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Could I win a cooking competition? November 28, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I don’t get television reception out here at our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. So when we happen to travel and find ourselves spending the night in a hotel, TV reception is a valued commodity. OFB would love to tune in to a football, baseball, or basketball game. But he knows he has no chance against one of the food channels and their cooking competitions.

Actually, he’s been really good about it, thanks to my gift for TV-focused performance art. When I see a show like “Chopped,” I scream volubly about the outrageous so-called food combinations that the poor competitors have to incorporate into each course. (Live sea urchins, cotton candy, rutabagas, and durians, anyone?) I scream at the unfortunate competitors who make grotesque errors attempting to combine the hateful, bizarre ingredients. I scream at the judges who say such precious, pretentious, plain old nasty things about the time-pressured chefs’ attempts to make edible concotions out of these atrocious combinations of ingredients.

OFB notes, probably with good reason, that watching me is far more entertaining than watching any TV show. For me, certainly, food television is an interactive experience. I can’t sit passively instead of participating in the inevitable debacle.

This might lead fans of these TV cooking competitions to ask, if I’m so great, how would I fare in one of these competitions? They have a point. Actually, two. As far as I can tell, these shows are judged on four criteria: speed/efficiency, taste, creativity, and presentation (“plating”).

All of these ultimately reflect on the fact that the competitors are professional chefs who head restaurants or catering companies and are working on a clock. And, as is true across the board with business, unless you’re willing to plow money in, you can’t have all four.

Time is the luxury typically required for taste, creativity, and presentation. This goes flat against speed/efficiency, the ticking clock that defines all these TV competitions. “Chopped” allows its competing chefs 20 minutes to create and plate an appetizer from its bizarre ingredients, 35 minutes to create a main dish, and 20 minutes to create a dessert. Good luck. Yet this is the challenge chefs face every day in restaurants around the world, minus the horror of bizarrely combined ingredients. And in real life, I’d hate to see the reaction if a diner were kept waiting 20 minutes for an appetizer or dessert!

Fortunately for the competing chefs, the show does plow money in for them in the form of every high-end professional time-saving gadget and piece of equipment known to man, plus a kitchen full of ingredients provided for their use, from a fully-stocked bar to a loaded fridge and spice rack. This also mimics the conditions in a professional kitchen, where time is of the essence, yet quality can’t be sacrificed. 

So, how about it, Silence? Yes, I can look at any insane combination of ingredients and, Sherlock Holmes-like, fit the puzzle pieces together to make actual food. Yes, I can draw on a pretty extensive knowledge of international foods and ingredients. Yes, I could dance around the kitchen (I sadly assume nobody would permit me to listen to loud music and sing while I’m cooking as I usually do), combine the ingredients, create something astonishing, and even, hopefully, astonishingly good.

Would I horrify my fellow competitors and judges? Undoubtedly, since they’d wonder why I didn’t seem stressed—in fact, actually seemed happy, as I in fact always am in the kitchen—and wonder again why I didn’t seem chained to the ever-ticking competition clock. Why wasn’t I using the food processor and other equipment? Surely I couldn’t expect to win with a paring knife, mortar and pestle?! 

Easy, I’d say. I’m a home cook. I don’t have to get endless and varied meals on restaurant tables according to a timetable coupled with diners’ eccentric requests and a sharp eye on the bottom line. I never have to conform my ideas of delicious food to those of diners who are paying for it. I cook exactly what I want, when I want, for whom I want. There’s no question of competition, in our home much less on television. 

Could I win a cooking competition? Almost certainly not, though I wouldn’t be averse to trying. As OFB would be the first to point out, my forthright and irreverent comments to the judges would make good television if nothing else. I’m not an aspiring restaurateur, I’m not a professional chef, I’m just someone who loves to cook and create innovative recipes. I have no interest in making money from my food, or I wouldn’t have spent all this time sharing my recipes with all of you on our blog. 

