Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without—Part 2: Knives

Knives. Unless you are planning to file a spoon down to a razor sharp edge, another big item you will definitely need is actually a lot of little ones, that is, knives. They can be pricey depending which ones you choose, so this would be another good item to get others to buy for you, Brides.

When choosing a knife, be sure to actually hold each one you are considering. If it isn’t comfortable in your hand, keep moving.

The best material for most kitchen knives is high-carbon stainless steel, as opposed to just stainless or surgical stainless, which is not very good in kitchen knives. Titanium is also good for knives where flexibility is preferred, such as boning knives. Ceramic blades are extremely hard which means they hold an edge well but require special equipment to sharpen. Ceramic knives must be used only on a cutting board and never on a plate, countertop or other glazed surface.

Regardless of the materials used, there are fundamental differences in the way Asian-made knives and European or American knives are constructed, so be sure to learn about the care and sharpening requirements of the knife you select before you buy. As with everything there are pluses and minuses.

Given all of that, the following knives were recommended by our friends:

—At least one Santoku of any of the following brands— J.A. Henckels Four Star Series 7″ Santoku Knife , J. A. Henckels Professional “S” Hollow 7″Santoku Knife , or Wusthof Classic 7-Inch Santoku Knife, Hollow Edge, although of these brands, I generally prefer the Wusthof Classic line. Santokus are different than regular chefs’ knives because the little gouges along a Santoku blade help release food. This is a good thing because we all know cling-ons suck—especially when chopping vegetables.

—A J.A. Henckels Twin Pro S Chef’s Knife. If you follow the above link, you will be given a choice of sizes. I would go with the 10″ version.

—I also rely on my paring knife, my utility knives, and my serrated slicer.

—You will also need a honing steel such as the Chef’s Choice 10-Inch Oval Diamond Sharpening Steel and either a natural stone sharpening or honing block such as Smith’s SK2 2-Stone Sharpening Kit, or sharpeners for regular, serated, and sankotu blades such as Chef’s Choice M4623 Diamond Hone 3-Stage Manual Sharpener for Euro-American/Santoku/Serrated Knives, and instruction on how to properly use all of the above.

Now, notwithstanding all of the talk above concerning Wusthof and Henckels, I will confess, I am a fan of a Chicago Cutlery’s Insignia Steel line. (I can hear my foodie-friends’ groans already.) Here’s the qualifier—if you have pro-style chopping speed, you probably already have knives you like to work with. But for us mere mortals, pricey knives may be overkill.

Foodies may snicker because CCs are a heck of a lot less expensive than the German stuff. (A whole set CCs can be had for the price of just one of the larger-size German knives). As a result, they may not be considered all that sexy, but they are good enough for 85% of home cooks in my opinion.

My collection started with a Santoku, and later expanded when I bought a block including something like seven kitchen knives, kitchen shears, and eight steak knives. (Okay, so shoot me!)

Here’s why: I find them well-balanced and easy to sharpen. They hold a nice edge and are very comfortable to hold even during lengthy prep jobs. I saw some negative reviews on Amazon about rust, but I don’t leave them underwater for longer than it takes to hand wash them so I haven’t had that a problem.

I have since gotten rid of the block in favor of a MIU Magnetic, Stainless, 20″ Knife Holder, but have kept all the knives along with my Wusthof Classic 4-1/2″ Utility Knife.

Remember with any of these big-boy knives, whether one of the German brands or the Chicago Cutlery, your days of tossing them in the dishwasher are over. Piling them in with the stainless in the cutlery basket will stain them and dull the blades extra quick. I also never leave them in the bottom of the sink for safety reasons and to prevent dulling and the rusting mentioned of above.

Well, that concludes today’s installment of Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without. Join us tomorrow for Gadgets!

Kitchen Stuff We Can’t Live Without—Part 1: Pots

Spring is a time for new beginnings—and loads of pollen. Every Spring I end up hunkering down inside my house, doing my best “girl-in-the-plastic-bubble” routine. You know, hermetically sealed for my protection.

But some people get out there, pollen notwithstanding, and do terribly meaningful and important things. They get married, buy new houses, complete educations, and move away from home (sometimes voluntarily and, frankly, sometimes involuntarily).

Many of these life transitions require these go-getters to set up a kitchen, possibly for the first time. Especially in the case of brides, however, I have seen some stuff on registries that my many years of marriage advises me is stupidly impractical. Meanwhile, the same registries omit very necessary things.

It is especially crucial in economic times like these that you strategize to make your friends’ and relatives’ dollars go as far as possible toward getting you the kitchen of your dreams. I mean, get with it! Your first marriage may be the last chance you ever have to pick out really pricey gifts people will actually buy for you. Don’t blow this opportunity imagining you will be hosting tea for the Queen and her court!

