August 5, 2009
There was never a good Knife made of bad Steel.
~Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac
The plan, best laid no doubt, was to cover this topic in an earlier post entitled Into the Kitchen Window (01.21.09) well before launching into recipes and sharing cooking lore. But, because that entry became somewhat lengthy, I opted to postpone this discussion for another day when the focus could be on blades alone…maybe “procrastinated” is a more apt term. I was also admittedly eager to start writing about food. But, it is never too late to ramble about what may be your most coveted kitchen gadget—the knife. Please be patient as this may seem overly basic to some, but many have inquired and others need reminded.
Above all, with fine knife care as with surgery, remember the Latin maxim primum non nocere (“first, do no harm”). Respect your blades, keeping them razor sharp so you can slice and chop with celerity. Each knife should run through its prey with nearly delicate ease.
Point: where the edge and spine meet, often used for piercing
Tip: the forward portion of the blade which includes the knife point
Edge or Belly: the cutting part of the blade, extending from the point to the heel
Heel: the rear part of the blade edge, on the opposite end of the point
Spine: the top of the blade, directly opposite the edge
Bolster: the band that joins the blade to the handle
Tang: the part of the blade that extends into the handle
Scales: create the handle with two scales typically attached to the tang with rivets
Rivets: metal pins used to join the scales to the tang to form the handle
Butt: the very end of the knife handle
Most every home kitchen function can be accomplished with a chef’s knife, bread knife, and paring knife. However, if you are looking for a fuller complement of blades, the list would read something like this:
Paring (3”-3 1/2″)
A kitchen workhorse, chef’s knives sport a deep, solid blade, about 1-1 1/2″ to 2″ at the widest point. It should be nicely weighted, fairly hefty, with the blade wide and heavy at the butt end, then tapering to a triangle at the point. With chef’s knives, the search is for high quality, fully forged, high-carbon, bolstered stainless steel blades that hold a razor edge for quite some time. It is preferable that the tang, which is the metal that extends into the handle, courses the full length of the handle for balance and durability.
Forged is foremost. In a forged knife, the blade is formed from heated metal and is individually hammered. Forged knives have a collar-like bolster between blade and handle, a feature that only forging can create. The forging process involves pressing an ingot of red hot steel between “male” and “female” molds, known as a punch and a die. The alternative method is known as stamping, in which with the use of a template, knives are stamped out of a thin sheet of steel, producing a blade that displays the same thickness from one end to the other without a bolster.
At the risk of sounding suggestive, even ribald, good fit and comfort matter as much as any other feature—so, handle several blades before you chose one. Consider balance, grip, feel, weight, length.
A lighter supplement to a chef’s knife, the recently popular santoku knives are lighter, have a straighter lower edge, a more curved upper edge and does not narrowly taper to a minute point. Santoku translates as “three virtues,” given its multipurpose profile.
Bread knives have a serrated, scalloped-ridged edge used to slice bread (and tomatoes). The serrated teeth are sharpened on one side to pierce a hard crust, then tear the soft bread so it is not flattened or crushed. The recesses on the blade increase the actual cutting surface of the knife. The teeth of the serrated knife edge both effortlessly penetrate the food surface and protect the recessed edge from getting dull. They can even save wear and tear on your chef’s knife.
Precise and delicate paring knives are best for small jobs, such as mincing, trimming and paring vegetables and fruit. Unlike a chef’s knife, which is always used on a cutting board, you can cut with the paring knife while holding the food aloft.
A sometimes unknown or too often forgotten basic with chef’s knives. To maximize control, “choke up” by bringing your hand up the handle of the knife so it straddles the bolster with your index finger and thumb gripping the blade but away from the edge. Your index finger should rest bent on the side of the blade and not on the spine. Your middle, ring and pinkie fingers should grip the handle.
This gives much better knife balance and keeps fingers from slipping over the handle onto the blade. Holding the bolster allows more control over the blade than gripping the handle only. While choking up on the knife may feel awkward at first, with practice it will feel quite natural and definitely reduces hand fatigue on larger jobs.
The standard options are a magnetic strip, standing knife block, drawer knife block, or knife bag. Your choices tend to depend on kitchen layout, drawer and counter space, and accessible wall openings. If practicable, I vote for the magnetic strip for the look, space use, ease of access and cleanliness. (Do not store knives unprotected in a drawer as it is unsafe, and they become easily get scratched. If space demands that you store them in a drawer, protect them with sheaths or a knife bag.)
