Thursday, July 29, 2010

an update and an article

I apologize for the rather thin posting here lately. The truth is, I've been working on a project. A new website is under construction! I'm working on a new site devoted to all aspects of good homestead management. We'll discuss cooking, budgeting, DIY repairs, basic skills, gardening, animal husbandry - basically all the things that people should know, but don't anymore. The goal is to make a well-managed household that can provide at least partly for itself seem less intimidating. I plan to show that you don't need rural acreage, endless free time or lots of money - just know-how. I'm only just getting started, so it won't be up and running for a bit, but I'm ready to take the next step and make my stories and antics helpful to others.

I will begin posting sample articles from the new site here on this blog, starting today. In addition to articles, the new site will also offer demo videos, photos and resources, so these sample articles will be a bit more stripped-down here than they will be on the new site. I would LOVE feedback. Please let me know how you like the articles, if there are topics you'd like to see covered, etc. I want these things to feel feasible for the average person. Thanks for sticking with me, and enjoy the first article!

*This article will be part of a series on useful tools (not limited to the kitchen).

REAL Labor Savers: A Good Knife

The most important, most indispensable and most versatile tool in any well-equipped kitchen is a good knife. In fact, with one properly sharpened knife, you don't need much else. It will do almost anything you need it to do, and with a bit of care, should last a lifetime. Now, I'm not talking about the 100-piece knife set here, nor does your choice have to be expensive. You're better off picking out a small selection of knives you'll use most, rather than being stuck with a bunch you don't need, and very serviceable knives can be found at restaurant supply shops for reasonable prices. Certain types, such as paring, carving or fillet knives, are nice to have, and serve specific purposes. By all means, invest in them if you'll be performing these tasks. I also feel that every kitchen should have a long, serrated bread knife - there's simply no good substitute for those. If, however, you buy only one knife (or only one for now), the one you want is a chef's knife. It's your workhorse.

A chef's knife is a fairly large knife with a wide blade. They come in varying lengths, but a standard 8-inch length will be most useful for most people. When shopping for a chef's knife, don't get hung up too much on brand. Many high end brands are quite respectable, but lower-priced models can often do the job just as well. The important characteristics to look for are:

  • Comfort - Handle as many knives as you can. The right one should feel comfortable to you. It should be weighty but not cumbersome, it should have good balance overall and the shape and material of the grip should feel good in your hand.
  • Craftsmanship - A quality knife should last a long time with proper care. Spring for the best you can afford. Your knife shouldn't feel light, flimsy or prone to breaking - remember, you're going to put it through a lot. Look for knives with a full tang and a solid handle with no crevices that food particles could get stuck in. It should be easy to clean and maintain.
  • Edge - Your knife should be SHARP. If possible, ask to test it on a sheet of paper, or better yet, food. It should pass easily through the material being cut without crushing or tearing it. You'll want a knife that takes an edge well, since YOU WILL BE SHARPENING IT. And no serrated edge, please - this simply isn't the best choice for most of your cutting needs (except for bread!). A knife that's kept properly sharp won't need teeth.

Once you've chosen a chef's knife you feel comfortable with, take the time to care for it properly. Invest in a sharpening stone and sharpen your knife when needed, keep it in a safe place where it won't be knocking around with other utensils (this will dull the edge) and avoid putting it in the dishwasher.

You may be wondering how a knife qualifies as a labor saver, when you'll be doing all of your chopping by hand. I can assure you that with a bit of practice, you can chop, mince, dice, fillet, carve and julienne just as easily with a good knife as with any specialty tool. It can (and should) be kept within easy reach - not on a high shelf somewhere. And you won't have to bother with all the setup and cleanup of gadgets such as food processors. Your knife will work hard for you every single day, and all it needs is a quick hand washing. It will be ready to go whenever you need it.