Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What To Look For In A Good Chef Knife

A chef knife can be the most helpful tool you would have in your kitchen. Although the chef knife is extremely popular among professional cooks and even among families there are still a good number of homemakers and households do not have a chef knife in their kitchen. It is much more common for someone to buy one those cheaply made and sold 10 knife sets from a supermarket shelf than to take the plunge with a proper set of chef knives.

Before we consider what to look for in a good chef knife, let's make it clear immediately that such products may result in hefty investments from the off, but they will last you a lifetime and a chef knife can do the tasks in one fifth of the time than ordinary knives, even if you are an amateur cook.

The Style 
Conventional wisdom suggests that there are three styles of chef knife - French, German and Japanese. All these styles are equally effective and none of them do anything else that the others cannot. You would notice that the German styled chef knife is more curved whereas the French style is straight and quickly curves at the tip. Both work equally well and it would be your personal preference making the choice. The Japanese styled chef knife is also great for cutting, chopping vegetables, fish and poultry meat. It may be a tad slower with beef.

Balance is extremely important when buying a good chef knife. Hold the knife at the strip where the handle meets the blade. You can use your index finger and middle finger together to check the balance. If the knife tilts either way, you are not holding a great professional knife.

There are four materials that are predominantly used - stainless steel, carbon steel, laminates and ceramic. The last two should not be touched because they are not the ideal materials for chef knives. Carbon steel is better in some ways than stainless steel because the edge remains sharp longer and it is easy to maintain. The problem with carbon steel is that it can rust and could get discolored due to stains. Stainless steel is by far the best option and if you manage to get high grade, hot forged stainless steel then it could be sharper than carbon steel.

Manufacturing Method 
Never opt for stamped method which involved cutting the blade from a larger sheet of stainless steel or carbon steel. You should opt for hot forged knife which is a single sheet of steel beaten down to form the shape of the knife.

Physical Attributes 
How long you want it to be (6 inches or 14 inches, or the conventional 8 inches), how heavy and how thick would depend on your personal preferences. If all the above checkpoints are met with then this one shouldn't be a concern at all.

How to Maintain a Knife

A great knife needs the maintenance to match. With proper care, a top quality knife can last a lifetime. Neglected, though, and you may as well just get cheap, supermarket kitchen knives every couple of months for the rest of your life. Or throw money directly into a fire.

So which sounds better: a top quality tool that you can use for years to come, or cheap hunks of steel that are only a couple grades above tinfoil? Yeah. I thought so.

There are a few basic steps to caring for a good chef knife, and while they seem like common sense, it's amazing how rarely these basic steps aren't followed.

Storage - Knives should be stored properly, both for safety and maintenance. One option is to place the knives on a magnetic strip on the wall, keeping them secure and out of the reach of young children. Alternatively, a butcher's block on the counter also works.

If you have to put your knife in a drawer, be sure to buy a protective sleeve for it. This will prevent the knife from being damaged in the drawer, and it keeps searching fingers in one piece.

Hand Wash - All premium chef knives are advertised as "dishwasher safe." Don't do it! I did that once to a sous-chef's knives when I was working as a dishwasher. Between curses, he made it clear that it's very bad for the knives, especially the handles.

It's best to wash your knife in warm soapy water (carefully!), and then immediately dry it and put it away. Avoid using steel wool or abrasive scrubs. A sponge or rag is best to maintain the scratch-free, pristine surface of your knife, or a scrub brush for safety.

Honing and Sharpening - These are two things often confused by people just getting their first high quality chef knife. Honing refers to the regular practice of straightening and refining the edge. No metal is taken off. Sharpening refers to some amount of the metal being filed away, leaving a sharper edge behind.

Honing is best accomplished with a steel, a long rod with an abrasive surface. The blade of the knife is drawn against the steel, correcting accumulated imperfections before they become serious. Even the best knives need honing weekly or daily, depending on use.

Sharpening uses a whetstone or a specialized machine, but good knives that are well maintained don't need as much sharpening. Many cooks - both amateur and professional - use professional sharpening services instead of risking damaging their knives.

Your top knife deserves your attention, especially if you're willing to invest in a good one. At a very minimum follow these three steps to properly care for your kitchen knives. By properly caring for a good knife, it will provide a lifetime of quality performance in your kitchen.

Daniel C Howard is a writer and food enthusiast. After spending years banging around in kitchens - both at restaurants and his own - he has learned the importance for the right tools. BestChefKnifeReviews.Com is a site devoted to finding the best chef knife for you. Or you can go here for mo details on 8-inch chef's knives.

Coffee: All The Things You Need To Know

Starting the day with a cup of coffee is an American tradition. Few can deny the power and appeal of a delicious coffee drink, regardless of whether it came from the kitchen or the cafe. Follow the tips provided in this article, and learn now to make the best-tasting coffee.