Pamper them like your babies. The immutable rules are: wash your knives thoroughly and promptly after your meal with soap and water and dry well. Do not place knives in the dishwasher, let them stand in water or allow knives to remain soiled overnight. You can walk away from dishes, glassware, etc. to spend the night dirty—but, never ever the cherished knives.
I would strongly suggest you do what almost all professional chefs do—take them to a reputable local professional knife sharpener. If your home use is rather heavy, sharpeners usually recommend that you take your knives in every 6 to 8 months or so. (A professional chef might take his to the sharpener once or twice a week or more.) Japanese knives tend to require more frequent sharpening than their German counterparts, which are manufactured with a particularly hard steel.
Yes, you can home sharpen your own knives on a series of stones with differing grits. However, that requires some skill, and you can also easily damage the edge if not done properly. So, I choose not to embark on this one as I am wholly unqualified. Support your local sharpener.
Honing is not sharpening, but it is critical to edge retention. If you cherish a sharp edge and care for the health of your little ones, regular honing (preferably before each use) is crucial. A honing steel, which looks like a short sword with a quillion and round blade, is used to realign the metal of the cutting edge so it remains keen. Although it will take a modicum of practice, the brief honing process follows:
1) Hold the honing steel firmly by the handle in one hand, with the tip pointing straight down and anchored on a cutting board or on a folded towel on the counter.
2) Grasp the knife in your other hand, sharp edge down and the point facing at an angle away from you.
3) Place the wide or back edge of the knife blade—as close to the hilt as you can get it—against the honing steel, as close to the top of the shaft of the honing steel as you can get it. Angle the blade at about a 20 degree angle.
4) Draw the knife blade down and back toward you while applying light pressure against the honing steel at the same time, always keeping the blade at the same angle against the honing steel all the way through each stroke. Use a light touch so as to not grind the blade.
5) Place the knife on the other side of the honing steel, blade at a 20 degree angle to the shaft of the honing steel, and repeat the down-and-pull back stroke to hone the other side of the blade.
6) Continue stroking the blade of the knife along the shaft of the honing steel, all the while maintaining the same angle to the honing steel and alternating sides, until the knife edge is toned. Test the edge very carefully and gingerly with your thumb across, not along, the blade.
June 10, 2009
Pasta (the Italian word for dough)—from the Latin pasta “dough, pastry cake, paste”, and before the Greek πάστα (pasta) “barley porridge”—has such convoluted origins, that its history demands much more than this brief space allows. In any event, making pasta has been an ancient and time honored tradition.
One of life’s simple pleasures, airy and delicate fresh pasta opens with that slight al dente resistance, but still almost melts in your mouth on the back-end. Whether by machine or hand, the goal is simple: dough with a smooth texture, elastic and pliable, yet sturdy.
BASIC PASTA DOUGH
3 organic free range eggs, beaten
Pinch of sea salt
2 C all purpose flour
Water, as needed
Attach the flat beater to your stand up mixer, then add half of the flour mixture and the eggs, turning to a low speed and mix 30 seconds. Add the rest of the sifted flour mixture and mix an additional 30 seconds, adding sprinklings of water as needed. Variables such as humidity, temperature, egg size and gluten content of the flour will govern water needs.
Note: To test for correct consistency, pinch a small amount of dough together after mixing with the flat beater. If it stays together and not gluing to your fingers, the dough is in good shape. It may be necessary to adjust by adding flour or water to reach the proper harmony.
Exchange flat beater for the dough hook. Again turn to a low speed and knead for 2 to 3 minutes, until a dough ball is formed. Remove dough from bowl and on a lightly floured surface hand knead for a couple of minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic with a slight hint of stickiness. Form into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap to prevent a dry skin from forming. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before dividing, rolling and cutting.
Mound flour in a bowl or on a large wooden bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and then add the eggs. Using your fingers, begin to blend flour and eggs from the center out, slowly gathering the flour from the perimeter. When the flour and egg are mixed, add a couple drops of water if necessary.
When the dough forms a mass, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and start kneading, using primarily the palms of your hands. Continue kneading for a minimum of 10 minutes, dusting the board with additional flour as necessary. The dough should be smooth and elastic with a slight hint of stickiness. Form into a ball and wrap dough in plastic wrap. Let rest for at least 30 minutes before dividing, rolling and cutting.
