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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Why I Love To Hate Olive Garden


It's Good But It Could Be So Much Better

If you're a regular reader of the scribbles that occupy this space you're already aware of my opinion of the ubiquitous “Italian” eatery that is Olive Garden. For lack of a better term, let's call it a “love-hate relationship.”

My advice to anybody seeking an Italian dining experience has always been, “Well, if there isn't an Italian restaurant around, there's always Olive Garden.” Truth be told, the fast-casual subsidiary of Florida-based Darden Restaurants, Inc. knows they're not anywhere near authentically Italian. They actually style themselves as an “American Italian restaurant” or an “Italian-themed” restaurant. And if all the charming European architecture and the rich Tuscan colors and the wine and the dishes with Italian sounding names tend to make people think it's an Italian restaurant, well......the corporate parent is not going to work too hard to correct the misconception.

In fact, they used to rather encourage it by touting the training their staff received at the so-called “Culinary Institute of Tuscany,” which is actually a small Tuscan resort hotel and restaurant in Riserva di Fizzano that rents itself out to OG in the off-season to make a few euros and to provide a nice vacation for the company's managers, many of whom report that their “training” consists of sitting around for a couple of hours discussing spices or fresh produce. Then they pose for pictures with an Italian chef. The pics go to the hometown newspapers and the employees go sightseeing on the corporate dime. Ah, but they do tour a winery, visit a fresh food market, and eat in some local restaurants. By those standards, I should qualify as an Olive Garden master chef. Once word about the “Institute” started getting around, however, Darden kind of backed off advertising it.

Unsurprisingly, a poll conducted a couple of years ago found that thirty-nine percent of Americans thought that Olive Garden was as Italian as Italian gets. Uffa! I weep for those thirty-nine percent. And therein lies the real problem; the American perception of Italian cuisine. Let’s face it, most people think of Italian food in terms of pizza and spaghetti. Therefore, anyplace that serves either pizza or spaghetti is an “Italian restaurant.” More so if they serve both! And the greatest Italian chef to come to the average American mind is Chef Boyardee. Olive Garden is kind of an example of “cogito ergo sum;” Americans think it's Italian, therefore it is.

Did I tell you about the time I ate in an Olive Garden in Alabama and commented to the waiter about the spaghetti? It was overcooked and bland. The sauce was okay for something that came out of a bag. The waiter came by and asked, “How is everything?” So I told him. I asked him point-blank if the pasta came pre-packaged, refrigerated, and was just thrown into hot water and he said, “Yes, I think so.” Then he asked why I asked. I explained that the pasta was a little past al dente and that it had no flavor, as if there had been absolutely no salt added to the water. He commented, “People like you can always tell.” People like me. In other words, people who don't consider the aforementioned Chef Boyardee to be the ultimate in Italian cuisine.

And the reason the pasta lacked salt came to light a couple of years ago when an activist investor revealed that Darden/Olive Garden had stopped adding salt to its pasta cooking water in order to make the pots last longer! Dio mio in cielo! Cooking pasta with NO SALT? No frickin' wonder it's so utterly flavorless. Hey, you know tomatoes are awfully acidic. Maybe they should consider leaving them out of the tomato sauce to extend the life of those pots, too. What an utterly moronic affront to Italian cooking.

The investor published a 294 page report outlining everything he thought was wrong with Olive Garden. He mentioned the salt issue, for sure, but one of his other complaints was that, for an “Italian” restaurant, Olive Garden didn't serve enough Italian food. Fried lasagna? Really? Betcha they didn't learn that one at the “Culinary Institute.” How about the “loaded nacho chips” they tried to unload on us? Or the “Italiano Burger” with fries, created by a corporate chef concerned that Olive Garden was losing “burger craving” customers to places like Applebee's and Chili's. Of course, that particular chef got his start slinging pizza in Atlanta, so there you are.

Remember “pastachetti” and “soffatelli?” If you don't, that's okay; they're better forgotten. They were a couple of great examples of “if you can't make it, fake it.” There was nothing remotely Italian about these dishes. Somebody at corporate HQ in Florida just created some words that ended in vowels and added them to the menu for gullible American rubes to scarf down. They were, as Mashed writer Chris Heasman described them, “about as Italian as a man in lederhosen eating haggis on the banks of the Seine.” Gee, I wish I'd written that. The best I've come up with is that the food at Olive Garden is redolent of Rome and Florence. Rome, Georgia and Florence, Alabama, that is.

