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?


My food mill making hand-cranked magic with tomatoes. (Kim O'Donnel)

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.


Creamy tomato soup that's better for the mill. (Kim O'Donnel)

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

Ingredients
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
basil

Method
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.

By Kim ODonnel |  October 3, 2006; 10:06 AM ET Kitchen Toys , Soup , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Comments

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My mom used her food mill every summer to make big batches of blackberry jam. Somehow, she always ended up with purple specs on the ceiling!

Posted by: amanda | October 3, 2006 1:39 PM

Hey Kim!
I don't know if you ever got the mouli answer: it's a Britishism for a food mill. The Two Fat Ladies used the mouli (spelling?) all the time.

Posted by: Phan | October 3, 2006 2:12 PM

Food mills are definitely great. Not sure if having 3 mortar+pestles counts as minimalist though...

Posted by: K | October 3, 2006 3:28 PM

I know what I'm asking for my next birthday present--a food mill! Speaking of gadgets and tools, Kim, what is your opinion of the garlic press? I absolutely love mine and use it all the time. When all I'm looking for is the equivalent of a fine chop to add flavor and don't care about seeing or biting into larger pieces/slices, I find the garlic press a great convenience.

Posted by: Angie | October 3, 2006 5:19 PM

I have a "Gourmet Masher" that I bought at Sur La Table that makes perfect mashed potatoes, mashed parsnips and squash and is great for making egg salad. It had a Chef Jamie Gwen label on it with many suggestions for its use.

Posted by: Laura | October 4, 2006 9:32 AM

I'm not a believer in the food mill. Give me my stick blender for when I need it smooth and give me my masher when I want it lumpy. Also, most of the ones I see are so expensive and hard to clean.

Posted by: Husband | October 4, 2006 11:16 AM

My beloved mother made mashed potatoes in her food mill for as long as I can remember, at least 50 years!

Posted by: CJF | October 5, 2006 8:53 AM

Kim, did you find that white bean and turkey recipe? I'm interested. 11 hours because I'm not home. Thought about putting the crock pot on a timer plug in, I just have to make sure that the meat doesn't sit out too long to go bad. Then there's the option of always putting the meat in the crock pot frozen, letting it thaw and then the timer thing should work. Thanks for looking for that recipe.
cmtesi@aol.com

Posted by: Accokeek Chili | October 17, 2006 1:40 PM

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