Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shit you will need. Part one: Metal Gear

So after a couple bottles of wine and many glasses of absinthe, I got excited by thinking about what the home cook will need before they start to have a really well prepared kitchen. A few of these items might not be possible right now for some, but there is always a way to get around (i.e Macgyver) your way to culinary greatness.

Now I will try and start with the basics on this entry, but understand there are all types of specialized food related products that you might want to buy (food choppers, special pans, and specific food cookers) but just do me a favor and stick to this basic list until you feel comfortable with buying stupid shit that you will never really use but feel will make you a better cook.

There are only a couple of draconian items that you will need to be a badass, super shitbird, fuck all cook. They are not hard to acquire, but maybe are hard to wait to buy (you can't buy all of them at once). So we will start with the obvious items you need to get started; the pans.

So if you want to cook properly you need good pans. The one problem everyone makes (myself included) is that you get mesmerized by the siren song of those beautiful, ebony coated, slick as Donald trump cooking utensils... the non stick pan. Most of these pans are totally fucking awful. The pans do not cook food properly and generally start to flake all of their space age polymer off of the pans after being scratched by the dullest of vegetables. Do yourself a favor and only buy one GREAT non stick pan. There are non stick pans that deserve to cook eggs or crepes in your humble abode. The good thing is you are only going to buy one pan. The bad thing is that this one pan will be relatively expensive, which is ok because like most quality pans, you get what you pay for. Do not buy anything with ridges, crevices, lines, or criss-crosses. These pans will righteously fuck up most of the food you will want to cook in non stick pans; so there you go. Get a regular, smooth, but small non stick pan. There is nothing big you will need to cook in a non stick pan (unless you like ostrich eggs). So you're good with the non stick? Good. Lets go on to real pans.

You can buy a 20 piece set of cookware from you local mega mart or mall, but what you will want to do is find your cookware piece by piece. You don't need a complete set of cookware. It is nice if you have a matching set but it really doesn't matter does it? If I were to buy a matching set there is no question in my mind that I would go for a Le Creuset set of pots and pans. They are pricey, but you get what you pay for. LeCreuset makes pots and pans that arre made form cast iron covered in enamel (the cast iron holds the heat and the enamel is just as good as most non stick pans). I have luckily been able to find many of my Le Creuset pots and pans on sale or have had them given to me by people who don't cook. The important thing really is to have a quality pot or pan to cook in. The best rule of thumb is to buy a pot or pan that you know you will one day be passing on to your children or your neighbor's kid that always shoveled your pavement during snowstorms. I will be linking all of these pans to its corresponding picture so you can get an idea of what they look like so there are no mix ups. This is a mixed match set of cooking tools. This list is my basic setup that I use everyday. The main point is that you do not need to have a matching set of cookware. You will not make a great steak if your "soup pot" is watching you.

The basic list is as follows:

1. 8 inch non stick pan- Good for eggs, crepes, and anything else that is likely to stick to you normal pan. It is also great for caramelizing cheese, cooking low fat, and making ecsquisitely delicate desserts.

2. a 10 inch saute pan-You can pretty much cook anything you want in this pan. This will be your workhorse. From steaks to asparagus, you will be able to use this pan for everything. I use a restaurant style aluminum pan and it is cheap (I got mine for under $20) but durable and great to cook with. A lot of people complain about hot spots with these pans, but if you use them for actual "saute" pans, there will be no problem.

3. A 2 3/4 sauce pan- Even if you don't actually make sauces in it, this pan is invaluable for small, concentrated food cookery. Peas, corn, veg-med, and obviously sauces are perfect for this under appreciated staple of the smart cooks kitchen. This will be the pan that you use to reheat a majority of your leftovers. This pan is also great for heating up stocks, milk and othr liquids to add to complex dishes.

4. 5 1/2 quart pot- This is great for rices, beans, small amounts of soups, and little casseroles. This is a pot that you don't think you will use very much but find yourself constantly reaching for it for all types of gastronomic applications. You could probably cook a dead man's spleen in it and it woud turn out well.

5. 12 quart stock pot- Like pasta? This is your pot. Soups, stews, and of course, stocks. Some of the items on this list you can wait to buy, but this ain't one of them. You need to get this pot ASAP! Trust me, trying to make fettuccine in a saute pan sucks.

6. 12 inch cast iron skillet- This is one of those pans you can wait off on, but once you get it will become an indispensable part of your culinary arsenal. Let this little baby sit on a flame for a few minutes and then throw in a steak on it; you will never need to go to a steakhouse again. It creates a perfect crust on steaks every time. Don't forget about the wonderful cornbread that is yearning to be made in your pre-seasoned cast iron skillet. This is also the item that's most likely to be taken on a camping trip and thrown into the campfire to make sure you don't have to only eat trail mix.

Now that you have a sizable cookware collection you will need knives to cut up the foods you will be cooking in said pots and pans. Knives will be in our next installment. So until then, get out there and burn yourselves on some new pots and pans.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Night of the Living Duck

Duck is an animal that lots of people do not like to eat. I don't know why. The reoccurring phrase I always hear is (in a whiny voice) "it’s too greasy". Well that might be true if you get your duck only at bad Chinese food joints, the word Ding How comes to mind. The problem is no one cooks duck at their own house. Duck is not as readily available as chicken and not as conveniently packaged. You'd be pretty fucking hard pressed to find a 12 pack of duck legs or a 6 pack of duck breasts in the poultry section of Safeway, although it would be pretty goddamn awesome. Instead you get a whole, frozen duckling stored in the bottom left of the freezer section with all of the "weird" shit nobody eats (i.e. liver, tripe, chitlins). This is a compounded problem. One, people begin to associate duck meat with offal meats and B, the duck comes as a whole and generally most Americans do not know how to break down poultry. This is a shame because duck is versatile and can be used in myriad ways. Over the next couple of weeks I will post a project I recently finished involving duck. I bought 3 ducks (thanks for the rip-off Springfield farms!) and used every piece of the duck I could. After breaking the ducks down I used the legs to make confit, the breasts I used for a duck terrine and duck prosciutto, the carcass was used for stock, the skin and fat trimmings went into rendering down for duck fat (that revolutionizer of potatoes), and finally the giblets (hearts, livers, and gizzards) were used for salads and spreads. With the proper instruction, it is possible to utilize all that you can from this humble yet noble animal. Stay tuned true believers to learn how to make sure you get the most quack for our buck. If you have any questions about what else to do with duck, or even how you like it, just let me know.

On a totally random note; did anyone see the commercial for the new Marco Pierre White TV show on NBC? People think Gordon Ramsey is a fucking nut job, well wait until they get ahold of uncle Marco. He is certifiably bat shit fucking Mad with a capital crazy. He is like a savant Poet and does had an artist's heart, but I think he might be much for Americans. When people are expecting Ramsey's childish tantrums and they get White's Hannibal Lecter rants it will be interesting. I can't wait, I love MPW.

Rock! Johnny