A Fool for a Kitchen Tool
According to Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, a gadget is "an often small mechanical or electronic device with a practical use but often thought of as a novelty" whereas a tool is "a handheld device that aids in accomplishing a task."
With these dictionary distinctions in mind, can you answer the following question: In the kitchen, are you a tool or a gadget person?
Humor me and do a mental inventory of the drawer that contains cooking-related items other than flatware. Whatcha got in there? Anything from the Nixon era, by chance? I've got a few rubber spatulas that have seen better days, and a mini funnel that I've never used, but I digress.
As I scan the shelves and cabinets, I would describe my baterie de cuisine (the tools and equipment that help me cook) as minimalist. (Some would argue Spartan.) Although limitations on physical space have impacted my inventory, I have developed over the years a yen for kitchen simplicity.
For starters, I prefer mechanical over electric items; instead of a pop-up toaster, I've got a stovetop, camping toasting apparatus that works beautifully, thank you very much. Coffee is brewed in a decidedly un-electric, French press. As much as I love my food processor, I recognize its limitations; small ingredients such as spices, herbs and garlic, require the handheld action of a mortar and pestle (I've three in different sizes) instead. And when it comes to purees, that food processor frequently lacks the precision muscle to yield a maximum velvety texture, free of bits, skins and seeds.
I used it last night to make creamy tomato soup (taking advantage of late-season tomatoes). Instead of peeling and seeding the tomatoes, I put them through the food mill after cooking, and the process was a cinch. Apple sauce is a breeze this way, too; quarter the apples, skin on, and after cooking, put everything through the mill, and you'll be in business. It's equally useful in making mashed potatoes and when you're irritated by the seeds in raspberries.
Below are some guidelines on making creamy tomato soup (which is perfect with a grilled cheese this time of year, by the way), using the food mill. Of course, it's possible to make do without a food mill, so don't worry. However, if you're keen to expand your kitchen tool set, a food mill is a valuable team player. Plan to spend about 50 bucks in a cookware store; I found lower prices, however, at online sites such as amazon.com and cooking.com.
Creamy Tomato Soup
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
5 large tomatoes, quartered
A few sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
2 cups water or stock
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
¼-1/2 cup half and half or heavy cream
Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until soft, about 7 minutes. Add spices and with a wooden spoon, stir to coat. Add flour; mixture will foam slightly. Add tomatoes, then enough liquid to cover. Bring up to a boil, then reduce heat and cook at a simmer, about 30 minutes, until tomatoes are soft. Remove thyme (if using); allow to cool for five minutes. Puree mixture in a food processor or with a hand-held stick blender.
Pass pureed mixture through a food mill to eliminate skins and seeds. (Alternatively, you can blanch tomatoes early in the process to remove skins and remove seeds with a spoon before adding to the pot with the other ingredients.)
Return puree to pot and add salt and pepper to taste. Add half-and-half or cream, tasting for richness; add more if desired. Reheat at a simmer until ready to serve.
Garnish with basil chiffonade.
Makes 4 servings. Serving suggestion: Toasted cheese on baguette, slathered with a strong mustard, cut into "soup-dippable" pieces.
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