Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Favorite Thing This Week

My favorite thing this week is kitchen tools. I love kitchen tools. I can't seem to get out of a cooking store without buying something new (much to my spouse's dismay.) We've got tools secreted all around our kitchen. But many are tools we could live without (ssh, don't tell the hubby!) Below are my favorite kitchen gadgets, the ones that I feel are most important to any kitchen.

First are the very, very basic items.

1. Cutting boards: I think this one goes without saying. It's important to have cutting boards available, unless you like replacing your countertops every few years! I'm actually a big fan of these plastic ones. I know they say that wood boards are the best, and that plastic can carry germs, but they work best for me. They're easy to store, create a good cutting surface, are light enough where I can lift them up and scrape whatever I just cut into the bowl or pot I'm using, and fit in the dishwasher.

Wooden boards can't go in the dishwasher, and we don't have much extra counter space--which is where a dirty board would sit until it could be hand-washed. If you're worried about germs, that's what the sanitize button is for.

(That's not to say I don't own wooden boards, or that I wouldn't love to have one of those big, butcher-block cutting boards, but really, if you're in a small space, on a limited budget, or just don't cook much, these plastic guys are what I'd steer you to.)

2. Measuring tools: I'm covering both the cups and spoons here. When you bake, it's so important to measure things accurately. Your recipe may be screwed up beyond repair if you just "eyeball" how much flour or sugar you need. Make sure you have at least a cup and a half-cup measuring cup, and a tablespoon and a teaspoon measuring spoon.

3. Next are those silicone spatulas. I love these things. I use them all the time. The heads are heat-resistant and dishwasher safe, and they're great tools for both stirring or scraping out a bowl. Given the choice, I'd pick one of these guys before an old-fashioned wooden spoon any day (which again, is not to say there's not a time and place for wooden spoons.)

4. Knives: Your knives are really important tools. If you're spending $$ on anything in your kitchen, go for quality knives. Even if you have a smaller budget, buy the best you can afford. I've pictured a midrange santoku knife and an inexpensive paring knife here. The Kuhn Rikon knives are incredibly affordable but also incredible tools. For $15, you can buy yourself a very, very sharp carbon steel knife that stays sharp for quite a while. I have three of these paring knives and one of their small chef's knives (I like the colors, haha) and I wouldn't hesitate to give them as a gift (or buy more) at any time.

The most important thing regarding your knives is sharpness. There's no use in buying top-of-the-line knives and then letting them go dull. If you don't know how to sharpen your knives, there are many resources on the Internet to teach you. Otherwise, you should be able to get them sharpened at a hardware store, a knife store, or through the knife manufacturer. Dull knives cause way more damage than sharp knives. Keep that in mind if you think you're afraid of working with sharp blades.

Next are tools that aren't necessarily essential, but I sure like having around. 

1. Whisk: Great tool to have when you're using really anything that includes flour and a thin batter. Whisks get lumps out like no other.

2. Spatula: I love these old spatulas--I don't even know where we got them from. They fit well in the hand and have a short enough handle where they're easy to control. The perfect pancake-or-grilled-cheese flipper.

3: A serrated knife: If you've ever tried to cut bread with a plain bladed knife, you'll know why these guys are on the list! A quality, sharp serrated knife is a valued kitchen tool in any kitchen.

4. Vegetable peelers: Even with nice paring knives, I will never disparage the use of a quality vegetable peeler. One of these can peel a potato much better than I could with just a knife!

Finally, here are some tools that I love having around but don't use on a regular basis.

1. Digital Thermometer: This has been handy for things like making caramel or cooking chickens, but doesn't have an everyday use in my kitchen. But it's cool and fun to use!

2. Silicone bands: I saw these at our local cooking store for ... well, forever, and wanted them but never bought them. But I thought about them every time I cooked a chicken! I finally broke down and spent the $5, and have since loved every second of their presence in my kitchen.

3. Mortar and Pestle: I never thought I would need one of these. Then my nice peppermill broke and I couldn't afford to replace it right away. This little guy was my savior. It's easy to care for, small so it fits in my kitchen, and relatively easy to use (once you get a crushing technique down.) Having a backup in the kitchen is always a good thing!

4. Microplane: I love this baby. I put off buying one for years and used a grating tool instead. I'm sorry I waited. This microplane makes quick and efficient work of nutmeg, citrus zest, and cheese.

5. Tongs: Okay, maybe I should have put tongs with the last group. But I kind of thought, well, the spatula is here, so ... but I love my tongs and use them all the time. Just make sure you buy long-enough tongs that keep your hand away from the heat! Short tongs = useless.

6. Ice Cream Scoop: I know, sort of silly looking ... but you'd be amazed at how great this thing is for making sure you get nice, even portions. I use them to make things in muffin tins (like my Honey-Pepper Cornbread or Streusal-Topped Peach Muffins), and I also like them for making drop cookies (do I have no cookie recipes posted?? Looks like I'll need to remedy that!) They get you evenly-sized muffins or cookies that look like they were made by a professional. I recommend buying metal scoops--plastic scoops just don't work as well (I have two! Both are not that great).

Anyway, there you have it. Some basic kitchen tools!

Are there any kitchen tools that you love to use that aren't listed here? What are they? I'd love to know!

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