Kitchen Rants

by Howard Faxon

Tags: True Story, Horror, Humor,

Desc: Humor Story: Ever burned water? Used the smoke alarm as a kitchen timer? This is for you. This is for beginning cooks everywhere. This is a rant, yet I tried to keep it engaging. What's it doing on SOL? Where the hell else am I going to publish it?

Ideas for the single adult and advice for those unfamiliar with the kitchen arts Are you lost in the kitchen? fresh out of school? alone after breaking up in a relationship? Does your smoke alarm get a frequent work-out at dinner time? There's lots of reasons to be unfamiliar with the kitchen. The good thing is, it's curable... I'm 50 years old and have been told that I'll be shot if I don't write some sort of cookbook, so here goes. I'm a Midwestern, liver-sausage eating white boy. That's where I come from and that's where these recipes come from. If you're traditional Asian or Indian, you're gonna take up Santeria just to stick pins in a doll of me. Sorry, deal with it. These aren't low-cal or light cuisine. This is how your momma and daddy cooked on a budget. You walk into the kitchen and should see: a sink or two with running water, a stove (even a hotplate will do) and a refrigerator. Make sure everything works and you know how to operate the stove. Carefully open the refrigerator and don't inhale deeply. If it stinks, you need a rag, a bucket of hot water, some soap and a cup of vinegar. Swab it out and plug it in. Fine. First battle won. Now, check the seal. Put a piece of paper between the door and frame and shut the door. Tug on it. do this all the way around. If you can easily pull out the paper you'd better talk to the friendly ACE hardware man about some one-side-stick sealing tape, or you'll go broke from your electric bill. Moreso regarding the freezer. Oh, and inspect the seal for black stuff--mildew. Use bleach and a toothbrush to clean it out. Make sure the stove works. turn on each burner and make sure it heats. check that the oven at least turns on. Check for grime in the oven. You may want to get some Easy-Off oven cleaner and give it the treatment before you get started. Look for a broiler under the oven. I moved into a place that had the broiler swimming in rancid grease and many layers of aluminum foil. It took a while to get it clean and stank like crazy. First we're stocking the kitchen. Let's look at equipment. You can get by for under a $150.00 if you take care. (be prepared to spend over $500 for the whole thing. Brace yourself.) The four biggest things are: 1. A crockpot. You want one with a removable liner, $20.00 4 to 5 quarts, not some enormous behemoth that you could cook a turkey for a dozen in. Those are portable ovens with rheostats. A crockpot has off/low/high usually and that's it. (If you don't have an oven, a turkey cooker is a good solution.) 2. A frying pan with a cover. If it's heavy enough $35.00 to be able to bonk somebody with and not worry about the thing denting, that's what you want. Circulon and Calphalon are good brands, featuring solid, thick aluminum construction (passes heat evenly and fast) and the handles are riveted on. Also, they're anodized. That's an electrical process that changes the surface to something grey-black, smooth, hard and acid resistant. Don't try to fry an egg on a Circulon bottom. The ridges raise hell. A little 5-inch cast iron fry pan from Goodwill for five bucks is my best friend. I know how to take care of it. If you don't know how to season and care for cast iron, learn or forget about the whole deal. It'll break your heart. 3. a 2-3 quart covered sauce pan. Again, make it heavy. $35.00 I use a Calphalon 1-and-a-half quart. 4. A nuker. Yep, a microwave. $35.00 It doesn't have to be fancy but you'll probably use it a lot. In case you don't know, NEVER PUT ANYTHING METAL IN A NUKER. Even just to store something. NEVER If you want something bigger for the stove, I suggest $35.00 a ceramic coated dutch oven, such as by Lodge or Chef-Mate (available at Target). You can make a soup, stew or anything big in it, and it makes browning meat a lot neater. There's less grease spattering around the placee SPEAKING of spattering grease, please spring for one $7.00 of those mesh spatter guards with a handle on it. They're really too large to store anywhere but in the oven or over the cupboards, if yours don't go to the ceiling. They wash with soap and water. A small brush makes washing them a breeze. <later note> A folded flour sack towel over the dutch oven makes a nice grease shield. Don't let the corners drape too low. Don't buy a mixer unless you (a) can afford to permanently lose that much $350.00 counter space, (b) really intend to use the thing. A lot. The same goes for a food processor. $225.00 I didn't spring 20 bucks for a heavy aluminum roasting pan with a V rack because I simply don't have the