EVERY HOME has one or two drawers that haunt and plague our consciences and remind us of deeds undone: letters to be written, snapshots to be sorted and old kitchen gadgets to be junked. This last drawer is so crammed with useless odds and ends that we'd like to wake up one morning and find it gone. That rusty apple corer, broken olive pitter and dull cookie cutter do not merit the nostalgia that justifies their existence.
Throw the rascals out. Start replacing them with tools that work. Here are two gadgets that are truly functional. Trust in their usefulness and let them inspire you to update your outmoded utensils.
Zester -- You've likely passed it by many times in your favorite gourmett shop since its appearance divulges nothing of its function. This curious-looking instrument would by any other name be called a grater. Its name, however, is appropriate since its purpose is to remove the zest, the skin or colored part of citrus fruit, as it avoids the pith, that white, bitter layer.
The zest of an orange, lemon or lime contains essential oils which possess much more flavor than the juice. Once grated, its contribution to any dish is invaluable: Duckling a l'Orange, Lime Pie, Lemon Mousse.
The zester has a black or blond handle about 4" long. Attached to this handle is a piece of metal that resembles baby brass knuckles, except it is made of stainless steel. Five tiny sharp holes forged into its tip perform the surgery.
Grasp a lemon, lime or orange in one hand, the zester in the other, your fingers loosely encircling its entire length. Press the holes of the instrument against the fruit as you draw it down. Thin julienne-like pieces of peel will emerge through the holes. After continuing in this fashion all over the fruit's skin, the only thing remaining should be the acrid white pith. The deed is done.
Never again will you inadvertently grate your knuckles along with the lemon.
And never again will you avoid this chore since the zester truly does make life easier. By the way, it sells for under $3 -- a good start for your new drawer.
Double Bladed Chopper -- This inexpensive implement will not take the place of your food processor or favorite knife, but it will perform certain critical tasks admirably.
First, what does it look like? Imagine a black handlebar attached to two thin stainless steel half-moons, resembling double-bladed ice skates, and you've got the picture. Hang this dandy little kitchen helper on your pegboard wall or any convenient spot, since it does not fit easily in a drawer.
This chopper performs best when its arcshaped cutters fit comfortably into a bowl, whose sides conform to the shape of the blades. Chopping nuts and mushrooms will be a joy. You won't have to limit yourself to three at a time or run frantically around your cutting board retrieving flying debris.
I've discarded the traditional 6-pronged pastry blender. The chopper does a more efficient job of cutting butter or fat into the flour when making pie crust, and since its edges are stronger than the pastry blender, the cold fat is truly cut, not mashed.
Nuts, mushrooms and pie crusts may not seem important enough to justify their own special instrument but, if you consider how often you use them, you'll appreciate the culinary significance of this gadget. COLD GRAND MARNIER SOUFFLE (Serves 10-12)
The classic cold souffle does not rise by heat. The souffle mixture, set with gelatin, is poured into a dish which has been prepared with a paper collar that extends several inches above the rim. It is then refrigerated or frozen. tOnce set, the paper collar is then removed from the dish, giving the illusion that the unbaked souffle has, indeed, "risen." 3/4 cup orange juice 2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin 6 large eggs, separated Grated zest of 2 oranges and 1 lemon,finely chopped 2 cups sugar 1/4 cup lemon juice 1/4 cup Grand Marnier or any orange-flavored liqueur (Cointreau, Triple Sec, Curacao) 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped Garnish: whipped cream and finely chopped pistachios or walnuts
Prepare a 6-cup souffle dish by tying a long length of folded waxed paper around it, letting it extend about 4 inches above the rim of the dish. Lightly oil the part of the waxed paper that is above the souffle dish. Put 1/2 cup of the orange juice into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let the gelatin absorb the liquid while you make the base of the souffle. iIn a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until they are pale yellow in color. Add the fruit zest and gradually add 1 1/4 cups of the sugar, beating constantly until mixture is almost white and forms a "ribbon" when dropped fromm beaters. Then, gradually, add the remaining 1/4 cup of the orange juice, the lemon juice and the liqueur. Transfer this mixture to a large, heavy saucepan and cook gently, without boiling and stirring continuously until it coats the back of a spoon.
Meanwhile, place the saucepan of gelatin over low heat and melt it. Do not let it boil or it will become stringy. Remove the egg mixture from the heat and stir in the dissolved gelatin. Transfer to a bowl and place in refrigerator to cool completely and begin setting. Add salt to the egg whites and beat to a soft peak. Add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue is satiny smooth and looks like marshmallow fluff. When the souffle base has cooled completely, take up about 1/4 of the meringue and beat it into the base. Now, fold the meringue into the orange mixture.
Whip 2 cups of the cream only until it is stiff enough to hold its shape gently. Fold the cream into the meringue mixture. Pour into the prepared souffle dish and refrigerate or freeze until completely firm (2 to 4 hours). To finish: Remove the paper collar. Whip the remaining cream until it is stiff. Transfer to a pastry bag that has been fitted with a decorative top and pipe a pretty ruffle around the outside top of the souffle or use a big spoon to form a ring of "dollops."
Press the finely chopped nuts around the exposed sides of the souffle. Chill until ready to serve.