If you think about it, one of the first tools that we probably developed over the course of our evolution was a knife or edged tool of some sort. It is such as basic tool, and yet it is amazingly useful. That is why I wanted to start with it for this series of posts. It is a very important tool for all of us when we cook something, but it is very easy to use in ways which are less effective, less efficient or less safe than it could be. The kitchen can be a dangerous place to work, and yet most professionals don’t end up cutting ourselves that often. Last year I cut myself twice. That might be more than you did, but I spend a lot more time in the kitchen than most people.
Today we are going to talk about using your chef’s knife. This is the real workhorse of your kitchen knives. The others are more specialized or really not all that useful. The small serrated utility knife is the worst! The chef’s knife comes in many different shapes and sizes. I have several, all different, and I like them all!
First lets talk about the parts of a knife. First the obvious, there is a handle and a blade. There are a number of parts within each of these. The point, the tip, the edge, and the heal of the blade are the sharpened side of the knife. The part of the blade opposite the edge is the spine. The handle will vary depending on the construction of the knife, but it should be comfortable to hold in your hand. The tang is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. The tang can be partial, or full. A full tang will be the full length of the handle, and the sides of the handle will be riveted to it. A partial will only be part of the length of the handle. You can also have a rat tail tang. It is a thin tang that extends into the handle. This is typically in cheaper knives, and you will not see it at all. This is not to say that a knife with a rat tail tang is a bad knife, just less expensive. The other part of a knife handle to know about is the bolster. The bolster is where the blade meets the handle. On some knives there is an actual bolster, and it is part of the blade that is part of the handle. On other knives it is more of a conceptual thing. The area is still there, but the blade just joins the handle.
Now what? Well lets talk about how to hold the knife. I know what you’re thinking, “Well, there’s a handle. That is what handles are for.” Well, yes, and no. You probably hold the knife with all four fingers on the handle.
As you can see I don’t hold a knife the same way you do. The bolster (remember that?) is sort of in the palm of my hand. My index finger is curled over the spine , and the blade is pinched between it and my thumb. The rest of my fingers are on the handle. My grip may shift a little when I’m holding the knife to actually cut something, but you get the idea. As you can see, my fingers are still all out of the way of any cutting parts. What does this grip do for you? By moving your hand closer to the working part of the knife you gain quite a bit more control. It doesn’t really seem like it would make that big of a difference, but once you try it, and stick with it for a bit, you will NEVER go back.
Why do you get more control? I’m not sure I can answer that, but you do. Today while I was at work I tried to slice some onions holding the knife the way I used to, and I just felt like I had no control over anything that was going on at the business end of things. Believe me, you want the control! At least in part this is because you don’t have to work as hard to actually hold the knife. Since you are not working as hard to hold the knife, you can be more accurate with your cuts, you can cut more without getting tired, cut things faster (with time and practice), and be safer overall. That last point is important, and relates to this… A sharp knife is ALWAYS safer. While that may seem counterintuitive, it is true. A sharp knife requires less effort to make a cut. Then when you are not struggling to hold the knife, and feel more secure holding, cutting becomes effortless. This is important because you are going to cut yourself! The sharp knife in your hand will cut you, but you won’t have been struggling to get the edge to bite into the skin of a tomato, and slip full force into your pinky finger causing a ragged tear of a cut. When you cut yourself, it will have clean smooth edges, and won’t actually be as deep, because there was much less force behind the blade. The nice clean cut will be less painful, and heal much faster. (Yes, it will hurt either way.)
Now that we have your dominant hand sorted out, lets take a look at your other hand. We have a couple of goals for your left hand. The first is to hold the food that you want to cut, and the second is to leave it intact!
As you can see in the picture above my finger tips are curled back from the blade of the knife, and the knife is actually touching the index finger and middle finger. As you can see, my thumb is nowhere near the blade at all. This will allow you to hold the food, and guide the knife as it cuts the food.
