All You Need – Kitchen Knives

I’m not a gourmet, nor a foodie, and definitely not a chef. I cook. And I enjoy cooking. It’s probably my favorite hobby and I wish more people enjoyed it.

One thing that always drives me nuts is how complicated people want to make it. “I spent three days finding the perfect tomato” and “I can’t do that withing gizmo X, I must get one” and so on. Take knives. The other day I was flipping through Chefs Catalog and saw a 36 knife & block set! Thirty six! You have to be kidding me.

To be fair, every hobby has this problem. I see it in woodworking. I see it in metal working. Cycling. You name it. I can’t do this until I get that. Those people are called tool collectors. They keep buying things for their kitchen/shop/bike but never actually cook/build anything. Don’t be a tool collector!

I’ve done the “buy expensive knives” thing. The forged ice hardened stuff. The Japanese giant made by sword smiths. Nice knives. But not so good for everyday use.  Here’s what you really need for everyday, home cooking:

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From top to bottom:

  • Joyce Chen cleaver. It has a thin blade, but hefty enough to go through bone easily. Also great for smashing stuff. Do not bother with an expensive, bulky, forged cleaver. You can’t sharpen them properly and a cleaver should be sharp.
  • Scalloped knife. For cutting meat, bread, cakes, whatnot. Get a good one, as they are hard to sharpen.
  • Dexter chef’s knife. About $25 of stamped steel goodness. 8″.
  • Victorinox chef’s knife. Almost identical to the Dexter, but a more comfortable handle.
  • Santuko knife. Not required, but I like a non-rocking blade for some uses.
  • Cheap OXO 4″ chef’s knife. A good stamped utility knife. I used mine so much I broke the plastic handle and replaced it with a homemade wood version.
  • Paring knife. This is a better brand, but cheap is fine, too.

Why two chef’s? Not really required, but I find it handy, especially when working with meat and veggies. I use the green handle for veggies only, black for anything. It helps me prevent cross-contamination. The Santuko isn’t really needed, but it’s a knife I like, and holds a good edge.

Here is the secret sauce: Get the $25 stamped chef’s knife. And keep it damn sharp. These cheap knives keep an excellent edge and are super easy to sharpen. If they break, who cares? If you take off too much metal, who cares? They are also very easy to clean and can take a beating. There’s a reason why you see stamped knives in restaurant kitchens. You’ll see that there are only two forged knives in my lineup — the Santuko and Paring. That’s because I had them already and they are good knives. You do not need a forged paring knife. In fact, I’d recommend against it. Get a Dexter or Victorinox or something similar. The best source for these is either Amazon or your local restaurant supply house (GFS, ACE, etc). The Dexter is made in the USA.

You must be nuts, Ron! An expensive knife cuts/feels/works better! Bullshit. Expensive knives scare me. Why? Because I’m afraid I’m going to screw up the edge! Maybe that’s just my hangup, but I’d rather screw up a $25 knife than my $250 Masahiro. Either way, a sharp knife works better. Period. And for that you need one of these:

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It’s an AccuSharp knife sharpener and is the perfect mate for stamped knives. Put away your $200 electric sharpener. Put away the sharpening stones. Just get this $9 sharpener. Yes, $9. And it will last for ages. And it’s made in the USA.

You run it along the length of the blade a couple of times, wipe the residue with a wet paper towel, then dry the knife. Done. It takes about a minute to get the blade razor sharp. Because it’s a pretty aggressive sharpener, I mostly use it on stamped knives, where metal loss is less of a concern. I sharpen everything about weekly, but I cook a lot. How good is the AccuSharp? My fancy (and very nice) electric sharpener sits in a cabinet, unused. I only break it out if I need to hone some special knives.

You’ll also notice no knife block. I have one, but it holds my specialty knives that I might use once a year. I don’t like blocks because they are germ and grease collectors. Get a magnetic knife holder and mount it somewhere handy. Mine is right above the sink, so super easy to get at knives, and high enough to keep them away from kids/cats.

If you don’t believe my ranting, take the 30 day challenge. Get a good $30 chef and a $10 paring knife from your local restaurant supply house. Get the AccuSharp. Try it out and compare to the $150 forged knife you have in the knife block. At the least, you’ll be out $50. At the best, you’ll understand why I love sharp stamped cooking knives.

 

A good deal on all three of their sharpeners from Amazon:

 

Try out this knife, also from Amazon:

High Anxiety

Eons of evolution has gifted us with an excellent fight-or-flight response system. As with all animals, we’re quickly able to identify a potentially hazardous situation and move on it quickly, by dumping a plethora of hormones into the bloodstream. When you are living in the wild, this is life saving. When living in the modern world, it’s a source of ongoing anxiety.

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To over-generalize, I’ve seen two main types of anxiety. Life-long and event-triggered. And a mixture of the two. Phobias generally fit into the life-long category. While acute (though potentially long lasting) anxiety is a state caused by a significant life changing event (death, divorce, illness).

Anxiety and depression can pop “out of the blue” for a lot of people. And there is always a root cause. Many will go through a tough life event with flying colors, only to find that several months down the road they feel down, uptight, and out of control. There’s a simple reason for this: during the event you’re using up all the available dopamine in your brain. After the event, your brain is left in a state of too little “happy hormone” and a body that has OD’d on it. This is perfectly normal and can be treated with various techniques, including medication.

If you are dealing with anxiety, or think you might be, I have a couple of recommendations which have helped me greatly.

