Friday, July 30, 2010

Knives 101

I earnestly submit to you the idea that nobody really needs one of those pre-determined knife sets with wooden storage blocks thrown in to the deal. If you have one, now's when you hang your head in shame. Not really. I've had one before and you may like the look of it on your counter, and that's a-okay. But if you're thinking about outfitting yourself with some newbies because you just agree with me [having some really good knives could boost the morale in the kitchen] - you might need to agree that you really only use maybe 4 in a set regularly.

So, unless you're heading off to Le Cordon Bleu you might as well save yourselves. Having 3 or 4 pretty great knives and then maybe some utility-ish extras is more than adequate for people who don't host parties in their home in The Hamptons.

And for the record, you can find less-expensive knives in the world.  I own some less-expensive knives and am happy with them. However, if I give you those options, you may never consider the real - and I mean legitimate - unmistakable - and notable difference in using a knife designed for your hand by someone who painstakingly ground the handle and blade for however long it takes to do such a thing in Japan. It doesn't have to come from Japan, I just threw that in. Still, I'm serious when I say there's something so relaxing about chopping potatoes or watermelon or pineapple or a whole pig not really with something molded by an artisan.

So, without further adieu:

The Chef's knife. This particular Shun Classic comes in 3 different lengths. You can click the link [red means link], watch a video on the Williams Sonoma site, etc.

You really probably [no, definitely] need to go hold these prior to purchasing if you don't already know what you like ahead of time.

Here's a link to a 3 piece starter kit.

This brand  (Global) is fantastic.
And that back there's a link to a 3 piece "starter-kit" as well. More women buy these knives than men and especially if you have smaller hands. They're VERY light and sleek.

Here's an individual

The Santoku knife is a great knife. Not a whole ton different than a chef's only a bit easier to break down a whole chicken, for example. It's less of a "rocking-sliding" knife you might want for mincing in the fashion our "mkay" friend demonstrated, but a great knife, no less. It's not so necessary to have both a chef's and santoku, but I really love this for larger things like sliced onions, tomatoes, quartering potatoes... that sort of thing. Global makes a great one as well. And those little "dents" ground into the blade are supposed to break the suction - minimizing sliced items from sticking to the blade as you work. I wouldn't say it's stick-proof, but perhaps does limit to some degree.

A paring knife is great for little jobs - strawberries, bananas... that sort of thing. Having 2 or 3 is not a bad idea. And going with the top of the line on these isn't honestly going to make you sleep any better. I've got this set and I really like them for paring knife jobs, but have a little paring knife made by Shun and love it as well. I even dish wash the Cutco [gasp] and they're perfectly great. And here's even a great set at a great price which leads me to the last knife.

A serrated knife is great on crusty bread, and even getting through delicate and smooth tomato skin when you want pretty slices - as some of the sharpest knives slide right against the waxy skin without even a nick. But this is even a knife that you could get away with getting a middle-of-the-road brand and be perfectly happy with, in my opinion.

You can love whatever brand you love. These are just my favorites. I have a small knife or two from Target, even, and they're fine. But, please, people - if you go spend the money on the really high-quality knives - you WILL RUIN THEM if you dish wash them. But these on the above list are really all you'll need. I have a cleaver I never use. I have a boning knife I never use... and about 3 or 4 others I never use. So, take it or leave it. But they're worth it. And if you MUST have a set, I'd tell you to buy this one or this one . So, go give some plasma and go shopping. But pack an extra juice box. You might need it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Tip

If someone FLAT OUT does NOT like to cook, do you think they might like to if they knew how? Or do you know fantastic cooks who say they hate it with every fiber of their all-bran? I ask because I didn't always know what I was doing. I still don't know how to do everything. And I didn't always really enjoy cooking this much. So? Point proven. And! Aaaaaaand! Any of you - and I mean ANY of you are perfectly capable of developing a real know-how in the ole popote. Look it up. Okay, just kidding because it means "tough grass used for making brooms" in Spanish. And in the right context in French, apparently it only means "prepared food". But I was going for KITCHEN! It does seem typical to be going for the kitchen and end up with a prepared tough grass broom. At least in my brain. Things get jumbled up in there sometimes.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh. Cooking. And the idea that perhaps knowing how, and/or having adequate tools makes quite a bit of a difference. I'll start by suggesting we learn how to properly hold a knife - as I gave our friend, Mr Walken, props for doing relatively well - which I don't do perfectly anyway, but I've been cut-free on the digits for quite a while now. So, we might as well go over it. It is, admittedly, kind of a hard thing to master. However, do not guide the blade with your index finger pointing. That I can tell you. This is an unstable way to wobble and slice yo fanguh.

Out of all the youtubes I could find, this guy might do the best job. His voice is a tad creepy. The "mkay?" is a little... "I'm going to check how far your cervix is dilated now, mkay?" which I may have just associated with a man holding a knife, but didn't mean to. So... um. Sorry? Next time, we'll talk about actual knives you might find handy to have.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cooking With Christopher Walken

I'm not loving it seems he contaminates his salt and pepper with the raw chicken even though he has a scoop. But I am liking that he holds his knife correctly. It could stand to be sharpened, but whatever. He didn't cut himself and he cooks. I love him in a weird way. Like how some people love square dancing.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Simple Basil Pesto

... especially when you have scads in your backyard thanks to your husband... or my husband, rather.

