Category: Tools

Meet My New Love

January 12, 2009

Full disclaimer: I am not a knife expert. I am not an anything expert but I do have opinions about knives and do know a thing or two. Since this is my blog, I am going to share.

The New Yorker‘s food issue came out recently and in there was a fascinating article about knives. The author followed a man named Bob Kramer who is only one of 122 people in the world who carries the title of master bladesmith. This man hand makes knives and has (at press time) a two year waiting list for his creations. Two things about this story really caught my eye. One is that the guy is local (used to live in Seattle and now lives in Olympia) – I’m a sucker for a fellow Northwestener. The other is that they mentioned that in a Cook’s Illustrated article on chef’s knives, the very frugally minded magazine rated Kramer’s very expensive knife as the best they had ever tested.

Reading this article got me really thinking about my knives. In the 16 years I have been cooking, I’ve never really loved a knife. I started out with some rejects from my mom’s knife block and a few I picked up from Goodwill. When I got married the first time, I registered for a whole Henckel’s set and did certainly notice that they were better. Along the way, I have upgraded and tried new things, all the while not really knowing what I was looking for and just falling for a pretty (Shun) and not so pretty (Global) face.

When you read about knives, one of the first things they mention is balance. The knife should feel balanced between the blade and the handle. I never quite understood what meant. What I didn’t realize is that a knife can technically be balanced but not feel balanced in your hand for a variety of reasons, size of your hand being an important one. This is why it is crucial to hold a knife and, if possible, try it out before you buy it.

A couple of weeks ago, my little family and I were in Kirkland checking out the train store (my two boys are obssesed.) As we were looking for someplace to eat, I noticed a sign for Epicurean Edge. Randy, bless him, suggested we go in. He had to have known that we were not going to walk out of there unscathed and yet he encouraged me. I started talking to the guy behind the counter and told him what knives I had and about the article I had read. It turns out, not only does he know the guy profiled in the New Yorker, but he apprenticed under him and he too is a master bladesmith. The waiting list for one of this guy’s knives is 9 years. Randy suggested I get on the waiting list and then asked how much a knife went for. An 8 inch chef’s knife, in today’s dollars, goes for $1800. It’s a good thing I have 9 years to save for it!

He went on to show me a bunch of different knives, all well under the $1800 price tag I will someday be hit with, and makes I had never heard of. What a treat to see so many different things when you see all the same brands at places like Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table. Even some of our local cookshops carry the same exact brands as the big stores. These were almost all Japanese and completely foreign to me. I mentioned that I have small hands and so the Shun knives were really hard for me to use for long periods of time, they are just too heavy. The 3 gorgeous specimens he showed me all felt perfectly balanced – and light – in my hand. It was a tough choice but I went with the one that felt the best. It is an Asai Damascus Santoku and if it asked me to marry it I would say yes.

It is beautiful, razor sharp, and does all the things you want a knife to do with ease. It slices cleanly, chops without bruising the food, and has the perfect rocking motion that allows me to actually enjoy chopping herbs – something I usually hate doing. I can cut an onion so quickly that I almost don’t even cry. And it feels so comfortable in my hand that I can use it for hours without getting tired.

If you don’t have some spare cash lying around or if you do and don’t want to spend it on knives, I would highly encourage you to sharpen the knives you do own. Every time I have cut myself it has been on an onion and it has been with a dull knife. (Except for last week when I was using a cheese slicer on a too small chunk of cheese and cut a chunk out of my thumb. Like a big enough chunk that I found it and threw it away. Last time I checked thumb is not vegetarian.) A sharp knife will grip onto the slippery surface of an onion or a tomato and a dull one will slip off and onto your finger. If you care about them, bring your knives to a cutlery store or kitchen store. I know our local grocery store will sharpen up to three knives for free, but I don’t trust them. Especially not with my new baby.

Jerusalem Artichokes

November 10, 2008

A few weeks ago, we ate at the new restaurant Poppy where, I have to say, I was a little disappointed in the meal. But, I had the most incredible soup and have not been able to stop thinking about Jerusalem artichokes since. I found a recipe for a soup that sounds quite different from the one I had but no less intriguing.

This is the first time I have worked with Jerusalem artichokes which, as it turns out, have nothing to do with either Jerusalem or artichokes. They actually are part of the sunflower and look like ginger root. As I was buying the four pounds I needed for soup to feed 10, I started getting carpal tunnel just thinking about peeling all of those buggers. Thankfully, the books I consulted said to just give them a good scrub instead of a peel. Phew! I cut them into a small dice and roasted them in the oven where they proceeded to smell like french fries – always a good sign in my book.

The soup I had a Poppy had the most incredible velvety texture that can only come from time in the blender. One of my least favorite kitchen tasks (a list coming to this blog soon…), is to blend soups in the blender. Unless you wait until it completely cools down, you have to be incredibly careful that the lid of the blender doesn’t blow off and spray soup all over your ceiling. Even if you don’t have that lovely experience, you still end up dirtying another pot or bowl putting the blended soup into while the un-blended soup waits in the original pot – not to mention the blender. I HATE doing more dishes than absolutely necessary.

Enter the immersion blender. This wonderful tool allows you to basically stick your blender into the soup pot. The only extra thing to wash is a small wand with a blade. I have had one since 2000 and it is one of my most used kitchen tools. I use it, not only for soup, but also to crush canned tomatoes, right in the can. It’s genius.

Just a few weeks ago, I got mine out to puree something and it had gone and died on me. I was actually surprised it had lasted as long as it had, seeing as I use it quite frequently. My parents bought it for me about 8 years ago, when there weren’t many models on the market. Mine came from Williams-Sonoma and their name was actually on the side of the blender. I thought I would bring it back to them since I have had excellent customer service there in the past, and just see what was what. Incredibly, they could look up the records of when my parents bought it and tell me how much it cost at that time. It has been years since they have attached their name to this product so they offered me a new Breville one for the whopping price of $1 since mine originally cost $98 and this one cost $99.

I love the idea of shopping at local kitchen stores. There are two decent ones I can think of in Seattle. But with customer service like this, it’s hard to walk away from Williams-Sonoma.

The one complaint I have about my spanking new immersion blender is that it is battery operated so it needs to be charged before using it. Since I don’t use it that often, it’s never charged when I need it. So, when I went to puree this soup today – and I was fighting daylight so I could take a picture – I ended up putting it in the blender after all. Because of the Jerusalem artichoke skins, I didn’t end up with a perfectly smooth puree – even using the blender. But I always like a little bite in my soup so I didn’t mind at all.

Spinach and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup
Adapted from
Easy Vegetarian Cookbook
Serves 4

14 oz. Jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes), chopped into 3/4 inch pieces
Olive oil

Kosher salt

1 leek, white and pale green part only, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Splash of white wine

4 cups vegetable stock

6 oz. fresh spinach

Juice of 1 lemon

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss Jerusalem artichokes with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Roast for about 15 minutes, until starting to brown.

2. Saute the leek and garlic in a little olive oil over medium heat, for 3-5 minutes, until soft but not brown. Add the white wine and continue to cook for a further 3-5 minutes, until the liquid has reduced completely

3. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and vegetable stock and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Add the spinach and fresh lemon juice and blend – either in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender, and until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.