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Felila

What kitchen tools have you barely used?

A meat-tenderizing mallet. I'm mostly vegetarian.

The mandoline. It's too much work to get it out and set it up. I just use a knife.

A suribachi (for grinding sesame seeds to make gomasio). I buy pre-made gomasio at the supermarket. Great with brown rice!

One odd thing that I do use: a Japanese pickle press, for making pickled vegs. It turns out to work fine for pressing water out of tofu.

Cook the Book: 'My Pizza'

After a twenty-year hiatus, I started baking my own bread again. What was the impetus? The New York Times and no-knead bread. These days, my daily bread is Peter Reinhart's Struan bread, but I still have fond memories of the first no-knead loaves that came out of my Dutch oven.

Grace/prayer at a dinner party

I'm a Buddhist. I *hate* being expected to participate in rituals that assume I'm Christian. I'll keep my mouth shut if it's someone's home (their house, their ways) but if it's a public occasion (a company picnic, a farewell lunch at work) I'll complain.

The Worst Thing I Ever Found in My Food

Metal shavings in a can of tuna. Lucky I saw them.

How did you do with 2011's New Year's Food Resolutions?

Using programs free on the web (Lose It and Eat Watch), I lost 22 pounds.

Seriously Delicious Holiday Giveaway: Korin Knife

An old Japanese carbon steel knife with a wooden handle; bought cheaply from a friend of a friend who was moving.

Jazzing up Tongan watermelon drink

Thanks all. I think I'm going to try hazelnut syrup with a little juiced fresh ginger. No booze, if I want my roommate to drink any. He doesn't like hard liquor ... says it disagrees with him.

Spice Hunting: How to Do a Spice Audit and Reclaim Your Pantry

I also use the glass jars from the supermarket spices -- wash them up and relabel them with my label machine. I refill them from the bulk spices at my food co-op. They're stored in a dark cupboard, on several of those revolving carousels.

Looks organized, but I *do* have spices that are years old and need to be tossed. Mostly things like oregano and tarragon. I am cooking Middle Eastern, Persian, South-Southeast-East Asian food these days.

Cook the Book: 'Home Cooking with Jean-Georges'

I'm too poor to eat out; my chefs write cookbooks. I imagine Madhur Jaffrey making chickpeas with onions, tomatoes, and amchur, basmati rice, and Gujarati-style green beans on the side. Just ever so much better than I do it.

Weekend Cook and Tell: Legacy of the Lentil

Dal made with red lentils and amchoor (sour mango powder), over a mixture of long-grain brown and red rice, with a topping of fresh green chutney (cilantro. mint, red onion, garlic, chillies, lemon juice, and raw sugar).

How many do you have, and what spices can you not be without?

Dozens. I don't want to count. I use a LOT of mustard and cumin seeds, grind my own chai masala, and swear by amchur and za'atar. However, some of my favorite dishes don't need anything more than Hawaiian sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

What's your secret kitchen "cheat" tool?

My one-cup tea mug and strainer. In constant use. I have learned to economize by steeping old leaves with a few pinches of new. Keep adding pinches, I can get four or five cups out of the strainer before I put the leaves in the compost bucket and start fresh.

This may work for me because I drink assertive China teas like lapsang souchong and pu-erh.

Cook the Book: 'Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume'

Yogurtlu tatlisi.

Weekend Cook and Tell: Dinners in Under 10 Minutes

Start pasta. Cut up feta cheese if not crumbled. Cut up onion and garlic, saute. Add frozen chopped spinach to onions and garlic. Can also add frozen, chopped bitter greens, like collards. Combination of spinach and bitter greens is best. When frozen greens have thawed and cooked, add cut-up or crumbled feta. Let feta melt. Add salt and freshly-ground pepper. Drain pasta. Put feta and greens over pasta. This dish freezes well, so make a lot and freeze some to microwave later.

I didn't give amounts because you'll have your own ideas about the right proportions. You could of course do this with fresh greens. That would taste better but take longer. The virtue of this quick-and-easy method is that all the ingredients can be kept on hand for spur-of-the-moment meals. You can cut corners even further with pre-crumbled feta and a jar of minced garlic.

Rice Cookers: Talk To Me! I Eat Rice! I Need a New One

I have a battered 15-year-old Panasonic with NO bells and whistles that works fine for me. Did you know that you can cook the morning oatmeal in the rice cooker? No more burnt oatmeal.

My latest food obsession...

Frozen grapes. They become sweeter as they freeze (which is why icewine). Ice cream for us dieters.

Ed Levine's Caloric Journey, Week 176: Do You Have Diet Clothes?

OR, you can weigh yourself every day and enter the results in a free online program called The Hacker's Diet, which calculates your average weight (a weighted average, biased towards more recent results; as used for finding stock trends). Pay attention to the average (a red line on the weight chart) not the daily readings, and the disadvantages of weighing every day disappear. I like watching my red line slope down.

Drink the Book Giveaway: 'Homemade Soda'

I'm already making my own ginger beer, but would love to have more recipes. My one attempt at winging it, the carrot-ginger soda, was a disaster. Not only did it taste bad, it blew up.

Weekend Cook and Tell: Cookbook Keepers

Joy of Cooking & Bittman's How to Cook Everything
Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking & World of the East Vegetarian Cooking
Maider Heatter's Book of Great Desserts & Book of Great Cookies
Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible
Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread

I should give a shout-out to the website The Fresh Loaf, which taught me how to bake bread. Reinhart's book has been helpful, but it built on skills I first learned from The Fresh Loaf.

Cook the Book: 'Super Natural Every Day'

A slice of homemade whole wheat bread, topped with white cheddar cheese, heated in the microwave and sprinkled with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Put your shopping carts back where they belong, Please!

I'm disabled with arthritis and it hurts me to walk. If the cart stand is near the handicapped parking space, I'll use it, but in most cases, the stand is far away. Or so it seems to me. I make an effort to place the cart where it won't block anyone or roll into cars.

Ed Levine's Caloric Journey, Week 170: A Change in Course

I weigh myself every morning but ... I don't take the weight seriously. I enter the figure in an online program called the Hacker's Diet, which uses an averaging algorithm to calculate the weight TREND. It graphs my weight for me, as white dots for the weight readings and a red line for the weighted average. I am losing between half a pound and a pound a week. My graph is a red line sloping downwards, with the white dots dancing below. My weight can vary by several pounds (water weight, how much I ate the previous day) but as long as the red line keeps going down, I know I'm losing weight. The program doesn't cost anything. It's worth a try.

Tracking calories with Lose It is also helping.

Jazzing up Tongan watermelon drink

When I lived in Tonga, I enjoyed the occasional drink of 'otai meleni, a drink made of watermelon juice, coconut milk, and extra sugar if the watermelon isn't sweet enough.

I have some leftover watermelon and I'm thinking of making 'otai. However, I think it would be fun to jazz it up a little. Hmmm. Pomegranate molasses? Hazelnut syrup? What would you put in it?

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