Sep 20, 2011

And The Highest Purpose of Green Tomatoes Is . . .

I was going to say the special purpose of green tomatoes, but once you've seen The Jerk you can never say "special purpose" again. So the highest purpose of green tomatoes is a gratin. They're fine pickled or fried, but in a gratin they reach their apotheosis, their verdant tartness marrying the rich creamy sauce so perfectly.

The link to the recipe I worked from is in the previous post, but I changed it enough that I'm including my own version here. I tripled the recipe, using scallions instead of shallots, and breadcrumbs from homemade bread instead of panko, and lots more breadcrumbs than originally called for. In other words it's a bigger bolder recipe. Not to imply that the original recipe is dinky and timid.

Green Tomato Gratin, Chez Dream Kitchen

This will feed 10 people if they like it. And they will like it.

3 lbs green tomatoes

For breadcrumb topping:

2 1/2 C breadcrumbs (diced stale bread)
Kosher or sea salt
black pepper
3 T olive oil

For Mornay sauce:

4 1/2 T butter
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions
6 T flour
2 1/4 C heavy cream
2 t Kosher or sea salt (less if you use regular salt)
3/4 C fresh grated parmesan or pecorino
1/4 t fresh grated nutmeg

You can cut the tomatoes a few hours ahead of time, and you can also make the sauce ahead of time. Just warm the sauce up in the microwave a little before mixing it with the tomatoes.

Preheat oven to 450.

Mix all the ingredients for the breadcrumb topping together and set aside.

To make the Mornay, put the butter and scallions in a medium saucepan and saute over medium heat for about five minutes. Add the flour and stir for about 1 minute. Whisk in the cream then add the cheese, salt and nutmeg. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens, then take it off the heat.

Spread the tomatoes evenly between two large shallow glass or ceramic baking dishes. Pour the sauce over the tomatoes. Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping evenly on top then place the dishes in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

For selfish reasons, I'm sad that this disappeared so quickly at the dinner party. I did take three or four slices that were left on a child's plate . . . is that pathetic?

Sep 16, 2011

Fall Menu: Brisket Braised in Stout, Green Tomato Gratin.

I wish you could smell my kitchen. I've been braising a six-pound beef brisket for a couple of hours, and the stout, bay leaves, homemade chicken stock, homegrown thyme and sage, mustard, and 2 1/2 pounds of onions and six prunes create just the perfect heady richness for the first crisp day of "fall." (Well, it's not really fall. Yet.) Here is the recipe, from Epicurious. I confess a great, unrequited crush on prunes, and these six prunes are such winsome little fellows, like the seven dwarfs. How can you resist a huge recipe for brisket that calls for six prunes?

What else to serve? Because I took down a couple of tomato plants to make room for lettuce, I now have a bag full of green tomatoes. So I looked on the friendly old internet and found this recipe, which I'm tripling. I've made the mornay sauce ahead of time, and I've delegated tomorrow's actual slicing to Mr. Dream Kitchen, who will enjoy using our new kitchen scale to measure the three pounds of green tomatoes. Yes, I got tired of estimating the weight of produce and finally bought the scale. It's like getting a GPS; every little thing is quantifiable now. In a world gone daft, politically (not going to get more specific . . .), it's nice to have a few things that make sense, no matter how small. Little kitchen scale, you make me happy.

Aug 18, 2011

Rare Adjectives, Sliced and Pickled

"The fusilli is a picaresque delight, a bumptious fugue of octopus and bone marrow." --Andy Borowitz, in his "first and last restaurant review."

From whom we also have:

"The Long Island duck breast is a bumptious delight, a picaresque fugue of mulberries and mustard."

This restaurant review--and Andy, I can guarantee that it's not the last, my friend--caused me to think about how I, too, could use the words "picaresque" and "bumptious" to describe food. Not "fugue" because the word deeply depresses me--the sound, the spelling, everything. The way it slides and thuds, like a dead body falling down an elevator shaft.