And the totally wacky thing is that after making up Italian names, when they come up with something that really is authentically Italian, they disguise it with an American name so Americans will know what it is! Case in point: arancini. Olive Garden calls them “risotto bites.” Oh well, at least give them credit for not calling them fried rice balls.

And does Olive Garden have something going on with Tyson or Perdue? They must because they seem to want to add chicken to everything. Chicken Parmigiana, Chicken Carbonara, Chicken Scampi, Stuffed Chicken Marsala, Zoodles Primavera with Grilled Chicken. (I can't believe I just typed the word “zoodles.”) You have no idea how annoyed I get when I order Fettuccine Alfredo and the server asks, “Do you want chicken with that?” (Sigh) There's nothing remotely Italian about Fettuccine Alfredo to begin with. But the American penchant for adding chicken – or any meat, for that matter – to pasta dishes completely defies Italian culinary principles. When you order a pasta dish, you do so because you want to taste the pasta. You don't want it smothered in cream sauce, you don't want it drowned in a quart of red sauce to which two cups of sugar have been added – although considering the dire lack of salt in Olive Garden's pasta, maybe those options aren't so bad – and you don't want it piled high with chunks of chicken. With apologies to carnivorous American palates, in Italy a plate of lightly dressed pasta is considered a meal. It doesn't “need” meat, as I've so often been told it does.

Oh, and by the way Olive Garden, all that up front soup and salad and breadstick stuff? You're doing it all wrong. It might be customarily American to serve soup or salad before a meal and to have loads of bread on the table as an “appetizer,” but that's not the Italian way of doing things. In an authentic Italian meal, the pasta comes out first. That's why they called it a “primo.” Soups and salads are served later in the meal progression and bread is an accompaniment not a course of its own.

But then that's not what Americans expect and you've got to give people what they expect if you want to stay in business. I've had many Italian friends who operate restaurants tell me that they have to serve stuff they'd never eat at home because customers expect it. Spaghetti and meatballs, for example. And quantities? Dai! Abbondanza be damned, no self-respecting Italian would ever eat as much food as gets piled on plates in American restaurants. The average serving portioned out to a single American diner would feed a family of four in an Italian household. My Italian friends know this, of course, but they say, “If I don't serve it like this, people will just go to Olive Garden.”

Believe me, I'm not alone in my low opinion of Olive Garden. There's even a Twitter feed for Olive Garden haters. One of the tweets says, “Cooking noodles doesn't make you Italian. On behalf of America, I'd like to apologize to Italy for @olivegarden.”

Don't get me wrong; I do eat at Olive Garden from time to time. Usually when I have gift cards someone has given me or when there's one located right next to my hotel or something. The “love” part of my relationship comes in that there are actually some very good things to be found at Olive Garden. The chicken gnocchi soup, for example, while not particularly “Italian,” isn't bad at all. I've duplicated the recipe and my wife likes mine better, but the original is still pretty good. Especially when they manage to get more than one or two gnocchi in the bowl. The “hate” part, however, is that there are also so many things that could be SO much better.

I could probably find 294 pages worth of my own Olive Garden criticisms but I'll spare you. Bottom line, if you're looking for Italian food, find one of the thousands of little Mom and Pop Italian places dotting the culinary landscape across the length and breadth of America. Ninety-nine-point-nine- percent of them will be Italian-American places but even the worst of them will be a better example of the cuisine than Olive Garden.

Or you might get lucky and stumble upon a place like Violino Ristorante Italiano in Winchester, Virginia. Now that's Italian! Or Galleria Umberto in Boston's North End. Best Sicilian pizza this side of Palermo. There used to be great places in Charlotte, North Carolina (Zarelli's) and in Orange Park, Florida (Ristorante Sarnelli), both sadly gone but fondly remembered just because they were so memorable. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper. I found some decent Italian food at an Italian family-run place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It's called – are you ready for this? – BLL Rotisserie Factory. Seriously. They're definitely not trading on some faux-Italian name, are they? But they serve some good Italian food, despite the funky name. (The specialty of the house, as you might guess, is rotisserie chicken.) Good Italian food is out there. You just have to look for it.

