KITCHEN TIP OF THE DAY: CUTTING BOARD CONDITIONING

If you’re anything like me, you have a couple of kitchen tools you can quickly name as your favorites to use in the kitchen.  My favorite cutting board easily ranks among my top five most useful kitchen tools.  I use one board for virtually all jobs.  Yes, I said one board.  I don’t have different boards designated for different tasks- such as meat/poultry/veggies, all color-coded so that one might be certain of its use.  Of course, I am mindful of concern for bacterial contamination, and keep the board in good condition.  I use a birch end-grain board that didn’t come cheaply, but it is put to the test every time I cook.

One of the main reasons I feel confident in the longevity of the board is that I maintain it, keeping the following tips for care in mind:

  • Always hand wash with hot, soapy water.  Allow board to air dry completely before putting away.
  • Never submerge the board in a sink of water or allow it to soak.  Also, never wash in the dish washing machine.
  • To sanitize, spay the board with a solution of one part vinegar to five parts water.  Wipe with a clean cloth.
  • To remove odors, rub the board with kosher salt and a cut lemon.  Allow to sit for several minutes then wipe clean with a damp cloth.
  • To preserve the wood’s quality, periodically apply a food-safe wood cream or mineral oil.  Allow board to rest overnight, and wipe with a clean cloth before its next use.
  • Store the board on its end in a dry area away from extreme temperatures.
  • And, something I’ve only recently considered: if it is your favorite board, consider using a less desirable board for harsh tasks like pounding out any tough cuts of meats into cutlets.
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Mineral oil spread over board and allowed to be absorbed over night

Mineral oil applied to clean board

Mineral oil applied to clean board

 

 

 

IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING, TAKE CARE OF IT!

Walking into Williams Sonoma this afternoon, favorite cutting board under my arm, I was worried about the ensuing encounter I was about to have with the sales associate.  “He’s going to think I put this in the dish washer”, I thought to myself.  Having patiently waited in line, I was called forward and asked if I was ready to check out.  “Not exactly”, I stated. I untucked the board from under my arm, and presented it to the associate so that he could see the large crack that had developed in the board.  Well…let’s be accurate here…it was more than just a crack.  This large chasm, nearly occupying 1/3 the width of the cutting board would give the Liberty Bell a run for its money.  In other words, the board would have soon completely split in two.

“You haven’t been putting this in the dish washer, have you?”, were the first words the associate asked me upon my explanation (or lack thereof) as to why their branded cutting board had faltered.  I can only imagine the dismayed look I must have shot the poor fellow before I launched into a detailed account of the proper cleaning and conditioning regimen I had utilized to care for the board.  He didn’t know how much I loved that cutting board- it’s thickness, the grain of the wood.  I loved it’s weight under my hand, not only when I lifted it, but also as my knife rocked across its surface.  It had density- something that is not felt with a thinner board, but made it my go-to for just nearly every cutting purpose.  I never would have soaked the board in the sink, much less have places it in the dish washer (a major no-no for anything wooden in my kitchen).

Now, there are all sorts of cutting boards on the market.  While some people might find comfort in the reported sanitary benefits of a plastic or bamboo board, if one properly cares for a dense wood board, such as maple, walnut, or cherry, any risk of bacterial development can be mitigated.  Finding a board made of a dense wood is important, as it will help to keep water out of the board and to keep it from warping.  For tips on keeping your favorite cutting board in good condition, look here.  Fortunately, the sales associate was willing to replace the cracked cutting board with a new one that I have already put to good use.

It is important to invest a bit of extra time and care in order to keep your favorite kitchen tools in good working order.  After all, you have probably put good money into them and want to keep them around as long as possible.  This means often means skipping the dishwasher and rolling up your sleeves to wash by hand.  It may take a few more minutes, but will be worth it in the long run.   As a general rule of thumb, I do not put any wooden tools, any tools with silicon, any skillets or cookware (pots and pans), or any of my knives in the dishwasher.  Some may think that a plastic or silicon spatula or other item might be fine in the machine, but this can lead to cracking and ultimately weaken the tool.  Pictured below are a few items I would always opt to wash by hand.

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KITCHEN TIP OF THE DAY: CLEANING CAST IRON

castironWe’ve all made the mistake: after using a cast iron skillet, we let it sit, with the good intentions of enjoying our food while the food is still hot.  Instead, perhaps we should have let the food rest a minute or so- about the amount of time it would take to clean the skillet while still warm.  Or, even worse, we’ve let our skillet and stuck-on food bits soak in water overnight with the hopes that somehow it might look better in the morning.  Instead, what we awake to find is our once well-seasoned old faithful skillet now covered with a newly formed rusty patina.  The easiest way to deal with this situation is to prevent it from happening by actually clean the skillet while it’s still warm.  Follow the steps below:

1.  While the skillet is still hot or warm, carefully transfer to your sink.

2.  Wash the skillet with warm to hot water, a stiff brush, sponge, or wash cloth.  You want to avoid using soaps or steel wool as this will remove the skillet’s seasoning.

