Archive for the ‘equipment’ Category

h1

Blades of glory

August 24, 2010

We all know from crappy holiday house kitchens that there’s nothing worse than a blunt chef’s knife – the kind you end up bludgeoning, rather than cutting, food with – and I take care to keep ours reasonably sharp. But the other day, as I end up doing only every few years, I had six of our knives professionally sharpened. Man oh man, what a difference.

Makes me realise that even using our nifty little Victorinox sharpener thing, which I have loved for its ease and relative efficiency, doesn’t really keep the knives in as good nick as I’d like. Before that I’ve used a whetstone, which works pretty well, but I have never mastered any skill at all with a steel. I seem to blunt the knife rather than sharpen it any time I’ve tried.

I see here that CHOICE tested knife sharpeners and ours came out somewhere in the middle, so I either need to learn how to properly use either a steel or our old stone (do they ever wear out? I’ve had mine for a thousand years) or get a new sharpener which I’m loath to do, especially after reading Fenella Souter’s  amusing and inspiring Good Weekend article on the movement towards eliminating waste and saving cash, prompted by these people and their passion for not being diddled.

I guess the other aspect of good knife care is storage – long gone are the days I kept knives in the drawer. We have one of those great wall magnet strips that the blades just stick to, and a few years ago were also given one of these cool knife blocks, where the fibre things just move to accommodate the knife.

And what about cleaning? I usually just chuck them in the dishwasher, though I’ve just now read elsewhere that it’s not good for knives – but does it do anything to damage the actual blade, or is it only to prevent damage to the wooden handles?

So what about you – how do you keep your knives pointy? Do you ever have them professionally sharpened, or are you a whiz with a steel? Any tips? And what are the essential knives? We have lots, but only because I was given a large set by generous friends for a big birthday years back. Otherwise, we would have only two in constant use – the big Furi chef’s knife and the beautiful little Wusthof given me by the Lunging Latino, which I believe is known as a ‘sandwich knife’. Go figure.

Now, while we’re on the topic of slicing and dicing, I was thrilled to be alerted to this very useful knife skills video on the ‘claw grip’ over at Beyond Salmon (thanks Daniel Koontz at Casual Kitchen) – it demonstrates very clearly how to hold a knife, the action needed, and most importantly, what your other hand should be doing.

So happy chopping, shuckers. And do tell me how you keep your blades in glorious condition, or any other sharp points we should be discussing!

PS: My knives were beautifully sharpened by the lovely folks at the new Chef and the Cook – check them out if you’re in the neighbourhood.


h1

True confessions of a colander girl

August 4, 2010

How many colanders is too many? I think I’m starting to develop a problem.

When I think of the scant array of battered utensils my mother used to prepare  decades’ worth of  three meals a day for a family of seven, I am rather ashamed of my kitchenware excess. But I do love a simple, well-made and cheaply produced invention – and you can’t go past a colander for that thrill of pure practicality.

At last count – excluding two tea-strainers and one of those wide flat spatter-reducing-things  – I have four holey rollers that could be variously described as colanders or sieves:

  • the Big Bertha conical colander thing bequeathed to us by a former cafe-owning friend, which is excellent for draining gargantuan quantities of pasta, but that’s about it;
  • a large, traditionally shaped stainless steel colander with feet pictured at the rear of this photo – again, good for pasta or large vegetables, but its holes are too large for rice or smaller grains and not plentiful enough for really fast draining;
  • a medium-sized, open-meshed sieve with a wooden handle (no burns!) and hooks for sitting over pot edges;
  • and a 12cm diameter, fine-meshed sieve that’s very useful for draining small quantities of anything and for scooping bobbing things from pots.

Along with tongs, I find a good sieve among the most useful tools of the kitchen. Not a day goes by without my using either one of these colanders, or the large flat spoon with holes also in the picture (why don’t I know the proper names of these things?).  If I had to choose one, I’d go with the medium-sized, wooden handled baby that can be used for anything from noodles to couscous to rice to quinoa to lentils.

Then there’s the whole slotted-spoon arena …. what about you? Do you sieve, or no? And if you were to choose just one holey mother of utensils, which would it be?

h1

In search of the perfect apron

May 31, 2010

Many years ago my sister-in-law Jacqui from Tassie made me the best apron I’ve ever owned. So much a part of our lives was it, this heavy cotton lime-green apron even scored a mention in the best woman’s speech at our wedding nearly seven years ago, as some kind of symbol of how we live (code, basically, for Pair of Gluttons).

Last week, the neck strap on this faithful friend (not the one pictured here, but similar) finally gave way, coming apart in my hands. And my elegant solution – tying a knot in it – ended up creating an unfortunate noose-like effect.

Luckily, I had to hand my first understudy apron, given me as a kitchen-warming present by the Parsnip Princess last year. This rather glamorous, intricately patterned number is especially good for hiding the many splotches and blobs that inevitably end up all over me, and also – having been made by some hardworking Kenyan gals – has the added benefit of the humanitarian glow one gets from wearing.

Then, later in the week, I was very thrilled when Charlotte Chicken’s foster grandmother Deb presented me with a perfect replacement for my old green faithful, that she picked up during the dreadful hardship of a trip round Spain and Italy recently.

All this led me to think about the essential qualities of the apron, and whether I am alone in obsessing about this. I am amazed by all those cooking TV shows where there’s nary an apron to be seen – how do they do it? What do they wipe their hands on? I have several half-aprons, but find the classic coverall shape the best for my particular style, which tends to the slip-slop-slap.  And I am keen to hear from you, dear howtoshuck family, about your criteria for the perfect apron. Do you, indeed, even use one? If you do, what’s your favourite type? Do you have views on length and width? Are pockets essential? Are you a fan of those cute retro half-pinnies? What about strings and straps – adjustable, or no?  Front-fastening, or back? Half or full?