space to keep it. The same goes for the 8 gallon anodized stock pot $74.00 that I truly covet. What am I going to do? wear it on my head? Things like that need dedicated space. Look at your kitchen and decide how short the tail has to be to swing a cat. ( I know,rough analogy. Sorry to the cat people out there, but the principle stands.) If you can stand in one place and reach almost everything in your kitchen, you have a galley kitchen. You will have to plan the use of your flat space very carefully. Now for the little stuff. I don't own a chef's knife. I don't need it. Look for a good, cheap santuko knife. $20.00 Mine's made by OXO. It's made of Chrome-vanadium steel--the same stuff used for tool steel during WW II. It takes a wonderful edge and refuses to die. The handle is padded and comfortable. You can cut, scrape, chop, hack and pry with it, as well as scrape stuff off the cutting board and drop it in the pot. The blade is taller at the point than a chef's knife, but the back of the blade is thinner. Some people have a problem with that. The handle is controllable and I can split stuff by bashing my palm across the back of the blade without hurting anything or losing control. Butter knives, forks, spoons, glasses and plates are available on the cheap at resale places like Goodwill. Forget the fancy matched sets. You're on a low budget. (Eventually, think about picking up a set of Corelle tempered glass/ceramic plates and bowls. They're virtually indestructible and stay nice looking.) If you hate washing dishes there's paper plates, but they'll chew into your budget if you use them a lot. While you're at Goodwill, look for a casserole or a glass 9x9 square baking dish, like for brownies, about 2 inches high. A covered casserole is nice to have, but you can use your covered frying pan in the oven if need be. I found a glass jar at Goodwill to hold my kitchen tools and keep 'em next to the stove. If you can find a batch of small mason jars with lids, grab them. Think about making pasta sauce. The batch comes in one size. Large. You will probably not want to eat pasta sauce for four days running unless you're stone cold Italian. It keeps in the fridge. The same with bean or pea soup. My lazy spaghetti sauce comes in such a jar and that's where I get my stash. Find yourself a WOODEN trivet. A trivet is something that you put a hot dish on. If you put a hot glass casserole full of your nice, ready-to-eat meal on a cold METAL or STONE trivet, there's a significant chance of the dish cracking at best, exploding nasty glass bits all over the place at worst. This doesn't happen to everybody, and it doesn't happen every time, but it DOES happen. You've been warned. Oh, and hot dishes eat laminated counters. Don't chop food on a laminated counter without a cutting board--you'll ruin it and your landlord will NOT be happy. Get a small strainer for pasta and such. Get a smaller wire screen strainer for frozen berries and straining sauces. Pick up a small knife-- look for paring knives. $20.00 Keep it sharp. KEEP IT SHARP. Dull knives are dangerous. They slip and next thing you know, you're redecorating the floor in lots and lots of early American red. Trust me. Been there. Anolon makes a great little paring knife made out of Chrome-Vanadium steel-- It's well made, solid and feels good in my hand. Twenty bucks at Bed-Bath-and-Beyond. Henkels makes a little bar set of flexible paring knives including one that's serrated and will carve tomatos easily It's about 12 bucks when you can find it. You want at least one measuring cup. See Goodwill above. A one-cup and a four-cup are handy. Pot holders are a must. A professional cook uses a folded-up kitchen towel, but a professional cook has scarred-up heat-proof hands, too. The kind with a pocket your hand goes into is nice. It keeps you mostly from burning the backs of your hands on the oven rack above where you're working. I find mitts hard to use. They're too thick for me to grab stuff. I can't use my tongs. Get a wood and a plastic kitchen spoon, a wood and a plastic spatula, a metal fork and a ladle. Bamboo tools are great if you can find them. They're durable and hard finished. Durable is good. Cheap crap just frustrates you. Life's too short. Some use a fork to turn meat when browning. I use tongs. It's up to you and what works for you. There are plastic tipped tongs, too. OXO's good. What are tongs? No, not Chinese mafia. Tongs are connected flat chopsticks. Tongs are a tool with a hinge at one end and two metal or plastic grippers at the other. They're spring loaded to stay open. They're wonderful for turning things like pieces of meat or a roast in a fry pan or holding a paper towel while you wipe it around the inside of a hot pan. (to either clean it out or oil it up) To do up wooden kitchen tools right, get a quart of mineral oil at the hardware