Category Archives: Preparation

Lesson Learned

I learned an important lesson this week; one I had surprisingly never “taught” myself. Though aware of the potential consequences I never ran into it personally. While slicing bell peppers for the corn chowder I was making I became distracted by someone speaking to me and I nearly added the tip of my thumb to the recipe! Naturally cutting myself with a serrated knife was not pleasant. Three things occurred to me at that moment, well after the cursing was over, I had gotten the bleeding stopped, and a bandaged applied: 1. these great new knives I have are sharper than any knife I have ever used 2. Cutting myself really, really hurts 3. I can do a blog on knife safety skills and review them myself. (Then, of course, I told myself how clever I was for thinking that up.)

Knife skills are not something that only professional chefs should know. I am not suggesting that you go out and learn to chop in that super-fast method you see on cooking shows. I cannot do that and I would not expect most average people to be able to it either. What I am saying is that there are some basic skills to know and remember anytime you pick up a knife.Knife-Safety-Signs-91822-001-ba

Remember the mantra “a sharp knife is a safe knife”! Trying to force a dull knife through whatever you are cutting can make the knife slip. If you were to cut yourself; it is better to do it with a sharp knife because the wound will be cleaner and heal faster, with less care needed than if it were jagged from a dull knife.

Make sure your cutting surface is appropriate! Glass, metal, or marble surfaces can damage blades and are not ideal for true cutting boards. Wooden cutting boards are great but difficult to keep clean. Keep an eye out for the reasonably priced space age plastic type boards. I love mine! Make sure that your cutting board either has non slip feet on the bottom or set it on a damp towel to prevent the board from slipping.

It seems obvious but never reach to grab a falling knife. Instinct causes us to reach for things that are falling. Try and make sure that knife handles are always away from the edges of counter space so that it is less likely to be knocked off. If a knife does get knocked off your work surface, for whatever reason, do not grab for it and step back so you do not impale your foot! Let the knife fall and then deal with any damage. This sounds totally obvious when I say it, but as previously mentioned instinct works against you here; this is not something you think about first. Not reaching for falling items in the kitchen is something you have to retrain your brain for.

When chopping anything it is better to go slowly and proceed with caution. It is best to cut away from your body. For me this takes some thought because I tend to pull knives towards me when I am preparing foods. I have to stop and remind myself to turn the food or my body so I can pull the knife away from me. Incidentally I was not turned away from my body when I cut myself. I was chopping though, so I was not pulling the knife but even then this is a no, no!

When cutting something always keep your eyes on the blade. I broke this cardinal rule and nearly gave the tip of my thumb for my efforts! The kitchen always seems to be the Grand Central Station of the home, the hub of activity. Whenever I have people over or go to someone’s home we always seem to end up in the kitchen! Think about it, the food and the liquor are usually in the kitchen so that is where parties end up. (That’s why I always say your kitchen should be immaculate, screw the rest of the house.) Even with all this activity you cannot take your eyes off what you are doing, even for a moment! If someone speaks to you or distracts you in some way pause your cutting! It makes sense if you think about it; you are not likely to cut yourself if you are watching what you are doing.

When you are carrying your knife through your busy kitchen always carry it with the blade pointed down and turned towards you. It seems obvious but it is also a bad idea to go skipping through your kitchen swinging your arms, at any time but especially with a knife in hand. With the knife pointed down and the blade towards your leg you are probably not going to slice someone, including yourself.

NEVER put a knife in a sink full of soapy water! Never submerge your knife in soapy water because it hides it from view. I have reached into sinks before and felt the knife sitting at the bottom of the sink; fortunately for me it was the dull, crappy, knives I grew up with so cutting actual flesh was not an issue. Soaking your knives in water is probably not that great for them anyway so just wash them well with a good scrubby sponge and put them away.

Curl your fingers under as you cut.knife skills This will feel weird and a bit awkward at first but with practice should become easier. Curling your fingers under helps to lessen the chance that you will lose the tip of any of your fingers. Obviously I wasn’t following this rule either. I have yet to personally master this one, but I am working on it.

The tip of the knife should never leave the work surface. Unless you are using a serrated knife to cut bread the motion you use to cut should be a rocking motion. The tip of the knife should rest on the cutting surface, only the back end of the knife lifts up to accommodate the movement of your other hand feeding the cutting process. This lends stability to the knife; think of those giant paper cutters that your teachers used in grade school!

