A Look at Kitchen Tools: Knives

So, another week, another article. First off, I added a side bar of blogs/sites I visit & read regurally. Just to help those know the types of things I’m into. Now, I’m taking a departure from recipes this week and focusing on cooking tools. Specifically, knives. Knives are a tool any cook or chef worth their salt should look into, and their are many different brands out there. I have quite a few brands, depending on what I’m cooking, and would like to pass along a few suggestions that I’ve found useful. WARNING! The following article is my opinion ONLY, and should be taken as thus.

The first of my preferred knives are Messermeister brand knives. Don’t get me wrong, I do like Wusthof brand knives, but Messermeister knives just give me a little something more. These stainless steel knives are excellent in chopping meat, as they have heavyweightt added behind them as well as a beveled blade that helps slice easierthrou the meat & tendons. Also, they fit very well in the hand, and don’t cause as many callouses that those in the culinary world usually get. On top of that, the blade goes ALL the way to the hilt. This is excellent as with some knives, when you sharpen them, they start to have a small gap at the end. Because of this, it’s harder to rock & cut when chopping. The folks at Messermiester have really revolutionized the blades for cutting meat, in my opinion.

Another excellent knife to use are Kyocera ceramic knives. The drawbacks are that they have to be sent in every two years for sharpening, and the fact that they are VERY fragile and can’t be dropped or you risk shattering it. The plus side is tat these are some of the sharpest knives you’ll ever have the chance to use. Plus, being ceramic instead of metal, these blades keep their edge for an amazingly long time. With the added sharpness, I use these knives as my dairy knives. They help me in carving up hard and soft cheeses without crumbling or mushing, and they are an excellent addition if you can afford them.

For fruits, vegetables, and tofu products I use Japanese knives. I really like Yoshikin‘s Global brand of knives. The solid, one-piece knives help keep contamination to a minimum, and the blades fit very well in your hand. The only warning is to NOT use the blades for meat, and to be careful of the handle getting wet. Theknifee handlesgett a little slippery, thus why I recommend using them just for fruits and vegetables without lots of practice. But, the sand in the handle does balance the blade perfectly, thus making it an excellent cutting tool. You do need to get a special water stone for sharpening the blade, though, due to the softer steel used in making the knives. But it’s not to hard once you learn to use them.

There are many other knives out there, so the knives you choose, in the end, are entirely up to you. Just because I’m a knifesnobb doesn’t mean you have to be one! Half the joy in exploring cooking is finding the cooking tools that fit you best! And remember, kitchen knives are JUST that – tools. As such, they should be used with the utmost care. I recommend, if you invest in good knives, to take some cooking classes on handling and caring for knives so you don’t ruin them accidentally. Anyhow, until next time, Shalom and good cooking!

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June 28, 2006. advice. 3 comments.

Summer-Summer-Summertime! Time to sit back and unwind…

To begin with, I want to congratulate a friend OL for the birth of his son Wyatt Andrew yesterday . May he live a long, healthy life and be a great blessing to your household. Children are the future of our world, and the joyous news of the birth of one in the Jewish community fills my heart with such happiness! Mozel Tov unto him! Now then, it’s summertime! Time for travel to friends, family, conventions (If you’re a proud geek like me) and the like. It’s time to pack up the kids in the station wagon and explore the countryside! Yes, today’s article is on kosher meals you can cook on the go, be it for a picnic, travel, or the like. So get your hotplate ready, because it’s summertime!

First off, I want to take a look at La Briute Meals. These interesting dinners are like MREs in design, but taste quite good (Unlike MREs, which taste like someone took a brick to your stomach! Add water, and they make your own sauce!) Yes, these nifty dinners are a MUST for any long travels. You never know when you’ll need a kosher meal, and all the restaurants will be closed. After all, we don’t all live in New York where there’s 24 hour delis, now do we? Of the meals I’ve tried, my favorite so far is the Stuffed Cabbage, to be honest! Overall, these dinners make a fine addition to any traveler’s diet!

