Cut food costs!
Slice your food budget!
Whether your supermarket lops off excess prices as advertised, slicing and cutting can literally save money for the person who cooks at home. The knife is an invaluablle aid in stretching food to serve more persons, or to change the form and shape of leftovers so they may reappear with dignity at the dinner table.
It is no real trick to take a menu that woul ordinarily be served to two persons and make it adequate for four.
Begin with our newest luxury food, lettuce. To make a first-course salad, shred half a small head in-stead of cutting it into two wedges. Garnish with thin slices of half a green pepper and curls cut from half a raw carrot. Toss with a vinaigrette dressing and garnish with a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley.
You don't need individual 12-ounce steaks. Broil a 24-ounce sirloin (or one of 20 ounces) and slice it into thin strips. Cut two Idaho potatoes into slices or cubes. Parboil the pieces briefly, then saute them in butter or oil as the steak cooks. Cut away the flowerets from a single stalk of broccoli. Peel and cut the base into 2-inch julienne pieces. Steam the pieces for 5 minutes, then add the flowerets and contine cooking until just tender.
For dessert, take two "normal" slices of pie or cake and cut them in half. Or section a single grapefruit or two oranges and toss the sections with a sweet wine or a liqueur and portion into small dishes or bowls.
This is only an example. The point is: Food served whole or in solid pieces almost always comes in portions that are larger than necessary. The chinese, whose culture has not had the plentiful supply of food available in this country, have shown us a myriad of dishes in which less becomes more when ingredients are reduced to bite-size.
All this cutting takes time, of course. But in this case time is money, literally, and there is a bonus in this approach. Your family and friends will eat less - the only truly effective diet - but won't really notice it. There is no need for smaller plates or appetite suppressants.
Some cooks have food processors or blenders to do some knife work for them. (Remember, however, that food has to be cut up in order to fit into these conveniences.) But unless the cook is to be helpless in the kitchen when the electricity fails, some knowledge of knives and cutting techniques is essential. It wasn't until about 1600 that men in Western Europe stopped using their daggers as food tools and settled for table knives. Kitchen knives evolved slowly, too, mostly because of a lack of technology.
Until quite recently, professional cooks insisted on using carbon steel knives, which take an edge easily and therefore cut very well. They rust just as easily, however, and usually need to be sharpened before each use. They aren't in most home kitchens because knife salesmen assume that homemakers, preoccupied with other duties, will resent or resist performing the required constant care. Constantly washing a knife wiping it dry and restarpening it is a boring chore.
But home cooks are wrong in wanting to stick their cutting knives into a dish washer or to soak them. It distorts the temper of the blade and can loosen the handle. They are wrong, too, in wanting knives they never have to sharpen. Knives you don't have to sharpen are very hard, but never really sharp.
Knives should be cleaned without the use of scuring pads and wiped dry from the spine - not from the blade side - with a towel. They should be sharpened before or after each usage. They should be stored in racks, not kept loose in a drawer. Excellent sharpening steels are available and a small, inexpensive, highly efficient ceramic tool called the Zip-Zap is sold in mosst cookware stores.
All this is worth consideration by even the casual cook because technology has now produced a brand of stainless steel with a high carbin content. This blade cuts well, but doesn't rust. It sharpens easily.
Also, a new era of concerned cooks has made it chic to choose knives (and other kitchen implements) for their usefulness rather than to suit a recorator's concept of the matching kitchen. Avoid matched sets of stainless steel knives with carved plastic handles. Avoid knives where the tang the link between the blsde and handle is not the same width as the top of the blade.
It is easy to become a collector of knives, so varied are they in size shape and function. Most experts feel a French chefs knife of medium size (7-inch blade) and a paring knife are essential. To that add a 9-inch chef's knife for large-scale cutting and chopping, a serrated knife for cutting knife and a vegetable peeler. Consider buying a large slicing knife and cleaver as well. (Oriental cleaners, a wide-bladed and a narrow, form a tansem that some cooks say is all they need.)
