4 Things That Helped Me Cook Better Stir-Fry

wok

Want to cook stir-fry like the kind you get at a typical Chinese restaurant? You can. Just a few things to keep in mind before you start.

1. Get a wok. Now not just any wok will do. You can spend a lot of money on one, get a cast-iron or non-stick… but none of those are needed. The cast-iron ones are too heavy to handle once they’re hot and the non-stick ones will never get hot enough to actually sear the food. You want a carbon steel wok. You can find one online or in a store for as little as $14.99 and it will do the job! Just read the instructions first. You’ll spend about an hour after you first get your wok to season it with heat and oil. Then you’re set.

2. Clean your wok with oil and salt. Pour about a tablespoon of canola oil in the wok and sprinkle in some kosher salt. It will resemble a paste. Then scrub it with a paper towel. Don’t ever use soap to clean it. Rub out the salt but leave some of the oil, which helps it develop a great coating.

3. Let the wok heat up well before cooking. Add some oil. [good fat is not bad]

4. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Put too much meat or vegetables in the pan at once and you will steam them instead of searing them.

Here’s a couple of bonus tips: I always prefer using fresh veggies to stir-fry. Frozen will work, but it helps to steam them first before putting in the wok. Don’t be afraid to pick up a bottle of pre-made stir-fry sauce from the grocery store. They really work and taste pretty good. Once you get the hang of the cooking part, then experiment with different sauce recipes.

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Knives (Guest Post)

Every meal that I prepare begins in the same place, at the cutting board. I love to prep the meal by cutting, chopping, and dicing all the ingredients I will need before I ever turn on the oven or stove. The cooking process is so much smoother and faster when you don’t have to stop and chop veggies between steps.

Morimoto's Knives

I place great stock in the knives that I use and take great care of them. Get a good knife, treat it properly, and it will have a very long life. If you don’t treat your knives well, it doesn’t matter what quality of knife you buy, they will not last you. Top of the line knives can dull, pit, or rust from misuse (even stainless steel, don’t be fooled). So, if you’re looking for ways to care for your knives, here are a few tips from my kitchen to yours.

First, make sure you have an appropriate cutting board. Wood or plastic are the two best options out there as they are softer, providing more give against your knife and therefore doing less damage to the sharpened blade. If you have a board made out of a hard surface with no give (glass, marble, stone), get rid of it! Contact with a cutting board is the most frequent cause of a dull blade.

Even if you are careful about your blade and cutting surface, your knife will dull in time. You will need to sharpen your blade with some regularity as your knives begin to dull. I cannot recommend a specific timeline for this as everyone uses their knives with different levels of regularity. The picture below shows an extreme example of wear on a knife. The knives are from Iron Chef Morimoto’s restaurant. The top knife is new and the bottom is one that has been used for three years.

If you notice your knife start to dull or if you feel yourself using more force to cut an object, please make sure and sharpen your knife (Many knife companies will even sharpen your knives for you if you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself!).

Finally, washing and storing your knives are important. NEVER wash your knives in the dishwasher. The heat and abrasive chemicals will damage your knives faster than any other method. Instead, hand wash your knives directly after each use with warm water, mild dish soap, and a soft sponge. Dry them directly after and store them. store them either in a drawer or a knife block. If you store them in a drawer, it is best to leave them in their sheath. When using a sheath, though, make sure it is not leather, as leather will hold moisture which can pit your blade. Storing your knives in a knife block is the best option, and I tend to recommend standard wooden knife blocks.

If you follow these simple steps to caring for your knives, your knife set should last you a long time.

Happy chopping!
Danny Bennett

Coffee. It All Starts With The Beans

coffeebeans

Good coffee begins with good beans. The owner of Buddy Brew, a local coffee shop in Tampa, taught me the difference between Robusta and Arabica beans. You want to buy and use Arabica beans. Trust me. Guess who uses Robusta? Folgers, Maxwell House and other big, commercial and inexpensive coffee companies. Why? Because the beans are cheaper and they have a higher caffeine content. What’s the biggest downside? 1. It will make you more jittery  2. They’re more acidic, so you’re more prone to stomach aches and 3. You will have a bigger crash after the caffeine wears off. Read the label.

The next important thing is to buy whole beans and grind them yourself. It adds 30 seconds to your process and a lot more flavor. Most coffee websites recommend a burr grinder. You can find an inexpensive one that will last like this one. Blade grinders will work and cost less, but it’s best to grind your beans consistent (and only a burr grinder can do that).

Scoop the ground coffee into your french press. Yes, use a french press. If you’ve never used one before you will thank me. It will taste better than anything you’ve ever had from a drip coffee maker. You can spend a little or a lot. I’d start with one of these from Bodum. You can find them at Target. I have a coffee scoop, but go for about 1 TB spoon per cup of coffee you’re making (8 oz.).

Use filtered water if you can and heat it in a tea kettle. You want it to come to almost boiling, but not quite. Pour over your coffee grounds. Stir a few times around with a long spoon.

Leave cover off while it’s steeping.

Set a timer for 4-5 minutes. Test it it for your preference. Don’t go longer than that or it will get bitter.

Plunge your coffee. Pour into coffee mugs. Enjoy!

And just for fun… if you think this sounds expensive. Let’s pretend you stop by Starbucks at least 3 days a week for coffee. That’s roughly $8 / week x 52= $416. French press = $30. Grinder = $50. Good quality coffee beans = $12 / pound (good for about 14 cups) = $312 / year (you can find less expensive, quality beans too). Total would be $400 / year for more coffee and better tasting than stopping by Starbucks.