Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Five Kitchen Devices that Should Only Be Used for One Thing

If you've followed my blog for any length of time you'll know that I am not overly fond of kitchen gadgets that are only good for one specific task. I'm thinking about items like the "Duralast String Bean String Extractor", "Chef Jimmy's Pork Rind Warmer", or "Cretino's Dry Spaghetti Breaker." I like items that have multiple purposes even if I have to come up with the ideas myself. I mean, who among us hasn't used a big can of spaghetti sauce from the pantry, a large cookbook, or Uncle Andy's wooden leg (but only when he's napping) to pound chicken breasts?

Face it, I just don't like kitchen clutter so I make it a point to buy items that multi-task. However, there are some kitchen devices that are pretty much good for only one thing and one thing only. To use them for unintended purposes could result in injury, death or a butt-load of embarrassment at your next big shindig.

Using the icemaker to create frozen daiquiris. Most people dislike the fact that frozen daiquiris become diluted as the ice melts. Some of us have tried to circumvent the problem by hooking our icemakers up to vats of rum-infused daiquiri mix. Only one problem: You need water pressure to make it work. Petitioning the water company to add a second "booze line" is a waste of time. Just ask the citizens of Key West. (However, I understand some Caribbean countries, like Barbados, have a two-spigot system. One for rum and the other one for dark rum.) The only other alternative is to mount a cooler on your roof, fill it full of booze, and run a line to your icemaker. The force of gravity should be enough to fill your ice machine. The downside is that after you run out you have to climb up onto the roof to refill it. Not a good idea after you just drained it dry at a party.

Oh and by the way, stapling two wires to the cooler and running them down to the back of your big-screen TV will not provide you with free satellite TV. I'm just saying.

Using the microwave oven to take out the chill in a room. There's a reason they put that screen with little holes in it on the microwave door. And there's a reason they installed a switch that won't allow the oven to operate unless the door is closed. You see, microwave ovens don't actually create heat; its radio waves excite the molecules in water and fat thus creating heat. Remember, human beings are 98% water (and many of us are also 98% fat) so bypassing the switch on your door to run the microwave with it open will, indeed, warm things up a bit. But not in the way that you or any of your guests expected. You feeling chilly? Grab a butter knife and stick it into the nearest electrical outlet. It's faster and cheaper.

Using the electric knife sharpener on other utensils. Knife sharpeners are great for knives. Everyone knows a sharp knife is a safe knife. But it is not good for forks and spoons. Think about it; when was the last time anyone ever complained that your forks weren't sharp enough? Of course, if one of my dinner guests did just that, I'd ask them to repeat it. After I stabbed them in the hand while asking, "Sharp enough for you, Bob?" And although the idea that a razor sharp spoon or ice cream scoop would get the ice cream out of the box quicker, the risk of injury from a utensil that is not normally regarded as "sharp" runs very high. Especially if you have kids. Or anyone in your house that suffers from "the shakes."

Using the garbage disposal as a blender. One would think that a two-horsepower device that can grind pork chop bones into tiny fragments would be the ideal implement to use as a blender. Forget it. Everything you put in it just winds up going down the drain. That's not so bad if you're just making creamed split pea soup (I mean, who's gonna eat that crap anyway?) but it tends to get expensive if you're whipping up a batch of margaritas. Of course, one could temporarily disconnect the plumbing so that the disposal drains into a pitcher. But it still may not be a good idea. Particularly if you recently used it to grind up a bunch of pork chop bones. No one likes having to use a toothpick after drinking a margarita. Trust me on that.

Using the exhaust fan above the stove to chop veggies. Removing the screen and using the fan as a vegetable chopper is a better idea in concept than it is in real life. (It especially sounded like a great idea after a couple of garbage disposal margaritas.) I mean what could be easier? Just put a big bowl on the stove under the fan, flip that baby on, and hurl some carrots, onions or celery up into it. Right? Wrong. You see, while most of the pieces will fall back into the bowl some pieces are bound to go up the vent. Which is a bummer if your vent empties out anywhere near the neighbor's Jacuzzi. (You shoulda seen the look on their faces when they went out to take a moonlight dip!)

On a side note: whose lamebrain idea was it to design range hoods that don't vent to the outside, but instead empty out through the front right into your face? I bet the engineers down at Kenmore busted a gut coming up with that one. (Sorta like the clowns in China at Shwang Automotive who re-engineered their exhaust systems so they would empty into the car, which not only keeps the occupants warm during the winter but also addresses the problems of smog, global warming and excess human population all at the same time.)

So how 'bout you? Have you ever tried using a kitchen device for unintended purposes? What were the results? I'm sure other readers (and ambulance-chasing attorneys) are anxious to hear about your experience.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let Your Smile Be Your Umbrella. But If It's Raining, Better Get a Real One.

A couple of months ago my blogger friend Brittany over at Dreams & Schemes (http://bit.ly/hqa1Bz) wrote about a whimsical encounter she had with a police officer on a bustling Manhattan street. She mentioned how our lives are so often filled with encounters wrapped up in BS that we tend to overlook those precious moments suffused with true human contact.

