Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thanksgiving Checklist

Thanksgiving: Recipes for a Holiday Meal by Lou Pappas

 Back when I had the store, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It was always less stressful than Christmas and it involved dispensing cooking tips and tricks and often times, some beautiful equipment!

There were many customers who were hosting their very first Thanksgiving meal, there were those who were well-seasoned at the art of this holiday and of course, many who were in the middle.

It didn't matter whether it was their first or their twentieth time, there was still that excitement, anxiety and anticipation of hosting this kick off to the beginning of the winter holiday season. Our job was to calm their nerves by suggesting, supplying and delivering the knowledge and tools they would need to make the day a success!

To make this an easy process, I developed what I called the Thanksgiving Checklist- similar to a grocery list only for the kitchen tools and equipment you might need or will need to make that bird and the meal a knockout. Many cooks surprisingly will have a lot already on the list, so it's a matter of a fill in. If you are just starting out, beg and borrow is the way to go- especially if it's family! They can lend you the platters and the serving pieces, or the roasting pan- don't get discouraged! It's a work in progress so anything you do buy, you will use year after year if you choose carefully.

So, without further adieu in order of "necessary" to "man it would be awesome to have that....", is my list:

Thermometer ( instant read or leave-in type and oven)
Sieve (for straining the gravy)
Fat Separator
Chef Knife
Paring Knife
Box Grater
Turkey Lifter
Carving Knife and Fork
Cutting Board for carving
Gravy Boat
Timer ( esp a triple timer-great multi-tasker!)
Measuring Cups (wet and dry)
Measuring Spoons
Mixing Bowls
Pie dishes
Pastry Brushes
Rolling Pin
Apple corer/slicer
Turkey Lacers
Food Mill (comes in handy for applesauce etc)
Potato Masher
Platter (the essential to serve the bird on- I like vintage)
Potato Ricer (makes execellent mashed potatoes with great texture!)
Serving Bowls
Wine Glasses
Food Processor
Stand Mixer
Whip Cream Maker

I am sure I will be adding to this as the week goes on- there may be some things I completely left out! The links are just suggestions and by all means, please shop around for best price etc! I happen to love using vintage serveware and glasses, but you can mix it up however you like! Table linens will be necessary- a tablecloth makes for an elegant presentation, and of course you will need napkins- please try to use cloth- it's one time of year that you must ditch the paper (if you use those that is).


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cutting Boards 101

There are so many choices when it comes to cutting boards! Back in the day, the only choice was wood which I still believe is always the best choice when it comes to chopping veggies.

So let's break it down so it's not too complicated: it's my practice to have at least 3 cutting boards but I must confess that my cutting board obsession is like shoe obsession to some!- I have many and I keep collecting more!

Let's start with wood. It's definitely the choice of chefs and if you watch any cooking shows, you will also see a lot of boards from John Boos. Here is the one I use just about everyday. Now, there are "edge grain" and an "end grain" boards. Edge grain boards are constructed of long pieces of wood laid side by side, and end grain boards are more of a checkerboard with smaller pieces of wood glued together. If you are curious about this process check here for more details. The edge grain boards (see pic below) look nice, but in time, will show your knife cuts more prominently-still a great board so don't worry- I have been known to sand mine down and give them a new surface.

End grain boards (see pic above) are pricier because of the the extra labor involved in construction, but this results in a gentler effect on your knives- the wood cut this way is a bit softer. Either way you go, look for boards that are NSF safe (NSF certification ensures that the products designed for you to use at home meet the same public health standards as those used in hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, anywhere in the food service industry), like the John Boos boards and J.K. Adams to name a few.  Both of these companies are here in the USA, Illinois and Vermont, respectively.

 One should have a fairly good size board for general chopping of vegetables. A good size is at least a 12x18. This will give you enough surface area so that you have ample room to chop. Never try to cut vegetables with too small a knife or too small a board! It's just not going to work! And the cardinal rule for cleaning-listen up! DO NOT PUT IN THE DISHWASHER. EVER!! Do not soak in water either! You can use water to clean a wood board, but you must not soak it-it can split, crack and fall apart. Always oil your board at least every 4-6 weeks to keep it from drying out. You can buy mineral oil at the drugstore or a kitchen shop and it's all you need to keep your board in great shape for many years.

The next board you will want to have will be for all your raw meats, poultry and fish. I like to use a polypropylene type-this is a type of plastic with anti-bacterial properties and you can run it safely through the dishwasher. Quality ones won't split and crack and will last for many years. Another great board that came on the market just a few years back and is everywhere now is the Epicurean cutting board ( photo below). This is what I use for my raw meat prep. Made of Richlite, a lightweight yet durable wood-fiber composite that won’t dull knives, it's also dishwasher safe and like the polypropylene boards is also anti-bacterial. And they come in many sizes so you can get a few. I especially like to have a couple of these boards on hand- for the meats yes, but also for my fruit cutting- nothing worse than cutting an apple on a board that an onion was cut on! Need I say more.

Another board I can't live without is a carving board. If you are a carnivore, you are going to want to invest in one of these. This one is from J.K. Adams and it has an indent for the meat and a well to catch all those tasty juices.

I can always find a need for any board even if I am not using it to chop on! It's nice to serve cheese on some of the prettier boards, like the bamboo boards that are out there. This one below if from Totally Bamboo.

I hope this helps when you are going through the cutting board section of your local kitchen store. Remember, you invested in some quality knives and they need to be partnered with quality cutting boards!