Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing

Opened my eyes to many facets of charcuterie, including the chemistry of meat preparation and preservation. It’s well written, and lay people who are not professional cooks can easily understand it. Reading this book changed the way I think about my home cooking with regard to meat preparation. Contains many “Aha!” moments.

-- Tom Hess  

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing
Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn
2005, 320 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Preventing Trichinosis by Freezing

Trichinosis, a foodborne sickness caused by the larvae of the Trichenella worm in pork and wild game, was once common in the United States, mainly contracted by eating pork that hadn’t been thoroughly cooked. Today, pork is far less likely to carry the larvae than are wild game, and the disease is relatively rare. About 38 cases were recorded each year during the 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And since then, regulations in how pigs are fed, as well as increasingly informed consumers and the ease of freezing meat, have also contributed to the reduced incidence.
Nevertheless, trichinosis does exist, but preventing the remote possibility of its occurrence is easy, and in some cases a necessary precaution. Though many chefs who dry cure sausage consider freezing meat sacrilege, as a precaution, we recommend that pork that is to be dry cured (that is, not cooked) be frozen before using. The Centers for Disease Control says that pork less than 6 inches/15 cm thick can be frozen for 20 days at 5°F/-15°C or less to kill the trichinosis larva. The freezing time can be shortened by lowering the temperature to -10°F/-23°C (for 12 days) and -20°F/-30°C (for 6 days).




Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press

I’ve used this tool for about 10 years and it’s still going strong. It’s probably the best garlic press in the world. It’s constructed very robustly from stainless steel; it has an unusual lever-action which is far superior to the one-to-one action of most garlic presses; it opens up easily and is trivial to clean.

To see a demo, have a look at America’s Test Kitchen Equipment Review (below) where they come to the same conclusion.

But note that Kuhn Rikon have another garlic press called the Easy Squeeze, which is a lot cheaper. It has a slightly different action and plastic handles. It’s not nearly as good.

-- Stuart Wray  

Kuhn Rikon Epicurean Garlic Press

Available from Amazon

Tervis Tumbler Handles and Travel Lids

I have been using Tervis tumblers at the cabin to keep drinks cold on the pontoon for years but didn’t know they made a handle and cover for them. What an amazing add-on! Allows you to comfortably hold the tumbler without worrying about spillage or the tumbler slipping out of your hand.

Tervis tumblers are double-walled insulated and some with a lifetime guarantee. A great drinking “tool” made in America since 1946.


-- Mike Moroz  

Blendtec Home Blender

I’m tempted to say that this tool is a life changer, but I’m prone to exaggeration, so I’ll just say it’s a game changer. The game being that by mid-day I’m usually rolling with my writing or book layout and don’t like to take the time to make a decent lunch.

Enter the Blendtec and “green smoothies.” I combine greens plus fresh or frozen fruit, vitamins, protein powder, almonds, hemp seeds and whatever else I see around, turn on the Blendtec and have a delicious drink while working. I do it 2-3 times a week.

I’m getting fresh-from-garden raw greens — parsley (which is fragrant in drink), kale, chard, or lettuce, whatever looks good, plus fruit, protein, carbos, vitamins. There are tons of recipes for green smoothies. I use Gold Standard vanilla whey protein — good flavor, high protein (something like 55 grams in 2 scoops).

This is a big powerful machine and it can be used for any number of things. It’s nothing like the blenders most of us are familiar with. In addition to smoothies, you can chop, juice, grind grain, and make soup or ice cream.

I got it for $400 from Amazon. Expensive, but high quality, highly useful, long lasting.

Here’s a comparison between the Blendtec and the other super blender, the VitaMix. You can also do a search for “Blendtec vs. VitaMix” in Google for more comparisons.

-- Lloyd Kahn  

Blendtec Home Blender

Available from Amazon

Prep Master Cutting Block

My wife and I have been using these cutting boards (we actually have two side by side) for about a year now.

What makes them so great is that you can scrape your scraps — peels etc. — in to a hole in the front of the cutting board, below which is a metal tray. When that metal tray is full you can simply pull it out, carry it to the garbage, and throw everything in. It’s so much easier than either picking up all your peels off the cutting board and carrying them (often dripping) to the garbage, or else picking up the whole cutting board and tipping whatever is on top in to the garbage. There’s also a groove around the whole board, so whatever liquids end up on the board end up in the groove, which channels them in to the metal tray.

It’s superior to other cutting boards because a) it’s a thick, heavy board that’s going to last a lifetime and b) it’s got the removable tray. Lots of people comment on how well designed it is.