Rolling and Cutting:
Divide the dough, but cutting into 4 pieces, wrapping 3 of them in plastic or covering them with a towel. Flour the dough very lightly then flatten until it is about 1/4″ thick. Set the rollers of the the pasta machine to the widest setting. Feed the dough into and through the machine with your hands. As the flattened dough comes out of the machine, retrieve it gently with your open palm. Avoid pulling the sheets of dough out of the machine; instead allow the pasta to emerge and support it lightly with your hand. Fold the dough into thirds, flatten it slightly with your hands and roll it through again and repeat this process 4 or 5 more times.
If throughout the process the pasta sheets become become too long to work with, cut into two pieces and continue.
Set the rollers to the next thinnest setting and lightly flour the dough, but do not fold. Pass the dough through the machine on each progressive setting until the dough is at desired thinness (usually the next to last or last setting). Repeat the entire process with the remaining pieces of dough.
Let the dough rest on towels or a floured work surface. Use machine to cut into desired shapes or strands.
March 9, 2009
Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips…
An ultimate comfort food.
Potatoes are starchy, tuberous herbaceous perennials from the Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family. Peru has been recognized as the birthplace of this highly nutritious culinary staple which has been cultivated for as many as 10,000 years. The potato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century and spread by sailors throughout the world’s ports, eventually finding its place in fields across the continents.
The English “potato” derives from the Spanish “patata.”
Smashed potatoes, a rustic version of mashed potatoes, are ample proof that lumps are not evil—rather they impart an intensely rich potato flavor. This does not imply that the satiny, silky version of mashed potatoes are in any way inferior, just different. It just presents a sweet dilemna and depends on the evening’s mood whether they are mashed buttery smooth or left with a luscious, lumpy texture. Leaving skins on (at least in part) gives the potatoes a deep earthiness, and if you love that soil soul shun the peeler and leave them fully clothed.
SMASHED POTATOES WITH TRUFFLE OIL
3 lbs russet or yukon gold potatoes, halfway peeled and quartered
2 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground pepper
1 t cayenne pepper
2 t white pepper
1 t dried thyme, crumbled by fingers
3/4 C heavy cream
1 stick+ (8 T) butter, room temperature
1/2 C milk
Warm cream and milk either in microwave or in a pan on the stove.
Put potatoes into a pot with liberally salted cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat some and gently boil about 15-20 minutes, or until tender—a fork should easily pierce the kids. Undercooked potatoes do not mash properly. Drain water from potatoes in a colander and return to still warm pot. The additional time in the pot dries them a bit so they absorb the fats better.
In stages (not all at once) add cream, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and thyme. Use a potato masher to smash the potatoes, and then a strong spoon or dough hook to beat further, adding milk to achieve a coarse consistency, being careful to leave in some lumps. Whether coarsely smashed or mashed smooth, do not overzealously beat the potatoes or they will morph into glue or library paste. Add a few drops of truffle oil and continue to beat some. Salt and pepper to taste…I prefer them somewhat peppery. Tasting throughout the process is crucial to attaining the preferred flavors and textures.
February 12, 2009
Lentils are friendly—the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.
Lentils are those pungently earthy members of the legume family—which are plants in the pea family that split open naturally along a seam revealing a row of seeds. Some archealogical digs have suggested that legumes may be the oldest crop known to humanity. Lentils are commonly found in dried form and possess superior nutritional qualities with high levels of protein.
The green lentilles from Puy, in the rocky Auvergne region in France, are considered the caviar of lentils. The arid climate, abundant sunshine and volcanic soil conditions offer a flinty, nutty flavor which has garnered the beans an Appelation d’Origine Controlee (AOC)…a quality label recognized by the French government bestowed upon products meeting specified standards.
1 C dried lentils
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 oz pancetta, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 14 oz can san marzano tomatoes, diced
2 rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 t freshly toasted coriander, ground
1 t freshly toasted cumin seeds, ground
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar
In a bowl, first drain and rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve.
Toast and grind coriander and cumin seeds.
In a large heavy Dutch oven, cook the pancetta in olive oil over medium heat for 3-4 minutes; then add the onions. Cook for another 5 minutes before adding the celery, carrots, rosemary, bay leaves, coriander, cumin and lentils. Stir well, ensuring the oil coats everything well.
