kitchen tools

Kitchen 101: Choose your Weapon

If you aren’t plugged directly into a chef’s brain, you might not understand the special relationship we have with our knives. They’re not just another kitchen tool, they’re an extension of us. They’re how we get almost everything done. The right knife not only cuts, chops, dices, and fillets; it can make us feel invincible. Most chefs have more than one knife, and even more than one “chef’s knife,” but we all have a favorite–the one we reach for more than any of the others.

However, loyalty to “the one” isn’t exclusive to chefs. I know plenty of home cooks who are just as attached to their knives. Whether you’re a chef or a home cook, finding that perfect blade comes at the end of a lot of trial and error. The right weight, the right balance, the right size for your hand, how well the blade keeps its edge, and let’s face it, the price (knives can get expensive, yo!)… all of those factors go into finding your sharp-bladed soul mate.

Occasionally, I get questions from friends and readers, unsure about where to start looking. My honest answer is that your first step should be to go into the store and try some out for yourself. The kind of store that will let you do that… well… let’s just say, Target and Walmart aren’t going to be too pleased if you come in with a potato or a carrot and start cracking open all the plastic clam shell packages to test out their knives. No, you need to go to a place where they not only expect, but encourage you to play with their knives.  Of course, you’re going to walk in there and see that huge display of knives, in all sizes, brands, and blade styles, and maybe get a little overwhelmed. Thankfully, we have some help in that department. The kind folks over at Reviews.com have done quite a bit of work for us, having their team of chefs, cooking instructors, and knife experts test out a whole bevy of knives to come up with a list of recommendations to help get you started.

The team at Reviews.com took 11 of the best selling chefs knives on the market and put them through their paces.  A good chef’s knife does more than just chunk up potatoes–it’s a multi-tasker. So, they chopped and minced herbs, sliced carrots, sliced and peeled tough butternut squash, and butterflied a lot of chicken breasts to identify the five that stood up to the rigors of a real kitchen. They range in price from $45 to right around $200, and in experience level from starter knives all the way up to the kind that’ll tackle the workload of a pro.

One of my personal favorites, the Wusthof Classic 8″ chef’s knife, made the top five, I’m happy to say.

If you’re on the hunt for The One Knife to Rule Them All, or just looking to add some great quality to your growing collection, I recommend checking out the full review over at Reviews.com.  As an added bonus, they’ve also generously included some great tips on how to take care of that beautiful blade once you’ve brought it home. If you treat it right, a great knife can last you a lifetime.

Happy shopping!

P.S. Don’t forget, my new cookbook, Recipes for a Revolution: A Practical Guide to the Care and Feeding of Activists, is on sale now for Kindle over at Amazon.com. A great knife would come in super handy to prep any of the 50 recipes you can find in there.

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Kitchen 101: What a tool!

kitchen101

Folks, let’s take a minute to talk about tools. For those of you who haven’t been reading this blog for long, I’ll tell you right up front that I’m not a tool snob. I don’t care if you have the fanciest equipment, or the latest doo-dad, or a drawer full of gadgets. If you don’t have a tart pan and want to use a plain old brownie pan or casserole dish or some thing you fashioned out of aluminum foil and cardboard, I will never tell you that’s wrong. Let’s face it, outfitting a kitchen can be expensive. I don’t have the best equipped kitchen, but over the years I’ve learned how to make what I do have work for me. If there’s one thing I don’t have that I deeply, intensely, desperately wish I did, it would be a stand mixer. Otherwise, I’m doing ok.

However… (You knew there had to be a however.)

There are some tools that are just imperatives for cooks, including our knives. Very little gets done in a kitchen without them. If we have a good, comfortable in our hand, sharp Chef’s knife, we can get a lot done. If I was going to add one more “must have” knife, I think it’d have to be a paring knife.

I’ve used a few of those over the years. Do these look familiar?

oldschoolparing

I feel like everyone I knew growing up had three or four of these simple, little plastic handled paring knives in the drawer. These were the go to tool in our house for peeling potatoes and apples. In fact, I’d never even seen an actual peeler until I was in my late teens. I had no idea there was such a thing because any time something needed to be peeled, we’d just dig around in the drawer for one of these little babies. That sounds totally safe, yeah? Feeling around in a drawer for a knife… Genius!

Last year at the International Food Bloggers Conference, I met the lovely folks from Crisp. I had picked up the 4-in-1 zesting tool I told you about last September in the SWAG room, but the next day I got a closer look at the whole line of Crisp tools and I was intrigued. They sent me home with a paring knife to try out.

I’m going to try very hard not to sound like a commercial, here. It’s super important to me that you know that I will never, ever tell you that you must go out and buy something, or that the brand I use is the only brand in the world that will ever work. But, let me just say… I love this paring knife.


crisp paring

I use it in class, at home, and at work all the time. If I had to choose between this little $12 knife and the semi-fancy looking one that came in the knife kit from school, I’d take this one every single time.

First of all, it stays sharp. That’s important. It might sound counter-intuitive, but you’re actually more likely to hurt yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one. Plus, see that little notch thing in the knife cover? That’s a built in sharpener, so if you need to sharpen your knife, it’s not a big ordeal. Just a few swipes through the sharpener and you’re back in business.

Second, it’s comfortable to use. Maybe at home you don’t really use any single tool long enough to experience hand and wrist fatigue. But, in a kitchen lab for four hours, or at work in a professional kitchen trimming 20 pounds of radishes, the tool in your hand becomes about more than just the job it’s doing. It has to be comfortable to hold or your hands and wrists are going to get tired and sore pretty quickly– another contributor to potential injury.

I’m telling you I like this tool because I use it almost daily so I know it’s good. I’m also telling you about this tool because it’s affordable, as are all the tools in the Crisp line. They also sent me the vegetable peeler and the bird’s beak paring knife to try, and I love them, too. I love them because they feel good, they work well, and they are something I feel comfortable telling my fellow students and you about because buying them will not break the bank. There’s not a single tool on the Crisp website over $20, and most of them are under $15.

And guess what? They were nice enough to send a paring knife along for one of you! I love that they were willing to do that for me, but truth be told I would have been willing to buy one to give away because I like this paring knife that much. And, well, I just love sharing finds like this with all of you. It makes me happy.

For a shot at your very own Crisp paring knife, all you need to do is answer this question in the comments:

What new kitchen skill or technique would you like to learn this year?

 

I’ll draw the winner next Wednesday and announce it in all the usual places. Good luck!

This giveaway is sponsored by Crisp™, but all opinions are my own. One winner will be selected at random and will be announced in another post and all applicable social media accounts on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 no later than 12pm MST. Winner will have 72 hours to respond to notification of win or the prize is forfeit and a new winner will be chosen. Prize will be sent via US Postal Service so you’ll need to provide your mailing address if you win. Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery. Open to US residents only including APO & FPO addresses, must be 18 years or older to enter.