Archives for Appliances, Equipment, & Gadgets

Five wonderful reasons to own this set of mixing bowls

These lidded mixing bowls by Pyrex really take the cake (literally) when it comes to kitchen multitaskers. I love them so much because:

  • These nifty bowls are microwave safe. I find this especially useful when a recipe calls for melted butter. Measure out your butter into the bowl, nuke that sucker, than add in the rest of your ingredients per the rest of the directions. So easy.
  • Unlike traditional mixing bowls, this set comes with lids. I find it incredibly handy whenever I whip up cookie dough which needs refrigeration before being scooped. There’s no need to fuss around with using plastic wrap to cover a traditional mixing bowl.
  • The biggest bowl in the set can be flipped upside down and used as cake storage. Just lay out the lid, place your cake on top, then cover with the bowl.
  • You can use these lidded bowls to peel an entire head of garlic in ten seconds. I tried it. It works! As a bonus, the clear Pyrex glass lets you watch as the magic happens.
  • The largest bowl is also perfect when used for no-knead bread. Just mix up your ingredients, cover, then wait roughly sixteen hours for the perfect dough to form. Bake up that sucker into some wonderfully chewy bread with the crispiest crust to ever come out of your kitchen.

Vegetable peelers

In some homes they live together, organized into the same drawer as friends, laughing about all the vegetables they’ve peeled. There’s Jerry, the oldest peeler, who doesn’t see much action anymore, but he gets along well with the newer model version of himself—Mike. Mike’s new, sharp, and gets lots of use. He’s joined by Jim, a sleek ceramic model peeler whenever there are loads of veggies to process from the farmers market. They live as buddies of varying ages, and they get along because they’ve all done time at the same job.

Other homes may keep them separate. The oldest peelers live in some hard to reach cobwebbed kitchen cabinet, counting down the days until eventual donation while only the newest and still razor-sharp peeler lives in the glorious top drawer for every day use.

I’ve got just one in my home, but I think it may be time to upgrade. Erin told me she uses only one as well—this trusty OXO model (pictured above).

How did you come into owning your vegetable peeler? Was it a hand-me-down, or did you research the internet for the best device based on reviews and cost?

Deciding on the right peeler

If that’s your game, then start your search with the greatest gadget and gizmo grandmaster of them all: Alton Brown. In this Good Eats video, he highlights some great options, explaining their pluses and minuses in wonderfully geeky detail. You might also check out this totally sweet peeler list I found, lovingly written up on goodeatsfanpage.com.

With enough use, the edge of any peeler will eventually dull and become a real pain in the butt to use. The blade will slip around, making it hard for the edge to get a good grip, wasting your time and patience. However, there are two ways around this predicament: you can learn to sharpen your metal peeler, or look into purchasing one with a ceramic blade. Ceramic stays sharper a lot longer than metal, and if it does get dull you can always send it back to the manufacturer to be factory-sharpened.

Additionally, you might consider purchasing a julienne peeler. These neat gadgets contain a row of sharp teeth which are turned perpendicular to the blade, splitting the food as you peel to save time in the kitchen. I used to own this OXO model, but the flimsy teeth bent after a few uses, just as others have mentioned on amazon.com. By the positive reviews, this Swiss model seems to have sturdier construction and is worth further investigation.

A case for owning multiples

How many do you have in your home? An uncluttered kitchen should contain as few unused gadgets as possible. If you own more than one peeler and never use the rest then they are just taking up valuable room in a drawer and should be headed for the donation bin.

Or is there life still in those old peelers? Using the sharpening trick mentioned above, you could hone your aged tools into a more youthful shape, returning them to the top drawer for use. With newly sharpened peelers at your disposal, you really should put them to work.

Find a recipe which uses something like potatoes, eggplant, or zucchini, then buy loads of these vegetables now that they are in-season. Seasonal veggies are abundant & best of all cheap! Gather some friends and family to lend a hand peeling your purchase. When everything is peeled, cook the recipe and share the finished product with everyone as a way of saying thank you for the help. You get bonding and a good meal from a little team effort. How great is that?

Here are some recipes that will give your peeler some mileage while simultaneously using up the season’s bounty.

And if your peeler isn’t smoking from all the use after that, you can always use it to shave off some cold butter.

Happy peeling.

Kitchen round-up: Erin’s pots & pans

Matt’s questions last Friday about the pots and pans in our kitchen got me thinking about the cookware I own and how I use it. When I surveyed my collection, I was surprised by its size. I use all of the pieces regularly, and I feel that the size of my collection represents the diversity I have in my cooking repertoire. In a given week, I’ll roast, fry, saute, steam, bake, broil, and poach. Our family might enjoy French country cooking on a Monday and Chinese-style steamed pork buns on a Tuesday. My collection:

1-3

8″, 10″ & 14″ Stainless Steel Fry Pans – All-Clad

Used for browning, frying, sauteing and searing, these fry pans are the backbone of my cookware. I actually have two of the 10″ fry pans because it’s common that I’ll need both working on the stove at the same time during a single meal preparation. The 8″ gets the least amount of action, but it’s perfect for breakfast omelets or egg scrambles, which I make a few mornings a week.

4, 5

3 Quart & 6 Quart Stainless Steel Stockpots & Lids – All-Clad

The smaller stockpot is perfect for beans and lentils because it doesn’t have a long handle to get in the way of other cooking, and also keeps a consistent heat evenly over a long period of time. The larger stockpot is my go-to pot for soups.

6

3 Quart Stainless Double-Boiler Insert – All-Clad

I use the double-boiler when making rice, melting chocolate and sugar, and doing anything that I fear may burn if placed directly on a burner. The double-boiler fits in both the 3-quart stockpot and the 3-quart saucepan.

