The most fundamental consideration is that we eat for a lifetime. Why take one of life’s greatest needs and potentially greatest pleasures and waste the opportunity to enjoy the best? You have to prepare or buy and/or serve or eat the meals anyway. What justification do we have for opting for convenience or laziness or endlessly doing it the way Granny did, with a small repertoire of common meals? If you and your spouse or significant other are both employed and you feel pressed for time when you come home then where is the real problem? Should your employment cause you to go through life eating marginally okay meals? Can you justify ignoring new knowledge and opting to put convenience ahead of quality instead of doing the things that can truly improve your enjoyment of life? I do admit, however, that if you are truly wealthy it is understandable that you will concentrate on other areas of life and typically eat the best by buying the talents of the expert chefs and eating the foods they prepare. Are you wealthy?
You will find web site addresses, phone numbers and sometimes location addresses for certain ingredients mentioned in this book. My intent was/is to get you in touch with quality, variety and price alternatives to what you find in your typical supermarket. You will be more than surprised to find just how much you can save if you use these resources. Yes, this is about economics as well as quality of life. New Editions and Revisions
I intend to update this book periodically, so I suggest you keep your copy on your personal computer instead of printing it. You might print the index and a few of the recipes that you will use fairly often and you might want to organize those recipes using a three-ring binder. You can save a lot of paper easily if your printer is the type that can print on both sides of the paper. Another idea is to print the odd numbered pages only, then put the paper back into the paper feed area face up and have the printer do the even numbered pages … but use the correct paper orientation else half of the pages will print upside down! I plan simply to keep the most up to date version of this book on my web page even as revisions and additions are occurring, so the latest information will be available anytime, by making sure your Internet connection is active and by clicking on the hyperlink provided here: http://www.jwright44.com/recipes/FOODNIRVANA.doc When you download a new version of this book, if you save it to the location/folder that has the old version you will be asked if you want to overwrite the older file, and the answer is yes. That way you will have only one up to date copy of this book, which will have both new recipes and improved/edited older recipes. You might, if you have OCD or want to give this book directly as a gift, make a copy to a removable memory device. The amount of time necessary to download the book depends on the speed of your Internet connection. The book is around four megabytes in size. A typical high speed Internet connection will download a file of that size in less than one minute. Note that the recipes are presented alphabetically by type of food and usually alphabetically within type of food, so think about the basic word(s) for what you want to make. Or you can simply scan the table of contents. As stated in an earlier paragraph, the early editions/revisions of this book lacked a lot of great recipes that I have located or created that I provided during calendar year 2012, and will continue to provide as they happen. Even the best of the recipes can be improved and it is a sure bet that some in this book will be improved through time. In short, you may want to download new versions of this book a few times a year to keep up to date. I made major recipe additions, corrections and textual changes over two hundred times since Christmas of 2010. I do, however, expect the pace of the changes to lessen considerably as I round out the different sections of the book with the remaining best recipes. Think of this, however, as a living recipe book or one that will evolve. It is a legacy I leave with friends and loved ones, so they won’t have to search for how Marie or I made something after I too am gone. Thus, in one place my descendants, other relatives and friends can find a perfectly compiled and organized collection of my personal favorites that I have created for them with joy. My wish is to provide knowledge to improve your quality of life. My hope is that one or more of my descendants, other relatives or close friends will assume responsibility to promote and to add to this book in the future, provided they are top notch cooks! A brief note about using Microsoft Word® is in order for those unfamiliar with its features. The Table of Contents page numbers are direct links to each of the recipes. Simply click on the page number and the recipe will appear. To return to the Table of Contents, if you opened the book with Microsoft Word®’s options set to Web under Tools/Customize, you can click on the small blue back arrow ( )at the extreme left on the bottom Microsoft Word® menu bar. If you don’t use the Web option then you can return to the Table of Contents using the Edit and GoTo menu options. I conclude this Forward/Introduction to “FOOD NIRVANA” with three considerations:
If you cook on average two meals a day for fifty years that each average only one hour to prepare you will spend over 36,000 hours cooking, and likely you will spend 6000 hours simply acquiring ingredients. Does it make sense to use that time well?
I am what I do.
Aim high in life.
In the Beginning
When I think about the quality of pots, pans and skillets my wife Pat and I used starting out in the mid-1960’s I shudder. They had thin bottoms and sides and frankly they were junk. No serious cook/chef would have been willing to use them. The apartment stove was electric and not of high quality, which in simple terms meant it was all but impossible to do great cooking. Decent cooking, maybe. Great, rarely! A lot of foods must be cooked on a gas stove where heat control is instantaneous and with continuous temperature range from barely there to wickedly hot. We lacked key utensils and important powered equipment of top quality. This meant we were always improvising with utensils, which is not a good idea, and we always had a difficult time with our electric mixer getting superior results. We also lacked much knowledge. Neither of us had ever used or seen tools as common as a whisk. We didn’t even know what a whisk was! This section discusses one of the three most important rooms in your home, and I leave it to you to figure out the other two. I cover cooking references, ingredients, equipment, planning, kitchen design and the storage and utility room. Overall, this section tells you how to get the most from your kitchen, including ways to enhance your enjoyment in doing cooking. Your Cooking References
Back in the 1960’s many cookbooks were loaded with inferior recipes and they uniformly lacked important information about the cooking process and how best to handle the ingredients. Some of those cookbooks were born out of the Great Depression, where economy trumped everything else, so even the variety of ingredients was severely limited. Yuck! Only a few great cookbooks existed, and most great home cooking was a result of recipes handed down through generations of dedicated cooks.
