More knives

It’s hard to stress knives too much. However you think of them – interesting, mundane, expensive – they are the engine of the kitchen. Not much food goes into the pot without knifework.



Because of D’s bookselling business, we spend Saturdays scouring yard sales, auctions and flea markets. While she’s finding the real finds, I look through the cookbooks and then wander through the household items — specifically, kitchen junk that people buy, use once and then put out for yard sales.

Like this:


Oh yeah.  Five bucks at a yard sale in New Cumberland. I bought it with tomatoes in mind. Last year, I made a lot of tomato puree with a food mill. It was labor-intensive. The Victorino was a definite upgrade, so we bought a half-bushel of tomato seconds at Paulus Orchards and went to work.


Here’s what it looked like in our kitchen. Turn the crank and a screw pushes the tomatoes against a screen, down the chute and into the bowl. On the side, the seeds and skin go into another bowl. Pretty slick.


This is D prepping the whole tomatoes … I’m on the other side slicing (8ths) for the funnel, and feeding and cranking, and after that …


they go on the stove. I reduced the puree by half. Last winter, I had sauce that was watery and I had to add tomato paste to get to a reasonably thick pasta sauce in a reasonable time.  This winter, we’ll see.


You don’t need a “full set” of knives. Especially, you don’t need a Henckles or Wusthof set. Especially from the Home Shopping Network. What you do need is a good chef’s knife, at least $50, forged and made of high carbon stainless steel. Plus a boning knife. Then you’re good. You can do 90% of what you have to do in a professional kitchen with these two knives. The rest is garnish.

With knife skills as with most things, there is school and there is work. There is classic julienne and production julienne … and when Chef wants you to fill a six-inch hotel with mixed bell peppers julienne, classic would take you freaking hours. Not fun. So here’s the start of Chef Jim’s knife explainer.

Balance Scale

Sometimes when people ask about culinary school, they’re like, “Jeez, I wish I could do that.”  So I’m going to shoot some videos this year and give you a look at Chef Jim’s demos.

This is a balance scale demonstration. It’s a delicate instrument used in professional bakeshops, and interesting to work with. Two things about weighing:

— Flour has to be weighed, not measured, because different batches are compressed to different degrees. My partner Amy and I found a 20 percent difference between scooped flour and sifted flour. Now, imagine a sack of flour that’s been thrown around boxcars and delivery vans a dozen times since it left Wisconsin. Really dense. So screw Fanny Farmer — weigh it, don’t measure it. If your recipe calls for measured flour, get a better recipe.

— A pint’s a pound the world around, as the Brits say. Water, milk, eggs and butter are the only four culinary substances that weigh the same as they measure. So do whatever’s easier.