Equipment and Planning

Subzero

I have to say a few words about refrigeration, etc. It is very smart to have two refrigerators and one large deep freeze, all in convenient locations relative to the kitchen. By so doing you will have the required room to hold a wide variety of fresh ingredients and finished products in quantity for when you entertain or when you need long term storage. A large food pantry (see Kitchen Design later in this section) is also highly recommended, for bottled, canned and dry goods come in many varieties and they are all important. You want to be able to find any item easily, and to be able to buy and store certain items in quantity at the best prices. You canít do that with a small pantry or only kitchen cabinets.

If you do forward planning of your menu you can avoid wasting money on ingredients, for you will buy certain items only as you need them, particularly and specifically perishables. And you will use them as close to their peak as possible. But people who love to cook typically love to have everything they need at hand as soon as an idea for making something occurs. Well, all I can offer is the suggestion that you avoid waste, ergo rotting fruits and vegetables, by careful planning and the occasional unplanned trip to the market.

The act of shopping for special ingredients can be pleasurable in itself in anticipation of later enjoyment. I know this to be true for me as I have always enjoyed food shopping, starting when I accompanied my mother to the market regularly as a child. Later in life Marie and I had many joyful times going to the Italian Market area of south Philadelphia, seeking out the best of the best in quality and also food items we had not tried before. And we loved to visit high-end supermarkets to see and buy special products of perfect quality.

Now it is time for a few words about kitchen equipment. First, buy pots, skillets and pans with very heavy bottoms and sides, some with multi-layered metals, and I donít mean cast iron or porcelain cookware, for those items, while very useful when high heat capacity is essential (frying a steak, or searing veal shanks for Osso Buco) are terrible in most other applications. One exception to the "thick" rule is a Wok, used for Stir Frying, or frying in oil, which should be thin. For making sauces and candies, buy a proper heavy French copper saucepan with a tin interior surface, or at least pure thick copper. For most items buy non-stick only and ignore all the sales pitches about great quality without the non-stick feature. It doesnít matter what the brand is or the price, if it isnít non-stick you are in general simply making your life difficult. Exceptions are those times when you want to sear and/or brown meat, fowl or seafood on your cooktop or roast/sear briefly in a very high temperature (550ļF) oven. In the latter case the entire skillet or other vessel should be metal, or multiple metals with exterior stainless steel cladding, especially including the handle(s). Transparent glass lids for all pots, pans and skillets are a great addition as you can see in an instant what is going on with the food you cook.

The harder you have to work the less likely you will be willing to tackle anything new or involved. Be kind to yourself. You have a lifetime of cooking to do so why buy anything less than the best? The rewards far outweigh the investment cost. Buy once, for a lifetime. Donít ever get caught up in the idea that you donít need something superior because you already have something "close" or something that looks identical at home. That error of judgment can and will keep your cooking and eating experiences far below what they might have been. Throw away inferior equipment. Do not pass it on to the less fortunate lest they remain forever unfortunate. Grannyís lousy saucepans belong in your attic as keepsakes, not in your kitchen.

I canít do a respectable job covering the world of utensils or mixing bowls or cutlery because there are too many to discuss. Just pay attention and little by little you will acquire a full collection of essentials. And donít buy the cheap stuff. Think of German or Swiss or Swedish cutlery. Buy only storage containers that are robust and suitable for the freezer, the microwave oven and the dishwasher. The best products of that category that we have found are made by Rubbermaid®. Buy some good quality wooden spoons for stirring the contents of pots, pans and skillets as that will avoid damaging the non-stick surfaces. A hard, thin polymer spatula with a fairly sharp front edge is the optimal tool to use with non-stick skillets. Finally, no tool, e.g. a potato peeler, should ever be uncomfortable to use. Again, avoid cheap products, for in the long run they are no bargain, for they will hurt your hands, rust soon after purchase and break within a year or two, e.g. can openers.

Use the Internet to seek out specialty products that you will never see in any department store or even typical kitchen store. Stores and Internet web sites that carry commercial quality restaurant equipment are the very best places to look. For example, I paid $1400 for my commercial vacuum sealer as an Internet purchase from a company named Pleasant Hill Grains®, when I might have purchased a FoodSaver® unit at Wal-Mart® for a mere $150. Why? First, my unit never needs maintenance. It will run virtually forever. It is fast. It has variable controls to accommodate virtually any need and useful accessories. It handles very small to very large bag sizes that cost only a few cents each (3 to 10 cents depending on the bag size) instead of the FoodSaver® type that typically cost at least 25 cents per bag. Do you get the idea? I use it extensively.

The high initial cost is quickly seen to be intelligent because of time saved and lower consumable costs. A difference of even 15 cents per bag translates to $15 for every 100 bags you use. In a typical year I use between 800 and 1000 bags. And remember my vacuum sealer wonít break, need maintenance or replacement. Thus I save $135 on average each year in consumable cost, and I will be doing vacuum sealing for many years. The time I save is an intangible but a very important intangible, for I find myself ready to tackle the processing of large volumes of food with no concerns about required processing time. This is a quality of life consideration, with excellent additional downstream benefits.

Recently I saw an ad and a video for a new product named, VacuVita®, on the Internet. I was most pleased as that product does exactly what I was attempting to do by using hard sided containers with vacuum sealing. You might guess that I ordered the complete kitchen set of that product, and it will be shipped sometime in September 2013. I will work with it and provide a review in Food Nirvana so that you will know if it works as advertised and if I can apply some of my own ideas using it, like vacuum sealing liquid products in canning jars without the problems of using a close proximity vacuum line.