Writers of books about cooking each provide material they believe to be most important, based on their own experiences and in particular, their goals. What I have done with Food Nirvana is attempt to isolate best recipes for a subset of great foods, and I have provided a variety of information about setting up a kitchen and some limited discussion of the science behind cooking. Well, my efforts relative to the scientific descriptions and cooking techniques do not begin to approach the quality or completeness of the material in Kenji's book. Thus, in my commitment to egoless efforts to do the best cooking I defer and refer you to Kenji's book. Have fun! The Ingredients You Use
Now let’s briefly consider the world of ingredients. Fresh is everything. Wide repertoire in your knowledge of ingredients makes the difference between the pedestrian and the excellent. Let’s face it, we all start off ignorant and we only learn to the extent of our curiosity and the robustness of our environment, which means, among other things, using food markets of many types. If you don’t have and use top quality restaurants and a variety of ethnic grocery stores/outdoor markets and high-end supermarkets you can’t know the wide world of ingredients or just how good food can taste. If you didn’t have the good fortune to grow up in a family of good or great cooks your early life experiences will not have provided useful knowledge for later in life. If you haven’t tasted the various cuisines in their native countries, you simply can’t know about the wide world of excellent food, for Americanized versions of other cuisines are most often weak approximations of the really great foods served in other countries.
These challenges are not intended as an insult but the implications are undeniable. I cannot personally use that which I do not know. Myopic tunnel vision is the typical result. In ignorance we tend never to learn or to expand our horizons and we can spend our entire lives missing a lot of fantastic eating. That, my friend, is a tragedy. Food, sex, sleep, clothing and shelter are simply the most important physical essentials in life. They all can range from awful to great. Ignore or underplay any of those items and you have wasted an important part of the gift of life. It is sadly true that some individuals are not blessed with a keen sense of smell or taste. I know of no way to help those people experience or appreciate the finer nuances of great food. Indeed, most of those folks live in a world similar to that of partially blind or deaf people. They are congenitally unable to participate in the world of great food. You will learn quickly who they are when you attempt to eat foods they have prepared or when you serve them your best and get a ho hum response. This book is not intended for those unfortunate people. Their food cabinets and/or pantries and refrigerators/freezers also hold key evidence, which might also be only a sign of ignorance or limited budget for younger people. Another word or two about ingredients and cooking methods is in order. Marie and I used to visit the very best restaurants in the USA and elsewhere. When any particular dish we ordered was very superior we would share small bites of it while discussing what was used to make it, both in terms of ingredients and cooking methods. With practice you can identify almost any ingredient and make a good guess as to amount required. If you do that and write down your conclusions immediately you can attempt to make the same dish at home. Of course, Marie with her eidetic memory didn’t have to write down anything! Marie was so superb that when she would try to duplicate something great that we had in a restaurant she would always have it perfect by the second attempt. The first attempt is supposed to be close but not necessarily perfect. But you too can make new and excellent dishes by the second attempt. You are not limited to what you can read or watch. You can learn to be creative. Do note, however, that if you don’t make any effort to learn about the hundreds of potential ingredients you can’t succeed if one or more of them were used in what you try to recreate in your own kitchen. Finally, I want to share some important facts about acquiring certain ingredients. Supermarket prices are silly for many items. If you have any curiosity at all you will find far better prices for products of equal or better quality elsewhere. That statement is not true for everything but you will be surprised at the difference in price for things you buy directly or for the cost for things you start to make at home. Here are some examples … This book contains recipes for almond paste and marshmallow crème. Both products are ridiculously overpriced at the supermarket and they are utterly easy to make at home with higher quality and far lower cost. You will learn later in this recipe book that fools or lazy people buy ice cream at a supermarket, for both quality and cost considerations. Simple items like red food coloring are another example, as are spices. Your little ½ to 1 ounce bottle of food coloring costs you anywhere from $3 to $4 or more. I bought McCormick® red food coloring via the Internet (we use it to make food for hummingbirds) and I paid $14 for a pint! We don't buy Confectioners sugar anymore because we make it from regular granulated sugar using our food processor. For making sausage I buy one pound bags of herbs on the Internet at www.nutsonline.com and pay only about $15 each, and I vacuum seal and freeze them to keep them fresh. At the supermarket you will pay $4 or more for one ounce or less. Internet purchasing of a lot of food products is the ultimate and economical convenience as the products simply show up at your door. The recipes in this book provide many examples of that truth. The Asian market I use sells literally dozens of products all of us use very cheaply, including spices, produce, canned goods and also special products like dried peppers of various heat levels that you can’t even find in a regular supermarket. Learn to patronize ethnic markets, indoor and outdoor, and you will win. Note, however, the prices at some small farmers markets or roadside stands are absurdly high as they cater to organic or health food nuts and to people too ignorant to realize they are being ripped off. Most of what they sell you can grow at home easily, cheaply and with excellent quality, or purchase in places like Costco® or large farmers markets, cheaply.