Make sure you are using the right knife for the job. Again, I did not heed this rule. I was using a serrated knife to chop up vegetables. I should have been using a chef’s knife but I was lazy and just used the knife that was most available at that moment. Try to keep your knife block within reach of where you do most of your cutting and prep work. Keeping knives close to you helps discourage the inclination to just use what knife you can reach.

I know what mistakes I made and I hope that you can learn from my mistake and not have to “teach” yourself like I did. Prep work, in the kitchen, is often not the most enjoyable part of cooking but avoid the temptation to rush through it. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.



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Apple Pickin’

After posting about apple pie I was thinking that Cameo apples, while my favorite apple, are not the usual baking apples. Then my good friend J asked me what apples are good for baking and which ones are better to just eat? So I started doing a little research on the subject. applesWhile I still firmly believe that cooking and baking with a filling is more about following your own preferences than hard and fast rules or traditions… Obviously baking has an element of chemistry to it so you do have to follow recipes more closely than in just regular cooking. Though when you are filling a crust up with some kind of fruit what difference does it really make which fruit you use?

Apples can be tricky. If you do not use the right apples you could bake them into this gorgeous looking pie and then cut into it, only to find applesauce! This would likely happen to me in front of the (well accomplished pastry chef) mother of a man I am trying to impress, or at least I am trying to impress his family. Usually some snide remark or joke at my expense would be made and I would want to crawl into a hole somewhere. But that’s me not you… I digress. Cutting into your beautiful pie to find applesaucethat the apples have disintegrated could be very depressing. I am never one to turn down a good dessert so I would go ahead and try it. How bad could it really be? You like pie, and most people like applesauce. The pie won’t win any prizes but eh… If you are baking to impress or just not a fan of mushy apple pie then read on.

Selecting a good apple is the first step to any pie, cobbler, brown betty, tart, or crisp and fundamental to enjoying any apple. Look for apples that are firm, have a good color, and usually about the size of your fist. NO mushy, pale, behemoth apples for you! Look out for soft spots or breaks in the skin. I am really picky with my fruit; in fact the majority of my grocery shopping time goes into picking out fruits and veggies. I want to find as close to sheer perfection as I can. (Except bananas, then I want them green… but that’s another post) Local apples are usually much fresher and sometimes have a better flavor if you can get them.

It is good to note that three medium apples weigh around a pound. fresh-apples-from-last-summerRemember that medium apples are about the size of your fist, sounds small doesn’t it? We are conditioned to think that way in these days of super sizing. You will get about a cup of slices out of one medium apple.

According to my research the best apples to just eat are:

Gala, Fuji, Mutsu, Jonathan, Cameo, Golden Delicious, Cortland, Empire, Red Delicious, McIntosh, Braeburn, Winesap, Pink Lady, and Sundowner.

Apples used a lot in pies are:

Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Rhode Island Greening, Pippin, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Gravenstein

Best for applesauce:

Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, McIntosh, Elstar, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Gravenstein

Best for baking:

Rome, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Pippin, Gala, Braeburn, Northern Spy, Gravenstein, Rhode Island Greening, York Imperial, Cortland, Winesap

Best for making salads:

Cortland, Golden Delicious, Empire, Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji, Winesap, Criterion, Pink Lady

The reason my Cameo apples didn’t break down in the pie is due to their firmness. Firmer apples do well when baking and the softer apples are better for sauces. apple-pie-slice-ABFOOD0506-deSierra Beauty apples are wonderfully juicy, slightly tart apples but do not hold their shape when baked. They have a softer texture than some other apples and therefore are not an ideal candidate for pies or baking.

When baking a pie, it is recommended that you choose an apple that is a bit tart so that the sugar added to the pie doesn’t overwhelm the apple. Sweet apple + sugar = super sweet pie! My favorite, Cameo apples can be a bit sweeter than the more traditional apple for pies, Granny Smith, but that is my preference. I like the added sweetness.

What you are looking to accomplish is apples that have a slight snap to them when you bite into your slice of pie. You don’t baby-food-apple-mainwant baby food, but a bit of resistance from the apple as you take that bite is a good thing. Most importantly you want to be happy with your final product.  That really is all that matters!  I hope that this bit of apple knowledge will help you in baking your next pie. Remember to make it your own! Mix a bunch of different apples together and see what happens! Let me know about your results!



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Filed under Baking, Preparation