store and bake them in the oven at about 250 for a half hour to an hour while laying in the oil. Turn them once or twice to cover all sides. A rimmed sheet pan works well. The wooden tools won't soak up food juices afterwards. A sheet pan is also called a jelly-roll pan. It has a raised edge on all 4 sides. Get a ladle. Measure how much your ladle holds. Take a dipper-full and pour it into a measuring cup. Now you know how to get a 1/2 or 1/4 cup of liquid into a dish in progress, quick. When ladling food or liquid try to get the pot over the dish or the dish over the pot. There's less to clean up afterwards. Don't plunge a ladle straight down into hot liquid unless you want a bath. Angle it to one side and push down. Try it over cold water and see what I mean. When ladling or spooning up liquid to transfer it, touch the bottom of the full ladle or spoon back down into the surface of the liquid. The surface tension will draw off any drips back into the pot, keeping you from dripping all over the place. Physics is your friend. If your pots and pans are non-stick, DO NOT use metal tools in them. The coating will cut, scratch and flake off, destroying your investment. If they're non-stick, get the BLUE scratch pads at the grocery store, They're designed for non-stick finishes. NOT the GREEN ones. They EAT non-stick finishes. ******** WARNING *** READ THIS! ******** For God's sake, never, ever try to clean the baked-on grease from an anodized pot or pan with Easy-Off or any other oven cleaner that says "don't breathe the fumes". It will strip the anodized coating off the pan quicker than you can say "oh, shit!" leaving you a ruined pan and a hole in your budget. If you don't know how to use a sharpening stone, look for the gadgets that have two dark carbide blocks set in a vee "V". You smoothly pull the knife thru it three times and presto, you've got something to cut with. Some have white, ceramic rods in a Vee as well. Use the ceramic after the carbide and it will slice smoother. You push harder on the ceramic rods to use them. If you can easily slice a ripe tomato then your knife is sharp enough. Please don't make a religion of it. I won't tell you to get a sharpening steel. I don't want to see the emergency room bills or accusing glares. Yes, Virginia, you will cut yourself. Welcome to the real world. Whickering blades over a ribbed steel is cool and professional looking, and really works, but you've GOT to be coordinated and it is dangerous. I regard it (bleeding) as paying your dues for a short attention span. (By the way, this doesn't actually sharpen a blade so much as 'align' or 'true' the microscopic teeth that do the cutting. After a few times using a steel it doesn't work as well, and you have to sharpen the knife with a stone or carbide.) If the bottom of your ceramic plates or bowls or coffee cups has a rough ring where the item isn't glazed, you can finish sharpening your paring knife to a razor edge on it. It's a nice, fine raw ceramic surface and cuts (takes off metal) fast. I invested in a wood block with wire things hanging off both sides that fits over one of my sinks. That's my drying rack and cutting board. Don't buy lots of spices unless you use 'em. Unused spices should be thrown away after a year's storage, at most. They lose their "oomph". They become pretty sawdust. Don't store them over the stove. Sure, it's a nice, handy, obvious place to store them. They'll go bad faster there than anywhere else in the kitchen because it's hot there. The only worse place would be in the sun. The refrigerator is best, but most people find that the real estate in the fridge is too valuable for other stuff. It's up to you. I could get by on salt, pepper, garlic powder and ground celery seed. I've got lots more, but I USE them, like dill on buttered potatoes or cinnamon in hot chocolate. I like oregano in tomato dishes, on pork and in salad dressing. Those itty bitty jars of spice add up real fast at the register. There's a lot of kitchen gadgets out there. It's a big trap to buy just to have. Please ask yourself "can I live without it?" not "That's neat. I want that." Also, if it's 3.50 for the half-size jar, and 5.25 for the full sized jar, it's false economy to buy the big one because it's cheaper by the unit of measure, if you're not even going to use up the small jar's worth before it goes stale. Use your common sense. Okay, enough preaching. Where are you going to store all this stuff? I got tired of cleaning the grease off all my pots and pans that I kept stacked on the stove. I hung mine on the wall. That's not for everybody. Keeping them in the oven is a good compromise. I keep my crockpot on the fridge. Keeping the plates and bowls above the stove makes plating up a bit faster. KEEP YOUR SURFACES CLEAN. Stuff accumulates in the kitchen. You will spend a lot of time there so it's an attractive habit. Don't do it. You'll do it anyway. We all do. It's a failing, I know. Why keep 'em clean? a. it makes keeping the kitchen clean a real bitch. It takes six times as long and you'll tend to do it less. This is a bad thing. 