I await your advice. And then down the track we must do a companion piece on tea towels…

h1

The temperature and the times

October 25, 2009

thermometerAs you will have deduced, I am quite the fan of a big lump of roasted red meat, a deep and abiding love that I regret persists despite the fact of its ethical and environmental indefensibility. I know not how it will end, except it’s clear this affair cannot last forever if I’m to live with myself …

But until the break-up, let’s talk about roasting. If you are a meatlover like me, but have been frustrated by uneven results in the roasting department – is it cooked through? is it wobblingly raw? is it charred on the outside but inedibly cold and raw in the middle? – I have two words to say to you, Kimmie: meat thermometer.

I was first introduced to the joys of the thermometer by chefbro Hamish, who, being a restaurant guy, is all about consistently perfect results in the kitchen. He gave me a nifty little digital thermometer, needle-thin, which you stick into the meat at intervals through the cooking. I loved and used this little red rocket of a thing until it fell to bits. I then bought a fancy Zyliss digital thingummy with a silicone thread and a metal probe, which involved the magnetic digital dial and timer bizzo sticking to the outside of the oven while the probe stayed in the meat and the silicone cord went, umbilically, from one to the other. Then I lost the instructions and have never been able to figure it out since. It just lights up and beeps and makes me crazy.

All of which led me to my trusty, daggy, oldfangled  Acu-Rite thermometer, pictured here. I love it to pieces. I believe it came from a kitchenware shop but I’m sure I’ve seen them in any old daggy supermarket. Cheap – and how cheerful. You simply shove it into the thickest part of the meat before cooking, and leave in for the whole time. If you position it right, often you don’t even need to remove the pan from the oven to check the temp, but just peer through the open door or even the glass with the light on.

As everyone’s definition of ‘medium’ and ‘rare’ seems to differ (there’s no problem really with ‘well done’ – just ruin the meat by cooking it to buggery and you’re sorted), it might take a little time to work out your own preferred temp.

But as I like my meat red-to-pink, generally with a sizable piece of meat (e.g. leg of lamb or whole rump /Scotch fillet of beef, enough to feed six or more) I take it to around 60-65°C for both lamb & beef. This is generally medium-rare in the centre, while allowing any well-done eaters some cooked-through bits on the ends.

The beauty of the thermometer is that it takes into account the coldness of the meat before you begin. I try to get meat to room temperature first, but most of the time that’s near impossible, by the time it comes from the butcher’s cool room, and so on.

I haven’t paid too much attention to the recommended cooking temps on Acu-Rite’s dial here (cute name, huh), although they roughly correspond to what I do. But my advice comes from Stephanie Alexander, every Australian gal’s kitchen matriarch, who provides cooking temperatures in The Cook’s Companion sections on beef (rare = 60°C, medium = 70°C, well done = 75°C), lamb (rare = 60°C, medium = 65°C, well done = 80°C) and pork (“…one does not have to cook pork until it is dry and splintery as a precaution. The safe internal temperature for pork is in fact 76°C. At this temperature the meat is both safe and juicy.”)

One thing to remember is that the internal temperature keeps rising after you remove the meat from the oven – I believe Hamish told me it “rests up” 5°C; Stephanie A says it rests up 2-3 degrees, so the message is you need to take it out a little before you reach the desired temperature. (I find this whole thing puzzling – how does this happen? – but it’s true.)

And, as always, the final secret to tender, juicy roasted meat is to rest it for as long as you can before carving. Keep the roasting pan on top of the stove or in another warm place, very loosely covered with a double layer of foil, for up to an hour.

If you do all this – and so long as you’ve bought decent quality meat in the first place – I guarantee it will be good, and stress-free, every time.

h1

Cheap thrills: a groovy little gadget

June 9, 2009

clipthing2clipthing1Have added this to my list of inexpensive essentials on the kitchen gadget front.

It’s a spoon-drip clip thing – no idea what it’s called, but I bought it from one of those middle-of-the-shopping-mall stalls the other day.

The clip grip works like a bulldog clip, and eradicates the need for spoon rest, saucer or whatever when you stop stirring. Works so long as the lid’s off the pot, anyway …. another silicone kitchen invention to love.

[Just be sure not to accidentally touch the boiling hot metal bit when you take the clip off – that shit is harsh, my man (sorry, too much of The Wire of late).]

h1

My lovely drawers pt 2

June 7, 2009

cutlerydrawer1

cutlerydrawer2cutlerydrawer3cutlerydrawer4spicedrawer

Okay, so I think we are all quite aware that this is facile consumerist middle-class nonsense, but bear with me – I’m going to be dwelling on FCMCN for just a little bit longer.

Having cooked in two circa 1940 kitchens for the past eight or nine years (i.e. no cupboards or drawers apart from a mouldy 1950s lean-to sink cabinet and a microscopic glass-fronted cupboard above it), I am outrageously jubilant about our fancy new kitchen, esp pantry and drawers.

Today I spent a glorious half-hour at Howards Storage World (come on, who doesn’t love it, even if every trip there ends up costing the equivalent of the GDP of a small Pacific nation) to sort out my drawers.

And here they are.

Sigh.

h1

My lovely drawers

June 3, 2009

This morning there are five men in my house, and I’m thrilled. Because shortly I will be allowed to start stuffing my capacious new drawers with all manner of goodies.

But I am starting to grow quite overcome with the sudden luxury of all this space, and wonder if any of you have Views on what should go where, in a kitchen? It seems as luxurious a decision as how to arrange books in a new bookshelf – a deeply pleasurable task, I always find. But given that alphabetical order probably won’t work here, I seek your advice! Read the rest of this entry ?