Sunday, January 06, 2008

Knife Lessons

Contrary to some of the friendly jibes I get from friends, I'm not anti-technology. True, I see no need for a microwave or a wide number of other kitchen gadgets, and -- horror of horrors! -- I refuse to own a cell phone.

That doesn't mean that I don't occasionally see a valid reason for accepting new technology into my life if, on balance, it will prove useful. (As an example, consider my new mixer.) Yes, I prefer doing things the "old-fashioned" way -- with older technologies that don't wear out so fast -- but I want the occasional time-saver, just like anyone else, as long as it will truly save me time, money, and energy in the long run.

One of my favorite gadgets has been a four-in-one mixer that includes an immersion blender and a mini food processor as well as beaters and dough hooks. The first two attachments have proven the most useful in my kitchen, and I've loved having them.

You'll notice the past tense in that paragraph, for thanks to my sheer clumsiness at dropping the machine or its components, as well as its not-so-sturdy plastic parts, the blender and the food processor no longer function.

Thus begins the inner debate. Do I attempt to replace those components, possibly spending more than I had originally spent? (Do I have to replace the base, which means I might just as well start over?) Do I look into getting a good processing attachment for the new KitchenAid and ditch the old hand-held? Or do I get by on doing things by hand?

For today, I opted for the latter since I was just starting another batch of Bri's fabulous macaroni and cheese. I don't keep panko bread crumbs on hand, but I had ripped up the heels of a loaf of locally-baked bread and meant to buzz them in the food processor to get the crumbs I needed.

When the food processor made a muted whirring noise and failed to work, I grumbled a bit and reached for my cutting board and chef's knife.

Not having made bread crumbs by hand before, I wasn't sure how long it would take, but I knew it could be done. So I worked down and up and side to side and chopped and chopped and chopped, eventually working to the rhythm of a fast set of Celtic tunes on the stereo. I felt the burn in my bicep, but boy, it worked!

While they didn't all end up finely minced, they certainly turned out to be a good size for topping the mac and cheese and for adding a little extra texture to an otherwise creamy dish.

(The sauce for the pasta I ended up working with a pastry blender and a lot of patience... not the most effective method as the sauce had some lumps in it, but it mostly worked.)

Will I go ahead and get a new food processor? Probably, as it is definitely a useful tool -- unless someone has a recommendation for a good old-fashioned tool that would do the trick for things like this. I'm just awfully glad that over the years I've been able to hone my knife skills so that I wouldn't be too daunted at using my chef's knife for Plan B... or even Plan A, in some cases.

What can I say? That's knife!


At 1/08/2008 12:43 PM, Blogger Ed Bruske said...

Jennifer, I'd like to start a regular feature on how cooks, specifically, can be greener in the kitchen. Using a knife instead of a food processor certainly qualifies. Any other ideas?

At 1/08/2008 12:49 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Ed, aside from considering the value of a lot of other "old-fashioned" tools that have been replaced by electrical appliances (like my beloved egg-beater), I can't think of more at the moment. I will definitely keep thinking, though, as that's where I'm headed, anyway! I look forward to reading your features and learning something new!

At 1/10/2008 4:03 PM, Blogger Bri said...

Knife skills are definitely important to have, and are always useful. I notice that a lot of people who don't cook very often rely too heavily on paring knives, when chef's really is king.
I think it would be worth stalking Ebay for your broken parts, and that that really doesn't pan out, researching the cost of the parts individually from the company or competitors who make generic parts that fit brand names. It's such a shame that in our throw-away society it has become expensive and almost absurd not to just buy a whole new thing rather than replace individual pieces. Good luck on your search and yet another thing to add to the "morality" of our everyday choices.
(glad you are enjoying the mac and cheese recipe. my hubs is having trouble with refined flour at the moment otherwise I would so be making another big dish of it as well. Hopefully soon.)

At 1/11/2008 7:01 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I've been wanting a somewhat shorter chef's knife (maybe 6-8") for a while, but I haven't been able to find one that satisfies me. But it's good to know that my big one (usually called into service to hack open squash) was just right for this job.

I hadn't thought about eBay for parts, but that's a possibility. It seems like it's the handheld base of the whole darn thing that is the problem, so I don't know how it might work to replace that. I do want to check into the KitchenAid attachment... I suspect that would be cheaper, more sturdy, and would take up less additional space.

Could you make or find some spelt pasta for your husband's mac and cheese? I don't know how that would affect him compared to the refined flour pasta, but I like it. I have leftover sauce (I didn't have enough pasta the other night) so will probably do that myself this weekend.

At 2/06/2008 6:30 PM, Blogger Ali said...

I LOVE my kitchenaid food processor. It is the single most used item in my kitchen, and with it, I have become more adventurous as a cook. I now almost never buy pre- sliced, shredded, cooked anything. I think it has helped me become a greener cook, in giving me the time I need to choose local, whole foods for every meal.

I will be curious to see what you decide!

At 2/07/2008 6:53 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Ali, I haven't yet gone for any of the additional attachments. So far I'm making do with pastry blender (doesn't mash or puree as well as the immersion blender, but I'm getting there), chef's knife, and coffee grinder (for fine grinding).

But I'm definitely using the mixer more and more for quick baking or for high-powered things like a really excellent whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache. Wow!


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