Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cooking with Sharp Knives

'Tis the season for lots and lots of cooking.

You may recall my opinions on Thanksgiving cooking. Well, they haven't changed. However, we will be doing the meal here this year. Eek!!

More on that later.

Today, my issue is knives. The more I cook, the more I appreciate my knives. MetaDaddy first turned me on to how important a sharp knife is. Not a knife that can cut, but a truly sharp knife. Here's why IMHO:
  • Comfort - A sharp knife makes slicing, dicing, etc easier, which increased the cook's comfort level.
  • Usefulness - How useful is a mangled tomato? If you have a sharp knife, you can simply do more, and your food looks more sliced than hacked.
  • Safety - A dull knife requires more force from the user. Hardly safe to apply a huge amount of pressure onto an instrument that while dull for some purposes, is still sharp enough to do some serious damage.
So, having addressed the reasons that I prefer sharp knives in my kitchen, what's the best way to keep them sharpened. Heck if I know. There are all sorts of different ways to address that.

Here's how I look at it:

Issue #1
  • Get a good knife and don't pay a fortune. We've had a set of J.A. Henkles knives for years, and they've served us well, but they're definitely showing their age.
  • Get a strong, well made knife that stays sharp longer than other knives due to the composition of its steel. We have a Shun knife, and it's spectacular. So's the price.
Issue #2
  • You can buy a sharpener and sharpen your own knives. This is an investment, and you'll save yourself the time and hassle of taking it elsewhere. However, you don't want to overdo this option since each time you sharpen your knife, you wear down the metal, thus shortening the life of your blade.
  • Find a knife sharpening service. I took my knives to Sur La Table to be sharpened. However, they just use a sharpener, and it didn't sharpen my knives to a level I was happy with. Make sure that if a service will be sharpening your knives, they're not using a sharpener that you can buy on your own. I found a guy at the Santa Monica farmers' market who has tools, experience, and knowledge when it comes to knives. He's not currently there due to some city code issue (the market organizers told me it's complicated, but they're trying to get him back). I hear he's at the market in Mar Vista, so I'll be looking for him there.
  • Some manufacturers will sharpen your knives for free. Shun, for example, will sharpen the knife at no cost, but you have to pay for shipping and wait up to 4 weeks to get it back. That said, they do the job right. There's a lot to be said about that.
As for the purpose of a steel (that long, metal rod that came with your knife set), it's not a tool to sharpen your knife. It serves to keep an edge on your blade, which gets microscopically dinged up with use. A steel smooths out the edge. Here's a little video that describes a steel's purpose and how it's used.

So, there are a few issues. Personally, I'd rather find someone who knows what they're doing. Since sharpening is an infrequent expense, I'd prefer to get it done right, even if it costs a bit more. At the end of the day, if the knife is treated properly when sharpened, it give me more value for money since it increases the blade's lifespan. Barring that, I'd sooner buy a sharpener and do it on my own than pay a service to do the same.

Pretty Up Your Flowers

I picked this tip up at a flower shop, and it doesn't get any easier.

If you have a clear vase to put flowers in, drop some cranberries into the water. They gracefully float to the top and add some beautiful color to your arrangement.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Food is Your Food

To whom it may concern,

You know that bag? That green bag that you found on the sidewalk today? The one filled with groceries. That was mine. I was the dummy who loaded myself up with an infant and running toddler to buy bread, avocados, potatoes, and other edibles, only to forget the bag next to my car because I was so distracted by the two year old who was trying to pounce on the 3 month old in her car seat. That green bag, which was heavy enough to leave marks on my arm that I can still see, had the ingredients for a yummy lentil dinner, and a nutritious vegetable soup. That green bag, which was gone despite driving back within 10 minutes of leaving it behind, held the first blueberries of the season, which MetaBoy was so excited about.

Let's not call it stealing, that thing you did where you took something that didn't belong to you. I'm going to picture you as someone who needed the food, and I hope that this actually did brighten your spirits for the coming week when we take that time to give thanks for things both big and small. I hope you do make that soup, and have a hearty sandwich with the nine grain bread, and finish all of the antioxidant rich blueberries. I hope you do because it will mean that my annoying sentiments toward you and my dulling mental performances were warrantless

Now that this issue is behind us, I'll rewrite my grocery list and go shopping again tomorrow. I'm hoping these groceries make it home, this time.


P.S. MetaBoy drooled on the lentils.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cool to be Frugal

I have my suspicions about shopping. When everyone is trying to keep up with the Jones', it's not very "cool" to say you're cutting back on spending. Even if some people should, they don't want to cut back when it means not getting that cool new something. That's what credit cards are for, right?

As lay-offs abound, consumer confidence dwindles, and the economy tanks, shoppers have stopped opening their wallets for everything other than the bare necessities.

I can't help but wonder. Is it "cool" to be frugal now?

Enough of the Sex and the City.

If you have a favorite store, I suggest getting on their email list. Everything is on sale everywhere. And it's just going to get better as things get...well, worse. Maybe it's time to stock up on basics or refresh your wardrobe. MetaDaddy loves his Polo shirts, and they're finally on sale. Woo Hoo!!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Putumayo’s Sesame Street Playground

Can't travel? Sing along!

Putumayo’s Sesame Street Playground sounds like a fun musical investment. Good for the whole family, and cool way to expose everyone to other languages.

