A kitchen inventory (Brooklyn, March 2013)

My current apartment came furnished, so I didn’t bring many things with me. Other than clothes and a computer, there was one box of kitchen utensils, in case. Recently, my lessee  gave part of her household things to to her parents, who were furnishing an apartment in Manhattan. One item on their wish list was any kitchen supplies that might not be in use.

Other than the box of kitchen things I had brought from Chicago, we hung on to two coffee mugs, two forks, two spoons, two plates, two serving bowls, an electric kettle, a cutting board and a one-cup coffee filter holder. The inventory of this apartment’s kitchen can now be laid out in a rectangular space measuring approximately 3 x 4 feet.

IMG_0781

For full disclosure, there are several items not pictured here, since they were either dirty, hidden away, or don’t really count as kitchen utensils in my opinion: a tortilla press, several plastic and glass jars repurposed as storage containers, tin foil, a box of sandwich bags, dish rags and a ceramic beer stein I bought at Mauerpark in Berlin that proclaims “Berlin: Haupstadt der DDR.”

Looking at the picture, I think that there is even more that I wouldn’t miss. The large baking sheet, for example, that doesn’t even fit in our very small oven, the coffee grinder, and maybe even the glass measuring cup. This is handy, but since I don’t bake I rarely need precise liquid measures. I could probably also do without the frying pan, since the tops of the two green saucepans double as frying pans. The most complex thing in the group is the Cuisinart Pro Custom 11 food processor, left to me by a friend who moved to Beirut after college. This is my crutch: I just don’t think I could do without it. Perhaps one day I will learn how to grind chickpeas into a purée by hand, but I don’t see it happening soon.

Before the cull, our inventory was still spare but it included a few gadgets. To my surprise, I do not miss the lemon-juicer (the small metal sieves pictured above work great), the strainers or the salad spinner (again, small metal sieves, or just shaking things out by hand), or the non-stick pans (up the oil and butter, lower the heat). I find that I do miss the hand-held cheese grater and will probably buy another. If you cook regularly without meat, parmesan cheese is an absolute treasure for its umami, and chopping it up by hand just doesn’t cut it. I may try grating it in the Cuisinart though. It has no grating appendage but that thing works wonders.

It isn’t my place to lecture about how much one should have – to each his own – but this accidental chain of events leading to a reduced stock of stuff has been a relief. It takes getting used to for a few days and, yes, what we cook here has had to become simpler. Dinner parties are out of the question (no table, no chairs, not enough cutlery or dinner service). The space is cleaner, though, since it is critical to wash dishes at every stage of cooking. Most importantly, the quality of the food hasn’t suffered. I would argue that the cooking around here has been smarter than ever.

Rice without a rice cooker 

I’ve posted these directions in several forms in the history of this blog but I’m going to do it in detail here. As many grandmothers would probably tell you, one can cook perfect, fluffy rice successfully with only a saucepan, a bowl and a paper towel.

Ingredients:

1 cup rice

1-2 tbs olive oil, sesame oil or butter, depending on the dish

Directions:

Heat some water in your saucepan. When the water is hot but not yet boiling, put the cup of rice in a bowl and cover it with the warm water. Let this sit for 15 minutes or so.

Next, pour the water and rice back into the saucepan. Fill with cold water and, using the saucepan lid as a strainer by holding it against the rim of the saucepan, slowly pour out the cold water into the sink, taking care that no rice spills out. Continue this until the water runs clear.

When the rice has been washed, remove it back to the bowl. Dry out your pot and then heat your fat of choice. If you’re cooking east asian, use peanut or sesame oil. If you’re cooking mediterranean or latin american, use olive oil. If you’re cooking middle eastern or south asian, use butter with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from burning.

When the fat is hot, add the rice and stir to coat. Let the rice fry, stirring so it doesn’t stick, until it begins to brown, having changed from cloudy-white to slightly translucent. Then, add 1.5 to 1.75 cups of water (I err on the side of less water). Give the rice a final stir.

Bring this to a boil and let boil until the rice has absorbed enough water so that you can see the top of it, where holes letting steam escape should be forming.

Then, turn the heat to med-low and place a paper towel or clean dish rag over the top of the pot, and firmly close the lid (you’re trying to create a situation where little steam escapes. Let this continue cooking, covered, over med-low heat for 5 minutes.

Turn the heat off and let the pot sit, covered, for 20 minutes. Do not open. Do not stir. It should be perfectly cooked after 20 minutes.

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