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Highlights from the General Topics and Cookware boards. Food trends, food products, and burning questions.

The Complete Guide to Buying Your First Knives

The following is some excellent advice on buying your first knives, from Darren72.

The first question: do you want to buy a packaged set? Most serious cooks wind up using somewhere between two and four knives, so, really, those humongous sets of knives are a bad idea. You get more knives than you need, and sometimes you end up with a high quality, expensive version of something that would would be just as fine cheap. On the other hand, very small sets (i.e., 2-4 knives) do save you some money, and come with asharpening steel, kitchen shears, and knife block. They’re worth it if you can find a set with exactly the knives you want. But note: different stores sell different sets from the same brand. So shop around for small sets.

And if you decide to buy knives individually, spend the big money on your chef’s knife. Most people start off with an 8-inch chef’s knife; a good one will usually cost between $75 and $90. Depending on your cooking style, you’ll also want a good-quality paring knife (3- to 5-inch), and a good-quality utility or boning knife (6- to 8-inch) or a Santoko knife. Serrated knives, such as bread knives, don’t gain much from being high quality–go ahead and get a cheap stamped blade. If you want to save more money, buy a cheap paring knife. Think about multitasking before you buy, too. Bread knives can be used to cut tomatoes; you don’t need a specialty tomato knife unless you cut an awful lot of tomatoes. Flexible utility knives can also be used for boning; unless you do a lot of boning, you probably don’t need a dedicated boning knife. Your chef’s knife will be your most-used knife for everyday chopping and slicing tasks, so it’s worth spending the money for a good forged steel model.

There are a number of good brands for top-quality knives, like Wusthof Trident and Henckels. But most of the differences between the high-end brands come down to feel and weight distribution. Research has limited usefulness; it’s better to just go into a store and ask to hold and practice cutting with various chef’s knives so you you know which brand feels best in your hands.

Storage: you want to store your knives in a wooden block, a knife magnet attached to the wall, or a specially-designed knife-holder for your kitchen drawer. Don’t just throw nice knives into a drawer! And don’t put them in the dishwasher.

Sharpening: you need a sharpening steel, which will cost about $20. These don’t actually sharpen the blade; they straighten it. You need to use the steel every time you use the knife. Then, about once every six months to a year, you need to go to a professional sharpener and get your knives actually sharpened. Go to a pro. It’ll cost a few dollars per knife, and will be way better than any do-it-yourself sharpening kit. But do some research to find a good professional knife sharpener who knows what he or she is doing and won’t grind your blades away.

Finally, buy a good cutting board. You want something large, but not so large that you’ll never use it. Wood is nice because it’s heavy and doesn’t move. Oxo makes excellent plastic cutting boards that are light, dishwasher safe, and have rubber edges to hold them in place. Avoid glass cutting boards. Consider buying a few thin, flexible, small boards for quick little tasks.

Board Links: knife recommendations?

Nifty New Corn Gadget

Kuhn Rikon’s new Corn Zipper makes quick work of separating raw corn kernels from cobs. It does its job exceedingly neatly, too, raves LindaR, literally “zipping” the kernels off into a bowl a few rows at a time, without cutting into the cob. And it’s safe–no chance of slicing fingers, as with other such contraptions.

Order from

Board Links: Best New Gadjet–Corn Zipper

The Great Books Program, Alcoholics’ Edition

Great books on cocktail making?

Gromit says he’s read every cocktail book of note, and his favorite by far is “Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century,” by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead. It doesn’t attempt to be a complete compendium of every possible concoction; there are, in fact, relatively few recipes. But it offers a deep understanding of what makes a good cocktail. In spite of its non-comprehensiveness, this is the best choice for a new mixologist to grok the true classics of cocktail.

“The Joy of Mixology,” by Gary Regan, is hardcore, and definitive, says JeremyEG.

“Esquire Drinks” is a thorough introduction to cocktails and how to make them. It’s got plenty of new cocktails, but manages to avoid the “juvenile abominations being passed off as adult beverages today,” sniffs warrenr.

“The Craft of the Cocktail,” by Dale DeGroff is a beautiful book, with nice pictures, cocktail history, and recipes for cocktails both classic and trendy.

“Cowboy Cocktails,” by Grady Spears, has interesting versions of standards, and cool garnishes and munchie recipes, too.

“The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks,” by David Embury, is one of the seminal texts on mixology, says Tom Swift.

Best Cocktail Book?

Some Great Sippin’ Vermouths

jacquelinec’s heart has been captured by Vya Vermouth, a half-sweet, half-dry vermouth. Serve it on the rocks, and sip it. Chris VR agrees, never having realized vermouth could be so good on its own.

warrenr insists that the best sweet vermouth on Earth is Carpano Antica Formula. It’s almost too good to mix. And darren72 recommends Carpano’s Punt e Mes, which is also excellent on the rocks.