Add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, allowing the soup to cook for 45 minutes to one hour. Remove the bay leaves before serving, and salt and pepper to taste. Kindly drizzle some fine red wine vinegar over each bowl.
1 1/2 C lentils
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 oz Virginia ham
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
Water to cover
1 qt chicken stock
1 bay leaf
a few springs of fresh thyme
2 oz Virginia ham, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
Freshly ground pepper
2 T red wine or sherry vinegar
2/3 C walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
1 T Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Rinse the lentils in a fine mesh sieve and remove any foreign matter.
In a large heavy Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and and cook the onion and ham over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Transfer the lentils to the same heavy Dutch oven, then cover with cold water, which should cover the lentils by at least 3-4 inches.
Bring to a boil over high heat, then remove from heat and drain in a fine mesh sieve.
Return the lentils to the pan, add the stock, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaf; bring to a gentle boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer. Skim off the surface. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are just tender, about 30 minutes.
Combine the mustard and vinegar and whisk to blend. Add the walnut oil and shallots, and continue to whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the bacon in a large nonstick skillet and cook over moderate heat until done. Set aside on paper towels.
When the lentils are done, drain them well, then toss with the vinaigrette. Remove bay leaf and thyme. Let stand until the lentils have absorbed the vinaigrette. Sprinkle with diced bacon. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.
February 7, 2009
Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet van Horne
V Day even rawer.
Steak tartare, the classic chopped raw beef dish topped with a raw egg, brings on images of Parisian bistros. A bistro is a familiar name for a café serving what used to be moderately priced simple meals in an unpretentious setting.
The word allegedly derives from a Russian word быстро (bystro) which means “hurry.” Cossacks, who occupied France after the Napoleonic Wars, frequently demanded that French waiters serve their food promptly, shouting the word that evolved into “bistro”.
This romantically induced etymology has been disputed over the years. Cossacks did occupy Paris in 1815, but the first recorded use of the word “bistro” appeared in 1884, almost 70 years later. So, the numbers are not supportive. Another possible source for the word could be bistraud, a word in the Poitou dialect which means a “lesser servant.” Yet another theory offered comes from the word bistouille or bistrouille, a colloquial term from the northern regions of France, which is a mixture of brandy and coffee. Bon matin!
12 oz fresh cut, organic beef tenderloin
4 t shallots, finely diced
4 t cornichons, finely chopped
3 t capers, drained and rinsed
2 t Dijon mustard
2 anchovies, salt packed, rinsed, cleaned and finely chopped
2 t chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
6 fresh organic, free range egg yolks
Extra virgin olive oil
1 plump, fresh garlic head, cut crosswise
Trim the beef of any fat and connective tissue and set aside. Chill the beef while preparing the remaining ingredients.
With a wickedly sharp knife, cut the beef into julienne strips, and then cut across into a very fine dice. Continue chopping over the pile some until the meat appears roughly ground.
With a fork, combine the chopped beef with the shallots, cornichons, capers, mustard, anchovies, parsley, some salt and pepper to taste. If needed, add a tablespoon or more of olive oil.
Serve in mound like in the center of the plate, making a well in the center filled with an egg yolk. Spread the tatare over toasted baguette slices which have been drizzled lightly with olive oil and rubbed with garlic heads.
Fine friends: French burgundy or California pinot noir
January 31, 2009
In Morocco, it’s possible to see the Atlantic and the Mediterranean at the same time.
~Tahar Ben Jelloun
A tajine (طاجين), is a cooking vessel—a partially glazed earthenware dish with a pointed, conical lid. But, tajine also refers to the traditional North African method of slowly braising succulent meat (often lamb and chicken) with sweet & savory fruit woven in a prolific complexity of aromatic spices.
Couscous is a coarsely ground semolina pasta which has been a staple in North Africa since the 12th century. It is often steamed in a device the French call a couscoussier. which resembles a double boiler with the upper part having a perforated bottom which is set over a pot of boiling water or over the tajine served with the couscous. The recipes below are created using more conventional cookware.
Couscous scents are unmistakable—intricate, ambrosial with thoughts drifting to Paul Bowles’ contemplative Moroccan sojourn in The Sheltering Sky and the doleful blue magic of Ali Farka Touré’s guitar and plaintive voice.
