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Vegetarian in the kitchen…

Posted Nov 25 2011 4:40pm
Part 2 of an ongoing series…                                                                    Part 1 here…

Which, really, is pretty much the same as anyone else in the kitchen, but without animal and fish bits. Basically, about equipment…

There was a time when I would have eschewed all electrical equipment in a domestic kitchen, with the possible exception of a blender, and maybe not even that.

Buy good knives, keep them sharp, and they’ll do pretty much everything you need (with the addition of a Rex peeler). As some knives are pretty much specific to meat or fish prep (boning knives, for example, or a razor-sharp carver for slicing liver (Sainsbury’s please note, and stop hacking the bloody stuff!), or actually carving; or filleting/skinning knives for fish), a veggie can get by with fewer knives. Some people think you can get by with just a paring knife. Indeed, there’s a current TV ad in which a woman has clearly been cutting chips with such a knife. Which is dumb. Always use the right knife for the job.

The knife which gets by far the most use in my kitchen is an 8” chefs’ knife. That does about 98% of my cutting and chopping. In fact, the only time I use a paring knife is for trimming Brussels sprouts, or mushrooms – things of that size which just need a bit of a tidy up. Everything else, from splitting a swede to reducing a cabbage to a chiffonade, I use my chefs’ knife.

That’s a Victorinox knife with a Solingen steel blade and a rosewood handle. It takes an edge keen enough to shave with, is light in the hand, but has the strength to do anything demanded of it.

 

I also have a 3” paring/general-purpose knife that I picked up from Sainsbury’s. It has a good weight, a sensibly-sized handle (many small knives are too light, with skinny handles), and takes a good edge.

Paring knife is second from right. It’s been dropped quite a few times, and the handle scales have cracked a little, but no bits have dropped off.

Lastly, I have a breadknife. I got this, also from Sainsbury’s, with no great hope that it would actually be any good, as it cost the grand sum of £2.95. In fact, it turned out to be excellent! Its scalloped edge is bevelled only on one side, so that if you’re right-handed it presents a flat blade to the bread, and it will peel off inch-thick doorsteps or almost transparently-thin slices with equal facility. It is, in fact, an amazing knife at the price, and not too long afterwards they stopped selling it!

And they are the only knives I use, although I do have another 6 that I currently have no use for.

Knives, of course, need to be kept sharp. Almost counter-intuitively, a blunt knife is more likely to cut you than a sharp one, as it’s harder to control. For many years, I used a carborundum stone (about the only useful skill I brought out of woodwork classes at school was how to put an edge on a blade). However, when I got my new knife, I decided to invest in a decent sharpener. I settled on the MinoSharp Plus 3.

This has three sharpening wheels, from coarse to fine (there’s a version which omits the fine wheel, but I don’t see the point as that’s essential). Not cheap, currently £35.84 from Amazon , it cost more than my knife, and not as simple to use as they claim (definitely a technique to learn), but easier and more consistent than using a stone, though I still use one for my bread knife as only one side of the blade needs to be ground.

Many people suggest a serrated knife for soft foods, like tomatoes, but if your knives are sharp there should be no real need.

For non-messy chopping, and bread, I use a wooden board. For anything that might stain or taint, I sit a plastic board on top, with a piece of thin plastic packaging foam as an anti-slip layer between them.

So that was my choice when I first wrote this thing – knives and muscle. Appliances, I wrote, took far longer to clean than any time they saved, and they were noisy, both just as true now as then, but the energy-saving (mine, not electricity), wasn’t an issue then. It is now.

Things have changed dramatically in the past decade or so, and especially in the past year. My muscles are seriously wasted, through illness, and there are some things I can now no longer do by hand – they are either simply too painful (o-a in my hands), or I don’t have the strength/stamina, or all three.

A couple of years ago I bought a Kenwood Chef stand mixer, which I now use for breadmaking – basically, it does all the grunt work – all I have to do is shape the dough and bake it. It also gets used for any other baking I might do ( high-fibre muffins , for example). I also tried its mincer accessory, but it’s a piece of junk, and, perversely, using a hand mincer takes  far less effort.

I have a couple of bits of specialist equipment which are covered in detail elsewhere here, a No. 8 stainless steel hand mincer (for making sausage filling), and a sausage stuffing machine , for putting the filling into the casings.

Of course, these days, as I said in part one, I’m not able to cook every day, just now and again. (Note for DWP snoops.)

I have a stick blender for the pretty rare times when I want a smooth soup. Mostly, I like my soups to have some texture, but some are actually better smooth, like my butternut squash and sweet potato recipe, which I’ll come to in the fullness of time.

