Fresh Pasta, DO IT!…do it.

Making fresh pasta is alot like making fresh bread.  It feels good man…feels good.  Eating it feels good and making it feels great.  Two ingredients, a little kneading and a pasta rolling machine.  The machine is optional if all you’re looking for are grandmas noodles.  You know what I mean; those short, thick, chicken soup noodles that took up the entire kitchen table every other Sunday.

4 eggs and about 3 1/2 cups of flour is all ya need.  Don’t over think it, just do it; if you fail, you’ll only fail once because you’ll learn from your mistakes and you’ll learn “feel”.  I like using the table-top “well method” as opposed to a standing mixer or food processor.  Yes it’s more physical labor and takes longer, but as I said before; “feels good man.” Make a well/volcano with the flour and crack the eggs into the center.  Scramble ’em with a fork and start scraping the inside base of the flour into the eggs.  Bring it all together and don’t break your levee while the eggs are still runny.

–You can’t really over knead the dough.  If you can knead for 10 minutes then great, but you really only knead long enough that the dough is a homogeneous ball that is not sticky, tough or crumbly.  Knead by pulling the dough toward you and over itself; then push it away and into itself with the heel of your hand.  Use your body weight not your arms.  After you are done or bored, wrap it tight in plastic and let is rest for 30 minutes to an hour before rolling.

–Resting is important so don’t skip it.  Pour a glass of wine and get the sauce components ready.

–If the 4 eggs and 3 1/2 cups flour was too dry, add an egg yolk or a tablespoon of olive oil next time.  Too wet…add a little more flour.  If at any time the dough is sticky when your working with it, add a little flour.  If you have a scale, a more appropriate recipe is about 100g flour per large or extra large egg.

–I don’t salt my dough just the pasta water.  Enough to taste like sea water.

 

I Wonder If this Cow Had A Lisp?

I hadn’t had beef tongue in 15 years; last time I had it I remember it being dry and minerally, neither of which I’m good with.  I’ve been telling myself to make it for years now but just never got around to it.  Had a buddy make it a few months ago so I realized I was far past due to get after this dish.

I didn’t look up any recipe; I just treated it like a big hunk of lean meat that needed to cook a long time,  alla something you’d throw in the crockpot.

I was floored by how much I enjoyed this ugly nasty thing.  It was flavorful, tender and moist…and that was just the licker.  The base of the tongue where it attaches to the activating muscles and jaw; oh man…best food surprise in a loooong time.  Mouth coating collagen love, like the best short rib you’ve ever had or imagined.

I made a court bouillon and poached it on low for about 8 hrs.  After it cooled a bit, the outer skin came off easily with no skill required.  I sliced it about 1/4-1/8 inch thick and tossed it into the sauce.  I didn’t crust it up before throwing it in the sauce because I wanted to get the real deal texture on the first go-round.  Plus, I knew there was plenty to fry up later.  I’ve been feeling Morrocan lately so that’s what the sauce was.  We ate it as is in the sauce and in tacos.  This is San Diego, for better or worse we make everything into tacos.

I loved the texture and likened it to really good beef tenderloin…but unfortunately, I was in the minority.  The texture and image/thought of it was just too much for some to overcome.  It was however, completely demolished when I breaded and fried it. lol.

Here are some pics :-)

Leek, laurel, salt and pepper
Cooked but unpeeled
Fried and delicious

Hitting The Reset Button

For some, it’s a bender in Vegas, others backpack into the wilderness with only what they can carry, for some it might be a cruise to Alaska. The one common thread with most peoples reset button is that it’s mounted somewhere away from home. Of course you can have great weekends at home and run into Monday with a smile. Maybe you were able to find time to knock out a few chores that have been hangin’ over your head for a few months.  That closet that’s increasing it’s real estate into the hallway, or a garden in need of some attention. We all do different things to relax, but finding a way to center your feelings, thoughts and emotions usually takes more then just relaxing.
My wife and I’s reset button of choice tends to hide somewhere in nature. No particular place… but we know that if we just get there, things will usually come up roses…wait…lily’s, the wife doesn’t do roses.

