Sunday, April 15

Kitchen Essentials: Tools, Gadgets and Equipment

Let's talk kitchen gadgets. When it comes to matters of the kitchen, some cooks will argue that without their favorite pieces of equipment, it's difficult for them to cook their best. Some believe that a sharp knife is all you really need....don't get my family started on the subject of knives, they seem to think mine are never sharp enough! I am not one to have a cabinet full of gadgets and equipment, only the essentials. So what tools, equipment or gadgets would I consider an essential in my kitchen?  I have 3 criteria for what makes a good kitchen essential. 1. Ease of use. 2. Ease of clean-up and 3. Is it multi-purposed? Let's count down my beloved, can't do without, kitchen equipment. These are not the 'bare' essentials nor a comprehensive list for a fully equipped kitchen, this is middle of the road equipment that just makes life a little bit easier. Tools I would hate to live without, but I could if I had to!!

Here are my Top 12:

In no particular order.

1. Fine strainer or sieve: It can be used for several things. Straining water off of pasta, sifting flour or other dry ingredients and if you add a good clean piece of cheese cloth you can strain soups, stocks or even seeds from fruit. Leaving a very clear, smooth and fine liquid behind. I love multi-purpose items!


2. Digital Scale: Okay, I hear you. I know you think I am nuts, right? Why would we possibly need a digital scale? When baking you need to always be as precise as possible. Baking is not like cooking. When you 'cook' you can throw in what ever tastes good. Not so with baking, it really is like being in a Chemistry class. The right amount of baking powder for 2 cups of flour would be....???? Not everyone measures the same. Some take their measuring cup and reach down into the flour sack and come up with a big scoop. WRONG! You should always loosely spoon it into your cup and gently scrape off the top with the straight side of a knife. A digital scale takes out the guess work. Nothing is more accurate for prepping ingredients for baking. My absolute favorite thing to do with my digital scale is to weigh things like bread or cookie dough, cake pans filled with uncooked cake mixture etc.....this ensures that my rolls, cookies, cakes and other pastries all come out evenly! It makes my OCD happy! I just love it.


3. Citrus Juicer:  Whether it be a simple hand held wooden juicer or a more expensive electric juicer, you need a tool that will ensure you get every bit of juice out of your lemons! Pretty self explanatory, one is not better than the other, I personally like my hand held wooden juicer because of the easy clean up.



4. Kitchen Aid Electric Mixer: A good electric mixer can take care of ALL your mixing from cookie dough to marinades to whipping homemade cream. With additional attachments you can knead yeast dough, make pasta and even stuff sausage! Very versatile and saves your arms!


5. Mortar and Pestle: Used for centuries in all cultures. I use mine to crush spices and herbs making seasoning rubs, pesto, curry pastes and other herb spreads. I know that these things can be accomplished in a food processor with a click of a button, but sometimes you want to 'bruise' your herbs and not massacre them. Believe it or not it does bring out a different flavor in your herbs. Also I like it because of the easy clean-up. Quick!


6. Offset Spatula: Well this little gem doesn't need a lot of explanation. I have several in different sizes. I use them for icing cakes of course, but also to flip pancakes, remove cookies from the pan or even moving a whole baked fish to a serving platter. Great little tool.                                                                                


7. Parchment Paper and/or Non-Stick Foil: How did I live before non-stick foil? I praise whoever invented this most versatile of kitchen necessities. Every time I bake brownies or quick breads I line my pans with non-stick foil, what a wonder it is.....I don't have to grease and flour my pans anymore! A huge time saver and NO MORE washing of pans, what a joy these two items have been! Now they have Parchment Paper Foil! All in one! I can hardly wait to use that!!

8. A Set of Good Quality Knives: At least one paring, one 8 inch, one serrated blade and a good knife for chopping herbs. Good quality and proper care ensures a long life for your investment. Also having the right tool for the job will save you time as well. You will be able to cover all of your kitchen cutting job with these few knives.

9. Microplane/Rasp Zester: This long skinny handheld tool can be used to zest citrus, grate hard cheese like Parmesan or even shave chocolate for a garnish. I LOVE mine, I no longer have to fear leaving a little of my DNA in with whatever I am grating! I hate it when that happens!


10. Instant-read, Oven and Candy Thermometers: Not all ovens run the same temperatures, buy a descent oven thermometer and hang it on the middle rack in your oven. No more surprises when you open up the oven door to find your chicken went from golden and roasted to fried! Use an instant-read thermometer to determine if your chicken or fish is cooked through. You may not want a candy thermometer, I make candy around the holidays, so I made a good investment in a candy thermometer that will last for generations to come.


11. Kitchen Aid or Cuisinart food processor: It slices, dices, purees and whips. You can grind nuts and meat. It will even grind whole grains into specialty flours. Really?? WOW! It will make homemade peanut butter, mayonnaise, pasta, pie and pizza dough as well as cookie and bread crumbs. Need I say more? Who knows it might even unclog your sink! It's a great piece of equipment for any kitchen.


12. Good Quality Blender: Makes quick work of beverages like smoothies and milkshakes, marinades, salad dressings, crushed ice and even good homemade baby food.

Your kitchen - the bare essentials:

If you are just starting to cook, a newlywed or stocking a basic kitchen, running out to buy a 40-pound mortar and pestle may not be your first priority. But there are a handful of tools that should be in every kitchen, no matter your skill level or passion for cooking.

These would be my recommendations:

-- 8- or 10-inch chef's knife
-- Paring knife
-- Bread knife
-- Whisks, 2
-- Spoons - wooden and metal, solid and slotted
-- Vegetable peeler
-- Spatulas - rubber, metal and silicone
-- Cutting board
-- Tongs
-- Measuring spoons
-- Measuring cups
--Baking Sheets, 2
--Baking Pans for cakes,3
--Pie Plate
--Oven-Proof Casserole Dishes
--INVEST in Good Quality Pots, Saucepans and Skillet
--Varying Sizes of Mixing Bowls

This list doesn't include absolutely everything, but if you are just starting out buy only what you need and add when you can. Buy yourself a really great cookbook and a pretty apron and get busy!

ENJOY, and may the Cooking Fairy shine down on you!

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