Some very important equipment is quite inexpensive. For example, a kitchen scale is very useful for accuracy and in following recipes where weights of ingredients are specified rather than volumes, and when weights are specified in grams instead of ounces. I purchased a Taylor® scale called the Healthy Weigh™ through the Internet for about $20, and it has good features like English or Metric units and tare weight corrections to accommodate the container you use to hold an ingredient. I use it often and I find that recipes increasingly specify weights for some ingredients and volumes for other ingredients, especially recipes for foreign cuisine.

Using the kitchen scale is a real eye-opener at times for the real weight of a trimmed food item, given things like fat removal, can be substantially lower than the weight shown on the package as purchased at the supermarket. Also, supermarket practices of making meat products wet and using absorbent products to hold the meat prior to weighing results in the customer being cheated to some variable amount. Even the bulk chicken products sold by Costco® contain extra water, up to 7%, for "processing." This means you will miscalculate the weight of the chicken or other product based on the weight of the product as purchased, not as used after thawing and draining off excess water, unless you use a kitchen scale.

Here is a very small but handy list of English/Metric volume and weight conversions that you can use anytime you encounter a recipe with Metric units:

151 grams of flour is 1/3 lb. which is approximately one cup (unsifted)

29 grams of cold water is approximately one volume ounce

7.5 grams of salt is one teaspoon

28.375 grams of dry product is one ounce (454 grams = 1 pound = 16 ounces)

205.7 grams of sugar is one cup

Note that weight ç è volume conversions depend on the density of the ingredient and how it is handled. One example is sugar, which by the cup will weigh more than one cup of flour (7 ľ oz. vs. 5 1/3 oz.). For another example, one cup of flour unsifted is approximately 1/3 lb. but after sifting, air has been introduced, so the volume will be larger than one cup for 1/3 lb. Thus, measure the weight or volume prior to doing processing like sifting. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt uses the weight of five ounces of general purpose flour to represent exactly one cup, and he rightfully declares that weighing the flour is vastly better than using a measuring cup. I totally agree! Learn to use your kitchen scale in these special circumstances and your cooking will become consistent and superior. Recognize that humidity can affect the weight of a given volume of products like flour and sugar. Thus, these items should be stored in sealed containers after the original packaging is opened, else your best efforts at weighing instead of using measuring cups will be in vain.

Here is what I do with flour. I will purchase a 25 pound bag of flour and immediately dispense all of it into vacuum seal bags that will hold six cups each. I then vacuum seal the bags, knowing that the flour will be exactly what it was when I sealed it, even a year later, for it is impervious to changes in humidity that happen outside the bag. Note also that no weevils can develop or hatch in a vacuum!

If a recipe calls for a fraction of a teaspoon or quarter of a cup of a minced or chopped ingredient then mince or chop it first and lightly compress it into the measuring spoon or other container of the correct volume. Avoid undermeasurement that will happen if you don't expel the air between the pieces of the ingredient.

A final but important consideration about weight vs. volume is that some ingredients will be heavier for a given volume if they absorb moisture from humid air. This implies that you should keep such materials in sealed containers, like flour or sugar, so that variations in humidity do not alter your cooking results when you use a recipe that calls for ingredients by weight instead of volume. And moisture changes from the product as purchased will definitely affect the measured results, for who hasnít experienced hard lumpy brown sugar from an opened bag that clearly has changed since it was purchased in term of weight per unit volume, as well as overall consistency? Kenji provided a useful method to soften hard brown sugar. Process it briefly in a microwave oven.

Equipment

Now we return to the discussion of powered kitchen equipment. Plan to spend $500 to $1000 each in 2010 dollars to buy your electric mixer and your food processor and your meat slicer. You will use them for many years, so why tie your hands with less than superb equipment? The very top end of Kitchen Aid® or Cuisinart® or Bosch® mixer and food processor appliances are what to buy, even if you have to budget for a year to afford one of them. You will not find these products in regular stores or even kitchen stores, so use the Internet. Yes, get all of the accessories, so when you need them you have them, else you will not make a food item, possibly for many years, that you could thoroughly enjoy the first time your curiosity is aroused and many times thereafter. Alas, too many times we learn we lack required equipment and give up making something new and good and later we forget to acquire that equipment.

I would be remiss not to mention a power tool that I find most useful in meat processing. As we normally do not own meat cutting band saws there is nothing in a conventional kitchen to cut through bone conveniently. In the old days some people would use a hacksaw, but that was and is very crude and laborious. I process pork shoulders (and other meats) that do have the bone included and I use a Milwaukee Super Sawzall® given to me many years ago as a gift from my son, Ray, Jr. That tool can hold saw blades of lengths up to one foot long, and with teeth sizes ranging from six to eighteen teeth per inch. I use a 12 inch saw blade, eighteen teeth to the inch, and it cuts meat and bone beautifully, quickly and easily. I laugh when I think how simple it was to solve the problem. Inexpensive too. Deboning a roast that has been sawed through is very simple. You can decide to cut through the bone lengthwise and that leaves a very shallow pocket of meat holding each half of the bone, and you can use a sharp paring knife to cut the meat away from the bone. If instead you made crosscuts across/through bone then the length you have to insert a knife along the bone to separate it from the meat is much shorter and can be approached from both ends. The overall idea here is to think about tools and methods that are not commonly found or used in a kitchen, and your ease in preparing foods will improve greatly.

One final area of equipment to consider is specialty fryers. Both vacuum fryers and pressure fryers can be purchased for home use to make commercial quality foods like potato chips and fried chicken, easily. The advantages of these products are numerous in terms of retaining moisture in foods like fried chicken (Pressure fryers) and minimizing fat content and having a uniform nice light color in foods like potato chips (Vacuum fryers). I do not yet own either of those types of devices but I am intrigued with the possibilities. If you have paid any attention to the price increases of potato chips in the past ten years you will be more than happy to make them at home and laugh at the commercial producers, for there is nothing but greed in their colluded pricing.