May 9, 2007

The Case of the Curious Cocktail Sauce

One day, while my husband and I were out shopping at a Kosher grocery store, we came across something perplexing:

Kosher cocktail sauce.

We looked at the jar, with it's little picture of a shrimp on a fork and a dollop of the red sauce on it just so. Then we looked at each other, blankly, in wordless, immediate mystification.

Wasn't cocktail sauce for shrimp, oysters, clams- shellfish? What was this picture of shrimp on a fork doing on a bottle on the shelf of a kosher store? Was this some form of hazing?

We continued shopping, occasionally sending a wary glance back over our shoulders towards the shelf with sauce. We had to know. We couldn't even wait to get home from the store. My husband called my sister from his cell while I drove.

"What' *is* the deal with the kosher cocktail sauce?" he asked.
She answered quickly and triumphantly, like a contestant buzzing in on a game show: "Fried Eggs!"

"She says it's for fried eggs", he relayed to me as I drove along. I exhaled, relieved for a moment, for some reason. I started nodding, and then shaking my head. No,! I don't really understand that one yet, but I guess it's nice to know there *is* an answer.

May 6, 2007


Having cleaned out my kitchen, it was time to replace all that kitchen gear, or in my case- upgrade the kitchen gear. I also had to establish a plan, and a color code. I love color coding things. Making kosher kitchen is great if you love to color cold and label, and helps justify OCD tendencies that one would usually have to hide away.

1. Color Code

I decided to go with red for meat, and blue for dairy due to the preponderance of supplies in these colors, and that I think this is an ISO standard somewhere. I also like these colors which helps. I sometimes use white for dairy and black for meat in cases where red and blue are not available. Green is pareve.

2. Buying Sets or Buying things As Needed

I looked around at my cabinets and put my thinking cap on. I don't have much space. I decided to keep the kitchen lean and mean- only bringing back the essentials, and then bringing in special tools and serving platters and such on an as needed basis. My plan was to start with the very basics, and figure it out as I go. I made having *just* what I wanted and used most the design goal here, and not minimizing cost. I had my limits, but I certainly didn't do this as inexpensively as one could have.

I am not big on getting "sets" of things. I would rather have 3 incredible Wusthof knives than an entire wooden block filled with average knives for the same amount of money. I would rather get just one amazing All-Clad pan and a single sturdy pot than get an entire 10 piece set of pots and pans that are of much lower quality. Given the size of my kitchen, it just makes sense. And I really appreciate selecting and getting just what I like.

But some people prefer the quantity, and are cooking for hordes of people. I can understand wanting a good value, too. IKEA offers "Kitchen in a Box" and there are many sets available at places like BJ's and Costco. They have entire KitchenAid utensil sets in black and red. Rachel Ray has orange and blue pot & pan sets. There are entire sets by other manufacturers in Red and White. I contemplated these, but given my budget and space, I decided to get the bare essentials, but to make them as high quality as I could afford. The question of whether or not to buy sets also connects to another concept. I have noticed a couple of different kosher kitchen modes of operation. When preparing to outfit my kosher kitchen, I examined the kitchens of people I know who keep kosher.

3. "Pareve by Default", or "Either/Or" Approach

I have noticed that people have different systems. I was greatly influenced by my sister. She has a policy of "Pareve by default". A utensil or appliance or what-have-you can then permanently become meat or dairy when needed- sort of called into active duty. Once the utensil touches the meat or dairy, it must stay that way, unless it is re-kashered (and some things can't be). Things will become meat or dairy, get labeled as such and stored in the meat or dairy cabinet. Some things will only touch pareve things and other pareve equipment (cutting boards, for instance). These things can stay pareve.

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, has almost no pareve utensils. Everything is either meat or dairy. Fish is always prepared as dairy. When she starts cooking, she breaks out all of one or the other, and the food is whatever equipment she prepared it with. She is a recipe cook. She has 2 huge kitchen drawers, and duplicates of just about everything. But this is simpler for her, because she snaps into either meat or milk mode when she makes a dish (or about 10 of them for a holiday).

She also doesn't get into a lot of fancy cooking gear, or overpriced, foreign ingredients like I do. She is a basic, traditional family cook- and an amazing one. I think her method makes sense for the way she cooks. I call this the "Either/or" approach. These are just two different kosher kitchen strategies, each with its own followers. "Pareve by default" and "Either/or" approaches work well for different kinds of cooks. They are also not mutally exclusive approaches. Following "Pareve by default", you may end up with everything divided into Meat & Dairy in a few weeks time, anyway!

Both methods have benefits for the kosher newbie. With "Pareve by default", you can learn what you need and establish it as you go. Your system can grow organically You just have to be incredibly fastidious about labeling and storing the utensil once it becomes this or that. "Either/Or" has benefits to the newbie as well, in that you can simply buy two of everything, store them separately and be done with it. It will make getting used to your new habits a little easier in the beginning (maybe).

I also think these two approaches are suited to different ways of cooking. Sometimes I like to do a lot of prep work. I dice up a big bunch of onions and freeze them for later use. I like to improvise when I am cooking. I want to grab a bunch of diced onions from the freezer and decide to make a spinach and feta pie, or maybe use them in a chicken dish I am making instead. I might want to use the left-over diced sundried tomatoes somewhere unexpected. I don't want to use dairy or meat equipment to give the onions an affiliation with either dairy or meat- I want to keep them neutral for future use.

I like the flexibility of being able to prepare snacks or side dishes ahead of time. I like making extra of things, like vegetarian side dishes or pareve desserts and be able to store them in pareve Tupperware or plastic bags, and then eat them later, whenever I want, with whatever I want.

Also for things like potato peelers and garlic presses, that can be limited touching pareve foods, even while they are preparing meat or milk meals. It is my understanding that these things can stay pareve, provided they don't touch milk or meat, or milk or meat equipment. I now have an entire pareve drawer with these kinds of tools, and flexible pareve cutting mats that I use with them, away from the milk and meat ingredients. This limits unnecessary duplication of utensils.

So I clearly have adopted a "Pareve by default" approach, and (so far) it has been working it me.
However, I showed a friend of mine my kitchen when I was done, and she said it took "too much thinking". But I think whichever method one uses will become natural to them, and will either suit them (or not) based on the way they cook.

I guess most people who grew up kosher probably registered for or bought what they saw in use growing up and didn't have to think about it this much. This was the case for my mother-in-law who grew up in a kosher home so it was second nature to her. But for people like me (who grew up in a house of boiling lobster pots), I think it helps a lot to come up with your overall strategy based on how you cook.

4. The Shopping List

I started with the things I knew I needed. I based this on what I needed to make my typical meals, minus what I had to toss. It helped to think up a 2 week menu plan and write it out, including all the ingredient preparation that would be required. Then list all the gear that would be in preparation and serving of the meals during those two weeks.

Everything I bought (in incredible detail) is the next post. I am separating it out for people care, to avoid comments that say "zzzzzzzzzzzz". It has details of what had to be replaced and why- but remember, your mileage may vary- you must consult your own local rabbi or kosher expert in residence if you are doing this... some things can be saved under certain circumstances in some communities, and some things I kept would have to go in others.