I like many people purchase bulk quantities of some foods and other products at Costco® and Sam’s Club®. That type of purchasing can be very economical with no sacrifice of quality … you simply have to think ahead and be ready to share the products (and cost) with relatives or friends when the amounts purchased exceed your foreseeable needs. Do note, however, that even those discount giants are known for opportunistic pricing, so not everything is a bargain. Be alert and win. Last, know that use of current technology for product storage, like vacuum sealing, can greatly extend the shelf life and/or freezer or refrigerator life of many products you might not think to buy in quantity. Here is an example. I bought 50 lbs. of raw blanched jumbo peanuts from Wakefield Peanut Company® in Wakefield, VA for only $1 per pound. Even with shipping the cost per pound was only $1.80 (That low price changed in late 2011 to $1.75/lb plus shipping). The nuts were fabulous. I vacuum sealed them in half pound and pound quantities and gave many away as inexpensive gifts that would have cost far more at retail prices, if you could even find nuts of that high quality in your supermarket. Two years later I used the last bag from the food pantry and the nuts were just as fresh as when I received them. If you have trouble believing that then you really need to improve your knowledge. That is not meant as an insult but accurate knowledge is king, and it is your duty to yourself to determine reality to enhance your life. Supermarket chains will not aid you in that endeavor for their profit is their only true consideration. Even the FDA is behind the times. Equipment and Planning
I have to say a few words about refrigeration, etc. It is very smart to have two refrigerators and one large deep freeze, all in convenient locations relative to the kitchen. By so doing you will have the required room to hold a wide variety of fresh ingredients and finished products in quantity for when you entertain or when you need long term storage. A large food pantry (see Kitchen Design later in this section) is also highly recommended, for bottled, canned and dry goods come in many varieties and they are all important. You want to be able to find any item easily, and to be able to buy and store certain items in quantity at the best prices. You can’t do that with a small pantry or only kitchen cabinets.
If you do forward planning of your menu you can avoid wasting money on ingredients, for you will buy certain items only as you need them, particularly and specifically perishables. And you will use them as close to their peak as possible. But people who love to cook typically love to have everything they need at hand as soon as an idea for making something occurs. Well, all I can offer is the suggestion that you avoid waste, ergo rotting fruits and vegetables, by careful planning and the occasional unplanned trip to the market. The act of shopping for special ingredients can be pleasurable in itself in anticipation of later enjoyment. I know this to be true for me as I have always enjoyed food shopping, starting when I accompanied my mother to the market regularly as a child. Later in life Marie and I had many joyful times going to the Italian Market area of south Philadelphia (and later in life Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco), seeking out the best of the best in quality and also food items we had not tried before. And we loved to visit high-end supermarkets to see and buy special products of perfect quality. Now it is time for a few words about kitchen equipment. First, buy pots, skillets and pans with very heavy bottoms and sides, some with multi-layered metals, and I don’t mean cast iron or porcelain cookware. One exception is a Wok, used for Stir Frying, which should be thin. For making sauces and candies, buy a proper heavy French copper saucepan with a tin interior surface, or at least pure thick copper. For most items buy non-stick only and ignore all the sales pitches about great quality without the non-stick feature. It doesn’t matter what the brand is or the price, if it isn’t non-stick you are in general simply making your life difficult. Exceptions are those times when you want to sear and/or brown meat, fowl or seafood on your cooktop or roast/sear briefly in a very high temperature (550ºF) oven. In the latter case the entire skillet or other vessel should be metal, or multiple metals with exterior stainless steel cladding, especially including the handle(s). Transparent glass lids with steam vents for all pots, pans and skillets are a great addition as you can see in an instant what is going on with the food you cook. The harder you have to work the less likely you will be willing to tackle anything new or involved. Be kind to yourself. You have a lifetime of cooking to do so why buy anything less than the best? The rewards far outweigh the investment cost. Buy once, for a lifetime. Don’t ever get caught up in the idea that you don’t need something superior because you already have something "close" or something that looks identical at home. That error of judgment can and will keep your cooking and eating experiences far below what they might have been. Throw away inferior equipment. Do not pass it on to the less fortunate lest they remain forever unfortunate. Granny’s lousy saucepans belong in your attic as keepsakes, not in your kitchen. I can’t do a respectable job covering the world of utensils or mixing bowls or cutlery because there are too many to discuss. Just pay attention and little by little you will acquire a full collection of essentials. And don’t buy the cheap stuff. Think of German or Swiss or Swedish cutlery. Buy only storage containers that are robust and suitable for the freezer, the microwave oven and the dishwasher. The best products of that category that I have found are made by Rubbermaid®. Buy some good quality wooden spoons for stirring the contents of pots, pans and skillets as that will avoid damaging the non-stick surfaces. A hard, thin polymer spatula with a fairly sharp front edge is the optimal tool to use with non-stick skillets. Finally, no tool, e.g. a potato peeler, should ever be uncomfortable to use. Again, avoid cheap products, for in the long run they are no bargain, for they will hurt your hands, rust soon after purchase and break within a year or two, e.g. can openers. Use the Internet to seek out specialty products that you will never see in any department store or even typical kitchen store. Stores and Internet web sites that carry commercial quality restaurant equipment are the very best places to look. For example, I paid $1400 for my commercial vacuum sealer as an Internet purchase from a company named Pleasant Hill Grains®, when I might have purchased a FoodSaver® unit at Wal-Mart® for a mere $150. Why? First, my unit never needs maintenance. It will run virtually forever. It is fast. It has variable controls to accommodate virtually any need and useful accessories. It handles very small to very large bag sizes that cost only a few cents each (3 to 10 cents depending on the bag size) instead of the FoodSaver® type that typically cost at least 25 cents per bag. Do you get the idea? I use it extensively. The high initial cost is quickly seen to be intelligent because of time saved and lower consumable costs. A difference of even 15 cents per bag translates to $15 for every 100 bags you use. In a typical year I use between 800 and 1000 bags. And remember my vacuum sealer won’t break, need maintenance or replacement. Thus I save $135 on average each year in consumable cost, and I will be doing vacuum sealing for many years. The time I save is an intangible but a very important intangible, for I find myself ready to tackle the processing of large volumes of food with no concerns about required processing time. This is a quality of life consideration, with excellent additional downstream benefits. Some very important equipment is quite inexpensive. For example, a kitchen scale is very useful for accuracy and in following recipes where weights of ingredients are specified rather than volumes, and when weights are specified in grams instead of ounces. I purchased a Taylor® scale called the Healthy Weigh™ through the Internet for about $20, and it has good features like English or Metric units and tare weight corrections to accommodate the container you use to hold an ingredient. I use it often and I find that recipes increasingly specify weights for some ingredients and volumes for other ingredients, especially recipes for foreign cuisine. Using the kitchen scale is a real eye-opener at times for the real weight of a trimmed food item, given things like fat removal, can be substantially lower than the weight shown on the package as purchased at the supermarket. Also, supermarket practices of making meat products wet and using absorbent products to hold the meat prior to weighing results in the customer being cheated to some variable amount. Even the bulk chicken products sold by Costco® contain extra water, up to 7%, for "processing." This means you will miscalculate the weight of the chicken or other product based on the weight of the product as purchased, not as used after thawing and draining off excess water, unless you use a kitchen scale. Here is a very small but handy list of English/Metric volume and weight conversions that you can use anytime you encounter a recipe with Metric units:
