Sunday, July 7, 2013

Just set it and forget it

Have you invented a recipe since the last time? I have.

Talking about my college days and bachelor chow got me thinking about those long ago days of not having much and needing to improvise pretty much everything you do in the kitchen. We've all been there - get the sexy redhead from your Physics class over for some spaghetti (because that is fancy and will show her you can cook) and the noodles are a perfect al dente. You go to strain them and realize you don’t have a strainer. So you reach for the lid to the pot and…"shit, I used the one that doesn't have a lid that fits!" Now you’re stuck trying to look cool while precariously straining water from spaghetti noodles using too small or too large of a lid for the pot. One tiny slip and you’re ordering pizza and sleeping alone tonight...if you’re not going to the emergency room.

In the spirit of that, I thought I’d discuss a few kitchen items that no kitchen should be without.

The first thing every kitchen needs are knives. The easiest way to go here is to buy a set with a storage block and be done with it for a while. Spend a bit more here if you can as cheap knives will dull quickly and dull knives sever fingers. Seriously, more people are hurt by dull knives than by sharp ones. Also, always use the correct knife for the job. Chopping onions with a paring knife is asking for a hole in your palm. DO NOT use good sharp knives to pry things open…not only will you break the tip off your good knives but you can slip and literally cut your hand off. Safety first, folks.

Second, you need flatware and utensils. I shouldn't have to say this but in college my roommate and I literally had 4 plates and 4 sets of silverware. Made it hard to have company over. Get a set, even if it is cheap. In fact, when you are younger, the cheaper ones are a smarter way to go since the animals you party with are pretty much guaranteed to break half the set over the course of a year.

Next, pots and pans. Again, at a younger age get a cheaper set, but get a complete set. This goes to the same train of thought as the knives. You need to have the right tool for the job. I personally had fried bacon in a soup pot before and it sucked. I had burns up and down my arm from it. This will also let you tailor the size of the cooking utensil to the size of the meal. It’s tough to make chili (recipe at the bottom here) for 20 of your friends if you only have a 2-quart pot to cook in.

A set of cooking utensils - tongs, spatulas, wooden spoons, scoops, slotted spoons, flippers, meat forks, graters, brushes, mallets, whisks - all have their uses. Make sure you have them all when you need them so you don’t have to improvise. Again, this is a safety first situation.

A can opener - if I have to explain this, you’re reading the wrong blog.

A dish drying rack (if you don’t have a dish washer). After the meal someone has to clean up and precariously stacking dishes on a towel is great way to break them and potentially hurt yourself. Do yourself a favor and spend the $15 on one of these.

Measurement devices, such as measuring cups and spoons. I personally cook most foods by zen, but there are recipes out there that call for exact measurements and these things are more than worth the cost. Also, many people are volumetrically retarded and have no idea what “about a cup” looks like.

A coffee pot. Even if you don’t drink coffee, someone at some time will come over who does. You can pick up a cheap pot for $20 and always be prepared.

Paper towel. Ok, so you manage to strain the noodles without sending yourself to hospital and now you want to add the sauce.  But when you do, a huge spot of it spills out onto the counter and you have no paper towel to clean it up with. What do you do? Use your sleeve? Ignore it? Run to the bathroom and grab that one towel you own? Yeah, good luck getting that “late night study session” to happen after pulling one of those moves.

A spice rack or cabinet (containing spices). Being able to cook something is important; being able to make it taste good is even more important. You can make the most delicious looking meal on Earth but without the proper spices it will be bland and off-putting. Many spice racks come with a starter set of spices, which in the long run will help you.

Seal and reseal products, such as cling wrap, aluminum foil, plastic bags, etc. Keeps things fresh longer; keeps things from drying out; keeps things from getting freezer burned. A great option here is to get the resealable plastic containers. They're useful for raw or cooked materials and can be frozen. They also stack neatly on a shelf or in a cupboard so they don't take up too much space. A decent set of these can save you a lot of money on cling wrap.

Cutting boards; doesn't matter if they are wood, plastic, metal or whatever. You need a way to chop things without cross contamination and without damaging your counters. I prefer the cheap, thin plastic ones because when they wear out they're cheap to replace and they clean really easily. 

I’m gonna call it a post here. I may revisit this idea later.

Raspberry Pomegranate Sauce
(I like to grate some fresh ginger into this for some kick)

1 small onion (minced)                                  2 cups raspberries (fresh or frozen)
½ cup pomegranate molasses                        1 cup cooking sherry (or red wine)
Black pepper to taste                                      ½ tsp butter or margarine
¼ cup maple syrup

  1. Sautee onion in butter in a saucepan until translucent
  2. Add raspberries, molasses, syrup and sherry
  3. Bring to a boil, smashing raspberries as you go
  4. Simmer for 15 minutes to reduce
  5. Pepper to taste.