I also want to look at gefilte fish. While I prefer loaf form, myself, in a pinch jarred gefilte fish (Or as I affectionately refer to it, ‘Jewish Spam’.) can make a quick meal in the hotel room. What I do is lay the gefilte fish on a plate either alone or atop a lettuce leaf, then open a small can of tomato sauce and pour it atop before microwaving for about 2 minutes. If you don’t have tomato sauce, you can use ketchup packets (Make sure the have Kosher marks!) mixed with salt & pepper in a pinch. Not like mom used to make, but it DOES work!

But let’s say you don’t want to survive on JUST pre-packaged dinners! I can hear you now screaming at me, “Steven, I am like you! I want to cook! To create! To have good kosher meals on the road!” Well, I’m here to help with one of the most overlooked ingredients: Ramen noodles. Now, before you complain, I KNOW kosher ramen flavor packets taste horrible. I know the thought of those flavor packets make most Jewish students cringe in preparedness for the coming suffering. What people don’t realize is they INTENTIONALLY taste this bad! See, that way OTHER students don’t steal your kosher ramen. Or if they do, they NEVER do again! And besides, for THIS salad, we won’t need the flavor packet. Yes, I said salad. Come, I’ll show you what I mean!

Ramen Salad

1 package kosher ramen noodles
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1 t sesame oil
1 t hot pepper oil
1 t ginger powder
1 t garlic powder
1 T Vinegar
1 green onion, diced
1/4 cup pre cooked chicken, turkey, or tofu, either cubed or cut into strips
1 T crumbled peanuts

I’m assuming you’re making this in a hotel room, so we’ll go from there. Taking your ramen noodles, crumble them into a microwavable cup and JUST cover the noodles with water. Microwave for 3-5 minutes, stirring after 3 minutes to make sure the noodles are cooking and don’t boil over.

When the noodles are done, use the cup’s lid to drain the water completely before tossing the noodles into the mini-fridge. If you have no mini-fridge, just set it in the ice bucket and surround it with ice to let them chill while you finish unpacking and get cleaned up from the trip.

When ready to eat dinner, microwave the bean sprouts in a cup of water for about 30 seconds to blanche them, then drain & rinse the bean sprouts in COLD water before tossing them atop the chilled noodles.

Next, mix together all the powders and liquids together to make a sauce and toss together with the noodles and bean sprouts.

Finally top the salad with the green onion, your protein of choice, and the peanuts before enjoying.

The hot sauce can be omitted, using teriyaki or soy sauce, if you prefer the salad to not be as spicy. I like to make this up at conventions for myself and friends to eat while enjoying some beers and watching anime or sci-fi movies at room parties, myself. It’s a unique and filling treat, and all the ingredients can be bought at most grocery stores nearby the hotel you’re staying in (Other than the kosher ramen, you may need to bring that.).

Finally, because I can’t seem to do too many RK articles without mentioning Matisyahu… September 12th Viejas Concerts at Bayside presents Matisyahu IN CONCERT in S. Diego!!! Pre-sale begins this Wednesday, June 21, at 1PM my time, while public on-sale begins Friday, June 23! Woo! You know your favorite Kosher Chef-in-training will be there with bells on! ^^ He also has a new cover of the Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ out on Yahoo! Music if you want to see it! ^^ Anyhow, my Matisyahu fanboy-ing over with, Shalom and Good Cooking on all your summer trips this year!

June 20, 2006. advice, recipes, salad. 2 comments.

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of… MEAD?!?

So, on the Blogathon front, it turns out I can’t have a student organization as a chosen charity. Sorry Hillel of SDSU. But, I’ve found a NEW charity I -CAN- use! Yes, my friends, the Aleph Institute is allowing me the honor to raise money for them in the Blogathon. As a Jew who was homeless, I support this organization’s goal to help those Jews who are in Prison, the military, or otherwise cut off from their roots in some form to keep in touch with their faith. An excellent organization, indeed!

