Month: January 2014

A Student’s Kitchen

When N. started an internship this summer, she was sharing a kitchen with three other students. She wanted to start cooking; we needed to buy her some inexpensive cooking tools as I didn’t want her to borrow and lose any of my favorites! For her summer rental, we bought two non-stick pans: a frying pan for omelets and frittatas and an 8-inch deep pan for boiling noodles/pasta/soup. She also needed a sharp medium-sized knife (for fruits/vegetables/meat). She did, however, borrow a colander, a baking sheet, and some Tupperware from home.

I would suggest buying a wok as a first addition to these basics – I love using a wok. Its shape has three main benefits: 1) heat is evenly distributed; 2) you can use less oil as a little goes a long way in terms of sautéing or stir-frying; and 3) the curved sides hold in food as you toss it. Less cleanup is always a plus!

Woks can be bought inexpensively at kitchen supply stores. Pick the shape and size first. Choose a wok that fits right above the heat source on your cooktop as the food should cook evenly. I like the round-bottomed ones because I have a gas range, but the flat-bottom steel woks work best for an electric range. Material is usually carbon steel, aluminum, or stainless steel.
I prefer non-stick carbon steel as it cleans up easily.

Note that a wok needs to be seasoned (seasoning and care directions follow) before use because manufacturers coat them with a protective layer. After that, a seasoned wok becomes a lifelong friend. Happy cooking!

As always, feel free to ask question or post comments below.

Seasoning:

Wash the new wok in hot water. Scrub with a non-abrasive sponge and a little liquid soap.

  • Rinse and dry.
  • Heat over high heat for about two minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Smear the inside of the wok with oil, wiping it evenly with paper towel. Heat for another five minutes. Wipe off any residue.
  • Repeat the process, a few more times, until the paper towel has no black residue.
  • The wok is ready to be used.

Cleaning:

  • Clean after every use with warm water and a non-abrasive sponge.
  • You might want to brush the surface with oil for a few more times to prevent food from sticking.
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Ask the Chef: How to Clean and Devein Shrimp

This year, we incorporated the Italian Christmas Eve meal tradition of using seven fish into our holiday plans (upon A’s suggestion and some timely New York Times recipes). One of the dishes was roast shrimp with aioli (see the NYT recipe here) Preparing this feast meant that A. and N. had to look closely at the fish and shellfish that we were planning to use, and it turns out that they had the most questions about the shrimp.

It is almost always cheaper to buy whole shrimp (look for shrimp with firm flesh) and clean it yourself. I devein the shrimp before cooking. My mother would also do the white vein on the underside, but I have noticed that most cooks do not bother with this step.

How to clean shrimp:

  • Hold the shrimp with its head between your dominant thumb and two fingers, and yank firmly away from your body. Its shell should come off cleanly.
  • Next, position the tail between the dominant fingers and pull away from your body with a firm tug.
  • Remove the legs and all the other shells

Devein:

  • Turn the body so that the curved side faces you
  • Use a small, sharp knife and run it a quarter inch below the flesh
  • Carefully remove the black/brown string-like vein that runs the length of the skin
  • Rinse the shrimp.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you! Having a full house during the holidays is fun, especially now that I am no longer in charge of every special meal.

I have been cooking for 30+ years, and yet, holiday meals still remain just as challenging as they were when I first began. Recipes have to be adjusted when extended family or friends come to visit, tastes and dietary issues have to be taken into account, but this year, my challenge was even closer to home. My kids have developed their own palates and they came home with assessments on what they thought worked and opinions on what they wanted to try! This year I picked recipes that each wanted to learn. For A., who has become a full-time student after having worked for three years, I came up with fish recipes as she has been trying to cook less meat. A. loves food, but has to cook at home if she wants to eat well with her limited time and new budget constraints. I thought that N., the dessert-loving student, would like to try a lemon cake recipe that satisfies both her sweet and sour palate.

As we started cooking together, I realized that they were asking about things I had taken for granted — some basic cooking questions: How do you clean shrimp? Why did you substitute shallots instead of going out to buy red onions that the recipe required? Why use a wok instead of a pan? Well, the first answer was easy to teach (see “ASK THE CHEF”). The second answer took a little longer (science students tend to want to follow recipes exactly and it takes some convincing to get them to improvise with substitutes!). But the third answer was easy – they were excited to hear that you don’t need fancy tools to cook well, especially when you are on a budget.

I started this blog as I realized that food-centered traditions are a fun way to catch up with friends and family. In my case, my whole family is involved: My husband is an expert on the grill, but also enjoys finding the best wine to work with dinner, and my dog is a constant presence in the kitchen, waiting for someone to give him his share. However, the main reason that I started this blog was to help my children learn to eat well as they navigate their college and post-college lives. I invite you to join me as I learn to adapt my recipes for different budgets and varied tastes. Share your favorite traditions and ask your questions as I help A. and N.!