Equipment Review: Sharp Kitchen Gadgets

October 9, 2006 at 2:00 am (Equipment reviews)

Kuhn Rikon Swiss Double Edged PeelerI am a picky peeler, so it’s saying a lot when I tell you that I love my vegetable peeler. It’s a Kuhn Rikon Double Edged (or Double Blade) Swiss Peeler. I find it extremely comfortable to hold, and it never seems to get dull even though I’ve had it for years. The only downside is that it rusts easily, so I always dry it immediately after washing it. Also, it doesn’t work well on really round, ridged squashes, but other than that it’s great. I highly recommend it!  My mother, however, says its takes off too much of the veggies.

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Another gadget I’m very fond of is my microplane zester. It comes in two versions: one with a plastic handle and one without. I much prefer the one with the handle. I love these zesters because they don’t get any of the bitter white pith, they yield a very fine zest, and the way the metal is folded over (see below), the zest gets collected in the folds of the zester, and doesn’t fall out.

Every kitchen needs a pair of scissors. I’ve always just bought whatever brand is cheap and has long blades and big handles. I don’t have a particular brand recommendation, but if you don’t have a pair in the kitchen–get one!

Knives

Sizes and styles: Many people say you only need three knives:  a large chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a paring knife.   I think I could get by with those three, but I have more.

  • 9-inch chefs knife:  The extra length comes in handy occasionally, like when splitting a winter squash or large cabbage in half.
  • 6-inch santoku knife:  If you always cook alone, then you can just get one large chef’s knive, but if you ever cook with someone else, then it’s really nice to have two large knives.  I don’t have any smaller knives for chopping.  Some people find even a 6-inch knife too big; for example, when my sister came to visit, she kept asking if I had any smaller knives for chopping.  Nope!
  • paring knife:  I use this to take bad spots out of apples or potatoes, and for other occasional tasks.
  • large serrated knife:  For cutting bread, I like to have a long, quite thin bread knife.  This can also be used for cutting tomatoes, but I prefer something smaller.
  • small serrated knife:  I have a cheap, small and thin serrated knife for cutting tomatoes.

Derek also likes to have a short, fat knife for cutting soft cheeses, but I rarely use it.

Brands:  I have cheap knives and expensive knives, but I don’t love any of them.  The key is to find a knife with a handle that feels comfortable, and then keep it sharp.

Knife sharpener:

I bought a sharpening stone years ago, but I never really figured out how to use it.  Now I use the accusharp knife sharpener, which costs about ten dollars and is idiot-proof.  It takes only a few swipes to make my knives super sharp. Supposedly it makes your knives wear out faster by taking off more metal than a professional sharpener, but for me it’s worth it to always have sharp knives.  I also have a diamond steel I use to hone my knifes.  If you don’t have a good knife sharpener than take them in to be professionally sharpened someplace that uses a real sharpening stone, not some cheap electric knife sharpener.

Other sharp kitchen gadgets I own:

  • A mandoline. I’ve always looked at mandolines with excitement and trepidation. I’ve read so many mixed reviews on Amazon I just didn’t know what to think. I received an Oxo mandoline as a wedding present, however, and will write up a review when I get a chance.
  • Julienning peeler.  I’ve tried two different brands and neither worked very well.  They julienned soft vegetables like cucumbers moderately well, but they completely failed to julienne hard vegetables like carrots.
  • Grapefruit knife.  Get a curved, serrated one.  I’ve also heard good things about a double grapefruit knife, but haven’t tried it yet.
  • Fat microplane grater for grating cheeses finely, or other handheld grater.
  • Box grater.

Sharp electrical appliances:

  • Food processor.
  • Blender.
  • Stick blender.
  • Spice grinder.

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Celery Root Salad with Apple and Parsley (C)

October 9, 2006 at 1:43 am (Cook's Illustrated, F (0 stars, dislike), French, Quick weeknight recipe, Root vegetables, Salads, Starches)

Rick at the Oakland Farmer’s Market had one lovely celeriac this week, with the beautiful dark greens still attached. When I put it in my bag the green tops sprung forth out of the bag—I got strange looks on the bus, and when I got back to the office Jacob asked if I had just come back from a farm.

