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A cut above

Sometimes cooking is all about the art of making do. No buttermilk? Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk and let it stand for 5-10 minutes. No rolling pin? Utilize that empty Chardonnay bottle.I have a small kitchen and a small budget to match. I dream of having a large, Food Network-style space, complete with every appliance, cooking dish and obscure ingredient I could ever want. But for now, I do the best with what I have.Although I love making stir fry, I don’t have a wok. But I’ve found my skillet works just fine, as long as I don’t overload it. I don’t keep five types of flour on hand, so if a recipe calls for cake flour, I’m usually OK with using all-purpose flour (minus one tablespoon for each cup). When fresh berries are too expensive for me, frozen ones will work.There are some things that are absolutely essential in cooking, however. Not only ingredients, but tools as well. I learned this the hard way after ending up at the doctor’s office, bleeding profusely into a large bowl placed on my lap.It all began with an old-school chef’s knife and a large spaghetti squash. In my first apartment, most of my cooking tools were hand-me-downs from my mom, dating back to the 1980s. Many worked just fine, but the chef’s knife was a disaster. The wooden handle was warped and wobbly and the blade was as dull as a spoon handle.So when I needed a knife, I usually turned to a smaller, sharper one and compensated by dicing/slicing less amounts of food at a time.But a paring knife doesn’t exactly work for splitting open a hard-skinned squash. Faced with this dilemma, I contemplated dropping the gourd off my balcony to split it open. Realizing that this would only result in a million pieces of squash and a slimy mess on my sidewalk, I decided to leave the squash-smashing for the day after Halloween.Then I remembered the hunting knife my dad lent me. (I don’t know exactly why he lent it to me in the first place – for protection or something, I guess). I knew that baby was sharp; heck, my dad and uncle had gutted deer with it. (Yes, the knife was thoroughly cleaned and sterilized before it was loaned to me). If anything could cut through a thick-skinned squash, it was this knife.Bad idea.I laid the squash on the cutting board horizontally and inserted the blade into the center, intending to pierce through the other side and work outward. But the blade wasn’t long enough and it got stuck. I forcefully maneuvered it out and tried a different tack. I held the squash up on its end, vertically, and began to cut downward through the center. It still was tough going and I had to push pretty hard, but it seemed to be working.And then, with one swift last thrust, the butternut squash was fully split. Unfortunately, so was my finger.After staring at the spurting blood in shock for a moment, I wrapped it in a towel and went to find a neighbor or someone to help me. No one was home, however, so I ended up driving myself to the hospital, left hand elevated and wrapped in the stained towel.Long story short, I had cut my index finger to the bone and required several stitches. Luckily, I hadn’t severed any tendons, but I wouldn’t exactly be playing my guitar anytime soon.I learned a lesson that day: Don’t try to make spaghetti squash. No seriously, I realized that there are some cooking tools you just cannot do without. A set of heavy-duty, high-quality, sharp knives is one of them. (At the very least, a chef’s knife, a serrated knife and a paring knife).Some other things every kitchen must have:n mixing bowls, at least a small and a large onen medium-sized sauce/soup potn medium skillet/frying pann spatulas: a metal one for flipping, a silicone or rubber one for scrapingn plastic or wooden stirring spoon; try to use a regular table spoon and you will either lose it in the food or it will get so hot it will burn your handn speaking of burns, you need at least two oven mittsn a sturdy cutting boardn cookie sheetn can openern measuring cups and spoons (how else are you going to figure out what 14 teaspoon of oregano looks like)One thing you can definitely go without: a hunting knife.Gabrielle Devenish is the food editor at the Post Independent. She finally made a spaghetti squash the other day, the first time she’s attempted it since her hunting knife accident. She’s happy to report that all her fingers are intact. Contact her at 945-8515, ext. 535, or gdevenish@postindependent.com.


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