When you are ready to purchase a new coffee machine, choose wisely in order to get the perfect cup of coffee. Consider that glass carafes may not keep brewed coffee fresh for that long, and French presses produce strong brews. If you constitute the entire coffee drinking portion of your household, think about getting a single-cup machine.

Make sure you try out your coffee maker after buying it to make sure it performs right. Simply run water through the machine just like when you actually make coffee. This will also remove any dust or lint that may have accumulated inside the machine while it was in the box.

Buy a good coffee grinder. When you grind your coffee beans right before you brew, it will help retain the flavorful oils that result in a fresher tasting cup. The majority of machines permit adjustments to the grind. If you would rather not have yet another appliance, try to find a coffee maker that has a grinder included.

Do you want your coffee to taste sweet but you are not able to use sugar? Consider adding warm milk to your coffee. Warm milk has natural sweetness, and it takes the place of the cream as well. You can entirely replace cream and sugar with milk and have a healthier cup of coffee.

Don't pour extra coffee down the drain; freeze it into cubes instead. Drop a few of these cubes in your next iced coffee to keep the drink both cold and flavorful. You can also use them to flavor cocktails, or in hot coffee so you can drink it sooner.

Stir the coffee in the pot after brewing if you make your own. Stirring helps you maximize the aroma and flavor of your coffee. You'll notice how much better the coffee tastes when it's time to drink.

Try to steer clear of sprayed coffee beans at all costs. These sprayed beans may have a great smell, but typically do not actually have real flavor. Additionally, these can leave residue in your machines that may prove difficult to remove. Add a syrup to your coffee if you desire an injection of flavor.

For stronger and better flavored coffee, try getting a French press. French presses can squeeze oils from the beans right into your coffee cup. When using standard coffee brewers, it is typical for these crucial oils to get caught up in the filters.

You should pour the coffee from your coffee pot at once. If coffee remains in its warmer for too long, it will become bitter, and people are not interested in drinking bitter coffee. For the best results and taste, make just enough coffee for what you will drink right away.

You don't have to stop consuming caffeine in one day. Try combining equal parts caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. If you prefer ground coffee, just mix equal parts regular and decaf for use in the coffee maker.

Cold water should always be utilized when making coffee in a drip brewer. Hot water should never go into these kinds of brewers. As the coffee brews, the water is heated. Hot water for your coffee will likely scald coffee grounds. Your coffee simply won't taste good.

To get the purest brew from your preferred beans, use the purest water. The coffee that you brew has so many different factors. Therefore, bottled, distilled, or filtered water that comes from the tap can give you incredible cups of coffee.

If you want to make a good cup of coffee, you have to use good quality water. Bottled water is one option, and though you might balk at the expense of the water, your coffee will taste much better. If you don't want to go the bottled route, think about buying a purifier for your faucet. It's not going to be exactly the same as using bottled water, but it will be much better than tap water.

By using the tips found here, you should be equipped to make a quality cup of coffee yourself without resorting to expensive shops. These tips will prevent you from wasting money on pricey ones at cafes, and will help you achieve a sense of satisfaction that only home brewers know.

How to Turn Any Recipe Into the Best Chocolate Cupcake Recipe

Can you remember the last time you sank your teeth into a great cocoa cupcake that left you feeling like you tasted a piece of heaven, and you wished to find the best chocolate cupcake recipe so you could relive that experience whenever you wanted?

Well the first step would be to look for the best chocolate cupcake recipe, and that make take some searching and testing before you find the best one. But did you know that a great cocoa cupcake can be made just by taking a basic recipe and tweaking it such that you get the best chocolate cupcake recipe?

Yes, it's possible indeed, and I can bear testament to that.

While I can't reveal my secret recipe to you, I sure can give the pointers on how to get the best chocolate cupcake recipe.

Of course, my tips won't work for everyone since different people will have different definitions of the best chocolate cupcake recipe.

In any case, use these tips to achieve that. Use what you want, and drop those you don't want.

Tip 1 - Swap Fine or Caster Sugar For Dark Brown Sugar

Dark brown sugar contains molasses, and that make the sugar moist and nice. And you'll notice its moist property when you feel it with your bare hands. It melts and has a wet touch to it.

So if you swap sugar or caster sugar for dark brown sugar, you'll get chocolate cupcakes that are moist, nice and more fragrant than usual.

Tip 2 - Swap Milk for Buttermilk

For those who don't know what buttermilk is, it's like watery yogurt, and it has great properties for baking cakes and cupcakes alike. You should be able to find it at major supermarkets in the chilled section.

Or if you could only find the powdered version, follow the instructions on the label on how to use buttermilk powder to turn into a buttermilk substitute.

Milk in cupcake recipes only adds flavour to the cupcakes, but buttermilk will make the cupcakes really moist and soft. And that's the property of a great cocoa cupcake.