Resetting yourself usually requires work of some kind, a struggle if you will. Take yoga as an example: The reward of a relaxed, clear mind and supple body doesn’t come from “stretching” for an hour. It’s about the mind and body coming together with an awareness of itself and it’s connection to the ground beneath your feet. It can be grueling and painful but it works, and is a great way to reset and center yourself—say’s the guy that doesn’t do yoga anymore :-|

I’m a firm believer that camping in wilderness without all the convenience and comforts of home can give you a similar feeling. A primitive sense of accomplishment and appreciation for the simple pleasures of life. Building a fire and cooking on that fire is not only rewarding, but delicious. Sitting and talking to loved ones without the TV in the background, and only the stars or a fire to avert your gaze.
We often wake up in the morning, pour some coffee and have a seat for a few minutes to read or watch the news to help us wake up. But when that warm cup of coffee comes with a crisp, chilly morning air and a calming silence disturbed only by a trickling river and the unzipping sound of a tent, there tends to be an accompanying inhalation and exhalation that only nature can provide. No to-do list, no phone, no computer, no microwave, no make-up (optional). Your choices for what to do and what to eat become narrowed in the most wonderful way.

Some camping trips have a specific activity planned for fun and adventure, and that’s great. Countless trips have been made with the idea of conquering a river or mountain, or taking the time to make an amazing dinner that makes you giggle cause you can’t believe your eating such good food with the limited resources you’ve forced yourself into.

I’ve had countless mind blowing dinners in the woods; some easy, some complicated and some that are harrowing epic fails, but the funny thing is…I’m kind over it. I’m over the production, the extra packing, preparation and responsibility; the time taken away. All I want anymore when I’m camping is something in a bowl; soup, cereal, guacamole, whatever. Maybe because cooking is my job, I’m over it being part of my reset button…much to the shugrin of my friends I’m sure.
I definitely encourage others to try cooking in the outdoors, it really can be fun if there’s a team effort. Not that I don’t want to cook anymore, but I only want to put out that extra effort for something we catch ON the trip; fresh crawfish, trout, bass and catfish are the norm. To this day my favorite shellfish dinner was a small pile of central California white water lobsters (crawfish), that my buddies and I dove for with our hands. The headache from the 2 hrs of diving 10-15 feet deep over and over again with 10-15 Coors Lights didn’t help anyone, but it was certainly memorable.

B.A.R.F

“I’m my own best friend.”


My mog…I mean dog is 5 years old. He has seen the inside of a vet liiiike, 3 times. Once for shots, once for neutering and once when he stabbed his eye in some brush when we lived in the woods and he got a little infection. He has clean teeth, strong bones and a healthy coat that needs consistent brushing. Seriously, if I brushed him regularly, like once or twice a week, I’d only have to wash him 2 or 3 times a year. But I don’t…so sometimes he gets, “alone time.”
I’d love to believe this is because of his diet.
I feed my dog the B.A.R.F diet. (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or, Bones And Raw Food.)
Anything raw is open game and dinner leftovers that might go bad, he vacuums up with no sensitivity issues, ever.

I was introduced to this by my buddy who has a chocolate lab (Scout). Scout was always so healthy, strong and clean that I was amazed at how little maintenance he seemed to need and how low his cost of care was. Vet visits, skin problems, mouth care, vitamin deficiency, washing, injury, bowel sensitivity, and food cost. All are either nonexistent or lessened, I swear.

I’ve met quite a few people that “cook” for their dogs. Usually some mixture of cooked meat, brown rice and vegetable…probably some kind of vitamin supplement for coat and health as well. That’s cool; ain’t knockin’ the hustle. But this alternative just wont happen with me; too much preparation and cost.

Here is a basic breakdown of my dogs weekly diet.

We were really good for 3 years:
5 days of 1-2lbs of raw meat and bone, usually raw chicken scraps and or backs and necks.  Sometimes interspersed with a salmon head or salmon belly and skin…beef ribs, offal. (59-89 cents a pound). Eggs are used here and there as well, with shells. I feed once a day in the evening.

1 day veggies. Usually fruit and veggie pulp from our juicing, with added oil (olive or something leftover from cooking). Some friends do applesauce and canned pumpkin but I like to make sure he gets some green whatever. The oil is so he’ll actually eat it. Intermittently I’ll throw in all or one of the following costco human supplements…which I used to take as well. Omeg-3 fish pill, flax oil pill, multi vitamin.