1. empty surface 2. clean bottoms of stuff 3. clean surface 4. put everything back 5. wipe down where you stacked everything. b. dirty kitchens will poison you and attract vermin such as mice and roaches. c. Bleach is your friend. Pour a shot of bleach (one glug) into the dishes in the sink to keep them from growing things, until you have the time to do the dishes. Wipe down everything with a wet cloth dabbed with a bit of bleach. (Note: If you use it full strength and get it on your hands regularly funny things will happen, like your fingernails getting soft, your calluses will dissappear and, well, you notice that funny off smell to your hands after you used the bleach? That's the tissue of your hands decomposing.) I suggest you water down the bleach you use in contact with your hands. One glug to a big pot (gallon) is fine. d. Lay a paper towel over your cutting board occasionally and soak it with bleach. This will ensure that the entire surface gets covered. This will also retard evaporation so that the bleach can get into the wood surface and eat out the crud. This works well on a stained counter, too. e. Wash rags and scrubbies stink after a while because all the stuff you cleaned off of your pots and pans didn't get totally rinsed out. The smell will remind you, eventually. Hot water and a dab of bleach in a plastic wash pan will take care of things without destroying the scrubbie or rag. f. Bleach keeps your toilet minty fresh, too. Just don't add it to things like Sno-Bol (tm) or you'll generate free chlorine gas. That will bleach your short and curlies the next time you sit on the pot. It cleans out your sinuses something fierce, too. Why do I keep carping about cockroaches? I hates em. I hates every nasty, scuttling one of them. They come into the supermarket from the warehouses and distribution centers. Then they come home in your groceries. If you live in an apartment building you can guarantee someone has roaches. They crawl thru the pipes and come up your drains. We hates them, yes we do. Nasty little hobbitses (er, wrong story. Sorry.). You _have_ to keep your refrigerator clean. I found a way that works for me--I bought some little plastic crates that fit in the fridge and keep everything in them. Granted, I lost some storage, but now I just pull out the crate and find ALL my cheese, ALL the thawed meat, ALL my fruit, etc. It was a real unpleasant surprise to find that moldy mushy jalapeno pepper under the crisper drawer when I cleaned the whole mess, because I couldn't figure out where that peculiar smell was coming from. Then I went to storage boxes. It also makes things much easier to pull all the crates out and give the fridge a quick lick with a bleach rag. It happens more often when it's easy to do. Also, when something drips it localized the mess to the bottom of one of the little crates, not all over the bleeding shelf. After a while you get(I got) into the habit of starting in one corner of the kitchen and wiping everything down with a bleach rag, walls included. It's amazing how much grease and oil gets deposited on the walls. 409 is your friend, too. Try to do it once a week. It'll smell better in there. The cockroaches will hate you for it, too. hint, hint. Oh, one more sanitation subject. Keep your refrigerator cold. Keep the freezer cranked down to zero and the refrigerator section to 32 and a smidge. Food lasts longer, but vegetables and lettuce freeze. Use the crisper drawer for these. I know, the book says keep the fridge at 40. Too bad. Let _them_ buy the replacement stuff. Now for the stuff you consume: Food Storage Before you start putting stuff in your nice, clean cupboards (You DID wipe them down when you moved in after those nasty bastards that lived there before left, DIDN'T YOU?), go to the hardware store and ask the nice guy or lady there for contact paper, or shelf liner paper. It's sticky on one side and waterproof on the other, facilitating a wipe down occasionally. I line my silverware drawer with it, too. Now, what to put in all you nice, clean cabinets, hmm? Don't be afraid to buy the staples. Some things are easier to buy frozen, like peas, corn, brussel sprouts, broccoli (bleah) and stir fry mix. Things that take a lot of time to cook or that have fairly complicated recipes like lasagna (if you like lasagna) are good candidates for frozen. Tamales for a quick nosh. Meat is another biggie. If it's on sale, buy the economy packs and take a trip to the baggie aisle to get freezer bags before you leave. When you get home, break it into reasonable chunks and freeze them separately. Make a fist. point