Day: January 15th, 2008

Slicing and dicing at the ICE

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008 | All Things, Classes

Two Christmases ago, I received a gift certificate to the Institute of Culinary Education in Chelsea, but it was not until this week that I finally was able to make use of it. Although I’d decided almost immediately on the particular class I wanted to take from among the 1700 Recreational Division offerings, the small class sizes made finding an open evening session that fit into my schedule a bit of a challenge. But at last, here I was.

ICE sign

As I waited for the session to begin, I checked out the Institute’s glass case exhibit of antique kitchen implements. The cookbooks and coffee mill I recognized, but a few of the other items…?

ICE display

Description of Knife Skills I:

Knowing how to use knives skillfully is critical for cooks, yet many people have never mastered proper technique. Similarly, good knives form the foundation of a well-equipped kitchen, yet even some accomplished home cooks don’t know how to select and care for them. In Knife Skills 1, you’ll use Wüsthof-Trident knives to slice, dice, and chop in the safest and most efficient manner. You’ll also learn the proper way to sharpen your knives.

Living on my own, I do a fair amount of cooking at home — which is perhaps not evident from this blog — so naturally, I’m no stranger to using knives in the kitchen. At least I was probably in a better position than one of my fellow students — dragged to tonight’s class by his girlfriend — who when quizzed about his home kitchen knife collection, sheepishly admitted, “I have a butter knife.” Up until now, I’d managed to get the necessary jobs done without causing any serious injury to myself or to others, but I’d always had the nagging suspicion that there were ways I could improve my technique.

Tonight’s class was led by chef-instructor Norman Weinstein, who has been teaching essential techniques for more than two decades. In addition to the four knife skills classes at ICE (from “Basics” to “Decorative Garnishes”), Weinstein leads two Chinese cooking classes (Sichuan and Cantonese). His book on Mastering Knife Skills is due out in March 2008.

Our group of 12 was made up of 6 men and 6 women tonight, which the instructor observed “almost never happens.” (It seems that these classes are overwhelmingly populated by females, so for any eligible bachelors who may be reading this, infer from that what you will.) After donning our white ICE aprons and name tags, we were set up at individual workstations laid out with a gleaming selection of Classic Wüsthof knives: chef’s knives, a utility knife and a paring knife.

The three hours we spent watching and learning to use the knives were an epiphany. According to Weinstein, the biggest mistakes people tend to make when using knives are using the wrong type of knife for the task, and handling the knife incorrectly. (Apparently, I’ve been guilty of both.) And where previously I’ve been hesitant to invest in any knife larger than 8 inches — small girl hands! — the 10 inch chef’s knife was a revelation. Weinstein put us through the paces halving a bagel, slicing up celery and carrots, then dicing potatoes and onions, mincing shallots and garlic, chopping herbs, and finally peeling. (Check out the tomato skin rose garnish — fancy!) Different techniques all, requiring different motions with the blade, which were not immediately obvious without specific instruction. But what an improvement!

ICE class

Also covered: knife sharpening (which is best left to the professionals) and blade honing with a misnomered “sharpening steel.” Check out Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” segment on sharpening vs. honing, which covers a lot of the same points.

Chefs can be rabidly devoted to their knives — this Times piece by the brothers Lee also happens to includes a photo of my instructor — and depending on whom you ask, it’s not necessary to invest in a pricey set of kitchen knives. But boy, are they nice to have around.

After a while, I could really appreciate the heft, balance and weight of the Wüsthof knives, and the easy rhythms of steady cutting action that, when mastered, became almost meditative. The biggest challenge was unlearning old (bad) habits, so admittedly, it was slow going at first, but after a while, the techniques began to gel. So while I still don’t know how to wield a knife like Hung, winner of Top Chef Season 3, I feel I’m on my way, slowly, surely, to getting all the pieces the same size. And isn’t that really the most important thing?

On the way out, lured by the warm, delicious smells, I peeked in on the baking class still in progress across the hall. The one downside to the knife skills class: no treats to take home afterwards… unless you count the errant flecks of shallot I found in my hair later that night.

ICE class

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The new color of Love?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008 | All Things

Remember how when we were growing up the green M&M’s were associated with special naughty powers? How do such random associations get started? Apparently, in this case, no one really knows. In my young mind, I always had traced the origins to the 1980s M&M’s “home run” commercial — “With the green ones, I take the ball dowwwntown!” – but it seems that such urban legends have been circulating around the country since the Disco era. In the mid-90s, Mars introduced the print and television “Is it true what they say about green ones?”-advertising campaign, unabashedly exploiting the candy’s sexy reputation, and in 1997 officially introduced Ms. Green, the first and only female M&M’s character.

In case you were wondering, there is absolutely no merit to the claim that the green ones have aphrodisiacal properties.

This Valentine’s Day, “the brand celebrates the myths, rumors and innuendo surrounding green M&M’S Chocolate Candies” by introducing these special limited edition “All Green” packets — sure to catch the eye amidst the sea of red and pink offerings.  The suggestively smiling mascot with her saucy “Sweetie… It’s all true” seems a tad risqué for a candy campaign, no?

Green M&Ms

Warning on package: “Consumption of The Green Ones may result in elevated Romance Levels. If you experience this effect, contact your Significant Other immediately. No official agency has verified these statements… but what do they know about romance anyway?”

As you can see, I picked up a bag anyway. I’ll take my chances.

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