Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sharpening Up on Knife Skills

by Jessica McGovern

About a month ago Tufts University Slow Foods Student Organization approached me to host a skillshare at my apartment to discuss knives, I gladly obliged. The evening began with some basics that included an overview of knives and knife skills and ended by using all of those meticulously cut vegetables in a tasty vegetable and herb soup. Here are some of the topics that we discussed:

Overview of Knives
You don't have to be a trained chef to produce a great meal. Knife skills are one of the fundamental components to becoming an exceptional cook. Knives come in many shapes and sizes, each having its own specific purpose. Many people become discouraged by all of the different options that are available, but it really is not necessary to have more than the four basic types of knives.

* Chef's Knife
- The most versatile of all knives, with a wide blade that is 8" to 10" long. It is best to choose a knife that feels good and balanced in your hand. The knife should have a full tang (this means that the blade should go all the way through the handle for the best wear and stability).
* Paring Knife
- Paring knives are generally 2-1/2-4" in length. It is ideal for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables, cutting small objects, slicing, and other hand tasks.
* Boning Knife- 
This type of knife has a more flexible blade to curve around meat and bone. Generally 4-5" long.
* Bread Knife
- Bread knives are usually serrated (having teeth like a saw). Most experts recommend a serrated knife that has pointed serrations instead of wavy serrations for better control and longer knife life. You must use a sawing motion when using a serrated knife.

Knife Cuts
The main point I stressed when discussing knife cuts was uniformity. If all of the pieces are about the same size the vegetables will cook evenly. One of the best ways to learn, besides doing, is by seeing. Check out this video by Bobby Flay to see how to cut red peppers and garlic (his favorite).

Knife Safety Tips

1. Chop slowly and carefully.
2. Always cut away from your body.
3. Make sure your hands are dry.
4. Make sure that you curl your fingers under on the hand holding the food. This takes a while to get used to, but will become second nature with practice. If your fingers are curled under, the chances are good you will never cut yourself.
5. Watch what you're doing at all times.
6. Using your dominant hand, hold the knife firmly and using a rocking motion, cut through the food. The knife should not leave the surface you're working on. Move your hand (with the curled under fingers) along as the knife cuts the food.
7. Always make sure that your cutting board is secured and will not move while you are cutting. Try placing a wet paper towel or dishrag underneath your board.

Sharpening and Truing
A chef once told me "a sharp knife is a happy knife." It's a little sentimental for my taste. I prefer the saying "a sharp knife is a safe and efficient knife." Having a sharp knife ensures that you have even cuts. Dull knives can become dangerous when you apply extra pressure while pressing down on the knife, the extra pressure leads to less control. There are several ways to sharpen your knife such as using a wet stone, a handheld sharpener and an electric sharpener. Personally, I prefer the handheld sharpener because it is cheap, effective, light and safe to use.

Another tool used to keep your knife sharp, but it does not actually sharpen your knife, is called a truing steel. This long, round object keeps knives sharper by straightening out the edge. To use a steel hold the knife in your dominant hand and the steel in the other, with the steel point pressed into a solid waist-high surface. Hold the knife base at the top of the steel at a 20 degree angle. Slowly draw the knife down the length of the steel, pulling the knife back so the entire blade, from base to tip, moves against the steel, as if you were slicing off pieces of the steel. Repeat on the other side. Do this five or six times.

Simple Vegetable Soup Recipe

5 medium red potatoes- cut into medium cubes
2 red onions- cut into a large dice
4 carrots- peeled and cut into a large dice
1 cup mushrooms- cleaned and roughly chopped
Slow Foods members cutting up vegetables.
1 large yellow squash- cut into a large dice
1 head of garlic- peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups vegetable stock
5 sprigs fresh thyme
3 fresh sage leaves
4 sprigs fresh rosemary

1. In a large saute pan heat the olive oil and add the onions, carrots, mushrooms and yellow squash.
2. Cook the vegetables on medium-high heat for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
3. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a large sauce pan. Add the potatoes and cover with the vegetable stock.
4. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Add the thyme, rosemary and sage and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
6. Season with salt and pepper if necessary and serve hot.

Check out Jessica's blog: Great Eat-spectations!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Brew-off and “Beer Luck”: What More Could You Ask For?

by Nicole Tichenor

As a devoted beer drinker, I can safely say that yesterday’s Brew off and Beer Luck was my favorite SFT event of the year. A lot of other people probably agree, because those two rooms full of homebrewed beer were packed with people (over 100 members of the Tufts graduate community attended!) Here’s how the night went: everyone brought a glass, and we were able to choose 6 -7 beers of the 19 (!) to try, just to make sure everyone got enough tastes. Meanwhile, there was an esteemed panel of judges tasting each beer and scoring them. From Cambridge Brewing Company we had Will Meyers, Brewmaster and Megan Parisi, Head Brewer. The other judges were Dave Lytton, who works at the Modern Homebrew Emporium and James Nicholson, who runs Mystic Brewery.

The homebrewers were from several schools at Tufts: the medical, dental, urban and environmental policy and planning program, Fletcher school, and nutrition schools. The diversity of backgrounds matched the diversity of beers entered in the competition – everything from Black Saison and India Pale Ales to American Style Black Ale. It was really interesting to hear the brewers (fellow students) describe their beers like seasoned professionals. One of the pairs of brewers told me that their Oatmeal Stout was made with a real bowl of oatmeal with all the fixins in it. It’s my new favorite breakfast!

At the end of the night, the winners were announced. The students picked Kristin Irvin and Greg Saia’s Pale Ale as the 2nd place winner and gave the gold to Melissa Page’s “Vitamin Apri-Hop.” The judges’ pick was the Gluten Free Pale Ale brewed by Friedman student Alyssa Koomas. The judges also picked favorites in the different beer categories. For Classic Styles, 2nd place went to Sam Barber’s IBU-tiful, and 1st went to Scott Recksiedler for his California Common lager. Scott also took 2nd place in the specialty category for his Pumpkin Ale, which was like fall in a glass. 1st place specialty beer went to Alyssa’s Gluten Free Pale Ale. For darks/lagers, 1st place went to Kate Abowd Johnson, who brewed a powerful wood-aged beer, called Bourbon Trail Stout. 2nd place in that category went to Sarah Kasten’s American Style Black Ale, which was one of my favorites of the night.

Many thanks to our judges, donors, brewers and participants. Thanks also to our sponsors who donated wonderful prizes: Modern Homebrew Emporium, Redbones BBQ in Davis Square, Christopher's Restaurant, Cambridge Common, Mystic Brewery, and Cambridge Brewing Co.

We’re looking forward to Brew-off 2012 already!