7, 8

2 Quart and 3 Quart Stainless Steel Saucepans & Lids – All-Clad

These pots are perfect for sauces, poaching, and simmering. My stainless pots and pans are all a decade old and still heat quickly and evenly. They are also dishwasher safe and have held up beautifully under brutal treatment.

9

14″ Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Wok – wokshop.com

The wok takes center stage when I want to steam and quickly fry foods. In combination with three bamboo steamers, this workhorse produces incredible dumplings. It’s the newest member in my collection.

10

12″ Square Cast-Iron Griddle – Lodge

This griddle makes French toast, pancakes, tortillas and hamburgers like a champ. It holds heat for a long time and puts a gorgeous brown crust on most everything it touches. Could also be used as a weapon if necessary and requires a little bit of elbow grease to wield it on the stove.

11

3.75 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Deep Skillet & Lid – Le Creuset

The deep side walls of this enameled cast iron piece make it perfect for going between the stove top and the oven. Any recipe the requires browning before baking gets put into this pan.

12

6.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Casserole & Lid – Tramontina

I roast small cuts of meat and small-to-medium-size birds (chickens, turkeys, ducks, pheasants) in this amazing piece of cookware. I’ve had it for three years now and it performs as wonderfully as my Le Creuset, and for a quarter the price. It came from Target and was highly recommended by Cook’s Illustrated.

13

9.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron French Oven & Lid – Le Creuset

Large turkeys, ample cuts of beef and pork (including a full rack of ribs), and casseroles heading to picnics get made up in this behemoth of a pan. It’s heavy, takes up a lot of space, and gets used the least amount of all my cookware, but I can’t imagine parting with it or using anything else on a Thanksgiving turkey. I got it on sale at 70% off the sticker price at the Le Creuset outlet in Leesburg, Virginia, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have purchased it (the thing usually retails for more than $300!).

Kitchen round-up: Matt’s pots & pans

How would you describe the pots and pans you use in your kitchen? Do you own a rough and tumble crew of misfits? Maybe your collection is more akin to a massive extended family with brothers, sisters, and cousins all working together?

The cookware we own cycles as we age. The skeleton crew I owned during college was just a 10-inch fry pan and a 2-quart sauce pot, but their numbers grew when I was gifted an inexpensive starter set after graduation. By now, everything from my immediate-post-college era has been replaced with a miss-matched crew of pieces forged for specific tasks (and pictured above).

1

11″ Kavalkad Sauté Pan – Ikea

A light non-stick pan that doesn’t need tall sides, can hold a tortilla, and is cheap enough that I can replace it easily if it scratches. I use it for quesadillas and pan-fried fritters.

2

2 Quart Anodized Saucepan & Lid – Calphalon

A somewhat non-stick pot which quickly heats a small amount of water or cooks a small volume of liquids. I use it to cook pasta sauces and reheat soups.

3

8″ Sauté Pan – Pampered Chef

This tiny pan holds heat well and has an efficient non-stick surface. I use it for eggs in the morning or to quickly saute some garlic.

4

3.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Casserole – Le Creuset

Great for searing and even-heated braising in the oven. I use it for baked sausage with rice and slow roasted vegetables.

5

11 Quart Stock Pot & Lid- Ikea

The thick base on this pot boils water at blazing speeds, and it’s huge capacity make it great for large volumes of liquid. I use it to make chicken stock and boil water for pasta.

6

3.5 Quart Enameled Cast-Iron Crock Pot- Le Creuset

Another great one for searing and even-heated braising, but this version is better at large round roasts. I use mine for swiss steak and braised chicken.

7

4 Quart Sauté and Simmer Pan- All-Clad

This pan does such a wonderful job of evenly searing, and it can finish thick cuts of meat in the oven. I use it to cook steak, chops, sausage, and fluffy white rice.

8

3.5 Quart Cast-Iron Crock Pot – Lodge

Great for fire-side cooking at a camp-out. I use mine as a dedicated no-knead bread baker.

So what does your collection look like and how would you describe how they work together?

A well-seasoned wok

It ended up taking me seven rounds of seasoning, a total of 21 hours, to get my new wok the way I wanted it. I’ll admit, it is gorgeous and will likely never have to be re-seasoned. However, I still think 21 hours is a ridiculous amount of time to spend on the project. (See “The NOT simple way to season cast iron” for more details about this adventure.)

Before I show you the after photograph, let me start by showing you my inspiration. The following is an image from the phenomenal book The Breath of a Wok by award-winning cookbook author Grace Young. The image was taken by photographer Alan Richardson and is of Chef Danny Chan’s wok that he uses at home. Author Young admits that his wok is the “most extraordinary wok I have ever seen” and that its color is “a delicate teak tone reminiscent of the color often found in Chinese silk scroll paintings.”

My wok isn’t exactly teak colored, but it isn’t black. It’s somewhere between a rich golden wheat and the color of a glass of Bordeaux. It’s beautiful, and will hopefully serve me well over the next few decades.

Now, for comparison, this is where I began on Monday:

And, this is my wok now:

This photograph doesn’t do it justice. You can’t see the nuance of golden colors in it (the gold dots are a reflection of my kitchen lighting), you can’t feel its smooth texture, and you certainly can’t see the time I put into it. I am incredibly excited to cook with it this evening, but most importantly I’m thrilled the inane seasoning process is behind me.

The first five meals that I make in it will be stir-fry dishes with high oil contents. I may even fry up some bacon in it. I know from my experience with cast iron skillets that the iron continues to be very thirsty when you first use it, so I want to make sure I’m making foods in it that quench this thirst. I’ll wait to make rice in it for a month or two.

