Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Kitchen Gift Guide Review!

Yes, folks, it's that time of year again, when Megan McArdle rummages through her kitchen drawers and makes up a list of miscellaneous gadgets that she enjoys using (or so she says). We are a bit under the weather, so let's go straight to the mocking.

Microplane grater: Evidently McArdle finds grating a lemon so difficult she ends up reducing her "knuckles to a bloody, sodden pulp." A microplaner seems like a nice thing to have, but it's not going to make McArdle coordinated or save her macaroni and cheese recipe. As McArdle likes to say, garbage in, garbage out.

Silicon Pastry Mat: McArdle laments her lost pastry mat, since its loss ruined her attempt to make gingerbread cookies. We would advise simply adding flour to the work surface--gingerbread cookies can take a lot; it just makes them fatter and chewier--but why ruin her little story with facts?

Silicon Oven Mitts: McArdle uses these whenever she wants " to plunge your hand into boiling water." Someone should give McArdle a colander before she ends up on "1000 Ways To Die" on SpikeTV. Her kitchen habits are not exactly safe.

Tongs: McArdle informs us that tongs are useful things, something that most of us realized the first time we picked them up and use them to terrify our little sister. McArdle recommends that we use them for lifting small items and putting them back down, a major stroke of genius. Unfortunately she appears to be setting them down on the burner; she informs us that they will catch on fire if you, well, set them on fire. So far McArdle is suffering from kitchen fires, shattering ceramic knives, immersion in pots of boiling water, and death by grater. Maybe she should find a safer hobby, like jumping out of airplanes.

Butter boat: McArdle likes have a little ceramic container of butter sitting out, which cools itself through evaporation. We live in a very hot and humid climate, and prefer to use the fridge to keep butter from spoiling and the microwave to soften it when necessary.

Silicon rolling pin: Maybe McArdle should just give up on pie crust if it's this hard for her. Just buy it already prepared, woman! Nobody cares. You won't lose your hipster doofus (TM Seinfeld) credentials.

This makes it just slightly trickier to roll up your top crust pastry on the pin and then unroll it over the pan, but this is a very minor inconvenience compared to not having half your dough stuck to the pin, and the rest an unusable, hole-filled mess. Really, once you try this, you will never go back to wood.

We suspect that McArdle doesn't realize she needs to chill the fat and ice the water, and rest the dough for half an hour. Perhaps she dug soft butter out of its watery boat and now wonders why the dough is sticky and won't roll. Or is she so terrified of flour that she refuses to sprinkle it on the board? We demand another Blogginheads competition so we can mock more knowledgeably.

McArdle also recommends a few items like an egg separator and cookbook holder, and tells us that she uses a burr coffee grinder but all you need is a blade grinder.

Froth au Lait: A milk warmer and frother is a nifty thing to have, since it is much easier to use and clean than the frother attachment on an espresso machine. McArdle's frother looks bigger than the Nespresso frother, which can be used to just warm milk as well which a self-professed latte drinker should prefer, but evidently she thinks it has potential.

The manufacturer maintains that you can make all sorts of custards and fancy sauces in it. I can't speak to that--though in theory, something that constantly stirs your Hollandaise for you at a consistent temperature does seem like an improvement over the normal procedure of curdling the eggs and then frantically trying to get them to un-separate.

Has anyone thought of giving McArdle cooking lessons? Or is tempering eggs like math, a skill far out of reach for our heroine?

Salt Pig: No holiday gift list would be complete without McArdle advising us to buy the most common condiment on earth. Last year she famously declared we should cook with an expensive British salt and season our food with an even more expensive pink salt from the Himalayas (which actually was rock salt from Pakistan, heh). She spent the next month or so denying she had ever said any such thing, to everyone's amusement. McArdle has learned her lesson; however that lesson appears to have been "keep lying and everyone will forget what I said in the past."

As I noted last year, I've been experimenting quite a bit with varietal salts. They're an extravagence, but ultimately, they're an affordable extravagence--my modest containers of my two current favorites, Maldin Sea Salt and pink Himalayan rock salt, have now lasted for over two years. So far the flavor shows no signs of degrading.

A salt pig is good for holding these at the table (don't bother cooking with pricey salt--the cooking process alters the flavor. Just use it for finishing, or table salt). But where it really excels is on the stove, holding your salt for cooking. Many people I know swear by kosher salt, but while I find this useful for treating meat, otherwise I don't see what you gain from throwing larger crystals into a dish where they will just dissolve. I use ordinary Morton's iodized* salt.

After being so thoroughly humiliated for her salt pretentiousness last year McArdle tries to use reverse pretentiousness this year. We said that most people are happy with kosher salt, the way God and Alton Brown intended us to be, and now McArdle must tell us all that kosher salt's flakes are too big and one can just use Morton's. We admire her flexibility, if not her ethics.

