes where it feels safest of all.



Kitchen of Perfection

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

“It would be impossible to describe in detail the lavish variety, the orderly complexity, the gleaming cleanliness of that great room, but the effect it wrought upon his sense was instant and overwhelming.  It was one of the most beautiful, spacious, thrilling and magnificently serviceable rooms that he had ever seen: everything in it was designed for use and edged with instant readiness; there was not a single thing in the room that was not needed, and yet its total effect was to give one a feeling of power, space, comfort, rightness and abundant joy.”  Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River (1935).     This exactly describes what the Microsoft Kitchen of the Future is NOT.

I’m reading American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes; it was from this anthology that I pulled the above quote.    Like a Rorschach test, the manifestation of this perfect kitchen could be imagined so differently by different readers- what, exactly, would be thrilling about one’s own ‘perfect kitchen’?    a Wolf range?  two sinks?  a moving sidewalk?  Without a dishwasher, our present kitchen, while serviceable, will never attain perfection.  But today, while out shopping, we obtained four items that soon will be cleaned and “edged with instant readiness”:   a  wide wire spoon for fishing fried things from molten oil, a 9-inch tamis (which was made in Japan and, from the label, appears to be something used to strain beaten eggs ??), and two long-lusted-after large, aluminum sheet pans.    What I won’t be able to do with those sheet pans!  There is a space in the kitchen that has been waiting for them, a place that I can reach them, half a step from the sink,  so they may assist in all the prepping, dry-rubbing, drying, marinating, resting, proofing, cooling and draining for which I have [long had!] need.

From the library, I also picked up The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook; complete with recipes, musings and terrible, terrible illustrations.   Originally published in 1954, I am amused by the recipes in which the tools, techniques and/or ingredients are out of date:

Suprême of Pike A La Dijonaise

Cut the fillets from a pike, see that no bones adhere and then skin them.  Interlard them as one does fillet of beef.  Put them in a deep dish with 1/4 cup brandy, 1/2 cup sherry, and 1 cup good, dry red wine, salt and pepper and 4 shallots chopped fine and 4 bouquets each containing 1 stalk of celery, 1 small twig of thyme and 1/4 laurel leaf, each bouquet tied in a muslin bag.  Baste with liquid and put aside.  In winter keep for 48 hours, in summer for 24 hours, basting twice a day.   When the fillets are ready to be cooked place in a deep earthenware dish which has been heavily coated with soft butter, the fillets, the four little bags and the strained marinade.  Put into preheated oven 400º for about 20 minutes, basting frequently.  When the fillets are well browned, remove from oven, add 2 tablespoons cream and 3 tablespoons soft butter. Baste and serve at once.

“I’ll be working from home today;  I must be here to interlard and then baste my pike.”

Kitchen of the Future

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Weeks ago, we watched a corny Food Network special on “Kitchens of the Future”.   There was plenty of nonsense gadgetry and expensive ideas, but by far the silliest was the Microsoft Kitchen of the future.   Demo-ed by a Microsoft exec (she was female of course), the kitchen had the voice-response lighting and music controls, the baseline automation that comes with any futuristic home.   And then there were the add-ons, like the canned computer voice-response system, the recipe projection and the inventory management.   All of these “aids” were really annoying, even to watch, but by FAR,  the most aggravating feature was the real-life equivalent to that wretched paper clip;  as the woman started removing flour and yeast from the cupboards, the computer voice screeched “Looks like you are baking bread.  Do you want to see a bread recipe?”    Argh! Even typing that makes me cringe.    So the woman shouts. “YES.” and the computer projects a list of bread recipes onto the kitchen counter, through which she scrolls and then selects “Focaccia”.    “Hal” read the recipe aloud, at a pace too fast for the woman actually baking the bread, and then interrupted part of her on-camera interview as well.   She rolled her eyes and paused to shout at the computer voice to shut up stop.

The only thing that I might possibly concede as useful – though it is far outweighed by the amplification of annoyances in the kitchen – was the projected diameter for the focaccia she was rolling out.   This might make it marginally easier to roll out dough to the required diameter, if one’s head didn’t block the projection.    At any rate, MS has a looooong way to go before being welcome in my kitchen.

img_0038.jpgBut after all this, I was tempted to make focaccia.  Never made it before, and bread is always a little daunting, but what’s the worst that could happen-  over-yeasting?   wasting bread flour?   I went straight for the recipe in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice;  the recipe was not read aloud by any annoying computer voice and no paper clips barged in on my baking.  Without a computer, I was miraculously able to turn out a rather spectacular focaccia, if I do say so myself.  Still warm from the oven, I cut wedges of the loaf in half, slathered them with fig jam, some hot coppa, a little asiago and grilled them melty on the Foreman.   Crisp, chewy perfection.