Depending on the size and shape of the food you’re cutting there are various techniques you can use. For items like carrots or celery that are going to be chopped and are not very tall the easiest thing to do is to keep the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board, and make a circle with your right hand. Starting with the blade of the knife on the cutting board, lift the blade and draw it toward you. Then as you descend push the knife away from your body still leaving the tip on the board. When used in this way you will be able to chop all kinds of things. Similarly you can hold the knife above the food, and slice downward through it. In this case the tip of the knife won’t be on the cutting board, but you will still use a motion similar to the basic chopping above. You can also use the tip of the knife to slice items like tomatoes or pineapples that have been sliced. These two techniques will serve you very well for almost anything you will be doing.
These two videos show me dicing a tomato and chiffonading some basil. In the first, I used the tip of the knife to slice the tomato, and then I used the variation of the basic chopping motion to dice it. When chiffonading the basil I used the basic chopping motion.
Remember your knife is not something to be scared of. It is actually one of the most useful tools you have in your kitchen!
Not too long ago I saw on Facebook that a bar near my apartment, called The Silver Ballroom, was having a salsa and guacamole competition. I decided to enter. This is about that, and not at the same time.
All of us eat food. (Hopefully, several times a day!) How many of us take the time to actually pay attention to what we are eating?
I pretty much always taste food I am cooking if I can. At work that is not always possible, but I generally get the help I need. When I make a dish the first time I will follow the recipe fairly closely (unless something just doesn’t make sense to me), and the next time I make adjustments as I see fit. Hopefully, you do something somewhat similar when you’re cooking for yourself.
I decided to enter the contest, more or less on a whim. I decided Thursday night about midnight that I would enter the contest that took place on the following Tuesday. Not a lot of time. Obviously, I had recipes that I felt fairly comfortable with, and figured they would be a good start. If I’m entering a contest like this I want to win! So, I realized that I needed to really make sure that I got my recipes right. (To tell the truth, for my salsa and guacamole there is no actual recipe, more of a concept. I just make them, and taste as I go.)
I wasn’t going to write something down, because then I would be following something that constrains me in these, and I didn’t feel like that would be the right way to go. So, I tried to really pay attention to the flavors in each of the dips. I did decide to take all of the salsa ingredients outside and put them on the grill rather than roasting them in the oven. I figured the charring on the pepper skins and tomatoes skins would give me more depth of flavor, and then since I was making some turkey burgers for dinner, and the grill was lit… Once everything was pureed I added the lime juice and salt and pepper and tasted it. Now, really pay attention… Is there enough salt? Bell pepper? Garlic? Jalapeno? etc., and I tried to really take my time tasting, adjusting until I really felt that I had it exactly how I wanted.
When I made the guacamole I did the same thing. I tried to be very precise with my cuts for each of the ingredients to get them exactly the way I wanted them. When you’re using a knife, you can actually impact the flavor of a dish by cutting things inconsistently. Imagine taking a bite of something only to find a large piece of raw garlic… Probably not what you wanted to go for. And it will certainly affect the flavor of that bite. Of course, if people are judging your food on a single bite, you probably just lost a vote…
Obviously, I was trying to get the flavors just right for the contest, but really we can extend this to almost any time we are cooking or eating. If you are already gluten-free you’re used to paying attention to labels on EVERYTHING you buy at the grocery store, right? And while that is a very good thing, there is more that you can do. Take a little time and when you taste the food you’re cooking pay attention to what you’re actually experiencing. Food is far more than taste and smell. Really, all of our senses go into cooking and eating. Look at the food, and notice the colors and textures. Do you hear anything? Maybe it is sizzling as you cook it… Touch it! If you’ve ever handled meat that has gone bad (yuck!) you’ll know that it feels different, as well as smelling different! Of course, that is not all you can tell by touching your food. In short, pay as much attention to the food you’re eating, when you’re cooking it as when you buy it. Take the time and really experience it. That was the challenge I gave myself. It didn’t really add a lot of time to the prep, but it may have made a difference in the end result.
