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How to Buy a Kitchen Knife

Knives-101: A Quick-ish Guide Before You Buy

Second only to our hands, good kitchen knives are the single most important tool a cook has in her toolbox.  With only a few different styles, she can do just about everything she needs to do this side of the cutting board.  Before you head out and spend a small fortune, or worse, get the cheapest set available, there are a few things you should know.

 

  1. Anatomy of a knife.

    There are over 10 different parts to a chef’s knife.  But there are 4 that are most important when shopping for the right knife for you: Point, Edge, Tang and Handle.

    basic anatomy of a kitchen knife
  • Point: The very tip of the cutting surface where the edge meets the spine.  It can be curved up, down and everything in between.  Some specialty knives may have a curved or bent point, like a cheese knife.  But for most basic chef’s knives, (that’s the big one that comes in a set), a gentle curve that follows the edge of the blade is best.
  • Edge: This is the cutting side of the knife.  It’s the part that does all the work, so this is an important part!  In the kitchen, there are three basic styles: hollow-grind, flat-grind and serrated.  A hollow-ground edge is a finer edge that is best for slicing and cutting.  It tends to be more delicate and may need to be sharpened more often.   Chef’s knives, boning, paring and utility knives tend to have this type of edge.  Flat-ground edges are best for knives that are going to do a lot of chopping thru harder objects, like bones- think meat cleavers.  Serrated knives have a single-sided scalloped edge.  This type of edge is great for slicing thru crumbly foods like breads and cakes, and sometimes tomatoes.  Sharpening a serrated edge can be tricky though.
  • Tang: The tang is the extension of metal that runs from the base of the blade thru the handle.  The farther back the tang runs thru the handle, the sturdier the knife and the more stable the blade will be.  Cheaper knives tend to have partial tangs.  This feature can be used to easily determine the quality, and often price, of a good kitchen knife.
  • Handle: The handle of a knife can be made out of just about anything, from rope to bone to wood to plastic.  It can be decorative, or purely functional.  Most are made from a polymer-type material and hold up well to extensive use.  Some have finger grooves for grip, others do not.  It is important to “try on” a knife before buying, hold in your hand and see how it feels.  Your chef’s knife should be an extension of your hand, so you want to make sure it feels good.

 

  1. Type of metal.

    serrated bread knife

    Kitchen knives are made from several different metals, or a combination.  The two most common are carbon- steel or stainless-steel.  The higher the carbon content, the less strong the knife, but the sharper the edge can get.  Also, they tend to be more expensive.  Stainless steel knives are great because they resist against rust and are super strong.  The edge on stainless is harder to keep, in that it probably needs to be sharpened more often.  But it’s still a great material for kitchen knives.  The most common type of steel for kitchen knives is stainless steel.

 

  1. Sets.

    knife bagDo you get a whole set, or do you just buy one or two?  Well… that’s up to you.  Most commercial knife sets offer quite a variety.  And they usually come with a “set” of steak knives.  But you don’t always get the best bang for your buck, so maybe you want to just buy them individually.  Each knife has a specific purpose.  But most can be used for more than one job.  Do you really need two different sized chef’s knives, two utility knives, etc?  On a regular basis, you will probably only use 3-4 different knives.  There are a couple of knives that are great to have, but you won’t use all the time.  And there are a few extra things that are nice to have around.  The following are my suggestions.

 

  • Chef’s knife (the big kahuna) can be used for just about everything. Wide, long blade.  Typically, 10-12 inches long.  Can be traditional or “Santoku” style.

    Chef’s Knife, Santoku style
  • Boning knives are, well…it’s in the name! They are used to remove bones from whole animals and are great for removing skin from fish filets.  Thin, narrow, flexible blade. Typically, 8-10 inches long.
  • Paring knives are best for smaller, more delicate work. Shaped like a chef’s knife, they are usually only 3-4 inches long.
  • Utility knives are shaped much like a chef’s knife but usually shorter and narrower. They are another great work horse on the cutting board.  I use mine when I need to cut something and I feel like the chef’s knife is overkill, but the paring knife won’t quite cut it.  Like an apple.
  • Bread knives are serrated and essential in the kitchen. You may not use it every single day.  But when you need it, you NEED it!  You want one that has a long blade on it, at least 12 inches.  It’s gotta go all the way thru the loaf of bread, so you don’t want a short blade.