Tip 3 - Bake In A Steam Oven

With steaming included, the cupcakes don't dry out, and your cupcakes will become moist in the process.

And in case you don't have a steam oven, you can always bake your cupcakes in a water bath. That's as good as having a steam oven.

Tip 4 - Add Chocolate Chips on the Top

Chocolate chips will melt under the heat of the oven, and that will help to enhance the melt in the mouth feeling you get from the best chocolate cupcake recipe.

And know this. Not all chocolate chips are made equal, and you'll want to find the best one that will give you this effect.

Tip 5 - Pipe Chocolate Ganache into the Cupcake Centers

Do this only after your cupcakes have cooled down.

By using a piping bag with a piping tip, poke it right to the centre of your cooled cupcakes and pipe in chocolate ganache.

And that's how the great cocoa cupcakes give you the nice melted feeling in your mouth.

Also, note that you don't have to pipe too much. Piping a little will already achieve that effect.

As you can see, all these tips for the best chocolate cupcake recipe are recipe independent, and will work to enhance any recipes out there. Give them a try to believe it.

Everything You Need to Know About a Gas Grill Smoker Box

How to Get Charcoal Barbecue Flavors on Your Gas Grill

We have pointed out in other BBQ grill articles we have written that although there is still on ongoing debate about which is best for BBQ's- charcoal or gas, there's no doubt that in the hands of a "Barbecue Master" a charcoal BBQ will always produce far tastier BBQ meals than gas.

But for many of us gas is a far more convenient and quicker way of outdoor cooking (and in fact, each year more people buy gas than charcoal barbecues).

However, you can get near the tastes of charcoal barbecued meals using a gas (or electric) grill by barbecuing in an atmosphere of wood-smoke. This smoke permeates the food being cooked and, providing its produced using the right sort of wood, improves its taste.

However, gas and electric grills are not made to use wood or deal with the ash which wood produces. But it's possible to get round this problem by using a gas grill smoker box. Lots of gas grills come with one of these supplied, but if your grill doesn't have one you should be able to get hold of one in any barbecue accessory store.

How a Gas Grill Smoker Box Works

The idea behind the Smoker Box is that the wood in the box smokes during barbecuing rather than burning. The Box is placed on the BBQ grate next to the food being cooked, and, as mentioned above, the smoke produced gets into the food and imparts a very distinctive flavor. By using different types of wood chips it's possible to produce many different and exciting flavors.

Cooking with a Smoker Box for a Gas Grill

When barbecuing rather than grilling, cooking times are nearly always longer (and temperatures lower). And the longer the cooking time the more chance there is for the smoke to work its magic on the food.

So once you have chosen an appropriate BBQ recipe and decided you want to use a Smoker Box follow these steps to get the best results:

1. Soak Your Wood Chips in Water

Initially you might not have a clear idea about what variety of wood chip to use. You'll find that many BBQ recipes make suggestions about this, but we recommend experimenting with a range of different types of wood chips to find the ones you really like. Someone else's ideas about a good flavor might not be the same as yours.

Soak your wood chips in water (some people use a combination of water and beer or spirits to achieve different flavors) - for up to two hours if you can. This soaking produces chips which will smolder rather than burst into flames, and as they smolder they produce smoke. Any wood ash produced by the smoldering wood will stay in the Smoker Box. It won't fall on the burners of your grill.

Drain the wood chips before putting them in the Box, and if you have chosen a recipe with a really long cooking time make sure that you soak enough wood chips to replenish your Smoker Box during barbecuing.

2. Get the Gas Grill to the Required Temperature

As mentioned above, for your BBQ recipe, you'll be cooking at a lower temperature than you use for grilling, and cooking for longer. Typical temperatures are around 225 to 250 degrees F and this temperature range should be maintained during the period of cooking (which might last several hours). It's best to use a thermometer to keep a check on temperature, but if you haven't got one on your gas grill you can test the temperature by holding your hand about 4 inches above the burner. You'll only be able to keep it there for 10 to 15 seconds. Compare this with a typical grilling temperature of 450 to 650 degrees F. If you use the same test you'll only be able to stand the heat for a couple of seconds.

3. Put Your Smoker Box and Food onto the BBQ Grill

Once your grill is up to temperature you're ready to start. First put your Smoker Box on one side of the cooking grate of your grill. Some people put the Box between the burner and the grate, but if you do this you won't be able to top-up the wood chips later on.

Most wood chips take 10 to 20 minutes to start smoking. This time will vary depending on whether the wood chips were soaked, and on how hot the Smoker Box gets.

