A bunch of family cooks, all female, were sitting around the other day sipping coffee and talking about one of our favorite subjects: easing the general household burden. One woman, married 20 years, said that her husband had never lifted a finger in the kitchen until the day the food processor appeared. Then he started to play with it. Since you can't play with a food processor without making something, he started to cook. And when the microwave oven arrived, his output doubled.
The rest of us got to thinking. All of us had men in our lives who cooked only when the process involved gadgets that whir, hum and beep. As we talked more, our collective consciousness was further raised. It is our husbands who man the popcorn poppers and select the high-tech coffee makers in our houses, and it is men who insist on freshly ground coffee beans. Most of us thought the coffee from freshly ground beans tasted no better than ground-in-a-can from the supermarket, but freshly ground beans enabled a man to run a coffee grinder.
Besides the toylike aspects of kitchen gadgets, men seem to like gizmos that do all the thinking and most of the work -- such as microwave ovens with automatic cooking sensors that decide when food is done. Not to be a sexist or a generalist here, but men seem totally in the dark about when things are done, while women seem to know instinctively when cooked is cooked.
Men also seem to like gadgets that are apparent labor-savers. I say apparent because men also seem to think that if they have cooked, someone else should clean up, and you all know who that is. Every one of us at this coffee klatch had had the Onion Experience, in which a man sets out to chop a single onion. He puts the bowl on the food processor, installs the blade, puts in the onion, then attaches the cover and the pusher, processes the onion, scoops it out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Then he puts the bowl, cover, spatula, blade and processor in the sink. A woman, on the other hand, chops a single onion with a knife and cutting board, then wipes them both off and puts them away.
All this reminds me of a bit of counsel I once had from a wise old Jamaican woman. When a husband does something she finds silly, she just says: "He's a man . . . he can't do better."
And that's where we left it. Since we can't change them, and we're not about to turn the kitchen over to them, we decided it would be best to round up some gadget-dense recipes for things men like to make: breakfast, exquisite sauces, dessert. And with these, we'll just let them play to their heart's content. SUPER SCRAMBLE (4 servings)
1/4 pound bulk pork sausage
8 3/4-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Put a double thickness of paper toweling on the bottom of a microwave-safe 9-by-9-by-2 baking dish. Crumble sausage onto paper toweling in dish. Cook in microwave oven 2 1/2 to 3 minutes on high. Slip out paper toweling. Stir in corn and onion, spreading evenly in dish. Microwave for 1 minute on high.
Beat eggs, milk and seasonings with fork and pour egg mixture over sausage mixture. Cover with plastic wrap. Cook in microwave oven 5 minutes on high; stir after 3 minutes to move cooked portions from edges to center. Let stand covered 1 to 2 minutes before serving. Remove scrambled eggs from oven when they are slightly underdone; heat retained in eggs completes cooking. From "The Maytag Handbook of Good Cooking" (Briarcliff Press, $3.95) AVOCADO MAYONNAISE (Makes 2 cups)
3 large egg yolks
1/2 large ripe avocado, coarsely diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash red cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar
2/3 cup peanut oil
1/3 cup olive oil
Position the steel blade in your food processor, and put in the egg yolks without breaking them. Add half the avocado, the salt, pepper, cayenne, mustards, paprika, lemon juice and vinegar. Flash the processor on and off quickly just to break the yolks and roughly blend the ingredients. Combine the oils in a measuring cup and remove the pusher from the chimney of the food processor. Start the blades whirring, and pour the oil through the chimney in a slow, steady stream. The moment all the oil is in, stop the motor and taste. You may now adjust the seasonings by adding more of any the flavorings; if you'd like it thicker, add more avocado. This mayonnaise keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week. From "Cooking with the Cuisinart," by Roy Andries de Groot (McGraw-Hill) QUICK NEAPOLITAN SAUCE FOR SPAGHETTI (4 servings)
If you have a pasta machine, your gadgeteer can also make the pasta to go with this sophisticated sauce.
2 cloves garlic
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely diced
1 medium carrot, coarsely diced
1 green bell pepper, coarsely diced
3 sprigs parsley
1 tablespoon fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 8-ounce cans tomato sauce (preferably Italian)
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
5 ounces parmesan cheese, cut up
In the processor bowl with steel blade in place, combine the garlic, onions, carrot, pepper, parsley and any fresh herbs. Start and stop the steel blades in 1-second bursts until everything is finely minced -- usually 7 to 10 bursts. Now pour in all the tomato sauce except for one cup, and blend for 3 seconds.
Heat the olive oil in a saute' pan over medium heat and add the tomato mixture, then any herbs that are dried, and finally the last cup of tomato sauce, plus salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a full boil, stir often and cook until it begins to reduce and thicken, usually about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash out the food processor bowl and blade, reinstall the blade, and process the parmesan in 1-second bursts. The cheese should be fairly coarse; it usually takes 12 to 16 seconds. Pour over pasta. Adapted from "Cooking with the Cuisinart," by Roy Andries de Groot (McGraw-Hill) BROWNIE FUDGE CAKE (Makes 20 brownies)
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup amaretto
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 cup sliced almonds
FOR THE FROSTING:
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, soda and salt in medium bowl until well blended. Combine water, amaretto, oil and vinegar in separate bowl. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients. Pour liquid ingredients into well and stir together with dry ingredients until mixture is smooth. Stir in almonds, then scrape batter into 9-inch quiche dish.
Elevate dish on microwave rack. Cook on medium high 8 to 9 minutes, until outside edges appear cooked. (Center may still appear slightly soft.) Remove to a flat surface to cool.
Meanwhile, make frosting. Place butter and milk in a large glass bowl. Heat on high in a microwave 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until butter is melted. Beat in cocoa until blended. Beat in confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Spread over brownie cake. Allow to cool in refrigerator before cutting into bars.
From "Microwave Magic, Barron's Easy Cooking Series," by Thelma Pressman ($4.95)