    Kitchen Shears
  • Kitchen Shears, or scissors as most people call them, are also great to have around. Don’t use the same scissors the kids use for crafts.  Glitter is not a good garnish.  You want a dedicated set in the kitchen.  They should easily come apart for thorough clean-up.  And you will want to have them sharpened at the same time as your other blades.
  • Honing Steel, a vital tool in every kitchen, should not be overlooked. Most knife sets come with a stainless rod attached to a handle made of the same material as the knives.  But there are lots of different honing steels on the market now.  Mine is a diamond-coated steel shaft made by Wusthof.  Proper honing technique is just as important as the steel itself.  So, learn how to do it properly and your knives will last a lot longer.

 

  1. Storage.

    Professional Knife Kit

    Where do you keep your knives? In a block on the counter?  On a magnet on the wall?  Or…GASP!…in a drawer (at least keep the blades protected with a sheath!)?  Where you store them is up to you, and there are pos and cons to each way.  But until we invent a way for them to magically float in space, we have to keep them somewhere.  The most important factors for you will be space and safety.  So store them in a way that works for you and forget the haters.

  2. Price.

    Unfortunately, just like everything else, price matters.  But you can still get good, quality kitchen knives at just about every price point.  So buy the best you can afford, take great care of them (dishwasher is a big NO-NO!), sharpen the blades regularly and they will last you a long time.

 

 

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Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Emilie Newcomb

Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Emilie Newcomb

This month’s chef’s spotlight is dedicated to Emile Newcomb.  She is a personal chef and Friend in Chicago

In her own words.

I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 16, starting as a hostess. Over time, I realized that I wanted to be involved in the kitchen. In December 2016, I graduated from Kendall College with a degree in Culinary Arts.

Chef Emilie Newcomb, Chicago

During culinary school, I abandoned any hope for a normal sleep schedule, and worked in the private dining kitchen at Spiaggia. After that, I became a line cook at a Korean restaurant called BellyQ, and then became a chef instructor at Cooking Fools. Teaching cooking classes made me realize that I really enjoyed the type of job that allows me to work with people, as well as food. And then I discovered Friend That Cooks! It’s extremely rewarding to allow myself creative freedom, as well as being able to receive direct feedback from my clients.

When I’m not cooking, I’m still gravitating towards food. I am constantly canning, fermenting, pickling, you name it. Not to brag, but my kombucha is off the chain! (I will happily share upon request.)

In my spare time, I enjoy discovering new restaurants to get inspired with new ideas for my clients. I love the diverse food scene in Chicago.  It almost makes up for the cold weather!

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Eat This Now!

Here is what you should be eating RIGHT NOW!  This is the best time of year for late-summer produce.  Get it at its best, before it’s too late!

https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org/ 

Lima Beans, Green Beans, Snap Peas
Lima Beans, Green Beans, Snap Peas

Apples, Arugula, Asian Pears, Basil, Beets, Black-Eyed Peas, Blackberries, Blueberries, Bok Choy, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Celery, Celery Root, Chard, Chili Peppers, Chives, Cilantro, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Grapes, Green Beans, Green Onions, Ground Cherries, Horseradish, Kale, Leeks, Lima Beans, Melons, Mint, Mushrooms, Nectarines, Okra, Onions, Oregano, Parsley, Peaches, Peppers, Plums, Potatoes, Radishes, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Rosemary, Sage, Snap Peas, Snow Peas, Sprouts, Strawberries, Summer Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Thyme, Tomatillos, Tomatoes, Turnips, Watermelon, Zucchini.radish

If you have ever thought about trying something new, now is the time to try these foods!  Tasting them at the peak of their season means maximum flavor.  Not sure how to prepare them?  That’s why you called us! 😉

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Sounds in the Kitchen

Podcast, Pandora, Talk-Radio…

What do you listen to while you are cooking?  Heavy metal, soft rock, Boss Nova radio on Pandora?  Maybe you don’t listen to music at all or, you prefer talk-radio or the news.  We asked our chefs, and most of them said Pandora or podcasts.  Here are some of their favorite foodie and food-adjacent podcasts.  Share with us your favorites!

Starving For Attention with Richard Blais * Gastropod * Sporkful

The Stew * Stuff You Should Know * The David Chang Show

Gravy Podcast * The Eater Upsell * FoodStuff * Burnt Toast

Serious Eats * Four Top

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Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Tyler Wicezorek

Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Tyler Wicezorek

This month’s chef’s spotlight is dedicated to Tyler Wicezorek.  He is a personal chef and Friend in Indianapolis

In his own words. 

In 2006, I graduated Cum Laude from Sullivan University with an Associate’s degree in Culinary Arts. When I started I could barely cook a grilled cheese sandwich or scrambled eggs, but I knew I didn’t want a normal “desk job”.  I also knew I wanted to work with science. I figured at the very least I would never have to worry about going hungry being a chef (I was right!). However, it was a bit different than I expected and a whole lot harder.