1 day nothing. Fo reelz…one day of absolutely nothing. It gives their bodies the opportunity to cleanse and use what is still inside. It’s called a starve day and it is an essential part of the diet. It also helps train their bodies to extract nutrients more efficiently. Even though you don’t have to worry about food that day; there is some effort put into mentally blocking the “friggin’ laser beams” being emitted from your dogs eyes. Especially when you’re happily stuffing your piehole.
I usually don’t plan the starve day or the veggie day. When I happen to run out of meat or forgot it at the store…guess what?..starve day.

Last 2 years (poor guy):
5 days “Fresh and Easy” whole chicken legs. (88 cents a pound) They come with part of the backbone and some of the kidney/liver. A great buy as they are also clean and tidy in rectangular plastic containers…recyclable.

1 vegg…I mean leftover dressing sopped salad day. He’ll get an apple core if he’s lucky :-( We’ve been totally slacking on his veggies. Mainly cause we’ve been slacking on juicing for ourselves. And that’s how it tends to go with this diet; when we eat healthy so does he. When we workout, so does he. When we eat like crap and don’t exercise…unfortunately, so does he.

Five years later my dog is still healthy. His dreads can build up a mean bouquet but overall, he’s healthy.

Welcome to the question and answer portion of our program!

Meat seems expensive?
Diet costs about $30 a month for my 135lb dog.

Aren’t bones dangerous, especially chicken and pork?                Some bones become brittle and splinter…when cooked, but raw bones are relatively soft and pliable, so it really helps to clean the dogs mouth by brushing his teeth and massaging the gums. Plus, there’s a ton of vitamins, nutrients ‘n stuff in the actual bone.
Giving a dog a bone…as in femur bone (big ol beef bone), is alot like doggy yoga and dentistry in one. It focuses and relaxes them, gets out nervous energy and cleanses the gums and mouth.

What about bacteria like salmonella and e.coli?
Originally this was one of my worries. Not because of how it can effect the dog…cause it doesn’t. They can take care of e.coli and salmonella no problemo. One time I found my dog macking down on a full liquid fly trap. The ones with the nasty smelling attractant that can collect hundreds of flys, *shudder.*

But what about that bacteria transferring from the dog to you?
Most of us have heard that a dogs mouth is cleaner then a humans. Well, it’s true, the enzymes in their saliva really seem to take care of everything nicely. I was skeptical but once again, Scout made me a believer. This dog was all over me all the time, I even got licked right after diner sometimes. Never, ever, ever…did anyone get sick. And after a few years of seeing situations I thought were bacterially dangerous…nothing ever happened.

How do I know my dog is getting everything he/she needs?
Essentially kibble is fast food. How would you feel on a diet of only fast food. I’m pretty sure raw ingredients have a few more nutrients then kibble.  Kibble was designed around a dog having consistent, manageable poop, not perfect health.

You can find more literature to better edumacate yourself on this if your interested; but there is alot of info out there, so don’t get bogged down in the details. Also, if your dog is on kibble and you want to switch, there is no need to “ease” them into it. Just start…and if he/she yaks a couple times or it’s stools look different? That’s all normal and will subside after a day or two.

Always remember: YOU HAVE OPTIONS!
Next time your vet recommends a certain brand of food, be sure to check out how much advertising for that food is littered around the office. I figured this is a whoooooole nother topic, so I’ll just let someone else explain it this time…plus, they actually site sources…unlike some people.

Jamaican Nutmeg Is Friggin’ Sweet

So, I was cooking for a dinner party/cooking class; it was a bachelorette party for 10 awesome women. Wendy, the bride to be, was Jamaican. She loved cooking and food, and had a wonderful collection of Jamaican cooking products from her home town; stuff like local wild honey, that had beautiful, grassy floral notes… reminds you honey should taste like more than just honey. And this Jamaican Nutmeg; which I thought had just an amazing look to it…like a piece of art.
I had pulled out my grated nutmeg seed to add a little sweet earthiness to the Gnocchi we were making, and Wendy just wasn’t havin’ any of it. She went straight to the cupboard and said “Here darlin’…use this…now you know.” Well, those weren’t her exact words, but you get the idea.

Turns out (I can’t believe I didn’t already know this…or just forgot), that nutmeg is the seed of a fruit. I knew the outside shell (the aril) was mace; another common cooking spice, kinda like mellow nutmeg. Turns out the yellow fruit (see left pic) is totally edible and quite often made into tangy jams in India and Indonesia. Damn! That sucks…I want nutmeg jam.

