Cool Kitchen Tools

Sunday December 1, 2013

I don’t know if you have a weakness like me for new kitchen equipment and tools, but if you love spending time kitchen cooking or baking up this and that from my books, you probably do.  Of course we all have plenty of stuff in our home kitchens, but as far as I’m concerned you can never have too many well made tools, including whisks, spatulas, baking pans, or those basic no-nonsense stark-white classic ceramic dishes from BIA Cordon Bleu or Apilco that fit in the microwave. The stuff is perennial and will never go out of style. My motto: buy the best kitchen gear you can afford and enjoy using it. Get rid of the funky stuff.

grocery store find

In the grocery store I check out the section with the gadgets and gizmos as I walk by, just in case there is something that tweaks my interest–a new shape Pyrex pan (oval custard cups-fluted pie plates), small hard plastic colanders just right for rinsing veggies making a small salad, or red silicone spatulas with long wooden handles. I love browsing at Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, a restaurant supply, and even hardware stores for quality equipment (fabulous glass storage containers styled circa 1940s like my grandmother used to have).  Williams-Sonoma and Amazon.com (surprisingly) both have a fantastic online collection. And I have piles of catalogs to happily peruse in case I don’t feel like shopping online.

Here are the top dozen of my favorite essential kitchen tools and countertop appliances that have stood the test of time. I am going to recommend them not only for yourself, but as practical (and appreciated) gifts for those special people in your life who love to cook and bake. Except for the mixer and rice cooker, all are inexpensive and easy to find.

Kitchen Aid 5-or 6-quart 10-Speed Stand Mixer- This kitchen machine extraordinaire is one of the best gifts for a serious baker/cook. I always tell husbands about a professional stand mixer for a gift if their significant other does not own one. Everyone I know uses one, including myself ( I have two), and would not be without. It comes with a handled stainless steel bowl, 3 mixing tools, a clear plastic pouring shield to prevent flour from flying around the kitchen as you add it, and you can pick a great color to boot. I like the tilt-back head best so I can look into the bowl (only on the 5-quart model), but all other models are available with a non-retractable head that uses a level to move the bowl up and down (just like the pros). There are lots of attachments in case you want to make sausage, grind whole grains, make baby food, or roll out sheets of fresh pasta. If someone was buying me one, I would ask them to include an extra mixing bowl and quilted mixer cover as well. There is a new model with a glass mixing bowl. The mixers are on sale a lot and last a lifetime. There are a wide range of models differing in motor size and bowl capacity, and all are exceptional buys. A perfect souffle is moments away. Available everywhere, even sometimes Costco. $180 to $350.

•Automatic Rice Cooker -If you eat rice more than a couple of times a week, a rice cooker is a solid investment.  They do an exceptional job of cooking rice and other whole grains, as well as being very durable.  Rice cookers come in many different echelons, based on price and features. Fuzzy Logic heating units (Zojirushi calls theirs Neuro Fuzzy®) Rice Cookers are very popular in the Asian-American food community and for a good reason: they make fantastic rice.  If you can afford the price, this is the machine to invest in; they are great and last years with daily use. This is what I have and can’t live without it. The beautiful spherical DuPont SilverStone coated cooker bowl that is made from a combination of stainless steel and high-grade aluminum (the shape is a fantastic heat conductor) is so easy to clean you will wish every pan you own was just like it.  There is a hinged lid.  There are various heat settings that can’t easily be duplicated on a range top, like the quick mode (reduces the cooking time by 20 minutes by eliminating the soak rest at the beginning) and porridge cycle.  The cooking process includes some soaking at the beginning and steaming at the end. The LDL 24-hour clock with preset timer brings freedom to the cooking process, so you can time when you want the rice to start cooking. Place the ingredients in the pot, set the timer, and the rice or meal is ready when you are.  After the food is cooked, the unit automatically switches to the “Keep Warm” function, which keeps foods moister than conventional models, warming it for up to 12 hours.  The price on these machines range from about $170.00 to $200.00 up. Once you are hooked, you will never cook in a kitchen without a rice cooker again.

•Pampered Chef Glass Batter Bowl- You will have a hard time believing you ever cooked without this bowl at your fingertips. Mix, store, reheat, and even bake in this heavy-duty tempered glass bowl. The small batter bowl holds 1 quart; the larger 2 quarts. You want both and will love using them as the  thick, sturdy tempered glass feels good to handle. Features standard and metric measures, as well as a convenient spout and handle. Nice white lid included. Bowl is dishwasher-, freezer-, microwave- and oven-safe to 350°F (180°C). Lid is microwave- and dishwasher-safe. A steal at about $12 for the 1 quart and $16 for the 2 quart. I buy a set of these for birthday and wedding gifts all the time. http://www.pamperedchef.ca/ordering/prod_details.tpc?prodId=511&catId=123&outletSubCat= Also from Amazon.com.