Click through for some videos, too. Good times.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Recipe: Green Zebra Gazpacho Soup

Here's a recent find from The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook, by Amelia Saltsman. I've had this book for over a year, but I always seem to find some lovely treat when I'm in the mood for something new. A favorite then, a favorite today.

Case in point, Gazpacho. The name doesn't do it for me, and the thought of a cold tomato soup feels...well, kinda blagh. But I keep forgetting that because it's a raw soup, it's almost more like a salad than a soup. The flavors are so fresh, and when you leave the right amount of texture, there's even that bit of crunch in each spoon. I had gazpacho in Spain, and it completely changed my perception of it. But I left that behind when I left Spain. I decided to give it another chance with this recipe as my inspiration, and I'm hooked again!

There's a decent amount of prep work involved in this recipe, the worst of which involves the tomatoes. As for everything else, remember that it's all going to get blended in the end, so don't worry too much about chopping. Oh, and when you do start blending, cover up. This soup has more jump than Splash Mountain.

You have been warned.

Lastly, flavors are best when the soup is left to sit for a bit, so don't plan on eating it right away. And because it's served cold, leave seasoning for when you're about to serve. Cold food needs more seasoning.

Green Zebra Gazpacho
2 lbs ripe Green Zebra or Evergreen tomatoes
2 Persian cucumbers (about 10 ounces total)
1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup seedless green grapes
2 cups torn, crust-free, stale French bread
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 to 1 small jalapeno chile, cut into small pieces
Leaves from 8 to 10 sprigs cilantro
Leaves from 8 to 10 sprigs mint
2 tablespoons canola or other mild cooking oil
Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice
Snipped fresh chives for garnish

Peel and seed tomatoes, reserving the juices that collect in the bowl. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them to the bowl. Peel the cucumbers, cut them in half lenthwise, and use the tip of a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Cut the cucumbers into chunks and add them to the bowl. Stir in the cucumbers, onion, grapes, bread, juice of 1 lime, 1/2 chile, cilantro, mint, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and water.

Puree the soup with a stand blender, leaving the texture a little chunky. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. If the soup is not zesty enough, grind the remaining 1/2 chile with a little of the soup and stir it into the soup. Garnish each serving with the avocado, chives, and an extra sprinkling of salt.

PhotoStory Friday: Disney Daze

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

So, we went to Disneyland as a family for the first time. It was fun, but honestly, we didn't get as much out of it as if the kids were a bit older. That said, kids under three are free and we (MetaDaddy and I) had tickets for free admission, so it was a fun experiment.

It turns out that MetaBoy is still not past his "people in suits freak me out" stage. Santa, for example, is not a welcoming figure for our little lad. Dude, can you blame him?

Anyway, here's our story.

"Holy Crap? Seriously? There's a bear behind me? Shouldn't we be running?"

"Dude!! You scared me. I thought it was a bear! That's some dork in a costume. Whew!"

"In fact, take a picture, mom. A picture of me with a bear. Ha ha."


[Pant, pant, pant, pant...]
"Ya, I know it's leaving, but is it coming back? That wasn't cool. He was behind me, then next to me. Those things move FAST!! Can I have a pain au chocolate? You know, you settle my nerves. Peeeeeeeeezzz?!?"

Monday, November 3, 2008

Don't Do It For The Ice Cream

Go vote.

Then go to Ben & Jerry's to celebrate with a free ice cream.
November 4th from 5-8pm

Or, go to Starbucks and get free tall cup of brewed coffee. Just go in and tell them you voted.
November 4th, all day

Or, go to Krispy Kreme and show your "I Voted" sticker for a free star shaped doughnut.
November 4th, all day

Locally (Santa Monica and environs)
Take your voter receipt to Bergamot Cafe for a free apple cobbler bar. Nook Bistro, owned by the same folks, is offering an apple crisp with vanilla gelato with a voter receipt and a $10 minimum purchase.

Or, opt for the Daily Grill, which will give free appetizers to voters.
November th, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Aw heck, go all out and do them all! And if you hear about any other such offers, do share :-)

Happy Voting!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Daylight Savings Ends

Happy end of Daylight Savings!!

My favorite day of the year! Just ask MetaDaddy ;-)

Hope you got to sleep in, too...zzZZZZZZzZzZzzzzz

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rushing Thomas

MetaBoy received a Thomas the Tank engine for his birthday, and he loves, loves, loves it. This is aided by the fact that after resisting for his two years, I finally gave in and let him watch an episode of the show on PBS. Unfortunately, his daily chant since has been "Thomas"?

That said, sometimes I wonder who likes the little choo choo and his track more.

MetaDaddy went with the little lad to buy some more track today. They also picked up a motorized Thomas.

Score for the boys!!

They get home and assemble the booty.

Once MetaBoy gets the hang of it, he takes the motorized Thomas and starts pushing it while saying "Go Thomas!"

I don't know if it's a reflection on him or us as parents. But seriously...if he's rushing Thomas at two, what's he going to be doing when he can actually tell time?

Geography Refresher

Annoyingly, I found I couldn't mentally place a couple of states this past week. So, I decided to search for a map online. Even better, I found a little U.S. geography quiz, along with various other geographical quizzes that have worked to sharpen my world geography. It's amazing how much I've forgotten! And it's amazing how unfamiliar I am with Eastern Europe. I'll have to take the quiz every so often as a refresher...since we won't be doing any serious travel for a while.

World Geography Quizzes