151 grams of flour is 1/3 lb. which is approximately one cup (unsifted)
29 grams of cold water is approximately one volume ounce
7.5 grams of salt is one teaspoon
28.375 grams of dry product is one ounce (454 grams = 1 pound = 16 ounces)
205.7 grams of sugar is one cup
Note that weight volume conversions depend on the density of the ingredient and how it is handled. One example is sugar, which by the cup will weigh more than one cup of flour (7 ¼ oz. vs. 5 1/3 oz.). For another example, one cup of flour unsifted is approximately 1/3 lb. but after sifting, air has been introduced, so the volume will be larger than one cup for 1/3 lb. Thus, measure the weight or volume prior to doing processing like sifting. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt uses the weight of five ounces of general purpose flour to represent exactly one cup, and he rightfully declares that weighing the flour is vastly better than using a measuring cup. I totally agree!
Learn to use your kitchen scale in these special circumstances and your cooking will become consistent and superior. Recognize that humidity can affect the weight of a given volume of products like flour and sugar. Thus, these items should be stored in sealed containers after the original packaging is opened, else your best efforts at weighing instead of using measuring cups will be in vain.
Here is what I do with flour. I will purchase a 25 pound bag of flour and immediately dispense all of it into vacuum seal bags that will hold six cups each. I then vacuum seal the bags, knowing that the flour will be exactly what it was when I sealed it, even a year later, for it is impervious to changes in humidity that happen outside the bag. Note also that no weevils can develop or hatch in a vacuum!
If a recipe calls for a fraction of a teaspoon or quarter of a cup of a minced or chopped ingredient then mince or chop it first and lightly compress it into the measuring spoon or other container of the correct volume. Avoid undermeasurement that will happen if you don't expel the air between the pieces of the ingredient.
A final but important consideration about weight vs. volume is that some ingredients will be heavier for a given volume if they absorb moisture from humid air. This implies that you should keep such materials in sealed containers, like flour or sugar, so that variations in humidity do not alter your cooking results when you use a recipe that calls for ingredients by weight instead of volume. And moisture changes from the product as purchased will definitely affect the measured results, for who hasn’t experienced hard lumpy brown sugar from an opened bag that clearly has changed since it was purchased in term of weight per unit volume, as well as overall consistency? Kenji provided a useful method to soften hard brown sugar. Process it briefly in a microwave oven. When you become advanced in the use of food preservatives, explained later in this book, you will want to purchase a very sensitive scale to be able to measure chemicals down to a fraction of a gram. I use a reloader scale that I purchased at Cabela’s® for $70, and it measures accurately down to the hundredth of a gram, or, in grains. This level of accuracy is not needed for general cooking, but it becomes quite important when you make foods in quantity for storage or to give away as gifts that might need long shelf life.
Now we return to the discussion of powered kitchen equipment. Plan to spend $500 to $1000 each in 2010 dollars to buy your electric mixer and your food processor and your meat slicer. You will use them for many years, so why tie your hands with less than superb equipment? The very top end of Kitchen Aid® or Cuisinart® or Bosch® mixer and food processor appliances are what to buy, even if you have to budget for a year to afford one of them. You will not find these products in regular stores or even kitchen stores, so use the Internet. Yes, get all of the accessories, so when you need them you have them, else you will not make a food item, possibly for many years, that you could thoroughly enjoy the first time your curiosity is aroused and many times thereafter. Alas, too many times we learn we lack required equipment and give up making something new and good and later we forget to acquire that equipment. I would be remiss not to mention a power tool that I find most useful in meat processing. As we normally do not own meat cutting band saws there is nothing in a conventional kitchen to cut through bone conveniently. In the old days some people would use a hacksaw, but that was and is very crude and laborious. I process pork shoulders (and other meats) that do have the bone included and I use a Milwaukee Super Sawzall® given to me many years ago as a gift from my son, Ray, Jr. That tool can hold saw blades of lengths up to one foot long, and with teeth sizes ranging from six to eighteen teeth per inch. I use a 12 inch saw blade, eighteen teeth to the inch, and it cuts meat and bone beautifully, quickly and easily. I laugh when I think how simple it was to solve the problem. Inexpensive too. Deboning a roast that has been sawed through is very simple. You can decide to cut through the bone lengthwise and that leaves a very shallow pocket of meat holding each half of the bone, and you can use a sharp paring knife to cut the meat away from the bone. If instead you made crosscuts across/through bone then the length you have to insert a knife along the bone to separate it from the meat is much shorter and can be approached from both ends. The overall idea here is to think about tools and methods that are not commonly found or used in a kitchen, and your ease in preparing foods will improve greatly. One final area of equipment to consider is specialty fryers. Both vacuum fryers and pressure fryers, though expensive, can be purchased for home use to make commercial quality foods like potato chips and fried chicken, easily. The advantages of these products are numerous in terms of retaining moisture in foods like fried chicken (Pressure fryers … Think of Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken®!) and minimizing fat content and having a uniform nice light color in foods like potato chips (Vacuum fryers). I do not yet own either of those types of devices but I am intrigued with the possibilities. If you have paid any attention to the price increases of potato chips in the past ten years you will be more than happy to make them at home and laugh at the commercial producers, for there is nothing but greed in their colluded pricing. Actually, I am presently experimenting with vacuum cooking/frying, having purchased a small vacuum pump for $115 via the Internet. I also purchased neoprene® locally from a gasket supply company to form the necessary vacuum seals between pots and pot lids. I use or create connection ports in the lids for the vacuum tubing to connect, through a vapor/liquid condensate container, to the vacuum pump. I will perfect this process and then be able to offer to you plans for making and using an inexpensive device to do vacuum cooking/frying at home, safely. Kitchen Design
I missed some very important aspects of the cooking environment in the previous kitchen paragraphs and I will correct that deficiency now, with a small amount of repetition. You need a very large kitchen (think 15 feet by 20 feet minimum) with lots of granite countertop area and eye level cabinet space, and a large hanging rack to hold a few dozen of the pots and pans and skillets you use most often, for ease of access. A large island, with more than three feet but no more than four feet of clearance on all sides, is a must too. It should have a medium size sink, offset a few feet to the left or right, across from the primary kitchen counter sink.
The idea is that you can set up multiple workstations, one for each item you are preparing for a meal with no crowding or required sequencing of using available space. That is a great benefit and it makes cooking fun. You get the great overview and status of what is happening in your kitchen, and each workstation is spacious, with its own ingredients and equipment. Multiple people can prepare different foods at the same time with no crowding. And to top off those considerations, islands make a wonderful area for serving a large dinner with many different foods buffet style. As I reflect on kitchen design and consider all the environments I have used or seen I have some very distinct recommendations. When you build a house or do a major remodeling of an existing house plan the large kitchen area along the lines of what I describe next. First, you want a very large gas Wolf® cooktop along a wall and not on an island. Have lots of counter space on both sides of the cooktop. The cooktop should be under a very large hood with a powerful exhaust fan that exhausts only to the outside of your home. Never have an air recycling type with filters. They are stupid toys and they simply don’t work when you have serious cooking to do. Similarly, the Jenn-Air® disappearing type or range top intake type of exhaust system, that is an integral part of a cooktop, is terribly inefficient compared to an overhead hood, and that idiotically conceived type of exhaust system can even draw off important heat from your gas burners as you cook. You can actually see it happening as the flames are pulled towards the exhaust intake! The simple reason why it doesn’t work to your best advantage is that the air intake isn’t high enough above the pot or pan that is emitting the steam or oil vapor or odors that you are trying to eliminate. Avoid that type of exhaust/ventilation system. Install double electric wall ovens of the Dacor® or Viking® class, with all the special features intrinsic to high-end appliances, like temperature control from room temperature and higher in one degree intervals. Double ovens are a must because you will be roasting or baking different items at the same time, or equally likely you will need a warming oven while something else is baking. Also, it is so much better having your ovens where you can easily see inside and easily access the foods you are preparing. Purchase, independently, a thick large flat stone or slate that you can use in one of the ovens to enhance baking of breads, pizzas, etc. Having a large oven under a cooktop, which is similar to the conventional kitchen range, is far less convenient. You have to stoop and/or bend over too much to do any and all operations when using it. Why should you make your life difficult? Thus, I do not recommend a Wolf® or any other type of range with an oven under a cooktop.
So, just where do you go to find the best appliances at retail prices? In Wilmington, DE I use ABC Appliances® on Greenhill Avenue, for they carry a fine inventory of the best products of different manufacturers. You will not find the better products they sell at Sears® or any other common appliance outlets. You will have to seek out stores like ABC Appliances® where you live, or perhaps search the Internet for better prices. In the past Marie and I also used the high end EXPO® stores that no longer exist to buy products like cooktops, the kitchen sink(literally!), etc. Do what you have to do but do not lower your quality standards. Let’s continue. Yes, have a large convection microwave oven installed high enough that you have the top of the door only 3 to 4 inches below eye level, so that you may easily see what is happening inside the oven. Be sure the front of the oven is inset with counter space directly beneath, extending six inches or so in front of the front of the convection microwave oven. The convection feature is a superb backup in the event you need an additional oven to roast or bake a relatively small item. The microwave function is indispensable for thawing frozen food and for providing rapid reheating or primary heating for many other foods. Having usable counter space below and in front of the convection microwave oven makes inserting and removing dishes or other items from the oven easy. You also need the counter space to make that operation safe, for some items are very hot and dangerous when removed, like open containers of liquids. Something I have never seen that would be a great improvement in using all ovens is to have the doors open from the side unlike a conventional oven where the door opens from the top. The door would have an available hinged drop down shelf inside. This shelf is where baking dishes, skillets, etc. might be placed temporarily either when first putting them into the oven or during removal or any intermediate step that requires working with the food during the cooking cycle. The point is that oven shelves, even the best slide out types on rollers, do not necessarily present the optimal height surface to the cook. Having an extra shelf capability as a staging area that presents easy access would be a fine improvement, especially for the upper and lower ovens of double wall ovens and for microwave ovens. I wonder if any manufacturers will ever act on that improvement opportunity? Your primary refrigerator should be very large (26 cubic feet or larger) and convenient to your island and your primary kitchen sink. Get whatever brand appeals to you. Subzero® refrigerator/freezer models are often the choice of people determined to have the best kitchens.
Similarly, have a top quality quiet dishwasher like Bosch® or Miele®. It is a wise investment and a great timesaver. If you are permitted to use garbage disposals where you live, by all means make certain both sinks are so equipped. If not then use the simple method of having a waste product bowl beside each sink that can contain, for example, vegetable peelings in a confined space, and do not simply toss them into the sink. Later the bowl can be emptied all at once into your trash receptacle(s). In general you want to use the space under your granite countertops for larger appliances and trash receptacles on sliding shelves. The idea is that under counter cabinets can be a pain in the butt if they are used to store equipment or dishes that you will use frequently. Try to use eye level cabinets or a large hanging rack for things you use frequently, and, have plenty of drawers immediately below the granite countertops for a large variety of utensils and flatware. One very important drawer in particular is usually non-existent in most kitchens. It is a deep drawer(s) that holds all of the lids for your pots, pans and skillets, stored vertically on their edges, in a simple rack that lets you see and access what you want immediately. You no longer have to go searching the recesses of the bottom of a large cabinet or even racks within one if you have a properly designed drawer for lids close to your cooktop. By using garbage disposals or waste product bowls your sinks remain clean and available to process other food or to hand wash certain utensils or pans that need to be used sequentially to prepare different types of food. For the home chef I strongly recommend using your sinks and your dishwasher as appropriate before a meal to clean all or most used utensils, pots, etc., so that the dirty dishes at the end of a meal are essentially those on the dining room table. This is a great time saver as you will typically have some food item(s) cooking at the same time you are doing cleanup from cooking other items. You will be amazed how great it feels to walk into a clean kitchen after the meal. It makes the small amount of required cleanup of table items fast and simple. After all, you want to be able to relax soon after the meal, not slave for an hour or more to clean up a mess. The large island is a great workspace and it is above the island that you want your very large hanging rack to hold your pots and pans, etc. That gets them away from the cooktop area, which is a major source of grease and then dust accumulation for anything that might be hanging above it. It is so much easier to find and access what you want than searching in any cabinet below the island or below counter tops. You can have a medium size sink as part of the island but you should have your primary sink along a wall with a nice bay window to allow lots of light into your kitchen. Your primary sink should be a very large and deep stainless steel single sink capable of holding essentially any food item or cooking vessel that you could possibly want in your kitchen, such that you could, for example, fill a five gallon plastic pail under your faucet easily. Double-sided sinks are a thing of the past, when dishes used to be washed on one side and rinsed in the other and then drained in a counter top dish holder. We have evolved. It is surprising how few people match their supply of trash receptacles to their actual needs, in size, type and in location. Two trash cabinets each with 13 gallon cans are highly recommended. One should be underneath the island granite countertop beside the island sink. The other one should be under the main granite countertop beside (not under) the primary sink. This allows for ease of access where they are most frequently needed, and have them roll out on sliding trays and/or hanging racks, so that you avoid spillage when discarding kitchen waste. You will save a lot of steps and keep your floor and cabinet interiors free from spills and stains. If you want to carry this concept one step farther, consider having four instead of two trash cabinets and then designate each trash cabinet for recycling requirements, like glass, plastic, metal and paper/general trash. If you do the recycling operation in your kitchen as I have just described you will save a lot of time, both in the kitchen and later in disposing of the trash in larger trash cans for your trash collector. Trash compactors that seemed like a great idea when first available turn out to be pretty much ignored by most folks I know who own them. Just acquiring the bags is an annoyance and extra expense. And the *&%^ things break. I have no interest in owning a trash compactor. Speaking of floors, avoid installing hardwood floors in your primary kitchen area where you actually process food for they will get and show a lot of wear and there is a high damage potential from dirt, liquid spills and stains. If you feel you must use hardwood then use a dark stain and a few throw rugs or pads. Ceramic tile is hard and cold and can also develop stains in the grout areas when they eventually develop small cracks, and thus ceramic tile is also a bad choice, especially if you are going to be on your feet for an extended period of time. I believe simple asphalt tile covered with mats, pads or throw rugs to soften the primary walking areas will give you the best result, provided those items can be laundered or hosed clean outside. Simply use hardwood around the perimeter of the asphalt walking areas and either hardwood or ceramic tile flooring in the rest of the kitchen. This design consideration is particularly important between the primary kitchen sink counter and the island. Have multiple thick hardwood cutting boards of different sizes and shapes to accommodate different and/or simultaneous needs. A simple hot water rinse and wipe down is all they normally need after use, and wood is much nicer to use than plastic, for things can skid away too easily on a plastic surface, and you risk cutting yourself or trashing your food if that happens. All the fear mongering about bacteria on a wood surface is simply that … fear mongering! Ignore it. Buy bamboo or other good hardwood (maple or oak) cutting boards with cutouts for liquid drainage or insets to hold foods like a roasted turkey preliminary to carving. The physical act of using wood and plastic cutting boards in a comparison test will quickly convince you that the wood product is much nicer to use. And cuts in plastic cutting boards can also harbor bacteria, so plastic offers no advantage over wood other than weight. Light weight can be a marked disadvantage as you want the cutting board to be stable and firmly in place so it doesn’t move as you process food. Kitchen lighting should be ample and sourced from overhead moveable halogen track lights in multiple locations with dimmer switches, such that specific work areas are very well lit as needed. Inset ceiling lights/floods/spots are far less flexible. Under cabinet lights with dimmer switches are also very important so you can see what you have on your counters under your cabinets. These latter lights are also nice for setting an informal mood in your kitchen. A fair number of people I know with great kitchens use them as entertainment areas for parties, and this is one use of an island that is seldom considered but very nice if the island has two deep granite overhangs with comfortable bar stools. I recall designing and building a large custom exhaust hood above a cooktop in one of my homes, and I even thought to provide dimmer controlled halogen lighting from inside the hood to illuminate the cooktop. Even the inline fan that exhausted the area above the cooktop operated with a rheostat for variable speed to match the need. My, was that nice, and designing and making it myself was a real high/deep satisfaction. Storage and Utility Room
Beyond the kitchen it is important to consider your larger food storage and utility needs, particularly regarding auxiliary refrigeration, the deep freeze and food shelves, plus food processing equipment that you do not want to store or necessarily use in your kitchen. In other words having a nice large food pantry is okay, but it is far less in functionality than the superior facility I am about to describe. I wonder how many people ever consider sacrificing their kitchen table area and combining it with a large food pantry area for a food storage and utility room that would be easily accessed from the kitchen? Let’s see where this idea takes us.
A room with a food storage area can contain the second refrigerator and the deep freeze and great open shelving, etc., to hold canned, bottled and dry goods, out where you can see them easily, uncrowded. Note that the refrigeration unit should be only refrigeration as you already have plenty of freezer space. The storage section of the room should be about 15 feet long and up to 3 feet deep to accommodate the freezer. Given eight foot ceilings, the shelving potential beside and above the appliances is quite large and easily accessed. The utility section of the room, on the opposite wall, should consist of a sink and a trash receptacle and sizeable wood topped adjacent tables or cabinetry about 30" deep, all items about 15 feet long in total. Counters with cabinets underneath should have double doors. A few should have drawers for special utensils or appliance attachments. You might consider using both counters with cabinets underneath and a table with a thick wood butcher block top for cutting meat, etc. The tops of the tables or counters are where you keep your larger equipment, like your food dehydrator, extra large food processor, meat slicer, vacuum sealer, gelato maker and any other device you acquire for bulk food processing, like a standalone meat grinder, powered meat cutting saw and/or possibly a grain mill. A rolling two shelf stainless steel cart with a 1" high lip around the perimeter of each shelf provides extra temporary space to hold foods that you process anywhere in the utility section. You can roll the cart to the refrigerator, freezer, food shelves or even into the kitchen to offload items you plan to cook. Similarly, any kitchen operation that produces a large number of containers of food, like canned goods, destined for the storage area will be a perfect use for the cart. Now that is a real labor saving feature. And the food items cannot slide or roll off the cart shelves. The rolling cart can normally be stored beside or between a table and a cabinet to keep it out of the way when not in use. By using the storage/utility room approach you have a convenient place to do special work and to store food. Most important, you don’t have to lift each appliance out of storage each time you want to use it (and your kitchen cabinets will not be crowded). The area under the table(s) or inside the cabinets can be used for infrequent use equipment and accessory storage, not to mention infrequently used cooking vessels and portable kitchen appliances, and/or as an area for storing plastic 5 gallon cans when making bulk foods like sauerkraut or pickles. Even carboys can be stored there for making wine. How convenient! The storage/utility room is immediately adjacent to the kitchen, for easy access, yet the kitchen aesthetics are not affected. As it is likely the storage and utility room will not have a window there are two other important things to consider, light and ventilation. I suggest installing a continuous bank of double tube overhead fluorescent lights, as they will light the entire area brilliantly. I suggest installing an exhaust fan that vents to the exterior of the house to accommodate any food odors from activities like making sauerkraut. You will likely not want the room to be heated as there is no advantage whatsoever. Food will last longer on the shelves in a cool room and making things like pickles and wine are done best at cool temperatures of 60º F to 70º F, not higher. You may, however, want to have air conditioning in warmer climates or during the summer. The exception to the above method for using large counter or table top appliances is to keep certain small or medium size frequent use appliances on your kitchen countertop where they will be better used, like your toaster, blender, regular food processor and electric mixer. What you want to avoid is forced transport of materials to/from the kitchen and the storage/utility room, for frequent routine cooking or other common food preparation that involves mechanical/powered devices. Overall, the food storage and utility room should be 15 feet long and 8 to 9 feet wide, with 36" wide doors on each end, such that one door opens into the garage and the other into the kitchen. There will be a generous 3½ to 4½ feet of walkway between the storage and the utility areas. Using this special room concept will eliminate using your kitchen as a staging area after food shopping, and it minimizes your work in transporting and storing what you have purchased. With a nice dining room and comfortable bar stools at a kitchen island do you even need a kitchen table area for anything more than a temporary dump zone when you have been shopping? My bet is that, unless you have a very large family, the kitchen table is not essential if your kitchen island is properly designed and if a food storage and utility room is located conveniently to your kitchen as described above. Why not use that nice dining room more than once a week or less, as is most typical in most homes? Think about it. Let me conclude this section with two simple thoughts. Serving those you love the best food you can make is truly a measure of your love. And remember to love yourself by providing the best environment for you to process and prepare food.