If, on the other hand, you're willing to settle for mediocre fast-casual fare, stuff that goes from truck to freezer to pot to plate like the stuff served at Applebee's, Chili's, Ruby Tuesday, and a dozen other chain places – except with vaguely Italian-sounding names – there's always Olive Garden.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Uh-Oh. The Macaroni and Cheese Is Out Of The Bag At Panera


The Big “Secret” Is Revealed

The Internet exploded the other day when a now former Panera Bread employee apparently “revealed” the anything-but-secret secret about how the fast casual chain prepares and serves its signature macaroni and cheese.

In a brief clip filmed behind the counter and later uploaded to Tik Tok, the employee is seen dipping a plastic bag full of frozen macaroni and cheese into a pot of hot water and then pulling it out and emptying the steaming contents into a bowl for service.

I don't know, but I'm guessing the reason behind this attempted “outing” was to cause some kind of embarrassment to Panera, an outfit that prides itself on its fresh, all-natural fare. It's like “lookee-lookee! Their fresh macaroni and cheese is frozen!!”

Excuse me while I stifle a yawn.

If this myth-busting Snopes wannabe is expecting me to pick up my picket sign and go protest in front of my local store, she's going to be sadly disappointed. See, with four generations of family and numerous friends in the food service business, I know a little something about how it works and this is far from a secret or a surprise.

What? Did you really think there was a Michelin-starred chef in a white jacket and a toque just standing back in the local Panera kitchen waiting to make a single serving of your favorite side dish fresh to order? That he was cooking each individual portion of pasta one at a time and making the creamy cheese sauce from scratch so he or she could pour it over your dish when it was ready to hit the window? Reality check time. That ain't the way it works at Panera, Olive Garden, Red Lobster or just about any other high-volume chain restaurant you can think of.

And it ain't the way it works in my kitchen either. I've got freezers jam packed with goodies that I did, indeed, craft from high-quality, super-fresh ingredients that I then portioned out, vacuum-sealed, and stuck in the freezer for later use. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's common industry practice. A chef, Michelin-starred or not, working in a corporate kitchen somewhere, developed the recipe. The high-quality, super-fresh ingredients were assembled and prepared according to the chef's standards and under his or her supervision. Then the results were portioned and quickly frozen in order to maintain that fresh quality without having to add a ton of preservatives. I do it commercially for my clients, I do it at home for my family; it's no big deal. C'mon! Have you never made too much of something and wound up freezing part of it and eating it later? Was there anything wrong with it when you did? Of course not.

Trust me, I've had cooks in my restaurants who just loved to “play” with my recipes. Add a little of this, leave out a little of that. You know, “personalize” it. Can you imagine what would happen if every barely above minimum wage cook in every Panera Bread restaurant across the country were allowed to make the macaroni and cheese “their way” from scratch? Even if they “followed the recipe,” it wouldn't taste the same from one location to the next and you wouldn't be happy, now would you?

I remember eating at a chain place years ago where the cooks apparently had a little leeway in the preparation of certain things. As a result, I got a Fettuccine Alfredo that had enough nutmeg in the sauce as to render it not only unrecognizable but also inedible. And you know what? I've never been back to any location of that chain from that day to this.

Creativity is fine for fine dining, but when it comes to chain places, consistency is key. Customers expect the macaroni and cheese at the Panera in Kookamunga to taste the same as the stuff they had in the store down the street. If the cook in Kookamunga likes, let's say nutmeg, and is given free rein to prepare the dish “his way,” they're going to have a very dissatisfied customer. So yeah, they make the stuff in big batches and freeze it. So what?

As a Panera spokesperson told CNN, “Mac and cheese is made off-site with our proprietary recipe developed by our chefs and using our sourced ingredients that meet our standards for our clean menu offerings,” adding that the meals are shipped frozen so the company can leave out certain preservatives that don’t meet the chain’s clean standards.

Technically, what they're doing at Panera is a form of the very trendy and popular “sous vide” method of cooking. It's actually the best way for a restaurant – or anybody, for that matter – to reheat macaroni and cheese from a frozen or refrigerated state. Tossing it in a pan on the stove or letting “Chef Mic” (industry speak for a microwave) do it usually turns out badly. Heating the product in a gentle, temperature-controlled water bath brings it up to serving temperature gradually while ensuring that the sauce stays emulsified with no breaking or scorching. Again, consistent quality counts.

By the way, have you ever wondered how some high-end steak places can produce such consistently killer steaks in such short periods of time? Pssst.......sous vide. Everybody does it.