To clean a wok (or any iron cookware), I put water in it to soak while my family is eating dinner. After dinner, I’ll immediately wash it with a mild detergent and a soft sponge. Similar to what I do with my cast iron skillets, I’ll dry it with a towel and then pop it into a warm oven (roughly 200ºF) for 10 minutes. If I didn’t use my oven while making dinner, I’ll quickly heat up the wok over a stove burner on low for the same amount of time. I’ll take it out of the oven or off the burner, wait until it’s cool enough to touch (usually about the same amount of time it takes me to load up the dishwasher) and then I’ll wipe a very thin layer of olive oil or avocado oil into the inside of the wok with a paper towel. You don’t want it to be greasy, you just want a bit of protection for the iron while it’s in the cupboard.

The NOT simple way to season cast iron

Over the weekend, I decided that this week’s SimpliFried posts would be all about stir-fry. I love making stir-fry — it’s so incredibly simple and quick — and I knew it would be a great series. That is, it was going to be a great series, until Monday morning rolled around …

On Monday, I went to the cabinet where I keep our wok and pulled out this:

What you’re seeing here is a brand new, flat bottom, iron wok from The Wok Shop in San Francisco. You can see that it is silver in color, and a little shiny. Woks shouldn’t be silver and shiny. Woks should be black and matte.

Right before we moved into our new house in March, I tossed our old, nasty, inexpensive Teflon-coated wok and ordered this beautiful piece of craftsmanship. The only problem is that I forgot I had ordered the non-pre-seasoned version. To get it to its beautiful black and matte state, I would need to season it myself. (I have vague recollections of this decision, but can’t remember why I wanted the non-pre-seasoned version.)

Seasoning is not a difficult or long process, especially if you’re okay with using animal lard. In just a few hours you can have a nicely seasoned wok ready for your stir-fry. However, there is a slight chance my son might be allergic to animal proteins (because being allergic to peanuts isn’t enough of a burden), so I didn’t want to pick up some lard from my butcher for this project. I know enough about science to realize seasoning a pan in animal lard wouldn’t be much of an allergic risk to my son, but I still felt weird about it. If I could avoid using animal lard, I would.

In the February 2011 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, there was a sidebar to an article about cast iron cookware that discussed using food-grade flaxseed oil on cast iron pans. Cook’s Illustrated raved about the method and provided a link to an online article for how to reproduce the results of this method at home.

I dropped $20 on some filtered, organic, food-grade flaxseed oil at my local Whole Foods grocery store (you can find it with the vitamins in the small refrigerated section), and headed home to pull up the directions and start seasoning my pan. The article “A Science Based Technique for Seasoning Cast Iron” is thorough, and I most certainly did not read it well enough to realize that the process takes more than 18 hours to complete. EIGHTEEN HOURS.

It’s not difficult: You slather the pan in oil, wipe it down with a cloth diaper or paper towels, bake it for an hour in a 500ºF oven, turn off the oven and let it cool down inside the oven for two hours, and then repeat the process. The reason it takes so long is because the whole process has to be repeated at least six times. It’s noon on Wednesday and I have only made it through the process four times so far (12 of the 18 hours).

This was the wok going into the oven for the first time:

I found that putting a garbage bag under the pan during the oiling process helps to keep the mess at bay. I’ve also learned that cotton diapers, although much more environmentally friendly to use, leave little flecks of cotton on the surface of the wok, which creates little spots on the cure (they’ll all be gone by the sixth seasoning — they’re almost gone after the fourth — but it’s still weird to have a speckled pan). I have discovered, too, that although this process is extremely simple, it’s mind-numbingly tedious.

If you buy a new cast iron wok, get one that is pre-seasoned.

I don’t know how someone who doesn’t work from home could even season a pan in this manner. It would take more than a week to do it — one seasoning a night — assuming you had no where to go after work. Sure, I may end up with the world’s most glorious seasoning, which I expect I will, but this most certainly feels like overkill.

I’d show you an “after” picture, but I still have at least six more hours of seasoning to go …

French press iced tea

I moved! While the RVing adventure has been a blast, I felt it was time to settle down into a home sans-wheels and enjoy living on a foundation again. I’m loving the additional counter top space and full sized oven. Hooray!

Hauling boxes for a move during an Arizona summer sure isn’t something I plan on doing again any time soon. The sweat was flowing like buckets, but I had plenty of water to avoid overheating. Here’s another great way to stay cool this summer.

Clean out any coffee grounds from your French press and fill with assorted teabags/loose tea leaves. For my example, I’m using two bags of Red Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings to establish a fresh fruity base, accompanied by a bag of green tea and a chamomile blend for background. I’ve also added several lemon peels and sugar to taste (roughly 1/4 cup).

Using all those tea bags will produce concentrated flavors that mellow and balance when the ice melts.

Fill your French press to the top with boiling water and steep for four or five minutes. Be sure to take a blurry photo of your progress.

Shoot more goofy photos while it steeps. You get bonus points for using a reflection to point at the awesome skylight in the kitchen of your new apartment.

Pour tea into a two quart pitcher full of ice, then serve in a nicely chilled mug full of ice. Cup your hands around that sucker while drinking for a delicious icy rush of heat relief. More bonus points for rimming the mug with turbinado sugar.

Grilling basics: Using cedar-planks

Fish is delicate and absorbs flavors easily from a grill. As a result, it tastes best when grilled over hardwood charcoal and infused with additional glazes or spices. Since many glazes make a fish fillet sticky, and therefore very difficult to remove from a grill grate, we recommend using cedar planks under the meat. Not only does the cedar add a wonderful flavor to the meat, but it also keeps the fillet in one piece when it’s ready to eat.

