The First Post I Never Wrote

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So you’ve decided to jump in and take the step up to the Nexxt Level and improve your cooking skills. If you’re like a lot of guys who never really dabbled in the world of cooking your kitchen is probably in one of two states. Either you’ve got nothing, maybe some cereal, milk, ketchup and a pack of hot dogs, or you’ve got a hodgepodge of hand-me-downs and cheap equipment that came in a set from Wal-Mart. Its okay, this is the state of most guys kitchens’ because buying culinary hardware is not something most of us know about.

Decking out a kitchen with even just the basics can be a daunting task. If you walk into any kitchen equipment store, like Williams & Sonoma, you’ll see TONS of specialty equipment or variations on the same equipment. For many men they simply do not know where to start, what to get, and how to avoid being ripped off. To this end most simply call it and get something conveniently prepackaged at the aforementioned megamart.

The problem with this convenience purchases is that you get what you pay for. There’s a reason your set of six pans or ten knives cost as much as one pan or one knife at a culinary supply store. A lot of guys also make the assumption that you need a lot of equipment to cook even the most basic of recipes, and that’s simply not true. What I’m hoping to do today is to decode a bit of the jargon and misconceptions most guys have about cooking equipment and help you build the strong, but simple, foundations for a well-functioning kitchen.

The List

With all these items there is little the culinary world can throw at you that you will not be able to handle.  Now let’s go down the list and break down some of these briefly.  I plan on expanding on some of these in future articles.

-The Cast Iron Skillet
This is potentially the last pan you’ll ever buy.  If you buy this and nothing else you’re already off to a really good start.  The heavy solid construction of a cast iron makes it ideal for almost any culinary task.  You can roast meat in them, flip them over to bake on the flat bottom, the heavy solid body provides great capacity for heat storage and distribution making them great for frying in, the list goes on.

-The Saucepans
While the name “saucepan” implies a specific use they’re great all around work horse pans that’ll do everything that the sides on the cast iron are to short for.  The main feature of a saucepan is the “corner” where the bottom of the pan becomes the sides of the pan, has a gradual curve, rather than a sharp turn.  This makes it very easy to get things like spatulas, whisks, and spoons in there to make sure nothing is sticking or hiding.  The best example of this is stirring roux into a sauce, hence the name saucepan.

-The Stockpot 
This is the beast for all your bulk cooking needs.  While it is a bit specialized, its a very nice thing to have around if you ever plan on making a big batch of chili, soup, or anything else.  While the initial size will make most go “I’m never gonna cook that much” the idea is not to fill it to the top, but to be able to put a gallon and a half of something in it and still have plenty of room so you don’t make a huge mess trying to stir or transport it.

-The Chef Knife and Steel
This is your rifle.  There are many like it but this one is yours.  A good chef knife is the culinary Alpha, It all starts here.  This is the one item you should invest the most in, but don’t think you have to go drop a few hundred on one knife.  I’ll cover chef knives much more in depth in a future post.

-The Blenders
While I would recommend you get both, as they each have their strong and weak points, if you’re only going to get one  get the bar blender, as a good deal of the applications (like making drinks) are a lot more feasible with it.   Bar blenders tend to have higher RPMs and the conical shape helps feed things down into the blades, allowing the machine to more efficiently buzz down food items.

-The Cutting Board
When choosing a board heavy is the thing you’re looking for.  While wood butcher block is king, it can be very pricey.  I don’t recommend non-butcher block wood boards as they tend to warp pretty quickly as they’re used and washed.  If you don’t want to spring for butcher block get a nice heavy plastic board.

-The Omelet Pan
This is the only specialized piece of equipment on the list, but even then thats only if you take the name literally.  The omelet pan, or French skillet, is the best thing for cooking eggs in and if you ever plan on cooking breakfast buy one.  Its great for grilled sandwiches as well, and the small size makes it ideal for cooking individual portions.