In other news, I saw there’s now a Jewish Credit Card out there. It makes me wish I HAD good enough credit to use it, to be honest. ^^ Ah, it would make my trip to Kosherfest all the easier. People keep asking if I want to exhibit. My question is what the hey would I have in my booth if I did? A banner, recipe cards, and business cards with my site’s address? Nah, I’m still too amateur night in Dixie to have a booth, dispite the wonderful exposure it’d give me. I’ll wait until I have a cooking show on food network to do that!

But, the more I write, the more I realize I don’t want to write my normal food article today… No, today I want to look at DRINKS again, manily my personal favorite drink, mead. Now, as any member of the Society for a Creative Acronysm like myself will tell you, mead is a honey-based wine that was popular in the middle ages. Known as dvash in Hebrew, this wine is sweet, refreshing, and WONDERFUL to toast “L’chayim!” with!

Now, before we begin the Article:

Warning!!!

Mead is an alcoholic beverage, and should not be made or imbiled by those under the legal age of consumption in their state, provenance, and/or country. Furthermore, know when to say when, and always drink responsibly. Finally, if you have a drinking problem, please contact Alcoholics Annonymous to become a friend of Bill W. Thank you, and that’s it for the disclaimers.

Now, before we begin mead, let’s discuss the different styles of mead out there. The first is Mead, which is the basic honey wine most make or buy for consumption. There’s also Show Mead, a wine made with JUST honey for shows and display to make it seem more golden and pretty. Next is Sack Mead, a strong mead made with extra honey to make it extra sweet. Finally is Braggot, a beer-like mead made with malt and honey. There’s other types of mead out there (Like Capsicumel, a honey wine made with chile peppers.), but for now we’ll just look at the basics.

Now, unlike most recipe artilces, I’m going to go over the ingredients in better detail here. First, the main ingredient, is honey. I recommend buying a large quantity of kosher honey for this, and WHAT honey you use affects the taste of your honey. Try to find a nice, sweet honey with a neutral taste so that the flower used to make it doesn’t combine poorly with any additions you decide to make. Next is water. I -HIGHLY- recommend using filtered and dechlorinated water for this. Some suggest having it also being softened with some gypsum, but I’m not one to put much stock into that, myself. Our next ingredient is Yeast. I recommend Premier Cuvee as your yeast as its certified kosher and VERY forgiving to the new brewer. Even better is that it doesn’t leave any kind of aftertastes, ferments fast, and overall is the best you can use for this project. Finally comes the optional fruit and spices, where you can fully customize the wine to be YOUR special blend. But, we’ll get into this later. Finally, the last ingredient is an acid blend to assist with fermentation. Lucky for me, there’s a very long list of kosher acid blends that you can choose from.

And now, we begin…

Mead

5 gallons water
11 pounds honey
3/4 cup of your favorite loose flower or fruit-based tea
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
acid blend
Premere Covee wine yeast

Start by boiling 5 gallons of water in a large stock pot.

Once boiling, add the tea, spices and honey and allow it to simmer for 30 minutes.

Next cool to cool the mixture to pitching temperature (about 75 degrees F) using a wort chiller.

Once chilled, pour the mixture into a 7 gallon sanitized covered plastic pail with an airlock and, optionally, a sealable spout in the bottom.

At this point, prepare and add in the acid blend and yeast (Use the package’s directions on how to prepare both) and ariate it by stirring it slowly with a wooden spoon or paddle for about 10 rotations, and then SEAL IT UP.

Rest in a cool, dry room for about a month, checking once a day to see if the airlock is still bubbling. Once it’s under a bubble a minute (About 1 month to 6 weeks), we can look into bottling.

Next is a very important part. Before unsealing the mead that’s aged, Set all your sanitized bottles in an open clean box and make ready to transfer. While I buy beer bottles with stoppers for my mead, you can also use wine bottles with stoppers, as well.

Opening the fermentation bucket, try to quickly yet safely pour or ladle the mead into the bottles. If you spill any, clean it up LATER! An option I’ve found works well is to have a nozzle on the bottom of the fermentation jug. This way you can simply fill up each bottle, leaving about an inch to an inch & half of air room for settling in each bottle.