Chef Tyler Wicezorek
Chef Tyler Wicezorek

Luckily, I made it through school with my raw determination and friends I had made along the way. I’ve been cooking professionally now for 13 years in kitchens throughout Louisville, including the ones at Churchill downs. Working on the riverboat, The American Queen, cruising the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was definitely my favorite job of the bunch. Before Friend That Cooks, I worked at the steakhouse in Hoosier Park.

When I’m not cooking, I’m the Vice President and co-owner of Wizard of Paws Wildlife Education Inc. along with my wife of 5 years. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit wildlife sanctuary that takes in domestic wildlife that can’t be released back into the wild.  We use them to educate schools and the community about the delicate ecosystem all around us.  Currently, we take-in foxes and New Guinea singing dogs, but are looking to expand and care for more animals with the help of donations from the community.

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Chef’s Spotlight: Krystal Vazquez

Chef’s Spotlight: Chef Krystal Vazquez

This month’s chef’s spotlight is dedicated to Krystal Vazquez.  She is a personal chef and Friend in Kansas City.

In her own words.
Krystal Vazquez
Krystal Vazquez

If there is any universal language (apart from Math, ha) it is food. We all speak it. Food is memory, comfort, caring. Not just the thing that fuels us, but something that brings us together for all manner of celebration. The joy you can bring someone simply by fixing them a scratch-made meal is remarkable. Being a born people pleaser, I knew that in cooking I would find the perfect conduit to spread this joy to others.

Growing up I wasn’t much the Saturday morning cartoon type of kid – I would rather be watching Justin Wilson on PBS. We all remember him, that Cajun chef with his jolly catchphrase “I Guar-on-tee!”. Watching Mr. Wilson was like spending time with a beloved grandparent. I loved his gentle style of storytelling and learning about the food that moved him. With his help, I was about 10 years old when I decided that being a Chef is what I wanted to do with my life.

In high school I took every culinary, nutrition and home economics course offered. I was president of the FCCLA and traveled state wide to participate in cooking competitions. It was at this time I discovered Johnson & Wales University, alma mater of the likes of Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence. In 2004 I graduated Summa Cum Laude with my Associates in Culinary Arts from the Norfolk, VA campus. Several years later after marrying my high school sweetheart and starting my family, I graduated again from Johnson & Wales with my Bachelor’s in Food-Service Operations and Culinary Management.

My career has been spread across prestigious country clubs (The Country Club of Virginia and Pinehurst to name a few). I have been a sous chef in private catering establishments and at upscale senior living communities, which have given me experience not only in event work and fine dining but also therapeutic diets. Joining Friend that Cooks over a year ago has by far been the most gratifying career move I’ve made to date. I’m able to continue my dreams of sharing joy while being able to spend more time with my family. The best of both worlds!

In my free time I also spend time with my goofy bulldogs, I enjoy painting and interior decorating. I’m also fond of the music scene in Kansas City and am always game for a live show. Having the Royals and the Chiefs in the same town is fantastic and I love going to games when I get the chance.

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More Than Salt: The Elements of Cooking

Seasoning Doesn’t Just Mean Salt & Pepper

saltYou’ve meticulously studied the recipe. You’ve gone to specialty grocery stores and purchased every single obscure ingredient. You followed the directions exactly. You seasoned with salt and pepper, plated the exotic meal beautifully, put it on the table, and it tastes. . . ok.

To me, the most important skill a cook can master, in regards to savory cooking, is the ability to taste what you’ve made and then know what you can do to elevate it to perfection. No matter how closely you follow a recipe, there will always be variables in your kitchen and ingredients that differ from those of the author of the recipe. A skillful chef or even a good home cook knows how to combat these differences and fix a meal that needs just that little extra. Most recipes encourage you to season with salt and pepper. I would argue that seasoning with acid, sweetness, and fat are just as important. limesThere’s a reason restaurants often garnish fish with citrus wedges to squeeze or top a steak with a pat of garlic-herb butter.

I think the easiest way to practice the skill of tasting and adding salt, acid, sugar, or fat to perfection is to make a simple vinaigrette. This is the simplest balance of the four components. Whisk up your favorite vinaigrette recipe and then taste it. Does it taste bland? It probably needs more vinegar or salt. Is it too sour? Some added oil (fat) or honey should temper the acidity. Is it too salty? You can dilute the salinity by adding volume to the vinaigrette with vinegar and oil. Does it taste right, but somehow doesn’t feel rounded out? A dab of honey should round out any rough edges. Mastering this process to find the perfect balance is the key. Once you have this skill, you can easily apply it to almost any situation where dinner just seems to need a little pop.