We get tons of nutmeg seed imported into the states; how is there not a market for this yellow fruit and it’s fresh red mace? The fresh mace can also be steeped to add color to a dish. I wonder if the yellow fruit from the nutmeg in my cupboard was put to waste?

Just so many uses, and all I ever did was grate it…frugality fail.

Here’s that super-bomb Gnocchi recipe:

Truffled Gnocchi
3 medium russet potatoes (baked, peeled, and riced)
3 egg yolks
around 1½c flour maybe more
3T Parmesan cheese
1T white truffle oil
pinch of fresh nutmeg
salt
pepper

On a clean flat surface put the riced potatoes in a pile, 3/4c flour, egg yolks, cheese, oil, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Lightly work together with your hands until a ball can be formed. It will not feel completely dry, but only add flour to add strength. If it feels to delicate, add more but not to much because you can’t take it away. Divide into smaller balls. Throw some flour on a clean surface and roll a ball out until it is about 1/2in. in diameter. With a knife, cut 1in. long segments; transfer to a floured cookie sheet and repeat the process, until all the gnocchi dough is cut up. Bring a large pot of water to a high boil and salt heavily. * do in batches and don’t over crowd the pot with gnocchi. Blanch until the gnocchi rise to the top, then give em another 20 seconds. Transfer to either a hot pan with a bit of oil and butter to crisp and brown. Or, transfer to ice water to stop the cooking process; then store in the fridge.

Cooking Wine…Or Wine To Cook With?

If you can’t drink it don’t cook with it right? Right! But that doesn’t mean you need to cook with the wine you are drinking, ah-ha!
First off, never, ever…ever, ever, ever, buy anything labeled “Cooking Wine”. Unless you jones for that bitter, flat, vinegar rush.
On the other end of the spectrum; cooking with a $20-$50 bottle of wine is, (in this cooks mind), a complete waste of money. Kinda like sauteing with extra virgin olive oil. Wine is alive and only heated to around 70 degrees, then it starts to die soon after 100. Cooking wine, destroys all that the winemaker has tirelessly worked to achieve. Those delicate nuances that shift and change, open and develop, making it an “experience”…hopefully.
Can using a good wine make a sauce better? Yes, but I have a budget to stay under so I’d rather drink the good stuff and cook with a lower quality wine.
There are a couple great options for low cost wine. Charles Shaw (2 buck chuck) at Trader Joe’s, or, Big Kahuna at Fresh and Easy are both $2 bottles and usually very drinkable. There are some caviates if you use them as drinking wine. They have zero shelf life, (so don’t buy too many) and quality varies from batch to batch/year to year. If you didn’t like it last year, give it another shot; they stay inexpensive because the wine makers change up where the grapes come from depending on price.
You’d be surprised how well these wines do in a blind taste test going up against $15 and under bottles; 3 times now they’ve come in the top 3 of 10-16 bottles.
As for cooking with these wines, remember that a small pinch of sugar can go a long way if there is too much acidity. This isn’t cheating, this is chemistry.
So remember, if price is no option then none of this matters; but if you’re like me and hate to waste money. There are wonderful inexpensive substitutes to take advantage of…and that’s exactly what you should do.

Salvaging A Day

“…he fixed dinner for his family every night. It was a ritual he loved, but the ambition of his cooking was controlled by how good a day he’d had writing, and how good a run he’d had. If the writing went poorly, he took it out on himself with a long, hard run; or, sometimes, a bad day with his writing would exhaust him so much he could barely run a mile; then he tried to save the day with a splendid meal.

Helen could never tell what sort of day Garp had experienced by what he cooked for them; something special might mean a celebration, or it might mean that the food was the only thing that had gone well, that the cooking was the only labor keeping Garp from despair. “If your careful,” Garp wrote, “if you use good ingredients, and you don’t take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is the only worthwhile product you can salvage from a day: what you make to eat.”

Interesting thought at the end there. How many times has a little homemade meal made you realize the simple pleasures in life? Something so basic, so primordial…so important. Because food is my thing; I obviously look at this quote from “The World According to Garp“ with a bit more weight…but it really is a polarizing thought.

If cooking is not your thing, and the thought of making a yummy dinner from scratch makes your blood run cold; all I can say to you is, get over yourself, and take a chance on the oldest ceremony in human history–feed your family, and yourself. Cooking is not just about eating, you are taking what the earth has given and making it a part of you.