What about "picaresque"? "Of or relating to a rogue or rascals." Mulberries and mustard does sound like a roguish combo, like something 10-year-old girls would make each other eat at a slumber party.

Let's look at "bumptious:" "Offensively self-assertive or conceited." Octopus and bone marrow? The combination sounds like an accident at sea, but is it bumptious? Or, after being cooked for a while, would it be "unctuous"?

By the way, I did find the phrase "bumptious homoerotic picaresque" in my Google search. Not sure where to go with that.

Anyhow, five pattypan squash in a row, on the kitchen counter, is picaresque AND bumptious. Picaresque because in my house squash is a mischievous vegetable that hardly anyone likes. I have to quash its bumptious personality.

Here is what I did, and it worked:

Pattypan Squash Pickle

Slice five or six pattypan squash thin with a mandoline. If you don't have one, get one! Dice a jalapeno and add. Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt over all, and give it a good squeeze every few minutes until not much water comes out, maybe 20 minutes later. Rinse and squeeze one final time. Add one teaspoon of rice wine vinegar and a drop or two of dark sesame oil.

Five little squashes, sliced, salted and civilized.

Aug 16, 2011

When Humorless People Edit Humor: A Local Case Study

Here is the title and introduction for an article that I wrote for a very local paper. Very. Local. So very local and folksy that it publishes several fake stories on April 1, so very local and folksy that after July 4, it is covered with photos of cute kids at the parade. Got it? Let's carry on.

I am on a committee at the Swarthmore Food Emporium (pseudonmym) and my main role is to write stuff. This article is publicizing a fundraiser so we can make healthy meals for people who need them, and the meals are made on Sunday nights.

Here is the BEFORE:

The Swarthmore Food Emporium Commits Senseless Acts of Kindness: More Accomplices Needed

by Lauren McKinney, Food Emporium Committee of Blah-Blah

One Sunday night in the spring, after the Food Emporium closed its doors to shoppers, some fresh food disappeared under suspicious circumstances. The scene of the crime looked like this: A local woman took some whole wheat off the shelf to boil on the emporium's stove. Soon thereafter, pasta with chicken and homemade sauce was seen leaving the premises. Meanwhile, fresh berries were cut, Caribbean black bean soup bubbled mysteriously on the stove, and another accomplice made a green salad. Officer Pardo of the Swarthmore Police Department was baffled.

And here is a quote from a committee member upon reading my draft:

"My biggest concern is actually the tag line and 'crime scene' theme.  While it was really cute and catchy, I did not like going anywhere near associating an outreach effort with something criminal."

She rewrote it and here is the AFTER:

The Swarthmore Food Emporium Is Taking It To the Street: More Support Is Needed
On a Sunday night this spring, after the Food Emporium closed its doors to shoppers, the store was anything but quiet. Food was collected from the emporium shelves, whole wheat pasta was doused with olive oil and homemade pesto, chicken was sautéed, fresh kale was chopped, local berries were cut, and Caribbean black bean soup bubbled on the stove.  In just over two hours, Food Emporium members Holly Norris and Kelly Shire [pseudonyms], together with eight volunteers, had prepared enough food to provide 4-5 meals for 10 people.  Why?  

I went along with it, because I know how to do committees. And I added their names to the byline. Inside, I'm thinking BLOG FODDER. I lament, and today seems to be a day for lamenting, the humorlessness that is floating out there in the world, dully, pointlessly, inexorably. A gray cloud of humorlessness dampening high spirits everywhere!! (Nothing against the color gray or clouds.) So what do you say? Grab your whimsy, put on your satire, attach your hyperbole and even your litote (if you can find one),and let's fight this thing together.

Honeysuckle: A Late Summer Lament

Innocent in June,
You now hold tomatoes in
A knowing death grip.

