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The Kitchen Essentials Series: #2 Sharp Knives and a Decent Cutting Board

3 Dec

I’ll admit that at the moment, I don’t have either of these things…

My knife collection consists of a hodgepodge of randomly acquired cutting tools that do not match, are not sharp, and are overall poor quality. I think anyone in those interim years between mid-college and a “grownup” living situation suffers the same lack of commitment to cooking paraphernalia that has resulted in my poor knife inventory. For an assortment of reasons, including the magical disappearance of my kitchenware when roommates move, to the cost of high quality sets, to an inherent and respectful fear of all blades, I’ve foregone the dive into investing in a quality set.

Despite my willingness to settle with my garage sale-caliber spread, I thoroughly believe that the most dangerous thing you can have in your home is a dull knife. With the extra pressure you need to apply for cuts and their overall clunky precision, you’re more likely to bury a dull knife in your hand and do serious damage to yourself than with a sharp knife.

Emotional cost of stitches > cost of a nice knife set

Just tonight, Tre nearly took off an entire finger slicing champaign cheddar with a butter knife… not that that’s ever an appropriate tool choice for cutting anything harder than butter, but it’s an excellent point-prover. That’s not to say you can’t hurt yourself with a sharp knife either: just ask my mom about the cutco incident where she and I both inflicted surgery-precise wounds on ourselves within 10 minutes of each other. But given a choice and weighing the risk, I’d opt for a sharp, high quality set any day. Christmas is coming….

In addition a large cutting board gives you more room to maneuver said knives and to work with multiple or large portions of ingredients. My cutting board is clunky and has been mistaken for a drink coaster and I attribute its continued existence in my kitchen to plain forgetfulness. Perhaps writing this post may go so far as to help me remember to grab one next time I’m on my semi-annual trip to Walmart. Thankfully, my food processor helps reduce some of the knife-to-cutting board type prep with less bodily risk, but nonetheless, a larger board would work wonders in my kitchen.

Despite the fact that I own neither a nice set of knives nor a decent cutting board, these rank high on my list of kitchen essentials that everyone should have. If you spend any amount of time prepping ingredients, having both to simplify and safen the process is worth the investment.

The Kitchen Essentials Series: #1 Basic Electrics

22 Nov

Part of living a gluten-free (corn, rice, and soy-free as well) means more time in the kitchen cooking for myself and Tre. In spending this time, I’ve discovered that my kitchen is just as essential to the process as the recipes and the cooking. There are a few things in my kitchen that have made the process vastly easier. These “Kitchen Essentials” are a short list of items that I’ve learned to love. Keep an eye out for more Kitchen Essentials!

“Kitchen Electrics” describes a vast genus of modern era kitchen gadgets designed to make our lives easier, while more often than not, serving as catalysts of utter frustration. A step below your larger kitchen appliances, kitchen electrics are more supplemental to cooking, and less essential though they do simplify and expedite many processes for us. They range from run-of-the-mill blenders, toasters, and slow cookers, to posh bread makers and wine chillers, to eclectic ice cream makers and juicers, to vast collections of gadgets all designed around the single process of making coffee. You no longer have to peel an apple by hand because there’s a screwy-lever looking thing that will do it for you. You no longer have to grease and heat a skillet on your stove because there’s an electric one you can just plug in. Point is, it gets a little excessive when every need you could possibly have in the kitchen is met with some “as seen on TV” electric gadget..

In the kitchen of my dreams, the navigation bar of bedbathandbeyond.com’s “kitchen electrics” section would be an itemized inventory of my cabinets. But the reality of the situation is that many of these items are both expensive and unnecessary for every day cooking. Not to mention, many of their processes can be replicated with standard utensils and my own two hands.

Yet despite the obvious frivolity of some kitchen electrics (infrared bacon cooker, anyone?), there are a few that I’ve grown quite fond of and, dare I say, could not live without. Of the expansive selection of electrics pandered to us in infomercials, department store flyers, and cooking shows (hosted by chefs who claim that their recipes can be recreated in the common kitchen yet wield $400 commercial blenders and mixer attachments), I’ve narrowed it down to 5 that have proven to be ever useful in my kitchen and relatively inexpensive.

Kitchen Electric Essentials

  1. Food Processor/Blender: I don’t actually have a separate blender, I use my food processor to do basically the same function so I list these concurrently as number 1. My food processor has helped me do everything from simplify ingredient preparation to allowing me to create entire meals in its bowl. If you’re going to squirrel away money for a solid kitchen electric, I would spend it on a nice food processor or blender. They really open doors in the culinary realm if you’re willing to splurge a little on buying one. Cheap food processors and blenders break easily and often leave people disillusioned about having them in their kitchen. But if you decide you really want to have food processor or blender, be prepared to make it a solid investment. It will be worth it!
  2. Mixer: Electric mixers, not necessarily stand ones but $20 hand mixers, have also become a kitchen essential for me. All you ever have to do is try to mix something by hand once and you’ll come to appreciate the simple effectiveness of having one of these bad boys handy.
  3. Slow Cooker: My slow cooker, or “crock pot” as they are affectionately referred to, ranks supreme when it comes to making easy meals. Although the name implies that it requires time to cook, 9 times out of 10, all you have to do is combine your ingredients and let it do its job over night. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Crock pots retail for as low as $15 and come in a range of sizes and options. At one point, I shamelessly owned 3… 2 of which succumbed to my clumsiness.
  4. Toaster Oven: Since Tre and I don’t eat bread (at least not until I find a WCRS-free recipe that works), having a standard toaster is almost pointless. I would not have even listed a toaster oven here had I not inherited one from a former roommate and come to appreciate its power in the kitchen. Good quality toaster ovens can be treated like mini versions of their full scale appliance counterparts with similar levels of performance. I’ve used mine for everything from baking small desserts, potatoes, and veggies to broiling steak and cooking half-chickens. I find my toaster oven to be most useful when I have a lot of things that need to be baked at different temperatures and don’t have time to wait for one item to finish in the oven to start another. I’d go so far to say that if you’re going to buy a toaster, you might as well just buy a full toaster oven for its range of uses not limited to making toast. They heat quickly, they can be cleaned in 1/20th of the time a regular oven requires, they use less electricity than electric stoves, and they’re kinda cute in an “easy bake oven” kind of way.

So there you have it, my dream team of kitchen electrics. While it would certainly be nice to have a more extensive collection, I’ve been quite content with these select few. For those of you who are entering your kitchen for the first time with the intent to be more serious about cooking for yourself and others, I recommend these to the highest degree to save yourself a little time and energy.