Almost every ethnic cuisine incorporates ingredients that fill the need for each of these elements. Many ingredients bring multiple elements to the dish. The table below lists some basics, but the possibilities and combinations are endless once you become familiar with new ingredients and recognize which of these elements they add to your food.

Cuisine

Salt

Acid

Fat

Sweet

Mexican Salt, Cotija Cheese Lime, Hot Sauce, Pineapple Avocado, Cheese, Crema,

Corn Oil

Pineapple, Piloncillo, Honey
Asian Soy Sauce, Fish Sauce, Miso Yuzu, Rice Wine Vinegar, Lime Coconut Milk, Silken Tofu, Sesame Oil Mirin, Mango, Papaya
Italian Parmesan, Anchovy, Prosciutto Tomatoes, Balsamic, Lemon Olive Oil, Cheese, Egg Yolk Marsala Wine
French Sea Salt Red Wine Vinegar, Lemon Cream, Butter Port Wine, Orange
Spanish Salt Cod, Iberico Ham, Manchego Cheese Sherry Vinegar Olive Oil, Almonds Honey, Sugar
Southern US Bacon Hot Sauce Butter, Cream Molasses, Sorghum

-Mark Maybon has been a personal chef and Friend for three and a half years.  He serves our Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita and Twin City markets.

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Artichokes: Worth It!

Cleaning Artichokes For Stuffing and Steaming

ArtichokesArtichokes are one of the more underutilized vegetables in the produce isle. They for sure do not scream “Eat me!  I’m delicious!” with all of those thorns, tough, bitter, outer armor and hairy insides.  But once you get down to the sweet delicious meat, we promise the effort will be worth it!  Sure, you can buy a can of artichoke hearts for $4 a can.  And that’s all fine and well for a seafood pasta or pizza topping.  But nothing says summer like a stuffed artichoke and a cold can of beer (or a glass of rose, we’re not judging.)

Getting them ready, though, that takes some finesse.  So, we broke it down for you in the handy step-by-step guide.  The stuffing?  That’s all you!  Use whatever you want.  But for the best combos, we recommend a little cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs.  Crab, shrimp or even white beans would also taste delicious.

How To

First:  You gotta buy the artichokes.  Look for ones that are heavy for their size with tight, green leaves.  Some brown spots are ok.

artichoke globes with tight leaves
Select globes that are heavy with tight leaves.

Second: This is where the prep starts.  Remember the 80/20 rule?  This is definitely a situation where being prepared pays off in the end.

You will need: a large cutting board, kitchen sheers or scissors, a sturdy and SHARP chef’s knife, a large soup spoon, a large bowl for scraps, a parchment lined sheet pan (or a steamer basket on the stove top) and your stuffing.

Third: Tear off the bottom leaves from the stem of the artichokes.  Next, using your sheers, cut just the tip off the leaves working in a circular pattern all the way around the artichoke, removing the thorns.  It works well to hold the artichoke over the scrap bowl, so the leaves fall right in.  Makes for easier clean-up.  Then, turn the artichoke on it’s side and using your chef’s knife, slice off the top third of the choke, exposing the purple flower center.  You can also remove the stem now.  The leaves are tough, so be careful and use your knife in a sawing-like motion to make the cut.  Don’t try to push straight down…that won’t do anything except bruise the leaves and hurt your shoulder!

Flower and choke center
Remove the top third to expose the flower and choke center.

Fourth: Take out the choke.  The purple center is actually the flower of the plant.  If left alone, the artichokes would bloom and drop its seeds.  Underneath the soft purple leaves is the center, or the choke.  It is full of fine, hair-like seed pods that float in the air after the plant blooms.  They are not very tasty and do not have a good mouth-feel, so they gotta go.  Plus, we need to make room for the stuffing!  The easiest way is to use the side of a large soup spoon.  Work the edge of the spoon under the little hairs and scrape them out, exposing the edible choke, aka “meat”, underneath.  Again, work over a scrap bowl for easier clean-up.

Fifth: Stuff it, bake it and eat it!  Or don’t stuff it.  Either way, it’s delicious!  They can be baked on a sheet pan in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or steamed on the stovetop.  Use the tip of a paring knife thru the stem end to check for doneness.  When it inserts easily, they are cooked thru.  To eat, pull off a leaf and scrape it against your teeth to remove the meat.  Don’t eat the green leaf.  No amount of cheese could ever make those tasty!  (If you are not stuffing them, dip the choke end of the leaf in clarified butter for extra deliciousness.)  When the leaves have all been picked, the tasty sweet choke heart is left behind and up for grabs!