Reading about her experience reminded me of one of my own. A few years back I was in Chicago for business and found myself ambling up Michigan Avenue on what was, at the time, a lovely early-spring afternoon. There was still a chill in the air but one could easily notice the flower buds struggling to make their way skyward in the planters that lined the avenue.

Suddenly, enormous clouds stormed in from Lake Michigan and the sky opened, sending rain down in torrents. I ducked into a shop and purchased an umbrella. You know the kind - like the one grandma used to own: black with a gnarled wooden handle and large enough to shade a Buick. I think it cost me seven bucks. I paid the cashier then stepped back out onto the sidewalk and made my way south toward the river. As people scurried in and out of doorways and taxis, I offered them a space beneath my umbrella. Not a single person turned me down.

I know I couldn't have gotten away with this in New York. I probably would've been punched, knifed, or had the umbrella wrenched from my hands and broken in half over an angry thigh. Heck, the men probably would've even treated me worse.

But the City of Big Shoulders is different. It's more human and down to earth. An ideal place for an out-of-town Florida boy to offer his umbrella to complete strangers.

So I spent the better part of the afternoon under my cheap canopy chatting with folks I may never have met under other circumstances. Dozens of temporary friends and dozens of lively conversations. I'm a richer man for it.

Flash forward to July 2011: We've had lots of rain this month. Six inches one day this week alone. Unfortunately, I haven't had the pleasure of parading up and down Michigan Avenue. I've been stuck doing more mundane things: finishing a book, shopping for new tires, testing recipes, wiring a duplex, presenting some cooking demos at a market or two, getting used to our new, but temporary, living arrangements... Some of it has been fun. Some of it hasn't.

But still I find time to smile.

Even if I can't find that damned umbrella.


PS. How are you faring amid these dog days of summer? Here's a magnificent sangria recipe that I promise will bring you a smile as big as an umbrella. I know it did me!

Perfect Summer Sangria

1 bottle (750 ml) red wine: Rioja, Merlot, Shiraz, or a Cab
1/2 cup triple sec or Cointreau
1/2 cup brandy (optional)
juice of one orange (3 tablespoons)
juice of one lemon (3 tablespoons)
juice of one lime (3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 orange, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1 lime, thinly sliced
1 cup strawberries or raspberries or a combination of both
1 8-ounce can diced pineapple with juice
4 cups ginger ale

Mix the wine, triple sec, brandy, citrus juices, and sugar in a large pitcher. Refrigerate overnight.

Immediately before serving, add in the orange, lemon, and lime slices (remove seeds if possible), strawberries, pineapple and ginger ale. Serve over ice.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Cooking is Like Poetry

I've been enjoying this blog thing for the past year now.

I hope you have, too.

So far I've tossed out a plethora of cooking hints, a bevy of kitchen tips, several top ten lists, a smidgen of prose, a wiseguy remark or two...heck, I even tried my hand at some food photography (http://bit.ly/ih1gUF).

But there's one thing I haven't tackled yet:


And if you think about it, cooking is a lot like poetry.

Really. It is.

Except you don't use any vowels or consonants. Unless, of course, you're making alphabet soup.

But I've always been a great admirer of the celebrated poets: Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Theodor Geisel...

And especially Emily Dickinson.  Or was that Eric Dickerson? (Which one played for the Colts?)

So here's my first attempt at culinary poetry. I've used a classic format to build on (you may recognize it). So pour yourself a steaming cup of tea and snuggle up beside a warm fire.

And if you don't have a fireplace, throw a few ribs on the grill and pop open a beer. It's all good... Now, onto the poems:


Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Cooking is like poetry.
Except when it's not.

Okay. Enough with the wise cracks.

It was a first try.

This one, a culinary haiku, should be better:


If we eat baked beans
Trust me, no one will wonder
If we ate baked beans

No good?

Let's forget the Orient.

How bout a stab at some poetry from my peeps. The Irish. And I'm talking limericks:


Old Seamus hailed from Delbruck
He drove a Wonderbread truck
One fine day he wrecked
His boss gave him heck                        
Said Seamus, "I don't give a f**k".

I think I'm getting in the zone here.

Wrestling down the muse.

Or maybe it's the third scotch kicking in.

Either way. I'm digging this poetry thing. Here's one more:


"What should I make for dinner," she asked
As they donned black leather and masks.

"Just whip up something nice today
While I pour a Marquis de Chardonnay."

Killer. I know.

And here's another.

This one is called...no wait. I just got an e-mail from YouTooCouldBeAFamousPoet.com. They want to publish my poems in their next anthology! And it will only cost me a few hundred bucks. Boo-yeah!

While I'm getting back to them, do you have any cooking poems you think our readers might enjoy? Bring 'em on!

And while you're at it. What say we open another bottle of Chardonnay? I'll get the masks...