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~Back to Basics - a Return to Proper Cooking~ Towards the end of last year it became apparent that some things in my life were going to have to change and one of those things was my bad kitchen habits. Forgive my paraphrasing of the good book but if it's true that "Man cannot live by bread alone" then it was equally true that this particular woman was doing pretty well on a combination of 'thaw and serve' and 'fry some stuff and add a jar of sauce'. When told I'd have to do a two-week low iodine diet prior to some hospital treatment, it was immediately apparent that things had to change. The three biggest sources of iodine in our diets are fish/seafood, products made from seaweedy-type stuff and salt (both sea-salt and iodised salt). And if cutting out the big three sources didn't seem challenging enough, you can throw in the ambiguously worded recommendation to "try to reduce eggs and dairy" too. If you also don't eat meat and have read that soya is rich in iodine, it's a challenge to test the creative cooking skills of much better cooks than me. Most industrially produced foods contain salt and many contain things like carageenan and in this country there's no legal requirement to label the type of salt that's been used. There's an E number to avoid too - E127 - so one way or another, you can pretty much chuck out all the pre-prepared stuff on the shelf and start again. It was time to go back to basics, get out the recipe books and start cooking from scratch. Garlic - herb (or is it a spice) of the Gods My lovely friend Linda is half French so in her (cook) book, everything should have garlic in it and I'm with her on that - savoury dishes only of course. Garlic is a fabulously versatile little ingredient that can lift the ordinary into the extraordinary. Trouble is, it's a pain in the posterior to work with. My garlic-using life started in my teens when my mother used to bash garlic in a pestle and mortar. This evolved into squishing bulbs through garlic presses - surely the worst designed of kitchen implements and one of the least efficient. I have several garlic presses and none of them work very well. You could painstakingly hand chop and squish your garlic like the TV chefs do but life really is too short and you always end up with stinky fingers. Cheats may favour tubes or jars of pre-squished garlic pulp but those were out of the question for me because most have salt added to them and I never think they taste as good as fresh garlic. Linda came up with the answer - possibly based on watching too much daytime TV - and bought my husband the Garlic Pro E-Zee Dice Deluxe Garlic Dicer, probably from Amazon.co.uk as one of his Christmas presents. This might sound strange. I get to do the weird diet, I need the garlic chopper and hubby gets the present. It sounds like he got cheated but he's the sous-chef in charge of chopping and squishing (and washing up) in our kitchen so he was going to be the main beneficiary of the device. I'd bought a mini-food processor to take the pain out of onion chopping so he was already doing pretty well. Linda bought the Pro E-Zee dicer which came with a free garlic peeler - surely the second cleverest garlic-focused device ever made after the chopper itself. You might have feared that when presented with such a gift, my husband's face could have fallen in disappointment - but far from it. The E-Zee dicer has all the ingenuity of one of Batman's arch enemies trying to come up with the most visually stimulating of torture devices. In short, it's the type of gadget that my man loves. He can ponder the engineering ingenuity, he can do some energetic tough guy moves to chop the garlic and he can admire the absence of waste or stinky fingers. It's a great boy toy for the kitchen. ~Describing the Beastie~ The chopper takes the form of a squat cylinder with transparent green plastic top and base. The central part is colourless transparent perspex (or some similar plastic). It's about 6 cm tall and 9 cm in diameter. The base has a central circular metal sleeve into which the spindle from the top fits. Both the base and the top have ten double edged metal blades which are positioned so that ten blades in the top sit between the ten blades in the bottom. ~Chop Chop!~ Before using the chopper you just need to peel the garlic. If you've got the chopper that comes with the free peeler, this is easy. You just stick the cloves into the peeler which is a rubbery tube and then you roll the tube across the work top and hey presto, the papery peel falls off. Your brain will tell you that it shouldn't work, but it does - just so long as the inside of the peeler is dry and the garlic cloves aren't too old. Pop the peeled cloves into the base of the chopper, take the lid and align the spindle with the hole, push the top into place and twist. They claim that if you twist it back and forth you can slice the garlic whereas if you just keep turning it, you'll get diced garlic. I'm not good at following instructions so depending on how quickly I get bored I tend to do a bit of a twist and a bit of a back and forth. The longer you keep turning the smaller the pieces become but you can check the size through the transparent walls of the device. Once you're happy, take the top off and knock the garlic out. ~Get a Grip~ This is a super little device if you have arthritic hands or if your grip is poor for any other reason and you can't use a normal garlic press. I don't have weak hands but I do have small ones and I often can't get good force on a press. It's also ideal if you hate waste because you don't loose the outer surface of the garlic as you often do with a press. There's no need to touch the garlic other than to drop it into the chopper so your fingers get less smelly and you don't want to go putting your fingers into the chopper unless you like playing with double sided blades and fancy a bit of blood with your garlic. ~Almost perfect~ I'd love to tell you that it's perfect but cleaning it is a bit of a pain though less so than when using a garlic press or a pestle and mortar. They say it can be washed on the top shelf of the dishwasher but I'm reluctant to do that too often because we seem to have picked up some condensation in the top already and because I always fear that dishwashers blunt sharp blades. When hand washing, you don't really want to be dropping this into a bowl of hot soapy water in case you stick your hand in and cut yourself so it's generally better to run it under the tap and if you have a washing up brush (rather than a foam scourer), give it a whisk around with that. It's claimed that you can cut a lot of other things with this including nuts and herbs but the only other thing I've tried it on was green chillies. I was trying to avoid getting chilli juice on my fingers and I don't think I did a terribly good job with it but that might have been because I wasn't sure whether it was supposed to work and I probably should have chopped for longer. The Garlic Pro E-Zee dicer is available from lots of different websites - just google and you'll find it. From Amazon it currently costs £5.49 if you go for the one with the 'free' peeler which includes free postage and packaging. The listings often show you can get it cheaper but watch out for exorbitant postage costs. It's not quite perfect but it's the best thing I've found so far and after a couple of months in which I've used more garlic than in the past two years, I'm not disappointed by the results.