• 18/10 Stainless Steel Measuring Spoons – Measuring tools are almost invisible in the kitchen they are so indispensable. They must be of sturdy construction and of a proper ulitarian design or else you will have bent and snapped spoons in no time.  I was shopping at Williams-Sonoma and spied the display with the sleek 18/10 stainless steel measuring spoon sets which I had never seen before. They were so beautiful I immediately bought a set for myself, a set for my mom, and a few sets to keep for gifts. They also come in an oval shape to fit more easily into spice jars and containers, but the round do me just fine. When you go to measure something with these, you will enjoy the task; these FEEL good to use. $20.

Instant Read Thermometer - Most of us know about these, I think. If you don’t, this is another must-have. When you see a photo of a chef with what looks like a pen clipped to his breast pocket, what you are probably seeing is his insta-read thermometer.  Insert the metal probe and you can get a quick accurate read on the dial for anything from steamed milk for your latte to roast turkey and your loaf of bread. It is extremely important for testing the liquid for which to dissolve yeast in for bread making. They read temperatures from minus 40 on up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The upgrade that is now being offered is easier to read and slightly more accurate digital version of the old round dial (digital thermometers are more accurate than analog), but either one is fine. Taylor is the best know manufacturer and one of these will set you back about $20 complete with the “pocket pen” cyclindrical holding case.

Handled Rubber Spatulas-Spatulas are best for scraping non-stick surfaces and getting every last drop of batter out of mixing bowls. Unlike the old spatulas which could melt at relatively low temperature, several manufacturers now make spatulas that will withstand heat in excess of 800 degrees. Have you ever used a spatula to stir a risotto, custard sauce, caramel sauce, or pudding only to discover that some of the bottom edge has burned, deformed, or disappeared?? I certainly have.  It’ll never happen to you again with these spats. You can distinguish these from the old rubber spatulas by their candy-bright colors. I have a wide range of sizes and shapes, thin blades, wide blades, curved “spoonula” blades, and I use both the rubber and silicone spatulas religiously. I depend on the extra-large size rubber with a long plastic handle, which I get at restaurant supply houses. Depending on size they range from $8 to $14.

A Good Garlic Press. I know there is a lot of bantering that using a garlic press doesn’t taste as good as slicing chopping yourself (the crushed vs chopped debate), but I can’t tell you one home cook that will do that–they all use garlic presses. I own a hinged die-cast aluminum press from Zyliss that I purchased in 1972 and it is still one of my favorite tools in perfect condition. It has stood the test of time. Another excellent brand is the Oxo Good Grips press (available from oxo.com) with rubber handles. Forget the plastic ones as they can snap the first time you press down on a clove. Don’t even consider buying garlic in a jar (its rancid from oxidation); fresh is best. About $15.

Hand Grater-Zester. If you don’t have a hand held grater-zester, sometimes called a rasp, life can be really hell in the kitchen.  How to get the zest off an orange without getting the pulp too, or grate the Parmesan cheese?  I have an assortment of small to large practical graters that are comfortable to use, sturdy, and of good construction, a cutting surface that will shred food into strings, a task that cannot be done with a knife. The microplane zester is the new hot tool of the year, a thin stainless steel bar perforated by rows of tiny, sharp blades, a design that was originally invented for a wood shop, with a nice erognomic handle. You can have fine or thick depending on the size and placement of the holes.  Every time I watch a cooking show these days, I see the microplane zester. Another must have. About $20.

Pastry Scrapers-I am always surprised that so many bread and pastry bakers are not aware of the convenient bench scraper.  Bench scrapers are one of the foremost specialized tools in bread classes, as well as commercial bakeries and professional pastry kitchens.  It is a large thin square of blunt-edged metal with an attached plastic handle to manipulate sloppy sticky doughs, coax up rolled out pie crusts and cookie doughs, knead and cut bread doughs, even cleanup the crackly floury surface after you’re done. The plastic bowl scraper, what I call the plastic card, is a D-shaped piece of flexible plastic with one cursed edge I use as a hand extension, like you would use the side of your hand if you had to. It is used like a regular handled spatula.  It scraps bowls of cake batter or bread dough with ease and gently lifts up baked cookies off a baking sheet. Get 1 metal and about 3 plastic while you are at it. About $1 to $5.