Lets start simple:
It’s 5:30pm, you’re tired, everyone is hungry and not only is cooking not mentally an option, but dishes afterward? Ah hellll naw!
Take a deep breath…exhale, and walk into your kitchen. Do you have; salt, pepper (maybe a leftover packet of crushed red chile from last Fridays pizza), some oil or butter, a veggie or two (maybe an onion and a carrot or a bell pepper)? Maybe you have some protein somewhere…how about a few handfuls of nuts if there isn’t any meat. Our insatiable drive for meat really makes me giggle sometimes, especially with men. At what point did we get it in our heads that we’re going to waste away if we don’t fill our gullets with a 1/2lb (or more) of meat every night. “I don’t know how many times I here the line, “I need meat or else I…”, from people. Guess what? You don’t need meat! Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t eat meat…but a small mind shift toward other options might be a nice change. If you like meat cause it makes you full, try a handful or two of raw walnuts and half an avocado sprinkled with a little garlic salt and lemon juice.

But I digress; back to dinner. Get out that small plastic Ikea cutting board and your dull ass knife that hasn’t been sharpened properly in 3 years. Hack up the onion and carrot, throw it in a pot with a couple tablespoons of fat. Turn the heat to medium, add a three finger pinch of salt and a little pepper, (fresh ground of course). Add in whatever spice or dried herb you might have bought in the last three months and give it a stir. If you have any garlic now is the time; adding it too early can result in overly browned, bitter garlic.
Got any rice? Add that in as well, let it toast in the oil with the veggies and spices. Once you get bored with that or, everything looks a bit browned, add liquid to cook the rice…water is fine but add another pinch of salt..carbs love salt. Rice and liquid needs a 1:2 ratio. Bring it to a boil, cover and turn down to low for 15 minutes (40 for brown rice). After the 15, turn it off and let it sit for 5. Meanwhile, rummage around your kitchen to see what else you can add. Any frozen corn or peas? Some slivered almonds that only need a little browning in a dry skillet? How about a can of black beans or a can of olives? Maybe you have some leftover cilantro from taco night? Chop that shit up and toss it in.

This simple one pot 30 minute meal is doable; if you want meat, brown it up with or before you add the onions. For further assistance, shoot me a line…anytime.

For the record: I’m a total glutton that has never met a carb I didn’t inhale; and I’m not trying to preach about how you should eat…(well, maybe I am). But it’s a nice mindset to have on our continuing path toward a healthier, hopefully simpler existence.

Coveting Thy Neighbors…Fruit?

White Sapotes in early Spring, Loquats in late spring. Two wonderfully, deliciously juicy fruits I look forward to every year. They are the crown jewels of my spring fruit season and I don’t have to do a thing to help them grow. I get my hands on these sumptuous treasures, not from the sweat of my brow while toiling away on weekends; but hijacking them from my neighbor…thanks neighbor. Not to worry, I’m not hopping fences and skulking around their yard at night. I’m following the same law that’s been grandfathered down for generations and is told best by an ancient Chinese proverb; “it’s on my side.”

Seriously though, it feels like a present when I eat these fruits. There is something very satisfying about it…a gratefulness not unlike when someone cooks you a yummy dinner and all you had to do was bring a bottle of wine.

White Sapote, also known as Casimiroa is shaped like a peach but has a matted light green skin which turns yellow as it ripens. The pale yellow flesh surrounds 3-5 big seeds that unfortunately take up alot of prized real estate. They taste…sensual, like a cross between vanilla custard, pear, and a little bit of mellow sweet tomato. The skin is edible and thin but slightly bitter like a pear and a little disappointing.  It’s hard to get the decadent middle without some peel. These guys are really messy as you navigate around the seeds, but I think that adds to their sensual quality. What is there to do after gettin’ all messy but to get clean together. Think how sexy a perfect peach can be with the slurping and the licking and…whoa, sorry…back on track here.
They’re great to add to smoothies, but I always just eat them raw in hand. One lame thing is: they have a relatively short shelf life because of the thin skins. Once they start to ripen they become really soft and if they fall off the tree, it’s hard to grab them before the birds or mice get a bite. I guess that just makes them that much more rare and special. So, if your ever perusing an Asian or Mexican market, don’t look at the price, just grab this fruit of love, (and a napkin), sit down and enjoy.

