Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Was There Life Before the Cuisinart?

Is there one piece of equipment that changed my life in the kitchen? If you look at most of my recipes, within the first few lines I mention the food processor or Cuisinart.
In 1973 Zabar’s, the upper West Side Mecca for unusual food, announced that they would be selling the new Cuisinart machine at a discount. My mother, sister, and I met at Zabar’s and joined the other foodies in line on the first day that the Cuisinart was available. We all left with our trophies. I think it cost somewhere around $140, with Zabar’s discount that led to a lawsuit. Zabar’s won.

I remember they said the bowl was made of lexan, a plastic that was formulated for the space program. Plastic? Could it possibly last? It did. I remember breaking the tops off the blades so I could get them in the drawer—now they come that way.

Although I lived on Long Island at the time, I had to shop at Zabar’s because it was the only place I could buy masa harina, the stuff to make tortillas. Now I live in Miami and if I told people that I had to travel to get my masa, they would look at me like I was crazy. There’s a variety of masas available in every store that sells food, and Miami isn’t the only place to buy masa. It’s pretty universal, but I don’t know if there are many crazies out there who actually make homemade tortillas.

In that era, when cooking was a hobby and a passion, I used to make my own ravioli and sausages and had a cooking school in my house. I had to buy semolina in Little Italy and bread flour in hundred pound bags from the bakery supplier. When I lived in New York City and shopped at the local Vietnamese grocery store, I kept asking the grocer to get me bread flour, and he finally did. Now you can get bread flour and semolina in any grocery store.

Over the years I have amassed over 200 cookbooks, but still revert to the original recipes from Joanne’s Kitchen. When I was looking for a recipe for banana bread, I tried about four and finally settled on one that used a quarter pound of butter. Sorry, arteries, I cook with butter. I altered the recipe several times, replaced half of the white flour with whole wheat, and used it as the foundation for the pumpkin bread that is sitting on my counter summoning me to slice and eat. The companion pumpkin dog biscuits have been such a success that Mikey asks me for treats, knowing that I’ll give him a homemade biscuit rather than the store bought stuff he gets from my husband.

Now I have a later model Cuisinart. It’s bigger but very annoying—too safe and complicated. There’s not much I don’t do in the Cuisinart, from cutting vegetables and fruits for my birds to making bread dough. Because the Cuisinart is capable of kneading the dough, you have to be very careful when you add flour for a cake or anything leavened with baking soda or baking powder or you’ll end up with rubber.

My other latest greatest is a vita mix machine, my $400 blender. We still laugh at the day we were taken in by the vita mix man and bought one. It wasn’t a mistake. The prime use for my vita mix is making ice cream. (I hope the “vita” in the name is referring to “life” and not “vitamin.”) The vita mix is so powerful that it can even cook—if you can deal with the racket. No, I don’t prepare soup in my vita mix, but do use it to heat eggs for Caesar dressing and mayonnaise because I don’t like to consume raw eggs. I have to admit, though, that I’ve let it go too long and ended up with scrambled eggs on more than one occasion.

As much as I laugh at the “vita” in vita mix, I do try to use the right ingredients. My pumpkin bread contains whole wheat flour, as do most of the breads I make. When my children were small, they used to have meetings with the neighborhood kids on the front lawn, trying to figure out where they could get their hands on wonder (soft, squishy, white) bread. In school they traded their sandwiches on my 7 wholegrain cereal bread for the wonder kind.

Did they learn about good eating growing up in our house? I wish. My son’s house is stocked with all the junk he couldn’t get at home. I didn’t let them drink juice, just milk or water, because I thought that the fruit sugar was better consumed along with the fiber in the whole fruit. Everyone thought I was crazy, but now the common wisdom is that I was right. I apologize; they all raided the refrigerators in their friend’s houses looking for orange juice.

Now that everyone has moved out and my husband and I have only a Mikey dog and three parrots to feed, I’ve decided to try to forego a lot of packaged and prepared foods and treats in favor of people food. No, I’m not some sort of health food fanatic; I’m not interested in a raw or pure or green or macrobiotic or any other kind of fringe diet. I know I can feed my extended family the same food (with some exceptions) as we eat. As I make up recipes for dog food, I’ll spend the time to figure out the nutrients so no one is deprived and will use the dog treats only as a supplement to my parrots’ seed, nut, and raw fruit and vegetable diet.

So far I’ve made oatmeal dog biscuits and oatmeal cookies and pumpkin dog biscuits and pumpkin bread. It’s really easy and fun. As long as the kitchen is already a mess from the people food and the ingredients are on the counter, the dog food is a breeze. While the pumpkin bread was in the oven, I used the same messy Cuisinart bowl and tools to prepare the dough for the dog biscuits. The pumpkin bread and dog biscuits came out of the oven at the same time and Mikey and the birds were right there for samples.

Best of all, Mikey likes it.

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