Board Links: Great vermouth

On Benchmark Wine Prices

warrenr offers good advice on figuring out the wine pricing structure of various restaurants: don’t use benchmark wine prices.

To explain: some folks check the prices of three or four very well-known wines and champagnes, to figure out the house’s markup. The problem is that sommeliers anticipate this, and will frequently mark down the price of, say, Veuve Clicquot, just to fool consumers.

And some have variable pricing structures: a lot of places mark up non-vintage champagnes heavily, while offering bargains on prestige cuvees.

The moral: the only way to figure out the markup is the hard way–knowing the retail prices of lots of individual wines.

Board Links: ISO Price Benchmark Wines

Manzanilla Sherries

Manzanilla sherries are gossamer-light. Each has a unique character that comes partially from place of origin, and partially from the thick layer of flor yeast that blankets the wine during fermentation, protecting it from oxidization. Fino and amontillado-style sherries have spent time in contact with flor, developing their characteristic aromas, while oloroso styles are not matured under flor at all.

Melanie Wong loves La Gitana brand Manzanilla sherry for its refined nose and its crisp, clean finish. It’s a good example of the Manzanilla fino style–pale, bone dry, and very light.

Spoony Bard likes La Cigarrera even more than La Gitana. Where the latter is all attack, no finish, the former sticks around–blossoming in the mouth from nuttiness to rich lusciousness to a hint of the sea, and back again, with a long finish. La Cigarrera is a Manzanilla pasada–a rarer style between fino and amontillado in age–and it has a powerful aroma and rich texture, and is just slightly sweeter than bone-dry La Gitana.

Melanie’s favorite Manzanilla pasada is Hidalgo Pastrana’s. She also likes the elegant Hidalgo Napolean cream. She once had it in a blind taste test and thought it was either an oversweetened amontillado or a high-grade oloroso. She was stunned to find out that it was a $12 Manzanilla cream sherry, as most cream sherries aren’t well made. It’s definitely at its best when first opened; the bouquet fades in a few days.

She advises to check for the bottling date on the lot when buying sherries (information that you’ll need to get from the importer, or there might be a coded date on the label that you can decipher), as the aroma declines rapidly after bottling.

Check out an article on sherries

Board Links
La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sherry vs. La Gitana–brief notes

American Flatbread

A boxed frozen pizza called American Flatbread is really great, says Allfrog68. It’s simple, but super. Just pop it in a heated oven for 5-7 minutes, and you got your pizza.

Here’s their distributor list.

Board Links: Recommendation–American Flatbread [moved from SF board]

Rum Drinks: Dark, Not So Sweet

Dark rum is usually associated with sweet, fruit-heavy punches and frozen drinks, but here are some drier applications for those who don’t want all the sweetness.

The Dark’n Stormy is ginger beer and Gosling’s Black Seal rum. Gosling’s has trademarked the drink’s name, but you can, naturally, make versions with other dark rums.

maggie likes dark rum with classic margarita fixings: 2 parts rum, 1 part triple sec or Grand Marnier, 1 part fresh lime (simple syrup optional).

She also suggests dark rum in a lime rickey (fresh lime juice, a little simple syrup, and soda water).

jacinthe enjoys dark rum with fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Board Links: What to make with leftover dark rum?

Gruner Veltliner

Melanie Wong is really into the classic stylings of the 2004 Gruner Veltliners. They’re not quite as tropical as Veltliners from warmer years. 2004 shows more mineral and white pepper notes. They’ve been slower to show than usual, but have become much more expressive in the last six months. They’re much better than the low acidity 2003’s. 2005’s have just started to come in, and seem good. too.

Brands: she recommends Saloman Hochterrasen and Hirsch Veltliner #1 for entry-level Veltliners. More upscale: try Brundlmayer and Nigl. warrenr has tried a bunch of the 2005’s, and recommends Jamek, Nikolaihof, and the always-reliable Alzinger. These are, he says, amazing wines. They’ll take several years to open up. For more current drinking and more reasonable prices, he recommends Schloss Gobelsburg and Soellner. More good entry-level choices include Loimer Landwin, a super-fresh, crisp, and brightly fruity Veltliner that comes in liter bottles.

Board Links
Gruner Veltliner

Saving Tomatoes

Most people save tomatoes by putting them in some plastic-wrap in the fridge or something like that, but chowhounds in the know say that fridges kill raw tomatoes. Try this instead: put some oil in a covered container. Sprinkle the cut end of the tomato with a little fine salt, then place the cut end down into the oil and put the lid on. This will keep the tomato fresh for a couple of days at room temperature (Karl S).

Board Links: Saving tomatoes.