In My Kitchen October 2012

I went to the new posts reader this morning and saw Celia’s new “In My Kitchen ” post  at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and was shocked at how fast time has flown by.

Yikes! It has been over 2 weeks since I have posted anything. Guess when life gets busy, things slip by without realizing how much time has slipped by unnoticed.

turnips

turnips (Photo credit: hagerstenguy)

In my kitchen were 5#’s of fresh turnips and radishes which are being turned into Pickled Turnips. The recipe came from David Lebovitz a while back. As much as I love turnips and radishes, the recipe intrigued me, so I had to try them and fell in love immediately. A post with the recipe is in the works.

Pickled Turnips

In my kitchen is a big basket of lemons and some limes. Robert uses the limes in his drinks so I need to come up with some ways of using all these lemons we over bought. So I am planning to make lemon curd, preserved lemons, lemonade, dried zest, maybe some lemon vinegar and emulsified lemon oil and Chicken Piccata.

A Basket of Lemons

Right now, they are just a basket of lemons.

I bought a lemon squeezer just because.

Lemon Squeezer

In my kitchen is a new pan! I love this new square pan from All-Clad. I am sure they call it a griddle but I sure do like it. I have used it everyday since I got it.

Square Pan

In my kitchen is my levian. It was kept in the fridge all summer. Now that the weather is cooling down, it can come back out and hang out at room temperature. It will develop a deep rich flavor this way. Typically I make bread every week. I think September was a time warp because I didn’t make bread but once, maybe twice. And now October is also flying by. Can time be measured accurately by a levain life cycle? if so, I should read and listen to what it is telling me.

A Bowl of Levain

I have two buckwheat loaves in the oven. Next is a 10-grain loaf and an olive loaf with lemon and rosemary. I look forward to making that one!

Tyler gets to move back into his apartment next weekend so he will be cooking again. The “How To . . .” posts will start back again soon.

And there is another White Dinner Event on October 27 and classes resume again soon. Is it true that time speeds up as you get older? Is it time to write the November IMK already?!

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How to cook – Outfitting Your Kitchen

Dear Tyler,

SO! You are moving into your first apartment. What an exciting time of your life.

Let’s talk about how to outfit your kitchen so you don’t have to eat out all the time or depend on the university’s dining plan any more.

First you will need some decent pots and pans. There is no need to go buy a full set unless you are planning on doing a lot of cooking. It is best to buy pots and pans as your cooking skills grow.

Always buy the best you can afford. Fortunately for you, I have so many pots and pans to give you but only once. The quality of these should last you a lifetime.

All-Clad and Calphalon are great brands with quality products

A basic set of good quality pots and pans.
These are made by All-Clad – The best in my opinion.

There are a lot of cheap knock offs out there.

As a general rule, NEVER buy a pot or pan with a celebrity name on it like Emeril or Rachael Ray or Paula Dean. The stuff is cheap and not the best quality. It is all about looks not performance.

If you can’t afford All Clad or Calphalon, take a good hard look at them in the store. Pick them up and feel the quality, the balance, notice the construction: how is the handle attached to the body of the pot?

Then, when you shop for other lower priced pots, you will know what top quality feels like and therefore can choose quality when you find it in other pots and pans.

SHOPPING HINT:

You can find All Clad and Calphalon sometimes at Marshall’s, TJ Max, Homegoods, Tuesday Morning all at lower than normal retail prices. They don’t always have them but when they do, they are great values.

If you can’t find them at those stores, larger kitchen stores that carry these brands often have semi-annual sales with free gifts with purchase that are really worth while. No need to ever pay full retail price for them. Take your time and look around.

Yes, this means you need to pack them and move them as you relocate. Now you are accumulating the “stuff” you need to outfit your living space.

More than likely, you will always have a kitchen to cook in from now on.

This is what I recommend you start with:

  • 1- 7 or 8″ non-stick saute pan (frying pan for eggs)
  • 1- 10″ saute pan with lid
  • 1- 2 quart pot with lid
  • 1-5 quart pot to boil water for pasta, making soup etc.
  • A series of graduated stainless bowls – at least 5 in the set
  • A colander or strainer of some kind for straining pasta, vegetables etc.
    • You can have fun with these styles, there are some funky colanders in great colors.
  • A cutting board, get one you like; acrylic or wood, your choice
  • 2 heavy-duty sheet pans – commercial 1/2  and 1/4 sheet pans are best; they last and don’t warp.

