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Initializing the Kitchen : Kitchen Organization (part 3) - Kitchen Pruning

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5. Kitchen Pruning

Keeping your countertops and cupboards junk-free is just as important as having enough storage space for all of your kitchen accoutrements. By pruning out unused or uncommonly used items, you’ll find it easier to locate the everyday items.

Start by inventorying the gadgets you have in your drawers. Anything that you haven’t used for more than a year should be foisted off on others. If you’re not sure you can part with something or have emotional attachments (but that’s the mango slicer from our honeymoon!), find another home for it, outside the kitchen. Duplicate items (three bread knives?!) and rarely used gadgets should be moved out of the kitchen and, if never recalled, recycled. When you’re unsure, err on the side of relocating stuff away from the kitchen. Remember, you can always pull it back into your kitchen if you need it!

Some of your kitchen tools will be seasonal. If you’re tight on space, large roasting pans for Thanksgiving turkeys and egg decoration supplies for Easter might be better off stored in a garage or closet.

Broken cheese graters, chipped glasses, cracked dishes—anything that can cause injury should it break while in use—should be fixed or replaced. (Dull knives count. Keep those knives sharp!) Should something break while you’re cooking and leave bits of glass or ceramic in your food, toss the whole dish out and order pizza. (Mmm, pizza: cheaper than a visit to the emergency room.)


Note:

Parkinson’s Law: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Potter’s Corollary to Parkinson’s Law: Kitchen stuff expands so as to fill every last shelf and drawer.


Kitchen stuff expands to fill all available space, and then some. Any time you introduce a new chop-o-whiza-matic to your kitchen, try to remove something that takes up a similar amount of space. If your kitchen is already crammed full of stuff and you find the idea of a marathon pruning session overwhelming, try doing your clean-out one cupboard at a time. Still too overwhelming? Remove just one thing a day, no matter how small or big, until you reach a Zen state of tranquility. Kitchen pruning is much easier as an ongoing habit than as an annual ritual.

Adam Ried on Equipment and Recipes

How did you end up writing for the Globe and working at America’s Test Kitchen?

I didn’t intend to be involved in food for a living. I went to school for architecture. I was quick to realize that a) I never should have been admitted to architecture school, and b) even though I was admitted, it would be a grave mistake for me to pursue it, because to quote Barbie, “Math is hard.”

So I was doing marketing for architecture firms. I spent a whole lot of time cruising cookbooks, making dinners, and having friends over, but the light bulb hadn’t quite gone off. I would come in every Monday morning after a weekend of cooking, and regale my officemates with the various things that I had tried, and how they worked, and what I wanted to change. One day, someone just looked at me and said, “What are you doing here? Why don’t you just go to cooking school?” I mean talk about feeling like a doofus. It had never gelled for me, even though my sister had been to cooking school, and my whole family cooks. I promptly quit my job and went to the Boston University Culinary Certificate Program.

At one point, I was in the office of the director, and there was another woman waiting in the office to speak with her. The woman and I struck up a conversation. She had done the program a year or two before me. She was an editor at Cook’s Illustrated, which I read, but again, doofus moment, it had never registered that it was just down the street in Brookline. I started talking to her about what her job was and how she liked it. Then and there, I decided that I wanted to write about food instead of actually cooking it.

I was on the poor woman like white on rice and just kept after her for a freelance assignment here and there. That finally snowballed into a real job at Cook’s Illustrated. This was in the early 1990s. I remember being in school thinking, “Oh, God, I don’t want to work on the line in a restaurant. That’s too hard. I’m too old. I don’t like the heat. What am I going to do?” It’s one of those incredibly irritating right place, right time stories that you never want to hear when you’re on the other end of it.

From the perspective of cooking in the kitchen, what has turned out to matter more than you expected?

This sounds a little geeky, but the thing that I didn’t realize going into it, especially because I don’t have a scientific mind, was that understanding some of the science behind cooking is important. Leavening is still an uphill battle for me to understand. All these recipes rely primarily on baking powder, but sometimes include a little baking soda. Really understanding the acid neutralization in baking soda as an ingredient and what ingredients are acidic is not something that they really teach you in cooking school.

What turned out to be less important?

Not to shoot myself in the foot here, but kitchen tools. You really don’t need every conceivable tool to cook well.

What would you consider to be the few basic tools a kitchen needs?

Certainly a chef’s knife. A serrated knife is also really useful. A good, heavy aluminum core sauté pan is important. You can do a million different things in it: sauté obviously, braise, shallow fry, roast, bake... A good strainer, measuring cups, and spoons are useful. I love bowls that have the measurements on them so you can get the volume as you are mixing. I have an immersion blender that I use a ton. I would not want to go anywhere without my immersion blender. I use the food processor quite a bit. I have a standing mixer, but I could probably get away with a hand mixer for most of what I do. Those are some of the basics.

What’s your overall approach when you look at a piece of kitchen gear?

I do my best to dump all preconceptions. Because I have had years of experience in the area and exposure to the various tools and talked to various experts, I automatically know what I’m looking for. But I have to try and let go of that stuff and do the test as objectively as possible, because I may be surprised.