First, get a copy of “The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne. It’s an excellent book which covers just about everything you need to know about the subject. Some particular items I found most helpful:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is highly effective in helping figure out your anxiety. A key element of CBT is that it focuses on fixing the problem now, by giving you tools to help overcome your anxiety and/or phobias. It’s designed to be a short duration therapy, so you might have ten or twelve sessions, versus years of psychotherapy.
  • Progression Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique to achieve deep relaxation, without the religious overtones of meditation. This is a five to thirty minute process where you tense and relax different muscle groups. This is easiest done with a script, audio being best (link to a free Android app is below).
  • Coping with Panic Attacks. This is a very helpful chapter to help you deal with those most dreaded of events, the panic attack.

Second, get a copy of “You Can’t Afford The Luxury of a Negative Thought” by Peter McWilliams. This book is more “self-helpy” and focuses a lot of people with acute illnesses. However, it is choke full of helpful techniques to deal with anxiety provokers. Each chapter is pretty short, only a couple of pages, so you can work through the book at your own pace, or flip around. For my personality, I found these sections to be very useful:

  • You Don’t Have To Do Anything
  • Don’t Worship The God of Other People’s Opinions
  • Commitments
  • If You’re Not Actively Involved in Getting What You Want, You Don’t Really Want It

Both of these books discuss following a healthy lifestyle. That means, you guessed it, exercise and better eating. The book “Eat To Live” by Joel Fuhrman is very popular right now and has some great general concepts you should follow. It stresses weight loss, and has a lot of “why this is” stuff — but the most helpful portion of the book, for me, was Chapter 8 – Your Plan For Substantial Weight Reduction. If anything, take the book out from the library and photocopy those 25 or so pages.

Third, talk to you doctor. I hope you have a good one. If you don’t, get a better one. Have a frank discussion of what you are going through. Medication may be necessary, especially after life changing events (it can take up to two years for your dopamine levels to get back to normal). I’ve found that the best doctors recommend a holistic approach, including:

  • Dietary changes (if necessary). Eat better — eat healthy.
  • Exercise frequently (aerobic).
  • Read up and understand your condition. You aren’t alone!
  • Practice relaxation techniques.
  • Schedule some CBT if you can afford it. Many health plans cover it.
  • Medicate as necessary. It can make a world of difference and give you a jump start to overcoming anxiety.
  • Commit to getting better.
  • Do not rule out anything that will help to improve your life. Quit your job. Get a pet. Move away.

Here are some Amazon links to the books I recommend, along with a link to RelaxMe, a simple Android app that will walk you through PMR.

Great News From Austin Pets Alive

Got this e-mail from APA. So glad that they were able to save so many at-risk animals. Four of our kittens are from APA.

Our continued partnership with the Austin Animal Center has resulted in another year of a no kill Austin!  Below are the numbers of animals saved in each category in the past year:

Total Cats:  3733
Total Dogs:  3269
Bottle Baby Kittens:  2068
Parvo Puppies:  474
PASS:  272 animals kept out of the shelter system and about 6200 families assisted

THANK YOU for your support in 2012 – we are excited to look to the future and another successful year of lifesaving work in 2013!

Kitty Treats


Our cats like the old standby treats, like Temptations, but we wanted to get them something more savory and natural.

Our friend Sharon introduced us to the Beefeaters Freeze Dried Salmon for cats. The cats love the crunchy salmon; just break into marble sized bits and watch them chow down. It’s funny watching them grab a piece in their mouths then run away to chow down in peace. You can find this brand at the local pet stores (Amazon doesn’t stock them).

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While looking for an alternative treat, I ran across Cat-Man-Doo brand Bonito flakes. These are dried papery thin fish flakes. Very airy, but full of fish flavor. The kittens LOVE this stuff. I sprinkle some on a tray and they go nuts. To the point that they are fighting each other to get the last scraps! Talk about licking the bowl clean!

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Either of these are great, healthy, treats for your cats. They are so tasty that I’d recommend them if you are trying to train a cat. Even our super-shy Samantha will climb on my leg to get her treat. The Bonito flakes are that good.

Available at Amazon. I just got two, and one is half gone. But I spoil my kits.

Link to Amazon:

(The product is “sold by” a couple of different stores, but fulfilled by Amazon. So you get your Prime. Arrived fresh and in good shape.)

 Update: There is now a cheaper option. Head over to your local Japanese Grocery Store.

Nexus News Readers

I’ve been installing and playing around with a couple of news readers for Android / Nexus. Google News is fine, but I’m more of an article guy. And, frankly, the breaking news is usually pretty darn depressing.

I’ve done Flipboard, which is pretty good. Installed News360 and was disappointed (clunky). And I have no desire to install an individual app for each newspaper / content provider.

Early on, I tried Google Currents, but wasn’t overwhelmed with it. But not anymore. The newest versions they have rolled out are fantastic. Easy to browse. Lots of content. And nicely formatted for the 7″ display (except for a couple of sites–I’m talking to you, Huffington).

Some of my favorite subscriptions: Daily Beast, Christian Science Monitor, Huffington, Slate, Onion (videos only), Independent, Saveur, Fast Company, Harvard Business Review, Scientific American, and Mental Floss. There are a ton more which I need to explore.

All in all, Google Currents is the only news reader you need to use. And it’s included on every Nexus. For free. If you haven’t used it recently, grab the latest version and give it a try. It will give you your news fix in a really polished format.