Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kitchen Equipment with the Tilleys

Reto Biaggi, a personal chef and owner of Home Cuisine, one of our corporate sponsors has now gotten together with the Tilleys and spent time going through their kitchen equiment. We ended up with another clean-out session and some impromptu lessons in cookware and knife skills. Again, fun was had by all!

We started with a quick trip to the farmer's market just to get a feel for a quick lunch dish. We ended up sampling some great local meats and seeing that a fair amount of vegetables and apples are still available at the farmer's markets. There are fewer items in the winter months but they are not totally void and it is why we should learn to can and freeze summer produce for more winter variety.

I got some broccoli for us and then was shocked at how much Charlotte ate. Despite all my trying to be aloof about letting Charlotte eat what she wants and making some of the best foods available to her, I know that underneath it all she knows how badly I want her to try everything. When she doesn't taste things this is her exerting her own little measure of control. I get that, but as a mommy foodie it does drive me a little crazy. Mainly because my food is so delicious that I know she'd like it if she'd just try it. This last week she did try pomegranate and broccoli so I can't despair!

Anyhow, back to the Tilleys. We ended up getting some incredibly gorgeous turnips with the greens still attached and they were huge! Mike purchased a Belarus garlic bulb from the Cornerstone Garlic Farm out of Reidsville. Natalie Foster, the owner, gave us an incredible handout on how to plant garlic and grow your own. (Please visit her at the Greensboro Curb Market to get the handout as she says they are working on their web site and the handout will be up there later just not yet.) There is still time to plant some garlic. Planting now, depending on the variety will yield garlic from early/mid May on through June. So Mike is intending on getting outside and planting at least 2 - 4 cloves for the spring!

When we returned to the Tilley house, Reto got straight into digging through cabinets and work spaces. He reiterated the same thing to the Tilleys that he talked with the Richeys about, having clear workspaces and making sure everything that you use all the time is handy. He also noted that the revolving spice rack that seems handy and looks good on the counter is, in reality, not a good idea. Nothing destroys spice more than being exposed to UV light, so while this might look attractive, it's not the best option. I personally love any type of Lazy Susan, so if something like this would fit in a cabinet with a door then that really is the best place to keep it.

Speaking of spices, while I enjoy fresh herbs the most, I still have a plethora of dried spices and other seasonings on hand. I used to lament the lack of freshness dates on them because they don't last forever, but now those date markings are fairly common. Now being able to read them is a whole other story - get your reading glasses out. But pay attention because the more you cook the more you will only want to use the best. (I bought some organic Madagascar vanilla last night, but when I make my own ice cream you can really tell a difference between that vanilla and the inexpensive types.)

Tammy really wanted to reorganize her pots and pans so that is where the action took place next. Reto went through the Tilley's collection and pulled out about 3 peices that they admitted they never used and so these are now another set of Goodwill items. He talked about the sets of cookware we commonly buy and how we often end up with a few pieces of equipment we never use. His opinion is to buy separate pieces and buy great quality because they will be easier to use and hold up longer. It's like any sport - using top notch equipment can make the game more enjoyable and leads to better play - and cooking is no exception.

Brand-wise he extolled All-Clad and de Buyer. I prefer All-Clad myself, but I own a wide variety of things. I do appreciate cookware that can go from stove top to the oven as I do a fair amount of recipes that require this - like my frittatas, stews and other meat dishes including my Figgy Piggy Baked Chicken (name taken from a Gourmet magazine recipe that uses Cornish Hens, but my dish is a twist on the original.) I also enjoy my older cast iron skillets and so does Reto, but he lamented the fact that most don't have long enough handles for the weight of the pan.

Reto and I both agree that any good cook needs a 12-14 inch skillet with a lid, a 4-7 quart Dutch oven (depending on the volumes you cook) and lid, a 4-6 quart pot with a lid (if your Dutch oven is oval instead of more pot shaped) and at least one or two smaller 6-8 inch saute pans. We also talked about shopping at our locally owned and operated independent kitchen store The Extra Ingredient and buying things as they go on sale. I think Tammy was headed right out after our meeting to get an All-Clad skillet that was on sale.

After we went through the equipment we moved on to knives. Reto prefers Henckels or Victorinox but he really loves one of his Japanese knives that has a 15 degree sharpened edge, as opposed to most knives which have a 22 degree blade. Reto and I both agree that the most functional, must-have, knife is a good chef's knife of 8-10 inches and one extra paring knife for smaller jobs. A bread knife is another must have, but can be purchased later.

Reto went through the process of sharpening the knives with a stone versus using a standard kitchen tool for sharpening. Then we discussed using the steel to hone the edge daily. Sharpening needs to occur about every 3-6 months depending on usage. Never put knives in the dishwasher and never leave them to soak in dishwater. Use an appropriate cutting board, do not cut directly on the countertop. Always secure your cutting board with a couple of damp paper towels or a dish towel - this will keep your board from slipping around as it ages and gets less than flat. Move your cutting board to the edge of the counter to make cutting and scooping items off the board easier. Lastly, get a board that is at least 10 by 12 inches - a bigger board is easier to use than a small one, no matter what the job. Just make sure it isn't too big to clean easily.

When using a chef knife use a pincher grip with your thumb on one side and your fore finger on the other on the blade just above the handle. Curl your holding fingers under and into a claw position with thumb and pinky pulled back for safety. Please consult several of the online videos about knife skills or watch a professional to learn about proper positioning and cutting techniques. Once you learn to cut, chop and dice the right way, prep work becomes easier and more pleasureable. Always try to create a flat/stablizing side with your product first so that it won't slip and roll - safety first!

Lastly, Reto took that beautiful bunch of turnips and cut off the tops. Everyone pitched in (including Emma) and tore the leaves off into larger than bite size pieces. After we had a nice pile of greens Reto transferred them to the sink for a good washing off. Reto heated up the Tilleys' large enameled Dutch oven and then added about 4 slices of bacon that we had bought at the market. When the bacon was cooked almost crisp he added some minced garlic and then he dumped the washed greens in and they very quickly lost volume as the cells collapsed and water was realeased. They cooked for about 8 minutes until tender and delicious.

Reto also took the large turnips and let everyone practice their knife skills. First we cut off the root and top ends. Then, by gripping each side, we cut the turnip in half to create a flat surface. From there we cut the turnips into bite size chunks. Everyone tasted a raw piece of turnip. It was fun to see Cameron jump up off the sofa to grab a bite and remark how good he thought it was. Reto braised these turnips in butter, a touch of water and a touch of sugar, salt and pepper. After a nice low simmer for 12 minutes they were done and they could have been eaten as they were or they could have been mashed with some extra butter. Either way the taste was divine - fresh can't be compared to anything else.

Another great day at the market and in the kitchen.
Eat well and be well!

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