-Everything Else 
Everything else on the list is very general use kitchen equipment that you will use near constantly.  I recommend getting at least two sizes, one large and one small, on all the stirring equipment as different tasks and meal sizes will be much easier with a different sized implement.  Maker sure you look for the red handled heat resistant spatulas.

I hope this gives you a good starting position to begin stocking your kitchen with the proper tools to begin your adventure into the culinary world.  There’s a lot to be learned but all of it is easy if you’re well prepared.

If you purchase anything using the Amazon links above a portion of the sale goes directly to myself, at no additional charge to you, which I will then re-invest back into you, the readers, by using it to help fund new experiments which I will in-turn bring back to you guys in the form of a tested CIJ approved recipe.

Cooking for Single Men (Guest Post by Beppo Venerdi) – Bignalotta

This is a guest post by Beppo Venerdi of Il Risorgimento

This a really simple recipe, via my late Grandma, that can pretty much be thrown together and in the oven within an hour.

Note: The name of this is from me phonetically spelling out how my Grandparents said it. It’s probably pure dialettu, and I’m sure the proper name is much different in mainland Italian.

Bignalotta (BEE-nyah-LAH-tah) is essentially a loaf of bread with meat, cheese and vegetables rolled up inside. It’s very filling, and you’ll most likely end up getting full after eating 2 to 3 slices.

This recipe is definitely NOT Paleo, so if you’re extremely strict about this diet, you’ll want to stay away from this (and most Italian dishes).

——————-

Hardware

Software

  • 1 lb Ground Beef
  • 1 Small to Medium Yellow Onion
  • 1 lb Ball Fresh/Frozen Pizza Dough (or make it yourself)
  • Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 package Frozen Spinach (chopped) or Fresh Baby Spinach
  • 1 Egg
  • Canola Cooking Spray
  • Olive Oil

Do Work!

  1. Preheat your oven to 350*F.
  2. If using frozen spinach, defrost the package and drain in a mesh sieve, push as much water out as possible (important, since excess water will turn bread to mush). Press spinach between paper towels to dry further, set aside.
  3. In a greased mixing bowl (cooking spray) place the pizza dough ball in and cover with wax paper and a towel, and let rise (if using frozen dough, unfreeze it the night before in sink or fridge).
  4. Peel and slice the onion.
  5. Heat up 1 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet, add onion and ground beef.
  6. Cook both until beef is brown and onions start to become translucent, season with a dash of salt and pepper. Remove from heat, drain and let cool to room temperature
  7. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet with cooking spray and spread out the dough evenly to the edges (very important, as you’ll see).
  8. Spread beef/onion mixture on the pizza dough.
  9. Place spinach on top of beef and sprinkle with a layer of mozzarella cheese.
  10. Take the long edge of the pizza dough and roll the whole thing up across to the opposite side. Be careful not to rip holes in the dough.
  11. Position the loaf so the “seam” is facing down on the sheet.
  12. Fold the edges under the loaf.
  13. Optional (not necessary, mostly aesthetics): Crack and beat an egg in a bowl, brush a thin layer on top of roll
  14. Bake in oven for 45 minutes.
  15. Loaf will sound hollow when it’s done (as odd as this sounds, tap on it with your knuckles).
  16. Cool the loaf on a wax paper covered cutting board (about 10 minutes)
  17. Slice thickly like a loaf of bread (thumb-width), and serve.
Should look like this when you’re done (results may vary depending on dough used).

The beauty of this recipe is that you can really put anything in as filling. The one above is like the one my Grandma used to make (she would put sliced black olives in also). I will say that I haven’t tried using pizza sauce, as I think it will end up being extremely messy.

Few other examples of fillings:

  • Roasted Red Peppers and Mozzarella Cheese
  • Pepperoni, Peppers, Onions and Mozzarella Cheese
  • Ground Beef, Green Peppers, Onions and Provolone Cheese
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