Cooking and the Tools I Use – Part 1

I think I’m a pretty alright cook.  I suppose I should have prefaced that, so now I’ll postface(?) it.  I’ve not been to culinary school, I’ve never worked as a chef, and I’ve only competed in less than a dozen amateur (like super-amateur) cookin’ things – though I usually win.  They were mostly cook-offs for work or the neighborhood.  I have a few deficiencies that I am aware of, one of which I consider major (that I won’t get into today).  The three that annoy me most are a lack of space, a lack of tools, and a limited “group foods” knowledge.  The first and second are very similar and, while a real pain in the assbutt, don’t keep me from producing some fine eats.  You know, it’s a poor carpenter who blames his blah blah blah cliche crap blah blah suck a dick.  The third is rarely a problem, as I am almost never cooking for a group larger than an average American family.  In fact, I usually cook for one.  This guy.  I cook to impress, even if it’s just a quick meal for myself, so I stress a bit over the office things.  I’ll get into it in a future post, but for now I’ll just go ahead say this: I think that cooking for the office get-together-holi-birth-bridal-luck-duck-doodle is a very special skill and it truly impresses me when people pull it off well.  But that’s not what today’s thing is about.  Today’s thing is about tools.  Cooking tools.  My cooking tools (not a joke about my penis… this time).

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about my tools lately (still not a penis joke, though… that too).  I have some pretty good ones and some pretty shoddy ones.  Some of them I like a lot, even if they are fairly useless or stupid.  If I can use a musical tool as an example – I really love my guitar slide bar, even though there is almost nothing about my own musical style that actually warrants my using it.  Picks are essential for my style, but those wrap-around-the-finger ones are completely worthless to me.  Let’s consider my kitchen tools in three categories: 1) Useful 2) Awesome and 3) Junk.  I’ll give my top five of each over the next couple of days.

My Most Useful and/or Usededable of Kitchen Ass’d Tools:

5.  Probe Thermometer – I need this less and less with each successful delicious completion of a perfect meal, but it will always remain an integral tool in my kit.  I am forever always happy with how much this thing has improved my ability to deal with giant-assed hunks of meat, like an awesome Prime Rib I pulled off last Decemberween.  More importantly, it’s helped me deal with my mistrust of chicken’s doneness.  I’ve had some bad experiences with poultry in my life, so I occasionally over compensate and super-over-cook a perfectly good breast.  We should all learn to treat breasts better.  Breasts should be loved and cared for, ensuring they stay firm, yet soft and supple.  A handful is more than enough – trust me.

4.  Parchment Paper/Aluminium Foil – I’m putting the two together because they share a lot of duties in my kitchen and I really can’t live without either.  These are awesome things for many reason, but their best uses are as liners and on-the-fly containers.  Don’t want to ruin a cookie sheet?  Laying down parchment first.  Want the best damn steak salad or homemade fajitas ever?  Grill some skirt steak in foil.  Like white fish but always fuck it up at home?  Make yourself a parchment-pouch with all fish, veggies, and seasonings inside to bake it just perfectly.  And don’t ever forget about foil swans.  Fuckin’-A-Right.

3.  $5 Collapsible Steamer Basket – This gets used a lot in my kitchen.  I rediscovered veggies a few years back after figuring out quick ways to prepare them without them tasting like ass.  You see, most Americans only get veggies either raw or out of a can/freezer bag.  These fucking suck.  Many folks like to take their fresh vegetables and boil the fuck out of them, destroying much of their natural nutrition and making them taste like ass-vomit.  Roasted veggies taste great, but a good roast is either time consuming or fussy (although a week roast is still better than boiled).  Steamed veggies are quick and easy, but steamers are usually expensive, bulky, and a bitch to properly clean.  These collapsible jammers are cheap, small, and scrub up easily.  You just need one of the lidded pots you should already have.  Get a handle on your timing and you’ll have perfectly flavorful and tender veggies every time.  I’m thinking of stealing an idea from… actually, I don’t remember who, but it was a good idea.  Recycle some old tuna cans to fashion risers to stack several of these on top of each other.  Yeah, that’s pretty clever.  Someone also clued me into an idea of how I can use the steamer basket and a shallow dish to make awesome rice.  Getting rice just right is especially hard for me and I don’t know why.  I used to be able to pull it off in my sleep.  Now, I dick up almost every kind of rice almost every time I do it on my stove top.  Fuuuuuuuuck!  It’s not hard, why am I doing it wrong?  I had been thinking of getting a good rice cooker, but I want to try this steamer basket method first.

2.  $0.50 Nylon Spatula and $10 non-stick fry pan – that I bought in a grocery store at about 1 AM ’cause I fuckin’ needed them, that’s why.  I’ve used the absolute fuck out of these things, to a point where I’ve burnt and deformed the spatula.  The handle on the pan has loosened and sucks.  They both look awful and should probably be replaced soon, but together have enabled me to pull of some true culinary feats.  They even let me cheat me up an omelette JUST right.  Oh, you think you know how to make an omelette?  Not if it’s a dry, overstuffed, burnt bottom suck-fest.  If I don’t get to it in a few months, remind me.  I’ll show you how it’s done.

1.  $15 Santoku knife – My Dad got me this thing, and he actually has been a chef and cooks knock-out food on a regular basis, so I think he knows a thing or two about the subject.  It’s from Chicago Cutlery, which I guess is his favorite.  I have to say, this thing has not only been my most useful knife, it’s also held its edge better than my $100+ J.A. Henckles blade.  The only problem I ever have with it is that it is sometimes too small.  You know what I’m sayin’?  Huh?  Yeah?  Huh?  Right?  Bah bing bong bang!  Yeah, sorry.

Additionally, I’ve been searching for a decent Chinese cleaver for the past… I don’t know, eighteen decades.  I may be searching in vein, as I’ve yet to actually put my hands on one, but I feel like I’m hearing from some pretty good sources about this.  I first heard about it from Alton Brown’s Good Eats show on The Food Network.  He’s never steered me wrong or anything, but he’s also sometimes into strange or high-skill tools (though rarely uni-taskers).  In case you are a fuck-tard, I’ll clue you into the fact that the Chinese have a very, very long culinary tradition, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this knife takes a lot of skill and practice to keep from lopping off a finger, so I feel justified in my concerns.  They also have a more recent history of manufacturing and selling total garbage, further enforcing my concerns.  Anyway, I’ve since heard/read more about these fabled, $5 – $20 knives from bloggers and pro-chefs alike.  Most folks just find them somewhere in their local Asian market and pick one up as a novelty or on a hunch.  They then end up using it more than any other knives they have.  Vegetables, meats, neighbors, dumb bitches that need cuttin’, shoes, fruits, nuts, nutz, and whatever else is needs some cutting are apparently no match for these fantastic, inexpensive tools.  Given the aforementioned history of culinary greatness behind the Great Wall, I completely believe these stories.  And I will buy such a cleaver when I find one.  Actually… I have found one (maybe) at a near by Asian market.  Then I got kind of intimidated when eyeballing it and just kinda… bought a stupid looking drink and left the store.  Kinda bitch of me, right?  Yeah, well… sometimes I’m kind of a bitch, so it’s okay.

tl;dr – I use the shit out of some of my cheapest, least impressive kitchen tools and think you should all have these items as well.  Also, I want a goddamn Chinese cleaver.

Those Thai ones look pretty slick, too, you know.  I’d also  love one of those fancy Japanese chef’s knives, but many start at $1000, and that’s bananas.  Tomorrow: My awesomest kitchen tools.