Jul 22, 2011

Queso Blanco on a Summer's Day

My cheesemaking buddies Roxane and Oonie met Tuesday to spend a few hours making cheese and butter. (Remember that gallon of cream? I'm thinking maybe it was TWO gallons.) It was well worth it, for the conversation at least as much for the cooking.

First we went to the local health food store, Martindale's, and bought a gallon of raw milk. Then we heated it up to between 185 and 190, while keeping each other up to date on the latest divorces, deaths, and home sales. At that point we added, slowly, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. When curds formed, we ladled them into a colander lined with butter muslin. Then we hung the butter muslin from the kitchen faucet and allowed the whey to drip into a bowl in the sink.

A couple of hours later, after we ate a lunch of hummus, veggies, and Oonie's homemade yogurt,the cheese was solid enough. Then we whipped up a couple of batches of butter in the food processor. We split up the butter, cheese, and expenses and said our goodbyes. I got to keep the fresh buttermilk, which isn't tangy like cultured. To me it just tastes like delcious whole milk.

The cheese was so easy to make, and it has that full raw milk flavor that makes you realize what we've been missing all these years. It's the kind of cheese that doesn't melt, along the order of paneer or halloumi. You can fry or grill it. I cubed it and added it to a main dish salad of cucumber, tomato, and onion, with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing.

The cheese recipe is on p. 93 of Ricki Carroll's Home Cheesemaking, 3rd ed. Oh, and I used the whey in a bread recipe that I'll share with you all in the next post.

Blessed are the cheesemakers.

Jul 21, 2011

Extreme Rustic Blueberry "Pudding"

A Mennonite man who grew up on a farm in Iowa once told me that on summer days sometimes his family would eat bread and milk with berries on top for lunch. That sounded appealing to me, so today I made a version of it.

day-old homemade bread
cream or whole milk

Toast the bread. Set it in the bottom of a wide shallow bowl. Cover it with blueberries, add some sugar to taste and and crush some of the berries and sugar with the back of a spoon. Or just skip that step; I like a little smushiness. Pour the cream or milk over top, and warm it up a little in the microwave if you want. (I did.)

You may then labor in the fields. Or take a nap.

Jul 11, 2011

A Gallon of Cream? For Me?

One day in March I went to collect my Winter Harvest buying clu49055555 (kitten on keyboard, sorry)buying club 6cylby4 order (OK, kitten, have some liver treats.) and instead of a gallon of skim milk I found a gallon of cream with my name on it. Let's pause here for a moment to absorb how horrifying it was, to see a gallon of cream with my name on it. In block letters on a white label. I took this vat of fat home and emailed their office immediately, but there was nothing they could do. I had accidentally checked the cream column instead of the skim milk column.

What to do? I learned that cream can be frozen, so I froze it a pint at a time in quart freezer bags, which is what we had on hand. That would buy us some time. I knew we would use some for ice cream, which Mr. Dream Kitchen makes. When the weather warmed up, we pulled out some to make mint ice cream with the mint from our garden. It transcends store-bought mint ice cream several times over.

Last week I got started thinking about butter. I looked up how to make it, and saw that you can just whirl cream around in a mixer. I poured in a quart of the thawed but still cold cream into the mixer. Without a splash guard, I had to go at too slow a speed for anything to happen, especially with the cream being so cold. So I transferred it all to the food processor and gave it a whirl. I wish my sons had been there to see it. For a few minutes you think nothing is happening and then you can watch it seizing as the butter suddenly separates from the buttermilk.

At this point I gathered up the butter with my hands and kneaded it gently in a bowl of ice water, in order to rid it of the buttermilk, which would cause the butter to go rancid. I didn't save the buttermilk because I was in a slight panic about a leakage from the Cuisinart (was it something I did?), but next time I'll save it.

