Back to the Basics

It is a lovely day here in the Northern Sierras, but was still pretty slow going in the store today, so I got to go home early! I drove back to the house, picked up my dog, and headed back out to Lake Tahoe so he could have a nice run on the beach. Of course the interesting part of that sort of endeavor is just driving around with all of the tourists. See, up here, with the snow plows running as often as they do, the painted lines get scraped off of the road, and then there is no way of knowing what lane is where, or if there even is a turn lane, a second lane, or what have you.

Thus, many bay-area drivers, who I am sure are quite savvy in rush hour traffic and their busy city streets, end up in a stall of deliberation, typically in the middle of an intersection, or just randomly in the middle of the road. When it isn’t completly infuriating, it’s actually rather cute.

But since I have been living here since time immemorial, I know where all the lanes begin and end, I am also familiar with who has to stop at the three way stop sign in Old Town, that just about no one could figure out earlier today. Everyone was just stopped on all sides and honking at each other, so I just drove on through, though it wasn’t even my turn yet… heh heh.

Typically tho, I just lead everyone around, that is another cute attribute to city folk, they seem to be more comfortable in a pack, or herd. When there appears to be someone who knows where they are going – particularly if it is snowing – then they will herd up behind you, like faithful sheep. I find that it is also wise to implement a bit of speed control when in this lead position as well, because, I don’t care how much you paid to upgrade yer SUV to 4WD, it still ain’t gonna stop on ice, so how’s about we all calm down, and just slow down a bit, while yer in my hood, thanks.

Long preamble short, I’m driving around, leading the masses to their salvation (i.e. I-80, so they can go home, where they belong already) and it occurs to me that I have been in such a funk as of late, that I have completely lost track of my gimmick! The shame!

The basic premise of my gimmick is to explore different cooking gear, to see what’s good, and what is just frivolity – and the inherent irony of the gimmick, is that I will be reviewing all of these fun toys, while specifically not cooking. & for as much as I have been discussing food and wine and work (which is food service, as they say, despite the fact that it is just drinks) I have been neglecting the equipment aspect entirely.

To get me back on track, I think that something simple will do, & today I am going to review the wide world of cutting boards. This topic came to mind because I actually had the house to myself for a night and I almost, kind of actually cooked something. It all hinged on this little packet of spices that I bought for like, $5 almost, which is kind of outrageous, organic or not. But it was the cornerstone to a really good meal, that I am heating up seconds of it right now. & I usually hate leftovers, they gross me out, typically, but this packet of spice hit such a striking note with me, that I am actually looking forward to having more!

So – quickly, on the food end, the spice pack is from Arora Creations, authentic Indian Spice Blends, & the flavor is Cauliflower, or Gobi. As it happens, Alu Gobi is my #1 favorite Indian dish, and there just happened to be a wilty cauliflower in the free bin, so I was then saved from another bout of  Taco Bell induced heartburn… Now I know that I am loosing a bit of my secondary aspect of the gimmick in this, but I really honestly do love to cook, so when I can play music and make a mess of the kitchen, then I get right in there, and additionally, it still isn’t like I was making a curry sauce from scratch.

See, I think that part of what you are paying for in the $5 price tag on the little packet of spice is the recipe/shopping list. So the cauliflower was free, but I did buy a little basket of cherry tomatoes (the recipe called for plum tomatoes, but it is the dead of winter, so tomato pickin’s are slim) a serrano, a healthy sprig of ginger, a handful of cilantro, and one russet potato. The veggies cost the same, if not lass than the spice pack, and I had oil, rice and naan at home. All you do is saute the pepper, ginger, and chopped tomatoes   in oil, then add the spices (whole cumin seeds – so aromatic!), let that simmer a minute, then add the cauliflower, and simmer for another 20 minutes – viola!

It’s hardly cooking at all! You get all the fun of the sizzle and smell of Indian, and then get to go drink a beer and watch the news, or whatever you do at night, till it’s done. Additionally, I boiled the potato, which was scrubbed and chopped, till it was just soft (thereby adding the “Alu” to the meal), and also steamed some basmati, thrown in with some pre-seasoned rice pack leftovers from a few days ago, which is why I happened to have some naan (tandoori flat bread, with garlic!) on hand as well. So I sauteed some veggies and steamed some rice, not exactly cooking, but it still required…a cutting board.

I used my Dad’s girlfriend’s, she has a big huge one that we just have out on the counter while she is out of town. I put a dishtowel underneath, so water can’t puddle up and get trapped beneath, and I rinse it clean with hot water between uses, or just wipe it off with a paper towel, never with a sponge! Sponges are yucky, especially if they are just sitting around. I do think that they are permissible, if well tended to, and not left on their own to get funky, but unless you are using a cleaning agent of some sort, and then rinsing with clean water, you can’t just go around wiping stuff down with a sponge (unless the sponge is soaked in bleach, or some other sanitizer), all that sponging a surface down will accomplish – is the spread of bacteria. & the same goes for dish towels! They too will harbor plenty of bacteria, the easiest way to tell if your sponge, rag, or towel is in good shape or not, is to take a good, objective, whiff. Funky smell = bacteria, got it?

This leads us to the main dispute for cutting board choices, as there is a pretty good debate going over wood vs. plastic. In a nutshell, plastic is non-porous, so bacteria cannot wriggle down and proliferate as far within. However wood has a “self-healing” property that helps to reduce how deep a knife mark will go into the grain of the wood, and once properly cleaned and dried, a wooden board should remain reasonably free of lingering bacteria without too much trouble. Additionally, once a plastic board has been used and abused, you will just have to throw it out (unless you are using a heavy duty professional grade board) where as a wooden board can simply be sanded down and re-oiled, and it’s ready to go again (the big pro plastic boards can actually be sanded down with a planer as well, but most people would not have the time or means to bother…).

So two main observations that I have made over time are; that if you are going to use wood, make sure that it is hardwood, to reduce scarring on the surface, which is where bacteria creeps away to, & to use two or more boards, especially if you are preparing meat and raw veggies, or something to that effect. Particularly chicken! When I make chicken, I keep the meat more or less quarantined to it’s own defined area, until it has been fully cooked, I also wash and sanitize all surfaces that touch the meat ASAP, that means knives, hands, bowls, you name it, I’d wash it. Some other examples are,having a separate small board for garlic, onion and hot peppers –  also a special board is good for foods that will stain, such as  curries, mole sauce, or a variety of tomato sauces and pastes.

You might be wondering why a sauce would be on a cutting board…and aside from the preparation of the ingredients in the sauce, I also like to use my cutting boards as a general line of defense for the counter tops,  If you make a horrible mess on something that can be picked up and tossed in the sink, it is a hundred times better than trying to scrub a curry stain out of the formica, or whatever…

In conclusion, I would like to recommend bamboo for a hardwood cutting board, it is pretty and inexpensive – and for synthetics, there is a line called Preserve that is fantastic. They use recycled plastics only, and they also use a material called Paperstone, which is made of natural resins and recycled paper. These usually come in smaller sizes with a little thumb hole, making them the perfect candidate for that garlic-onion-pepper board. & finally –  do not use glass cutting boards! They will destroy you knife’s blade!

Thank you.

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