These days it seems like everything is on sale, and even my beloved cooking supply stores are offering deals on essentials like knives, pots, and kitchen gadgets. So, this week, I diverge from my style musings to talk practical.
In my cooking classes, I am frequently asked which are the kitchen tools I use most. The question usually comes up when I am demonstrating how to whip egg whites to frothy peaks, because no one can believe that I do not use a Kitchen Aid mixer to perform the feat. I respond that I do not own one. Gasp! How can I not own a Kitchen Aid mixer, or any mixer for that matter?
True, I have always admired the retro-chic contraption, with its designer colors and domestic goddess presence on sleek kitchen counters. But I have never been able to justify the time or price tag. After all, by the time you transfer your ingredients to the bowl, insert the attachments, wash and dry all the parts, and put them all away, I will have already taken my chocolate soufflés out of the oven!
For me, a good kitchen gadget has to be quick to use, wash, and put away. Besides the obvious ones — sharp knives, rubber spatulas, wood spoons, whisks, strainers, measuring spoons, etc, which you don’t need me to tell you about — there are certain tools that I reach for again and again. I agree with Michael Ruhlman that Kosher salt is the most useful tool in the kitchen…but I do not count that as a gadget. So here are my top ten most used gizmos, starting with the one I reach for most. I would love to hear about yours!
1. A durable and attractive pepper grinder
I have several for different pepper blends, including this cute one-handed bunny version; don’t waste your money on the battery-operated kind — too fancy for its own good.
2. Silpat (or other silicone) baking sheets
Provide a truly non-stick surface for baking cookies, oven-drying tomatoes, making Crispy Parmesan Kale Chips, and more; also great for rolling out pie dough.
3. Cuisinart food processor
The quickest way to shred potatoes for latkes, cream butter and sugar, mix pizza dough, and blend cookie, scone and muffin batter.
4. Cutting boards in various sizes made from compressed wood pulp.
Even though I have a butcher block island for chopping, I pull out the cutting boards to chop garlic, onions, shallots, smoked salmon, and anything that will leave a stinky trace; these are dishwasher-safe and very light; also easy to store.
5. Microplane grater and zester
You can’t beat the flavor boost of freshly grated citrus zest, nutmeg, Parmesan cheese, even rock salt.
6. Plastic scraper
A souvenir from my days as an apprentice at Fauchon; great for mixing anything in a bowl, also for cleaning sticky dough off counters; basically indestructible.
7. Cast iron skillet
Buy a large one to cook enough protein for a crowd; I use mine for deep-frying vegetables, too.
8. Rice Steamer
Since I finally invested in this handy cooker, I’ve never blown a batch of rice. It lets you forget about the rice while you go about your day. It will shut off automatically and even keeps the rice warm. In my freezer, there is always a bag of cooked brown rice.
If you enjoy making cocktails and fun beverages (see my recipes for Pomegranate-Mint Mojitos and, coming soon, Kumquat Passion Potion), this is an essential.
10. Plastic squeeze bottles
When serving a plated dinner party, I like to squirt sauces, oils, or cream from these no-fuss bottles; an easy way to cook like a pro.
These heaven-sent inventions also get my approval…
1. Plastic gloves
Buy them small so you can chop comfortably in them. They will protect you from cuts, burns, and nail-breakage, plus your hands won’t reek of garlic.
2. Puff pastry dough, and
3. Lady Fingers
I will never have time to make these from scratch, at least not in this lifetime! But with excellent packaged versions now widely available, we can all whip up a dreamy Tarte Tatin or Tiramisú.
4. Immersion Blender
I’ll admit it took me a long time to embrace this one. It does take up space, but there is no better (or safer) way to blend hot soups.
5. Bamboo hors d’oeuvre skewers
To instantly dress up finger foods, try spiking Shiitake Mushroom Fries and Parmesan chunks, oven-dried tomatoes and mozzarella bocconcini, anchovy-stuffed olives and oil-packed tuna, or potato-zucchini pancakes with smoked salmon and crême fraiche (tune in for recipes this summer).
6. Bamboo plates
Fabulous looking and fully compostable; available at Greenfeet.
1. Silicone muffin cups and baking molds
I find these are pricey and not really non-stick; besides, don’t you love peeling away those cute muffin papers?
2. Double Boiler
A waste of precious drawer space, when you can just as easily use a pot of water with a pan on top.
3. Egg Poacher
Those little indentations are cute, but they produce eggs shaped like pucks. It is just as easy to drop the eggs into a pot of simmering salted water.
4. French mandoline
These can cost well over $200.00, and they are much more finicky than the less expensive Japanese (Benriner) or Good Grips (OXO) versions.
Photo credits: 20MinuteGarden.com, Bakertowne.net, BakerySugarCraft.com, CrateandBarrel.com, Doba.com, FurnitureStoreBlog.com, Kitchensetal.com, PastryItems.com, ShopFosters.com, SustainableisGood.com and TeamSugar.com.