 

You can keep the choke centers and use them for other recipes or eat them plain.  To clean the artichoke all the way down to the choke center, have a bowl of acidulated water off to the side and then follow steps one thru three above, but keep the stem attached as there is good meat inside.  Remove the outer leaves using a chef’s knife, working in a circular pattern around the artichoke.

artichoke outer leaves
Remove the tough outer leaves to expose the tender choke heart.

Leave the hairy choke attached while you do this to keep the center from oxidizing.  Once the outer leaves have been removed, rub the choke center with ½ a lemon to stop the oxidation process.

rub lemon on artichoke
Rub with lemon to prevent oxidation.

Next, follow step four to remove the hairy choke and drop immediately into the acidulated water while you work on the others.  Work quickly as they will brown quickly from the air.  The now clean artichoke hearts can be steamed, fried, roasted, sautéed or grilled and used in hundreds of different recipes! Click the link below to get some recipe ideas from delish.com!

https://www.delish.com/cooking/g950/artichoke-recipes/

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My Whole 30 Experience

We have a dear friend who does Whole30 every January. She stays committed and has pretty decent success. This January, she roped her husband into doing it with her and he lost twenty pounds. They posted on Facebook about his success and immediately, MY husband said, “let’s do it.”

As the words left his lips, my head spun, quite possibly, ten times around my neck. I said, “Are you sure? There are a lot of foods you LOVE that you can’t have. We won’t be able to drink.”

I repeated the statements above probably twenty more times trying to convince him this was a bad idea. I became a little savvy and even delayed the start by saying to my husband, “Your birthday is in a couple weeks and birthday cake is NOT on Whole30…at all, are you sure you want to do it?” He’s wise to my games and said we would begin the week after his birthday…cue sad heartbreaking music and imaginary tears rolling down my face.

As we prepared to begin, all I could think was what a crock this diet is because we already eat relatively healthy and balanced. So I bought the cookbook. I wanted to stay committed and ensure we were following the rules, so what better way to follow the rules than to have them laid out for you in recipes and measurements. BAD IDEA FOR SOMEONE WHO COOKS PROFESSIONALLY!

I meal prepped all of our breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the first week thinking this will be great. There aren’t any excuses of why this can’t work, except the 16 boxes of assorted Girl Scout Cookies taunting me because they are unopened.

We had success in the first week, kind of. We were mildly hungry throughout the first day but were able to add fruit and Lara Bars to help stave off the symptoms of being hangry. Day two was problematic. The hunger pangs were like none I’ve ever had. I was weak and a little disoriented. Not a fun time by anyone. Day three, I hit a wall. I woke up nauseous…my body was in full detox. I couldn’t eat or focus. I was irritable and I just wanted it to end. For me, that was the day the severity of the rules ceased to exist. I almost fell asleep/passed out at the wheel of my car and rear ended someone.

I changed the plan because that isn’t a way to live. I added an english muffin for breakfast and it made all the difference in the world. I also found my self disregarding the cookbook. The food I made the first week was good, but it wasn’t great. I cook for a living, I love eating great food. There was an Ahh Haa moment when I said to myself, “Girl, you are a chef, make it taste good.” I’d been so intent on following the rules, my professional rules went out the window.

I found everything in the book to be under seasoned and bland. I first thought it was my taste buds changing, but as the diet went on and I used my professional know how combined with the book for ideas, Whole30 became far more manageable.

We have decided to use Whole30 as a guide for lunches dinners Monday-Friday, but if we want a glass of wine, we are having it. If we want a couple (not an entire sleeve) of thin mints, we are going to have them. As with any diet, MODERATION IS KEY!

In conclusion, here is a list of super positive things I took away from the diet because we did lose weight and feel better.

1. READ YOUR LABELS (these days, everything has sugar in it)
2. When reading recipes, season until you think it tastes good
4. If I never eat another Lara Bar, it will be too soon
5. Balance is key, meaning: one glass of wine rather than the bottle
6. LIVE YOUR LIFE
7. If you can’t make it taste good, hire someone who can

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Empty Tomb Rolls

Just for Fun! “Empty Tomb” Rolls

Looking for a fun and easy recipe to bake with the kids this Easter weekend?  Check out these “Empty Tomb” rolls.  You can’t go wrong with marshmallows, butter and cinnamon and sugar!  Just be sure to seal them tight so the gooey goodness doesn’t escape from the “tomb”.

https://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/empty-tomb-rolls/