The differences in price between carbon steel and high-carhon, forged stainless are considerable. A 3-inch carbon steel knife costs about $5.25. In high-carbon stainless it could be $13. For the 9-inch chef's knife, the comparison is $16.50 against $33. For an $40. While knife prices can become outlandish, persons not willing to care for carbon steel should not try to save money by buying knifes of mildding quality and price.
Once you take a knife in hand, make sure it is sharp. There is general agreement that dull knives ate more dangerous than sharp ones because so much more force and pressur is needed to make them do the job.
Next, practice several basic techniques. First, cut through rounded foods such as onions to provide a flat surface, or cut the base from a tomato you intend to slice. Always place that surface on the board and cut toward it.
Both hands play important parts in knife usage. The right-handed person should wrap that hand around the blade when chopping, but extend a finger along the top or side of the blade to act as a guide when slicing.
The fingers of the left hand are used to position the food. Fold the nails under and position them on the food (see drawing). That leaves the knuckle and second joint exposed to guide the side of the blade as you slice. The piece of food can be pushed forward from the rear by the thumb. Move the fingers back gradually to define the width of each slice, never raising the cutting edge of the blade above the level of the knockles. In this way you are able to obtain even slices and the finger tips survive unbloodied.
Slice across an onion half, positioning the stem end away from the blade. To dice the onion, make a series of vertical slices of the width desired in toward (but not through) the stem. Turn the onion and slice into the side, horizonally, at the width desired. Turn back to the original position and slice down through the onion at right angles to the vertical cuts.
This will produce a dice, which may be used as is or chopped further. Chopping or mincing is best accomplished free-style. Holding the tip of the knife and using the handle in the fashion of a paper-cutter is effective. Some cooks rock the knife back and forth. A few use only one hand and pretend they Errol Flynn.
It's not difficult to master the usage, although only constant practice will give you the speed and dexterity of a professional chef. Here are some recipes on practice with and to stretch the food budget.
LEFTOVER PORK SKILLET
(4 servings) 1/2 pound cooked pork, cubed 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, sliced 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced 4 medium fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped 6 large basil leaves, or 1 tea-spoon dried basil Pinch sugar Freshly groung pepper and salt to taste Hot pepper flaskes (optional)
Heat oil, saute onions and celery until just softened. Add garlic. As it begins to brown, add tomatoes, 4 basil leaves (minced), sugar, pepper and salt. As tomatoes give off juice, mash. When mixture reaches sauce consistency, add pork. Stir in, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish with remaining basil leaves in shreds. CHICKEN HASH (4 servings) 2 cups chopped cooked potatoes 11/2 cups chopped cooked chicken 4 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup chopped onion 1/4 cup chopped green pepper 1/4 to 1/3 cup heavy cream Salt and pepper to tastle 1/2 teaspoon thyme 2 dashes cayenne
Melt butter and saute onion and green pepper until soft. Add potatoes chicken, cream and seasonings. Stir together into a pattie and steam, covered until well heated. Remove cover, lift pattie and turn. Brown second side, adding additional butter if needed. Cut into portions and serve with catsup or chutney on the side. SWISS CHEESE SALAD (4 servings) 1/2 pound Swiss cheese, half cubed and the other half grated 1/4 cup bomemade mayonnaise Salt and pepper to taste Nutmeg to taste Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Prepare cheese. Make dressing with mayonnaise and spices. Toss mayonnaise with cubes and place on plates or, if you can afford it, lettuce leaves. Top with shredded cheese. Serve as a first course. ORANGES A L'ORANGE 3 navel oranges 1/2 cup water 1/3 cup Grenadine syrup 3/4 cup granulated sugar
With a vegetable peeler cut zest from two oranges. Cut into fine shreds. Peel the oranges and cut away the sections. In a saucepan mix water, Grendine and sugar. When the mixture, is well combined and boiling, add the-or-ange Peel. Summer for 5 minutes and let cool in the syrup. Pour cooled syrup over orange sections in a bowl and chill. Reserve peel.
To serve, spoon oranges into individual bowls and scatter candied peel atop each portion.