These devices are a bit of a liability – get it only slightly wrong and there’s soup everywhere (don’t snigger – we’ve all done it!). Lakeland sell Fleximats – plastic chopping mats – I cut a round hole in the centre of one, with a slit leading to one of the long edges. This I slip over the stem of the blender, so that it covers the top of the pan and catches any stray splashes. Simple, but extremely effective.

I use the blender’s chopping attachment for blitzing breadcrumbs or dried veggies (see part one re that).

Odds & sods.

For stirring tasks I use rice paddles, they’re simply a better shape than wooden spoons. I have a small one that I’ve had for the better part of 30 years, and a recently-bought big one for deeper pans. There’s a garlic press for when I need a more intense garlic flavour than you get from chopping, and a set of measuring spoons. When cooking for myself, very little gets measured accurately, or at all, but for working up recipes for others to follow, they’re essential. Just bought a Good Grips garlic press – damn thing weighs nearly a pound, and pretty much defines “over-engineered”.

Storage.

All kitchens need dry food storage facilities as not everything can, or should be, be stuffed in the fridge or freezer. The best material for this is glass. Back in the mists of time, Nescafe came in large glass jars (possibly still does but I can’t find any), and I still treasure the few I have left from the eighties,** but now it’s hard to get glass jars much bigger than about 300ml (jars that you re-use, not buy). However, PET, and other food-grade plastics, are pretty good.

**An artificial sweetener, the name of which eludes me, comes in the same-size jar – Silver Spoon and Sainsbury’s o-b look about right online.

I’ve found that the Copella 750ml apple juice bottle (PET), which have a suitably wide neck, will hold exactly a kilo of split red lentils, and rather less of split peas (their greater size means they don’t pack down as well). 1-litre Sunsweet prune juice bottles are good too, and should take a kilo of split peas.

Nature’s Finest bottled fruit (from Sainsbury’s), comes in food-grade plastic jars, and the 1kg size is extremely useful. The labels won’t easily peel off, so I just leave them. I use them for counter-top storage of sugars and salt. I keep my pickled eggs in one, too (have to make more soon – only two left).

Skippy peanut butter, apart from being wonderful stuff, comes in a smaller, 340g, PET jar.** Useful for smaller quantities – I keep coarse sea salt in one, for cooking. NB: if you keep coffee beans in one, you’ll never get the smell out again (I think the oil from the beans gets into the plastic). Other than that, they’re hard to taint.

**It does come in bigger jars, but only online, not anywhere I shop.

As well as those three specifics, I pretty much wash and re-use every jar and any other suitable container that comes my way.

I get through a fair amount of extra-virgin olive oil (Sainsbury’s own brand is a good all-rounder, oddly enough – generally anything they put their name on is best avoided, but that’s slowly changing). I buy it in 2-litre cans, and decant it into a pair of 1-litre bottles for easier storage and handling.

I always try to have an empty 1-litre cooking oil bottle hanging around. When I buy the 3-litre size, 2 go into my deep fryer and the rest is tipped into the 1-litre bottle, which saves on space, which is very much at a premium in my kitchen.

Oil, of course, can be re-used, as long as nothing too smelly has been fried in it. When it’s cold I tip it from the frying pan into a small cafetiere, push the plunger down, and pour the clear oil into a bottle for further use. As many things that a veggie might fry are likely to be breadcrumbed, this is a very useful technique. And for the deep fryer, nothing but chips go in that, so the oil lasts quite a while.

Bread.

As I mentioned above, I make my own bread and, for the last year or so have had to use a Kenwood Chef Classic . Deeply unimpressed to find that, used just once a week for bread (making 2 2lb loaves), and again for muffins, it’s now making ominous noises, especially when mixing dough. I’ve tried dribbling food-grade oil into the very few access points, but any improvement is short-lived. If it fails, there’s no bread, so I’ve taken the plunge and ordered a KitchenAid K45SS Classic, on offer at Amazon for £249.99 (£70 off and free delivery). That will enable me to try to dismantle the Chef and see if it can be fixed. If so, I’ll stash it away as a spare. Trouble is the case is plastic, which is never good news for either longevity or easy maintenance (the KitchenAid is all metal).

The K45 (SS indicates a stainless steel bowl), is rated for semi-commercial use, so should be robust, is allegedly silent, and has a much slower minimum speed – 58rpm – than the Chef, good for me as the Chef churns up a cloud of flour when making bread which does my breathing no good at all (the bowl cover, which would obviate that, is a pain in the neck to use, having a too-small access hole.

The KitchenAid 90th Anniversary Limited Edition Artisan mixer, in Candy Apple Red, is probably the best-looking mixer ever. Absurdly expensive, though, at £399 (Amazon).

Finally, KitchenAid mixers are amenable to home maintenance – here’s a how-to guide . Just be sure not to damage or lose any parts. Spares are available from Sears, but are insanely expensive, like £3 and up for a simple washer!


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