Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Let's Talk Tools


Imagine for a moment that you are young, bright-eyed, and eager. (I am!) You've skimmed the catalogues, watched the programs and are now ready to strut, coupons in hand, into your local megamart or home products store to stock your kitchen with tools. In you prance, knowing that you need it all. An egg separator! Of course, you think, and it can be used as a prop for my Halloween costume. And that apple corer will be oh, so, useful, never mind that you rarely eat whole apples, much less peel them for pies or cobblers. Stop, put down the professional style butter slicer and walk away. That's right walk away. I know, they're pretty and shiny, but most of them are unnecessary and in a few years you'll find them propping up the coffee table and cluttering up your kitchen. You need, at first, a limited coterie of tools¬- knives, tongs, and their spring loaded, stainless steel, and heat resistant brethren.

Knives are the preferred method for cutting, chopping, and peeling. This was discovered by the ancient Egyptians who turned to knives after they attempted to use cattails for filleting the crocodiles they consumed nightly. The cats refused to stay still for the task, and lamentably, their hair often made an unpalatable addition to the dish.* There are very, very cheap blades and very, very expensive ones. I don't advocate purchasing anything made in Germany or Japan until you have the First Aid experience necessary to handle them. Students and first apartmenteers need only a few basics, which can be, gasp, purchased en banc.** Look for knives that will fit your hand and have a good balance point. A carbon steel blade is wonderful… ly expensive. Go stainless, so when it's used to open your roommates red Jello boxes, for, ahem, Jello, it won't turn cherry red. Look for a kit that offers an eight to ten inch chef's knife, one or two smaller paring knives, and slicer. I would recommend a serrated bread knife, as well; I do not have one and wish I did but the chef's knife has done in a pinch.

Once the food is in the pan, you will have to move it, flip it, bop it… Wait, that's not right. You can use your fingers, but that tends to lead to visits to the burn ward. You could simply stab it with a fork and flip it like the Mid-Century Mad Man you are, but that makes all the delicious juices leak out and not stay in your dish. No, the best tools keep your precious digits from the heat and protect the sanctity of the marriage between juice and dish. I advocate a tripartite alliance between the slotted spoon, the spatula/flipper, and spring-loaded tongs. (Get a spoon too, but I suspect you knew that already.)

A slotted spoon makes it easy to pluck piping hot veggies from their kosher salted saunas or fish poached and boiled eggs from the boiling water. I recommend plastic but wood or rubber would work well too. Ultimately, you want something with a long and heat resistant handle. (See, supra, burn wards.) This advice goes for the spatula too, but I should also include that you don't want a wimpy flippin' surface. Your flippin' surface should be large enough to handle flippin' chicken breast, flippin' fish filets, or flippin' pizza slices. These tools are available cheap and disposable at your local large retailer headquartered, perhaps, in Minneapolis or Bentonville.

Tongs are among the great inventions of the world, along with the wheel, the internal combustion engine, and the Waffle House. Look for tongs that are long handled (again!) with a grip that keep the heat in the tongs and not on your hands. Oxo makes excellent kitchen tools and I personally recommend their tongs, but any that fit your hand will work just as well. These tools will take a licking, be sure to find ones that will be durable. Or at least cheap enough to replace. And keep them clean- nobody likes cross contamination and food borne illness. Once you have mastered these simply steps you can take the next steps like using book money to buy an extra sharp vegetable peeler or a food processor. But that's another post.

* Historical accuracy not guaranteed.
** Accurate use of legal terms also not guaranteed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I have been a student for... a long time. I will finish my nineteenth year of formal education this year. This means two things. One: I am over highlighters. Two: I am underfunded. Why is this relevant? I'm getting there, steady on. I grew up in the home of a Kennedy Democrat who carefully studied Julia Child's The French Chef before becoming a proto-locavore, granola mom. As in actually made granola. In the other corner was my father- Rockefeller Republican with a strong disdain for anything that isn't called potato or beef. So here we stand- steak on Saturdays and every other day versus filet of fish with rice. Not the McDonald's kind- ew.

What does this mean for their progeny? My sister and I like to eat. A lot. Food Network and the Cooking Channel play on a continuous loop at my house and the quality of my day is usually predicated on what I've had to eat. I read chef's memoirs and cookbooks, follow tweets about quinoa, and dream of the day when the nearest Whole Foods isn't a hour drive away. A goal one summer was to learn to cook by cooking our way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Coq au vin is not ideal in July, but ah so delicious. We abandoned the effort, but the diametrically opposed viewpoints of my parents led us to two things: the desire to eat, and do it well, and a politically neutral love of The Game. That mystical sport played with crooked sticks and tiny white balls on fields of emerald green. Golf blogs are a dime a dozen and many bloggers have more knowledge than me on The Game. I'll leave them to it.

I grew up on American food, heavily influenced by my family's southern roots, and the aforementioned The French Chef. But I love it all- Tex-Mex, barbecue, Thai, Chinese, German, Japanese, Irish, French, Russian, Indian, and just about anything else you can think of. My budgets and my choices are limited but my curiosity is not.

