Knife Info 101

When I began at Sur La Table I had no idea what made a knife nice, especially not what made a knife special enough to spend hundreds of dollars on a single piece. Now I know that there are so many different kinds of steel, and they all perform differently. A great knife is one of the most cost-effective ways to upgrade your cooking experience. Prep work will go faster and your cuts will be nicer, easier, more precise.

Shun Sora and Global

When I chatted about the new additions to my kitchen, I mentioned that the Japanese steel is sharper and will hold its edge longer. Simply put, Japanese knives can be sharpened to a much more acute angle than German knives, and will stay that way longer, however one must be more careful with them because the sharpness of the steel translates to hardness, and tendency to chip. German steel is softer, more malleable, which dulls more quickly but sharpens up nicely, and doesn’t chip (unless something really drastic happens). Many cooks have one or two of both kinds.

For this reason, someone who has made a real investment in their knives should get the proper honing steel, as well. A German honing steel, for example, isn’t a hard enough metal to clean up the edge on a Japanese knife. A Japanese steel is harder than a Japanese and German knife, however, and can be used for either of them. There are inexpensive ones out there. How do you know if it’s time to use a honing steel? Carefully draw your finger down from the spine of the knife and past the sharp edge of the blade. If you feel a little catch or hook at the edge, it’s time to hone. Never, ever check the sharpness of a knife by feeling the sharp edge with your finger–they can be sharper than you think!

Holding a Knife

If you don’t know already, here’s an awkward picture of how to hold a knife. Pinch the point where the blade meets the handle. Then wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle to form your grip. This puts the knife in line with your whole arm, and relieves the wrist of unnecessary work. If it feels weird, do your prep work while holding the knife this way for a couple of days, then try the “old” way. My guess is that the old way will now feel more awkward and unwieldy!

As far as choosing your new knife, the best thing to do is find an opportunity to try out several brands, shapes, and styles. My store lets customers test them, and I have seen other kitchen stores that also provide this option. If they don’t have any food for you to chop, at least take the opportunity to wrap your hand around the handle and fake it. The weight and handle should feel good. There’s not really one “best” knife for everyone, that’s why there are so many options out there!

And a quick & dirty review of my choices: I love the two I chose. They are both light yet well balanced.

  • Global is a favorite brand of those in the restaurant industry because they are durable and a cinch to keep clean (since they’re all one piece). Some people don’t like the handle because they’re so unique and seem a bit small, but I really like it, especially for a small knife life my nakiri. This is and will continue to be my go-to prep knife for small jobs.
  • The Shun Sora line just came out. They are not only less expensive than Shun Classic but the bright reflective steel should resist rust/patina more than the damascus pattern of the Classic. It cuts like a dream through everything. We made tacos the other night and cutting lettuce, tomatoes, and even cooked steak (medium and well done) was effortless. I look forward to many happy years together with this knife ;)

What kind of knives do you have? Are you in love with them or are you interested in upgrading?

The Small Print: I wasn’t paid or perked to write my knife posts, in fact I bought these knives with my own cold hard cash after lots of hemming and hawing about what to get. I did use an employee discount. Lots of bloggers get free stuff in order to write reviews; I am not one of them. 

Instagram Fridge

This was such a simple project, and I’m in love.

A few weeks ago I realized that I hadn’t ordered any prints of my instagram photos in over a year, so I took advantage of a fall sale and ordered 60+ prints through the Postal Pix app.

The stack sat in my kitchen and I flipped through the pictures many times, but wanted to display them somewhere! I have a little scrapbook I started with instagram pics in it but I didn’t feel like scrapbooking. I did feel like throwing away all the expired coupons, takeout menus, and storing away old thank-you notes from my fridge, though… so I took an idea that has been done in 1,000 blogs before mine, and ran with it.

It started with cleaning off the side of the fridge and then cleaning it thoroughly with windex. Kitchen surfaces can get so grimy, can’t they?

insta_fridge1

Then, I spread my prints out on the kitchen counter and started taping up photos in a grid. There’s about a centimeter (give or take) between each photo. I made sure to mix light, dark, and vibrant photos evenly so the eye isn’t drawn to any one area too strongly. One tip for a cohesive looking collage is to use one or two filters all the time, instead of always going with a different one, so the color wash is similar on them all.

insta_fridge2

This was such quick and relaxing project. I love looking at photos and reminiscing. I completed the whole thing before my mug full of tea even had time to get too cold. Now I spend a ridiculous amount of time in my kitchen gazing at my loved ones and remembering great times.

insta_fridge3

It also serves as an antidote to all the stark white, too!

