Once the guests have been blown away by their first roast goose and you’ve recovered from the champagne hangover, the subsequent calm may leave you with some time on your hands. These are the tasks that I try to check off my list every year some time in early January.
“The experts” will tell you that home cooks should sharpen our knives much more often than we do. I try to sharpen mine once every three months or so, but that probably isn’t frequently enough. (Keep in mind that sharpening and honing are related, but different tasks: By drawing the blade over a hard surface (one of those blunt, short swords called a honing steel) you straighten the edge, or hone it; by grinding metal off to create a new edge you sharpen it.)
For sharpening there is a pretty wide range of options that all have different costs, pros, and cons. Over the long-run, having a professional do the sharpening is a somewhat expensive, but probably easiest option. I found that the marginal cost and hassle were enough of a disincentive to keep me from sending my knives out as often as I should. There is a pretty wide price range for professional knife sharpening and I think it’s tough to tell whether cost and expertise correlate. All that said, I don’t own any super-fancy, expensive Japanese knives, but if I did I would probably get a pro to do the sharpening.
The truly hardcore DIY-er will want to teach themselves to use a manual sharpening stone.
Clean the Stove/Oven
I’m sure a significant minority of you will be surprised that some of us don’t break our stovetops down to bare bones each and every time we have a major cooking session. Get over it. Ceramic, induction, and gas all have their separate procedures, but I think this is one place where the old school, apartment-style, electric coil unit really shines. Everything comes apart and can either go into the sink or be vigorously scrubbed with detergent and a metal scrubber.
Season Cast Iron Pans
This is another one that probably falls into the every day maintenance category for many. Purists will tell you that the best way to season cast-iron is to use it. Unfortunately, what they really mean is: the best way to season cast-iron is to cook a pound of bacon in it for breakfast, fry a chicken in lard for lunch, and broil a steak in butter for dinner. Every day. No one – at least outside Mobile, Alabama, circa 1952 – eats this way. We want to fry eggs, make pineapple upside-down cake, and do other reasonably low-fat, healthy, or sticky cooking with our cast-iron. And that means occasionally going out of our way to maintain the cure.
I’ve posted about my thinking on this topic before and there is a very good blog post by a woman named Sheryl Canter up at this link. (That post is further discussed in this very thorough thread.) Realistically, keeping a cast-iron skillet in good condition is more about regular maintenance than hard-core curing. I rinse mine, scrape it (if necessary), dry it on a hot burner, and then wipe it down with a thin coat of canola oil after every use. A full curing can help neglected pans or ones you’re purchased second-hand.
Spruce Up Your Cutting Boards
As far as I’m concerned, the debate over which type of cutting board is best has been settled. Wood looks better, feels more natural, and is easier on your knives than plastic. But it does require some maintenance.When I’ve been counting something that I’m worried about contaminating other food (like chicken, raw fish, or other meat) I give it the kosher salt sanitizing treatment. This involves spreading a fistful of inexpensive salt over the board and leaving it overnight. Another option is to spray the board with a dilute solution of either vinegar and water or bleach and water.
I perform a more intensive upkeep ritual once or twice a year. This involves using a bit of sandpaper to smooth out any imperfections and then wiping on a generous dose of food-safe mineral oil. The oil will soak into the board – wipe away any access after 12 hours – to keep the board from drying out and inhibit bacterial growth.
Defrost the Freezer
The freezer that’s built into your refrigerator probably defrosts itself, but the larger chest or standing one in which you store your eclectic meat collection (that’s what’s in ours) likely doesn’t. Most places in Canada will be the perfect temperature this month to easily store your chill chest’s contents in the unheated garage or on a balcony. Best of all: Because humidity is at a low point this time of year, you can open your freezer up, let the ice start to melt, (gently) scrape it away and leave it open to dry off completely.
What tasks do you have on your list that I’ve missed here? Let me know in the comments section.