Once all your bottles are filled, seal them and let them set in the bottles back in the same cool and dry room for another few days before drinking, so as to allow the wine to settle. When poured, it should be a nice golden color, and have a rather sweet taste.

I prefer my mead either chilled, or warmed and mulled. To mull your mead, I recommend getting some mulling spices from your grocery store and follow the directions on the package. But basically you simmer the mead with the mulling spices for about 10-20 minutes, so as to add to the taste of the sweet wine and bring out its full bouquet. This is the traditional way to drink mead, so I do recommend trying it.

I want finish this article with a traditional winter holiday drink, Wassail. Now, my Wassail isn’t like your normal wassail, but I think it turns out quite well, myself!

Jewish Wassail

4 bottles Manischewitz Wine (Your choice on flavor, but I find blackberry works best)
1 small bottle of Kosher brandy (I use Carmel Three Sevens Orange Flavored Brandy out of Israel, myself.)
1/2 cup apple cider
12 allspice, whole
12 cloves, whole
6 cinnamon sticks, broken

Combine all the ingredients in a large kettle or pot and cook over low heat for 30 minutes to two hours, depending on how well-cooked you want it, stirring every few minutes with a wooden spoon or paddle.

The traditional way to drink this brew is in a large punch bowl and everyone scoops out mugfulls. If you prefer, you can scoop it into mugs with a ladle, but this a great drink for those cold winter holidays to help you survive the in-laws. Overall, I hope you have enjoyed this educational trip into alcohol brewing, and I hope you all drink responsibly. Shalom and Good Cooking!

June 15, 2006. advice, recipes, wine. 2 comments.

Gluten-Free is okay by me!

I love Matisyahu, so I was excited to see Matisyahu has a new contest going thru his site. The winner wins an XBOX 360, a copy of Youth, NHL ’06, & get to play him a game. Also, he’s just announced new concert dates in August in Santa Barbera & Los Angeles. Oh, man! I am so going to try my hardest to make the LA show! Woo! Preorders just started thru his site if anyone wants to go! I am SO hoping tickets are still available for the wife & I when we next get paid…

Now I like requests, you all know that. I was requested to come up with a kosher Philly Cheesesteak, and I did. I was requested to do some Spanish recipes, and I did. My latest request is no different. On a Jewish Mailing list I subscribe to, I was requested to come up with some gluten-free KOSHER recipes. Now, as to what a gluten-free diet is, we look to the wikipedia article on it: ‘A gluten-free diet is a diet completely free of ingredients derived from gluten-containing cereals: wheat (including Kamut and spelt), barley, rye, and triticale.’ This also includes most beers, but wines and distilled alcohols are fine. There are many health reasons for such a diet, and I feel its a good cause to dedicate an article to.

Let’s start with a look at some Kosher products on the market that are gluten free, to start with. First, the Gluten-Free Pantry has a whole section dedicated to Kosher Gluten-Free products. Secondly, for a taste of summer, you can get Kosher Glatt corn dogs from S’Better Farms that are Gluten-Free. S’Better Farms also has other delicious products all Kosher and Gluten-Free, and I highly recommend them. There’s also http://glutenFree.co.il which is a site out of Israel that specializes in Kosher Gluten-free food for those in the Jewish community that are in need of it.

Now, as for a handy addition to Gluten-free baked goods, I suggest guar gum. It can be bought in most Whole Foods and other natural grocery stores. It will help keep your baked goods from crumbling, and is an excellent addition to ANY gluten-free bread. Of course, speaking of gluten-free products brings us to something that we, as a culture, love. I speak of my first love, Challah. This recipe comes from Sara at Celiac.com, and I modified it slightly to use Guar gum instead, as I’ve found it easier to find, as well as cheaper than other alternatives.

