July 28, 2011
After you’ve been cooking a while, you start to get quite a collection of implements. But it seems like there are a few that get used much more than the others. And there are some that just work so much better than other variations of the same thing, that you feel like you can’t do without them. Between my husband and I, we have several items that we love to use.
First of all, there are the handheld items, the knife no doubt being the most important. Before my husband convinced me otherwise, I was afraid of longer knives, and pretty much stuck to our 3 inch paring knives – which were NOT the right tools at all for most of what I was doing. Then I graduated to the 6 inch chef’s knife, and now I always use the 8 inch one. It’s so much better for all of the slicing, chopping, dicing, and mincing that I do. And once you learn how to hold it and use it, you can get things done much quicker. It’s also safer to use the appropriate knife for the task you are performing. There are plenty of sites on the web that have information about the proper way to hold and use a knife for efficiency and safety.
We have a set of the German-made Henckels knives, and have been very happy with them. Knives are a very personal thing, and you should definitely try them out in the store to see which ones feel best in your hand before purchasing them. Another important thing about knives is keeping them sharp so the knife does the work instead of your arm. Johnson Sharpening is at the Boulder Farmers’ Market every week, and will sharpen your knives for a crazy-reasonable price while you’re at the market.
Another very well-used handheld item in our kitchen is our heat-resistant OXO silicone spatulas. They not only won’t melt if you use them in hot pots or pans, but because the handle isn’t metal, like some heat resistant spatulas I’ve seen, the handle doesn’t heat up at all – so no burned hands!
We also have some silicone pastry brushes which are great for a few reasons. First, the bristles are very bendy, so I think that they are easier to use than the ones with bristles. Second, I have had bristles come out on the food I was brushing in the past – this doesn’t happen with the silicone ones. And best of all, you can put them in the dishwasher. There is nothing more annoying than getting oil out of a bristled brush when washing it by hand. (Oh, how I love to use superlative exaggeration.)
Our kitchen shears (also Henckels) have been more useful than I thought they would be. We use them to trim the ends of asparagus and broccolini, to cut apart broccoli – basically anything where we can avoid getting a cutting board and a knife dirty when just the shears will do. You can also use them for trimming meats, cutting through small bones, and a bunch of other tasks. (Not sure if it’s the best thing to do, but we use it to open packaging that contains something juicy like sausage, or for cheese, since using the junk drawer scissors for that is kind of gross).
Our peeler was a very unexpected find. It was in a gift set with several knives which were not very rigid or sharp, and kind of dangerous to use. But the peeler – oh, my. It literally peels five times better than any other I have ever tried – including the one we got from Williams-Sonoma. I wish I could recommend the brand, but it seems to be some kind of small batch unnamed creation.
The last implement pictured is our Microplane zester/grater. Yeah, we only use it for pecorino cheese for the most part. Yes, it’s worth it – when I grate a pile of pecorino for pizza, it almost looks like snow, it’s so fine.
For measuring, I love our Salter kitchen scale. You can zero it out with a container on it, it measures in grams and ounces, and it’s small and only one piece, so it’s easy to store, and easy to clean. Since I am pretty careful to measure out everything except vegetables to maintain my weight, it’s great for weighting pasta, potatoes, nuts, cheese – everything. Our ‘instantish’ read thermometer is also a very useful tool (instant would be even better), especially given all the salmonella-themed articles about chicken lately. This way you can feel good about getting it to a safe temperature, rather than just using the retro-method of judging by color.
I love our mini food processor. Since I cook for only two of us most of the time, I don’t need a large processor for most things, and since this one is in fewer pieces, it’s easier to clean. I’ve also re-purposed an old coffee grinder for grinding spices (cinnamon chips, whole cloves, whole nutmeg, dried peppers, etc). It works wonderfully – just just grab the bottom with one hand, hold the lid tight with the other, and shake it a bit (like a martini!) while you are grinding. You can use a brush, or even just a paper towel to clean it out.
The item that is probably most used in our kitchen is our Calphalon Unison non-stick skillet (which may be an omelette pan – we’ve had it so long, we actually don’t remember – nor do they sell that particular model any longer). The picture above is actually after sautéing red kale in sesame oil – a couple buffs of a dishcloth with soap, and (nearly all of) the brown at the bottom will be gone. I have never had a pan that was easier to clean. But remember – no metal spoons or spatulas!
I love our 5-quart anodized aluminum Magnalite dutch oven. I use it for all of my soups, stews, and chilis. I like how rugged it feels (I’m strange that way). Magnalite doesn’t exist anymore (they got purchased by someone), so we switched to Calphalon for our new pots and pans.
A great item that may not be entirely approved by the environmental health watch groups is our plastic Pampered Chef steamer. You just put cut vegetables in it, a tablespoon of water, and put it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes, and you have beautifully steamed vegetables. Talk about an easy vegetable side after a long day of work!
The gas range – another thing I used to be afraid of. I wasn’t too thrilled when we moved into our house that the range was gas. But I got used to it, and now I absolutely love it. The temperature adjusts so much more quickly than with an electric range, so that you can control the heat better. We also have a high output burner that works great for bringing things to a boil fairly quickly.
And then the gas grill – we love to use it for vegetables just as much as we do for burgers, chicken, and fish. We have a tray that we use for vegetables (you can kind of see it above under the beets), so that you can easily grill asparagus, squash, potatoes – anything that would otherwise fall through the grates.
Another tool that I use almost constantly is the internet. My husband wanted to get a computer for the kitchen, which I thought was completely unnecessary…until it showed up. Now if I have a question about how to prepare vegetables before cooking, what temperature to use for something, or different ways to cook things, I can just spin around and look it up. There is a huge amount of information on just about every ingredient, a multitude of sites that aggregate recipes from many sources, and lots of wonderful food blogs. If I need some ideas about what things work well together, or what to make with certain ingredients that I happen to have on hand, I search for it, get some ideas, and go from there! How did we survive before the internet?