If you’ve never used cedar planks for grilling before, this is the basic information you’ll need:

Start by getting a food-grade quality cedar plank (if you’re making your own, you need to buy untreated cedar). You can find them online, at your butcher counter (ours give them away free if you ask for them), in kitchen supply stores (though, usually more expensive than anywhere else), and even at some hardware and home improvement stores.

The next step is to soak the cedar planks for at least two hours before grilling. This keeps the planks from burning up while you grill with them.

You can see, we soak ours in a shallow cake pan and we weigh them down with a cup of water.

When you’re ready to use them, pull them out of the water and set the fish fillet directly onto the wet board. The fish should be skin-side down on the wood.

Put the planks directly onto your hot grill, and cover with your grill lid while cooking.

When your fish has reached its desired temperature, remove the whole plank-fish unit from the heat and serve. The fish skin will usually stick to the plank, which makes the eating process even easier.

This particular salmon fillet was coated in a honey-bourbon glaze. To recreate it, mix 3 Tbl of honey with 1/2 cup of your favorite bourbon. Using a pastry brush, spread the glaze over the salmon immediately before putting the salmon on the cedar plank. The garnish is a slice of apple also glazed with the honey-bourbon mixture. This preparation is incredibly simple, and very tasty.

Grilling basics: Using a chimney starter and making coffee-crusted flank steak

When we grill during the week, we use a tiny Weber grill (specifically, it’s a Smokey Joe 10020, which we affectionately refer to as just plain Joe). I think I’ve mentioned this before, but we use Joe because he heats up quickly, evenly distributes heat, and doesn’t require a lot of charcoal. Within half an hour of lighting him, we usually have lunch or dinner on the table.

We use a chimney starter and hardwood charcoal when we grill. (We use either the Trader Joe’s or the Whole Food’s charcoal brands). With the chimney starter there is no need for lighter fluid and no need to arrange the coals in a certain pattern. If you’re unfamiliar with the incredibly simple process, you fill the starter with charcoal:

Put a few pieces of newspaper in the bottom of the starter:

Light the paper on fire:

Wait 20 minutes, and then pour the hot coals into your grill very carefully:

This specific grill was heated up to cook coffee marinated and crusted flank steak:

(You’ll have to trust me that the finished product tastes and looks much better than this raw meat. Sadly, I ate the entire meal before I realized I hadn’t taken any photographs of it. Yum.)

We got these cuts of meat already marinated and crusted from our butcher, but it’s easy to do at home. Simply get two individual servings of flank steak and marinate them overnight in the refrigerator in a zip-top bag full of coffee. The coffee should be a roast you enjoy drinking, because you can taste it after you’ve grilled it. Also, the coffee should be room temperature or colder when you put the meat in it. You don’t want the liquid to cook the meat.

Right before you’re ready to put the meat on the grill, strain off the liquid, salt the meat, and dredge it through your favorite coffee grounds. (The whole coffee beans you see in the picture above are just for decoration, only use grounds.) Rub the coffee into the meat a little, similar to how you would a spice rub. Grill the meat to a nice medium-rare, remove from heat, cover with a bowl like a dome, and wait five minutes (letting the meat rest) before serving.

Coffee-crusted flank steak is perfect with fried eggs and hash browns, as a “breakfast for dinner.” The coffee makes the steak sweet, almost as if you had added a lot of sugar to a cup of coffee. It’s really good, though, and gives you a little bit of a caffeine kick. If you don’t want that caffeine rush, use decaf coffee instead.

Own This, Not That in the kitchen

Over on Unclutterer today, we’ve been talking about ways to reduce clutter by doing things like substituting multitaskers for unitaskers. Similar to the book Eat This, Not That, a reader wondered if we had guidelines for what to keep and what to toss.

This is especially easy to do in the kitchen, where unitaskers reign supreme, and I thought it would be fun to do a kitchen-specific round here on SimpliFried. It’s meant as part real suggestion and part fun, so don’t worry too much if you have some of the items in the “not” category. Own This, Not That:

What suggestions would you make for this list? Share your serious and fun ideas in the comments.

What unitaskers are lurking in your cupboards?

On Unclutterer, we have a humorous feature every Wednesday that highlights a unitasker. A unitasker is an object that has only one purpose and has very low utility for the majority of people. So, although an item like a fire extinguisher only has one purpose, it is not a unitasker because it has extremely high utility (we call these items single-use objects). An item like the Corn Kerneler, however, is a unitasker since its utility is well below that of a knife you already own or even a corn stripper.

One thing about unitaskers, though, is that they often are the perfect solution for one person. If they didn’t meet someone’s very specific need, there wouldn’t be a market for the device at all. I know there are a handful of unitaskers in my kitchen that other people would laugh if they saw, and you probably have a few, too. Instead of being embarrassed about our unitaskers, I think we should flaunt them. Let’s have a laugh together about the fun and ridiculous items we have lovingly made space for in our kitchens:

The SodaStream:

My husband and I like the sensation of drinking soda pop, but don’t love all the calories. Carbonated water is a wonderful alternative for us, and with this device we don’t have to buy bottles of sparkling water at the store. I’m sure everyone who sees the SodaStream in our kitchen thinks we’re weird that we don’t just drink tap water. I’ll admit, it’s a little abnormal, but it works for us.

