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A Good Knife Starter Set

Without a doubt there are good knives for modest money. New knife technology's taken knives no serious cook would touch years ago into the pro's class.
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The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Dear Lynne,

I need a starter set of good knives for my blossoming 17-year-old chef. She dreams of having her very own. Your help figuring this out would be welcome because I am seeing single knives for $15 and ones for $300. I don't want to give her poor quality but no way can we afford these high-end knives. Are there any quality knives that are inexpensive?

Hal in Austin
Dear Hal,

Without a doubt there are good knives for modest money. New knife technology's taken knives no serious cook would touch years ago into the pro's class.

As a starter set for her I suggest the two knives every chef begins with -- a three-and-a-half to four-inch paring or utility knife, and a seven to eight-inch chef's knife.

With the paring knife she can slice, peel, bone and fillet. With the chef's knife she'll mince, chop, dice and even carve like a pro. Later you can add others.

One of the brands I've test driven for a long time, and one that gets high marks from professionals for its price-quality ratio is the Forschner Victorinox's Fibrox line. Their chef knives are in the $30 range and paring knives as low as $7. If she's anything like me, she'll still be using these knives years from now. Even with those three-figure knives ready and waiting in my knife block (my profession was the excuse for the splurges), these two usually end up by sink waiting to be washed.

Along with them, get her the perfect knife sharpener for beginners, the AccuSharp knife and tool sharpener. It uses sharpening pieces that are preset at the correct angle so you can't ruin your blades, and costs about $15.

Find everything on Amazon and other sites.

One last thing, caution her to never ever put a knife in the dishwasher, it ruins the blade's tempering. Hand wash and dry it as you go.

Here's a recipe she can practice on to try out her knife skills. It's a good Sunday night supper, too. The list of ingredients might give you pause, but trust me, the salad comes together easily. Cook the eggs ahead of time and store them in the refrigerator. And do the same with the dressing.

Salad of Sweet Peas and Lettuce Ribbons with 65ºC Eggs
20 to 30 minutes prep time; 3 hours unattended stove time
Serves 6 to 8

Cook the eggs up to 3 days ahead and store them in the refrigerator. Up to 3 days ahead make the dressing up to adding the fresh herbs and chill. Fold in the herbs before dressing the salad.

This salad tastes like early summer to me -- sweet, herbal and fresh. When you thin slice two kinds of peas and toss them with spring greens and a creamy spring onion dressing, all sorts of gentle contrasts start playing against each other. The unique taste and texture of the 65ºC egg works beautifully here, too.

This mysterious sounding egg became the darling of French chefs awhile back as one of the experiments in modernist cuisine. But it really dates back to biblical times when eggs were baked overnight in a dying fire's embers.

There's not much to it. You put whole, unshelled eggs on the rack of an oven set at 149ºF (65º Celsius). Leave them to bake for 3 hours or so and then cool them. If your oven's off by a few degrees, not to worry. The baked eggs will be almost creamy yet nearly firm, with yolks like thick custard, quite unlike any egg you've tasted.

6 large eggs

Dressing (makes about 2 cups):
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup cider or wine vinegar, or to taste
1 tablespoon coarse-ground dark mustard
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise, or to taste
¼ cup good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
2 tight-packed tablespoons each fresh basil and parsley leaves, torn
Green tops of 5 large scallions, thin sliced

½ medium red onion, thin sliced and soaked in ice water 20 minutes.
4 handfuls (1/3 to ½ pound) sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings removed
4 handfuls (1/4 to 1/3 pound) snow pea pods, trimmed and strings removed
1 medium head Bibb or Boston lettuce
4 tender romaine leaves
3 big handfuls (about 5 ounces) baby arugula or 3 big handfuls spring mix
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

1. Up to 3 days ahead, bake the eggs as directed in the recipe's introduction. Refrigerate until about 30 minutes before serving. Then shell gently under cold, running water. Dry and cut each egg in half from top to bottom.

2. For the dressing combine the garlic, vinegar, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Let stand 20 minutes to mute the garlic's heat, then whisk in the remaining dressing ingredients, except the herbs. Taste for a balance between tartness and creaminess. Refrigerate until 40 minutes before serving. Then fold in the herbs.

3. Shortly before serving, make the salad by chilling the onions to get rid of their bite. Stack up the peas on a chopping board and thin slice them crossways at an angle so you have 1/16-inch wide by maybe 1-1/2-inch long shreds. Then stack the Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves and the romaine, and slice them into ¼-inch wide ribbons.

4. In a large bowl, toss the peas and all the salad greens together. Lightly salt and pepper them as you toss. Add about 2/3 cup dressing to light coat the leaves. Streak each of six dinner plates with a few tablespoons of the dressing. Then heap the salad on each plate, tuck in two egg halves on each plate and scatter the salads with almonds. Serve quickly to have the salad in its prime.