Here is the takeaway point: Butter made from organic local cream tastes the way butter is meant to taste. Strangely enough, the day that I made the butter I learned about a new book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by a local writer, Jennifer Reese. In it, she figures out what's worth buying and what's worth making. Butter doesn't seem worth it to her. I'm not sure it's worth it for baking (it may be?), but for spreading, yes. Yes! Next I'm going to order a butter bell to keep it in. You pack butter tightly into the "bell," and a seal is formed with water that you keep in the bottom. If you change the water every few days, the butter can last 30 days at room temperature.

The next project I want to attempt is ghee, in which you melt butter and simmer it for a while, skimming off the top layer. Also called clarified butter, ghee has a very high smoke point, and you can keep it on your counter, right near the stove for a long time. Ghee is used in Indian cooking, and is one small but important reason that Indian food is entirely marvelous.

And today's math lesson is this. A gallon of cream could yield two quarts of ice cream, and two pounds of butter, some of which could be made into ghee. My current CSA supplies cream for $10.95 a gallon, so that's $2.93 for a pound of butter. That's four "sticks" of the best butter you've ever had.

The next time I see my name on a gallon of cream, despite being condemned to Weight Watchers' Seventh Circle of Hell, I will rejoice.

May 9, 2011

"Dirty" Mother's Day Brunch at Longwood Gardens

Yesterday the Dream Kitchen family and grandpa had a Mother's Day brunch at 1906, the restaurant at Longwood Gardens. The salad I ordered came with mushroom soil, the menu said, with no explanation or asterisk. I asked the server, "This can't actually mean mushroom soil, correct?" Mushrooms grow in something even less suitable for eating than regular dirt. She said,"No, it just looks like mushroom soil. It's tiny bits of creminis and shiitakes sautéed with a little olive oil. Baby radishes appear to be growing out of it."

I am none too sure they should ever have gone down the mushroom soil path, conceptual or actual, but once they had started down it I guess there was no turning back. It was the only salad on the brunch menu, so I ordered it. The salad was very fresh and interesting, and included tiny edible flowers and a hibiscus immersion and something that was sliced in narrow ribbons. Perhaps it was a bit too precious in its execution, but on Mother's Day I wasn't going to be picky.

Let this be a lesson to you, dear readers. As I said to the server regarding the mushroom soil, "This is where quotation marks would come in very handy."

P.S. In answer to the question from Zane, when you learn to spell I'll give you all the bacon you want. In answer to MemeGrl, the Gouda was a little dry as you know, but there may be more feta on the horizon. The mozzarella we made in the cheesemaking class was great but I left the recipe there! Am about to buy Ricki Carroll's cheesemaking book.

May 6, 2011

The Negroni Cocktail: The Bitter and the Sweet

The cocktail called the Negroni is very trendy right now. I had my first one last October at Cicchetteria, and have even had another since then. (My cocktail consumption is very small.)


One part gin
One part vermouth
One part Campari

Serve on the rocks. You can add a twist of orange. I love the interplay between the juniper of the gin, the sweetness of the vermouth, and the bitterness of the Campari.

A word about Campari. A long time ago I spent four weeks in Rome with a bunch of other grad students, supposedly studying aesthetics but actually hanging around in cafes, tasting gelato, going broke, and gossiping about each other. Temple Rome Program, I love you! So one day my friend Jesse and I ordered Campari and soda because it sounded daring. I'd seen ads for it in The New Yorker.

It was dreadful to my 30-year-old palate (I'm a late bloomer). "This is like paint-thinner!" But slightly more than 20 years later, I think Campari sassy and strong in a good way, and I like the way its childish Hi-C Fruit Punch red color belies the bitterness.

You see, I've befriended bitterness in my middle age. Not emotional bitterness, which I used to find thrilling to discover in other people and energizing to cultivate in myself. Now that, like anyone my age, I actually have a few things to be bitter about, I try as hard as possible not to fall into that particular self-indulgent abyss. I try to cultivate gratitude instead, and take my bitterness in my Campari. And in my coffee. But that's for another post . . . .

Meanwhile, celebrate the bitter and have a Negroni this weekend. Or, if you're very grown up indeed, Campari and soda.