-- Julian Humphreys  

John Boos Newton Prep Master Reversible 18″ Square Cutting Board with Juice Groove and Pan

Available from Amazon

Starbucks Reusable Cup

My wife and I have been using these Starbucks reusable cups for a couple of months now. My wife takes tea with her everyday to work, in addition to the occasional Starbucks run throughout the week. I use mine much less, but still, I bought one so that I could use it if I wanted to.

So, why am I willing to carry around the Starbucks logo with me when I walk from my home to my studio in a town that doesn’t even have a Starbucks?

Well, first off, the price is right: $1. I know the pundits have said that people are terrible at reusing things and that people are going to be buying these by the score. If that’s you, if your stuff routinely ends up buried in a pile of fast food detritus in the back seat foot well of your car, then this is probably not the wisest investment. But I’m pretty careful with my stuff, even something as easily replaced as a $1 plastic cup.

Second, it’s trim and well-designed. Other than the logo, (which could probably be removed with some acetone (nail-polish remover) it’s a clean white form, and it is clearly very highly engineered. This isn’t just a toss-off. Starbucks has clearly invested time and thought into getting this thing right. It looks like the paper cups they use in the stores, but there are subtle differences that make this cleaner, and it has good hand- and mouth-feel. It’s not garish like some of those Nalgene or aluminum water bottles, and it’s BPA free, so that’s nice. Pretty top-shelf for a buck! It fits into your cup holder easily, and I’ve even used it with piping hot water in it for tea, and it doesn’t burn the hand like the paper cups do.

I saw some noise on the Internet about it falling apart after a month or so of use, but that hasn’t been our experience. Granted, we’ve only had them a few months, but they’ve been through the dishwasher a few times (though we usually hand wash because we don’t run the machine every day and my wife needs her daily tea!) and they still look brand-new.

I can’t remember the last time I was this pleased with a purchase that wasn’t hundreds of dollars.

Full Disclosure: my sister-in-law works for Starbucks as an interior designer, but since the only benefit we get from that is a pound of coffee in our Christmas stocking, I think it’s safe to say I’m not unduly biased towards the company.

-- Kurt Ankeny  

Starbucks Reusable Cup
$1 at Starbucks locations

ROK Espresso Maker

Over the years, I have tried many different ways to make coffee, from cowboy percolators to French press carafes to Chemex drippers. As I’ve moved through the years, however, the reduced acids of espresso have attracted me, and I happily settled on espresso for my java.

If you have tried conventional espresso machines, you are familiar with the grinding, the hissing, and the pumping that accompanies every cup. With the advent of the ROK espresso maker, all that goes away. With this truly portable device, now that perfect shot of espresso can be had wherever there is hot water — at the office, at your campsite, or just in the peace and quiet of your own kitchen!

Every morning, I use a Porlex hand grinder to reduce my beans of choice to fine fragments while my water comes to a boil. As the cylinder preheats, I am entranced by the curl of steam rising past the connection arms. Slowly raising the arms allows the water to drift past the plunger, and I gently press to heat the portafilter and my cup. Although it wasn’t designed for the task, the bottom of the Porlex works very well to tamp the grounds into the portafilter, and I’m ready for my espresso. Refilling the cylinder and raising the arms once again, I quietly and firmly press a perfect double shot of espresso!

On those days when milk is desired, the ROK comes with a hand-pumped milk frother. Although you can get your beverage hotter by frothing warm milk, you’ll find the foam is denser if you froth cold milk before heating it in the microwave.

Cleaning the ROK takes very little effort. For the most part, a quick rinse is all that’s necessary. Though some users will let it drip-dry, the ROK should be toweled unless you don’t mind water spots.

There are many alternatives on the market, and a devoted aficionado could easily spend $3000 for a high quality machine. Although they will all give you an excellent cup of espresso, they share two shortcomings: They all must be plugged in, and they all make noise.

With the ROK, the whole brewing process, start to finish, takes less than 10 minutes. Ten quiet, meditative minutes before I launch into the day!

Disclosure: I have happily owned and used the Presso, the earlier version of the ROK, for more than a year.

-- Conan Cocallas  

[Here's a 90-second video introduction to the ROK espresso maker. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Manufactured by ROK

OXO adjustable measuring cup

OXO has a serious presence in my kitchen, but the one- and two-cup adjustable measuring cups I added four months ago might be the last items I would sell. They are darned near perfect.

I’ve used other plunger-and-sleeve style adjustable measuring cups, and they were great for measuring odd quantities or volumes without using several different-sized cups (or one size several times), but sticky or oily stuff got in between the plunger and the sleeve, making reuse impossible without stopping to disassemble and clean the cup.

