We had functional kitchens. By that we mean, old utensils, old measuring cups, a hand mixer from who knows when, ancient cookie sheets, mismatched measuring spoons. Actually, Denise had a $600 set of knives she accidently bought from a friend of her son Rory because she didn’t ask the price before she agreed to the sale. As it turns out, it was a good investment. But at the time, with two kids in college, there was some hyperventilating into a brown paper bag as the check was written. Denise also had the big Kitchen Aide mixer, a gift from her family. That stayed in the cupboard under the counter most of the time because it seemed to react to our lack of skill by spitting batter at us. It’s nice to have nice things to work with: a pretty colander; a set of metal dry measuring cups; nice mixing bowls; a handmixer that doesn’t have bits of cupcake batter from 1989 embedded in the cord; slotted spoons, ladles, spatulas that have whole handles, not burned spots and missing parts. People with bigger budgets than ours would have gone out and replaced everything. Shiny, pretty things for a new phase of life. We couldn’t do that. The recipes we were trying called for tools we didn’t even have. A zester? A clay baker? We didn’t even own a double boiler. Isn’t that what that extra frying pan was for? What we did have though were 20% off coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond and a Tuesday Morning right down the street. So slowly, we started re-tooling our kitchens. First, a mandoline that we share. It moves from house to house depending on where we’re cooking. The first time we used it, it looked like a miniature guillotine and we spent a lot of time staring at it. Denise wanted to purchase a cutting glove for Sandy so she didn’t lose a finger, especially if there was a chance that finger would turn up in the finished dish. But those oven baked potato chips were delicious. We have a traveling three cup food processor-perfect for pesto or aoli. The Kitchen Aide even relented as our skills improved. A spatula here, a cookie sheet there, new canisters from World Market, nesting prep bowls in cheerful patterns, a zester. We didn’t spend a lot of money at any one time, but slowly our kitchens took on a new look, both more useful and frankly, prettier. We learned that using the correct tools for the task at hand does make a difference in the outcome. Some tools saved us time. Some were fun to use. And some were just pretty to look at. We found ourselves arranging our kitchens around our purchases, until our new tools lent the look of a new kitchen. Who knew that Tuesday Morning and Bed, Bath & Beyond would be on the short list of our favorite stores (especially with the coupons). Walking into our kitchens now, seeing our new things-useful and ornamental-makes us happy. The stress of the day ebbs away and we are inspired to cook.
The Menu: Grilled Pork Chops, Potatoes Pierre, Zucchini Carpaccio Gourmet, Strawberry Shortcakes
Potatoes Pierre – from Tidewater on the Half Shell
- 2 1/2 lbs. potatoes thinly sliced
- 6 tbsp. butter
- 2 tbsp. parsley chopped (from our garden)
- 1 tsp. salt
- pepper to taste
- 1 small onion thinly sliced
- 1 cup grated gruyere cheese
- 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
- 1 1/4 c. beef broth boiling
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter inside of a 2 qt. baking dish. Place 1/2 potatoes in overlapping slices on bottom of baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 the parsley, salt, pepper, onions and cheeses. Dot with 2 tbsp. of butter. Repeat process with second layer. Pour in boiling broth. Bake at 425 degrees for 55 – 60 minutes until top is brown and broth is absorbed. I found it took about 10 more minutes for broth to be absorbed.
Zucchini Carpaccio from Gourmet
- 4 small zucchini sliced thin with mandoline
- 1/3 c. loosely packed mint leaves (from the garden)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1/4 c. pine nuts
- 6 oz. shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
Arrange zucchini slices overlapping slightly in one layer on four plates. Cut mint leaves into very thin slivers and sprinkle over zucchini. Whisk together olive oil and lemon juice in small bowl and sprinkle over zucchini. Sprinkle with sea salt, pepper and pine nuts. Let stand 10 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Sprinkle cheese and serve.
- Shortcakes prepared using the Bisquick recipe on the box
- Strawberries (hand picked) sliced and sprinkled with sugar
- Whipped cream
Assemble and serve.