When all of the salsa and guacamole had been eaten, and the votes were counted it turned out that I took first place in the guacamole and second in the salsa! It was a lot of fun to try something that was somewhat out of my comfort zone like this, and give myself a challenge. Of course, that means next year I will have to defend my title I suppose!
With summer and hot weather upon us the grill becomes a favorite way to cook lots of what we eat. Plus, it saves dishes in the kitchen! There is probably not a lot of food that wouldn’t be tasty on the grill. I’ve grilled vegetables, various red meats, fish, poultry, fruit, and even some lettuces. No matter what food you decide to grill there are some basics that will apply.
Depending on your choice of fuel this will be easy or a little more complicated. Depending on what you are going to be cooking, and how you are going to be cooking it you will do different things.
I prefer charcoal, personally, but it is up to you. I know some people have grills with a charcoal section and a gas section. That would be nice for quick grilling sessions on a week night fire up the gas side, and when you have time use the charcoal side. Or if you have people coming over, use both! I have given up lighter fluid, and now use a starter chimney. No more lighter fluid taste! It is easy, and actually pretty fast! You always want to make sure that the coals are ashed over before you start any food. Flames are bad when you are grilling. Flames mean soot, and soot is never good on your food!
When you grill you have several options for getting heat to your food. You can have direct or indirect heat. Obviously, you can use both in one grilling session, and sometimes that is exactly what is called for. Charcoal grills give you more options, but they can also give you more problems. With a gas grill you can use the burner or burners to control how much heat and where it is. When you are dealing with charcoal you have to place the fire where you want it. Obviously if you want a nice even heat over the entire grill you need to make sure you spread the coals under the grill evenly.
How you distribute the heat will depend on what you are grilling. Certain things require even heat across the entire grill. This category would include sausages (brats, hot dogs, salsiccia…), burgers, fish (fillets and steaks), veggies, fruits, chicken breasts. In other words, small similar sized items should go over direct heat. Indirect heat would be best for larger items or smoking. So, if you wanted to grill a whole chicken, or smoke a boston butt for example you want indirect heat. In the case of the chicken you could sear the skin over the hot part and move it to the cooler part of the grill to cook through, or cook the bird through and then sear the skin on the hot side.
When you are smoking you generally want a lower temperature, and to use indirect heat. I do this by piling all of the coals (and soaked wood chips) at one end of the grill, and then putting the smokee at the other end. I am then able to control the temperature by opening the air vent and the chimney. More air flow will give you a higher temperature, but if you close things up too much you starve the fire of oxygen and you end up killing the fire. So you want to find the point where you have enough heat to cook, but you also want to have the fire low so that you can get nice smoke flavor into the food.
2 Let it warm up!
Before you put food on the grill you want it to get good and hot. This will help the food to not stick. I’m not really sure why this is, but in almost every case you want to put the food on a hot surface rather than a cold one. This will also help keep you from having flames, and it will burn off some crap from the grill.
3 Clean the grill!
Make sure there isn’t a whole bunch of burned crap on the grill. A grill brush will do the trick and it is cheap! This will ensure that all of the crap that was left on the grill the last time and burned on there doesn’t end up in your food. If you think about it it makes sense. You don’t want your grilled pineapples to taste like the chipotle marinated pork chops that you had the other night, do you? Clean the grill! (Having said that, chipotle pineapple might be an interesting combo… if you do it right, spicy and sweet almost always works!)
4 Season your food!
This should be a no brainer, but seasoning your food is always a good thing. In grilling, which is a high heat dry method of cooking, if you have a large piece of meat you should consider brining it. This will help you keep your food more moist. You might also want to consider brining things like shrimp which are easy to over cook. Even if all you use is salt and pepper it will make your food taste better when you get through cooking it. I also like to use various marinades and rubs, depending on the meat and the flavor I want.