May 5, 2011

Dream Kitchen Reboots! With a Super Special Reader's Choice Post!

Complete with exclamation marks!

Dear reader(s),

It's hard to sneak back onto (into?) a blog, dust off the shelves, and quietly start typing a brilliant or even a just so-so post.

To ease back in, I'm going to answer your questions. Please ask 'em in the comment box below (NOT on Facebook).Food history, etiquette, recipe questions, favorite apps, favorite appetizers, why is everyone suddenly drinking Negronis, you name it.

Please address your questions "Dear Dream Kitchen" as it will help me feel vaguely authoritative. I thank you, dear readers. Should I get a flood of fascinating questions, I will use some inscrutable or arbitrary method for deciding which ones to answer.

Bloggily yours,


Feb 8, 2011

My Brief Career Writing Online "Content"

Several weeks ago, I signed up to write that dreaded stuff called online content, for Aidem Dnamed (spelled backwards, you can figure this out). Or you could just move a couple of letters around and call it "Damned Media." I thought oh, what the heck, it's easy money. I can use a pseudonym to avoid the shame.

First, I set up an account and then they sent me their list of "titles" for me to claim, so that I could then write how-to articles based on the titles. These are computer-generated strings of gibberish based on searches, mostly technical. I scoured the arts and literature lists, which were empty. I looked up food, pets, family life, anything nontechnical, so that I could claim a title. Nothing. I found nothing. And then I came to my senses and had them delete my account.

But I do want to share with you, dear readers, some titles that captured my imagination, with brief answers that I made up. Yes, these are real computer-generated titles. But just for fun, I prefer to think that these particular ones were composed by a stoned beat poet, or perhaps Jimmy Webb in his MacArthur Park phase.

How Make a Stone Crock

Easy peasy. Enroll in a pottery class and they'll give you some nice clay and you can make one on a potter's wheel. Or--I could lend you mine!

How to Make a Wine Glass out of Wine Charms

Hmm. This is a tough one. This would imply that you are trapped in a room with wine and wine charms, and no receptacles. Let's think outside the box. Put the wine charms on your fingers. Drink the wine out of the bottle. I hope it's a screwtop!

How To Dress a Horse in a Renaissance Costume

Rent a horse trailer. Go to a Renaissance Faire, as they like to spell them. Lure a horse already dressed in a Renaissance costume into your trailer. That way you get out of having to put the massive, sweaty creature in the costume yourself. Choose the smallest, gentlest horse you can find. Don't stand close behind it. Good luck!

Feb 2, 2011

And the Latest Shiny New Appliance is . . .

. . . a food processor. The last one had developed tiny hairline cracks that were making me nervous. We gave it away and went without one for a couple of years, because it just took up so much room and we didn't use it that much. But now that everyone in my family loves hummus, I'd like to make it at home. And lots of recipes from my latest healthy cookbook, The Food Matters Cookbook, depend on one. I am trying to increase the amount of vegetables and fruit we eat, so anything that makes it easier to chop, dice, and slice is a good thing. And . . . I love it. In fact, I just sliced half a red cabbage, a cucumber, and a carrot. I don't want to stop. This is great! Now to make ginger tahini dressing.

We got a Cuisinart this time, and it's plainly much better than the old Hamilton-Beach. It's heavier, the blades are sturdier and sharper, and it includes a special lid for when you mix doughs and batters.

Next on my agenda: to watch the hour-long DVD that came with it.

Just kidding. But it really did come with an hour-long DVD.

Jan 25, 2011

An Evening at Slate Restaurant in Philadelphia

Back in early December I snagged one of those excellent online coupons for a restaurant. This particular one was dinner for two (drinks, entrees, desserts) for $40.00 at Slate, a chic little neighborhood restaurant on 21st Street, between Chestnut and Sansom. We used the coupon on Friday night, to celebrate Mr. Dream Kitchen's birthday. I met him in the lobby of his building and we walked through the extreme cold for a neverending 8 1/2 minutes. What with the wind and the hood on my jacket, I was having a thoroughly bad hair day. Which I forgot about right away when we were led to our draft-free table in a side alcove.