Loquats (not to be confused with Kumquat), are another seasonal marker my wife and I look forward to every year. Our neighborhood is speckled with the trees, so when we see this small orange fruit ripening, we know April is here. Looking like an egg shaped apricot, the flavor is a mix of pear, cherry and apricot. The skin is kinda bitter and it has three somewhat large seeds inside.
I’m the type of person that relishes the perfect bite, so to obtain that, I must peel. Eaten raw or put into jams, these little guys are versatile and delicious. The trees themselves tend to yield alot of fruit which is great, because they go fast.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have accessible neighbor(ing) fruit, but you see ‘em around; usually people won’t mind you picking their fruit, just as long as you ask nicely.

Coconut Water

Ever had the water from a young coconut?  This water is the most hydrating liquid on the planet with so many vitamins and nutrients, your body won’t even know what’s going on. Actually there’s more truth to that then you know, as it’s also a mild diuretic on the same level as coffee. Those “symptoms” fade away as you get used to it.

I drink raw coconut water whenever I get the chance and I firmly believe the raw coconut water “IN” the coconut, is light years better then ANY packaged brand. I’ve tried them all with varying results, but the one thing they all have in common is they are all pasteurized. You can go ahead and wave goodbye to 50% of it’s nutritive properties right there. I WILL say, the no added sugar varieties are a wonderfully convenient substitute for the raw version and work great for hydrating purposes.
Here is a link to more of it’s nutritional content and, here’s a link to help you properly open a young coconut. When it comes to opening one, I don’t hold the coconut in my hand, but rather keep it on the cutting board. I use the heel of my knife to make 3 firm hacks about an inch and a half in diameter around the tip. To scrape out the highly nutritious meat you can search for another video…I’m just trying to let you in on the water.

If you don’t love this stuff…try it again. Btw, coconut oil is also the most versatile and beneficial oil on the planet as well. Ah, but that’s another blog for another day.

Top 10 Kitchen Tools

As stated before, I’m a personal chef. That means I’ve seen countless home kitchens, from mind blowing on every level, to, “oh my god, this isn’t even a kitchen, and why is the water brown.”
It was hard not to notice how many people had the same horrible teflon pans, plastic spatulas and micro serrated knives.
Here, in no particular order are 10 kitchen tools I deem essential for producing a wide variety of quality, consistent meals. I didn’t say hand tools, just the basic essentials for in home gourmet cuisine. (This might seem long, but it’s a quick read)

1. Good knife and steel
I know, I know; everyone always says, get a good knife. But it’s true; a decent, sharp knife is the most essential tool in the kitchen. Don’t let anyone tell you, you NEED that $150 chefs knife. I’ve seen men do amazing things with the cheapest knives in the world…so why does everyone think they need a Global or Wusthof to cook proper food? Learn to sharpen a knife properly and the world is your oyster. Whether with a sharpening stone, ceramic rods, or a mechanized apparatus; learn to sharpen and you’ll be happy with a $20 knife.
Not to say that the expensive ones aren’t better, but dropping a ton of dough on a knife when you can’t even keep it sharp doesn’t make sense. Plus, you’ll want to use your less expensive models for honing your technique. This is where the steel comes in handy. A steel is the long metal rod you see people “sharpening” their knives on before use. Although there is the appearance of sharpening; the steel is cleaning and straightening the knife, as opposed to actually creating a fresh new edge.
In the event your ready to burn some cash; stick with a model that is comfortable in your hand, heavy for its size, has smooth top edges and is pleasing to to look at. Always feel and hold knives before you purchase them. Go to a knife shop and talk to the salesman about comparisons.
Another route is ceramic knives, mainly from Kyocera. They’ll definitely scorch your pocketbook, but, for the home or hobby chef, they’re fantastic. They stay sharp for a very long time and after a year or two, you mail it back to the company with $10; and they ship it back in a few days with a brand new edge. They are very brittle so you can’t smash garlic or peel a watermelon; but for small jobs, they’re just great.

2. Microplane
Multi-tasker extraordinaire! This under $10 (with a 20% off Bed Bath and Beyond mailer) tool can finely grate hard cheese, nutmeg, ginger, garlic and zest citrus like nobody’s business. I personally like the short fat one instead of the long skinny one and I have two. One is the old one that is a bit beaten down, and it no longer works for softer stuff like zesting. I use my old one for hard things only, like nutmeg and parmesan.