5 Leave it alone!
Ok, so here is where things get a little more interesting. Whenever you are cooking and add a piece of high protein food to a hot surface it will stick. This is not a problem, just leave it alone! This happens in a non-stick skillet, it happens in a stainless steel skillet, and it happens on the grill. I’ve seen special foil that you can put on your grill to prevent that from happening. I don’t know why you would do that though. A little vegetable oil on the grill before you put the food on it, or a little cooking spray (Make damn sure you don’t get the baking spray that has flour in it, because that would not be gluten-free!) on the food before you place it on the grill will make it not stick. Since you’re leaving it alone you will not tear up the chicken, or steak or burger. What you will end up with is grill marks! (Just like at your favorite restaurant!)
Make sure you have a little oil on the grill, and place your seasoned food on the grill at a 45 degree angle to the direction of the grill grates, and leave it there! After a couple of minutes with your tongs lift the edge of the food very gently, and if it comes up lift it and turn it 90 degrees. If it doesn’t come up easily, let it sit a little longer. Obviously if you are making a burger you should use a spatula, and the angle that you place it is less important. Closing the lid of your grill will help heat the other side of the food, and speed things up a bit. Once you have turned your food and allowed it to sit a little longer you will have nice grill marks on one side of your food.
The second side will go a bit quicker, but with a large piece of meat the grill marks are less important, because it will take longer to finish cooking. If you have a larger piece of meat and you just want the grill marks you can finish it in the oven, and then return it to the grill to essentially remark it. This is fairly common with things like half chickens. You can do them on the grill from start to finish, but it takes a bit of care to not over cook it or burn the skin. It isn’t hard though.
This one is pretty simple! Enjoy the summer, and grilling! There are is almost no limit to what you can grill, and with a little creativity you can really get some great flavors that are much more difficult during the winter, unless you are a serious griller, and then you won’t be hindered by a little snow!
Clearly this is not for the vegetarians among you. If you are one, perhaps now is the time to go look at something else…
Are you still with me? Good, now, lets talk about meaty chili goodness!
I know most of you probably make chili using ground beef or turkey, but we won’t be doing that. What I used might make this the most expensive pot of chili you have ever made. What I used is a piece of beef called the chain. The chain is a strip of meat that is located next to the tenderloin. It is pretty similar as far as tenderness and flavor, but because it is wrapped in fat and connective tissue it is rarely eaten except as ground beef. You can’t buy chains* in the store so I would suggest a chuck roast, and cut it into cubes. Since you will be simmering this for a while you will end up with nice tender meat by the time the chili is ready.
This wasn’t originally going to be chili. I’m not sure what I was making, exactly, but I had a few ideas in mind. As I gathered ingredients it sort of became obvious that it was, in fact, chili.
2# beef chuck cut into cubes
1 TBSP achiote paste
1 TBSP canola oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 large onion diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large poblano, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
25 oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups cooked black beans
salt and pepper to taste
ground cumin, corriander, dry oregano to taste
3 bay leaves
ancho chili powder to taste
The first step is to get the meat marinating. Combine the achiote, oil, salt and pepper, and mix them into a smooth paste. Add your cubed meat. I used the cryovac machine at work to seal this up, and left it in the fridge overnight. Obviously a ziplock bag would do almost as well. At this point you should also cook your beans. Drain them and cool them in the fridge.
When you are ready to cook, gather all of your ingredients. We are going to start with the meat. Heat some vegetable oil in a large pot, and add the meat. Lightly brown the meat, and add the onions, peppers and garlic, and a little salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, and then add the tomatoes and stock. Bring up to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and season to taste with salt, pepper, ancho powder, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, and oregano. Allow your chili to simmer, and add the beans after an hour or so. Taste it after a while and adjust the seasonings if you need to. If it is to acidic you can add a little bit of honey. That will help balance things out. Give it a couple of hours to simmer, and enjoy. This is not going to be a spicy chili, but it is tasty! If you like it spicy there are lots of possibilities, for instance chipotle peppers would be nice in place of the ancho chilies while still giving you a nice smoky flavor.
This chili was a huge hit at work, and I think it will be for you as well. There are plenty of things you can tweak, but this should get you started. Enjoy it! I know I did!