I made a celery root salad from the French Vegetarian cookbook this summer that was interesting. I would have tried it again, but this one from Cook’s Illustrated has apples and parsley, both of which I got in my CSA basket this week.

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

Creamy Dijon Dressing
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil , or canola
3 tablespoons sour cream
Salad
1 medium celery root (13 – 14 ounces), peeled and rinsed
1/2 medium tart apple, cored and peeled
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves (optional)
  Table salt and ground black pepper
 
 

For the Dressing

1. In medium bowl, whisk together lemon juice, mustard, honey, and salt. Whisk in oil in slow, steady stream. Add sour cream; whisk to combine. Set aside.

For the Salad

2. Remove the top and bottom of the celery root and then use a paring knife to remove the outer layer of flesh from top to bottom. If using food processor, cut celery root and apple into 1 1/2-inch pieces and grate with shredding disc. (Alternatively, grate on coarse side of box grater.) You should have about 3 cups total. Add immediately to prepared dressing; toss to coat. Stir in scallions and parsley (and tarragon, if using; see note above). Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. Serve.

Although not always available, fresh tarragon complements the flavor of celery root. If you can find it, stir in 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon along with the parsley. Add a teaspoon or so more oil to the dressed salad if it seems a bit dry.

My Notes:

Cook’s Illustrated makes a big deal about how to peel the celery root. I don’t know what they’re fussing about; I just used my vegetable peeler (which I love, and deserves its own post) and it worked fine. They also say they tried different ways of cutting the celery root to maintain it’s crisp crunch, and liked grating it the best. I’m don’t agree. I liked the julienne of the other celery root salad much better than the grating. The hand-grated pieces seemed softer and less crisp. When you eat this salad you have the disconcerting sensation of grinding your teeth. It’s weird. I used a not too tart apple from my CSA, which I couldn’t really taste it the final salad, although maybe it made it a bit sweeter. I’m not sure I could taste the scallions either. I couldn’t cough up the $2.50 for the tarragon.

For the dressing, I used only 1 Tbs. olive oil and used nonfat yogurt instead of sour cream. It came out pretty well. I don’t think I like it as much as the lemon and mustard dressing I use for Berley’s green bean salad, but it wasn’t bad. It actually tastes pretty similiar to the dip I always improvise when I make baked tofu, except I add garlic, and leave out the olive oil. Altogether this salad was tasty, but not exciting. I think the dressing overwhelmed the celery root a bit?

Update from the next day. I could not eat the leftovers. One bite was all I could stand. Strange.

Update January 2008: I made this recipe for Derek, following the original recipe except for adding an extra apple since mine were small. I even added the tarragon, and grating the celery root in my food processor. Grating in the food processor helps since the pieces are larger and thicker, almost like julienne rather than hand grating. Despite the large amounts of fat in the recipe, I didn’t think it tasted super-rich, and I didn’t think it tasted like the traditional French dressing, I’m not sure why. Certainly the mustard seemed to dominate too much. Perhaps I didn’t use a very good dijon, or Derek added a bit too much when he measured it. The tarragon wasn’t very noticeable. I didn’t really care for this salad, but ate the leftovers at lunch the next day simply because I was hungry and it was what I had. Derek, on the other hand, liked the salad, saying “it’s refreshing.”

Rating: C
Derek: B

Cook’s Illustrated has a number of other variants I want to try. One that is very similiar to this one has you add to the salad:

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
   

Other variants include pear and hazelnuts, and a version with mint, orange and fennel.

Update Dec 29: I had one small celery root (about the size of a large apple). I julienned it and tossed it with 1.5 Tbs. lemon juice, about 1 tsp. horseradish, 1 tsp. dijon mustard, and 1 Tbs. lowfat sour cream. It was pleasant, and well-dressed.

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