A Tape Measure. I know, you think I am crazy with this one, but I use my 60-inch retractable kitchen tape measure at least once a week. It is small, easily fits in the palm of your hand and equipment drawer, and is used just for measuring pastry, cookie dough, pan dimensions, and the depth of cake pans. You press the button and the tapes zips right back into its housing just like a kid’s toy. Leave the carpenter tools in the garage and the old folded tape measure in the sewing basket. Every time I give one to a friend, they are delighted. About $5.

Commercial Half Sheet Baking Pans. I cant live without a stack of these. When I was baking professionally, I always used over-sized full sheet pans with a rolled 1-inch rim, which fit in a commercial oven. Once I got used to the quality and how efficient these heavy-duty aluminum pans were, I wanted to use them at home, too, as cookie sheets. These pans are so versatile and popular they come in half- and quarter-sheet sizes as well, which are perfect for home ovens with that feel of professional quality. This professional-weight baking sheet is made by Chicago Metallic (Williams-Sonoma), but you can also find in restaurant supply houses as well. Heavier in gauge than that of standard home bakeware, they won’t rust or warp no matter what temperature so you can even do a pizza on them. The durable metal heats quickly and evenly to ensure uniform baking. The half-sheet pan is 17″ x 12″ and I use it for everything from roasting vegetables to making a thin sponge cake and free form artisan breads. I own 8 of them. I found the quarter-sheet pan, 8 1/2″ x 6 1/2″, by accident at my warehouse outlet and grabbed them to use for biscuits, scones, brownies, and bar cookies. You will never use or need another baking sheet after you use these. Line with parchment paper or a Silpat and you dont even need to wash. About $19.

Digital Electric Pressure Cooker-Ever want to use a pressure cooker and didn’t know where to start? The time is right. The newest, and a very popular at that, member of the pressure cooker family is the Cuisinart 6-quart digital Electric Pressure Cooker. Many users say an electric digital programmable pot is the best type of pressure cooker to start with if you are a novice. Directions are so easy to understand you can take it out of the box and be cooking right away. It is a plug-in counter top appliance with an internal heating element and precision thermostat that takes the pressure cooker pot from manual to automatic. This machine is growing in popularity due to its ease of use, the excellent food it produces, and its affordable price of under $100 at any place from Costco to Bed, Bath, and Beyond. And of course, it cooks 70% faster than conventional methods, making it perfect for vegans and vegetarian bean cuisine. Using this type of pot is known for its retention of flavor and delicious food. Get a silicone steamer basket (amazon.com) and a set of heat resistant spatulas so you won’t scratch the pot’s interior surface since you will be doing a lot of steaming and stirring.

Beth Recommends: Online Resources

Here are a few of my favorite mail-order kitchen equipment catalogs and from where I order my precious collection of pans and tools.  Get on all of their mailing lists or check out their internet catalogs (I also use Amazon.com, kitchenshop.com, cooksworld.com, ekitchengadgets.com).  Remember that good equipment is meant to last a lifetime and worth the inital outlay cost.

Chef’s Catalog

800-338-3232

www.chefscatalog.com

The Bakers’ Catalog from King Arthur

800-827-6836

www.bakerscatalog.com

La Cuisine

1-800-521-1176

www.lacuisineus.com

Sur La Table Catalog

800-243-0852

www.surlatable.com

Williams Sonoma Mail Order Department

800-541-2233

www.williams-sonoma.com


Your Comments

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  1. Cheryl 03/04/2010 at 10:59 pm

    Like I said. You are definitely a kindred spirit.

    I too am a fan of kitchen toys. I am a bit of a junkie when it comes to kitchen stuff. But, it’s not junk. I have 1 Kitchen aide and 2 Bosch mixers, the spare lives in a box downstairs. You never know when you might need it right?
    There are certain jobs that a Bosch is just to well, indelicate for. So the kitchen aid is there for those jobs.
    Since I am restricted to a home kitchen… (Since I was a kid I’ve had dreams of a huge Hobart mixer, mountains of dough and a commercial oven.) My cooking enjoyment lives on at home.

    I too enjoy the measuring spoons that feel nice in my hands, my half sheet pans, and yes, I carry the same measuring tape in my purse. Was that a run on? I think it might be.

    :o )

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