(Editors Note: It takes a bit of chutzpah to start telling people what kitchen gear to buy, but we will occasionally recommend gear that we think makes for better cooking and entertaining. This is the first of these posts.)
One of the guilty pleasures we have here at Putney Farm is watching the TV show Chopped on the Food Network. Basically, 4 (usually) skilled chefs make meals in very limited time, from somewhat random, surprise ingredients. They build a 3-course meal and a chef is “chopped” after each round until you get a winner. A bit contrived, but good family fun. Our kids love the show and it does occasionally provide some good cooking tips and ideas.
But whenever we watch Chopped I am consistently surprised how the chefs mess up on properly cooking meats and in assembling/cooking pastry. The chefs either don’t use or don’t have the right tools, they go by “feel”. Now I know they are under stress, but these chefs have the reps and still make mistakes. I do not mean to say they are bad cooks, far from it, but it does offer up a good lesson. If the best chefs can’t cook meat and pastry by “feel”, neither can most home cooks.
If you immediately want to be a better cook, buy and use a quality digital thermometer and a good digital scale. Use them. We use a Thermapen for exact temperature measurements on meat, pastry and candy. We also have a remote meat thermometer to track progress on in-oven cooking and BBQ, it is not as exact as the Thermapen but helps us with timing. Our digital scale is an indispensable tool for pastry and also for measuring spices in many dishes. Many modern cookbooks will now provide temperatures for doneness (and not just for meat and candy, but also pastry) and provide ingredients by weight, rather than volume. More and more, we find ourselves gravitating to these cookbooks and recipes. The dishes turn out better.
Like many foodies, we may want to show-off and do things by “feel”. But this is a cheap thrill. What most hosts really want to do is serve good food to family and friends. So put the ego aside and use good tools, starting with a thermometer and scale. Your meats will be cooked right and your desserts will rock. Your guests will thank you, and you will not get “chopped”…;-)