Everybody wants to save the earth, nobody wants to help mom do the dishes.  --P.J. O'Rourke

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

There Is A Right Way, And A Wrong Way To Do Everything

Even if you don't own a larding needle, make puff pastry swans or make a cucumber into a turtle, Jacques' 800 plus page manifesto of cooking techniques is a great resource.  Pepin gives illustrated detailed directions for doing everything you can imagine in the kitchen, and a lot you can't (deep fried eggs for one).  Think you know your way around a kitchen?  Jacques will bring the smacques down hard on you and make you his bitch, I guarantee.

Zyliss Plastic Lettuce Knife

A while back my daughter went to a birthday party at a kids cooking school and came home with one of these plastic knives.  They are intended for lettuce, which I don't quite get, but they are also pretty good at cutting most things (for a plastic knife).  If you have a kid who likes to "help" these knives are a pretty safe way for them to get used to handling a knife without severing any digits.  The Lettuce knife is about the same size as a small chef's knife and because it is serrated, it gets the kids in the habit of slicing with a back and forth motion rather than chopping.  Of course you can't mince anything with it, but for everything else it should be fine.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Few Things You Need For Your Kitchen, A Few Things You Don't

Need: An Immersion Blender AKA "Stick Blender"
Excepting ice laden mixed drinks, there is almost no kitchen chore a decent immersion blender can't do.  They have the added benefit of working with any container, no matter how large.  Soups, sauces, even mashed potatoes - if your into that kind of thing.  They also have the added benefit of easy cleanup, "rinse and dry".  These are De Riguer if you are a soup nazi.

Don't Need: Colander
I know your Mom had one, but you don't need one, they are good for one thing, pasta and that's about it.  A much better option is the strainer below.

Need: A Good Quality Strainer
Unfortunately, you are going to have to shell out a bit more than you would think to get a good sized high quality strainer.  Look for one that has a fine mesh inner layer surrounded and supported by a more open mesh of heavier gauge wire.  Also important is some kind of a hook opposite the handle so the strainer can be suspended over the sink to drain. To evaluate a potential strainer in the store, hold the sample firmly by the handle and punch, push and otherwise try to force the mesh to separate from the rim.  If everything holds together you have a winner, if not, return it to the store shelf and move on.  It seems silly, but really do it, a crummy strainer will make you miserable for months.  A good strainer can more or less take the place of a colander, a chinoise and a fry basket.

Don't Need : Knife Manufacturer "Knife Set"
As tempting as it is to put one of these on your wedding gift registry, don't do it. Sure, they are cheaper than buying all the knives separately, the only trouble being that you would never buy all the knives separately.  Firstly, you'd be getting a bunch you don't need, and second you wouldn't likely buy all your knives from the same manufacturer, nor should you.  Just because a company makes an O.K. Chef's knife doesn't mean they make a good Nakiri, and unless you work at a Prime Rib joint, you probably only use a carving knife a handful of times a year, does it need to be an expensive one?

Don't Need : Manufacturers "Cookware Set"
For all the same reasons as the knife "set" plus a few egregious bonus reasons. For one, there are too many pots and pans in the "set", how many hobs do you have on your stove anyway?  For another, does Calphalon or Macy's know what and how you cook?  Then how do they know what size and type of pan you need?  Let your culinary oeuvre be your guide in what you need.  For example, if you are cooking for more than two, their fry pans are usually too small and will crowd the food leading to a crummy result.

Need: A Kitchenaid Stand Mixer
I know there are other brands, but the Kitchenaid stand mixer has been the standard American mixer since 1919 and are readily available used.  They are powerful durable and simple., besides, you can grind sausage with one, find me a Braun that'll do that.  I concede that you can do without one (unless you bake a lot), but with the money you save from not buying the knife and cookware set, there is no reason to.

Need: Good Kitchen Shears
A good set of kitchen shears is the Leatherman of the kitchen, besides boning chicken, they can be used to open packages, cut truss wire and chew through blister packaging and open a beer.  I have had the Premax shears above forever, when I bought them I thought I was getting screwed, I was so so wrong - worth every penny.  It might seem old fashioned to have kitchen shears that come apart like Grannies, but because the halves separate for cleaning, there are no nooks and crannies bacteria can hide in, which is always important when dealing with chicken.  Don't monkey around with plastic "ergo" handles when you can have solid stainless.