Caring for kitchen appliances and tools isn't always a top priority in the home kitchen, but it's necessary for it to function properly (I know, I sound like a 50's housewife). Professional kitchens are constantly being cleaned, but as most of us don't have dishwashers and porters to take care of the nitty gritty, we have to do it ourselves. I thought it would be useful to provide some basic information on kitchen maintenance. After all, when everything is working properly cooking is a lot more fun. Save it for a rainy day (we've had quite a few of those lately, so no excuses) and I guarantee you'll find yourself a much more cheerful cook!
1) SHARPENING KNIVES
A sharp knife is a safe knife. Though it sounds counter intuitive, it's true. I've had friends tell me they were scared of sharp knives, so they let them go dull so they'd be less likely to cut themselves (I was surprised they still had fingers, as this couldn't be farther from the truth!). A dull knife creates a greater chance of losing control and cutting yourself. A sharp knife gives you a smoother, more fluid cut and requires less cutting (and work from you, the cook) in the long run. If your kitchen knives were dull when you bought them because you purchased them at a dollar store in college, it's time for an upgrade. You can accomplish almost every slicing and dicing task with just two knives: a chef's knife and a paring knife. Make the investment: save time and your fingers!
You can have your knives professionally sharpened, or save money by sharpening them at home. I find sharpening your knives at home using a sharpening stone is much more convenient and allows you to sharpen them whenever you'd like. Sharpening stones restore a dull knife's edge without grinding away too much of the blade. There are a variety of stones to choose from, but ideally you want a stone (or two stones) with a coarse grit and a fine grit. I prefer sharpening my knives with a whetstone like this one here. Like sandpaper, sharpening stones have varying degrees of coarseness. For western style knives (as opposed to Japanese style knives), a 300 to 400 coarse grit helps to restore a knife's edge to its original shape, while a 1000 to 1200 fine grit is used to smooth and polish a knifes edge.
How to sharpen knives at home using a whetstone in 6 easy steps:
STEP 1: Soak a coarse grit whetstone (300 to 400 grit) and a fine grit whetstone (1000 to 1200 grit) in enough water to cover for 20 to 30 minutes (this helps to keep the stone free of grit and debris while sharpening).
STEP 2: Place the stone on a damp paper towel or kitchen towel to keep it from slipping.
STEP 3: Hold the knife by the handle with your right hand (with the blade facing away from you) at a 20 to 22 degree angle and use your left hand to apply moderate pressure to the flat side, or belly of the knife. Move the blade along the stone (from heel to tip) in ten even strokes in the same direction each time (be sure to keep the knife at a consistent angle as you sharpen). Flip the knife over and repeat on the other side of the blade.
STEP 4: Switch to a fine grit whetstone and sharpen the knife in the same way as mentioned above, in ten even strokes. Flip the knife over and repeat on the other side of the blade.
STEP 5: Wipe the blade off using a damp cloth and hone the knife using a sharpening steel (also known as a knife steel or honing steel) to remove any bits of metal left on the knife. Run the blade along the steel in a few strokes, moving in the same direction with each stroke. Repeat on the other side of the blade.
STEP 6: Rinse the knife with water to clean it of grit and it's ready to use.
Helpful tips: Remember to always sharpen in the same direction and not back and forth. Use a sharpening steel to maintain a knife's edge in between sharpening with a stone.
2) CLEANING DISCOLORED STAINLESS STEEL POTS & PANS
Bar Keeper's Friend is your best friend. The best part is, this stuff is cheap. For only a couple bucks and a little elbow grease, you can have your stainless steel pots and pans looking like new again.
Simply apply Bar Keeper's Friend to a damp sponge or soft cloth and rub onto the interior or exterior of your pots and pans. Rinse thoroughly within one minute of application, then wipe dry. It also works on porcelain, ceramic, tile, and copper. Bar Keeper's Friend can be found at most hardware and kitchen supply stores, or online. It comes in both powdered and liquid varieties.
3) HOW TO SEASON A CAST IRON SKILLET
Opinions on seasoning cast iron can vary greatly. All I have to say is that I've tried seasoning a number of ways, but nothing compares to using flaxseed oil. For years I used vegetable oil, which left a slightly sticky residue, or bacon drippings or vegetable shortening, but all were too soft and would wear off overtime. Don't waste your time.
