Saturday, July 29, 2006

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes...

Out of nowhere, my kid who'll be 3 years old next month, pipes up and says: " COOKER! You COOK!!!"

Where did THAT come from?!?!

Needless to say, I had to start laughing and told him that yes, his daddy is a "cooker". After I gave him a kiss, he wanted me to take him to the kitchen to watch me prepare a cappuccino with perfect pourable microfoam for his mommy.

The beginnings of a food geek for if I can only get him to stop saying that all new foods are "yuckky!" hahahahaha

Sunday, July 23, 2006

How Cooking Works

Seeing as you're reading a blog by geeks who cook, you'll probably realize that we're probably pretty interested in the underlying processes behind what actually happens to food when you cook.

The seminal work on this is "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" by Harold McGee. It is a facinating anthology of the hows and whys of cooking. This book first appeared in 1984 and has become the bibal to which foodies and professionals turn for "an understanding of where our food comes from, what exactly they're made of, and how cooking transforms them into something new and delicious."

Other books that we've enjoyed lately are:

"I'm Just Here For the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking" by Alton Brown of Food Network fame. This is a pop review of food wisdom, history, science and common sense. The book is organzied by cooking method and includes recipes that epitomize the technique being described. He also has a book on baking, "I'm Just Here for MORE FOOD: food x mixing + heat = baking"

"What Einstein Told His Cook" by Robert L. Wolke is an amusing volume from a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. He bridges the divide between chemistry and cooking and explains everyday cooking phenomenon and debunks old wives tales through actual experimentation. A joy to read. There is also a second volume called, of course, "What Einstein Told His Cook 2" :-)

Read on geeky cooks. I think food science is underemphasized in culinary curricula. Knowing the theory WILL make you a better cook by making you more comfortable with the processes involved and allow you to troubleshoot your way out of a food disaster!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Kitchen Knives and What To Do With Them / eGullet

A knife is the most basic of tools in the kitchen. If you have nothing else, you'll have a knife. If you don't have a decent knife, you'll have to stay tuned for another installment on how to select and acquire, I don't mean stealing one out of your mom's kitchen drawer!

Assuming you have a decent chef's knife, how do you take care of it and where do you learn the basic kitchen cuts?

In print, I think the best book to show you the basics is The Culinary Institute of America's "The Professional Chef's Knife Kit". It is an expanded from the knife section of their 1,200 page reference tome "The Professional Chef". The paperback covers knife history; basic care; the cuts used in the kitchen for veggies, meat/poultry, and fish--basically everything you need to know about knives in the kitchen.

Online, I just found some GREAT resources that are part of eGullet. eGullet Society is an excellent forum for foodies especially for those that happen to be writers. There are a LOT of resources for the professional or home cook as well. If you haven't been there...check it out. It'll be worth your while. If you like it, join! It costs a few bucks but it is well worth it for the quality of content and discussions.

Anyway, there is an excellent article on the maintenance and sharpening of kitchen knives and another illustrated article on knife skills.

Hmmm...Chinese Copy of Henckel Can Opener

Apparently there are Chinese made copies of the Henckel can opener design that I love (below). I'll see if I can track one down and do some you don't have to! :-)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Zwilling J.A. Henckels - Twin Select Can Opener

Wow, what a great gadget! While I haven't been a big fan of Henckels cutlery for a while now, this can opener is da bomb!

I heard about this can opener from Keith, at the office. He heard about it from his mom, who's apparently a big kitchen gadget freak.

Anyway, I was on my way home and had to pick up a few things in the kitchen section of the nearby department store. I saw the can opener and decided to give it a shot.

My experience with can openers have been rather mixed. Mostly, I end up with can openers that are barely capable of opening a can without slicing me open at the same time.

The sad truth is that while I'd rather not deal with any more can openers, you can't really live without them. Sooner or later, you'll have to open a can of some sort.

I gave up on electric can openers a looong time ago. They are noisy, take up counter space, and don't work any better than simple hand operated ones.

In hand operated ones, there are a few options. There are two common types. First are the variations of the USA made Swing-A-Way that I use (the copies are crap and stop working almost as soon as you buy them--if you go for this type, hunt down the original). The second type cuts the top off the can by running a blade around the perimeter of the can. They claim that this is better because the top doesn't fall into the can, but it leaves the top of the can quite sharp and sometimes creates a ragged mess. To me this seems like an accident waiting to happen!

When I picked up the Twin Select (based on what I could make of the naming convention, this means the gadget has more stainless steel than plastic) can opener, I didn't even understand how it worked. It looked like a handle with a knob to turn but no cutting mechanism. It actually looked like it was missing the a key piece.

The instructions on the box said something about rotating the knob back a few turns and then turning it forwards. Thanks...that was helpful!

Luckily the operation of the can opener wasn't too hard to figure out. What you are supposed to do is put the silver wheel on the top rim of the can. When you start turning the knob, the silver wheel retract a bit and pulls the can into the cutting mechanism. The blade cuts the lid at the very top of the can and separates it from the seal where it is clamped onto the rest of the can.

This may seem similar the the can openers that you've seen that cut the top off the can, but this cut is so smooth that you can't hurt yourself on either the lid or the top edge of the can. PLUS, because you just separate the lid at the seal, the lid is actually still intact so you can use the lid to cover the can if you aren't going to use all the contents at once. Ingenious!

The whole procedure is a lot harder to explain than it really is to execute. Just trust me on this one. You need one of these can openers. Best of breed and worth your hard earned cash.

I'm telling you this because Zwilling J.A. Henckels doesn't really advertise this cool gadget. Actually I had problems finding it online and had to do a search on their corporate site.

Over the years, I've see a lot of kitchen gadgets that I can do without. This one is definitely a keeper and should be in all kitchens.

10+ Highly Recommended!