I love food. I love cooking, and creating my own recipes. I love sharing those recipes and cooking tips with all of you and getting your feedback. I also love watching cooking shows, which I find highly entertaining. But I think I’ll leave those cooking competitions to the realm of entertainment and watch them with enthusiasm when I get the chance.

After all, what would I gain from competing in one of these shows? Absolutely nothing. Instead, I’d deprive someone who dreamed of going into professional cooking of a chance to compete. Shame on me! Not to mention that I’d deprive myself of the opportunity to rant and rave at the TV show every time it was aired and I had the chance to see it.

To me, cooking is fun. Cooking should be fun. Watching cooking shows should be fun. And all of it is. I love to cook, I love to create new dishes, I love to watch those cooking competitions and put myself in there, opening yet another basket of outrageously combined ingredients and thinking through to what I could do with them to make a delicious combination.

But my working life as a business executive has taught me that there are factors you can combine to get certain outcomes, and no shortchange is possible. Those tend to reduce to time, talent, and money, and two of the three must be present for a successful transaction. Yes, you can get work done quickly and cheaply, but the quality will suffer; you can get work done slowly and cheaply, but your deadline will suffer. To get good work done in a timely manner takes money; to get good work done on a budget means sacrificing any idea of a deadline, and working within the creator’s own timeline. 

Chefs are among the hardest-working professionals in the world. I’m very happy to wish them well, urge them on, and comment on their mistakes as a member of the TV audience. If they’ve managed to make it onto national TV, I’m sure their careers will be very bright, however they fare on a cooking show.

             ‘Til next time,



Good luck with not cooking. September 25, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Ever had a problem with too much good homemade food almost exploding from your fridge? Well, join the club.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, my love of cooking has collided with the harvest abundance to create a crisis situation. Since there are only two of us—me and our friend Ben—to eat my creations, our fridge is overflowing with homemade spaghetti sauce and Red, White and Gold Pasta Sauce, salsa verde (I’m trying to find an “open” night to make bean and Mexican cheese burritos to go with our tomatillo harvest’s bounty), chili, vegetable curry, dal, and mac’n’cheese. We’ve tried to share the bounty with friends and neighbors, given away take-home containers, invited folks for supper, everything. But our fridge is still at explosion point. And to make matters worse, our next-door neighbors just gifted us with a big container of pasta salad and three-bean salad and a plate with bazillion desserts.

OFB has now forbidden me to cook anything new until we’ve managed to eat all the food already calling our names from the fridge. But, as a friend said, “Good luck with not cooking.” I concur. Those burritos are calling my name. The weather has finally cooled down, and I’m dying for roasted vegetables. It’s been three weeks since I’ve made pizza. We need to find a way to enjoy and distribute the food that’s now in the fridge so we can make space for new delights. Sounds to me like a lot of dinner guests are in order.

                 ‘Til next time,


The kitchen waltz. March 8, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Sometimes, it takes a different perspective to get your thoughts in order.

I love to cook, and I’m even capable of making an elaborate multi-dish Indian meal and getting it all hot to the table. But generally speaking, I find that a main dish, a couple of sides, and a salad are about all I can handle and still make sure everything’s delicious, cooked exactly right, and served at the perfect temperature. True, my dishes may be a pretty far cry from typical family fare or some family-style cafeteria’s “meat and three,” but still. For one cook, one cranky old stove, no freezer space, no convenience foods, and no microwave, that’s pretty much the limit, unless you can make a few dishes like cranberry sauce or coleslaw or squash casserole in advance.

Now, we all have our priorities, and one of mine is temperature. I’d gladly omit a few dishes I know our friend Ben and I would enjoy if it means bringing the ones we do eat to the table at the ideal temperature. (And hey, how many dishes do two adults and one hopeful dog and parrot need at a given meal, anyway?!) As long as every dish I do serve contributes to the beauty and flavor of the meal, that’s the thing that matters. I can always make those other dishes another time, and I know OFB and I will anticipate and enjoy them every bit as much then.