your thumb up. draw a line across your fingertips. the finger portion is a PORTION. break up your meat accordingly. Portioning will save your wallet and waistline. Six to eight ounces is a more than reasonable portion. LABEL your baggies. Cooking for one is HARD. All the recipes seem to be for four or six. If you cook for two, you'll eat for two. Pre-portioning helps a lot. A 6x6" or 8x8" plastic crate in the freezer keeps those baggies together so they won't land on your foot when you open the freezer door. You can also pull the crate from the freezer and pick through it with the door closed, thus keeping all that cold inside, where it belongs. If you buy chicken thighs for most recipes, you will be better off than buying breast meat, unless a recipe specifically calls for it, like a cutlet dish. You can't easily over-cook them and they don't get dry and tough like breast meat does. I like to buy pork tenderloins. They usually come two to a pack and you can get 4-6 very generous portions out of that. The little disposable freezer containers that come in 4-packs and six-packs are great. If you make a big pot of pasta sauce or bean soup or whatever, portion it out and freeze it. Again, remember to mark WHEN it went into the freezer and WHAT it is. A freezer full of anonymous little plastic things is daunting-- kind of like Russian roulette with your stomach. Eventually you'll just pitch everything out of sheer disgust thus losing all that work that you put into freezing it in the first place. DON'T use glass. liquid expands when freezing and may shatter the jars. Use your mini-mason jars in the fridge. Any storage thing that you re-use should be sterilized before re-use. Restaurants have to have at least one person on staff that has taken a food service sanitation class so that they can't use an ignorance argument if they poison someone. A hot rinse in water with a bit of bleach in it is great. Leave the container in the water until it's as hot as the water is. <soapbox> If you're worried about the animals you're eating, I may have a little news for you. I worked on a dairy farm. Cows have personalities. Pigs are mean. Chickens are the dumbest damn animal on the face of the planet. I don't mind eating pork because a porker tried to eat me. I eat mostly chicken. Fish you say? Where the hell am I going to get good fish in the middle of bloody Illinois? In the little cans marked brisling sardines or the jars marked Noon Hour fillets of pickled herring, that's where. I'm tired of being poisoned by fish. Eat shrimp. They come from closer to the bottom of the food chain and come frozen. (try to get them frozen, not thawed. Who knows how long they've been sitting around in their water? Nasty.) I break my own rules--I eat hamburger. </soapbox> Err, back to staples. Yes, I wander around a lot. (If you vote on this and vote down the plot, you're goofier than I am.) Okay, cans. I eat a lot of tomato this and that. I keep crushed, diced and whole tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste on hand. The only tomato product that I've seen go bad in the can is tomato paste. It discolors--goes dark or brown. I use the toothpaste tubes of tomato paste, too. A little squirt in a sauce can add that thing that's missing. White beans and Cannellini beans are good to have. Garbanzos are good in a bean salad or a green leafy salad. If you're middle-eastern you call 'em chickpeas and make hummus with 'em. Black beans are good, and pintos are wonderful. Ranch style beans are chili without the heartburn, for me. Canned corn is a winner. I try to keep a balance of sweet and cream corn so I can make a baked corn dish out of 'em occasionally as a treat. I also keep baked beans, pasta sauce (hard to find small jars, isn't it? Classico puts it in little mason jars.) and cream soups. Yeah, creamed soups. Learn from your mom and dad. They're meal stretchers and make a nice easy gravy for a casserole. Mix and match. If mushrooms aren't your thing, try the celery or creamed chicken. Try the beef consomme. (pronounced con-so-MAY. It's clear broth with gelatin added.) Try to keep peanut butter, jelly and crackers on hand. Unless you've got kids in the house, your peanut butter will probably last a long time. If you keep it in the fridge, it won't go rancid. It's harder to spread, granted, but once you get into shaving it off with a butter knife you'll find that it's easy. Dry goods Don't like peeling potatoes? Potato buds have a strange flavor, something like twice-baked potatoes. The flakes are good. Use more water than you would think to mix 'em up. Elbow macaroni goes in a lot of things, too. Okay, I admit it. I like matzo balls. They're creamy, eggy and make wonderful dumplings. The mix is cheap and keeps pretty well, too. Bisquick is a life saver. It takes a long time to go bad (but it does go bad.. Smell