I remember testing grill pans that had ridges in the bottom, which are supposed to create the visual effect of real grill marks. I’m a big cast iron pan man. I like cast iron, and one of the pans in the line-up was a cast iron grill pan. Even doing my best to drop the preconceptions, I still thought, “It’s going to be fabulous.” In fact, it did heat up reasonably evenly, and it retained its heat. It made good grill marks. But I was surprised by the fact that it was a pain to clean because of the shape and placement of the ridges. Gunk would collect between them. I try not to use detergent and abrasives on cast iron, because I want to care for the seasoning. If I have really stuck-on gunk, I get in there with coarse salt and stiff brush, and there just wasn’t enough room for the salt to really do its thing. After cleaning it twice, I swore I would never use it again.

What’s your process for going from a first version, or concept, to a final recipe for a Boston Globe article?

I’ve never really shaken the cook’s process, so I probably research and test more than I have to. For instance, I’m currently working on fruitcake for a Christmas holiday column. I start by looking online. I have a whole bunch of cookbooks at home, and I also make liberal use of all the libraries in our area. So I’ll look at as many fruitcake recipes as I can, say 40 or 50, or whatever is practical given my deadline. I will make a little chart for myself, just a quick handwritten thing, of the types and variables in a fruitcake recipe. Then I overlay my own food sensibilities.

For example, what color scheme I want, what ratio of batter to fruit and nuts I want, what shapes and so forth. I will do what I call “cobbling together” a recipe. I’ll give it a try. I convene my tasters and we taste it and analyze it. There’s no such thing as a casual, thoughtless meal in this house. I want feedback on pretty much every bite that everyone puts in his or her mouth. Then I’ll go back and make it a second time. If I’m really, really, lucky, I can nail it on the second try. More often than not, I will make it a third time. It’s a constant process of critique and analysis.

Are there cases where you just get stuck and can’t figure out why it’s not working?

I’m really lucky to have worked in the food world for long enough that I know a lot of people, much smarter than I am, who I can always call with questions. Actually, for one of my first columns for the Globe, I was doing a thing on mangos and I wanted to do mango bread. I was trying to get the leavening right. There was some molasses in there, and some puréed mangos, and this question of baking powder and baking soda came up. I ended up calling a million different bakers to help me understand the role of the baking powder and how it affected the browning.

I’ve been known to scrap recipes if they don’t work the way I want them to after the third or fourth try, or if it doesn’t taste as good as I want it to. But I don’t remember being so stuck in a problem that I wasn’t able to work it out without the help of many smart people.

Has there ever been a case where you’ve published a recipe, and in hindsight, said “oops,” or where the reaction was unexpected?

Oh, God, yes. It’s really difficult to please all of the people all of the time. I remember publishing one recipe early on and when I went back and looked at it a couple of years later, I thought, “What the hell was I thinking? That is just as convoluted as can be.”

Have any of your recipes caught you off guard by how well liked they were?

There was a lemony quinoa pilaf and asparagus with shrimp scampi recipe that I did. I had discussed quinoa off and on with my editor for a while, because I really like it. Now it’s in pretty much any supermarket, but at the point I was writing this recipe it was new to me. People loved it. I got so much positive response from readers on that one.


Lemony Quinoa and Asparagus with Shrimp Scampi

¼ cup (50g) olive oil

3 tablespoons (40g) butter

1 medium (100g) onion, finely chopped

1½ cups (280g) quinoa, rinsed

Salt and black pepper

½ pound (225g) asparagus, ends snapped off and cut into 1.5″ / 4 cm lengths

1½ teaspoons (2g) lemon zest (about 1 lemon’s worth)

¼ cup (60g) lemon juice (about 1 lemon’s worth)

2 pounds (900g) large shrimp, peeled, deveined (if desired), rinsed, and dried

4 cloves (12g) garlic, minced

½ cup (125g) dry white wine Cayenne pepper

¼ cup (15g) minced fresh parsley

Adjust the oven rack to the center position, place an ovenproof serving dish on the rack, and heat the oven to 200°F / 95°C. In a large nonstick sauté pan set over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the onion and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add the quinoa and cook, stirring constantly, until it smells toasty, about four minutes. Add 2¾ cups / 650g of water and 1 teaspoon of salt, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is just tender, about 12 minutes. Off heat, sprinkle the asparagus over the quinoa, replace the cover, and set the pan aside until the quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid and the asparagus is tender, about 12 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice, season with black pepper and additional salt, if desired, and stir. Transfer the quinoa to the warmed serving dish, spread it out to make a bed, and place it in the oven to keep warm.

Wipe out the sauté pan with a paper towel, add 1 tablespoon of oil, and set it over high heat. When the oil just begins to smoke, add half of the shrimp and cook them, without moving, until they begin to turn opaque, about a minute. Quickly turn the shrimp and cook them until fully opaque, about 45 seconds longer, and transfer them to a bowl. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan, and repeat the process to cook the remaining shrimp. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan, place over medium-low heat, and when the butter has melted, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the wine and a pinch of cayenne and stir to blend. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the pan, add the parsley, season with salt to taste, and stir to combine. Remove the serving dish from the oven, pour the shrimp and its juices over the bed of quinoa, and serve at once.


6. Giving Kitchen Tools As Gifts

Don’t.

Or, at least not without talking to the lucky recipient. It’s virtually impossible to predict someone else’s needs and tastes in kitchen tools, and for all the reasons just discussed, saddling them with the wrong tool might be worse than giving them nothing at all. The one exception is if your recipient is just embarking on her culinary adventures, in which case the bare minimum essentials are probably okay: chef’s knife, scalloped paring knife, wooden cutting board, frying pan, a stack of bar towels, and a gift certificate to the local grocery store. If the recipient has a sense of humor, get ’em a fire extinguisher, too.

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