Monday, June 1, 2009

10 Ways To Make Life Easier In The Kitchen

10 Ways To Make Life Easier In The Kitchen

By: Chef Cristian

This article requires little introduction, as we can all benefit from having it easier in the kitchen. Here are some tips that I have learned over the years as a chef. I hope this will make your life a little easier in the kitchen!

10. Use good quality cooking pots. Have you ever burnt your dinner? Tired of scraping your breakfast from a sticky pan? Ever melt the plastic handles? My clients always ask me what type of cooking pots I recommend, and this is what I always tell them: You want to choose a set of pots that have a thick, heavy metal plate stamped on the bottom of the pot. This helps to distribute heat evenly (so that your food cooks at the right temperature) and prevents your food from burning. A thin bottom will almost always burn your food if you're not careful. The pots should be made of steel, as aluminum is cheap and tends to warp with use. A good set of heavy, stainless steel pots and pans should last you a lifetime. The handles on the pots should be made of metal, so that you can stick the pots in the oven without having the handles melt. You should have at least one good quality non-stick Teflon pan, which you should only use with plastic or wooden spoons to prevent scratching (never use a metal tool with it). All it takes is one scratch on a Teflon pan to begin the deterioration process. The lids can be tempered glass, but I prefer a solid metal lid, with metal handle that can go in the oven when I need it.

9. Use a good quality food processor. A food processor is an appliance which uses rotary blades inside of a cylinder to chop food. This saves you time. A food processor is not only used to chop foods. Some processors can shred cheese, mix dough, slice vegetables, make dressings, soups and sauces. When choosing a food processor it's always important to get one with a big motor. Get the heaviest unit that you can find, as this denotes a bigger, more powerful motor. There is nothing more unsavoury than an under-powered appliance. I actually bought an old Cuisinart food processor from the 1980's at a thrift shop, and it's the best kitchen appliance I own! It's very heavy and powerful and its simple construction means that it never breaks down. You can save your money and health by making your own fresh dressings, sauces and save time in the kitchen by letting the food processor do all the work for you.

8. Use thick plastic or wooden cutting boards. Never use a glass or stone cutting board. I am not quite sure why they are manufactured. They are loud, they allow your blade to slip all over the place, and they dull your knives faster than any other material I have ever seen. You should only use thick plastic or wooden cutting boards in your kitchen. They offer a sturdy base on which to cut your food, your knives sink slightly into the material (this prevents your blade from slipping), and they don't dull your knives nearly as fast as glass of stone. The plastic boards are also very hygienic and easy to keep clean. I use plastic boards for meats and fish (as they do not absorb liquids), and the wooden ones for everything else. I recommend you keep 2 to 4 boards around the kitchen (2 small ones and 2 big ones).

7. Use a good set of cooking knives. This will be an article all in itself, but I will give you a basic overview of the types of knives which will make your life easier in the kitchen. At the very least, you should be using an 8-12 inch chef knife (The now-popular Japanese Santoku knife is an acceptable substitution - especially if you have small hands). Get used to using this knife for most of your slicing, cutting and chopping. I use my 10 inch chef knife for about 85% of all food processing. You should also have a small, razor-sharp parring knife, a serrated utility knife about 7 inches long (great for dismantling vegetables), serrated bread knife (also the best knife for cutting Tomato), and a boning knife with flexible tip for precise butchering of meats and filleting fish (although I often fillet fish using my chef's knife). I will write a more detailed article on how to choose a set of knives soon. I often observe people preparing their foods using the wrong knives. This causes them to waste more time, ruin the ingredients, strain their wrists, and sometimes even cut themselves. Cooking can be a real pleasure when you're using the right knives!

6. Keep your knives sharp. Would you drive a car with flat tires? Well, using dull knives are sort of the same thing. You tend to squish the food apart rather than slicing through it, and you use way more physical effort and energy than you would with sharp knives. So make your life easy and keep your knives sharp. Learn how to use a wet stone, or buy a knife sharpener from your favourite store. I would also like to point out that a sharpening steel (that long metal stick that comes with most knife sets) is not actually for sharpening your knives. I know many of you like to swish your knife back and forth on it - but the sharpening effect is only a placebo! Its proper use is for making the sharpened edge of your blade straight AFTER you sharpen your knife. The name "sharpening steel" is popular - but technically wrong. Its proper name is a honing steel. And the definition which applies to 'honing' for this tool is: to improve or make more effective (not to sharpen). So running your blade along the honing steel is doing two things - it's making the dullness straight, or it's making the sharpness straight. So make sure to use the honing steel to straighten the edge on a sharpened knife.

5. Keep a roll of aluminum foil. A roll of aluminum foil can make your life easier when you use the oven or grill. Every time I use a baking sheet, I cover it with a layer of tin foil. This prevents the food from sticking to the baking sheet, and also makes cleaning up very easy! Always remember that foil generally has two sides, a shiny side, and a dull side. The dull side is the non-stick side. After many years in the kitchen I memorized this pun, "the non-shiny side is the non-sticky side!". Aluminum foil is also used to stop the surface of foods from burning in the oven. For example, if you are baking a pie, and the top is browning too fast, you can put a piece of tin foil over it to slow the top surface from burning. This ensures that the center of the pie can cook all the way before the top burns.

4. Have the right oils. If you like to cook, you probably use oil in many different dishes and for different uses. I always have good olive oil which I use when I need to make savoury foods, marinade, sauces, and salad dressings. I use corn or vegetable oil for lubricating surfaces (like baking sheets and cooking pans, etc), and I use peanut oil for frying. Peanut oil can take a lot of heat and is less likely to burn and go bad as quickly as other oils. So it's a very good choice to put in your deep fryer, or to use for pan frying foods. NOTE: Taste your olive oil for freshness. If it's bitter and burns the back of your throat, it has gone rancid. Rancid oil is bad for the body and you should always make sure that you're using fresh oil.

3. Have your fridge set to the right temperature. Make sure that you control the temperature on your fridge often. A fridge that is too cold can freeze foods and spoil them. This is especially true with vegetables. They die and go limp as soon as they get too cold. A fridge that is too hot will cause food to spoil quickly. So to save money and food, make sure that your fridge is as close to 37 degrees as possible. Keep your vegetables in the crisper, and your meats and cheese in the coldest part of your fridge. Keeping a thermometer in your fridge will allow you keep track of the temperature. Remember that it takes about 24 hours for the temperature to change after you've adjusted the controls.

2. Keep a roll of plastic bags. Have you ever seen those rolls of plastic bags in the produce section of the supermarket? Not the micro-thin, impossible to open ones - the good quality, thick plastic ones. I keep a roll of these in my kitchen (I got them from an Asian market). They are great for marinading meats, and storing foods (both solid and liquid). You can store way more baggies of food in a small space than you can using plastic containers. They are also good for throwing out juicy things in the garbage. And they take up way less room than drawers full of plastic containers. If you have a small kitchen that is being over-run by plastic containers, these bags will save you a lot of space.

1. Hire a personal chef! The best thing you can do for yourself is to hire a personal chef. We learn about your eating habits, favourite foods and become your own private restaurant. We do the menu planning, shopping, and provide you with top notch gourmet food right in the comfort of your kitchen! We even clean up our own mess! Our service is reasonably priced and made to work with your lifestyle.

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