*In the course of day to day prep at work we do some butchering, and end up with scraps that are perfectly edible. The chain falls into that category. The only way to get chains is to buy beef tenderloin PSMO (peeled, silver skin, side meet on or pismo). To make this chili you would probably need three chains. Of course if you like filet mignon or chateaubriand this will save you quite a bit of money. The less processed the meat the less expensive it tends to be. The last time I went to the store pismos were $19.99/pound, and filet mignon were $23.99. Breaking down PSMO’s takes a bit of practice, and time. It is certainly something you can do, but you do need a sharp knife, and the time to do it.
Now, from the title I would imagine that there are at least a couple of you looking at the screen, and thinking “WTF??” This is the kind of thing that I sometimes come up with when I am facing a seemingly random assortment of things on my shelf, and need to come up with a seafood soup for Friday lunch at work. It isn’t really chili, being short on beef, and having lentils, but don’t really know what to call it. It was very tasty (I have been told.), and could have been made gluten-free very easily!
This all started with a container of roasted poblano peppers that were sitting on my shelf next to a container of diced tomatoes. I have no idea how much precedence for a soup like this there is, but I’ve used similar things together before, and had great results.
You’ll want to cut down the size of this recipe… I tend to make large batches of soups. This one was roughly 4 gallons.
I had eight poblanos that had been roasted, but I had to peel them. This is easy to do, but it is easier to do when they are still warm from roasting. If you’ve never roasted a pepper, you’ll be surprised how easy it is. Simply hold your pepper over the flame on your stove, and when it starts to turn black on the side, turn it. Once the skin is blackened and bubbly all over put it into a sealed container of some kind for about 15 to 20 minutes, and the steam will make it easy to just rub most of the blackened skin right off. Then pull off the top of the pepper, and scoop any seeds out. Done.
1 #10 can diced tomatoes, divided in half (At home: 2 14 oz cans of diced tomatoes
8 roasted poblanos (2 peppers)
2 large onions chopped roughly (1 regular sized onion)
1 cup garlic cloves (4-5 cloves)
3 pounds of 26/30* shrimp tail off, deveined and peeled. You could also use smaller shrimp if you want. (1 pound)
1 gallon vegetable stock (1 quart)
4 bay leaves (1 or 2)
ground cumin, corriander, and oregano
salt and pepper
honey (if it is too spicy honey is a great way to balance things out)
Once you have your peppers roasted put them in your food processor with the onions, garlic, and half of the tomatoes, and process until smooth. You’ll have just made a very tasty salsa! .
Place the salsa in a large pot , and bring it up to a boil. You’ll want to be careful doing this, between the peppers and tomatoes there is plenty of sugar to burn. Keep it moving. Once it is up to a boil, add the shrimp. I just sort of sautéed the shrimp until they started to cook a bit. Then I added the beer, the rest of the diced tomatoes, the cumin, coriander, oregano, bay leaves, and the stock. Bring it up to a boil, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. If it is too spicy add a bit of honey to balance it out. Let it simmer for a little while, and serve.
This kind of thing is quite easy to make, and tastes great! Its great if you are abstaining from meat during lent, or are looking for a nice seafood soup that isn’t they typical clam chowder!
* When buying shrimp you’ll often see numbers like 26/30 or 21/25, or U10. These numbers tell you how many shrimp are in a pound. The U10 means that there are less than 10 shrimp per pound!
My job gives me a lot of interesting opportunities. There are a lot of things that we do in a club, that you would probably not do at home. Obviously some of those are based on the equipment, and space available, time, or simply thinking that it is too hard. One of those things is creme anglaise. It is usually found on dessert plates, a sauce that adds an amazing vanilla flavor to a desert. Its not something that is needed, but it adds a very nice touch. If you have a special occasion a sauce like this can make a great impression! Of course what most people don’t really realize is that it is very easy to make, and that it is also gluten-free. Another great thing about creme anglaise is that it has other uses beyond making dessert plates look nice. With a little bit of adjustment it can be dessert!
1 quart half and half
8oz sugar divided
12 egg yolks
Those are your ingredients! Simple… Equipment-wise, there’s a bit more to it!
