Top Ten….or is it Eleven?

This morning I was in the kitchen and looked at the four containers in which we store kitchen tools and “gadgets” and, among other things, I wondered why we need four containers and if we actually use the things in them.  I emptied the containers to determine if I could get rid of anything and I couldn’t bring myself to discard anything.  But I was able to ask and answer, “What are the 10 tools you couldn’t cook without?”

Unfortunately I was only able to answer the question with 11 items!  I know, I always have to be difficult.  A friend of mine told me once that she never buys a gadget if it doesn’t have more than one use.  In looking through my containers, I realize I have inadvertently followed her theory. The following are the items I couldn’t cook without.  I thought about ordering the list from least to most important tool, but I truly cannot decide which would be the most important – I just know that I wouldn’t want to do without any of them in the kitchen.

Disclaimer: All items in the following photographs are well-used.  I don’t have the budget the fancy magazines have to show you only pristine, brand new products!

To order items mentioned below from Amazon.com, visit my blog store.

  • Whisks

I have them in different shapes and sizes, but on any given day there is at least one in the dishwasher because it’s been used to beat eggs until they are fluffy, to stir polenta or gravy to eliminate lumps, or to beat something by hand rather than getting out the mixer.  If you find yourself without a whisk – a situation I hope to avoid at all costs – you can use two forks facing one another so the tines interlock.

  • OXO Good Grips Vegetable Peeler

For some items the brand is not important to me, but for others I find it makes a difference.  In the case of my vegetable peelers, I like the OXO Good Grips.  Specifically the Swivel Peeler.  Having peeled an inordinate amount of carrots and potatoes in my lifetime and having used many not-so-great peelers, I prefer the OXO because it’s comfortable in my hand, the food doesn’t get stuck in the blade and the blade swivels nicely around curves.

 

 

  • Salt Box and Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder)

Technically I know this is two items, but they both fall under seasoning and you can hardly even say “salt” without “pepper” so surely you can cut me some slack!  The salt box is a round wooden “box” with a lid that swivels open to reveal the salt yet stays attached.  It’s a good size and fits neatly on my counter blending nicely with the cabinets.  The Kuhn Rikon Pepper Mill (Vase Grinder) was a gift from my mother-in-law and I’ve never used another pepper mill in the many years I’ve owned this one.  It grinds the pepper just the way I like it, holds a lot of peppercorns at one time and never (knock wood) jams.

 

This tool is amazing.  I have two and they’re usually both in the dishwasher because we use them so often.  My favorite use is grating parmesan cheese (my absolute favorite food); but I also use it for zesting all kinds of citrus fruits (this is quite different than a zester that gives you longer “strips” of citrus peel), for finely grating chocolate over tiramisu or other desserts, for grating whole nutmeg, ginger, etc.  I like this brand because the grating blade is longer than others I have tried.

  • Hand-Held Citrus Juicer

I have no idea what brand mine is, but I like the design because it keeps the seeds inside while the juice flows though the holes.  The only drawback of the model I have is that while it is terrific for smaller fruits like lemons, limes, and mandarin oranges, larger citrus fruits just don’t fit into it.  I am typically not in need of so much juice that I would pull out an electric juicer so I don’t even own one.

  • Williams Sonoma Green Herb Snips

Because I grow a lot of fresh herbs in my yard, these are an invaluable tool – particularly during the growing season.  The snips are dishwasher safe and come apart so they dry completely without rusting.  They have an “on board” stripper that removes leaves from woody herbs such as rosemary.


  • Seven Inch Hollow-Edge Santoku

I love this knife!  The brand of mine is Wusthof.  It fits very comfortably in my large hand and is weighted quite nicely.  I really appreciate the hollow edge, which reduces drag when cutting and helps prevent food sticking to the blade.  If you use your knives as much as I do, I would highly recommend investing in a knife sharpener.

  • Ramekins and Pinch Bowls

I am a firm believer in mis en place.  This is a French phrase that translates into “everything in place.”  It means you get all your recipe ingredients prepped and in place before you start cooking.  In order to do that, I use ramekins and pinch bowls of different sizes on a regular basis.  I find prepping all my ingredients ahead of time helps reduce the chance of missing an ingredient and requires me to review a recipe so there are no surprises when I actually start cooking.

  • Food Processor

Again, this is a tool I use quite regularly.  It’s great for making pesto, for grating large amounts of cheese and/or veggies quickly, for making pizza dough and/or bread dough, for incorporating butter into pastry dough, etc.  In fact, I use mine so often that I purchased a second bowl so that I’m not constantly washing the bowl.  My current food processor is a Kitchen Aid and I have had very good luck with it.