There are, of course, easy ways to get around these limitations. We love our Friday Night Supper Club gatherings, where everyone brings something, be it sparkling water or wine or just-picked veggies from the garden to eat as crudites or hot-from-the-oven bread or fruit pie or some yummy homemade applesauce for dessert. That gives me scope to make a main dish or two and a fantastic salad and know that the rest of the meal will take care of itself. Then there are the two-chef families, like our friends Delilah and Chaz, who have created a kitchen to accommodate both of them and coordinate their efforts to serve such flawless multicourse meals you’d think you’d inadvertently arrived at a four-star restaurant instead of their home.

Simple or elaborate, single-dish or multi-course, I’m always delighted as long as a) the food is good and b) it arrives at the table at its perfect temperature. If it’s elaborate but not good, for whatever reason, or if by the time it reaches me it’s too cold, I’d rather eat leftover pizza (heated to the right temperature, of course) and a salad. Ugh.

But coordinating the parade of dishes to the table so they reach your enthusiastic diners when the food’s all hot and perfectly done is no easy feat. (Keep this in mind if you took your mom’s dinners for granted back in the day.) I’ve seen fabulous meals that took days to prepare go down in flames because the cook simply couldn’t juggle all the dishes in such a way that they arrived at the table at the right time and at the perfect temperature. Talk about a heartache! 

So what’s the solution here? Must you be an acrobat as well as a chef? No. But you have to be a dancer.

This revelation occurred when our friend Ben and I watched one of my favorite movies, “Blow Dry,” and a new Netflix selection, “No Reservations,” back-to-back. (Poor OFB, he’s such a sweet guy.)

“Blow Dry” is a simply delicious film starring Alan Rickman and Natasha Richardson as hairdressers entering the British hairdressing championship, with a superb Bill Nighy and Rachel Griffiths in supporting roles. (The entire supporting cast was fantastic; if you watch it, check out the mayor.)

After enjoying the film, we watched the extra features on the DVD, which included interviews with the actors talking about how they’d had to attend a hairdressing crash course and watch a few real competitions so they could look authentic in the movie. Several, including one of my all-time heartthrobs, Alan Rickman (cover your ears, OFB), discussed how choreography as much as talent contributed to success in a competition where every second counted. One of them noted that he’d attended an actual hairdressing championship with the pro stylist who’d been adviser to the movie. Seeing a flashy hairdresser at work, he’d asked the pro if the guy would win. “Not a chance,” the pro replied. “What?!!” “See, he’s wearing shoes.” Turns out, barefoot hairdressing allows more precision and speed. The resulting film emphasized the importance of coordinating your routine and staying light on your feet, literally dancing around the styling chair.

The next night, our friend Ben and I watched “No Reservations,” a predictable romance involving two chefs. Since it was a chef-centric film, it had more restaurant-kitchen scenes than I’d seen since “Ratatouille.” And sitting there, bored with the plot, I guess my mind spun out and focused on the interplay between the staff in the kitchen. In its timing, its efficiency, its perfection, it was like a ballet. Nothing was wasted. Everyone knew his or her role and everyone performed it to the split second. Just like, just like… the hairdressing championships.

Thinking this over later, I saw the connection. Cooking is a dance. Even the simplest dish is a dance: a slow dance, a tango, a waltz. Seeing and overseeing every single step, orchestrating the music, assembling the dancers and making sure every one knows his or her steps perfectly, that every nuance is in place, is the role of the chef, the composer, the conductor, the ballet master. Oh, wow. It’s so true. A solo cook (OFB’s a darling about doing the dishes), I sing and dance and waltz around the kitchen and pantry preparing our meals. (And yes, I do cook barefoot except when it’s freezing.) Ella and Louis—whom I often have on as background music, there’s no way I could cook without music—have nothing on me. I sing along, waltzing from fridge to stove to pantry to mudroom to garden to cookbook shelf or recipe file and back, frantically assembling a world of disparate ingredients into a harmonious whole.