That brings us to today. Right now, you're on this soon to be cleverly named blog where I plan to describe how a graduate student at a relatively prestigious law school in Virginia (no, not that one) manages to survive small town ingredients, low funds, long library nights, and never ending hunger. I have four knives, two decent pans, and a wandering palate. Gentleman- start your engines.
This blog has languished for a long time, lacking any sense of purpose or theme. But no more! Coming soon: a new and improved version of this blog. Focused and relevant it will be orientated towards the one thing I love above all others: food- making it, eating it, thinking about it. But wait, there's more- there will be snarky commentary and observations on films or books if relevant. Because who doesn't get inspired when they read or watch? Stay tuned reader (just one)!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cupcakes are delicious and some people hate them for it. Cupcakes have been the most popular cheerleader in the bakery high school and the backlash grows against their moist, gooey deliciousness.

The latest salvo: an attack on icing (or frosting if you prefer). Slate Magazine, a fine way to procrastinate away an afternoon, has a column about designer cupcakes with too much frosting. Several commentators derided butter cream as "[making] them feel sick." Now I knew people in college who would lovingly purchase a can of Betty Crocker and eat it with a spoon. It's certainly tempting. But that's not frosting. No, kids, in the home I grew up in our motto was "comes from a box, tastes like a box." Sure I like funfetti and boxed brownie mix. But can they really replace from scratch icing or chocolate cake? No, sorry, it's just not quite the same as the real deal. (It's even better when your mom makes it, but I digress.)

So I'm declaring war on the cupcake haters. I like buttercream and cream cheese and chocolate and I like it on top of a tiny little cake. Go forth, spread the word! Cupcakes are yummy and I don't care who knows it!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

As a new daily Metro commuter, and a long time occasional rider, I have noticed that some folks (read: tourists) need a primer on how to use the system without aggravating those of us on the way to work or school. How useful this will be considering my readership (Hi Mom!), I don't know. Anyways, here we go:

1. Stand right, walk left: I can not emphasize this enough. It really applies everywhere, not just escalators. This includes your children and your luggage, no joke. Blocking the path for those in a rush is most likely to make us late for work, but could possibly harm national security.

2. Don't get on between 7:30-9 am or 4-6 pm unless you have no other choice: These are commuting hours, people are tired, stressed, and generally unfriendly. It's the time when Washingtonians are not at our finest. We don't want you to ask us for help, we want to check our blackberries and listen to our iPods. Don't be offended, but if you can help it, avoid these hours at all costs. Most attractions don't open until 10 anyways and there are plenty of ways to get around without the Metro in the afternoon. Besides, that's when the fares are highest!

2a. If you must commute during these times, be a little subdued: You think it's fun, we get it. Metro is a great system and we're glad you're here, really, even if we don't show it. But honestly at 5:45 we aren't interested in hearing about your experience at Air and Space loud enough for the whole car to hear. However, it's Friday or Saturday night or after a local team win (go Caps!), then, of course, we don't mind as much.

3. If you can, stand: seats are prime real estate. Unless you have a compelling reason to sit or are traveling to the last station, stand. There are people who need it more than you.

4. Turn down your iPod: Most of don't share your taste in music and it's gonna cause hearing loss anyways.

5. Don't trash our city: We know we aren't as cosmopolitan as New York or LA, but for most of us, that's a good thing. We like that we are a little sleepy, a little small town and a little provincial. If we wanted to live somewhere faster, we would. Appreciate us for what we are, don't complain about what we aren't.

6. Don't discuss politics: Some of us are political junkies, I know I am, but most of us aren't. Having a loud/derogatory discussion about xyz politician or party, is uncouth. Now joking about the state of Metro, that's perfectly fine.

7. Don't use the Smithsonian stop: Yes, it's the closest. But it's the most crowded especially during May-July. Get off one stop earlier/later at Federal Triangle or Gallery Place. The difference in distances in negligible and the crowds are much smaller.

There we are, seven habits of highly effective metro riders. Anything I've missed? Add it in the comments.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I recently read to description of a home furnishings line as providing "contemporary heirlooms." Isn't that inherently oxymoronic? Heirlooms can't be made in China, they are handed down or inherited. Silly ad men.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

This will be the first in a series of posts on things I like. Narcissistic? Perhaps, but since I'm fairly sure I have only one regular reader, I'm not going to worry about it too much.

#1: Alfredo Sauce
I attended recently a luncheon with Baroness Emma Nicholson, MEP, who spoke on her work with several Middle Eastern countries on behalf of women and children's rights as well as the extension of the rule of law. Unfortunately the main course was a soupy, bland mixture of penne, asparagus, pistachio nuts, and Alfredo Sauce. It required a generous treatment with salt to make it palatable. Reader (just one), this was not alfredo. No, the true alfredo is rich, buttery, and delicious. As a tip for University Catering, I'm attaching a link to the a decent alfredo recipe (and also because life is too short for bad food). Bon app├ętit!

Alfredo Sauce

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Things I want to eat right now:
1. Chicken wings
2. Mozzarella Sticks
3. Cheese fries
4. Pizza
5. Duck
6. Turkey Wrap

I don't know.