Gluten-Free Challah

1 1/2 cups cornstarch
3/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
3 T almond meal
1 T guar gum
1 package red star quickrise yeast
1 t salt

1 cup warm water (120 degrees)
2 T dry potato flakes
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup honey
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk

Mix dry ingredients in heavy duty mixer

Dissolve potato flakes in warm water, and add slowly to mixer

Add oil and honey

Add eggs and mix until blended

Beat on High speed for 2 minutes – batter should look like pudding

Spoon batter into greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (I spray with Pam, and use dark Teflon pan)

Smooth top surface of batter using WET hand

Cover pan with plastic wrap (spray underside of plastic sheet with Pam so it won’t stick to batter as it rises)

Let rise in warm place for about 35 minutes or until reaches top of pan
(I turn my oven on warm for 30-60 seconds, turn off, then use as warm place for rising)

Using fine serrated knife, cut 2 diagonal lines across top of bread about 1/8 inch deep (lets steam escape)

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes (cover with foil after 20 minutes if top gets too brown)

Transfer to wire cooling rack, rub top with margerine while still hot.

I’ve also found that after the first warm resting, you can also cut the dough into three parts and braid it into the traditional challah shape before baking. Afterwards, if you wish, you could give it the traditional egg wash as described in my challah article. Now, many gravys call for adding flour to thicken it. For the gluten-free friends, I recommend that for every 2 Tablespoons of Wheat Flour, substitute 1 Tablespoon of Corn Starch.

Likewise, for other baking recipes, when wheat flour is called for, for every 2 cups of wheat flour, you can use 1 1/2 Cups Brown Rice Flour (Or another gluten-free flour) and 1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch (or similar gluten-free starch). The balance needs to be adjusted slightly for each recipe, and the gluten-free flour should go well with the baked good. (No need in using a bitter flour in a desset, after all!), but the balance is usually the same. Just remember to add in Guar gum to help it from falling apart! I hope this helps those who need a gluten-free diet remain kosher, so until next time… Shalom and Good Cooking.

June 7, 2006. advice, bread, Gluten-Free, recipes. 1 comment.

At this rate, I should rename to ‘Asian Kosher Cooking’…

As some may have noticed, I now have a paypal donation button. Feel free to toss some cash to a student chef, if you like what you read here. ^^ On the theme of students and cheap food, I’m brought back to my love of Asian cooking for today’s article: rice bowls! These simple yet cheap meals are quite filling, and you can make them with ingredients found around the house! Let’s start with my favorite, beef bowls or ‘Gyu-don’.

Gyu-don

1 lb. Lean beef roast, thinly sliced into sips
1 small onion, diced
5 Tablespoons Kosher Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon sake
3/4 cup water
4 cups cooked rice

Taking your wok or a heated cast-iron skillet, coat the inside lightly with vegetable oil.

Once the oil is warmed up, add in the beef and onions. Stir-fry the beef mixture with cooking chopsticks or a spatula to make sure to cook it evenly.

When beef & onions are half done, mix together the sake, sugar, soy sauce, and water, then pour into the pan/wok before finishing cooking.

When the meat and onions are finished cooking and the liquid’s all but cooked away, take off the heat.

Taking four bowl, put 1 cup of rice into each bowl and top with the cooked beef & onion mixture.

This dish serves four easily, and can make a great lunch, or a nice light main dish for dinner. If you like, you can get some pickled ginger, Daikon radish sprouts, some more soy sauce, and even sesame seeds to garnish it with. Likewise, you can also use the very same Morning Star Steak Strips I mentioned in me Philly Cheesesteak article to make these very same beef bowls, thus making a vegan meal fit for a king! Ah, but we don’t need to stop there! Oh, there’s many more rice bowls we can make! The next bowl is a variation of the first, vegetable bowls.

Vegetable bowls

4 cups of steamed mixed vegetables
4 cups of cooked rice

Taking the mixed veggies, steam them in a bamboo steamer, if you have one. If not, many frozen veggie mixes come in packages that can be microwaved to steam them.

Put one cup of the vegetables over 1 cup of rice and enjoy!