5 Awesome but Totally Unnecessary Kitchen Tools

File these under “For the person who has everything.”

Like the title says, these things are awesome, but if you don’t have them… you will probably still live a wonderful and fulfilling life.

5 Awesome but Unnecessary Kitchen Tools

  1. An ice cream maker is totally unnecessary but awesome to have. Case in point–we got one (not the one pictured) and have made ice cream a few times by now! The one pictured plays ice cream truck music when it’s ready, and since it has a compressor, cools itself down instead of having to store the drum in the freezer. Nice features, if you can afford them.
  2. Copper cookware will last forever and is the best conductor of heat–but that kind of luxury has a price! The set shown will cost about a grand.
  3. Using a juicer is a great commitment that one can make towards their health. If I were to buy a juicer, I would get this one. It gives you a little bit of fruit/veggie pulp (read: more of the nutrients) while still taking some pulp out so the smoothie is still drinkable.
  4. An espresso machine. Yes, I have a Nespresso. No, I don’t need it. Yes, it’s awesome. Enough said? Stop looking at me like that!
  5. Novelty fruit tools. Okay, I lumped these together. People have been eating fruit perfectly fine for thousands of years without fancy tools! I mean… at one point I’m sure people used rocks and sharpened sticks to make yummy fruit goodness happen. However…. I know from experience that if you have a whole bag of cherries that you want to be pit-less, and fast, that investing in a cherry pitter is a big step towards time and sanity.

Anything you care to add?? Or, do you think any of these items are necessary? Share your opinion in the comments! 

The 5 Kitchen Tools You Need

When I thought up this post, I wanted to do an experiment. “If I could only have five kitchen tools, what would they be?” Excluding tabletop items like plates and silverware, here’s what I came up with, and my rationale.

Top 5 Kitchen Tools

  1. Every kitchen needs an 8-inch chef’s knife. This much is a given. Get a sharp one with a nice point, and you can do most of your detail-work, paring, with it as well (although paring knives are safer since they’re less unwieldy). I wholly recommend this one–my favorite feature is the hollows along the edge, which reduce the effect of food clinging to the knife after you’ve made your cut. A great chef’s knife can also be used to peel/smash garlic.
  2. If you make the investment of a good knife, you must have a cutting board to keep it in shape. The people who lived in the apartment before us just used… the kitchen counter. There are cut marks all over and it’s so awful–not to mention bad for the knife’s blade! Getting a good cutting board (wood or plastic) is very important. And never, ever use a knife on tile, glass, stone, or metal. Just don’t! If you get a large and attractive cutting board, you can also use it for tons of other things. Decor, serving tray, perched on an ottoman to make it a coffee table? All of the above.
  3. If I could only have one pot/pan, I would get a nice large sauté pan (with lid). The large surface area on the bottom can be used like a skillet (frying pan), but the high sides and lid can act as a saucepan or stockpot to make rice or even soup or chili, if you have to. This one in particular has some slope to it which makes it almost wok-like, too. Every pan has its own use, but this one is a nice, useful hybrid and can perform lots of duties in a pinch.
  4. My go-to item for stirring, flipping, everything is my bamboo spatula. If you want to cheat on this “five tools” challenge, you can grab this set, which is what I have used for years and I loooove. Bamboo holds up really nicely (I prefer it to regular light-wood spoons or turners) and will not damage nonstick pans. Overall, one should avoid using metal utensils in any pots and pans unless it’s a non-coated stainless steel pan.
  5. The sauté pan I listed above can go in the oven, but there’s just something about a rectangular, covered casserole dish that I wouldn’t want to be without. Use it for anything from casseroles to roasting meat, to brownies or cakes.

I hope this is encouraging to someone who watches the Food Network and sees the chefs using all this specialized gadgetry or walks into a kitchen store and gets glassy-eyed. You can create amazing meals at home with the most minimal of tools. Even someone with the smallest of kitchens surely has space for these… right?