1 1/2 T coriander seeds
1 1/2 T cumin seeds
6 cardamom pods
1 T paprika
1 T turmeric
1/2 T ground cinnamon
1/2 T cayenne pepper
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
4 local, free range, organic chicken leg-thigh quarters or one whole chicken cut into 8 pieces, room temperature
Extra virgin olive oil
3 peeled, slightly crushed fresh garlic cloves
3/4 C medium yellow onion, diced
1+ T fresh ginger, minced
2 T garlic, minced
1 T red pepper flakes
2 cinnamon sticks
2 jalapeno or other chile peppers, diced
1 C dry white wine
1 T tomato paste
1 28 oz can of san marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 C chicken broth
1 C canned chickpeas, drained and well rinsed
3/4 C kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 T honey
2 preserved lemons,* cut into wedges
2 bay leaves
1/2 C chopped dried figs
3/4 C currants, plumped in warm water, then drained
Toast cumin seeds, coriander seeds and cardamom pods in a medium saucepan over low heat until fragrant. In a spice or coffee grinder since devoted to spices, blend until fine. Combine with remainder of rub spices, then rub over chicken liberally. Let stand for at least 1/2 hour or refrigerate longer. Keep unused spice rub in pantry for later use in other dishes.
Heat 3 TB oil a high-sided, heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven over medium high heat with smashed garlics. Remove garlic, then add chicken skin side down, sauté chicken until browned on both sides, 5 minutes each side. Remove and loosely tent. Pour off all but 1-2 TB drippings.
Add onions and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in peppers and saute another minute. Then, stir in the ginger, garlic, pepper flakes, cinnamon stick. Cook until fragrant, for another 1 minute.
Deglaze with wine and tomato paste, stirring. Simmer gently until liquid almost evaporates.
Add tomatoes, broth, chickpeas, olives, honey, lemons, bay leaves, figs, currants and stir to combine. Arrange chicken in pan, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce is somewhat reduced, about 20 minutes.
Fresh mint & cilantro, chopped
Grated lemon rind
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
*Preserved lemons are among the most widely used ingredients in Moroccan cuisine.
4 large lemons (preferably thin skinned), scrubbed
2/3 cup coarse sea salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice
4 caradamom pods
Dry lemons well and cut each into 8 wedges. In a bowl, toss wedges with salt and transfer to a glass jar (about 6-cup capacity). Add lemon juice and cardamom pods; cover jar with a tight fitting glass lid. Let lemons stand at room temperature 7 days, shaking jar each day to redistribute salt and juice. Add thin layer of olive oil to cover lemons and store, covered and chilled, up to 6 months.
COUSCOUS WITH APRICOTS
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small or medium yellow onion, peeled and minced
1 T turmeric
1 t coriander (toasted & ground)
1 cup couscous
1 1/2 C chicken stock, slightly simmering
1/2 t lemon zest
2 T green onions, sliced
1/4 C dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1/4 C whole almonds, toasted & coarsely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a heavy medium saucepan add olive oil. Sauté onion in oil until soft and translucent. Add the turmeric and ground coriander and sauté gently over low heat until slightly fragrant. Add the couscous then the warm chicken broth. Stir with a fork to combine, add lemon zest and cover. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, then uncover and add the green onions, almonds and apricots. Fluff again with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.
January 30, 2009
Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of scented urine.
There has been ongoing lively discourse over the comparative attributes of charcoal and gas grills. Now, debates have been emerging around the country about whether is is greener to grill over charcoal barbeques or on gas grills. Which patio toy produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions in the long run?
In an article published in the The New York Times, Tris West, an environmental scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, calculated emissions from the two grilling methods. He concluded that since charcoal is derived from wood products— trees that absorb atmospheric carbon as they grew — burning it on the grill approaches a “net zero” result in terms of carbon emissions. By comparison, gas grills use propane which is a fossil fuel that adds to greenhouse gas accumulations. However, West cautions that the polemics become a tad more complicated because burning charcoal may release particulates into the atmosphere.
The good news is that your choice won’t effect any significant change in mass carbon emissions. By West’s estimation, the total amount of carbon dioxide released from barbecue grills on July 4 is on the order of .003 percent of the annual U.S. total. Has the discussion now returned to its origins…an issue of flavors and scents?