I guess somewhere just south of a hundred-thousand people – probably more by now – thought the little clip was newsworthy. And apparently Panera thought that the budding videographer's talents were best applied elsewhere. Seems the pasta wasn't the only thing in hot water around there. So now she's on Tik Tok crying salty tears about having been canned, essentially for trying to make her employer look bad. Boo-hoo! Sorry, you're lucky they didn't sue you.

You know, I'm a sucker for good macaroni and cheese and I've never tried Panera's. I can vouch for their soups and sandwiches but maybe it's time I branch out a bit. Hmmmm.....it is lunchtime and there is a Panera Bread store not far from here. Yeah, I think I'll do that. After all, I ain't afraid of no hot water. Care to join me?

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Review: Violino Ristorante Italiano, Winchester, Virginia


A Pleasant Surprise

Located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, the northern Virginia city of Winchester is known for a lot of things. It was the first city south of the Potomac River to install electric light. It's home to Shenandoah University and to the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Since 1924, the city has hosted the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival. George Washington slept there – many times. The founding father spent much of his young life in and around Winchester, working as a surveyor. The city has a deep Revolutionary War connection and an even richer Civil War history. And country music icon Patsy Cline called Winchester home and is buried there in the city's Shenandoah Memorial Park.

Add one more thing to the list: one of the finest authentic family owned and operated Italian restaurants in which I have ever enjoyed an outstanding meal.

We were in town for business and, at the end of a long day, were looking for a good Italian place for a late dinner. Not knowing much about the area, we just Googled. It seems there are lots of Italian places in Winchester, including a few that delivered to our hotel. But my wife was adamant: she wanted a “nice” place. So we picked one that looked especially “nice.” It turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Violino Ristorante Italiano is located on North Loudoun Street near the intersection with East Piccadilly Street on the northern end of the quaint pedestrian mall that spans several blocks of historic Old Town Winchester. It is one of several “Italian” places dotting the mall landscape but the only one that is un ristorante italiano vero. The others are probably very nice places, but like the mall on which they are located, they are pedestrian; typical Italian-American pizza and/or pasta joints. Violino Ristorante Italiano is much different.

Friuli-born Franco Stocco attended culinary school in Venice in the late 1960s. He and his wife, Marcella and their children moved to Washington, DC in 1985 where Franco continued to hone his craft in DC-area Italian eateries. While visiting Winchester, they spotted the building on the mall, found that it was available, and in 1995 fulfilled their dream of opening a place of their own.

But unlike your typical red-sauce joint, Franco kept his focus on his northern Italian roots and specialized in dishes not normally found in “Italian” restaurants. For instance, there's Portobello D’Autunno, Franco’s creation of baked portobello mushroom topped with a wild mushroom puree, goat cheese, and rosemary. Or Coniglio di San Remo, a Liguria-style braised rabbit, prepared with fresh herbs, white wine, and Taggiasche olives and served over soft polenta. Or perhaps a Galletto al Limone, a grilled boneless cornish hen marinated and pressed with rosemary, garlic and lemon and served with roasted potatoes. How's that stack up against the usual offerings of chicken parm and spaghetti and meatballs? See why I was thrilled when I walked through the door?

The décor and ambiance are delightfully authentic. There's outdoor seating available on the mall, but my wife and I opted for an intimate tavola per due inside the small but tastefully and artistically laid out dining room. Functional but comfortable wooden chairs and tables covered with gold linen tablecloths populate a room painted a rich Tuscan gold and accented with aesthetically pleasing artwork, much of which reflects the dominant musical motif one might expect of a place called “Violino.”

Service was unfailingly friendly and impressively professional. The staff was the perfect blend of attentive and invisible, just the way they should be. Specials were described, orders were taken, and food was delivered promptly and efficiently. Water glasses were kept full and, although never seeming to hover, servers were available exactly when you needed them. We came in about an hour before closing and, even though we were aware of the fact that time was marching on, in typical Italian fashion, we were never made to feel that way. Being in the business ourselves, we're savvy enough to know not to linger, but nobody gave the slightest indication of the, “Hey, don't you dummies know it's almost closing time?” you sometimes get at some places.

