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)!