January 22, 2009
Admittedly, a paranoia induced entry. In a late night, overwrought effort to be cute, some of my Categories titles may be rightly dubbed obscure. So, to assure the utter transparency that is ever much in the political vogue these days (a more accurate word might be “translucence”), the literal interpretations follow:
Ab Ovo — Eggs
Asides — Vegetables, Side Dishes
Between the Sheets — Sandwich fare
Dough & Yeast — Pasta, Pizza, Calzone
Fine Fowl — Poultry
Fish Out of Water — Fish, Shellfish
Gadgets & Toys — Cutlery, Cookware, Tools, Utensils
Going Green — Salads
Soupçon — Soups
Mulling over Mammals — Meats
Ruminations — Random Thoughts, Ideas
Silk Pantries — Pantry, Cupboard items
Small Pleasures — Appetizers, Hors d’oeuvres, Amuses gueles/bouches, Tapas
Sweet Teeth — Desserts
The Holy Grill — Grilling, Barbeque
January 21, 2009
We owe much to the fruitful meditation of our sages, but a sane view of life is, after all, elaborated mainly in the kitchen.
Despite my earlier palaver (albeit genuine and sincere) about The Table, it is openly admitted that this site is all about The Kitchen, where your culinary universe is truly created. Ranging from the intimate, meditative moments of solitary preparation to the almost melodic cacophony of the sizzle, splatter, chopping, clanging, whisking and the chatter at a triaged dinner party, The Kitchen is a microcosm of your ever changing world and even the world’s cultures. Not to be forgotten are the sublime, varied scents and aromas permeating The Kitchen coupled with the hued tableau of fruits, meats, vegetables gracing the counters and stovetops.
The Kitchen also serves as a place of learning as your body of culinary scholarship expands through experimentation, improvisation, advice, lore, clues, cookbooks, websites, blogs(?)—all muses inspiring at differing creative levels. Immerse yourself in this wisdom, simply take the plunge in this both mundane and sacred cuisine room, and you will cook with a unity of purpose unencumbered by fear. Even in The Kitchen, knowledge is power.
The Kitchen can be home to many memes—sometimes defined as cultural units or patterns of behavior that are passed from one generation to another by imitation, emulation, repetition (not genetically); they are the cultural counterpart of genes, and what better place to receive, create and pass on your tribal memes than The Kitchen. A means to search for and tap into ancestral memories.
A space common to all of your kith, The Kitchen embodies the cultural dynamics of domestic life: how, what and when you acquire, prepare, cook, serve, eat, preserve, and store food; what utensils, cutlery, furnishings, and appliances you use on the day to day or for special moments—reflecting human ingenuity’s meeting with the problems posed by daily necessity and the desire for social comfort.
Fret not if your space is tiny, as a no-frills kitchen still cooks exquisitely. Tiny kitchens foster idea room. A high tech, lewdly expensive, expansive cook space does not make an admirable cook. Just be selective with the basics and replace your perceived inadequacies with savvy and moxie. After all, cooking is just cooking, right? As Mario Batali once noted, “only bad cooks blame the equipment.”
How to accouter The Kitchen, your kitchen? Well, it all varies on your available space, culinary comfort level, what you tend to cook, etc. Some basics follow which are subject to personal bends and tendencies. As with Silk Pantries, this list is not meant to be either exhaustive nor suggestive of absolute necessities. Rather, it is intended to offer some ideas for you to ponder over, accept or reject based upon personal likes and surroundings. I try to avoid overwrought, rube goldbergesque kitchen thingamajigs as they tend to be relegated to the far reaches, never to be seen again. Throughout this ongoing project, posts will discuss more specifics about materials, preferences, uses.