ClickHeat Baby Bottle Warmer:

We got this item as a gift when my son was three months old, and we never once used it on his baby bottles. However, the gel pack snaps open to be flat, and so we use it whenever we need a heating pad. If we pull a muscle or break our nose (like what happened to me a year ago when my son accidentally head-butted me), the baby bottle warmer is a reliable friend.

Pasta Maker:

First things first, the official name of this pasta maker is the “Marcato Atlas Wellness 150 Pasta Maker.” I love that “wellness” is part of the device’s name. Cracks me up every time I pull it out of the cabinet. Anyway, homemade pasta is a lengthy process, I only make it a few times a year, and this pasta maker takes up a good amount of cabinet space. It works great, but buying dried pasta from the grocery store is really easy to do. Thankfully, I’ve learned how to use the pasta maker for dumplings, so it comes out of the cupboard a few more times a year than it did in the past. Still, I could use my tortilla press for dumpling skins and just buy dried pasta from the store if I’m in the mood for pasta … but, alas, I continue to hold onto this device.

So what unitaskers lurk in your cupboards? Share your unitaskers with us in the comments.

Questions for cooks: Cleaning cookware

Reader Andy submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I have a couple of nice stainless steel pots and pans that I’ve completely blackened with high-temperature cooking experiments and burning oils. They are completely black on the bottom and top and in one of them, perpetually sticky with safflower oil. Is there any trick to restoring them to their original silver cleanliness?

The first thing I would do is ignore their color for a minute and instead look at their shape. If you set the pots and pans on a flat surface, do their bottoms completely lie flat? Or, are your pots and pans warped so that they wobble a bit or only directly connect to the surface in a few places? If the pots and pans are warped, it’s time to replace them. The unevenness is creating hot spots in your cookware and isn’t providing a consistent heat to the food you’re making. If they’re not warped, then consider cleaning methods.

If you need to buy new pots and pans, and if you can afford them, look for stainless steel ones with a copper metal core. The higher price will make you think twice before attempting crazy (fun) experiments, and the copper core will also be able to handle higher heats than likely what you have now (my guess is that your stainless steel currently has an aluminum core, which will scorch foods at higher temperatures). Also, if you get new pots and pans, please let them completely cool before ever running them under water. Your cookware will last much longer.

When cleaning stainless steel, you may need to try a few methods before finding the exact one that works for you. I recommend starting with the least caustic method and only increasing to a more caustic product if necessary.

The insides of the pan may come clean by simply bringing 2 cups of water to a boil, adding 2 tablespoons of baking soda, stirring the mixture around for a few minutes, and then turning off the heat and letting the entire pan cool. Baking soda has a pH level of around 9, which is fairly high compared to other cleaning products. I’m always surprised by how well baking soda works as a cleaning agent.

If baking soda worked on the inside of the pans, then make a thick paste — 1 tablespoon of baking soda, a few drops of lemon juice, and a few drops of water — to use on the exteriors of the pans. Use it like you would any abrasive cleaners and scrub it in with a soft sponge before rinsing it clean. Don’t use a scouring pad on your cookware.

If the baking soda method is a failure, try the Bar Keepers Friend Cookware Cleanser. At $9 a can, it’s not that much more expensive than the baking soda option and is a trusted brand of cookware cleaner. Again, remember to use a soft sponge and not a scouring pad when cleaning your cookware.

Sadly, if neither of the previous methods work, look for a commercial degreaser that is specifically made for cleaning stainless steel cookware. You’ll need to head to your local restaurant supply store to get your hands on one that is guaranteed food safe by the USDA. Take a pot or pan with you, and the employee at the restaurant supply store may even let you try the product out in the store to make sure it will work for you (no guarantees, but they just might let you). If someone recommends you use regular Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner, do not take this advice, as it is not food safe. Simple Green does make a commercial food-safe degreaser, but expect to pay $60 to $80 for a bottle of it. The food safe degreasers you’ll find at a restaurant supply store are a fraction of that price.

Thank you, Andy, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Please check the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Buying the cow?

Growing up in a family with working farms on both my maternal and paternal sides, it wasn’t rare for me to have previously made acquaintance with the animal I was eating for dinner. The idea of this might freak out some people, especially those who like to imagine the meat they consume is grown in a sterile lab (see, Better Off Ted, season one, episode two). For me, however, it was just the way it worked.

After the animals would go to slaughter, my family would receive a quarter, half, or whole chicken, pig, and/or cow that my mom would butcher and put in our chest freezer. It wasn’t until both of my parents’ farms became grain farms that we started buying meat at the grocery store like the non-farmers did.

When my husband and I bought our first house, I brought up the subject of talking with our favorite butcher about buying a cow. Since this wasn’t the way my husband was raised, he was a little uneasy with the idea in the beginning. But, he eventually changed his tune after I showed him the numbers and did a little persuading.

Ordering a cow

The process of ordering a quarter, half, or whole cow can be extremely simple: you tell your butcher you’re interested, and he makes it happen. A little less easy, but not much more difficult, is to find a farm and contact it directly. I like to get the cow from a farm I can visit and inspect the environment where the animal was raised, medical treatment it received, and food it ate. This is easy to do in Virginia where we have a number of organic cattle farms and they’re accustom with working directly with consumers. If a farm in your area doesn’t work with consumers directly, they almost always use a CSA or small butcher shop as their coordinator.

The costs of buying a cow

Once you order a quarter, half, or whole cow, you’ll need a place to store the meat. A small chest freezer (under 10 cu. ft.) will fit a quarter or a half cow and the freezers retail anywhere between $200 to $350. The Energy Star website reports that a small chest freezer manufactured between 2001-2008 costs about $45 a year for electricity to operate and $38 a year for a newer model. Crunching the numbers on this, the first year to run the freezer you will pay around a dollar a day and less than 15 cents a day in the following years.