OXO has taken a page from the AeroPress coffee maker and solved this problem by using a similar gasket on the end of the plunger that seals against the sleeve and pushes the measured item out. The plunger rides in helical grooves in the sleeve, so one twists to adjust the measurement or eject the measured item. This makes additive measurements of a second item easy and allows more controlled ejection, too.

The grooves stop short of the extent that would allow you to pull the plunger from the bottom of the sleeve, ensuring that the gasket wipes the sleeve. End result: the only part you usually wash is the gasket itself.

The sleeve is marked in multiple units, with one set for liquid measure and one set for dry; the latter assumes some empty space at the top, great for coarse items, lightweight flours — and shaky hands.
These fulfill OXO’s stated mission of not just reproducing tools, but finding ways of improving the functionality by a noticeable amount.

-- Pierce Presley  

OXO Good Grips 2-Cup Adjustable Measuring Cup

Available from Amazon

Bamboo Wok Brush

I use well-seasoned cast iron and carbon steel pans for the better part of my cooking. To clean them, I’ve used the same bamboo wok brush than I bought at a corner market in Sacramento in 1990. I’ve been thinking of buying a new one, just so I can phase it in over a few years while I slowly retire the original. It only takes a few swishes around the inside of the pan with hot water (no soap!) and a rinse to clean a pan. In the time I’ve been using it on my iron and steel pans, including the wok I use occasionally, I’ve gone through countless sponges, scotch-brite pads, and those looped-plastic scrubbies that I use on stock pots etc., all of which get pretty hinky once put into use and have to be run through the dishwasher to get free of food particles. It also looks dignified and fine sitting on the countertop by the sink, has just gotten more seasoned, and never needs more than a rinse to get clean. The edges of the cane bristles are pretty blunted by now and a new one might work better for attacking the occasional nuclear cooking mess. On the other hand, it’s gentle enough on the built-up seasoning in my pans that they keep getting non-stickier and shed scorched cheese like schmutz on teflon.

The brush I bought way back when has flat bristles, about 11 inches long by 3/16 wide, and stouter than most of the wok brushes I’ve seen recently in Asian groceries. I can’t imagine that there’s been much innovation in wok brush technology in the last 3000 years, but quality is probably inconsistent on an item like this, even from the same seller. Unless you have access to Asian markets and can shop around while you’re out making your weekly durian run, Amazon has a variety to choose from, all about $7.50 with shipping. The Wok Shop seems to be reputable, but it might be prudent to order a few just in case yours only lasts as long as a good hamster.

-- Brian Garber-Yonts  

Bamboo Wok Brush

Available from Amazon

Ra Chand Citrus Press

Living in Southern California, we have an abundance of citrus nearly year round — lemons, limes, kumquats, grapefruits, and more. I also have a household of beverage enthusiasts, from my kids who love to make lemon-, lime-, etc. -ades, or “kid drinks” as they call them, to my wife and I who are crazy about cocktails, flips, fizzes, and sours. This is why I graduated from my fine, but slow, hand juicer, to the monstrous, restaurant-calibre Ra Chand J210 Bar Juicer. It makes quick, efficient work of juicing tons of citrus. Rather than dread all the labor, I’m now happy to juice enough fruit to make a full pitcher of Ginger Limeonade with my kids to sell in their DIY juice stand.

The Ra Chand is dead simple. No motors or fragile plastic parts to break — in fact it only has six parts, made of cast aluminum, plus a wire return spring and a few bolts. The mechanical advantage it provides is tremendous. With its long lever and offset pivots, even my six-year-old daughter can use it to easily squeeze a half-lemon dry. The Ra Chand is big enough for me to juice a medium grapefruit — when I have a larger-sized one to contend with I quarter it (and secretly wish I had the even-larger model, the J500).

The straining cone (which looks like a half beehive) allows juice and the occasional small seed through, but very little pulp. This is also due to the fact that pressing (rather than twisting like a motorized juicer) bursts the cells of the fruit, but doesn’t shred the membranes.

If I have one complaint it is that the juicer can be tipped forward easily until you get the hang of pulling the lever down, not down-and-toward-yourself. I’ve gotten used to this, but I do hold onto the base when my kids use it to avoid a mess.

In all, the Ra Chand is hands-down the best citrus juicer I’ve used. I appreciate its size, speed, power, ruggedness, and simplicity. I imagine it’ll be in our family for many years, hopefully providing juice for generations.

Ra Chand J210 Bar Juicer

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Ra Chand

Sample Excerpts: