equipment

Chopstick manners

The other day I was having lunch at one of the Asian-fusion restaurants in Zürich with a (non-Asian) friend. At one point, he speared a piece of chicken with one chopstick, brought it to his mouth and pried it off with his teeth. I must have a strange expression on my face, because he looked at me and asked me what was wrong.

Of course he did not know that in Japan, what he just did would be considered to be terribly rude, in the same way that someone who didn't grow up in Europe might not know about not putting your elbows on the table. I explained this to him, and he sort of snorted and said "well why don't you write a guide to chopstick manners on your site then!"

So, here it is: A guide to chopstick etiquette, Japanese style.

I've had my Wii Fit now for almost a month (it was released in April here in Europe). I know it's not directly related to food, but since a lot of people who visit Just Hungry are interested in fitness and weight loss, I thought I'd share my thoughts about it after using it for some time, especially since it just became available this week in the U.S. (Besides, way more people are likely to read it here than on my sporadically updated personal blog.)

Incidentally, I've written about the Wii as a fitness device previously on my personal blog, focusing on Wii Sports. In a nutshell I was not convinced that playing Wii Sports would do much to improve your fitness.

So, what about Wii Fit then?

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A few readers have emailed me recently about rice cookers by coincidence. So I thought I would put my answers here for everyone's benefit.

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I'm a week late in reading this, but last week's article in the NY Times by Mark Bittman about a low frills kitchen for $200 really reminded me how our cooking choices are influenced by our culinary heritage. In other words, I would not have made the choices he did in a lot of cases.

For instance he says that you need some expensive burner kit to 'properly' use a wok, so you might as well forget it. A decent wok was the first thing I bought for myself when I was starting out on my own was a decent wok from a local Chinese kitchen supply shop, and it worked fine on my regular issue gas range. Another thing I also got was an inexpensive rice cooker like this one (which you may note costs less than his totally extraneous vegetable cutter gadget). I may not have made rice 'twice daily', which he says is your criteria for purchasing a rice cooker, but I relied on it all the time, especially for making my own bento lunches which saved me tons of money in the long run.

Three steel bowls? One that's big enough to handle most tasks is fine. If you need to lay out ingredients or something you can use your dinnerware (which I still do when I run out of bowls and such.) 3 different frying pans? I just had a small one, and the wok, which is much more useful than multiple frying pans. I still only own three frying pans and a large flat-bottomed wok, and the last gets much more use.

I think when you are equipping a kitchen, regardless of budget, you have to really ask yourself how you will use it.

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Some years ago, when silicon baking wares came out, I jumped on them with glee. No more scraping off baked on crud from the baking sheets! Muffins that popped right up with no greasing of the cups required! Easy washing up!

But these days I've definitely fallen out of love with silicon sheets and silicon muffin pans and the like.

About those muffin pans first: while muffins do brown on the outsides, they don't get as crispy-brown as I'd like. They also seem to rise a bit less than I'd like.

Also, they are totallly useless for popovers and Yorkshire puddings. You can't really heat them up, so you can't make them piping hot and pour in hot batter. The alternative method for making popovers 'pop' is to start them in a cold oven, but that doesn't work either. So I end up with flat, boring muffins of a sort, rather than high and airy pockets of trapped air and eggy, moist insides. Yes, I know I could just get separate pans for the popover and Yorkshire puddings, but I don't have that much storage space in my not-too-large kitchen, and I like to avoid 'single-use' type equipment as much as possible.

As for silicon baking sheets, used to line heavy baking sheets, they do okay on the browning front. But what I dislike about them is that, after a few uses they take on an unpleasantly 'greasy' feel to them. No amount of washing or soaking in soapy water seems to cure that. I don't know if I'm over-sensitive to this, but it drives me nuts. So I end up throwing them out over maybe 3 uses. This doesn't seem too economicalor environmentally friendly to me. (Do those things disintegrate at all in landfills?)

So, I'm back to good old metal baking tins and lining my baking sheets with kitchen parchment paper. My old metal muffin pans tend to stick a bit on the bottoms, so for delicate cupcakes and such I just use paper cupcake liners. (Which means of course I avoid those individual silicon cupcake cups.) Paper, at least, does disintegrate after a while.

How do you feel about those silicon baking products? Do you love them or hate them?

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When I wrote about essential Japanese cooking equipment a while back, I forgot to mention one item that I use quite often, a suribachi. A suribachi is a sturdy ceramic bowl that's used with a grinding stick called a surikogi like a mortar and pestle. While I'm a big fan of handy electric equipment like food processors for many tasks, sometimes the results you get by doing things by hand are well worth the elbow grease needed.

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When you shop via the Just Hungry affiliate stores, you help to support the site while getting stuff you want! It's a win-win situation!

In my quest for hydroponics growing options for growing potentially salty tomatoes, I stumbled upon this thing that looks like it belongs on the Jetsons: an Aerogrow Aerogarden Kit. Instead of hydroponics, it uses an aeroponic system, where the roots dangle in moist air. It looks great for growing fresh herb plants through the winter months and things like that...and the web site says it only uses the equivalent electricity of a 60 watt light bulb. I just love that futuristic-retro design too! If anyone has this, I'd love to hear about your experiences with it.

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I was browsing in the kitchenware department of one of the department stores in town today, looking at the huge Zyliss display. Zyliss, as you probably know if you are into your kitchen gadgets, is a Swiss company that makes a lot of useful things. I have a number of Zyliss products in my kitchen, but my favorite one at the moment is the Soft Skin Peeler, aka the Tomato Peeler. This wonderful thing can take the skin off of any soft fruit like tomatoes and peaches with amazing ease. It even shaves truffles very thin!

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