1 metal bowl
double boiler (or a second metal bowl)
(The ice bath in the picture is optional, but nice for cooling things off quickly. I’d use one.)
First split the vanilla beans, and scrape out the insides. Then place half of the sugar, the half and half, and the vanilla beans in the pot, and bring them up to a simmer. Put the other pot on the stove with an inch of water in it, and bring it up to a simmer as well.
While that is going, place the yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl, and whisk. The yolks will thicken, and lighten in color.
This is where things start to get a little tricky. You’ve got hot dairy, and cold eggs, and you need to put them together. This can easily turn into sweet vanilla flavored scrambled eggs, and that is just not what you want most of the time. (Ever?) That means that we need to temper the eggs into the half and half. To do that ladle a small amount of the dairy into the eggs while whisking, and don’t stop. If you touch the side of the bowl you’ll notice that the temperature of the eggs has come up a bit. Keep combining the two until the eggs are fairly warm, and then pour the eggs back into the half and half, and whisk them together.
Now strain the mix into a second bowl or the top of your double boiler, and place it over the simmering water. Put down the whisk, pick up the spatula, and gently stir the custard. Don’t try to rush the process by turning up the heat. You need to make sure that you keep the spatula in contact with the bottom of the bowl, otherwise you’ll have scrambled eggs. As it cooks, you’ll notice that the mixture lightens slightly in color, and thickens. You are looking for the mixture to coat the back of a spoon. This is what the French call nappe. Dip a spoon into the cooking custard, and then wipe the back of it with your finger. When it is done the custard will not recover the area you wiped. Taste it!
Once the custard is ready get it off the heat. This is one of those things that you need to get cooled as quickly as possible. Strain your custard into your storage container. Do not skip the straining! Nobody wants scrambled egg bits in their dessert! To make the ice bath, put your storage container in a larger bowl. Fill the outer bowl with ice, sprinkle salt on the ice, and then carefully fill the outer container with water. The water around your custard will end up significantly below freezing. Stirring the custard will help cool it, and prevent the eggs from continuing to cook.
What can you do with this? The obvious choice is to decorate plates. Or you could make some meringue, and you would be able to create île flottante or floating islands. (You’ve got egg whites left!)
Another option is ice cream. When I make ice cream I add a quart of cream, and slightly cut back on the sugar, and cook it the same way. If you do make ice cream let the custard cool overnight before trying to freeze it. This will give you a better texture. When you’re making your own ice cream the sky is the limit as far as flavor goes. I’ve made port poached pear ice cream, carrot cake ice cream, and several others.
A similar process will make a curd. A curd is similar to a custard, but eggs are cooked with an acidic liquid. Typically citrus juices are used. Then butter is incorporated. They are very tasty!
Obviously, this is not an everyday kind of thing, but it is a simple way to take a nice dessert, and make it extra special! Besides, if you’re having dessert there’s a good chance it is a special occasion. Why not actually make it special!
I’ve been thinking about this blog a bit, and I have realized that it doesn’t really represent me all that well. Sure, I cook. What else do you know about me? Do you know why Amy, and my mom both think I’m out of my mind?
So in essence, what I plan to do is to let you in a little more. I’m going to show you places I go, things I do. I’ll still be cooking for you, but from time-to-time you’ll get a glimpse of what my life is like. Life is about so much more than the time we spend at the stove (or doing dishes), its about how we live, and sharing with people what we can. You might see me at a bar seeing some live music, or out for dinner, or perhaps you might even get to see me playing disc golf. (I spend enough time doing it, I might as well let you see it.) You might get a couple of these posts, since I have some plans for this weekend.
In the not to distant future, you will hopefully get some video of me cooking, and whatever other adventures I have. Thanks to Jessie at Savory-bites I will be getting a new video camera to play with. She does some really cool stuff, and I have plans to tackle at least one of her recipes. Of course I will have to adapt it to be gluten-free, but it should taste great!
That is it for now, hopefully you had a safe and enjoyable New Years, and are ready to have a fantastic 2011. I think there are big things in store for us.