Favourite Things

6 Jul

These are some of my favourite things…

Most cooks I know have obsessions –  a particular brand of balsamico or olive oil, certain types of knives, particular tools that they adore, cookbooks. I must admit, I have them all. Cooking enables me to enjoy spoiling myself with things that are “useful” … and buy ingredients which I can share with others and make into delicious dishes.

I love going to grocery stores in new countries I visit – and hardware stores, in the cooking section – and see what gadgets or tools or special ingredients that are local to that place. They are the best things to bring home, because they ensure I have a sensual reminder of the place and space I have visited. Small pleasures, but they are the most important.

I have some things which have never left me, and which go along with me in my travels. I have lugged cookbooks on two week trips to friends, and have packed my favourite knife in my carry on luggage.

I thought that every now and then I would share a few of my favourite things with you because these special items are part of what defines my cooking philosophy.

My favourite cookbook of all time. The Frog Commissary Cookbook by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller, has inspired me for over 20 years. I first got it when I was in university, and its simple, clear writing style, and easy to follow recipes inspired me to cook with passion and creativity. Steven Poses had one of the first modern restaurants in Philadelphia, the Frog Commissary, and is a contemporary of Alice Waters from Chez Panisse on the West Coast. His food is not quite as local/natural as hers is, but it is delicious, divine, delectable.

Though I never got to go to the Frog Commissary, I have had this book since university days. Steven Poses now runs Frog Commissary Catering in Philadelphia, and has cooked for more than 15 million guests. When I first read this cookbook, I fell in love with its unique clever take on food.  Their ideas were so varied, their influences so wide ranging, and their ability to combine different ingredients into a magical special meal made me an instant fan. But it was the absolute specificity of the recipes, and the fact that you could try one and know it would come out perfectly, that had me for life.

I think I have gone through about six or seven copies of this book. I use each copy until it falls apart. For a while there, it was out of print, and I used to buy them wherever I found them (on ebay, 2nd hand bookstores) and hoard them like precious gold. My favourite recipes are either adapted from or inspired by the recipes in this book, and I never ever tire of reading their ideas and inspiration. The food here is very international, vegetarian friendly, and inspired.

I collect cookbooks and always have a couple at my bedside table to page through at night. However, if I had to pick just one cookbook to dream from, be inspired from, and cook from – this would be it.

I collect chef’s knives. I love the different types of knives and different brands – I read about the different approaches to shaping and creating a knife with respect to the art form that this truly is. When I finally had the money and the desire to start collecting my own knives, there was only one knife I wanted – a Sabatier. These knives are handmade in Thiers, France from a single piece of high carbon stainless steel. The blade and handle are a single piece of steel, so there is no risk of a blade divorcing a handle mid chop! The knives are hand forged, and have an unbelievable balance in the hand, and a wonderful almost instinctive slice. Their sharpness stays for ages, and they feel both delicate and strong in the hand. I love these knives, and this one, my 4 star elephant Sabatier is my absolute favourite. Its a bit larger than a paring knife, but not as huge as a big chef’s knife. Its large enough to tackle big jobs, sharp and sturdy enough to mince an onion in a few seconds, and comfortable enough in my hand so that I never ever feel tired when using it.

I have a lot of knives in my kitchen, but this is the only one I will not allow anyone else to use. Its “my” knife, and when I hold it in my hand, I feel confident in what I am doing – which of course is half the battle won!

I have two of these 4 star knives, and I use them every single day. I love them so much, there are no words. I found them on ebay, where you can get amazing deals for old Sabatier knives. Do your research first, though. You must know what you are getting, and where its from. There are a lot of fakes out there!

And finally, my favourite graters. I have tried all sorts – box graters, those crappy ones they sell at Ikea, grater attachments for food processors, etc etc etc. But nothing, nothing, nothing compares to Microplane. These graters were developed as plane tools for the woodworking industry. It was a woman, cooking in her own home, who nicked her husband’s new woodworking tool, who gave these tools their place in inspired herstory. Once you have tried a Microplane grater, you will not use anything else again, ever. Everything, from carrots to cheese to peel, grates smoothly, evenly, and easily. There is almost no effort needed to get stunning results. These three graters are the only thing I ever use for cheese, for grating vegetables, for mincing garlic and ginger, and for getting the peel off lemons and limes. I use them all the time, and though you do have to be careful with fingers (they are sooooooooooooo sharp!) these are indispensable.

So these are three tools which make me happy, and help me to be a better cook. Hope they give you ideas about what you are using in your own kitchen. If you have special tools, I would love to hear from you!

4 Responses to “Favourite Things”

  1. goddessmoments July 6, 2010 at 11:22 pm #

    Love this – the voyeur in me! Always fascinating to see what fuels and propels the passion in people 🙂

    • delectableblog July 6, 2010 at 11:53 pm #

      Goddess, I find as I get older, I get more specific and passionate about specific things. I can spend an entire evening online browsing cooking knife sites! Its like porn for me 😉 Its one of the pleasures of knowing oneself 🙂

  2. Afizah July 26, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Thank you for letting me have a snoop. Ashamedly, there are few things that I enjoy more than having a punggah of other people’s things. Fantastic stuff!
    I do have a thing about cookbook collections so I’d love to have an even closer peek at the titles you have…

    • delectableblog July 26, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

      Will do 🙂 Will try and get that as one of my list – but I have to be honest, my cookbook collection spreads all over my house! May be I will do a list of my favourite cook book authors 🙂

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