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Family Lost in the Kitchen

After spending some holiday cooking with the family, I have wondered what it's like for you to watch another member cook and know that you are able to execute it better.

I watched my brother go at a beautifully grilled London Broil with carving knife and fork before he allowed it to rest. I had to say something to him but I knew I was risking an off-handed comment where he calls me something lame like Emeril or Rachel Ray. I hate when my knowledge and advice for cooking and food is confused with gourmet snobbery. They think I'm mimicking Food Network and Top Chef without an ounce of understanding and depth to the matter.

Anyway, whether it be knife skills, cooking technique, or use of ingredients, can you share an instance where a family member has found himself committing acts of deficiency when it comes to food?

-Josh

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  1. My darling wife puts the largest fryingpan she can find on the smallest gas burner, turns it up to max, and then frys bacon and eggs. On special occasions she leaves a plastic utensil of some sort in the pan for extra interest. It's like watching a whale try to knit, but both our sons are still alive, so I don't say anything.

    I love her soooooooooo much!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robin Joy

      <<It's like watching a whale try to knit, but both our sons are still alive, so I don't say anything.>>

      I like the way you think.

      Hubby learned how to butcher, uh, I mean slice and dice, a few veggies and how to toss a salad on Christmas Day. It's true I had to sacrifice my creative vision of mounds and mounds of delicate carrot coins so paper thin I'd merely have to pass them over a BIC lighter once to roast them, but small price to pay in order to have him sitting there with me while I worked in the kitchen (where I'm usually alone on holidays), when I *know* he would have rather been in the living room with everyone else, watching football, eating cookies and honey roasted peanuts, and shouting out to me every fifteen minutes to ask when dinner would be ready.

      Those carrots may not have pretty, but they surely were beautiful. ;-)

      1. re: Steady Habits

        Should have made them into carrot chips. (Fried like potato chips) ;-)

    2. One day I walked into our kitchen while my mother-in-law was visiting. I found her making lunch for my daughter, holding an apple in one hand and cutting slices out of it with a gigantic chef's knife -- all the while looking at and talking to my daughter. I gently pointed out that it would be safer to use a cutting board and managed to get the knife away from her, so no blood was shed. It's partly that she doesn't really know what she's doing in the kitchen, but mainly that if one of her children or (especially) grandchildren is in the vicinity, 99% of her attention is focused on them, no matter what else is going on. (My sister once called this "autistic grandma behavior.") She's like this about a lot of things -- she's such a distracted driver, I'm amazed that she's never been in an accident.

      35 Replies
      1. re: jlafler

        Cutting in the hand is a very cultural thing. You see it a lot in the Middle East and in Italy for instance. Not with an 10" chef knife but you see lot's of women cutting while standing or sitting at the table over a bowl cutting away.

        1. re: scubadoo97

          Yes, but that's not her cultural tradition; she's one of that generation of American women who learned to cook during the 40's and 50's (as opposed to later generations that didn't learn to cook at all), most of whom seem never to have learned to use knives properly. I've seen her cutting vegetables with a bread knife, and she doesn't realize that all the knives in her kitchen are dull. My mom is the same about dull knives, but she's a much better cook.

          Believe me, if you had seen her you would have been just as horrified as I.

          1. re: jlafler

            what is it with mothers and dull knives? I have never cut myself in my own kitchen (knock wood) but I ended up with a paring knife almost through my palm in hers due to lack of clean cutting boards and improper/dull knives...

            She HAS sharp knives, but never uses them, and I am finally allowed to use them at 31, only under supervision, and only after reminding her of the above incident every time I visit...

            1. re: Cowprintrabbit

              Word! My mother (9ty cough years old) truly believes that sharp knives are dangerous. Which no doubt explains the time I almost cut my left thumb off when I was 15. It healed slowly, and the tip was only numb for about 25 years before the nerves regenerated. She would occasionally go out onto the back porch and strop a knife on the cement step. Over the years I have carried off all the good knives from her kitchen, and I get them professionally sharpened about every six months.

              1. re: Meann

                You reminded me of this 2005 New York Times article. It's a nice reminder that sometimes our "right" ways aren't the be all & end all.

                http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage...

              2. re: Cowprintrabbit

                Oh my god, my MIL's knives - They're all half the width they're supposed to be. The kids got together one year and bought her some beautiful knives for Christmas. They are, of course, sitting in the storage room in the basement. (we call that room the 'magic room' - you can find ANYTHING in there.)

              3. re: jlafler

                My mom cuts like this too, but not with a chef knife. She only uses serrated knives to cut anything, and when I suggest that she use one of my chef knifes she sighs heavily, puts down the bread knife, and picks it up like she is about to handle a live snake.

              4. re: scubadoo97

                Funny, I've been practicing cutting hand-held stuff over the past few years. I've enjoyed learning how to make dishes of people in their kitchens around the globe. Most don't use chef's knives and cutting boards, so if you want to join in (and even vaguely impress anyone), you have to do a lot of cutting in the hand with small knives and your thumb as a cutting board.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  I was at a beach food hut here in Puerto Rico yesterday, and spent my entire lunch gazing admiringly at an old woman deftly peeling thin slices of plaintains with a paring knife, all the while keeping an eye on the younger cooks. Impressive.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    You just said that to make all the snow bunnies jealous, didn't you? Hey, I'm not even a snow bunny -- it's 76 degrees here -- and I'm jealous! Beach... Food.... Puerto Rico. Poor baby! '-)

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      I'm jealous, I'd be green with envy if I weren't already a bit blue from shovelling more snow. Today's weather: -24C (-37C with the windchill) BRRR!

                      My gran used to peel apples and potatoes with a paring knife the way the old lady did. Amazing skill.

                      1. re: maplesugar

                        I always peel potatoes with a paring knife but use a chef's knife to slice or chop them. I just can't get even slices with the paring knife. Depending on what I'm doing with an apple, I can peel it with a knife but use my slicer/corer/peeler if I need to use a lot of apples.

                      2. re: pikawicca

                        Look a bit straight south. You'll see me waving. That is the kind of skill I've been trying tp pick up.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          The only items I use an actual peeler for are carrots and parsnips. For peeling potatoes, apples, etc. I find a good sharp paring knife works best with my "thumb as the cutting board" (great way to explain the process, btw, and it made me smile!). Observers always seem to be very amused and impressed by my ability to do this without cutting myself -- the only thing I do that impresses them more is my ability to break an egg with one hand! Now, THAT one's a showstopper!

                          1. re: chefbeth

                            That's so strange to me, because breaking an egg with one hand is a snap (can't most people who cook do that??), while I think it takes a while to safely learn and get good at peeling with a paring knife.

                            1. re: charmedgirl

                              I'm a one handed egg man myself, and people always stare at me in amazement when I pull that "trick". I just always thought that was the way eggs were opened. I think now that my mom and my chef at work are the only people I know who do it the same way.

                              1. re: ktb615

                                When I worked at McDonald's in high school I was able to crack 4 eggs at once (2 eggs in each hand). The managers didn't really appreciate it at first, but breakfast always seemed to be busy so they just let it go since I was going so fast. I have no idea how I did this as I couldn't even imagine doing 2 eggs at once now. One hand for an egg is no problem though.

                              2. re: charmedgirl

                                No, I'd have to say that most people can't crack an egg with one hand - at least everyone I know save one who's had some training and has worked in restaurant kitchens.

                                I suppose it depends on how you were taught, as well as how often you have a need to crack eggs. Perhaps those who bake a LOT have learned this method. I was taught to tap the egg against the edge of a bowl or the counter corner, and then use both thumbs in the crack to split the egg open. I'd hazard a guess that most people do the same. But for a chef, it makes sense to be able to use one hand.

                                Whereas when I use a paring knife to peel things like apples, I do as Sam said - using my thumb as a cutting board.

                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                  Huh. Just goes to show, different people, different perceptions. I'm no master baker or cook by ANY stretch, but I can crack an egg with one hand, no sweat. I taught myself when I was about 11. I saw it on a cooking show and thought it was cool. It only took like 2 or 3 tries, max, to get it right. Whereas, I definitely cannot peel with my thumb and a paring knife. I've tried many a time, but never do it well. I've just given up since I actually like to eat the peel most of the time, even in baking.

                                  1. re: charmedgirl

                                    LOL! And I recall trying to do that when baking some cookies for the family (crack an egg in one hand after seeing it on Galloping Gourmet, I think), and I made such a mess with the shell IN the bowl and the egg OUT of the bowl, my mother wouldn't let me crack eggs that way again. ;-)

                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                      There was a great article in the New Yorker a few years ago ("The Egg Men," September 5, 2005) about short-order cooks in Las Vegas that discussed, among other things, egg-cracking technique:

                                      "When Joel cracked eggs, his fingers were as loose and precise as a jazz guitarist's. He held one egg between his thumb and his first two fingers, another curled against his palm. He rapped the first egg on the rim of the pan, twisted it into hemispheres, and opened it as cleanly as if it were a Faberge Easter egg. As the spent shell fell into the trash, he shuttled the second egg into position, as if pumping a rifle. He was proud of this little move. It saved him about a second versus having to grab an egg from the bin. If he cracked six thousand eggs a week, the move saved him about an hour; in a year, it saved him more than a week."

                                    2. re: charmedgirl

                                      Funny, I taught myself to peel an apple at about that age (I taught myself to crack an egg with one hand many, many years later -- as you said, it's not hard). My mom was big on fruit snacks, and I would try to peel my apple in one long spiral piece -- got pretty good at it, too. I don't think I've ever used a vegetable peeler to peel an apple -- if they're going to be cut-up, I usually cut them into quarters and then use the paring knife.

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        And then did you throw that long spiral over your shoulder to see what letter it formed when it hit the ground? It's supposed to be the first letter of the name of the man you would marry.

                                        1. re: clamscasino

                                          I think I may have read that in a book around that time. Seems unlikely to me, though, that a spiral peel could form more than a couple of different letters of the alphabet ("C," "O" and "J" perhaps). That's it! I was supposed to marry a man named Jonah Obediah and I missed my chance!

                        2. re: scubadoo97

                          I occasionally cut things in my hand. I am not from the middle east, nor do I have any Italian blood that I know of. However I got my come uppance this year. My 9 year old granddaughter called me on it while we were doing our Thanksgiving chores. And to think, I was the one who sent her to Sur la Table for cooking lessons. She learns well, and I am chastened.

                          1. re: The Old Gal

                            It's sort of like "do as I say and not as I do"!

                            I am not middle eastern or italian either. But I am guilty of slicing bagels in my hand (and towards my hand, I guess you could say). With a large bread knife. My husband cringes when he walks in and sees me doing this. I have sliced my hands many a time, but never while cutting bagels (I write this as I knock on wood!).

                            1. re: valerie

                              Oh - I stress my DH this way - I always trim green beans in hand, and sometimes slice small squash that way as well. He has to leave the room sometimes - he's such a boy scout - knife safety first, you know! LOL.
                              But this is how I learned from watching my grandmother and mother, and from helping process bushels of home grown green beans when I was young. :)

                              1. re: valerie

                                I'm middle eastern and do that too with bagels and certain things, though I never got the hang of cutting things while in the hand. However you're right that middle easterners have great skill with this, and great speed, my mother does her cooking this way though she's not as fast. I know they're good with a knife because after dessert course usually a fruit platter is served and some knives and you just take what you want and start peeling/slicing depending on how you personally eat it, and you'll see kids as young as 5 doing this as well.

                            2. re: scubadoo97

                              I grew up in Louisiana and saw my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother all peel things by hand. And sometimes cut them by hand, too. I do the same. We do however using paring knives, not chef's knives, for that task. Probably there have been some cuts over the years, but nothing that I am recalling at the moment. I do know my father and my spouse both think this is a terrible thing to do. One of their favourite lines, "Never cut toward yourself!"

                              Luckily I come from a tradition of great cooks feel extremely fortunate in that regard.

                              1. re: decolady

                                my mom also peeled potatos with a paring knive in her hand against her thumb...german irish; daughter of a meat butcher although i doubt that any bearing on her abiliy to peel!

                            3. re: jlafler

                              I did? I don't remember saying anything that clever!

                              Seriously, people, this woman is a terribly inept cook. My sister and I marvel that she managed to raise four children, at least two of whom are foodies.

                              And yeah, there was a moment this Xmas making salad in our mom's kitchen when I had to resist the urge to throw every one of her knives in the trash: there is no cutting or slicing with any of them, only hacking. Unlike my sister's MIL, though, Mom manages to produce good food despite being handicapped by her knives. In defense of our stomachs, the Lafler girls have formed a subtle conspiracy not to let her MIL contribute any crucial element to any family meal. This year for Xmas dinner she made reservations and picked up the check -- a thoroughly enjoyable contribution!

                              1. re: jlafler

                                My mom is some kind of cutting-in-hand genius. She just uses a tiny, very sharp paring knife for almost everything she cuts. She can pick up a whole orange and a paring knife and, after some slight of hand, there are perfectly peeled, sectioned, de-pithed, seedless, symmetrical orange chunks in the bowl. Same for any other fruit and veggie. It is a wonder to behold, and no cutting board to wash.

                                1. re: jlafler

                                  If that makes you nervous, I would stay out of a Lao kitchen when som tum is being made. You hold the papaya in one hand and whack away quickly with the cleaver in your other hand all the while turning the papaya so it's evenly shredded....

                                  1. re: soypower

                                    LOL! We'll I'm not sure if you're Lao, but in case you're not I can teach you an interesting word in the Lao language to describe exactly what you mentioned above. When making Tam Mak Hoong (Tum Som), the traditional way to to shred papaya is by whacking away with a cleaver and this process is known in the Lao language as "f*ck". LOL! I'm dead serious. The Lao word "f*ck" does not have the same meaning as the English word, but it's just a coincidence that they share a similar pronunciation. So if you ever hear a Lao person saying "f*ck" when preparing Lao papaya salad, please remember that they're just saying a neutral Lao cooking term, which has nothing to do with the English word "f*ck". =)

                                    1. re: yummyrice

                                      Actually, that does make perfect lingual sense...

                                      In the English usage, at least, the word etymologically means "to beat"; I believe it is from German, and was originally spelled 'fuch'.

                                      Someone please correct me if I am wrong!

                                2. Oh my, I thought I was the only one. lol I just bite my tongue and try to stay out of the kitchen. Thankfully, the person who irritates me most does not live in my home and I am rarely forced to see her in the kitchen. She tackled slicing an 8 lb ham with a paring knife and dinner fork on Christmas Eve! That paring knife is the most important tool in her kitchen. I have tried to help her with prep in the past but I just can't do everything with that little tiny knife. Give me my maple cutting board and a chef's knife!

                                  1. As an update to this week:

                                    When it comes to eating out, I find some members in my family regarding me as a snob because I don't enjoy dining experiences that are lacking in substance.

                                    The top steakhouse: Outback
                                    The authentic Italian: Olive Garden
                                    American Dining: Friday's
                                    Japanese: Kobe Steakhouse

                                    I can't stand it. I know it's due in part to the fact that we were raised in North Tampa where culinary experiences are limited to these franchises and the only wholesome eateries have been Latin American luncheonettes.

                                    Tonight I insisted we do something different and head to the south-end for some Italian at Bella's Cafe. Same prices as OG but in a different world when it comes to ingredients and preparation. Anyway. I'm so lucky to at least have a girlfriend that shares my appreciation for quality food and service.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: sasserwazr

                                      Funny, I dislike chains as well and I too am from the Tampa Bay area. Is there a conection? Nahhh, they are as popular as ever.

                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                        I know that the food quality at chains are usually just adequate most of the time, but sometimes when you're traveling, and you're unsure of an area, and you haven't had a chance to research (like you're traveling into unfamiliar territory because of a family emergency), they can be the saving of you. At least you -know- what you're going to get there. It may not be great, but you know about how much it'll cost, and that the quality is likely to be at least somewhat consistent from place to place. That being said, I still go to our local Applebee's occasionally for dinner on shopping night. We shop every two weeks, and that includes trips to two grocery stores, big lots, walmart, sometimes a drug store, and sometimes a hardware store/agway. Usually we're out from end of work until 9PM so we eat dinner out. The -only- restaurant "up the hill" by one of the main grocery stores we shop at is Applebee's. There's no other restaurant within two miles of that place. So depending on the sequence of our shopping, we'll have dinner at applebee's before going grocery shopping (we don't shop on empty stomachs). :) I'd prefer a different place, but it's not like Applebee's is actually -bad-, it's just not great. :)

                                        1. re: Morganna

                                          Another reliable thing about chains: the bathrooms are generally clean, well-lit, and well-stocked with tp, etc. When you're on the road, this is no small thing. I've never eaten at Applebee's, but I have a good feeling about them because of the time I walked into an Applebee's and said "I'm not planning to eat here, but I have a carsick little girl who really needs to be cleaned up. May we use your bathroom?" The hostess immediately said "Of course!" and was really nice about it.

                                          1. re: jlafler

                                            I agree. When I'm on a long road trip, my favorite clean rest rooms are McDonald's. Out of probably at least 50, I think one was bad. And in the west (TX, NM, AZ, CO, CA) they have those tall helpful signs near the interstates that let you know to take the next exit.

                                            Only problem is that on a long road trip, I usually get a cup of coffee while I'm there, which makes me stop at the next McD's! '-)

                                            1. re: jlafler

                                              "There's no toilet paper on the road less travelled."

                                              1. re: thinks too much

                                                Seriously, put that on a bumper sticker.

                                          2. re: scubadoo97

                                            scabadoo, what is your favorite restaurant here?

                                        2. My usually logical SO often adds more liquid than the recipe specifies, to
                                          "allow for evaporation". I can't convince him that the recipe has *already* "allowed for evaporation" -- that's what a recipe *is*!

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: blue room

                                            That's hilarious. I wonder where he picked up that particular quirk? Misguided parents? Doesn't he notice that everything comes out a little... watery?

                                            1. re: blue room

                                              Just try to convince him to start cooking an hour earlier than normal.