Quarter, half, or whole cows that you butcher at home, vacuum seal in meal-size portions, and freeze are about $3.50 per pound. This is in comparison to $5 to $30 per pound of store-bought, already butchered, small-servings from the butcher’s counter. The price of half a cow, a small chest freezer, and the energy to run a small chest freezer is still less than buying the store-bought, butchered, small-servings a couple times a week.

One thing to note is that if you buy half a cow (or a quarter or a whole), you’ll also want to purchase a meat grinder to make ground beef. I like the food grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer, which was $45. A steel one that attaches to your counter will work fine, too. If you have a food processor and don’t mind inconsistently ground meat and don’t plan to make sausages, you could probably use it, too.

Also, if you aren’t excited by the idea of butchering the whole, half, or quarter cow you plan to purchase, for a little extra money the butcher will usually cut it up into steaks, roasts, ribs, and ground beef for you (which mildly increases your cost per pound). If you’re uncomfortable with offal, your butcher and/or farm can also leave these out of your cuts.

Conclusion

Even though it’s financially beneficial to consume beef this way, and in many ways more environmentally friendly, these weren’t the reasons my husband eventually came around to the idea. His motivation came after reading an article on bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). He realized that his chances of getting the infection are greatly reduced if he’s eating from just one cow over a six month period instead of dozens of cows. This never weighed into my decision-making process, but I thought it was worth mentioning in case other people have similar concerns about BFE.

Questions for cooks: Storing food processor blades

Reader C submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I live in a teeny tiny apartment, with a teeny tiny kitchen. One of the problems of the kitchen is that I have very little counter space, and no drawers whatsoever – just cupboards and shelves.

That being the case, do you have a creative suggestion for a food processor storage solution? The blades especially have been a huge storage problem.

Before I offer up some storage solutions, I have a few questions for you. How often do you use your food processor? Do you have other small appliances that can do the same thing? The reason I ask is because I don’t own one and have never had a need for one. Whenever a recipe calls for one, I’ve been able to use an alternative like a mandoline, blender, or a basic chef’s knife. The only time I’ve borrowed one was when making brioche for the first time (using one of the recipes in Cookwise), but since then I’ve just used my stand mixer with the same success.

If you’re regularly using your food processor, and aren’t interested in getting rid of it, I recommend checking with your appliance’s manufacturer to see if they make a storage solution.

What’s nice about storage solutions made by the product’s manufacturer is that the storage device is specifically suited to exactly what you have. In this case, the blades lock into the holder and there is a plastic cover that fits perfectly over the blades, which is incredibly safe.

If your model doesn’t have a manufacturer-designed storage solution, I’d use something like a CD spindle or a paper towel holder. Then, I’d look for a protective covering you can fit over everything (a plastic ice cream tub might work).

Another option might be to store them in a drawer or box with appropriately sized dividers.

Thank you, C, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Be sure to check the comments for even more ideas from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Questions for cooks: Grilling for apartment dwellers

Reader L submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

With summer approaching, more and more recipes are for grilled foods. These sound delicious, but I live in an apartment and the logistics of grilling are challenging, to say the least. There is a concrete pad about 20 yards away from my back door and that is where I set up my small charcoal grill (I tried a gas grill but was constantly afraid I’d blow myself up!). So, all the ingredients, utensils, etc. have to be carried there and then I have to keep watch to ensure that no small children or pets get into the danger zone around the grill. My question is, first, do you have any tips for simplifying the task given the restrictions that I have? Second, is a grill pan or a broiler in the oven equally usable for a grilled recipe? If not, can some recipes be adapted to use this equipment, and how would I know which recipes they are? Do grill pans always smoke? Thanks for any suggestions you can offer!

I’m likely about to upset some folks, but I don’t believe cooking food on gas grills is grilling. In my opinion, it’s simply broiling food outdoors. There isn’t anything you can do with a gas grill outdoors that you can’t do with your broiler on your oven. I believe the purpose of grilling foods is to cook them outdoors, over an open flame, and infuse the foods with flavors from burning wood (which you can get from logs on a campfire or hardwood charcoal in a grill). So, I think the little grill you have on your patio is perfect for grilling.

Although I don’t face the same space restraints you do, I typically grill on a small Smokey Joe during the week if I’m just making dinner for my family. What is nice about these small grills is you don’t have to use much charcoal, they heat up quickly, they’re small enough not to have inconsistent heating issues, and the charcoal goes out faster after you finish. Larger grills are perfect for entertaining, but can be a waste of time and resources for your regular, daily grilling needs.

I have a metal box with a flap I use to store and transport all of my grilling supplies. It includes a bag of hardwood charcoal (I love the Trader Joe’s brand), a chimney starter, long matches, ash pans (I usually just get disposable, aluminum turkey roasters for cheap from the grocery store), grilling tongs and spatula, an oven mitt, a water spray bottle, meat thermometers, and a tool for scrubbing/brushing off the grill grate. It’s not the most portable solution, I’m certain, but it is nice to have a single place where all of these supplies safely live when not in use. (And, obviously, don’t ever put ashes into the storage box. When cool enough after grilling, I collect all of the ashes into the disposable roasting pan, completely submerge the ashes in water, let the wet ashes in the ash pan sit on my patio for a day or two, and then dispose of the entire soggy mess.) I think a portable grill kit like this could work well for you, so you’re at least reducing the number of trips indoors and out when grilling.