before use.) and you can always have pancakes with a little jelly if the cupboard is bare. Some mixes don't require eggs. You can make bisquick pancakes without eggs. I keep lots of rice, dried pasta, dried soup mix and a box of barley around. Barley takes a long time to cook, but makes a good soup/stew thickener. The instant stuff seems to go bad fast. Hot chocolate mix is a blessing in little paper packets, sometimes. I'm a heathen--I add honey and butter, sometimes vanilla and freeze-dried coffee. Mac 'n Cheese packs are always around. When I'm a little flush (extra cash) I splurge and buy a couple of the smallest size cans of chicken or ham. Mac 'n cheese with a can of meat is a full meal, all from your cupboard. Yeah, it's Midwest. If you're Southwest, you probably keep tortillias around and refried beans for a quick nosh. It's all good. (The non-dried cheese in mac'n cheese goes bad after time too.) You need to keep some flour or its equivalent around for sauces and coating things to fry. Bisquick will do this nicely. Keep some cornstarch on hand too. It doesn't seem to go bad and coats meat beautifully for lightly fried dishes. The Asians call this "velveting" and it works. The meat stays moist when stir frying. I think my mom used cornstarch in everything. I'm surprised that it didn't end up in her coffee. Anything exposed to air will go bad. That means all your flour, bisquick, open pasta, open rice, whatever, will have to be replaced, either once a season or once a year, depending on temperature and humidity. Matzo mix gets bitter and nasty. I keep a little flour in a sandwich keeper in the fridge. It refuses to die stored like that. Fresh and Fridge Fruit is a good thing. It keeps you happy and your bowels regular. Apples, oranges, grapes, whatever. You can cut apples into a salad, too. Add raisins if you like. Try jicama--it's good! When the tomatoes are horrible, substitute cucumber in your salad. I try to keep a half dozen eggs around. They change their nature after a couple weeks. Pay attention to the use-by date. Don't boil them after that. For me, Dairy consists of soy milk, canned milk for coffee, sour cream, cottage cheese, butter and a little sliced cheese for toasted cheese sandwiches when I get a yen. Shredded cheese for tacos gets moldy behind your back, the sneaky little bugger. Canned milk really doesn't work with pancake mix. Canned fruit and cottage cheese is a decent meal for those 'delicate' mornings, or when you're sick. Milk goes bad if it's just you and you don't drink a lot. Soy milk is a little sweet, but it lasts FOREVER in the fridge. Years if unopened. Pretty much, if you're American you have a jar of Mayo, Mustard and Ketchup. I think it's a rule, somewhere. If you like celery, buy lots. If it starts to wilt, just chunk it into bits and freeze in a freezer bag. It's soup and stew prep then. Carrots, too. You'll have 'em when you want to cook, not after you go shopping. They do get mushy after freezing, so expect that. In a soup it doesn't matter-- you want the flavor. I like pickles. I keep a covered container full of vinegar, sugar and water with cucumber slices in it. That way I always have fresh. Keep your radishes in water, but not too long-- they get woody. You can keep part of an onion fresh in a glass jar like a mason jar for over a week if you fill it with water. You probably want to keep potatoes and onions around. Garlic is nice, too. Don't keep them together or in the light, The potatoes start to sprout and get a green color to them. That green is nasty. You can cut it off and still eat the potato--no problem. It's a surface effect. The green center bit in garlic has to go too. White potatoes are starchy and make great baked potatoes. Red potatoes are "waxier" and hold up well in a stew or potato salad. I usually keep reds around. They taste creamier to me, too. Watch out for onion mold. It creeps between the layers under the skin Examine your onions carefully on purchase and in storage. When you buy garlic, don't get the sanitary little sealed bags. Get the cloves your can fondle and squeeze. Check for collapsed cloves--if you find any, the head has been in storage for longer than it should. Look for black mold, too. There's hard neck and soft neck garlic. Hard neck has a big stem sticking out. Soft neck has bigger cloves. Spuds! 5 minutes in a microwave and a little sour cream gives me a nice hot meal. You slice through the skins like latitude lines on a globe, pole to pole, several times. Then after cooking use the back of a spoon will mash them into a bowl with no problem. Those little tree things with a hook that you're supposed to hang your bananas on? Your bananas will suicide. Yep, when ripe enough they will peel themselves and leave a mess all over your counter or, if you 're like me and used a hook hanging from the ceiling to save space, will splatter over a considerable distance on your nice, (reasonably) clean kitchen floor. Many bad words ensue. INCIDENTALS I mentioned freezer bags. I keep 3 sizes. If you bake or make cookies, you want a rimmed baking sheet or two and parchment paper. 