Wednesday, 2 February 2011

the first cut is the deepest

Mrs Dave has had to stay at school for Year 9 Options Evening - as an English teacher I am able to avoid that particular pleasure, as doing English isn't an option!  So that means that for a few minutes at least I can access the computer - sorry if anyone's waiting for a reply from anything - this is a fleeting visit.  My son wants to commandeer the computer as well as he has to book a driving test. We should be back to what I laughingly call "normal" later on next week.

In the meantime, here's a short posting about an interesting tool.  I'm sure that many of us have bought a new knife, or even a set, and happily rushed home to cut up anything we can find to test our butchery skills on.  Only to find out that within somewhere between 10 minutes and a day, they aren't exactly sharp.  Also, we've all been told how more accidents happen with blunt knives than sharp ones. I'm not sure I agree with that.  As far as axes go, for instance, I'm rather glad that the one I nearly chopped my thumb off with last year WAS blunt. I didn't actually try to chop it off, it was an accident.  Albeit a ridiculous one.  I was chopping wood and I needed a log to be smaller, so I held the log . . . . needless to say, having a sore thumb that was hit by a blunt axe was much less traumatic than if I'd have used a sharp one.  I still wake up shuddering from the thought of what could have happened . . .

Anyway, back to the story.  The tomato test seems to be popular amongst advertisers for all things "knife-sharpening".  If the tomato tends to just squash rather than slice, then your knife is too blunt.  Believe me, I've searched for a decent knife sharpener for several years now.

We bought a nice set of Sabatier knives a couple of years back, and as mentioned above, within a few days of buying them they had lost the factory sharpness they came with - the wooden chopping board had assured that.  Whilst I was ill the other week, I got bored and continued the quest for a decent sharpener. After reading various reviews and chasing a particular one that had been recommended, one brand kept turning up with good reviews.  The one I was after seemed to only get reviews that rated it "okay". I took the plunge with the self-proclaimed "The World's Best Knife Sharpener" by AnySharp.  As it was't electric and only cost just under a tenner from Amazon, I decided to take the chance.

And I'm glad I did, gentle reader.  It does, indeed, keep knives sharp with very little fuss. It clamps onto your work surface with a suction cup and you only need one hand to use it.  So it's useful for Captain Hook and very nearly me, after my contretemps with the axe last year. But, in all honesty, it's a nice device. It makes older knives a pleasure to use again. Advert over, but the upshot is, it may not be your knives that are useless - you can breathe new life into them!

Another little discovery - a culinary theme here this evening -  is that Sainsbury's own label Taste the Difference range "London Porter" is actually brewed by Shepherd Neame from Kent brewers of  "Spitfire" and the wonderfully Carry On-esquely named  "Bishop's Finger".  I used it on Saturday evening to make a beef stew instead of Guinness, and excellent it was too.

In his excellent book Amber, Gold & Black, Martyn Cornell points out that brewers use such adjectives as chocolate and liquorice because UK porters tend to err on the sweet side.  However, he also says that if they name it a porter it's an attempt at making a nod towards authenticity as opposed to just a 'stout' or dark beer. I quite like SN beers and although I tend to be a little sniffy about Supermarket own brands I must admit that this "London Porter" is indeed quite spicy and intense (presumably the "charred malt" used).  Not that I'm an aficionado. So I don't know just how authentic it is or isn't.  Do they have Sainsbury's in Dubai, Martyn? But I did learn from my last trip to a brewery - St Austell in the Summer, that M&S 's "Cornish Beer" is brewed by St Austell.  So, all-in-all I'm becoming a little more happy with some own brand beers.

They're cheaper too, of course.


Martyn Cornell said...

Haven't tried that one - I'm back in Blighty for three weeks in April, I'll give it a go. Sainsbury's used to do an excellent selection of "own label" beers in their "Taste the Difference" line-up, all from the Meantime brewery in Greenwich, which were uniformly very good, but, a;as, ate no more with us. (For a particularly authentic, porter, try Meantime's, in 75cl bottles.) M&S's current line-up of own-label beers come from a worthwhile range of brewers, too, including, IIRC, Adnams. Glad you seem to be enjoying the book …

Dave Leeke said...


Yes, I am, thanks for sending it.

Sainsbury's seem to have an SN beer called "Kentish Ale" which I'm assuming is basically "Spitfire" - similar bottle etc.

Let me know when you are coming, maybe a meet - possibly the Jerusalem Tavern?

Mike C. said...

I've been waiting for someone else to say that this is cutting-edge blogging, but I guess I'll just have to embarrass myself. Sorry.


(Word verification: tedia)

Dave Leeke said...

You are perfectly welcome to embarrass yourself here anytime, Mike.

The word verification is probably quite apt!

I'm about to go and put some scotia in my son's room to finish the laminate floor we put down last weekend, which means I have plenty more opportunity to damage myself with a new mitre saw.

Such is life. Well, mine, anyway.

Kent Wiley said...

Dave, careful with that chop saw. It's for chopping wood - not digits.

As for the knife sharpener, does the suction cup really hold the thing steady such that you don't have to hold it w/ one hand? Also, does it leave abrasion marks on the sides of the blade? We've got a sharpener around here somewhere that the father-out-law once used on my favorite knife and scratched the sides of badly. Which has forced me to use the painfully slow device that we call a "steel." It has a round handle attached to a rounded piece of steel much like a rat tail file, but the "cutting" edge is longitudinal, rather than the cross-wise cutting of a round file. Slow - very slow - on dull blades. But effective on an edge that needs a slight tune up. Does the AnySharp have some kind of diamond sharpening edge in it?

Another tip about storing knives in a knife block: insert them w/ the sharp edge up, so that you're not dragging it across the wood every time you remove from the block. But everyone knows this, right?

Dave Leeke said...

Yeah, I tried that but nearly ran out of fingers . . .

Hey, Kent - wow, you sound like a bit of an expert on the knife sharpening front. In truth, I've found that all sharpeners seem to leave abrasions - but at least this one seems to actually sharpen the things!

The suction cup works well - you clean it with a fridge magnet. It's great, it's so wacky it suits me down to the ground!

I'm waiting for a comment from Andy who probably knows far more about these things.

Kent Wiley said...

As one who has "worked with wood" a fair amount, I've had to learn some sharpening techniques over the years. I'm still a hack though, in comparison to many of the guys I've worked with who go to some extremes to get their chisels sharp. The Tomek is the generally approved ultimate machine that will work on pretty much any blade. I've used one, but not on a regular basis, since it's a shop tool and I don't have a shop any more.

Mike C. said...

For kitchen purposes, I've always used a Kitchen Devil sharpener we bought about 30 years ago -- it's like two mini steels crossed over each other, held in a horseshoe-shaped grip, where you pull the knife through between the steels -- very effective and safe on the dangerous pull stroke (knife edge faces away from the hand holding the steels), though a glass of wine before sharpening can lead to stab wounds in the thumb when trying to put the knife back between the steels...

I have however seen someone come close to removing their hand at the wrist under the illusion that the blade should be pulled through on top of the crossed steels, edge facing down! Argh.


Dave Leeke said...

Kent, I love the idea you're "still a hack" - that's about all I do!

I must admit, Mike, a glass of wine may go well with a loaf of bread (Omar Khayyam) but definitely not with a sharpener. In fact, the one I mention here allows you to use it with one hand drawing the handle towards you, so actually coming across as quite safe.

I feel like Dixon of Dock Green - evening all.