I first became enlightened to seasoning with flaxseed oil when I stumbled upon Sheryl Canter's blog post on the chemistry of cast iron seasoning. Her science based approach to seasoning cast iron makes a lot of sense. Cheryl used the same principles behind most drying oils (such as linseed oil) used by painters or woodturners. The food-grade equivalent to this is flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is the only edible oil that dries hard, creating a glossy film or protective layer over cast iron. It is not easily worn off by washing or the repetitive nicks and scratches caused by cooking utensils. Even if you buy a new cast iron skillet that is "pre-seasoned", take the time to season it with flaxseed oil and the rewards will be plenty. You can find flaxseed oil at most health food stores or online. To clean rust from old or antique cast iron skillets before re-seasoning, see here.
How to season or re-season your cast iron skillet in 5 easy steps:
STEP 1: Heat the pan in a 200 degree F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, to see that the pan is completely dry and to open the metal's "pores" slightly. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a clean cotton cloth.
STEP 2: Shake the oil and pour a few drops in the pan. Use your fingers to rub the oil over the entire surface of the pan, inside and out, seeing that it it completely covered.
STEP 3: Use a paper towel or cotton cloth to rub off all of the oil, until it looks as if no more oil remains. The pan should look dry and not glistening with oil (in actuality, there is a very thin layer of oil on the pan unseen by the naked eye).
STEP 4: Place the pan in the oven upside down, and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F (or as high as your oven temperature will go). When the oven temperature reaches 500 degrees, set a timer for 1 hour. After an hour, turn the oven off but do not open the oven door (don't even be tempted to take a peek). Leave the pan in the oven to cool for at least 2 hours before removing.
STEP 5: After removing the pan from the oven it will appear a little darker and have a matte look to its surface. Repeat this process 5 to 6 more times, (beginning with step 1) after which time the pan will take on a semi-gloss sheen. Your pan is now properly seasoned and ready to cook with. For more information check out Cheryl's blog.
In terms of washing your cast iron skillet after daily use, there are two schools of thought: soap or no soap. I generally try to avoid dish soap or use very little with a soft non-abrasive sponge and rinse it with hot water. Scrubbing your pan with a lot of soap and a coarse sponge will wear down the seasoning overtime. It goes without saying this baby never sees the dishwasher.
I'm absolutely in love with my cast iron skillets now that they have an incredible season. If I had to own just one pan, this would be it. Cast iron skillets are the original "non-stick" pans (when seasoned properly) and can be used to cook everything from eggs to a roast chicken. A 12-inch skillet usually runs under $40 and if cared for properly, will last a lifetime. You can find them at all kitchen supply stores or online.
4) WOODEN CUTTING BOARD CARE
Remove stains or food odors from wooden cutting boards by generously sprinkling kosher salt over the surface of the board and rubbing it with a sliced lemon. Let this slurry sit for a minute before rinsing the board with hot water. A sprinkling of baking soda also helps to remove stubborn odors from strong scented foods, such as onions and garlic.
Cutting boards will last for decades if properly cared for. Most detergents and soaps tend to dry out the wood overtime, causing cracks and warping. To avoid this, oil them about once a month with food-grade mineral oil. Working in sections, use a soft cloth or paper towel to rub a small amount of the oil onto the cutting board in the direction of the grain. Repeat until the entire board is coated. Wipe off any excess oil and dry the board for 8 hours or overnight before using. Avoid using olive and vegetable oils to oil your board, as these can turn rancid quickly. Food-grade mineral oil can be found at most kitchen supply stores, or online.
5) HOW TO CLEAN A COFFEE MAKER
While I love my mini French press for a cup of joe or two, the electric coffee maker is more economical for a large pot of coffee. Overtime however, it can start to get stained and just plain gross, which effects the taste of your brew.
A simple home remedy solution is to combine 1 part white distilled vinegar with 4 parts water and run through the machine. Run several cycles of fresh water through the machine to rinse it after cleaning.
6) THROWING AWAY OUTDATED HERBS & SPICES
This is one I'm guilty of not doing as often as I should. Throwing away out dated herbs and spices can seem like a waste, but it makes a big difference in flavor. Overtime, herbs and spices lose their potency. Generally, whole spices will last 3 to 4 years, ground spices about 1 to 2 years, and dried herbs about 1 year. The best indicator is to use your taste buds. If your spices are flat tasting, discolored, or no longer potent, it's time to replace them. Buying smaller quantities allows you to use them up before they go bad.
One of my favorite places to buy spices is at Kalustyan's in NYC. If you live outside the New York area, check them out online. Kalustyan's has been a NYC institution since 1944. They have an incredible selection of whole and ground spices and the best part is, they can be bought in small quantities. Dating your jars of spices will help you keep better track of their shelf life too. Try to store your herbs and spices in well-sealed jars in a cool dark place and away from the oven, stovetop, or direct sunlight.