11x14 inch half sheet pans are a good size, and you can get racks that fit directly into them. Parchment paper fits them like they're made for each other. Bread is easy with a loaf pan and frozen dough from the supermarket. I keep aluminum foil, too. Look at the ends of an aluminum foil box. There's punch-ins. Use 'em. The roll won't come out of the box and hit the floor. This probably qualifies as a kitchen gimmick, but I rely on it. Look for an aluminum tube-thing called a MISTO. $10.00 It's a you-fill-it spray bottle with a pump top. I use it to spritz just a bit of oil in the pan. Open it once in a while and take a sniff. I tend to keep it next to the stove, so it gets a bit of heat regularly. The oil will break down and go bad. If it smells fishy or off, clean it out with dish soap and boiling water. It'll be fine. I keep a big scraper/chopper around for one reason. The wood cutting board. When you clean the cutting board, the surface softens. Scraping the board down while wet with a scraper pulls off all the scum and brings back a nice, compacted hard surface that's harder to --infect? Little plastic palm-sized scrapers with curved edges are great for getting the last bit out of a pot or mixing bowl. Dinky little plastic spatulas get the bottom of the mayo jar clean. You can find both types for around a buck. Don't buy spatulas with flexible handles--that's not the idea. you want a flexible HEAD. Flexible cutting-board sheets seem to make sense-- after all, chop on it, then pick it up to dump everything in the pot. After the second or third time that you decorate the floor or sink with all your chopped food you'll probably re-evaluate. I did. I found something called a "cut and scoop"--it's a tapered white plastic cutting board with slightly raised edges. Nice gimmick. If you're going to keep scrubbies, scrapers and sponges in a bowl on the edge of the sink make sure to poke a hole in the bowl to let it drain or you may start a whole new life form in the water that gathers at the bottom. If you eat bacon, here's a tip. I'll never fry bacon again. This is how many restaurants do it-- put an elevated rack in your rimmed cookie sheet (Half-sheet pans are nice and durable.) Cover with a paper towel. Lay the bacon over the paper towel one strip at a time. Cover with another layer of paper towel. repeat as necessary. Cover with a final PT layer. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Perfect bacon, ready for breakfast or BLTs. (Note: sometimes the bacon sticks to the paper towels and is a real pain. I haven't pinned down the reason that it works some times and not others yet. Let me know if you figure it out, eh?) You want some cooking oil around. Olive oil smokes fairly low, but I don't cook that hot. I can get by with just olive oil. If you fry or cook hot, use something like peanut oil (God forbid if you' re allergic to it) or soy oil. Both smoke hotter. Crisco vegetable oil is soybean oil. What do I mean by smoke point? All cooking oils have smoking points, ranging from 350 to about 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember-- all oils go rancid after time, too. Don't fry with flavored oils. The flavor just burns away. Here's an experiment. Say you're making a stew. You want nicely browned meat to start. It makes the whole thing taste lots better. When you brown meat, you scorch it. The surface meat becomes dried, brown and slightly nutty or salty. The protein changes. You don't do this at a low temperature. At a low temperature it just steams and bubbles, turning tough and nasty. You heat the oil until you see little waves in it (the shimmer) in the pan, or you watch for little wisps of smoke to start. watch the damned pan. watch the damned pan. watch the damned pan. If you let the oil smoke too long, it will (a) burst into flame if you're cooking with gas or (b) char your pan to a miserable mess over electric. IF YOU DO HAVE A GREASE FIRE THROW SALT OR BAKING SODA ON IT--NEVER WATER. DO NOT use flour. Under near-perfect conditions it will cause an explosion and blow your ass right out the kitchen door. (look up dust explosions on the web. It's what makes grainaries explode.) Alternate: fuel-air explosion Never, ever grab a burning pan with your bare hand. Pieces of you will stick to the pan handle. Burns take a long time to heal. I saw this happen and am not cooking for a living because of it. Never leave hot oil sitting in a pan. It doesn't LOOK like it's at 350 F. Given that you're smarter than the average TV addict and watched the pan. Dry the meat off with a paper towel, or flour it. Drop