3. Good blender
Good being the operative word here; there are a lot of choices for blenders on the market. Oster seems to dominate the affordable, home, standby. But, unless you like that renegade hunk of ice in your Margarita or you just love using your strainer, you might be happier with a little more power. So lets talk price. Kitchen Aid and Cuisinart have always been depressingly horrible with more emphasis on design then performance. If you’re looking for a blender that does most jobs well, looks nice enough, lasts awhile and is around $150; go with an Oster or Waring. If you decide that versatility, power, overall performance, ease of use, ease of cleaning and longevity are important factors in your decision,; then the short list gets even shorter. Power wise, Blendtec makes a quality product but I don’t like using push button controls and the container is a little small. I like my blender to have an on/off switch, a hi/low switch and a separate full range speed dial. This makes ramping up hot liquids safer and easier.
Long story getting shorter…suck it up, spend the extra cash and get a Vita-mix with a speed regulating dial. You’ll never ask for anything more and you can successfully puree a friggin’ brick or, just use it for nut butters, veggies, ice drinks, and a multitude of emulsification’s. It can pulverize so efficiently that you can extract vital nutrients from produce (like a juicer), that other blenders can’t get near. Did I mention you don’t take it apart to clean? A little soap and water, couple seconds on high, give it a rinse, and your done. $ = :-)

4. Pots ‘N Pans
Thin pans will burn your food so thick and heavy is always better. You should have a pan or two with a nonstick surface, but you don’t need it or want it for everything…unless that nonstick is cast iron. Love cast iron this guy does. Heats nicely, retains heat well, has an almost nonstick surface, is durable, long lasting, cleans easy, goes in the oven, easy grip handles, is ridiculously inexpensive and looks cool…not pretty, but cool. Down sides are; it’s heavy, rusts without proper care, takes an extra minute to heat up, aaaaaaaaaand that’s, about, it. Lets look at the other end of the spectrum with All Clad. It’s beautiful and shiny, heats evenly, transfers heat well, comes in complete sets, can go in the oven. Down sides are; ridiculously expensive, handles are unsafe (the pan will rotate in your hand when full), they get oil stained easily thereby losing the beautiful quality, no nonstick quality.

Bottom line, I don’t care what you buy, but dropping 1-3 grand on some pot and pans will not make your food better. So what to get? Instead of recommending any set or brand, let me just give you a few basics.

You need:
1 large stainless steel stock pot
1 large stainless steel saute pan for searing and caramelizing(high sided is more versatile but not essential)
1 large non-stick saute pan for things like eggs and pancakes
1 medium stainless steel saute pot

So that is 4 essential pans and it could be three if your large saute pan is seasoned cast iron.

5. Outdoor grill
I know I know, this isn’t “in” most of our kitchens…semantics.
Obtaining “grill flavor” is so key in widening the variety of cultures and flavors we cook with. Whether gas or charcoal, grilling provides smokiness that cannot be achieved indoors. Fat melts, hits a flame, smokes, and that smoke flavors the meat. This is why charcoal usually tastes better; the fat hits the burning wood, not gas or hot metal. But don’t fret over which to buy, just get gas, it’s easy, clean and consistent. I use mostly gas but prefer the taste of charcoal. Also, many grills come with a nice size side burner which would kill that second bird you might be throwing stones at, (see tool #6). Shop around and look at multiple grills to match your needs but here are some buying tips. First tip, one word…Weber. Second tip, wait for it…Weber. I’m not trying to get Weber to monopolize the market, but decade after decade they do what’s right, and Home Depot conveniently carries the replacement parts. Things like igniters,diffusers and grates. You might think; “why do they need all those replacement parts, if its so solidly built?” The ugly truth is, all gas grills will go bad at some point, especially if they aren’t covered or are never cleaned. Extreme expansion and contraction of the metal parts combined with moisture and time is not good for anything that isn’t totally sealed. Not having to rely on specialty stores or the internet for replacement parts makes life a little easier.

Grills should be somewhat heavy and simply designed. I like the flames to run up and down not side to side. That makes it easy to cook on only one side of the grill or, if you like to use your grill as a smoker. Another big factor is the thickness of the grill grates. The thicker the better; iron is better then steal and ceramic coated iron is nice and lasts a long time. I like iron and ceramic coated iron over the steal because they don’t let food stick as much and they heat up more evenly then steel.

