Dear Surreal Gourmet,
My girlfriend likes to do the jiggy on the kitchen counter. After that she's always hungry. The problem is my bachelor kitchen is totally useless - save for the aforementioned purpose. Any suggestions?
Hot and Helpless in Houston
Dear Hot and Helpless,
I get this question all the time. Here are a few simple, inexpensive modifications that can transform even the smallest, most dysfunctional kitchen into a hummin' workspace.
Select the most efficient work area in your kitchen, and mark it as the center of your prep universe by setting up a cutting board as a permanent fixture. In small kitchens, making room for an adequate prep area often requires the repositioning of inconsequential objects that take up prime real estate. Small appliances, like the bread maker you never use, and oversized storage jars are the most common offenders. The defined prep area should be well lit. If you have track lighting, hop up on your counter and refocus one or more lamps to illuminate the workspace.
Most kitchen garbage containers are hidden behind a cupboard door, under the sink or several steps away from the prep area. Getting to the bin with an armful of vegetable cuttings usually involves the use of multiple limbs. Like laboratory monkeys, we tend to retrace the same steps over and over without noticing the inefficiency. (In fairness to the monkeys, they eventually do catch on.) Conserve your energy by setting a small trash bucket or bag at your feet by the prep area each time you start cooking.
GET HOOKED UP
One man's rags are another man's riches. The best-ever additions to my kitchen were a two-dollar hook from the local hardware store and the one-dollar dishtowel I hang from it. Once you install the setup in your prep area you'll be able to keep your hands clean - without looking down or interrupting the rhythm of your prep work.
Music is the secret ingredient in my kitchen. Fifty feet of speaker wire and a staple gun are all you should need to dial an inexpensive pair of bookshelf speakers into your home stereo unit. Rock n' roll, hoochy-koo.
An eight-inch chef's knife and a paring knife are all you need in your arsenal. Select knives that feel solid, weighty and well-balanced in your hand. As a general rule, if it's advertised on TV after midnight and doubles as a saws-all, don't reach for your credit card. I use a Japanese knife called Kasumi. They're insanely sharp, feel great and look exotic. If in doubt, go with the name brands such as Wüsthof, Henckels or Messermeister. Keep your blade sharp by "edging" it regularly with a sharpening steel or a foolproof sharpener from a reliable kitchen store. If the blade gets too dull, no amount of muscle power will restore it. Take it to a professional sharpener.
GET A FEEL FOR IT
If Edward Scissorhands had been a chef, his prosthetic limb would be a pair of eight-inch tongs made by OXO. These tactile, spring-loaded, rubber-handled tongs act like an extension of your own hand, providing the dexterity necessary to prod, flip and finesse your food as it cooks in the pan.
Set a small bowl of salt beside your prep area, and when the need to season with salt arises, simply pinch a bit between your fingers and let fly (at all costs, avoid saying "BAM" as you do this). Chefs use kosher salt because it's free of additives and comes in a coarse form. The tactile feel of the grains is very pleasing to the touch and it allows more control over the amount used. For a difference you can really taste, splurge on some sel gris or fleur de sel. These are hand-harvested from sea marshes on the west coast of France. Sel gris, also known as sel de Guérande, is a coarse, grayish salt rich in minerals. It doesn't dissolve when it comes into contact with food, so when you bite into its crystals on bruschettas or vegetables (especially potatoes) or in salads, your mouth is filled with an intense burst of flavor. Fleur de sel, the very top sun-bleached layer of sel gris, is more expensive and even more intense. Reserve these salts for accenting foods just before serving.
GET IT ON
Here's a perfect recipe for anyone who's culinarily challenged. All it requires is salt, olive oil and a paring knife to miraculously transform a ho-hum head of cauliflower into orgasmic, lip-smackin' candy bombs your jiggy-lovin' girlfriend won't be able to get enough of.
(serves 2 - 4 as a snack)
1 head cauliflower
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T salt (for a salt-free alternative use Mrs. Dash Table blend)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut out and discard cauliflower core and thick stems. Trim remaining cauliflower into florets the size of golf balls. In a large bowl, add cauliflower, olive oil and salt. Toss thoroughly.
Spread cauliflower on a baking sheet. Roast for 1 hour, or until much of each floret has become golden brown. (That's the caramelization process converting the dormant natural sugars into sweetness). The browner the florets, the sweeter they'll taste. Turn 3 or 4 times during roasting.
Serve in a popcorn bag or empty Jiffy Pop container.