the meat into the pan with one hand while protecting yourself with the splatter screen with the other. With your plastic or wooden spoon separate the meat chunks in the pan, then drop the spatter screen over it. Don't over-crowd the meat in the pan when browning. It needs evaporation space around the chunks to sear. I try to leave a little finger's width between 'em. DO NOT leave a plastic spoon in the frying pan or Dutch oven. They turn to modern art or burn you when you pick them up. Turn after 4-5 minutes. At the end you take the meat out and put it on a plate while you brown your veggies. From there it gets simple. Everything goes into the pot and simmers until done. Add spuds last 1/2 hour. Season at the end. You don't think any grease got loose during this? try wearing glasses during this process and then look at them under a light. Big surprise. Also, some of that oil went to vapor and deposited itself over everything in reach, including the walls. Yep, browning and frying is messy. Expect it. Like I said, 409 is your friend. You want kitchen towels, a wash rag or two and dish soap. Copper scrubbies work nice on NOT non-stick pots and pans. The same with the 3M green scratch pads. As I said before in this, the BLUE scratch-pads are for non-stick. They're made of a softer plastic. If you soak your green scrubby in bleach it will die, leaving nasty green bits all about. You probably want a cookbook if you don't have one. If you pick up the little pamphlets at the checkout line you'll be cooking with a LOT of soup. Now, here's where the religious start chanting and waving things. People get real funny about their favorite cookbooks. I own my own weight in cookbooks and I'm FAT. The one and only cookbook that I go back to time after time when nothing else has the recipe is the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. The Joy of Cooking is a blast to read, and you'll get an education in food science from the America's Test Kitchen series. (They're opinionated bastards, but they're MY opinionated bastards. God love 'em.) I also have to say-- God bless Julia Child. Note: My friends, it is with a heavy heart that I write this. The 11th. edition of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (BHG) is a work of art. Mine is paperback. I picked up a hard-bound ring binder version of BHG 14th. edition for 13 dollars. I got ripped off! Whoever was hired to edit the thing is a feel-good amature Martha Stewart. Pfui. Here's an example. 11th. ed. from the bread pudding recipe: top note: 'To dry bread cubes, place the cubes in a large pan and bake in a 350 deg. oven for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring twice.' The recipe calls for 4 cups French bread or regular bread cubes. Now, the 14th. ed: top note: 'This is comfort food for the soul. Settle in on a cold winter's night with a bowlful of this rich delight' The recipe calls for 4 cups of white or cinnamon swirl bread cubes. May the devil toast their livers over an open fire. <small rant> There is a trend in cookbooks I and others call the cult of personality. You'd better not be buying the damned cookbook because you like the TV personality. You're buying the cookbook for the recipes and how usable they are. Sure, buy from Rachel Ray, Yan or Mario-- if the cook book is worth it. <rant off> More? OK, here's the rest of my stuff. I cannot cook without ground celery seed. I grind my own fresh and crack pepper between two spoons because it smells, therefore tastes better --to me. I need bay leaves for stew. I grew up that way. I can't cook pasta sauce without red wine. The little bottles for a buck or two in the liquor store are perfect for a single batch. Dry jug port or sherry cooks down nicely, too. I always try to keep some frozen orange juice in the freezer. Keep cans or boxes of beef and chicken stock around. NOTE:: USE LOW SALT STOCK. YOU want to control the amount of salt in the recipe, NOT let the stock do it for you! I reduce stock lots of times, so it gets stronger. More salt means an unusable sauce. You threw your money away. Talking about low salt-- DON'T buy cooking wine. It's just cheap wine with salt added. Pfui. If you'll drink it, cook with it. I use a lot of reinforced wines (Sherry, Port, Madeira) with fruit desserts once I cook them down. The alcohol leaves (except for a mini-micro-smidge that bonds with some of the other molecules) when heated and the flavor can change to something wonderful. It's an experiment worth trying. Combine with a chicken stock reduction for a great pan sauce. Crock pot liners are available most everywhere in the baggie aisle. It saves you a miserable job or a long soak. I store 'em in the crockpot. That way they don't get lost in the baggie drawer. I keep a dishpan around. If you run hot water into the dish
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