If you’re looking to create authentic flavors of the Mediteranian, North and South America and India, then get yerself a good grill. Grilling also means less pans to wash…gigitty.

6. One powerful (Gas) burner
Simple and obvious; but it can make the difference between an impressive meal and a Tuesday night dinner. There are times in cooking when high heat needs to be achieved and most importantly, maintained. Searing steak or fish and having fun with stir-frys demands high heat. As does boiling a large pot of water or soup. Electric can get hot enough, but can be hard to control, and the pan cannot loose contact with the element.
We would all like a bad mammer jammer Wolf range, but the fact is, we all can’t. So, what to do?
If you happen to be in the market for a new stove, look for one with a burner that is obviously bigger then the rest. If you can, also buy one that has a long center burner and two of the same size burners on the opposite side. This greatly opens your options for future use. If you already have a stove in place and a new one is nowhere on the horizon, you have one solid option. Clean burning natural propane (Hank Hill voice).
You can spend $40-$150 on single, double or triple propane burners that will get your pans or fry pots as hot as you need, (like a turkey fryer). You’ll need to have it stationed outside just like your grill but that’s okay. You don’t want smoke or oil steam smelling up your house as it is. I get annoyed frying in doors cause it always funks up the house unless you have a better then average vent hood.

7. Spatulas (silicone and metal) Everyone has a spatula, but not necessarily of the silicone variety. Hugely important as it’s one of those “go to” tools, you’ll tend to grab for anything requiring stirring, scraping or flipping. It’s great to have silicone because of it’s resistance to heat and the malleable nature of it is perfect for getting corners that metal and wood cannot. Now that everyone has non-stick pans, you’ll need something that won’t scratch.Growing up, our spatulas and pancake flippers were always plastic; and always melted. If you still have plastic tools in your drawers, toss em’ and get silicone everything.Fish spatulas or thin metal pancake flippers are different but still use the word spatula.I can’t tell you how much difference it makes to have something that is uber thin, yet rigid enough to flip things that are delicate and like to stick to the pan…which is a tricky combination.

A fish spatula acts as a pancake flipper, but is as thin and strong as you need to flip the most stubborn pancake or crispy browned potato. Not a common American kitchen tool yet, but it should be. If you don’t actually have a fish spatula just make sure you have a flat, thin metal flipper of some kind. It’ll save many a brown crust from staying on the pan and countess sponges from being over worked.

8. Metal Whisk
Did this need it’s own spot on the list? A whisk is a whisk…right?
If you’ve seen as many home kitchens as I have you’d see why it’s on the list. Waaaaaay to many people have substandard whisks and if you enjoy cooking and baking, this thing is a work horse. From making aioli or vinaigrette, getting lumps out of a roux thickened sauce or whipping batters and eggs; old school and standard is best. Ballooned at the end is preferable but the thinner models work good enough as a stand in. The ones that look like a spring are lame, plastic or silicone don’t provide enough rigidity or flow and the ones that look like elongated martini strainers are just useless. Same goes with the unconnected ball capped tines that look more like a South American flower stamen or some Cylon sex toy then a usable whisk. However, it will look nice in your tool bucket next to your stove.

9. Aluminum foil
Nothing beats classic Reynolds, but make sure you get the heavy duty kind. Foil is amazing and can be used to steam, roast, line a pan for easy clean up, wrap something to grill. Speaking of grill; don’t have a grill brush? Wad up some foil and go to town. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used it as a make shift lid for a pot, or, a make shift anything. If I wasn’t married, here is how I might enjoy a bachelors dinner. Cover a pan in foil, roast some potatoes, transfer foil with potatoes to plate, add ketchup, eat, wrap up leftovers in same foil, no dishes…gigitty.

10. Openers (Can and Wine)
This might seem out of place and a little obvious, but what good is wine and can goods if you can’t open them? There are no other means to open these products and they are essential to kitchens everywhere. Wine is prevalent in 50% of my recipes and we all use canned goods. Whether it be coconut milk, black beans or pumpkin, we need these two one trick ponies.

So that’s it! Sure you can fill your drawers with tools, from across the globe or  late night television, but you only need 10 to be a great cook.
Now no more excuses ;-)