GADGETS & TOYS
Blades — Knives (8”-10” chef’s, bread, 8” carving, 7” santoku, 5”-6” boning, 5”-6” sandwich/utility, 3”-3 ½” paring) carving fork, shears, mandolin (slicer), 12 bladed apple corer, sharpener, honing steel, cutting boards, knife block or magnetic strip, mesh cutting glove
Spoons — Metal/wooden/slotted spoons, ladles, spider, metal/wooden/silicone spatulas, balloon whisks, tongs
Vessels — 7 ¼ qt. Dutch oven, large roasting pan & rack, 2 & 4 qt saucepans, 6 qt sauté pan, 9” &11” non stick skillet/fry pan, 2 ¼-3 qt saucier, 12” grill pan, 8-12 qt stock pot, large wok
Plug Ins — Food processor, Kitchen Aid, pasta machine/attachment, drying racks, waffle iron, coffee (spice) grinder, immersion hand blender, rice cooker, ice cream maker
Miscellany — Salad bowls, pizza stone and paddles, salt & pepper grinders/shakers, cruets, mortar & pestle, food mill
pastry & basting brushes, pasta drying rack, baster, dough whip, potato masher, nesting bowls, mixing bowls, baking sheets, pastry bag, food scale, silpat, cake pans, cake rack, rolling pin, jellyroll pans
casseroles, baking dishes/au gratins, loaf pan, muffin tin, pie plate, tarte pan, ramekins, soufflé dishes
colanders, sieves (fine meshed chinois, china cap & medium perforated), cheesecloth, funnels, grater, microplane, thermometers (candy & meat), blow torch
shellfish shucker, heavy rubber glove
peeler, zester, citrus reamer
timer, measuring cups & spoons, can opener, oven mitts, salad spinner, spatter screen, latex gloves, hot pads/trivets, hot mitts, pasta drying racks, olive pitter, egg slicer, apple corer
Hooch — Corkscrew, champagne bucket, shaker, wine stopper, strainer, cocktail stir, muddler, stainless steel toothpicks
January 19, 2009
Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
Before traipsing into the kitchen or addressing the grill, some thought needs to be given to the provisions on hand. Not only would it be unrealistic to expect all ingredients to be locally fresh throughout the year, but the time constraints of daily life often demand an impromptu table. Having a well supplied (and periodically restocked) pantry is simply essential for home cooks to produce remarkable meals without a last minute forage at the neighborhood market. Some cupboard items can even prove superior to the fresh versions in certain seasons or preparations while others only come in pantry form.
The list below is not exhaustive, but is intended to be fairly comprehensive for the lay cook. Of course, you will tailor your pantry to suit your palate and home cuisine. However, before you reject this list due to storage size restrictions alone, please keep in mind that almost all of these items are carefully housed in the cabinets of our minimalist urban kitchen with a small frig.
Oils –- extra virgin olive, canola, peanut, grapeseed, vegetable, white truffle, walnut, sesame
Vinegars — red wine, balsamic, champagne, apple cider, sherry, port, rice wine
Spices & Herbs — black peppercorns, white pepper, green peppercorns, pink peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, cayenne pepper, salt (sea, gray, kosher), herbes de provence, fine herbes, ras el hanout, sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay leaves, tarragon, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, savory, celery seed, mustard, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, pimentón, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, caraway seeds, curry powder (homemade) & curry paste, fenugreek leaves, garam masala, caraway seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon (sticks/ground), chipotle chiles, ancho chiles, star anise, sesame seeds (black, white), allspice, anise seeds, saffron threads, wasabi powder, rubs (i.e., asian, ancho chili, dried mushroom, rosemary & pepper, tandoori, basic barbeque)
Grains & Pastas — rice (white long grained, wild, brown, jasmine, basmati), polenta, risotto, pastas (potentials: taglilatelle, linguini, spaghetti, penne, lasagne, orzo, tortellini, orcchietta, capellini, farfalle, capaletti, cavatappi, cavatelli, fusilli, gnocchi, macaroni, papparadelle, ravioli, vermicelli), couscous, Israeli couscous, rice (cellophane) noodles (vermicelli–bun & sticks–banh pho)
Asian –- soy sauce, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, red, yellow & green curry pastes, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs
Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles
Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini
Canned tomatoes (san marzano), stock (homemade/canned)
Legumes –- lentils, garbanzos, cannellinis, white beans, black beans, navy beans
Booze — red & white wine, cognac (brandy), port wine, Madeira, sherry, eau de vie
Baking — flour, sugars (white granulated, raw cane, light brown, confectioner’s), baking powder, cornstarch, cornmeal, yeast, cocoa, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa)
Flavorings –- almond extract, vanilla beans, vanilla extract, Tabasco, Worcestershire
Dried fruits — currants, apricots, figs, prunes
Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, unsalted peanuts
Honeys (local, raw, unprocessed), mi-figue mi-raisin, raspberry and strawberry preserves, apricot jam, pure maple syrup, peanut butter
Dairy –- whole milk, unsalted butter, eggs, buttermilk, heavy whipping cream
Fruits –- lemons, oranges, grapefruit, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, heirloom tomatoes
Cheese –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta