Valentine’s Day has never been especially important to me as far as holidays go. Arbor Day holds more significance to me as, well, who doesn’t like trees, or Arbor Day costumes….err….something. If you have found a significant other and have somehow tricked them into liking you, Hallmark, Lindt, (insert jewelry store name here) and Victoria’s Secret should be the last people you should look to for ways of expressing your true emotions. There are more practical and longer lasting ways to show how much you care for each other.
Hallmark for their efforts are going to charge you five or six bucks for a card that once read, may as well be a drink coaster. Lindt is only going to perpetuate that nagging age old question, “Do these jeans make my butt look big?!” You could make the argument that jewelry will last a lifetime, but then again so will the credit card statements you bought that uni-tasking honker of a ring with.
Victoria’s Secret…Well, it’s no secret what you’re looking for when you come home with what amounts sixty bucks worth of a couple of snaps and a Band-Aid’s worth of material in the two inch by two inch bag. Nice, for you guys? Yes. Nice for her? The jury is still out on that. But let’s face it guys, you’re out sixty bucks for something that took longer to put on than it took to come off. Seriously gentlemen, it’s not like she’ll be putting it on for game night, while your folks are in town for a visit from Sarasota. This year try buying gifts that will last a lifetime, and bring some true enjoyment and satisfaction to the both of you.
It dawned on me while walking through Home Goods the other day that P.T. Barnum was right. A sucker is born every minute. I was looking at these ridiculous block knife sets with as many as twenty four pieces, and in my mind they were twenty four pieces of crap. If you want to get something nice for him or her, get them a nice knife. I myself have a chef’s knife, a paring knife, an offset serrated knife and a five inch santoku. I have other specialty knives, but for 99.9% of all my day to day kitchen work, I use these four.
If you’re doing a lot of butchering get a boning knife, but aside from a few butcher friends I have, very few people are breaking down a side of beef or a whole hog in their kitchens with any sort of frequency. Fileting knives are fine if you are into fishing or you buy your fish whole, but for the most part you can skip this one as well. A bird’s beak paring knife is great if you’re going to culinary school and need to tourné root vegetables into little seven sided footballs. But, as most of you will not become the next Escoffier, leave the bird’s beak paring knife alone.
A slicing knife is good but really only used around the holidays or if you’re doing a lot of roasts. This one you could make an argument for buying, but I tend to use my chef’s knife and it does an adequate job so, coin toss on that one. Make sure your knives are of good quality, heavy, well balanced and fit comfortably in your hand. The brand doesn’t so much matter as there are some good inexpensive ones out there as well as the Wusthof, J.A. Henckels, Shun and Sabatier’s of the world.
My friend Kris has some Oxo Good Grip knives that I like. But knives without honing steels or a sharpening stones are useless, so get one of each and learn how to use them properly, as a sharp knife is a safe knife. Honing steels should be used each time you use a knife to keep the edge true. Sharpening stones are to be used every three to six months, or when the honing steel doesn’t have the desired effect on the edge, depending on the amount they are used the time in between sharpening will vary.
Knives aren’t cutting their way into your Valentine’s Day gift plans? Ok then, how about a nice set of pots or pans? I mean really, how long have you had that current set, you know, the one pan that you can never seem to cook anything in because it burns. The pan without a cover that fits is missing its plastic handles and is dented but you got as a wedding gift from your Aunt Boopy so you hate to throw it away? Do yourself a favor and grab a set of well-constructed heavy bottom pans at your local restaurant supply store. Brand name isn’t important here, even though I know some of you get all dreamy eyed at the mention of All-Clad or Le Creuset. I got a perfectly good set of heavy copper core bottom, riveted handled cookware for under a hundred bucks about ten years ago, and they are doing just fine with daily use.
My set happened to include a stock-pot, large and small sauce pan, sautoir, and two sauté pans all with matching glass lids that can be used on the stove-top or in the oven. I also happen to own several other pans such as a cast iron skillet, enamel coated Dutch oven, canning pot, non-stick sauté pan, bain-marie and a stock pot with a strainer insert. They all get a good amount of stove time and all are capable of handling multiple duties.
Stay away from the junk pans, you’ve seen them…The omelet pan that’s hinged and folds over so you can flip your omelet from one side to the other. The thin pans that you could literally roll like a newspaper or the pans with the plastic handles are useless. One of my favorite pans is the one with the top that turns into a strainer of sorts, and if the holes were a bit bigger might be useful for something like recycling cat litter.
Gadgets, well what can I say about gadgets except for the vast majority of them are terrible. I bring you the banana peeler, banana slicer, egg slicer, egg poacher, egg scrambler, egg separator, slap chop, berry huller, melon baller, that crazy thing you put veggies in and push the cover down to chop things or make French fries with, just to name a few. But let’s use our heads people. If it’s something that cuts or slices something else, chances are, your knives can do the same thing just as well. If it can’t, you need to practice more. The only thing I need in my kitchen that only preforms one job and I won’t get rid of, are the little miniature corn cob thingy’s that poke into the ends of corn cobs to keep from grabbing the hot cobs. What can I say; I’m a fragile flower…
I can give you a few ideas for gadgets that are worth taking up drawer space and will help nearly daily with your cooking. When it comes to slicing a few potatoes or other vegetables for a gratin, or making some gaufrette style fries, the mandoline slicer is a great easy to use tool and fairly inexpensive. Wooden spoons well, that one is self-explanatory. Silicone spatulas, pastry brushes, pads and muffin…uh…tins, all come in silicone and are easy on the wallets and light on the elbow grease when it comes time for clean-up.
If none of that tickles your fancy, here’s a good one that might…and might even be considered romantic. Take a cooking class together! Almost every town has some kind of cooking class or school that does classes, or you’re within driving distance of one that does. Sign up for a confection class, or a sauce class, Tuscan adventure class, French classic dishes class or whatever else you may find interesting, and go together. It’ll be a fun way to spend the day together, you get to eat what you make, there’s usually a glass or two of wine, and you’re almost guaranteed to learn something that you’ll carry in your cooking repertoire for the rest of your life, even if you decide to get rid of the significant other.
Look, I know there is nothing sexy about pans and for some people bringing home a set is akin to bringing home a set of wrenches or a vacuum cleaner. I know, I know, I can hear the argument already guys and gals…(screeching angry woman voice)”So, I suppose this means the house is dirty?! Kate’s husband got her some nice chocolates you miserable bastid! I just knew I should have listened to my mother!” and Ladies when you give the guy the wrenches it’ll go something like this…(beaten down hen pecked man voice)”thanks….what’s for dinner?” I kid, neither one of you are gonna be thrilled. Now let’s look at another **scenario…
Male: “Hey baby happy Valentine’s Day! I got you a couple of things… open this one first”
Female: “Awwww….chocolates, I love these, thank you!”
Male: “Now open this one.”
Female: “A set of pans? We’ve needed them but…”
Male: “Yes, for us, but tonight, they’re only for me because I’m making you a special dinner!” “Then later, we can make…dessert!”
**Disclaimer, ok I could have had her bring him some pans, but then she would have been cooking dinner, so I couldn’t have won either way….but hopefully you all get the picture. If all else fails, Guy’s, get her that jewelry and Gals, have fun squeezing into spandex/satin hell, just remember….you had options!
Happy Valentine’s Day,