I’m not exactly coordinated, and though I love to sing, my vocals aren’t going to land me on “American Idol” anytime soon. But it’s true, it’s the rhythm and pace that makes or breaks any meal. (And the music that, in my view, makes or breaks any cook.) The kitchen waltz: Aaaaahhh, how romantic. And how ultimately delicious.

         ‘Til next time,


The easiest way to peel garlic cloves. February 24, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If there’s one thing I’ve always hated, it’s peeling garlic cloves.

It’s easy to peel off the papery cover of the bulb itself, but once you get to the individual cloves, the agony begins. First, separate the cloves, no problem. Then, put a clove on your cutting board and cut off the tip and base. No problem.

Then, try to get the skin off the clove. Big problem: Those slivers of tough outer skin get under your fingernails, stab in, and hurt like hell: Suddenly you know what it must have been like to be at the mercy of a torturer working for the Spanish Inquisition. And even if you finally do manage to get them off, the slippery inner skin sticks to your fingers like white on rice. Even if you somehow manage to get the sticky garlic skin off your fingers, there’s still the lingering smell, not precisely the perfume you’d hoped to wear that night. (And just try getting that off. Yeah, yeah, stainless steel, lemon juice… Ha!)

I’ve read that the easy way to remove the skin from a garlic clove is to hold the blade of a knife over the clove and smack it with the flat of your hand. No thanks, I still have such vivid memories of my last trip to the emergency room that I’d rather not try out for another one. But you’re so sweet to suggest it.

Yes, I’ll go through the agonies of garlic-peeling to add garlic to dishes like pasta sauces, but have been in no hurry to add garlic to any dish that didn’t simply scream for its inclusion, and I don’t care how many health benefits were claimed on behalf of the “stinking rose.” Dammit, these are my fingers we’re talking about!

But you’ll be happy to know that I’ve finally learned a (literally) painless way to separate garlic cloves from their skins, thanks to my friend Huma. She had asked me during one of my visits to her house to please chop garlic and ginger for a dish she was making. Gritting my teeth and smiling sweetly, I took up a paring knife and was preparing to do battle with the first garlic clove when Huma looked around and screamed, “What are you doing?!” Seizing the pestle from a large olivewood mortar on her kitchen counter, she pounded the unfortunate garlic clove with a few good whacks. Before my disbelieving eyes, the skin split neatly off the clove, leaving the somewhat flattened flesh ready for the attentions of the paring knife.

Well. As it happens, Huma had been kind enough to bring me an olivewood mortar and pestle as a gift last time she returned from a trip to the Middle East. So the next time a recipe I was making called for garlic, I showed it no mercy: I put those cloves down on my cutting board and smashed the life out of them with the side of the wooden pestle. Three good whacks and the skin separated from the flesh and was ever-so-easy to remove and discard, with no pain to the cook, no lacerated flesh beneath the fingernails, no clinging bits of stinky garlic skin on the fingertips. Wow.

Should you not happen to have a sturdy mortar and pestle in your kitchen, and if you’re unwilling to stink up your venerable rolling pin with garlic, I have a suggestion for you: Put your garlic cloves in a Ziploc bag on your cutting board and smash them with a hammer. (Just make sure your fingers are out of the way!)

Let me close by making an argument for everyone who cooks getting a mortar and pestle: It’s a great low-tech way to pulverize herbs and spices. Huma uses hers to mash ginger and garlic for recipes instead of mincing them. You can also use one to crush seeds like sesame or mustard seeds, pulverize salt crystals, peppercorns, or clumps of sugar, or make a paste from a variety of herbs and spices to use as a rub, as a dressing, or in a dish.

And anyway, pounding things is so therapeutic.