(By the way, we know it was Restaurant Week, but ever since being served a dull Caesar salad at Brasserie Perrier (R.I.P), in a brightly lit banquet room, not even the fun part of the restaurant, we have religiously avoided Restaurant Scam Week.)

When it comes to deciding which chair to sit in, I have a strong preference. I want to face the action, not a wall. I assume that's how most people feel. Mr. Dream Kitchen had the "good" seat this evening, as birthday boy. I did get to evaluate a painting with super gloppy brushwork--I can't think of the formal word for that right now, but I'm sure it's French--the paint was so thick that the lighting created a nightlike shadow under the biggest glop. Browns and greens were stripily smeared, vertically and horizontally, in a large checkerboard pattern. It was the way a forest would appear, if you had observed it while spinning on a whirligig and jumping on a pogo stick.

I'd always wanted to try a Manhattan, so I ordered the "Slate Manhattan," which had sour cherries and some of their juice. It was very strong and very good. The cherries were a nice match for the bourbon and the whole concoction went smoothly with my cassoulet. Not an especially complex drink, but regal and warming. John ordered a ginger pomegranate mojito, which was wonderfully herbal, astringent, and sweet in the same sip, just the way a mohito should be.

Now don't you think it's a little strange that our server came up to me and said, "Our chef accidentally started to make the Glazed Duck Breast instead of the cassoulet. We wanted to give you the opportunity to order that if you want." I stopped myself from saying "I already had the opportunity to order it, and I didn't, so why would I order it now?" Instead, I politely said, after a brief pregnant pause, "I'd like the cassoulet," without making a fuss. Making a fuss or being sarcastic isn't my style in a restaurant. The server should not have made me rethink my order, thus feeling a little guilty for whatever food waste may have been incurred. That was the kitchen's problem, not mine.

Speaking of making a fuss, the next day I took my Dad to lunch, not where I planned to go, but to a restaurant conveniently located next door to where my car had broken down. I should really have made a fuss about some desultory blobs of Cheez Whiz that were lying obscenely in my taco salad, instead of actual cheese. However, I was too busy keeping an eye out for the tow truck's arrival in the parking lot next door. I was also pretending my Dad and were having a nice lunch when we weren't (the company was great, not the "food"), and so creating unpleasantness was not on the agenda.

I need to wipe the image of the Cheez Whiz blobs out of my mind, so let's return to Slate. My cassoulet was perfect, with crisp duck and smoky, creamy beans. John's filet was rare and tender, with a truffly sauce. And he had very civilized mashed potatoes with decorative ridges from a pastry bag.

Now for the dessert. Be forewarned that I often find dessert choices problematic. John ordered chocolate cake with a hazelnut praline filling, and I ordered a chocolate cake with a citrus filling and a blueberry compote. I thought the hazelnuts in John's were not fresh, but my cake was very fine. I'm not totally convinced about blueberry and chocolate, but it was a nice try. Our other choices were Rollo bread pudding and--yawn--crème brûlée. I detest this fad in which pastry chefs get cute with processed candy, and am dying for it to be over already. In between the faddish Rollo bread pudding and the tired crème brûlée the only other options were two chocolate cakes? Slate must try a little harder. I always look for cobblers, crisps, tarts, and pies in a dessert menu. Or what about rice pudding? Stop trying to be clever. Have one chocolate option. Just use the freshest ingredients and execute the dishes well.

And, dear reader, why does crème brûlée persevere so?

Jan 18, 2011

My First Miso

Can you believe I've never cooked with miso? In the recent Bon Appetit there's an article about it, which includes a recipe for apple cobbler with miso in the biscuit topping!