If the weather is nasty or if you just don’t feel like firing up the grill one night, you can always achieve a similar effect with your stove or oven. A grilling pan works reasonably well (technically you’ll be frying your food), and you can get ones that cover one or two burners on your stove top. If you buy cast iron, you can also use these pans on your outdoor grill, in your oven, and directly on a campfire. A broiling pan (one likely came with your oven) is great to use for grilling (technically broiling) foods in the oven. Simply adjust the top rack in your oven to be the same distance away from the flames that you would choose for your grill rack to be away from the charcoal (I prefer the second or third height from the top — the top height is too close to the flames in my oven). When broiling, be careful to monitor the meat and keep a box of baking soda nearby in case you have any grease flare ups. Small fires are rare, but you want to be prepared in case they happen.

Good luck to you with your summer’s grilling adventures! Thank you, L, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column. Also, check out the comments for even more suggestions from our readers.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

Like many teenagers, I worked in an ice cream shop a couple nights a week while I was in high school. The job taught me a great deal about the working world and an insane amount about ice cream.

At the first signs of spring, it can be easy to run to your grocery store and pick out a tub of mass produced ice cream from a freezer. What you get from the grocery store usually isn’t bad — but it’s also not very good. Even the premium brands can be gummy or watery or flaky (and really amazing ice cream shouldn’t be any of these things).

Stopping at your local ice cream shop is also a hit-or-miss endeavor. National chains have ice cream on par with the mediocre stuff you can get from the grocery store, and small mom and pop places might be serving up the exact stuff you buy by the tub. What they sell is cold, and that is often all you can say about it. Freshly made, small batch ice cream is difficult to find at an ice cream shop, and when you do find it you usually have to pay twice the price for it compared to other places.

Making ice cream at home is typically less expensive and far superior in quality and flavor than anything you can buy from a shop or in your grocery store. It’s also super easy to make up a batch if you have an automatic ice cream maker ($40) or an ice cream attachment ($65) for your stand mixer. If you have an ice cream maker that requires you to pack it in salt or crank it by hand, it’s time for an upgrade. Another benefit of making ice cream at home is that you tend to eat less of it in one sitting than you do the other stuff. I think this is because you want to make the ice cream last longer, and also because it is richer and fills you up faster.

In addition to having an ice cream maker that is simple to use, I also recommend having a few other items to help you through the ice cream making process:

  1. David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop ($12). His recipes are a wonderful place to start and become comfortable with making ice cream at home.
  2. A bookmark in your web browser to David’s ice cream recipes online.
  3. An air-tight ice cream storage container (with a lid) for your freezer. The last thing you want is for your amazing ice cream to get freezer burn.
  4. Quality cream. I buy the freshest cream I can from a local dairy when I make ice cream. If you don’t have a dairy close to you, get the best stuff you can from your grocery store. Talk to the person who stocks the shelves in the dairy department to get you the freshest of the fresh from the back coolers.

This week I’ll reveal a couple of my favorite ice cream recipes to get everyone geared up for summer. A few practice rounds now will make you ready for the ice cream rush in the coming months.

Questions for cooks: What knives do I need?

Reader Jackie submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I’m getting married this summer (!!) and my future husband and I have plans to register for gifts April 16. We like to cook, but our equipment isn’t very good. We have already agreed we want to register for a good knife set, but neither of us know what makes a knife good or what we need. Can you help?

Jackie, I’ve actually dedicated a couple of this week’s posts to talking about knives because I knew I would be using your question for today’s column. It’s hard to give a good answer about knives in just one post. Knife buying can be confusing, even for those of us who have purchased them before.

I’m of the opinion that you only need three knives to work efficiently in your kitchen:

  1. A chef’s knife (I prefer a 10″ blade but you might like 8″ if you have smaller hands and 12″ or 14″ if you or your future hubby can palm a basketball) — A chef’s knife is the go-to knife in the kitchen with a straight-edge blade. It’s good for slicing and chopping meat and vegetables.
  2. A paring knife (anywhere between a 2″ and 4″ blade) — This short straight-edge blade knife is good for working with small foods and garnishes.
  3. A bread knife (anywhere between a 8″ and 12″ blade) — This serrated blade knife, as its name implies, is best for cutting bread and other items that tend to squish when applied with pressure. I also use mine on tomatoes.

I have more knives than this in my kitchen, though. I also keep:

  1. A boning knife (mine has a 6″ blade) — This straight-edge blade knife is flexible so you can move it along curved surfaces, like around bones (hence, its name). It’s also good for trimming fat and removing gristle and silver skin from meat.
  2. A slicer/carving knife (mine has an 8″ blade) — This straight edge blade knife looks like a large paring knife. It has a stiff blade and is for the purposes of carving cooked meats, like roasts. Some styles have rounded tips and a granton edge. A granton edge has varied thickness on the edge, which looks like a wave or scallop pattern. The waves help to keep what you’re slicing from sticking to the knife as you work.
  3. A ceramic vegetable knife (I use a 7″ blade) — As discussed Wednesday, this type of knife is perfect for cutting fibrous vegetables.
  4. Poultry shears — A good pair of shears will cut through animal joints, pizza crust, and pretty much every thing you throw their way.
  5. 8 serrated steak knives — Obviously, they’re great for using on steaks. They’re also wonderful utility knives around the kitchen when you’re not entertaining guests.
  6. A mandoline — If you slice a large number of items at a time and want perfect cuts each time, a mandoline can make fast work of it. Personally, I love waffle fries, and the waffle slicer attachment is the easiest way to make them.

Many people also have Santoku-Bocho knives in their kitchens. Santoku knives usually have a granton edge, like a carving knife might, to keep food from sticking to it. People use them in place of or in addition to a chef’s knife.