3.  For stuck-on food, try using a paste made from kosher salt and water.  Only a small amount is needed.  Remember, any abrasive substance used will strip the seasoning, so use sparingly.

4.  Once all the food particles are removed, rinse the skillet and wipe well with a dish towel.  Some people like to return the skillet to the burner and heating it shortly to ensure all water evaporates.

5.  With a paper towel, wipe the interior and exterior of the skillet with a bit of oil.

6.  Store the cast iron in a dry place.  If stacking something on top of the skillet, some people like to place a paper towel inside of the skillet to prevent moisture from being caught there.

KITCHEN TIP OF THE DAY: REMEMBERING MAILLARD- NATURE’S NON-STICK

MaillardThe Maillard reaction is one of the most convenient and flavorful effects of introducing heat to proteins.   During this process, as the amino acids found within meats are introduced to heat, they begin to denature and rearrange themselves.  This not only causes meats to brown on their surfaces, but creates wonderful savory flavors and aromas.  In my mind, though, one of the most beneficial aspects of this reaction is that it has a built-in non-stick effect.  Whether one is cooking on a grill, or in a saute pan, the Maillard reaction will occur if one allows it to.  When the protein is allowed enough contact with the surface of the grill, or the pan, it will eventually release on its own and can then easily be turned over without sticking to that surface.  This is important, as flavor can be lost if the browned portion of the protein ends up stuck to the cooking surface rather than the meat itself.

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So, how can one tell if the Maillard reaction has sufficiently occurred and the protein is ready to be turned/removed from the heat surface?  It’s easy; if when lightly pulled upon, the meat seams as if it wants to stick to the heating surface, leave it alone.  Allow a few more minutes of cooking time and try again.  The meat will easily release from the cooking surface once browning has occurred.  We are often tempted to turn meat before it is ready.  Just be patient and the rewards will be worth the time!

KITCHEN TIP OF THE DAY: CLEAN SPICE GRINDER

spicegrinderGrinding one’s own spices from whole can ensure fresh and bold flavors when cooking.  A coffee grinder makes a great method for quickly grinding spices and ensures a more uniform grind than other methods- such as using a molcajete or a mortar and pestle.  If you use a coffee grinder for spices, it is important to clean the device between the types of spices being ground.  This is especially true if the grinder is used for coffee as well.  Water and soap can be avoided, and this will prolong the life of the grinder.  Instead, an effective means for cleaning the grinder is to use bread.  First, brush as much residue out of the grinder as possible with your fingers or a pastry brush.  Then, add several pieces of old or stale bread and grind them.  The bread will absorb any lingering spice (or coffee) residue.  Discard the bread and you’re ready to start fresh!

 

Kitchen Tip of the Day: Anchored Cutting Board

Anchored Cutting Board

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When using a cutting board on most surfaces, the boards can often slip and move around as pressure is applied while cutting.  This is especially true when plastic boards are being used.  In order to prevent the board from slipping or moving while being used, it is necessary to anchor the board to the counter or surface.  Simply lightly moisten a paper towel or dish towel and place under the cutting board, making sure the towel is completely flat.  The towel will stop the board from moving, and doubles as a cleanup helper when done cutting and chopping!

Kitchen Tip of the Day: Window Herbs

Kitchen Window Herbs

HerbswindowOften, the bundles of herbs purchased at the local grocer are quite larger than needed for the recipe one is using them for.  What to do with those gorgeous greens afterward?  Instead of throwing them in the bottom drawer of the fridge, keep them out instead.  Not only do they make great window decorations, but they might inspire your next culinary creation!

Place herbs in water and in a sunny window.  Just be sure to change the water frequently as it will be needed.  I change it almost daily and their shelf-life is greatly extended.

Kitchen Tip of the Day: Quick Defrost

Quick Kitchen Defrost

Sinkdefrost

When in the need to defrost frozen foods, particularly meats, water is your best ally.  Some may turn to the auto-defrost of a microwave but that can still lead to slightly cooked patches.  Instead, place the item(s) in a large bowl and place in your sink, under the faucet.  Allow the water to slowly run, filling up the bowl, and even running over.  If you feel comfortable leaving the water slowly running do so.  Otherwise give it a little bit of time and the item(s) will defrost in an hour or less.