31 Days in the Kitchen

French improvisation + my favorite kitchen tool.

When I was in France, I spent one day walking around with my workshop leader, Erin, and her son. We ate gelato and played in the grocery store (because the Super U had a ramp escalator, people) and tried not to get too lost. Later on, Erin welcomed me to join her and several of the others on the trip with us for dinner; she was planning on cooking. I offered to help and told her how much I loved to cook. Cooking in France?! Add that to the list of things I never thought I’d get to do.

That night we found ourselves needing to bread some chicken, but we didn’t have breadcrumbs. We did have a baguette and a couple cheese graters. So, for the next half hour or so, we stood at the kitchen table with cheese graters planted on top of sheet pans and ceramic baking dishes, scraping parts of the baguette against them. There were crumbs, somehow, everywhere in that kitchen. On the table, on the floor, up my arms, everywhere. It was harder than it looked and took quite a bit of elbow grease, but we got a good bowl of fresh French breadcrumbs. The meal we ended up with was delicious and made even better by our ingenuity in the kitchen, of course.

So the other night, I was making the Pioneer Woman’s black bean burgers, which called for breadcrumbs, which I didn’t have. Thankfully, I knew exactly what to do. I pulled out some bread and my favorite kitchen tool: a rasp.

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Soon I had zested a couple of pieces of bread and had enough crumbs for the recipe. What this means: the French breadcrumb method might become an integral part of my cooking.

But back to the rasp: I love this thing. It’s a zester, yes, and you should use it for lemons and limes and oranges and all that. But I love it for garlic. If a recipe calls for minced garlic, I will usually just scrape a garlic clove over the rasp. That way, the garlic really gets incorporated into the recipe. Plus it smells amazing immediately. I also used it in that burger recipe for the onion; grated onion meant it was distributed evenly throughout the burgers instead of just in pieces.

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The thing is that you have to be really careful not to zest your fingers, which I did the first time I did the garlic thing. Rookie (and painful) mistake.

You can use this thing for anything—limes, bread, garlic, whatever—and I keep it nearby when I cook. Making breadcrumbs with a zester might take more time, but it reminds me of cooking in France, and that always makes every meal a little more lovely.

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