Our grandparents and parents often canned foods based on times of harvest or other considerations like preserving wild game or meat from farm animals. A few foods like corn or apples could also be dried and thus preserved for future use. It was only in the last half of the twentieth century that large home deep freezes became common and their use significantly reduced the amount of foods canned or dried at home. Since that time commercial food producers started using shrink-wrap, heat sealing and then vacuum sealing and nitrogen atmosphere environments in polymer packaging both to preserve the products awaiting purchase and to improve their appearance and to mechanize food production and reduce human labor/cost. Yet through it all a short trip through your local supermarket will make you smile as you realize that we still use all methods named above for food preservation and marketing advantage even today. The Present
The simple fact is that some food products are best sold canned for convenience, like kidney beans. Others are fine in polymer coated paper containers, like milk or fresh orange juice and yet others in plastic or glass bottles, refrigerated or not depending on the product. We see all kinds of dried fruit products. The use of nitrogen gas to eliminate oxygen during polymer packaging operations is great for avoiding food oxidation, discoloration and early spoilage. In short, the "shelf life" of products so packaged is vastly improved. Vacuum sealing is another way to protect food from bacteria, molds, insects and dirt and also oxidation and freezer burn, and it allows for attractive see through presentation. Flash freezing is yet another method used commercially to capture food freshness and texture that would be lost using conventional freezing methods. Irradiation is used, especially in poorer countries where refrigerators are a luxury, like Mexico, to preserve milk and meats. All of the older and modern methods have their place. For the home chef it is important to learn which methods are right for which foods and how to do the processing successfully. We may not have flash freezing or irradiation devices at home yet but we pretty much have access to all the other essential pieces of equipment. Technology at Home
Indeed, you can even purchase tanks of gases like nitrogen and carbon dioxide at welding supply businesses and use them at home (just remember to buy a pressure regulator). I used to make hundreds of liter bottles of seltzer water for Marie using a medium sized tank of carbon dioxide gas with a pressure regulator and simple tap water, for about six cents per bottle. My labor was about 30 seconds per bottle. See the recipe for lemon-lime soda in this book to learn how to do all of this process.
The advent of high quality vacuum sealing machines for home use, freezers that maintain temperatures of 0ºF, and such mechanical devices as high quality meat slicers and food processors and top quality electric mixers and blenders, and a myriad of attachments and accessories, make this environment both more complicated and also more rewarding. Don’t feel overwhelmed. Get them one at a time and take your time to learn how to use each one well. These many products increase your freedom to do things that can’t easily be done in lesser kitchens, indeed in time your concept of how to use your kitchen and various food products will change substantially. It is important to realize that commercial food processors have access to chemical preservatives that, regardless of our opinions regarding some of those chemicals, are not all available to consumers, due primarily to government regulations. An example of what you can buy is sodium benzoate, a common preservative in pickled products, sauces and dressings. The opposite is true for sodium nitrite and chemicals like calcium disodium EDTA. You will likely never see yet other chemicals like potassium metabisulfite unless you happen to make wine and have a supply store near you with all the specialty wine chemicals, some of which can be used in other foods. Unavailability of certain chemicals does limit what we can choose to do safely and/or with optimal results in food preservation. The home chef must prepare and use many fresh foods within a few days that do not lend themselves to long term refrigerated storage, for lack of chemical preservatives. Conversely, a number of recipes use products that already contain chemical preservatives and they, along with acidic and/or salty recipe compositions permit longer refrigerated food storage. And pasteurization of the product, while not as dependable as canning, is a great way to extend the shelf life of lots of products you make and then package and refrigerate. An example of built-in preservation chemicals in some of the ingredients, combined with heat for sterility, is when you make homemade barbecue sauce that has been simmered and immediately sealed in a sterile jar. The knowledge gained in using the above mentioned devices and methods of food handling supports the home chef with choices in food preparation and preservation that would have amazed our grandparents. And even chemical preservatives can be obtained in special circumstances, like sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite in pre-measured mixes for making home cured meats like pastrami. For that matter the natural acidity of some foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits, and the use of acidic products like vinegars, allow you fairly long food storage, refrigerated, without other chemical preservatives.
Equipment You May Not Own and Why You Need It
Well, with the lead-in about food preservation methods, what I want to do is highly recommend that the serious home chef acquire all the modern devices. A high quality vacuum sealer is an obvious example. Those devices have started to become popular as low price models have become available, but few home chefs understand how their whole concept of food preservation and freshness can and will change if they learn to use a vacuum sealer. Add to that a high quality meat slicer and the home chef can literally make all the cold/lunch meats the family might want for sandwiches easily and cheaply and with refrigerator shelf life of around a month. And this is done without any of the preservatives found in the cold meats at your local delicatessen. That is very impressive, and I will illustrate that point now with a "prime" example. I cooked a three pound piece of eye roast of beef, trimmed of fat, in an oven at 350º F for 45 minutes. The end product was brown on the exterior and medium rare throughout inside and very juicy. I immediately processed the warm roast through my meat slicer to create thin sliced roast beef for later use in making sandwiches. I then vacuum sealed four packages of the sliced juicy meat and refrigerated it. Three weeks later I opened the last package and it was as fresh and delicious as when it was first made … same color, texture, taste and no spoilage! Here is the best part. I paid $2.59 per lb. for the eye roast at Costco® (The 2012 price is $3.49/lb.). Comparative premium roast beef in our supermarket delicatessen was selling for $11.99 per lb. and it does not have a very long shelf life in any refrigerator. Sliced meats from the delicatessen typically must be eaten within one week or less.
If you do the arithmetic the conclusion is obvious. The same excellent economics and freshness results are obtained for ham and turkey breast, etc. I routinely buy bulk quantities of many cheeses at Costco® or Sam’s Club® and package and vacuum seal them for what is likely to be used in one sitting, thus, the cheese is always fresh and there is no mold or bacterial contamination. Think about this as a quality of life issue as well as intelligent economics. What should you do?
For those of you who might be reluctant due to fear of bacterial contamination let me make the single most important point … all of our normal bacteria that might contaminate food, like salmonella, cannot live or reproduce in an oxygen free environment. Vacuum sealing really works to impede almost all bacteria as well as molds. One exception is botulism which is found, albeit rarely, in canned goods … recall the consumer warnings about never using canned goods where the can is swollen. You will refrigerate or freeze any food item that you have vacuum sealed that would degrade if not refrigerated or frozen. Hence, with even a tiny bit of common sense you will have no problems, only product cost, quality and shelf life benefits. Dabbling in Science