Archive for the ‘Modern Conveniences’ Category

Tools & Gadgets: The Stick Blender   5 comments

My stick blender died today and I miss it already. Here she lies.



I registered concern when it started sounding a little sluggish a few weeks ago, but not enough to do anything. I paid the price this evening when I went to puree some lentil soup.

Live and learn.

I don’t need to go on about how useful a tool it is. All cooks know the score. Its most valuable use — one that would make it worth the purchase price even if it did nothing else — is to puree hot soups right in the pot. This saves a cook from having to dirty the upright blender or food processor, both difficult to clean, but it also saves one from having to perform the frightening task of pureeing a hot liquid in those powerful machines. Horror stories abound: ruined ceilings, scalded faces, blindings. The stick blender is probaby just as dangerous, but using it is not such a production. And you get the same perfectly smooth, lovely soup.

Just not tonight. The lentil soup was pretty good anyway. Still, I’ll be purchasing a replacement blender immediately.

Tomato & Lentil Soup

Everyone should have at least one good recipe for lentil soup. This one is easy and delicious. It’s also vegan although it need not be so. You can use chicken stock if you prefer or even throw in some sausage. I use red lentils here because they’re so cheery.


2 onions, diced

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated finely

2 medium carrots, grated

2 tbs. olive oil

One 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes

1 cup of red lentils

6 cups of water

1/2 tsp. Marash pepper

1 tsp. tumeric

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. chili powder (I like Penzey’s)

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Salt & Pepper to taste

Tabasco sauce to taste

Sauté the onions in the olive oil over medium-high heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and carrots and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Add spices and stir for 1 minute. Throw in the chopped tomatoes, lentils, and water. Heat until soup reaches a simmer; lower heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Once the lentils are soft and melting, a well-supplied cook would puree the soup with a stick blender. The less fortunate should just smash the largest pieces of tomato with a fork. It’s depressing stuff, but there you are. Add salt, pepper, cilantro, and tabasco. Serve with crusty bread (preferably Seedy-Salt bread from Salt of the Earth in Fennville, MI.).


Posted October 14, 2009 by Admin in Lentils, Main Dishes, Modern Conveniences, Soup, Tools & Gadgets

Friday Night Pizza   4 comments

For the past two months, my daughter Mimi and I have made pizza for dinner every Friday night. It’s a new tradition, one that we provisionally refer to as “Friday Night Pizza.”

Pizza is an ideal food to make with small children. Save the dough, sauce, and baking, pizza-making is almost pure assembly. There’s not a lot of knife-work either; I cut up the ingredients in advance and pile them onto a plate for Mimi. This approach is not only safe, it also allows for plenty of snacking, which is all part of the fun.

I’d like to say that Friday Night Pizza has been successful from the start, but I can’t; we’ve eaten a lot of bad pizza. It’s my fault, not Mimi’s. I wanted a rustic kind of pizza with a thin, flavorful crust and simple toppings. Easier said than done. The toppings have been fine–especially one early favorite of hot capicola and smoked mozzarella–but the crusts have been consistently bad. I’ve tried to blame the unbelievably humid weather, but the truth is that I’m just not comfortable with dough-making. The finished pizza crusts have definately reflected my dough discomfort. They have have been overworked, tasteless, salty, or just insipid. Last night, however, we had a breakthrough. And here’s the proof.

pizza Nearly perfect pizza. The solution was to use the dough cycle of the bread machine. The toppings were simple–almost incidental to the finished product–just pepperoni and fresh mozzarella, with a final sprinkling of basil from the garden. Ah, but the crust. The crust was the thing: crunchy on the bottom, slightly chewy around the edges, mildly sweet from the honey in the dough.

I made the dough itself last week in the bread machine and froze it. On Friday afternoon, the dough defrosted on the counter and rose again. When we were ready to cook, Mimi punched it down–her favorite part of the process–then I dropped it onto the prepared pizza peel. We took turns rolling it out. Once we liked the size of the crust, I let it rest on the peel for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, the pizza stone warmed up in a very hot oven (450 degrees for about 45 minutes). I grated some parmesan cheese onto the base of the crust and we used an off-set spatula to spread out some sauce (purchased sauce–once I perfect the crust, I’ll start to make my own). Next, Mimi carefully layered on the pepperoni and cheese.

Finally, and somewhat precariously, I slid the whole thing onto the scorching hot pizza stone for 20 minutes. After I took out the pizza, I left it alone for five minutes and then cut it into slices.

pizza2The finished product was simple, straightfoward, a little mishshapen, and very much worth such a small amount of effort.

The trouble that I’ve had with the dough seems appropriate, considering what’s really going on here. Friday Night Pizza is hardly an original idea for a tradition,but I reasoned that cooking it ourselves would make it just complicated enough to feel special. Frankly, however, I feel a little sheepish about using the bread machine to make the dough. Does using a machine nullify my right to proclaim my pizza crust “homemade?” Does it compromise the tradition in some way? Should I just admit defeat and call Domino’s?

These questions haunt me as I roll out the dough, which seems like a very serious culinary activity regardless of the origins of the item being rolled. They inevitably lead to me to other, more philosophical questions. Questions like: how do I teach my daughter to honor tradition when I don’t have a lot of spare time? How do I preserve traditional culinary practices like bread making? How do I champion slow food when life is so fast paced? Is it cheating to use modern conveniences and shortcuts?

These are important concerns because it isn’t just me and Mimi and the dough who assemble in the kitchen every Friday afternoon. It’s me and Mimi and the dough as we are presently, but I’m also aware that our future selves are loitering around there in the kitchen. To consciously institute a tradition, as I am doing, means that I’m taking the long view. As my daughter and I work out together the foundation of the pizza–that sticky, finicky, weather-affected dough–we also work out the details of the tradition. And is that tradition compromised by the long shadow of the bread machine?

In the end, I think using it is justified. It saves a lot of time; I’m not nearly as traumatized by poor results than I might be if I’d slaved over the dough myself; my daugher has a better time as a result. I didn’t make the cheese or the pepperoni either, and few people would fault me for that.

I did grow the basil. I am, after all, a traditionalist at heart.

Basic Bread Machine Pizza Dough

The dough recipe is adapted from one I found at

1 cup warm, flat beer–I used a honey porter

1 package of yeast

2 cups bread flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon course sea salt

Put all of the ingredients into the machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer (usually liquid first). The recipe makes two crusts, each about 8-9 inches in diameter. The dough freezes well, but as the description above indicates, it’s best to defrost the dough and let it have a second rise before working. Those rest periods seem to have improved the texture of the finished crust.

Posted September 26, 2009 by Admin in Food traditions, Modern Conveniences, Pizza