        ‘Til next time,


The Aunt Debbi interview: Cooking. June 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The ever-entertaining Aunt Debbi of Aunt Debbi’s Garden fame (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/) has been promoted to interviewer-in-chief at her local library, and in order to hone her interviewing skills she called for volunteers to practice on. Naturally, our friend Ben and I volunteered. Turns out, the interview topic is cooking! (Sorry, Ben; maybe she’ll ask you about your MacArthur aspirations and sock aversion some other time… ) Here are Aunt Debbi’s questions and my answers:

At what age did you begin cooking? I can never remember not cooking, but that’s probably more due to my mama’s letting me “help” her in the kitchen from an early age than to really being allowed to do anything much more complicated than assembling bacon-and-tomato sandwiches and making vinaigrette. I still have some of my grade-school-era recipes, and I can only hope that I wasn’t actually allowed to make them!

Who taught you? My mama taught me. Curiously, neither grandmother was a good cook. But Mama and our housekeeper Olivia were both fabulous cooks, and growing up in the kitchen with the two of them was like being in heaven.

What type of food is your favorite? Yikes, that depends on what you mean, and even then, that depends! I love veggies and fresh fruit. Then there are the four major food groups: pasta, pizza, popcorn, and potatoes, and the three minor food groups: butter, cheese, and salt. But if you mean what style of cuisine is my favorite, I’d have a terrible time trying to decide between Indian, Mexican, Thai, Greek, Lebanese, and Chinese. But if you told me I was being exiled to a deserted island and could only eat one style of cooking for the rest of my life, I’d go with the Southern food I grew up with and wouldn’t even have to think about it.

Where do you get your best ingredients? Whew, that’s easier. From our garden, our CSA, the local farmers’ markets (we’re lucky enough to have four here), and the Mennonite farms that have farm stores attached and sell raw milk, Amish-style homemade butter and cheese, every type of pickle and preserves on earth, and many another wonderful treat. I also have my favorite spice haunts: Rice and Spice in nearby Emmaus, PA for all things Indian; Echo Hill Country Store in Fleetwood, PA for herbs and bulk goods, especially pastas, dried fruit, beans, and grains; and Spices-N-Such at Zern’s Market in Gilbertsville, PA for a great array of wonderful herbs, spices and coffees.

Do you know any cooking tricks? You bet. I could go on and on, but here are ten: 1) Few things in life can’t be saved with butter and salt. 2) Always use the very freshest and best ingredients, then keep it simple. 3) Get over yourself and wear a full-body apron or you’ll be sorry. 4) Those boxed veggie stocks you can buy in the soup aisle now are God’s gift to cooking. 5) There’s no such thing as too much basil or cilantro. 6) Use sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla, 1015, or Candy type) and plenty of ’em when you can, and storage (pungent) onions only when you have to. 7) Put your (fresh, please!) herbs in your salad, then dress it simply with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 8) Mushrooms and sweet onion in a butter and wine sauce is a blissful side or topping for pasta or rice. 9) Secret ingredient for #8: a splash of bourbon right before serving. 10) Use bamboo spoons for cooking; they’re easy to clean, a pleasure to use, and they don’t splinter like wood. Here’s a bonus: 11) Use the heaviest pans you can lift. My cooking owes everything to my LeCreuset enamelled cast-iron cookware. I guess I’d better keep working out so I can still lift them a few decades from now!

Will you share a recipe? Sure. This being summer and tomato season, here’s my simple but scrumptious recipe for Caprese salad: Cover a large plate with leaf lettuce (such as Romaine or Butterhead), layering leaves to form a nice bed. Slice several large ripe tomatoes, then halve each slice. (The salad looks most spectacular when you use several colors of tomato, such as red, yellow, green-ripe, and/or black, but any color is fine.) Slice one or more balls of fresh mozzarella, then halve each slice. Wash and pat dry a big bunch of fresh basil leaves, removing them from the stems. To assemble, alternate tomato, mozzarella, and basil, starting around the outside of the plate and working your way to the center until the entire plate is covered. The alternating and overlapping red (etc.), white, and green will create a very colorful pattern. When the salad is assembled, drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the top and sprinkle with salt (we like Real Salt). I like to serve the salad sliced in wedges like a pizza. Yum!