What do I mean? Here’s your first clue: if your dining table only has seating for four, you probably don’t need formal service for 12. You also may consider skipping formal place settings entirely *gasp* if a crawfish boil is your idea of a dinner party. Just get a really nice informal pattern instead and use your relatives’ wedding gift budget on awesome pots, pans, knives, appliances, and other stuff you can really use but that cost and arm and a leg.

Besides, if you play your cards right, you won’t have room in your kitchen for a second set of plates. You are going to need that space when you score all of these cool cooking gadgets!

But whether you are having to pony up yourself or are relying on the generosity of others, fear not! For I have consulted my friends and among us we have compiled these tips for scoring items you need for cooking and entertaining you will really do.

(Please note—this list is not complete if you are a Cajun or live in South Louisiana. In that case, you have a whole set of additional outdoor cooking implements you will also require like boiling pots that double as turkey fryers, propane burner rings, fire extinguishers, large industrial fans to chase off the mosquitos, etc.)

Category #1 Pots. Obviously, you are going to need something to put the food in when you cook it. But maybe your eyes glaze over when confronted by the dizzying array of expensive metal things with handles on them. Here’s what our panel said you need:

—A Le Creuset enameled cast-iron 9-1/2-quart oval French oven. It is amazing for braising (a skill you should learn if you don’t know how to do it yet). Cheap meat comes out tender and tasting not-of-iron. And the enameling makes clean-up easier, and keeps your pot rust-free.

—A Lodge Logic L10SK3 12-inch pre-seasoned skillet, at a minimum, but I might go for the Lodge LCC3 Logic Pre-Seasoned Combo Cooker for even more versatility. I use mine to deep fry and make roux. You will have to pry this from my cold, dead fingers before I give it up.

—The Le Creuset Enamel-on-Steel 12-quart covered stockpot also rocks for soups and stews. Oh, and all Le Crueset comes in pretty colors. Wheeeee!

—I can also recommend All-Clad Stainless Steel series including 1-1/2-quart saucepan with lid and a 4-quart saucepan with steamer insert, a 10-inch fry pan, a 14-inch fry pan, a 6-quart saute pan, a large roasting pan with rack, and an 8-quart stockpot OR a 7-quart stockpot with pasta insert, depending on how much you love pasta.

I would definitely evaluate whether you will come out ahead by getting deals on sets that have almost all of the above and then filling in the rest. You may be able to save a bundle but you also may end up with pieces you never use.

You will also note I didn’t recommend the All-Clad Stainless double boiler insert. That’s what a tempered glass or stainless steel bowl on top of the 1.5 quart sauce pan is for! Duh. 😉

P.S. My sister loves her Emeril Stainless Steel 10-Piece Cookware Set, though. And truly, they look a lot like All-Clad Stainless but for a fraction of the price.

So that concludes today’s post on pots you really need. Be sure to check us out tomorrow, when we will address the question of knives—and possibly more!

Fun Friday Recommended Reads

Check out the following links to food news around the web:

ADHD: It’s the food, stupid,” Kristin Wartman for Grist.org, 2011/03/28.

U.K. guv takes threat of bee-killing pesticides seriously. Why doesn’t the U.S.?” Tom Philpott for Grist.org, 2011/03/31.

Reversing roles, farmers sue Monsanto over GMO seeds,” Tom Laskawy for Grist.org, 2011/03/31.

Common Ground, “The Food Issue,” March 2011.

[Happens to me all the time:] “Dining Alone—Don’t Be Afraid of Solitude at the Table,” Christiana D. Roussel for Birmingham Weekly, 2011/03/31.

Slow Food Birmingham Call to Action–URGENT

Slow Food Birmingham has sent out an urgent plea related to Governor Bentley’s plans to zero all funding of the Alabama Farmers Market Authority in his 2012 Budget.

Acccording to SFB, the Farmers Market Authority:

  • Represents 1100 + small farmers and approximately 130 farmers markets across our state.
  • Invests in our local economy and promotes the “buy local” message
  • Connects local, fresh, and seasonal fruits & vegetables to communities
  • Manages and distributes Farmers Market Nutrition Programs available to Women, Infants, Children, and Seniors.
  • “Without funds in 2012, small farmers, farmers markets, and the ability to connect fresh fruits and vegetables to our neighbors who need it most will be at risk. As the second most obese state in the country, our community’s health depends on our help.”

    “NOW is the time to ACT.  Call your senator AND representative and ask everyone you know to do the same.  The message is simple:
    ‘Please put the Farmers Market Authority back in the 2012 General Fund Budget at the current level.'”

    “We have until Monday night to lend our voices and support for putting the Farmers Market Authority back in the 2012 General Fund Budget at the current level. Not sure who to call? Click on the following link: http://www.legislature.state.al.us/index.html

    Follow this link to view the actual SFB memorandum.