Here is one of the most useful kitchen gadgets that you can own. Your very own butcher’s block! Mine is over a hundred years old it measures 36″x36″x12″. It is made of solid maple with dove-tail joints and three steel allthreads to prevent it from cracking apart. It lives in the center of my kitchen and is the place where 90% of my home kitchen work takes place. After looking for years I finally found it in an antique store that specialized in old furniture. It cost me $200 (1974) and has saved my cooking life on many occasions.
I coat the top of it with a thin layer of olive oil every 6 months or so to keep it sealed and shiny. Other than that a mild soapy water solution keeps it clean. It is big enough to cut up all the vegetables you need to cut for chunky vegetable soup, or roll out, fill and cut your favorite cinnamon dough for rolls. Over the years (before I got it) there were a couple of places where the butcher spent a lot of time cutting in one place so a few spots are a little worn but I move around with my cutting so the surface is fairly level. Since I am cutting on the end grain the marks and scratches from a knife do not show up.
This and similar blocks are still available today from the Kitchen Source, they seem to have a wide selection of woods you can choose from including oak, cherry and walnut. Warning, they cost more than $200 by a lot!
My second favorite kitchen gadget was an idea that I borrowed from another chef some years ago. It is a home made coring tool that you can make from a copper water pipe. I know, I know you can buy an apple correr for about $4.98. But, does it core pineapple? And can you make mushrooms with it? Here is a novel starch idea for you. instead of those boring turned potatoes that simply have a peeled strip around the center, next time make your new potatoes into mushrooms coated in olive oil and fresh rosemary, delicious!
The picture shows the process. Clamp a 12″ piece of copper pipe into a vise and make a series of serrations with straight and angled cuts as you go around the pipe. It takes about 8 vee cuts to make a pipe. For mushrooms you insert it into the potatoe about three quarters of the way and then take a dull paring knife and cut in until you hit the pipe. Cut around the pipe and loosen the doughnut that you have just formed, then pull the resulting mushroom from the end of the pipe. I use a 3/4″ pipe and keep a 3/4″ wooden dowel with it to push out the cores when I cut them (if I am not doing potatoes). It works great for a professional looking pineappple, and even celery root if you want to make flower petal chips. Use new potatoes (little reds) and make three per person coat with the oil, fresh minced rosemary, salt and pepper and bake for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven. I used to have a lot of fun when I served these on a buffet line. As the guests came through the line I would ask if they wanted a potato as I pointed at the “mushrooms”, when they said, “I don’t like mushrooms” I would repeat the question, it was good for a laugh. These make a pretty presentation to spice up a boring plate.