Monday, December 24, 2007

The Essentials Part Two: Want vs. Need

Some of the things I use every day in the kitchen are, in the world of MRP, needs, not just wants. On the top of the list in the needs category is a really good knife. I've gone back and forth about the differences between German and Japanese made knives. I have both- the Henckels five star series representing Germany, and the beauty below speaking for Japan. She's a Shun and she's become my favorite.

Notice the purty wavy lines. Like a Samurai sword.

There is much to say about knives. The main thing is this: get a good one. It'll make your life in the food prep department so much easier you'll actually want to cook even if you don't think you like cooking. And for the rest of what there is to say about knives, I give you Alton Brown:

This teapot is a want but it sure is nice to have. I start my day off with a cup of green tea in lieu of coffee. Like a Samurai.
Sauciers are more of a need at this point in my game. They're great for making a lot more than sauces, too. The Caribbean blue one is made by Le Creuset, the shiny one is All Clad.

The next items are definitely needs. You can't cook without shallots, garlic, or olive oil. I realize that these are ingredients, but what good are all the fancy pants pans without the right things to put in them?

You want prep bowls. You can measure out everything you need, if you're into measuring, which I'm not. It's still nice to have some place to out all the stuff I slice and dice before it goes in the pot. These have lids, too, which is nice when I over slice and/or dice.
And all this other stuff is mostly want, with a few need. You absolutely need some good tongs. These are made by Oxo, and they're my favorite. I have one other pair, but they were in the dishwasher. That's why I have three- cause one is always in the dishwasher. Whisks make the creation of sauces much easier. The wooden spoon I include because of its beautiful patina. I've been working on that stain for over ten years.
Now you know what to get yourself when you start returning all those unwanted Christmas gifts.

The squirrels are getting feisty around here, so that means it's blowgun time. I'll try to get some video for all the dudes who read this site in hopes of more lung-powered mayhem. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Essentials, Part One

If I've ever come to your house to cook something, I probably brought a few tools to the party. If I didn't, I probably wished I had. Here's why: Most people don't have some of the basic weapons of war for the modern culinary warrior. And if I say it like that it sounds way more masculine than, "you don't have good tongs or a zester."

I've been meaning to post this info for awhile, but I kept putting it off because I was busy learning huge lists of anatomy and neurology at school. Now that the tests are over and the lists are forgotten I can get back to the important things in life. This episode of The Essentials will focus on cooking vessels. You do, however, need a good pair of tongs.

Item number one- A cast iron skillet. If you've hung out here at all you've seen this a few times:Just look at her. So shiny. So smooth and glassy. This is a Griswold skillet, which aren't made anymore. Cara's grandmother gave it to me. I have several other skillets in several sizes, but this one is special. I often scramble eggs in her with no sticking. You don't have to have a Griswold, but you should have a cast iron skillet. Lodge makes good ones for cheap. And you too will be able to pass yours along to your grandson-in-law one day because they last forever. You can get a Griswold on ebay if you want to go old school.

Next on the list of essentials-the Dutch oven. Want to convert a cheap cut of meat into a succulent main course that melts in your mouth? Then you need to master the art of braising. If it weren't for braising we'd be in trouble these days while we're getting by on a student loan budget. Braising is essentially simmering something in a little liquid of some sort (which usually ends up becoming a sauce) for a long time until collagen breaks down and the target food gets tender. Pot roast comes to mind, but there is so much more. Do yourself a favor and get Molly Steven's All About Braising. I've made many of the recipes in that book, and they've all been home runs. The big difference between a Dutch oven and a slow cooker is the fact that you can sear meats and caramelize onions in a Dutch oven, and a slow cooker just slow cooks.

Pictured below are three of my favorites. Up first is my go-to pot. It's just the right size (4 quarts?) for the two of us, and, hey, I like the color too. It's a Staub:
Next up, another favorite- the Le Creuset. If you watch the Food Network at all you've seen one of these. Le Creuset is the most famous Dutch (they say "French" because they're, um, French. Whatever.) oven on the planet among the foody crowd. And again, I like the color. This one is 5.5 quarts. I think.
I saved Old Faithful for last. This Lodge Dutch oven is the stuff of cowboy legend. If I had to live on the trail this would be my pot of choice. The only drawback to the non-enameled cast iron is the fact that acidic foods like tomatoes and wine can taste a little metallic if left in the pot too long. I love cooking potatoes in this bad boy. I get them crispy on the outside and then steam them a little with the lid on. Speaking of lids- both the Staub and the Lodge lids have convex dimples that redirect the condensation back onto the food, which acts as a self-basting mechanism.
Now that I've done some frying in the Lodge , she has a good non-stick surface. Makes those taters really easy to make. I love black, shiny surfaces.I've gotta go make some taters now, so I'll stop here.
Next post: Knives!