Into The Kitchen Window

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.
~Joseph Conrad

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 stove tops.

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, “microkitchen” still cooks exquisitely. Tiny kitchens foster mystical idea rooms.  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, tortilla warmers, food scale, silpat, cake pans, cake rack, wooden rolling pin, silicone 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 or “chain mail” 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

tool crock

Hooch — Corkscrew, champagne bucket, shaker, wine stopper, strainer, cocktail stir, muddler, stainless steel toothpicks

A Cupboard Not Bare

January 19, 2009

Even the most resourceful housewife cannot create miracles from a riceless pantry.
~Chinese proverb

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, avocado, 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, za’atar, 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 chile powder, ancho chile powder, 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), local hot sauce(s), barbeque (preferably near home) sauces

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, shoyu, white shoyu, hoisin sauce, chili garlic sauce/paste, sriracha, nuoc mam nhi(fish sauce), nuoc mam chay pha san, hoisin sauce, red, yellow & green curry pastes, mirin, sake, coconut milk, miso pastes (white, red), oyster sauce, wasabi paste/powder, five spice, tamarind paste, mirin, rice flour, panko bread crumbs, kochujang, gochu garu, konbu

Garlic, shallots, ginger, potatoes, yellow & red onions, dried chiles

Mustards, chutneys, capers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies, tomato paste, harissa, tahini, creme fraiche, pickles

Canned tomatoes (san marzano + homemade), stock (homemade/canned)

Legumes –- lentils (several colors + lentils du puy), 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, currants

Nuts –- pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, 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

Cheeses –- parmigiano reggiano, pecorino romano, gruyère, marscarpone, roquefort or gorgonzola, feta, fontina, manchego

Meats proscuitto, serrano

Spreads tapenades, caponata, hummus

The Table

January 15, 2009

The pleasures of the table are of all times and all ages, of every country and of every day; they can be associated with all the other pleasures and remain the last to console us for the loss of the rest.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

The Table presides over your cuisine.

Even though food discussions often naturally begin at the market and then progress from the kitchen to plate, I feel the final resting place for your victuals deserves first mention.

Derived from the Latin “tabula,” meaning “plank” or “tablet,” The Table is sometimes relegated to that utilitarian flat surface in your home. Despite this drab definition, The Table serves a variety of functions. In its simplest form, The Table is a flat geometrically shaped slab top supported by legs. Yet add to that basic board candles, color, dishes, glasses, a sumptuous feast of food, bread and wine, and The Table becomes transformed into a theater set. Add the personae around (or even under) The Table from differing generations, traditions, families, intellects, social strata, cultures and backgrounds…then it morphs into a social sanctuary, a topless yurt for nomads with no reservations with the common goal of savoring your food in the simple company of humanity. Ambivalence and lethargy rarely reside at The Table; rather it becomes the grand leveller.

The Table has cradled young and old—ever teeming with laughter, tears, passion, glee, anger, celebrations, disunions, harmony, with both contentious and soothing words. Over several decades, my same table has been serving me a vivid, streaming kaleidoscope of remembrances. My fortune.

The Table not only recalls but creates memories…individual and communal…which will transform your life.

Mise (En Place)

January 15, 2009

Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.
~Lin Yutang

This modest quest was born of the reflections of a common cook, a layperson (non-expert) roaming the kitchen.

Sharing my journeys with you from market to kitchen to plate is meant to inspire, dispel misconceptions, quell unfounded fears and place confidence in your hands. Just cook and embrace, saporously so. As food is a basic human need, why not make it exquisitely pleasing to the palate, even creative? It only makes sense that the modest art of cooking should be rewarded by the divine art of eating. Because, face it, sometimes we simply want to eat.

The recipes that follow are only meant to suggest and are by no means a mandate. Plus, to assume there exists only one species of a dish can often be folly — many classics are flat protean with almost as many versions and descents as there are kitchens.

This site is not a harbor for what some have dubbed arrogant food even though that finds a deserved place in other kitchens and written or online works. Humble, rustic and eclectic fare may be more appropriate words here…or perhaps just love what sates you at the time.

Because a meal is simple does not render it any less savory or elegant. Here, there is no need for formal training or experience, yet an inquisitive, inventive character and passion for food may serve you well. Together through recipes and basic techniques, we will explore some of the varied facets of food and along the way visit some culinary lore, history, science, culture, art, geography, language — and even meander through a few fond memories.