The food was indescribable. My wife, a sucker for seafood, was almost set on the Lobster Pansotti Gondoliera, lobster ravioli in a lemon Parmesan cream sauce crowned with a whole cold water lobster tail. But when the server described a delectable-sounding duck dish with orange sauce and house-made gnocchi as one of the specials, she went there instead and was so glad she did. She savored every morsel of the perfectly prepared anatra, a dish that's easy to screw up, and thoroughly enjoyed the fresh, tender gnocchi. My fatta in casa linguine aglio e olio was superb; a simple dish executed exceedingly well.

To my unrestrained delight, they featured my favorite Birra Moretti, a traditional golden lager with nice aromas of malt and hops and with a slightly bitter finish. I much prefer it to the more commonly served Peroni, which was also available on the extensive wine and beer list. My wife was very pleased with her selection of a house moscato.

We deliberately saved room for dolce. Our choice was a decadent molten lava chocolate cake topped with a wonderful vanilla and honey gelato and garnished with an appropriate little chocolate treble clef.

Not only was it a delicious evening, it was a fun one as well. Somebody was having a birthday and instead of having the waitstaff come out and clap while singing “Happy Birthday,” the chef/owner himself, Franco Stocco, went to the table and sang a traditional Italian folk song. And while in the midst of our postprandial torpor, my wife and I had a very pleasant conversation with chef/son Riccardo Stocco.

Is Violino a little pricier than the run-of-the-mill “Italian” joint? Yep. Is it worth it? Oh, yeah, emphatically so. Violino Ristorante Italiano is now at the very top of our “must stop whenever we're within a hundred miles or so” list and we would highly recommend it to anyone seeking an authentic Italian dining experience.

Violino Ristorante Italiano is located at 181 North Loudoun Street in Winchester, Virginia. They are open for lunch Tuesday through Friday from 11:30am to 2:00 pm and Saturday from noon to 2:00 pm. Dinner service is Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00pm to 9:00 pm. Violino is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Outdoor dining is available, weather permitting. Reservations are accepted but not required and attire is business casual. The street directly in front of the restaurant is part of the pedestrian-only mall, but parking is available on Piccadilly Street and in nearby parking areas. Call them at 540-667-8006 or visit the website at violinoristorante.com.

We may have found Violino to be a pleasant surprise, but don't be surprised to find us there whenever we're in the area.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

A Few “For Life” Things No Kitchen Should Be Without


Essentials That Will Probably Never Have To Be Replaced

Maybe you're like me and you've got kids getting ready to set up housekeeping. Or maybe you're just setting up housekeeping for yourself. Either way, there are a few kitchen essentials you must buy, either for yourself or as a gift. These are things that will be used over and over and the beauty is that once you've bought them, provided you take proper care of them, you'll likely never have to buy them again. They are the “for life” things no kitchen should be without.

First of all, a good chef's knife. And I do mean “good.” Don't go down to Walmart and spend twenty dollars on a set of five generic “kitchen knives.” Go someplace like Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table and drop a hundred or so on one high quality 8 or 10-inch chef's knife. Henckels, Wüsthof, and Global are among the gold standard brands. Or you can do what a lot of pros do – myself included – and hit a restaurant supply store to get the same kind of knife without the expensive brand name or price tag. Dexter-Russell, Mercer, and Victorinox make knives that restaurant line cooks use to mow through literal tons of meats and vegetables over the course of years and they can be purchased for about half (or less) of what the big name kitchen store brands will cost. I've got both kinds, but I'm a notorious overachiever.

A cheap knife is a bad investment. In the first place, you'll wind up replacing it in a fairly short time. It'll be dull right out of the package and will pretty much stay that way. You'll be constantly sharpening a cheap knife which will never hold a decent edge. And there's nothing more dangerous in a kitchen than a dull knife. Then the blade will break or the handle will come off or something. You can buy a ten-dollar knife ten times or you can buy a hundred-dollar knife once. Your choice. Make it the smart one.

A word of advice, though, when buying a knife for a gift: don't. A knife has to "feel right” in order to be of any use. The shape of the handle, the comfort of the grip, the overall balance, the weight. These are all things that factor in to owning a good knife, so maybe it's best to give a gift certificate of some sort and let the person you're buying for pick out their own. Just a thought. And if you're buying for yourself, don't buy anything you can't pick up and hold in your hand at the store.

