Remember Jell-O salad and salmon mousse molds? Crock pots? How about fondue pots or manual meat grinders? Tabletop ice cream and bread makers?
As home cooks, we have some specialty equipment that is used once a year, and others that haven’t been used in years, if ever. Instead of tossing it out this year as you clean your kitchen cupboards, think about why you bought it, and what fun it might be to use it again.
One of our 2013 food resolutions is to toss what should be tossed, and keep the rest. For example, we’re taking a hard look at those spices. Dried herbs and spices over six months to a year old get tossed out. Ann, who canned cherry chutney with a friend this past June, recalls using black mustard seeds and cardamom pods from the back of the spice cabinet which turned out to be so old, they ruined the chutney. Discerning it was the old spice, and not the recipe, caused much laughter and embarrassment!
We all give away equipment we later regret. We recently heard a story about a woman who long ago gave away her cast-iron skillet. She thought it was too old-fashioned. It had been around forever. She wishes she had that skillet now, knowing it was well-seasoned with cooking and memories and of a sturdy quality.
The same goes for her old General Electric toaster that she gave away. She told us it never broke once in 30 years, but that in the past year and a half, she’s had five toasters made in China. Whether it is the punch bowl, the mince tart tins or the fondue pot, sometimes judicious storing for another year feels better.
Specialty kitchen equipment is part of our essential cooking repertoire that we couldn’t do without, and it varies from person to person. Georgeanne loves and uses her Atlas hand-cranked pasta machine, and stainless steel restaurant-grade Chinoise. Ann relies on her Cuisinart and French food mill.
We both use our sausage grinders and stuffers, our Kitchen Aid standing mixers (and, well, some of the attachments), and mortars and pestles, but in the recesses of our pantries and kitchen cabinets we have so much that goes unused. This year, instead of giving them away during the year-end effort to clean out the cupboards, we’ve resolved to bring them back to life — at least for one more chance.
Here is our top 10 list of unused equipment:
* Fish steamer: Ann found this at a garage sale years ago. You know the kind. Long, narrow stainless steel with its own tight-fitting lid and the rack inside. Perfect for steaming fish, which she once did — a whole salmon for New Year’s Day a decade ago for a special guest from England.
* Gnocchi maker: Georgeanne actually purchased this for her son as a Christmas stocking gift, because he loved gnocchi so much. As he moved on in life, he left the gnocchi maker behind.
* Grain grinder: Ann never gave hers away, and used it in college once a week to make bread. The grinder weighs at least 5 pounds, grinds any kind of grain into flour, of any coarseness, and brings back memories of a different day.
* Universal food and meat chopper: This hand-crank grinder is easily assembled and in Ann’s house, is used once a year by her mother to grind cranberries and oranges the old-fashioned way, with the bottom screw for counter mounting and the medium grinding plate inserted.
The auger, as you crank it, pushes the top-loaded fruit through the medium grinding plate into a bowl and you have your product ready for Thanksgiving cranberry relish. The chopper, made from cast iron, is assembled and disassembled with each use, and stored in its small box in between use, in the kitchen cupboard.
Made in New Britain, Conn., they used to be a staple in every American kitchen for meat and vegetable grinding.
* Potato ricer: It is supposed to make fluffier mashed potatoes and is one of those great hand-powered tools. Ann, who had wanted one for years only to use it once upon finally getting it, realized why it had gone out of fashion in the first place. It takes a long time to push potatoes through the ricer.
* Crock pot: Georgeanne’s daughter wanted one for Christmas last year, and in researching them, Georgeanne found there were as many kinds as there are cooks. She bought one for her daughter, in a medium price range that seemed to suit the purpose, but decided not to replace the one she gave away years ago.
* Parsley chopper: A few years ago, Georgeanne was given a vintage parsley chopper. It looks like a small tin measuring cup but has a chopping blade inside that is turned by a hand crank. She’s only used it once or twice, but keeps it for the memory of the person who gave it to her, an older woman who had come to one of Georgeanne’s cooking demonstrations who could no longer cook, but loved the parsley chopper and wanted someone to have it who would understand.
* Ice cream maker: Georgeanne has the old-fashioned White Mountain ice cream maker but with an electric motor to turn the canister of ice cream or sorbet mixture. It gets packed with ice at least once a year to make apricot or strawberry ice cream, sometimes green almond or quince.
* Mandoline: The perfect hand tool for slicing, julienning and even crisscross cutting, but it remains in Ann’s top cupboard much of the time. Somehow assembling and disassembling seems more time-consuming than a knife — yet the mandoline has capabilities that remain unexplored. This is the perfect project for a cold winter day of cooking and equipment research — now, how does that crisscross blade work?
* Fondue pot: After relentlessly searching thrift shops for a discard, Ann got a new fondue set for Christmas with both the metal pot for meat and a ceramic one for cheese and chocolate, complete with six long-handled forks. Georgeanne has two sets and we’ve included her classic recipe below for Cheese Fondue.
It’s fine to try different cheeses in this fondue. Use an equal amount of grated Beaufort for the Gruyère or an equal amount of mild, soft blue such as Blue Castello or Montbriac, raclette, or a triple cream such as Brillat-Savarin for the Emmentaler.
6 cloves garlic
2 cups dry white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 ¾ pound Gruyère cheese, shredded
¾ pound Emmentaler cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons kirsch
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 ½ day-old baguettes or equivalent amount of artisanal nut, herb or whole-grain bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
Putting it together:
If using a ceramic fondue pot, set the oven to 250 F and put the fondue pot in the oven to warm. If using a metal fondue pot, skip this step. Fill the burner of the fondue pot with denatured alcohol.
Crush the garlic with a garlic press or grate with a grater and put into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or directly into the metal fondue pot. Add the wine and place the pan over high heat. As soon as bubbles form around the edges, after about 2 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cheeses, a little at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the cheese melts completely into a smooth, creamy mass. Stir in the kirsch, nutmeg and pepper.
To serve, light the burner of the fondue pot and place it on the table. Pour the hot fondue from the saucepan into the warmed ceramic pot, or transfer the metal fondue pot directly to the burner. Set out fondue forks and pass the bread cubes. For a convivial winter meal, serve with a simple green salad and crisp white wine.
— Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of the award-winning “Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” (2012.) If you have a piece of unused kitchen equipment, they’d love to hear your story. Co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo, they have a food and agricultural consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC. Their blog “Who’s Cooking School Lunch?” features personal stories of front-line men and women cooking school lunches. See the blog at www.whoscookingschoolunch.com and reach Ann and Georgeanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.