Small wares: those things you use and keep in the drawer

  • Microplane–  a hand grater in various shredding sizes.

    Various Microplane shredders

  • Peeler
  • Manual can opener – be sure to wash it when you use it
  • Bowl scrapers are handy for scooping things out of bowls or off your cutting board
  • Large metal kitchen spoons: one slotted(rectangular openings), one perforated (round openings) and one solid – these really come in handy
  • Heat resistant spatulas and bowl scrapers

    Heat resistant spatulas – lots of uses – only buy heat-resistant ones. It says so on the label. Why? Because they melt if you use them on the stove and they are not heat-resistant. Who wants plastic in their food?

  • Various wooden spoons – use on non stick pans – they are usually inexpensive and quite handy. Just don’t catch them on fire
  • Professional grade stainless steel tongs – they become like your other hands. Great for moving things in the pan without piercing ( meat). Buy sturdy ones.
  • Wire whisk – the thinner the wires, and the more of them, the more whisking/whipping action you get. Thicker/fewer wires are for dense food items, thinner ones for whipping cream, egg whites or making hollandaise
  • A decent corkscrew – you never know when you will need one
  • Set of measuring cups – look for ones that have both standard and Imperial measures so you only need one set
  • Measuring spoons – You will need them
  • Off-set metal spatula – for taking cookies off the baking sheet and flipping food in the pan
  • Several kitchen towels, sponges and washing-up cloths. You will use these for removing hot things from the oven and for wiping up messes and drying your hands.
  • Three knives:
    • 1 8-10 inch Chef knife or santoku (Which ever you prefer)
    • 1 paring knife
    • 1 boning knife
    • Made from High Carbon Stainless Steel- all about knives may come later.
      • Safety Tip!
        When removing things from the oven, make sure your towel is completely dry or else you will end up with a nasty steam burn.

With all of this, you should be ready to start cooking.

When you get these things, wash them and give them a home somewhere in your kitchen.

These are not the typical cheap things you find in most college apartments.

Take good care of your equipment and it will last you a lifetime. I have sent you top-quality pots and pans.  Wash them up after each use. Don’t let your roommate burn them up! 😉

Good pots and pans wash up neat. Use Brillo or SOS pads to remove any baked on grease or stains as they happen. Bar Keepers Friend or Bon Ami are both scrubbing powders that so not scratch so get some to help keep your pans looking brand new. DO NOT use Comet or Ajax, it will scratch too much.

As a general rule, do not put the pots and pans in the dishwasher. Hand wash. Get used to it.

NEVER put your knives in the dishwasher. The heat can make them brittle and break easier.

As I said earlier, I am giving you a great set of pots and pans, just once! You should be able to give your set to your child when they get their first apartment.

Yes, they will last that long and still be like new if you care for them.

They will cost you a small fortune to replace so make sure you take care of them and take them with you when you move.

Next we will start talking about some basic cooking skills you can easily master that will take you a long way.

Let me know what you want to learn to cook. Tonkatsu?

You already know our family favorite: Sardine and Anchovy Pasta.

You are on your own for dishes. Get something you like and fits your budget.

Love always,

Mom

Potatoes Au Gratin

I have been on a comfort food kick the past few days; Potatoes au Gratin are one of my favorite creamy delicious side dishes.

We always had them as a kid sometimes from scratch and sometimes from a box. The box variety always fascinated me.

The clear plastic looking chips, the powdered sauces, pour over boiling water and bake. Voila! Potatoes au gratin or Scalloped Potatoes all from a box. It was amazing stuff.

Making the same potatoes from scratch is far more satisfying, both nutritionally and esthetically.

First you have to get some good starchy potatoes – russets are the best as they are a ‘high-starch, low moisture’ category of potato.

Peeling is your option, but be sure to scrub them clean.

Have everything ready to go before you start slicing the potatoes so they don’t turn colors on you.

If you don’t know what I mean about potatoes turning color, take a slice and just let it sit out on the counter or on a plate. Look at it again in 5 minutes. It is oxidizing with exposure to air. Process potatoes quickly to avoid this color change happening.

“Green” on the potatoes is called “Solanin” and it is a sign of a potato that has been stored incorrectly with an exposure to light.  To avoid green potatoes, always store potatoes in a cool, dark place.

While it would take quite a bit of solanin to cause severe damage, it is an intestinal irritant. Simply cut away the green with your peeler. It isn’t very deep.

Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator, the cold converts the starch to sugar. Restoring to room temperature, over a few days will convert back to starch.

I made this dish for Robert and me but it would easily feed four. I used an All-Clad oval stainless baker pan, you can use any oven-proof dish you want. Adjust the quantities if using a large pan.

Potatoes Au Gratin

Serves 2-4

  • 1 or 2 large russet potato, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 4 whole large shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 container Herbs and Garlic Boursin cheese (or 1/2 cup any shredded cheese of your choice)
  • 1 cup heavy cream, brought to a boil
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: Monterrey Jack cheese to top and get all golden brown

Method:

Thinly slice potatoes and shallots by hand or use a mandolin.

Be careful when slicing on a mandolin! Slicing on the mandolin ensures even slices so they cook at the same rate.
HINT: Slice shallots by hand.

Butter the dish, place a single layer of sliced shallots on the bottom of the pan, top with potatoes laid in a single layer, top with shredded cheese, spoon 1/4 cup of warm cream, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle a light sprinkling of flour and repeat layering until the dish is full. The top layer should be cheese.

Here is the layering sequence again:

  1. sliced shallots
  2. sliced potatoes
  3. cream
  4. salt and pepper
  5. flour
  6. cheese
  7. repeat leaving cheese as the top layer

Butter the dish, layer shallots then potatoes

Notice how the potatoes are shingled into a layer

Sprinkle flour over the cheese and potato layers

Keep alternating layers to the top

Top with cheese and bake

Place the filled dish on a parchment paper lined baking sheet to catch all spills. Place in a 400°F oven for 1 hour or until the dish is bubbling and golden brown on top.

We usually gobble these up pretty quickly but if you have any leftover, cut them into shapes and reheat either in the microwave or the oven until nice and warm in the center.

Variations on the theme:

  • Scalloped Potatoes: Leave out the cheese and make sure enough cream covers the top slightly. Top with breadcrumbs; Bake the same way.
  • Add your favorite herbs for an herbal variety.
  • Use different cheese: Goat cheese, Havarti, Asiago, fontina, add some bleu to the mix.
  • Use cheese that you know will melt nicely. If you want to make this with cheddar, please add some hoop cheese to it for melting purposes. Cheddar does not melt well all on its own.

I’m sure your family will enjoy this as much as mine does. Your home will smell wonderful as they cook. Since they are in the oven for so long, it is a good time to plan a baked chicken or pork chop to go along with the potatoes.

Sometimes I’ll have a plate of just potatoes au gratin for lunch, if there is any left over.

Plated Potatoes au Gratin

Top 5 Favorite Kitchen Tools

Here are the top 5 kitchen tools I love, use and recommend.

This survey comes from my observations of my behavior. Not from a survey company or Family Feud.

[Insert drum roll here]

KitchenAid Mixer

My green workhorse; nearly 20 years old

5 K Bowl lift model-it is old but works like a charm.

Mine is British Racing Green. I also have an Artisan model, 5K, in Copper.

I don’t like the copper as much as the green ‘bowl lift’ model. The copper is prettier than it is useful. Although I have run it through its paces, the heavy-duty mixer just out performs the Artisan model. In my opinion, the tilt head on the Artisan is problematic due to the attachment pin that holds the head of the mixer to the machine stand. When kneading bread or whipping meringue, the pin wiggles loose. If that were to happen, the entire head can fall off the stand. Oops.

Unfortunately, the really fun colors are all Artisan models (tilt-head). Bowl lift models also have some fun colors, just not as trendy. I would like a pink one to use when I shoot my TV shows.

The pin that works loose on the Artisan is the main reason I prefer the bowl lift model. Another reason is the green machine was a gift to myself when I graduated culinary school. It has been like a sous chef to me throughout my career. I love that working monster!  We used the green mixer in my restaurant, and in my home for almost 20 years now.

This machine works wonders.

By the way, if purchasing, look for ‘gift with purchase’ offers. There are a lot of attachments you can buy to do all kinds of things.

Look for the:

  • Grinder/ shredder
  • Sausage stuffer
  • Ice Cream Maker (uh huh!)
  • Pasta Roller
  • by now a baby food maker too.

If you watch out for sales, you can get some great bargains on the attachments. Some require a mail in form so always save your UPC symbols (with the name of the product) and receipts.

Stainless All Clad Cookware

 Quality cookware lasts a lifetime. With less scorching and less burning, quality cookware let’s you cook better. It is a fact.

