Rockridge Cornucopia: Hardware Store Cooking Basics

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Finally we have a hardware store on College! For more than 30 years, when friends would comment how lucky we were to live near so many great restaurants and shops, my response was always the same: "But we don't have a neighborhood hardware store."

When people think about a hardware store, things that often come to mind are tools and building materials. Tools and materials indeed, but for me, a well-equipped up-to-date hardware store is the go-to resource for all things related to cooking. I'm not disparaging up-market stores like Sur La Table or Williams-Sonoma, but for the home chef, give me a well-stocked hardware store anytime.

Cole Hardware has a complete selection of kitchen and cooking utensils. And what is available is of high quality and includes contemporary designs.

At one time, the small family-owned hardware store was the center of community life. Not only could you get the usual tools and building supplies, but they often also offered a variety of handyman services. As a direct-line descendant from the frontier general store, hardware stores always carried basic cooking and kitchen housewares for home cooks. Many traditional hardware stores also sold work clothes for each of the building trades. Today's hardware store also caters to the more suburban backyard-entertaining crowd with a good selection of Weber and other grilling products and BBQ gadgets.

As I strolled though Cole, my eye caught some wonderful cooking and kitchen household items. The first thing I noticed was that the store carries a full line of Zeal products from Great Britain. Zeal has been in the gourmet kitchen business for nearly 40 years and sells to professional kitchen retailers. They have been offering silicone since it started to become more mainstream around 15 years ago. I have a collection of Zeal multi-colored paring knives that are lovely to offer guests with fresh fruit and cheese.

Another time-honored cooking item in the roster of culinary equipment found in Cole is an assortment of Lodge cast iron pots and pans. Founded in 1896 by Joseph Lodge, Lodge is the only American manufacturer of cast iron cookware. Keeping up with the times, the company now makes pre-seasoned cast iron cookware. If properly maintained, a Lodge cast iron pan will last for generations. You are buying not just a fry pan but an heirloom. You can buy All-Clad or Le Creuset at an upscale houseware store, but nothing beats a Lodge cast iron pan.

At Cole you will also find a full line of Ball canning jars. Ball is another American company more than 100 years old. You may have noticed that several popular Oakland Uptown restaurants and bars use Ball jars for water glasses and specialized cocktails. There is a reason some products never grow old. Whether for canning or pickling, or simply as a water glass, nothing beats a Ball jar.

My biggest surprise on my walking through Cole was to see a full display of OXO Good Grips gadgets. OXO Good Grips makes over 500 quality kitchen products for the home chef, ranging from a simple garlic press, to a vegetable peeler, to a fancy mandoline. In my experience, they never wear out or break. Need a spatula? OXO offers several different varieties. Next time you make a run to Cole, check out the great housewares department. You won't be disappointed.

Cast Iron Curried Carrots
(Four servings)
Ingredients
3 tbs coconut oil (Trader Joe's)
2 pounds carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, sliced on a bias (1-inch pieces)
tsp salt
tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp curry powder
cup roughly chopped cilantro
Preparation
Heat a medium size, cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and add coconut oil. When hot, add carrots in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sautŽ the carrots, turning every 3-4 minutes until they show dark caramelized brown spots, about 8-10 minutes in all. Add the curry powder and mix to combine. Scatter cilantro over the top and serve.

Barry Kaufman is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. Barry is available for cooking classes and tours of East Bay ethnic markets. Contact: kaufman42@comcast.net