Tools & Utensils

Garlic: To Press Or Not To Press


{See below about winning the garlic press to end all garlic presses.}

Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on this burning issue: is it a good idea to press garlic?

The question sparks surprisingly violent debates, and often there’s an undercurrent of judgment (“real cooks just chop”) that I find out of place in any cooking discussion: there’s no single right way of doing anything, just different skills and circumstances.

As far as I can tell, here are the pros of each method:

Pros of pressing garlic:

– In just a few seconds and a single gesture, you get garlic pulp that you can add to your dish right away.
– If your knife skills aren’t those of a pro, it can be a challenge to get the garlic chopped evenly so it will cook evenly.
– Pressed garlic blends smoothly with other ingredients, which is particularly useful if you use it raw.
– It limits the lingering smell on your fingers, since you can avoid touching the garlic altogether if you prefer.

Pros of chopping by hand:

– It takes more time to clean the average garlic press than a knife and a cutting board, which you would probably have to clean anyway.
– No one-trick pony taking up space in your utensil drawer.
– You have control over how finely or roughly your garlic is cut.
– You use the whole clove, with none wasted in the crevices of the press.

In my own kitchen, I use a bit of both methods, and sometimes I’ll use my Microplane grater, too. I will usually chop my garlic if I’m already chopping other ingredients, but I reach for the garlic press when I’m pressed for time (ha ha), especially if I add the garlic as a second thought when I’m improvising a dish.

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Bear Claws

Bear Claws

This post has been eight years in the making.

Eight years ago, Maxence and I visited friends in London. On the night we arrived, Zoe made lasagna and a big green salad, which she proceeded to toss in the bowl using two gorgeous wooden instruments, shaped like four-clawed bear paws.

If this had been a cartoon, you would have seen me hypnotically drilling my gaze into her hands, red and white spirals spinning in my eyes. “Where does one find those?” I asked, hoping they were a London treasure I could hunt for. “Oh, the bear claws? I got them as a gift back in the US,” she explained. If this had been a cartoon, you would have seen the balloon of my hopes deflating with that elegant sound balloons make when they deflate, and falling, a limp rubber thing, to the ground.

Ah well. This did nothing to detract from the pleasures of the London weekend, and I put the bear claws out of my mind.

Fast forward eight years, and I found myself spending time in Canada, in Stratford, Ontario to be exact. And on my very first day there, while walking around the city center, my eyes locked with a stack of the long-yearned-for utensils in the window of a Canadian arts and crafts shop.

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Custom Labels for Homemade Foods

Chef’s medallions

I’ve always had a major thing for stationery. When I was a child, I would spend a large portion of my allowance at the neighborhood stationery shop, which my family refered to as ta papeterie chérie, and to this day I go weak in the knee for smooth-paged notebooks and well-designed greeting cards. And stickers. Oh, stickers.

So when the good people at Felix Doolittle got in touch and offered to send me samples of their personalized labels, I found it hard to resist.

Oval kitchen labels

Felix Doolittle is a small Massachusetts company that specializes in “extraordinary illustrated papers,” whimsically designed by Hong Kong-born artist Felix Fu. They use premium materials and print, cut, and package everything by hand. Indeed, the quality and attention to detail were evident when I opened each of the incredibly neatly packed boxes.

I am quite smitten with my labels, and I thought I’d share them with you in plenty of time before the holidays. It seems to me that these would make a one-of-a-kind gift for the cooks you love, or you could order your own personalized labels to adorn the homemade edible gifts you’ll be giving out this year.

{Keep reading for a promotion code!}

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I Heart My Pressure Cooker

I grew up in a household where the hiss and huff of the pressure cooker was a familiar kitchen melody.

My mother owned a large specimen of what the French commonly call une cocotte minute — this is a brand name to the generic, and less endearing, term autocuiseur — and I seem to remember she used it mostly to boil or steam vegetables, such as potatoes and globe artichokes, or the cauliflower for her gratin de chou-fleur.

I myself went without one for a while, until Maxence’s grandparents had to sell their country house and I was offered a few pieces of cooking equipment, including the jumbo pressure cooker that had served to feed a whole generation of grandkids.

I loved it, but it soon turned out to be too large for me: with a ten-liter capacity, it was both too big for the quantities of food I ordinarily cook, and too bulky to fit in my teeny sink when the time came to wash it up.

And so, trapped between these inconveniences and the sentimental attachment to a family heirloom, I let the poor beast collect dust on a shelf.

Until one day, I decided there was something cosmically wrong about this situation: what I needed was a smaller pressure cooker, and this large pressure cooker was no doubt needed by someone else. Who was I to halt the natural flow of the universe?

Once the decision was made, it was easy: within a month, thanks to a popular auction website, I’d purchased a second-hand, 4.5-liter pressure cooker, and found a happy buyer for my own*.

And why am I drawn to the pressure cooker in the first place, you ask? Well, it is among the most energy-efficient cooking vessels out there, that’s why: as you seal the lid tightly then heat the pot, pressure builds up inside, and this causes the boiling point of water to increase** (from ~100°C to ~120°C, or from ~212°F to ~248°F). In this environment, foods cook considerably faster and with less water than in a regular pot boiling on the stove.

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Danish Dough Whisk

I recently told someone that I was totally over my phase of buying kitchen stuff all the time. With a straight face, I explained that I was content with my current equipment, and that I needed nothing more, really.

I’m afraid this is true in a distorted version of reality that exists only in my head.

I can delude myself all I want, but the fact remains that, over the past three months, I have acquired a little more than zero utensils. I will readily provide a set of indisputable reasons for buying each and every one of them, but still: a flour sifter, a frosting spatula, a set of madeleine molds (one that fits in my small oven), a bulb baster, a new piping bag with metal tips, a sesame mill, and now this.

This, for those of you who are not wholly acquainted with the perfect little baker’s paraphernalia, this is a dough whisk, designed to succeed where the wire whisk and the wooden spoon fail.

This, for those of you who are not wholly acquainted with the perfect little baker’s paraphernalia, this is a dough whisk, designed to succeed where the wire whisk and the wooden spoon fail.

I was completely unaware that the gods of baking had created such a utensil until I visited Portland last spring, for the release of my Paris book: I was to appear briefly on local television, to demo the recipe for chouquettes. I did no such thing, of course, since cooking on a set usually consists in pointing at various items placed on a counter, while talking the host through the recipe.

Local authors might prepare and bring in their own food, but since I was about 5,000 miles from my own kitchen, it is really Sandra, my media escort* and food stylist extraordinaire, who had prepared the choux pastry and the finished chouquettes for me. (And perhaps we can all remember, next time we watch a cooking segment on television, to mentally acknowledge the work done behind the scenes by food stylists.)

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