So a couple days ago I found myself picking up some white miso, the mildest kind, just to taste it and sense what it wanted me to do with it. To just back up for a minute, miso is a fermented soybean paste from Japan. It's injected with a mold from either rice, barley, or soybeans, and then aged. The white miso does reminds me of cheese, which makes sense.

I didn't have the right apples for cobbler, but I did have several turnips on hand, so I made a dish from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. It's called "Braised and Glazed Turnips with Miso." I braised peeled, cubed turnips in white wine and butter, and when they were almost done, added a half-and-half mixture of white miso and water. I thought the miso tempered that turnipy bitterness and gave the dish a satisfying level of complexity. My older son's pithy review of the dish was, "It makes me want to gag." My younger son didn't even bother to taste it. I guess for the boys, turnips are too deeply disgusting to be garnished, sauced, or even disguised. Not to be deterred, I'll no doubt I'll offer them more turnips in a couple of weeks.

Why is it that some of us constantly search for ways to add complexity to a food's flavor, while others want to leave well enough alone? All I know is that when I get some decent cooking apples, I'm making that cobbler.

Jan 13, 2011

Tandoori Popcorn

I can't leave popcorn alone. To me, its blandness begs for something more. Somehow, I discovered that popcorn is delicious with powdered buttermilk, and today I added some, as well as a sprinkling of Penzey's Tandoori Seasoning. I've also tried smoked paprika, Penzey's Turkish Seasoning, and chili powder. Not all at the same time. About a quarter cup of buttermilk powder is good for a big bowl of popcorn (I start from almost a cup of unpopped). I salt to taste and add the spices to taste. The kids love this popcorn, too. It's great to pop up a batch on a day when there are no other snack foods in the house.

I did look up Tandoori Popcorn on the web, and only found it here among some Scottish folks who like to write in a brogue. This laddie does not add powdered buttermilk,just a wee bit o' butter.

Jan 7, 2011

A Farewell to Crockpot Cooking; Or, How to Break Up Ethically with a Kitchen Appliance

It finally happened, the old gal had just been stuffed with one too many stews, briskets, chickens, and chilis. She started smelling like burned plastic and not heating enough, so I transferred her last meal, a White Chicken Chili with Root Vegetables (from The Food Matters Cookbook), to my big pasta pot. A pasta pot isn't quite the thing, because it's too tall to heat the food evenly, but it was the only one big enough to hold everything. (And yes, I know I should use the term "slow cooker" but I just like "crockpot" for its succinct cuteness.)

Since I'd been contemplating breaking up with the whole crockpot idea for a while, anyway, I was less than heartbroken. Callously, and without a proper mourning period, I Amazoned (sure, it can be verb) a nice big red 6-quart ceramic-lined cast iron Dutch oven. It's Lodge, not Le Creuset--what with college tuition approaching in eight years, and all that. Crockpots, while they're handy, aren't quite my style. For one thing, I don't like to smell food all day. Plus meat is much better seared first, and if you're going to do that you may as well use the same pan and braise everything in the oven. In the end, though, I just can't stand leaving that much food in a pot and then not being allowed to peek or fuss with it until almost the end. Just can't do it. Plus my new Dutch oven is much prettier than that big old ugly crockpot. See, I have no loyalty.

Even bigger and uglier than a crockpot is a bread machine. A couple years ago I broke up with the idea of a bread machine as a worthwhile investment, mainly because annoying little parts would break, and replacing them was mind-numbingly complicated. I'm sure I could give it a go again, but why? It's not hard to make bread without one.

Now I'm stuck with a bread machine that technically might work if anyone bothered to contact the company again about the basket problem, and how they sent the wrong replacement basket, and also a crockpot that has a little electrical problem. There's nothing wrong with the ceramic crock or lid. I refuse to throw this stuff away but I can't in good conscience drop them blithely off at Goodwill.

How do you liked being dragged into my mundane, banal ethical dilemma? Want to give me advice? Of course you do.