After the responses to last week’s post, the machines I use in the kitchen have been on my mind. I’m contemplating everything I use, short of the range. Herewith, a list of machines I use regularly and/or find useful, and a couple I find iffy, if not completely unnecessary. (For the sake of simplicity, everything is referred to as a machine, even if it doesn’t have to be plugged it.)
The coffee grinder. I love coffee. I don’t drink a lot of it, but it’s my lifeline in the morning. I always use whole beans. I can’t say that, in a blind taste test, I could tell the difference between coffee that was made with previously ground beans and coffee made with beans that are freshly ground. However, I like the idea that the less my food has been manipulated before I buy it, the better it is. If there’s even the slightest chance that our power will go out, I can be found in the kitchen grinding beans so I’m guaranteed to have coffee the next day
As a bonus, an extra coffee grinder is great for grinding spices.
The immersion blender. These things rock. All the chopping and hand crushing in the world won’t give you the results an immersion blender produces. You can also process hot food right in the pot. (Tip: An immersion blender works best in food that’s at least a few inches deep). It can’t, however, do everything. So…
The blender. I don’t have a blender, but anything that can crush ice and produce a frozen margarita is OK in my book.
The salad spinner. It’s second only to air conditioning as the greatest invention of the 20th century. You’ll never get greens dry as quickly and efficiently as with a salad spinner.
The crock pot. I’m not sure this is a time saver. The food has to be prepped before it goes into the crock pot, and I assume that people with jobs and kids and actual lives are as hard-pressed to find time to do prep work in the morning as they are in the evening. But after you get everything in the pot, you can walk away from it for a good 8 hours. I use mine primarily for red sauce with Italian sausage (long, slow cooking makes the sausage tear-inducingly tender), but a crock pot is perfect for countless foods.
It seems that, for some reason, they fell out of favor for a couple decades (maybe with the appearance of haute cuisine?), but the return of old fashioned food to the table (food that, in some homes, never disappeared) has made the crock pot popular again. Rather than disconnecting us from our food, the crock pot keeps us close to the food of our past. It’s not unlike the cast iron pot over an open fire, except it gets plugged in and it doesn’t weigh a ton.
The pasta machine. I don’t have one, and won’t be getting one any time soon. I’m kind of obsessed with learning how to make pasta entirely by hand, but I admit it scares me. It’s a slipped disc just waiting to happen. Our grandmothers made pasta by hand, but weren’t our grandmothers tough old broads? My grandmother was a Mafia wife, and I’m just not that tough. Any machine that can help the modern household have homemade pasta gets a (not at all required) pass from me.
Not exactly a mea culpa, but:
The mixer. Despite my contention that it makes us lazy, I won’t deny that the mixer can be a great tool. I never use my hand mixer, but I refuse to get rid of it, because it’s possible that some day it will be hard for me to mix something as thin as popover batter with my beloved wooden spoon. I’m convinced I don’t need my standing mixer, but I’ve stopped thinking about selling it. (I’m still firm, though, on not using it for bread or biscuit dough.)
One machine I will never understand:
The bread machine. What’s the point? It’s a one-job machine, and it takes up too much space. If you can throw everything into a machine and walk away from it, you can throw everything into a bowl, mix it up, and walk away from it. You might actually get an idea of how flour, yeast and water turns into one of the greatest foods ever created.
My goal with last week’s post was not to insult anyone. I want us all to think about how much food and food preparation have changed in the last 40 years. I think it’s important to understand the similarity between always making a 30-minute meal and always using a machine. The former is considered the downfall of western civilization and the latter is championed as advancement of the best kind. I think they’re all of a piece, and detrimental when taken too far. That doesn’t mean I want everyone to cook like Wilma Flintstone. I just don’t want technology to take over the kitchen. Although the idea of using an elephant’s trunk to rinse the dishes is rather appealing.