The most used pots and pans at home are a 10″ saute pan and various sauce pots.

Invest in high quality cookware, even if it is one pot at a time.

My all time favorite vote goes to the all stainless line from All Clad.

Forget the black line they make, while good, the black turns chalky white if you put them in a high temp dishwasher.

Waiting for polishing

Pots and pans should be washed by hand anyway, but it would be nice to have the pot come out of the dishwasher looking nice and new rather than having lost all the color.

 Once you invest in your pots and pans,  take care of them properly.

Unless you really like to polish stuff, do not buy copper pots. Pretty but not practical. Even pretty pots will need a polish every now and then.

I scrub my stainless pots and pans with Bon Ami or Bar Keepers Friend each time I use them. It keeps them looking like new.

Mircoplane Graters

Microplane Graters

Buy several with different blade styles. Make sure you get and use the covers so you don’t  grate your fingers while rummaging through a drawer.

Check out the entire line and choose your favorite. There are several styles. Buy one of each. Give them as gifts – each will cost less than $20.00.

Use them for grating chocolate, cheese, zesting citrus fruits, nutmeg, spices, vegetables, garlic, shallots – as you can see the various blades provide many different options-from fine to ribbons. Very nice.

Good Sharp Knives

Kitchen Knives

I like different brands of knives for different tasks. Buy a good 10″ chef knife, a couple of paring knives (don’t spend over $15.00 for a paring knife, it is not necessary)and a stiff boning knife, not a flexible one.

While I own what seems like hundreds of knives, these are the ones I use the most.

Buy what fits your hand best. “Try” them out at cutlery retailers, ask the sales rep about the make, fit, shape, balance etc. Research before you buy as you will discover, or already know, knives are expensive.

One tip for buying a good knife: Buy high carbon/stainless steel blades.

Here is the run down on blade materials:

  • High carbon on its own will rust and turn black when cutting an onion
    • On the pro side, it is very easy to sharpen and hone and it holds an edge.
  • Stainless on its own, is sharp initially and will stay sharp for a while.

When it gets older, the blade dulls and because the stainless steel is so hard; it is impossible to sharpen it.

    • Don’t buy used stainless steel knives as they are probably dull.
  • High Carbon/Stainless steel blade combine the pros of each – easy to sharpen and holds an edge well. It does not discolor when cutting onions.

I will do another post about buying and choosing knives soon.

You do not have to buy an entire set!

Start with one you can afford and build. You may find you prefer different brands for different styles of knives and different tasks. For instance, I prefer Global for the chef’s knife but prefer a Henckels

Photograph of a Henckels three-star boning kni...

Image via Wikipedia Henckels Boning knife

boning knife and always buy and use Victornox paring knives. The stainless/carbon chef knife in the photo, next to the Global, is Sabatier- this knife is fun, well-balanced and  forged from a single piece of steel.

It is a true pleasure to work with a really good knife. It is one of my favorite things.

Learn basic knife skills and learn how to keep your knife sharp. You should have them professionally sharpened once a year; hone them nearly every time you pick up the knife.

Honing does not actually sharpen the knife but re-aligns the edge so the edge stays sharp and centered. You should learn how to do this safely at your knife skills class.

You do know never catch a falling knife, right?

You can replace a $300 dollar knife but you cannot re-grow fingers. Jump out-of-the-way and be grateful that it gets you in the wallet.

Bowl or Bench Scrapers and Silicone Spatulas

Have you ever been cooking something, like scrambled eggs, and notice the end of your spatula has gone down to a nub? Hum.

Ever wonder what happened to it?

Well, it has melted into the food you have been cooking. Maybe it did not melt all at once, but over time it did. Yum, what a thought.

Various Scrapers

But no more! Now you can choose silicone spatulas and get rid of non-heat resistant spatulas once and for all.

These are inexpensive and are very handy. Use the scrapers to pick up cut items from your cutting board, scrape up dough or

Spatulas and Scrapers

flour, scrape a bowl clean. Keep your eyes out for them, pick one or two up when you see them.

The silicone spatulas are heat-resistant. Silicone spatulas are the only ones allowed in my kitchens. No more melted spatulas. You can use silicone spatulas both on and off the heat.

Silicone spatula’s come in great colors, some with designs in them and that also makes them quite fun.

Bowl scrapers have a never-ending list of things they are useful for. Pick some up and see how many times you reach for them.

There you have it; my top 5 kitchen things. Can I add tongs too?

What are yours?