But, just for fun… come back Wednesday for 5 unnecessary but awesome-to-have tools. ;) 

Vintage in the Kitchen

Working at a cooking retailer, and selling vintage kitchen items on Etsy, I seem to have kitchen wares on the brain at all times (just ask any of my family members!), so I’ve decided to share a bit on the blog. I’m pulling together some kitchen-related gift registry tips for next week, but I don’t want to overlook the specialness of bringing something vintage or antique into the kitchen for a sweet and eclectic look.

Plus, this little project gave me an excuse to get out some of my Etsy shop items and try them out staged together in harmony… To be honest I love the look of all these pieces together!

Vintage in the Kitchen

Vintage lovers, did you know you can create a gift registry on Etsy, in addition to the old standard big-box stores? I highly recommend it–using vintage items is so eco-friendly! What’s the second “R,” after all? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! While new things are always nice, like a brand new set of pots and pans, for example, you can register for some kitchen standards like a cast-iron dutch oven, which has not changed in design or manufacturing process for decades. Other things are fun, too like kitchen canisters or ice cream dishes.

Vintage in the Kitchen

The thing about iconic brands like Pyrex is that they have been around for ages for a reason–their glass is durable and high-quality! These canisters are up for sale in my Etsy shop but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t covet them for my own kitchen.

Vintage in the Kitchen

Vintage in the Kitchen

Le Creuset cast iron wares, or Pyrex and Corning casserole dishes are all-stars for a reason when it comes to pretty designs and functionality. Getting your paws on one can be as easy as raiding your mother’s kitchen (which is what I did), combing through the shelves at Goodwill, or let someone do the hunting and cleaning for you–grab it on Etsy. Remember that Etsy purchases directly affect someone’s income–a fact I know from experience! I am just a casual seller but when I get a little extra cash from one of my sales it can make my whole week! Some people spend all their time and energy on their shop and in fact make it a full-time job. What a dream! Small-business at its finest.

Vintage in the Kitchen

And just so this post doesn’t totally sound like an advertisement for my shop in particular, here are some amazing Etsy sellers I’ve been stalking for a while:

Object of Beauty – Mid-century/Danish items

Franc & Francis – Global vintage home items

YASTK – Global inspired pillows and textiles

Bright, Fresh Blue

The first room we tackled in the new house was the kitchen (and “kitchen part 2” room where the oven will go). We bit off a small chunk to gain some momentum and have one room under our belt before beginning the daunting project of tackling the living and dining rooms (including arched ceilings).  This was a smart move because painting the other two rooms (over the 3 day weekend) just about knocked us out. More on that another day, though.

First, let’s get a little glance at the kitchen and kitchen part 2. Excuse the haziness of the photos–I feel like my camera’s quality just gets worse and worse every day. I guess I did buy it in 2008. Here’s Doug, faithfully washing out his roller (I had to get on his case about it…)

Here’s the kitchen and “kitchen part 2” from by the exterior door in the dining room. Please excuse the mess from painting and rehabbing the house–it only got worse as the weekend progressed…

In the second picture, take a good look at that light-sucking beige/taupe (in the dining room) because you won’t be seeing much more of that around these parts.

The color I chose was part of Valspar’s Historic Colors line. It is called La Fonda Mirage, and it is taken from a famous hotel in Santa Fe. I thought it would really pop once the front two rooms were painted white–it was easy to see the immediate effect even with the beige paint still hangin’ around. It’s a much crisper color in real life, very cheerful and it will be a joy to cook in a bright, light kitchen!

Industrial Shelving

Next time I have the opportunity to fill a whole wall with shelves, I am going to seize it with both hands and do it! I’m thinking painting a pattern or wallpapering behind the shelves first, then putting up rough industrial shelves: gray brackets and white or light pine boards. I especially envision this in/near a kitchen, holding nicely stacked groups of dishes.

I love the repetition of using the same wood and brackets for the whole space, and leaving the back open so the wallpaper or bold wall color can peek through.

Here are some inspiration pictures, gleaned from Pinterest (click the image to get to the original source):

From Country Living (my personal favorite)
From Apartment Therapy
From Roseland Greene

Excellent. Inexpensive, chic, and useful.