        ‘Til next time,


Does anybody cook like me? March 15, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. My dear friend Huma just forwarded a black bean soup recipe from today’s New York Times that incorporates two packages of fresh spinach into the soup. She thought it sounded really good.

I’ll admit, I was intrigued as well. I love cooked spinach on its own with some balsamic vinegar and salt, but am less enamored of it in soups or dishes like lasagna, where it just seems stringy and pointless. But because black bean soup is so thick and rich, I thought it could probably accomodate all that spinach and add a dollop of healthy greens without ruining the flavor or texture.

But then I started thinking. Okay, I like the idea of incorporating greens. But wouldn’t baby arugula, with its spicy flavor, add more to black bean soup than spinach? And what about doubling or tripling the wimpy amount of cilantro in the recipe? Black bean soup is so rich it can stand up to a lot in the way of flavoring. How about adding fresh basil leaves for a hit of anise? Or, better yet, cinnamon basil leaves?

I like my own black bean soup recipe (search for it in the search bar at the upper right) way better than the New York Times version, but I’m ready and willing to add greens to mine as they did to theirs. Great idea! I’d even consider adding shredded lettuce with sour cream, grated white Cheddar, and hot sauce on top. Why not make it the best it can be? Yum, now I want to make it for dinner tonight!!!

So okay, I’m flexible. In fact, I’m really flexible. I can never see a recipe without wondering what I could do to make it better. It doesn’t take long for a bunch of ideas to occur to me. What about you? Are you by-the-book cooks, or are you like me, brazen adventurers?

          ‘Til next time,


No—don’t say it! August 20, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here (again). Just yesterday, I was working out at my local Curves and chatting with the owner about cooking, and suddenly, she said IT: “You really ought to be a chef!” AAAAHHHHHH!!! Don’t say that to me!

I love to cook, I’m a good cook, and I love to invent my own recipes. But as all of you know who are in the same boat, this is not the same thing as being a chef. I cook for pleasure, for relaxation, for delight. If I don’t feel like cooking, for whatever reason, I grab our friend Ben by the throat and pleasantly suggest that perhaps we should go out tonight. (Ben, who is not stupid, usually enthusiastically agrees.) Chefs, by contrast, get up at 3 a.m. to spend the day in their hot, steamy, chaotic kitchens overseeing a madhouse of food preparation six days a week until they finally stagger home at, say, 1 a.m. You do the math.

If I were to own my dream restaurant, here’s how it would be: Each Monday, my devoted, attentive staff and I would meet in the spacious, window-bright kitchen of Real. (Tempting as it is to call the restaurant Real Food for Real People, I doubt that would actually go over.) I would hand out the week’s menus, with recipes, and make sure everyone was on board with their tasks, from shopping for the freshest produce to adding the final flourishes. Then, smiling sweetly, I’d return home and leave them to it.

Somehow, I doubt that’s how it works. Instead, I’d be hoisting hide at 3 a.m., kicking poor Ben a few hundred times just to make sure he was aware of my suffering, and keeping up a nonstop stream of cursing, which would only increase in passion and volume as I staggered through the restaurant kitchen’s doors. No doubt there are sweet, genial chefs who are a pleasure to be around, even when everything goes wrong. I, however, identify more closely with those mediaeval chefs who were immortalized in song for chopping up the beautiful young princess and serving her for supper.