Once you get a good knife in your hands, maintain it. DON'T throw it in a drawer with a bunch of loose junk and DON'T run it through the dishwasher. Get a honing steel and learn how to use it and keep the knife sharpened. You don't actually “sharpen” a knife with a steel; the steel helps maintain the alignment of the edge but it doesn't “sharpen.” For that you need a good manual or electric sharpener, a double-sided whetstone, or a professional to do it for you. But if you get a quality knife and maintain it, you'll likely never have to buy another one. I have knives in my kitchen that my mother got in the 1950s. They're right up there on the magnetic strip with my Henckels and my Victorinox. Talk about a “for life” purchase: they have been in Mom's kitchen or mine literally my entire life. (So far, anyway.)

Two more kitchen essentials that will wear like iron are – you guessed it – made of iron. Cast-iron. “Oh, that's so old-fashioned” or “Oh, that's so heavy.” Yeah, fine, whatever. I've got all the fancy-schmancy stainless steel and anodized aluminum non-stick cookware there is and I still wouldn't trade my 10.25-inch Lodge cast-iron skillet or my 6-quart Lodge enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for any or all of it.

There is nothing – let me hit that word again – nothing as durable and as versatile as cast-iron. I can't think of anything I can't do in one or the other of those essential kitchen tools. Fry, sear, braise, boil, bake. Yeah, bake. You can make killer cornbread in the skillet and great raised yeast bread in the Dutch oven. I've got a real, honest-to-goodness electric deep-fryer in my kitchen and I've got a 6-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven and a thermometer. Guess which I use more often. I make a lot of soups and sauces. Care to ponder what I make them in? And you want to talk about a non-stick surface? My well-used and well-seasoned fifty-year-old cast-iron skillet has a shiny patina that is as smooth as glass and there ain't nuthin' that sticks to it. Not even eggs. I challenge anybody to get the same kind of a sear on a steak cooked in cast-iron using an aluminum non-stick pan. And try taking that fancy aluminum pan off the stovetop and throwing it directly into a 450 degree oven. Nope. Give me cast-iron any day.

Besides being durable and versatile, cast-iron is dirt cheap. You can get a decent pan for twenty-five or thirty bucks tops. An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven can be had for less than a hundred, depending on the size. Unless you really want to go out of your mind and drop $250 to $350 on a Le Creuset brand. Talk about paying for a name. Good ol' American-made Lodge, right out of South Pittsburg, Tennessee, does everything the overhyped and overpriced French stuff does for less than half the cost. And it's just as “pretty.” Best of all, if you take care of it, you'll pass it on to your kids or grandkids someday. Seriously. Cast-iron is the definition of a “for life” kitchen purchase.

And then there's the appliance I couldn't imagine being without: a KitchenAid stand mixer. Yeah, this one's gonna cost ya: around $250 for the base model, about $350 for the fancier ones, and as much as $600 for the pro-line models. Why would you want to pay that much when you can get a Sunbeam Mixmaster at Walmart for $59.99? You want to know how many Sunbeam Mixmasters I burned up before I answered that question myself?

KitchenAid stand mixers can do anything but fly – and I wouldn't put it past some creative genius to get one to do that, too. They've certainly got the power for it. The company has been around for a hundred years. It was started in 1919 by the Hobart Manufacturing Company, the same folks who still make the commercial mixers you'll find in restaurants and bakeries all over the country. Doesn't matter if you're whipping up light, fluffy egg whites or bearing down on double batches of the heaviest bread dough, the KitchenAid can do the job. (It was those double batches of bread dough that did in the aforementioned Mixmasters, by the way.) Look in any restaurant kitchen today and you'll probably see a KitchenAid. Watch all the cooking shows on TV. KitchenAids again. (Alton Brown's has flames painted on it.) And KitchenAid has been the standard in home kitchens for a century. Okay, so it's heavier than a broken heart. It's also dependable as a sunrise and durable as a mother's love. A KitchenAid stand mixer is one “for life” purchase you won't want to be without.

Hey, I'm not saying these things are all you need in your kitchen. I've got everything in my kitchen from bread machines to induction burners to immersion circulators and even the latest “go-to” gadgets like the air fryer and the instant pot. But the four things I mentioned; the knife, the skillet, the Dutch oven, and the stand mixer, are essentials that, if properly cared for, will continue to serve your needs for years to come and will probably never have to be replaced. “They don't make things like they used to,” you say? Yeah, sometimes they do. You just have to go out and look for them.

Buona fortuna e buon appetito!