The Makings of a Healthful Kitchen (Part 5)

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The theme of my postings over the past few weeks has been getting back to basics with cooking. I’ve been inspired, in part, by the television show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, but also by much of the reading that I do. A few of my favorite magazines include Cooking Light, Cook’s Illustrated, and Real Simple.

Now, I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but like everyone else, I have days when I don’t feel like cooking or don’t (think) I have the time. So, I’m always on the lookout for easy, quick, and healthful recipes that don’t require hours slaving over a stove. And despite one of our reader’s comments that no one in her family appreciated her cooking, I do believe that a home-cooked meal (even a simple one) is more nourishing for the body, soul, and mind, even if it’s just your own!

I enjoy hearing and reading about people who, never having cooked before, buckled down, learned how to cook a few dishes, and became cooking converts. I especially enjoy hearing about how more and more children are taking to the kitchen. How about you? What or who inspires you to cook? And if you’re not a fan of cooking, what might encourage you to start?

Look Sharp!
Over the past three weeks, we’ve talked about the pots and pans that you need to prepare a decent meal. Now we’re ready to move on to the next essential, which is knives — and good knives, at that.

Yes, I realize that knives, like pots and pans, can seem quite costly. If you’re going to buy a whole set of quality knives, be prepared to plunk down hundreds of dollars. The good news? Most people don’t need a huge set of knives. In fact, you probably really only need about four knives. But make them count.

Knife Pointers
Point 1. Think of buying knives as an investment. A good knife can seem pretty pricey up front and you may be tempted to go for the cheaper one that’s sold in the grocery store. But having the best knives that you can afford offers the following benefits:

  • They will literally last a lifetime.
  • They make cooking much safer. (You’re more likely to injure yourself with cheap knives.)
  • They truly can make cooking more enjoyable. (How annoying is it to try to cut a tomato with a dull knife?)
  • They can help save you money. (If you like cooking, you’ll eat out less!)

Point 2. Sharpen up your knowledge about the parts of a knife. A quality knife should feel good in your hands. There are four basic parts to a knife:

  • Blade: Made of stainless steel, carbon steel, high-carbon steel, or ceramic. Metal blades are either stamped (pressed from a sheet of metal) or forged (molded under heat). Forged blades last longer. Stainless steel blades are inexpensive but are difficult to sharpen. Ceramic blades can break, but they do stay sharp. Most professional knives are made of high-carbon steel.
  • Handle: Plastic, wood, rubber, or metal — it’s an individual preference. Wood may not be as durable as other materials. Test out different knives and decide what feels best in your hand.
  • Bolster: The part of the knife that joins the blade with the handle. This helps strengthen the knife and gives it balance.
  • Tang: The part of the blade that extends into the knife handle, either all the way or part of the way. It provides balance and durability. Professional knives usually have a full tang.

Point 3. At a minimum, have four knives on hand:

  • A 7- to 9-inch chef’s knife (measure the blade from the tip of the knife to the beginning of the handle). A good chef’s knife can cost close to $100.
  • A paring knife. Choose one with a 3- or 4-inch blade. This makes it more versatile for not only peeling fruits and vegetables, but also for slicing.
  • A serrated knife. You’ll need this knife to cut through crusty loaves of bread…and to neatly slice your garden tomatoes.
  • A slicing knife. This is a knife with a long, slender blade that you’ll need for slicing that Thanksgiving turkey.

A few more knife “pointers” — and more! — next week

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