Cooking on a family-sized scale, accompanied by enthusiastic, shrieking parrots, crashing noises from cats just out of sight (not to mention their endearing “I’m-about-to-vomit-can-you-guess-where” vocalizations), ringing phones (always telemarketers, damn them), begging dogs, and family members who seem, no matter how often you tell them not to, constitutionally unable to keep out of the kitchen while you’re cooking, is challenging enough. But in your heart of hearts, you know that, even if the food boils over or burns while you’re busy chewing out the cats, dog, parrots, and family members, you can always say “to hell with it” and go out, or order in. Not so for professionals. The show, after all, must go on.

So please, even if you think it, do not tell me that I should be a chef. Do not tell your friends that they should be chefs. Do not think about becoming a chef yourself, unless you’re 19 years old and as fond of cocaine as Anthony Bourdain. Spend some time thinking about really dire threats to use on your kids if you overhear them saying they’d like to be chefs. (Like, say, making them watch “Ratatouille” about 5,000 times.)

Ben, I am saying this for the last time. If you ever want to eat again, you will not turn to all our friends and say “She really ought to be a chef!” Are you reading this, Ben? BEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cooking is fun, a sensual delight. Try telling me that about a restaurant kitchen. No. No way. Crazy chefs!

        ‘Til next time,


Try ’em, you’ll like ’em (if you can just lift ’em) May 18, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I don’t know why pots and pans popped into my mind today as a post topic, but they did. Our friend Ben and I grew up in a more innocent era when our mothers used thick aluminum pots and pans, many passed down the generations, which conveyed and retained heat beautifully without being heavy. But then Alzheimer’s reared its ugly head, and there’s no way we’re using aluminum cookware. (We wish we could avoid aluminum-based antiperspirants, too, since we’re really convinced that they’re the culprits, but we haven’t seen even one attempt at a commercial alternative. Marketers, are you listening?!!)

Back to cookware. The ideal cookware holds heat, so it cooks food easily without burning or scorching. It doesn’t rust. It’s easy to clean. It’s attractive. It will outlast you, even if you use it several times a day as I do. What is it? Two words: LeCreuset.

After researching cookware at endless length in grad school, I decided that LeCreuset cookware was the best there was, and I’ve had no reason to change my mind since. My beloved Mama was kind enough to buy me a starter set as a graduation gift, and I’m still using those original pieces to this day. I’ve added a few pieces over the years via eBay (a great source for new or used LeCreuset pieces at great prices, if you’re willing to bid on them) and thanks to generous friends. I love cooking, and I love LeCreuset.

There are two caveats, however. (“Caveat” comes from “caveat emptor,” Latin for “let the buyer beware.” Always a wise policy!) First, LeCreuset cookware is expensive. Yow! This is why eBay is a great option—you can find pieces at a fraction of the store price. My “starter set” included a frying pan and Dutch oven with a shared lid, and I often needed to use both—with lids—at the same time. Thanks to eBay, I was able to find a second-hand lid for a few dollars. Hooray!

The second caveat is the weight. LeCreuset cookware cooks so perfectly because it’s cast iron with an enamel coating. No rust, easy to clean, but heat-retentive. Fantastic!!! But oh, my, that cast-iron cookware is heavy. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, lack arm strength, or just aren’t as strong as you used to be, LeCreuset is not for you.

Otherwise, it’s the ideal cookware. Partner it with a Crock-Pot and a toaster oven and you’ll have everything you need for a lifetime of great cooking. Did I mention that it comes in fabulous colors, too? Sadly, my starter set is a boring grey, but I’ve purchased or been given additional pieces in beautiful shades of red, chartreuse, and true blue. And LeCreuset honors its lifetime warranty, as I know because our good friend Carolyn wrote the company when her LeCreuset Dutch oven developed a chip after twenty-odd years of hard use, and the company sent her a replacement with no questions asked. Wow.

So, there you have it: My best-of cookware recommendation. I’ve seen a lot of cookware, and nothing has ever made me even think of abandoning my LeCreuset. Try it, you’ll like it! (If you can just lift it…) 

                  ‘Til next time,