Congratulations on your upcoming marriage and I hope I was able to help you navigate the knife-buying process. Please check the comments for more advice from our readers. Thank you, Jackie, for submitting your question for our questions for cooks column.

Do you have any unresolved questions about cooking styles, methods, ingredients, gadgets, meal planning, or anything even closely related to resolving stress or confusion in the kitchen? If so, send us your questions and we’ll find you an answer. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll send it out to a specialist who can, and we’ll all learn something! To submit your questions to Questions for Cooks, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Questions for Cooks.” Share as many details as possible — the more information we have about your specific question, the better.

Information that can help you when buying knives

The way knife makers talk about their knives you would think they were forged by magical elves in underground laboratories protected like Fort Knox. There is a lot of secrecy regarding the exact technique and formulation of their blades, but the specifics aren’t of too great importance when going to buy a knife (although learning even more won’t hurt you if you’re interested in such things).

A simple understanding of traditional materials and personal taste will usually be enough to guide you through the purchasing process:

Steel

Steel knives are an alloy of iron mixed with carbon. Most manufacturers use a few other elements, like nickel, silicon, manganese, and tungsten, that they typically keep under lock and key, like a secret recipe. There are different grades of steel, and the quality of the knife blade is dependent upon the grade, how it was forged (or, in some cases, cast), and how its edge was initially established. The less treated blades are more likely to rust (change back into iron oxide) and stain. Steel manufacturing has advanced a great deal in the past 20 years, so modern steel knives are less likely to rust than older ones. Steel knife blades can warp and their edges can dull quite easily (compared to other knife blade materials). However, they don’t break (like ceramic blades can) and are very flexible, which is great for some types of knives (like boning knives).

Stainless steel

Stainless steel knives are iron and chromium (an element that reduces the incidence of the blade rusting). If shopping for stainless steel knife blades, look for a martensitic stainless steel because that means there is also carbon in the blade that increases strength.

Carbon steel

Carbon-steel knives are a more accurate name for steel knives.

High carbon stainless steel

High carbon stainless steel is a type of stainless steel knife, but with more carbon than a standard steel blade. The benefits of a high carbon stainless steel are that these knives don’t rust like steel blades and they retain their sharpness longer than stainless steel blades. They tend to be more brittle than their metal peers, but they don’t typically break or chip like ceramic blades can.

Ceramic

Ceramic knives are usually made of an engineered zirconia ceramic, a substance more than four times stronger than stainless steel. As a result, they stay sharp significantly longer than all other blades and tend to cost more than their peers. Ceramic blades also don’t react with foods the way metal knives might. However, they cannot be washed in the dishwasher, as the mechanical washing process is likely to chip the knife or cause it to become more brittle. The blades do not bend and you can snap them if pressure is applied across the blade. They are very well suited for cutting fibrous vegetables that quickly dull other knives.

So what should I buy?

I can’t tell you which knives to buy because they really come down to personal preferences. I like a high carbon stainless steel knife for my 10″ chef’s knife and a ceramic knife to use on vegetables. I have a carbon-steel carving knife that I inherited from my grandfather that I love, but will probably replace it with a high carbon stainless steel one if I ever damage it.

Try out different types of knives in your friends’ kitchens to see what you like before buying. Also, I recommend buying knives online because you can usually get a better price than you might at a place like Williams-Sonoma. Also, check out restaurant supply stores and shops in New York’s Chinatown for good deals.

Embracing or ignoring the tradition of two sets of dinnerware

I went to a tea party this past weekend in honor of my friend Caroline who is having her second child. The hostess of the party took her china down from the top shelves of her kitchen cabinets for the event and said she was glad to “have a chance to use it.”

I know having two sets of plates is common practice in the U.S., one for using every day and one for using on special occasions, but I’m not a practitioner of this tradition. For starters, we didn’t have cabinet space in our previous home to store more than one set. And, the second reason is because I would rather use my china every day.

Our china is made by Wedgwood and is their White pattern:

The pattern has been produced by Wedgwood since 1920 (not surprisingly, around the same time wedding registries became popular through department stores), so if we need a replacement piece it is extremely easy to find one on Replacements.com. In 10 years, though, we’ve only had to replace one plate. It’s also dishwasher and microwave safe, and bone china is more durable than porcelain and stoneware. Plus, we’ve never had a problem with it staining.

Our 21-month-old son even eats off it.

Most bone china is similar and is made to be used every day. In fact, it can last many lifetimes. The exception to this is bone china with platinum, silver, or gold bands that have to be hand-washed and are unsafe in the microwave.

If you have china in storage, what keeps you from using it? Are you like me and have ignored the tradition of having two sets of dinnerware? I’m interested in knowing what resides in your cupboards.

Protecting your feet in the kitchen

If I’m in my house, I don’t usually wear shoes. This is fine if I’m sitting at my desk, but it’s not so great when it comes time to make a meal in the kitchen. I’ve started to realize that to avoid spills, slips, and back pain I need to change this behavior.

My first thought is to keep a pair of rubber soled Dansko clogs near the entrance to the kitchen:

These shoes are commonly worn by chefs in professional kitchens and nurses who spend a lot of time on their feet. I had a pair of them when I was a teacher and wore them most every day. They would certainly help.

The idea of having “kitchen shoes” is a little funny to me, though, so I’ve also been exploring getting an Imprint brand Anti-Fatigue Comfort Mat for the kitchen floor. I would wear shoes I already own, but have the added comfort of a gel mat under my feet.

Do you do anything like this in your kitchen? I’m interested in reading what you do — if anything at all — to protect your feet while you cook.