4. Monitor the Progress of cooking

When you are using your BBQ grill for cooking steaks, hamburgers and other thin cuts of meat and fish there are some very simple techniques for checking whether your food is cooked (the most simple being using a sharp knife to cut, part and then "peak at" the meat. For the larger joints of meat that you'll be using when barbecuing we recommend using a meat thermometer. Use established temperature guide-lines when using a meat thermometer to test whether your food has been cooked sufficiently (120 F for rare and 160 for well-done).

Keep the lid of your grill closed when you're cooking to ensure that the smoke accumulates under the lid and has plenty of opportunity to permeate your food.

If you are cooking for a long period of time (e.g. large joints of meat or large birds may require between 4 and 6 hours or more) add more wood chips when the Gas Grill Smoker Box stops producing its smoke.

Choosing the Best Wood Chips

By far the most common and widespread smoking wood varieties used in a smoking box are the hardwoods mesquite and hickory. Softwoods and processed woods should never be used for smoking. The smoke they produce doesn't produce nice flavors.

Healthy Eating at the Hotel Breakfast Buffet

Even though all the research says you really must eat breakfast, as people who eat breakfast are slimmer, healthier and altogether more wonderful people, I'll confess I never used to bother.

I was never really hungry first thing in the morning, a cup of coffee and maybe a mid morning herbal tea was normally all I needed to keep myself going till it was a reasonable hour for lunch. Since I've started running, however, that seems to have changed. I'm hardly ramping up excessive mileage, but I've started to feel ravenous by 10am, and if I can't eat then by lunch time I start to feel confused, woozy, irritable and all round terrible. So, I need to start eating breakfast.

Being away a lot I'm often faced with the "Breakfast Buffet". Whether it's free or you have to pay £10 for it this is the preferred option of many a budget and mid priced hotel these days, so I've had to have a think about what the best thing to eat from the offerings are.

I'm looking, ideally, for some protein, calcium, and slow release carbohydrates to get me through to lunch. I'm hoping to avoid too much fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Unfortunately the reality is that most of the stuff on a breakfast buffet is going to break some of these "rules" but some choices are better than others. These are my tips, based on information I happen to have in my head about healthy eating and not being a nutritionist at all. Use your common sense.

The bakery selection - Avoid white bread, croissants, muffins, pain au chocolat and all those tasty looking shiny pastries. The shiny is sugar and they're all refined carbohydrates that will give you a spike in blood sugar and then leave you grumpy and tired for the rest of the morning.

If you're lucky this section will have some wholegrain bread or rolls, the type with bits in, that's your best choice. Most brown bread is unfortunately just white bread with added colourings to make it look brown.

The cereal selection - If your buffet has boxed cereals then check the back of the box and look for a high fibre, low sugar option, preferably with under 6g of sugar per serving. If it's not boxed then you're going to have to use your common sense a little. Disappointingly anything labelled "frosted" is unlikely to be a low sugar breakfast option, watch out for the muesli as well, some places have low sugar muesli, but if it's not labelled it's probably packed with it. Bran flakes or similar are a better option.

The hot selection - Steer clear of sausages, they will be packed with fat, a slice of bacon probably isn't too bad if you really want it, but will probably have a lot of salt. Eggs and beans are probably your best choice here. Although beans contain sugar and salt they also contain protein, fibre, iron and calcium, and the tomato sauce on them contains the antioxidant lycopene. Eggs are another wonder food, containing protein, vitamin D and choline, a nutrient important for brain function and health.

The chilled selection - In that chiller cabinet you'll find some healthy looking fruit salad. It's probably covered with sugar water, leave it where it is. Pick whole fruit like apples, which contain vitamin c and release energy slowly to stabilise your blood sugar, or bananas which are a great source of potassium to help lower blood pressure.

You'll normally also find yoghurt in the chiller, this is another one that feels healthy, but in reality many of the fruit yoghurt are stuffed with sugar. Choose a low fat, plain yoghurt for some calcium and protein.

The drinks - Fruit juice might count as one of your 5 a day but you're better of having another apple. Whilst juice contains some nutrients it doesn't have any fibre and has a lot of sugar. If you're lucky there'll be herbal teas, have a green tea if you're feeling virtuous, but most of us need a caffeine shot in the morning, caffeine has been shown to have moderate effects on the metabolism, and in moderation could aid weight loss. Just don't over do it and stick with plain coffee with a splash of skimmed or semi skimmed milk, rather than the lattes or cappuccino from the machine which will add extra unneeded fat and calories.

Good choices 
"Healthy" cereal such as bran flakes or shredded wheat with low fat plain yoghurt and a banana. 
Wholegrain bread with an egg (preferably not fried) and/or baked beans. 
Low fat yoghurt with sliced whole fruit and small spoonful of muesli if it's unboxed.

In reality you're probably making the best of a bad bunch when eating from a breakfast buffet. What's important is to make the best and most informed choices you can, and remember, it's only one meal. Take a peek at my tips for hotel room cooking if you want some better options than the buffet.