Monday, January 31, 2011

In the Kitchen

I've been thinking a lot lately about my kitchen - what works, what doesn't, gadgets that I wouldn't want to be without and ones that were a total waste of time, etc. So, this is the post in which I will brain dump. So, in no particular order:
  • I love, love, love my food processor. It's a Cuisinart 5 quart (I think). I have used it for pretty much everything from chopping onions, to pureeing soups to making pie crusts and cake batter. While I wouldn't call it a true need, I would surely feel differently about cooking without it.
  • If you don't have a crock pot/slow cooker, get one. Or two. Seriously. Not only is it wonderful to load it up with stuff in the morning and have dinner ready with the titchiest effort, but you can cook the cheapest cuts of meat and have it turn out moist and tender in a way the oven could never do. Plus, it's a lot cheaper to run than the oven, and keeps the heat in the kitchen to a minimum (and in our house in the summer, that's a major bonus). Next time you bake potatoes, do them in the crock pot - drop as many as you need in there with a sprinkling of salt and maybe a little smear of butter and turn it on low for 6-8 hours. I'm tellin' ya - try it.
  • I have been menu planning for years, but have recently embarked on a new idea. I've often liked the idea of having a "pattern" to cooking - Monday night, beef; Tuesday, soup; Wednesday, chicken - but felt too pressured to come up with something interesting and non-repetitive for a month, but I didn't want to do the whole "Monday means meatloaf" thing, either. So, in an attempt to compromise, I'm planning for two weeks, and then repeating those two weeks. For example, a couple nights ago, I made a double batch of corn chowder. We ate what we needed for the night, then froze the rest. Then in a couple weeks, we'll eat it again. This allows me to spend less time on planning and cooking, since I can often make the big batch and freeze half. I was also able to buy all the non-perishable food I needed for the whole month in one shop at Aldi, which means spending less money and time doing the shopping.
  • Unless you live by yourself or with one other person, don't buy a waffle iron that only makes one waffle at a time. Friends have one by All Clad that makes four good-sized waffles at a time. Considering the expense (and it is expensive), it'll be an investment to work towards. But with the frequency I cook breakfasts, combined with the number of people I'm feeding, it'll be worth it.
  • Cooking dry beans in the crock pot over night is sooo easy, and quite a bit cheaper than buy thousands of cans. If you cook with beans often, give it a try. Whatever you don't use immediately can be frozen, 1 lb per sandwich bag.

I'm sure there's more, so I'd love to hear from others to see what interesting hints and tips I've been missing out on! Please share...

Anne Bradstreet

I first heard of her in 11th grade Literature class. When our class read "To My Dear and Loving Husband", I decided that the man I would marry would be the man I could speak the words of this poem to:
If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of Gold, Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,Nor ought but love from thee, give recompence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.
Then while we live, in love lets so persevere, That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Beyond this amazing poem, though, I knew little of her. Finding out that she was a Puritan settler piqued my interest, and I decided I needed to check out a biography. This one by Heidi Nichols was just the job.
Now, I must confess to not being much of a big poetry-reader, so some of Bradstreet's work was over my head, but Nichols was helpful in not only giving a framework to understand Bradstreet's work, but also her life, faith and situation.
Being the first published poet in America, and a Puritan woman at that was no mean feat, not to mention all the duties that would be hers in the time and place in which she lived. One of my favorite works was a collection of wise recommendations and proverbs to her eldest son, followed closely by her personal testimony of coming to faith.
If you're looking for a biography to add to this year's reading list, check it out here. She's definitely something of an overlooked poet/author in an undervalued period of history, but she still has something of worth to share.