You'll need a food processor or blender
Fresh basil
3 garlic cloves pealed
Pine nuts
Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Pluck your leaves, leaving the stems:

Pulse to break down a tad

Add Parm

Add pine nuts [I didn't toast mine. But I think you should]

Can you count, 'cause I clearly can't. I called these 3 garlic cloves:

Drizzle your olive oil while whirling the processor
someone needs to put away her produce after returning from the store.

Mix with freshly cooked, drained pasta, incorporate evenly and add hot pasta water to thin if needed. Serve with grilled chicken on the side or sliced and thrown in. Salad, grilled zucchini - whatever your heart desires! Most people go with bread on the side. However, consider that your pasta is already a starch, or... if you're on your period, go gangbusters! Eat a whole loaf. See if I care!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Panzanella Green Salad with Chicken

* recipe from Erin Simonson Cohea

Salad greens [any you like - I love bagged 7 lettuce or spring mix]
Heirloom tomatoes cut to bite-size or 1 red bell pepper - raw, seeds removed & sliced
Parmesan cheese grated or shaved
Greek olives [pitted and drained] - located in the pickle aisle
1/2 baguette cubed for croutons [a serrated knife works best]
pine nuts
1 store-bought rotisserie chicken [pulled, shredded and skin removed] - optional
salt & pepper

above quantities are to your liking

Dressing: 2:1 ratio 2 parts extra virgin olive oil to 1 part red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste [shake well, taste for salt, dress at the very end with just enough to coat the leaves]

To prep:

1. Preheat a wide bottom, shallow pan to medium heat. In the dry pan, toast the pine nuts paying close attention not to burn - the second you smell them and they're gold, remove from heat and dump in the bottom of your salad bowl with the Greek olives and parm cheese.

2. Return pan to heat - add a drizzle of olive oil, plus a little butter. Once butter is melted, add cubed baguette. Drizzle more olive oil to moisten, add a pinch of salt and pepper, toast the croutons on all sides - turning often [tongs are the best tool for the job]. Once golden brown, remove from heat, add to salad bowl.

3. Return the pan to the heat and add the shredded pulled chicken to reheat unless it hasn't been refrigerated and is still warm. Add chicken to the salad and the greens last. You don't want the heat from everything else to wilt your greens. Adding them last will prevent this. Dress to your liking and voila!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Orzo with Lemon & Parsley

1 pkg orzo pasta
2-3 Tbsp butter
Zest & Juice of 1 lemon*
1 bunch flat-leaf Italian parsley, roughly chopped smallish [approx. 3/4 cup]
Parmesan cheese [approx. 1 cup]
salt & pepper

1. Fill your med-large pot for boiling the orzo with about 3-4 inches space left from the top of the pot... bring that to a rolling boil on high heat.
Add a silver-dollar size palm-full of sea salt [You will not end up with a salty pasta - this is the opportunity to season the pasta. You can also use any pasta you like for this if you are unable to find orzo. Orecchiette is GREAT - and here's what it looks like.]

2. Add your pasta to the boiling, salted water. Stir to unstick any pieces that may have clumped together. 7 minutes is usually the magic number, but check after about 4. By "check" I mean eat some of it. It should have a "stick" to your tooth feel, but not a real firmness left. You don't want it to be cooked further than this "al dente" point as it can still absorb what else we're adding - which makes for a much tastier pasta.

*tip* Chop your parsley while your pasta boils.

3. Drain your pasta - save a bit of pasta water in a little measuring cup prior to draining or quickly return the pasta to the pot while it's still drippy. Return the pot to hot [turned off] burner.
Add about 2-3 Tbsp butter. You can sub extra virgin olive oil if you like. Or half and half - butter & olive oil - not literal cream half and half.

4. Zest your lemon directly into the pasta. *When zesting your lemon - gently, but firmly pass the lemon over your fine grater or microplane, but do not pass over the same spot on the lemon twice. You only want the yellow part. The white is bitter. Then half the lemon and add the juice.

You can add pepper if you want to at this point. And incorporate these things as you go.

5. Add chopped parsley and grated Parm cheese. If you are unable to find parmigiano reggiano - you can use regular from the store, but NOT the kind you'd sprinkle on pizza at the pizza joint. That may not even qualify as Parmesan cheese.

If this gets sticky, you can add a little bit of pasta water to thin - like... 1/2 - 1 cup? It helps thin but the pasta water retains the pasta's starch, so you aren't making things runny, just smoothy. Great trick.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Goat Cheese & Pepper Sandwich

1 loaf ciabatta
you can use any bread you like or individual ciabatta rolls, Tuscan or french rolls anything with a toasty exterior, chewy interior.
1 small stick of plain goat cheese
1/2 small red onion, pealed and sliced as thin as possible.
1 jar roasted red peppers drained -
if you're only making a small or individuals, just take what you need and save the rest - jarred roasted red peppers are usually located with the greek olives at the grocery store - pickle aisle - or make your own.
extra virgin olive oil

1. Toast your bread in the oven per the package directions. Most Tuscan loaves in the bakery section are already crispy enough. And if you buy the sliced Tuscan, this makes a GREAT panini if you have a press or just want to do things old-school grilled-cheese-style in a skillet. After the loaf cools a bit, split into a long sandwich top and bottom.

2. Spread goat cheese evenly - the heat from the bread will help melt and smooth the cheese.

3. Lay red peppers over goat cheese & red onion [I don't usually go overboard on the red onion as it's a rather strong flavor, but knock yourself out if you want to]

4. Drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on the "lid" piece of bread and smoosh it on. Slice. Bite. Then say yum. It's required.