The wee little piggie has a wide-open mouth and will not keep out humidity, but we'll let her find that out for herself.

McArdle also lists a gravy boat, immersion blender, scale, waffle, corkscrew, and tea press, sprinkling her reviews with little stories of her entertaining success. She does not compare items to let us know which brand is best and why--if she has it and recommends it, evidently it's the best. We bought a Screwpull when working our way through school as a waitress and it still works very well; for $12 (now $30), it was a great bargain. McArdle's rabbit is $55.

The Soadastream is, as she says, very nice if you like seltzer available at all times, but we run through the canisters of CO2 very quickly; too quickly to get new ones through the mail. You can get them refilled at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $15.

On and on and on it goes. McArdle likes All-Clad pans but thinks Calphalon Infused Anodized pans are the best. All-Clad does better in comparison tests but let's not tell McArdle. She uses a cast-iron pan for meat but evidently doesn't know that if it is properly seasoned and kept seasoned, it can cook anything without sticking (and can always go from stove top to oven). She likes electric pepper grinders but doesn't warn us that they often are underpowered and break down. And she likes an electric tea kettle but doesn't know about the extremely handy Japanese water heaters and their imitators, which can be left plugged in at all times if you so wish.

Half-educated, underskilled, gets facts wrong--what does that remind us of?


Downpuppy said...

Medic alert in the comments!

Fraid not. My problem is hypo-thyroidism, or rather, incipient hypo-thyroidism; I have an autoimmune disease that is very slowly killing my thyroid

It's going to strike her down at birthday 105.

Anonymous said...

Evidently McArdle finds grating a lemon so difficult she ends up reducing her "knuckles to a bloody, sodden pulp."

This reminds me of those Ronco commercials, where the actress spazzes out, spilling stuff all over the place to prove how difficult it is to grate lemons the old-fashioned way.

Lurking Canadian said...

Her problems with pastry are baffling. I admit, I much prefer my new marble rolling pin to my old wooden one--the weight makes the rolling go faster and the dough just can't stick to it, even if you want it to--but it's not like my old wooden one wasn't perfectly serviceable when floured.

You must be right. Nobody ever taught her how to cook, so she just doesn't know any better. But, as you point out, not knowing what she's talking about has never stopped her, no matter the subject matter.

Clever Pseudonym said...

Megan mentions being scoffed at for recommending an egg separator rather than just using the shell. "Having an egg separator won't change your life--but it will make you marginally more likely to make that meringue or souffle."

Yes, because it's not the stiffening of the egg whites that's the real chore - a virtual mini-project if you don't own an electric mixer and have to do it manually. The deal breaker is the 4.2 seconds extra you will have to spend using the shells instead of a nearly useless utensil. Really, has anyone ever thought to themselves "I was going to make souffle, but just thinking about separating those eggs has me in a sweat"?

PS - I hope you feel better soon, Susan.

Peter VE said...

When in hurry with the Rabbit, you can get it to jump the tracks. This leaves you with a $55 item sitting for months on the counter while you mean to call the manufacturer for a replacement....

Aimai said...

Ahhhhhhhhhh. I think I speak for all your commenters. That's the sound of a satisfied reader.


Brad said...

She lists a thousand dollars worth of knives and implies she has more. If I were to make that big of an investment I'd probably learn to sharpen them myself.

Mr. Wonderful said...

What aimai said. Plus, you can imagine my smug sense of self-satisfaction when I saw that Alton Brown uses the same kind of towering black pepper mill that I paid forty bucks for (and don't regret for a second).

Also nice: expensive ($18) measuring spoons--narrow, so they fit in many small jars where others don't.

Thought problem: Imagine, say, Paul Krugman writing a yearly column of kitchen gear tips. Let alone an account of standing in line for an iPhone.

See, this is what happens when you give women the vote.

Batocchio said...

I get the sense McMegan doesn't like to cook. She likes the image of being a cook.

However, if she only poisons herself and her hubby, I suppose it's all right.

Kathy said...

If Mr. Krugman wrote such columns, they'd be witty and interesting, and I'd look carefully at any product he liked. Because he's intelligent, see. And funny and charming. Just the opposite of McArgleBlargle, who's mostly trying to emulate & flatter her "betters".

Shell Goddamnit said...

Milk warmer/frother: Microwave, pyrex measuring cup, and french coffee press. Warm milk in microwave. Put in press and agitate. I keep looking at frothers and keep not being able to justify to myself.

I need one of those battery-operated whip numbers for camping though.

Also, I just had a thyroidectomy. It was almost painless and I actually feel better than before the surgery despite the lack of a thyroid. Person with dying thyroid has options.

Susan of Texas, you are doing yoeman service here and I am grateful for not having to read this crap for myself.Please do be careful, there surely is an LD for McArdle.