  • Silicone Spoons with Stainless Steel Handles

I am a lover of wooden spoons.  I think they are quite beautiful – particularly those in funky shapes made from exotic woods; but I don’t like the hassle of cleaning them.  For the hard core cooking I do, I like being able to throw my spoons into the dishwasher.  Over time I have found that silicone spoons with stainless steel handles really hold up for the long haul.

  • Half Sheet Pans

We use our half sheet pans at least once a day.  We use them for roasting meats and vegetables, for baking cookies and cakes, for reheating leftovers, for making chocolate barks, among a zillion other uses.  You can tell by looking at them that they are well loved.  We own two, but honestly I would say it’s not enough.  Of course, if I owned more I’d dirty more and then I’d be complaining more often because they don’t fit into my sink.

I hope the above information is helpful to you.  I would love to hear the tools you can’t cook without – especially those with more than one use!

A Treat for All the Senses

This afternoon I was in the basement looking for canning supplies and jars when my self-diagnosed A.D.D. got the best of me, which happens quite often.  I rarely start a task without being distracted by something else….in fact, I think that’s the reason I could never clean my room in less than 2 days when I was a kid!

I was walking around the basement looking at boxes that should have been unpacked by now – seeing as we moved into this house over three years ago – and a box with “Jan College” written on the side caught my eye.  Inside I found something that perhaps I should have considered foreshadowing many years ago….a writing assignment from my English Comp 101 class, the subject of which was cooking!

If you will indulge me, I’ll share this writing entitled ‘A Treat for All the Senses’ from February 20, 1999:

“Cooking is not simply a hobby for me, it is a passion.  I do not just use cookbooks, I pore over them like the lover of literature reads the finest novels.  I have often thought about becoming a professional chef – in fact, the idea of attending the Culinary Institute of America thrills me each Saturday when I watch cooking shows on PBS; but I wonder, if I had to cook, is it likely that I would not want to cook?  I believe the reason I enjoy cooking so much is that this is a relaxing activity that affects all my senses.

The repetition of chopping and stirring helps to relax me.  They are activities that allow me to focus on what I am doing and forget about the problems of the day.  As I write this, I can easily recall the feeling of my arm going methodically in circles or figure-eights around a pan in which onions are sizzling in butter. Some days the sounds of the kitchen are more melodious to me than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  As I stir the onions, which I know will become the color of sweet caramel, their wonderful aroma wafts up through the air into my expectant nostrils as surely as the scent of the lilacs in spring.  However, this is just the beginning.

As much as I enjoy the actual preparation of the food, the presentation of the meal I have labored over is also important to me.  I do not merely put the food onto the plate; I arrange it as carefully as the artist places paints on canvas.  I pay close attention to the contrast of colors and textures, the arrangements of shapes, the height of the finished product and the placement of the final touch – the garnish.  I know that seeing a well-presented plate delights the eye and gets the mouth watering.  Good presentation is as important as good taste.

In my opinion, cooking does not stop when the food is on the plate.  It also includes the ambiance of the dining room, the music played during dinner, the wine served and the company in which the meal is eaten.  Each of these things, if well planned, can add to the culinary experience.  Generally, when I cook for guests, I use my finest china and linen napkins.  I take great care when setting the table.  I usually use candles and something from nature – whether it be flowers in spring and summer, pine boughs in winter or leaves in autumn – to set the mood.  I play music that is soothing and turn the lights so that people can see their plates, but do not feel as though they are in an interrogation room.  When everything is ready, I serve the dishes I created.

Many people think that taste is the only thing to take into consideration when cooking.  I, on the other hand, believe that cooking affects the senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – not only of those people who eat the food, but also of those who have prepared it.  Cooking is more than a task to me, it is a delightful experience that allows me to relax and fills up my senses.”

Reading the comments of my long ago professor gives me hope that I can use this blog and my love of food to communicate with people and, in some cases, bring back memories for the reader.  The professor wrote, “You’ve described fine dining.  I miss that a lot from my mother…a lot of good food, a tablecloth, candles.  You are so right.  Your guests are very fortunate.”

As I read over my words, I realize that a few things have changed.  It’s not so important to use my finest china any more – I have aged a bit and understand that sometimes the bumps and dents of everyday life add character that the finest china cannot.  The lights are a little brighter during a meal because Jeff and I don’t see as well as we used to in dim lighting.  And ever since my mom set her napkin on fire during Easter dinner, I am more careful with the candles.

I also realize that some things have not changed….my passion for cooking, eating and entertaining, the joy I get from friends and family around the table, and the way I use food to express love to and serve others.