While this rice bowl is more of a side dish, it can be modified up. You can cut the amount of vegetables in half and cover half the rice with veggies and the other half with the beef bowl mix. Or, you can also cook up some strips of chicken breasts in the same method as the beef & onions, and put THEM on half the bowl with the veggies on the other side. Or, for a final touch, you could get ahold of some fried tofu and stir-fry it with the vegetables, then serve THAT atop the rice! No matter how you do it, rice bowls make an excellent meal!

Now, before I go, let’s address Kosher sake. Now, for a while, the only Kosher certified Sake (rice wine) you could enjoy with sushi or rice bowls was Hatsukuru sake. But, Go-Shu sake from Australia is now also rated Kosher! It’s a good, full-bodied sake that has both hot & cold versions. As for Kosher soy sauce, you can’t beat Kikkoman’s. It’s almost always got the OU symbol on it, and is an asset to any kitchen. I hope this has helped out some of you out there in your culinary pursuits, and I will be back again to write up another article on Kosher cooking soon! Shalom and Good Cooking!

June 5, 2006. main courses, recipes. Leave a comment.

‘How the Laws Were Won’, or ‘Win, Lose, or Dairy’…

Ah, Shavout… As with most Jewish holidays, this one has it’s own unique food roots. This is the anniversary of when we received the laws, and is a special holiday in my heart. Likewise, before a BIG meal at the end of the day, during Shavout we’re supposed to eat a LOT of dairy dishes. Me, some of my favorite dairy dishes get a chance to shine during this time. So, I figured MY favorite dairy dish:

Seattle/Philly Rolls

2 cups sushi rice
Nori (seaweed sheets for making sushi) for sushi rolls
4 oz. Sushi-Grade Salmon (Atlantic or Wild Pacific)
4 oz. Cream Cheese (I prefer chives & green onion flavor for this, myself, but plain works fine…)

Taking the Nori sheet, spread out a thin bed of rice onto it.

Next, take the salmon and cream cheese and slice it into thin slivers (About 1/8th an inch thick is best.)

Lay the salmon & cream cheese onto the bottom of the sheet with the rice.

Now, using a bamboo mat, roll the sushi up into a tight roll and press firmly to secure it.

Finally, Slice the roll into 1/2 inch slices and serve with soy sauce and wasabi.

The difference in calling these Philly or Seattle rolls depends on which ocean the salmon comes from. From the Pacific, it’s Seattle Rolls, and from the Atlantic it’s Philly Rolls! But, before I end this, let’s look at this recipe that was adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field, who suggested that a slight variation on this particular recipe would be to sprinkle a little strong coffee in addition to the vanilla extract. I enjoy making this as a special treat for dairy meals, and it tastes quite good!

MASCARPONE (or best-quality CREAM CHEESE), 18 ounces
HEAVY CREAM, 3 cups
CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR, 1-1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons
RUM, 8 tablespoons
VANILLA EXTRACT, 1 teaspoon
SPONGE CAKE, about 14″ by 8″ cut in half horizontally
COCOA, unsweetened Dutch process, 2 tablespoons
SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE, 1/2 ounce

Press Mascarpone through a wire-mesh sieve into a mixing bowl. Or, process with a few pulses in food processor with steel blade.

Process until smooth.

Add the cream, 1-1/2 cups of sugar, half the rum, and the vanilla.

Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon or process until smooth and creamy.

Brush each layer of the cake with 2 tablespoons of rum.

Spread half the cheese mixture on top of one layer of cake.

Cover with the second cake layer.

Spread the remaining cheese filling over the top layer.

Mix the cocoa and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, and sieve over the cake.

Grate the chocolate over the cocoa.

I hope these recipes help to offer a wonderful dairy meal for anyone who cares to use it, and I hope you all have a wonderful Shavout! But for now, I have some chicken and dumplings cooking in the slow cooker that are needing my attention. Shalom and good cooking!

June 1, 2006. dessert, recipes, snacks. Leave a comment.