Favourite Kitchen Tools or Gadgets (X-Mas Help)
I need to make a X-mas list, and as a new baker, I want the list to be full of useful utilities which I can use over and over again.
- So my question is, what are the tools you use in the kitchen that you constanly return to, or couldn't live without?...specify anything, as banal (or odd) as it might sound.
I am also looking for some good new bakeware...if anyone has any tips for buying new gear, or where to go to find new stuff, I would appreciate your recommendations.
If you have an older oven like I do, whose timer leaves something to be desired, then you might want to get a digital timer. Mine keeps track of 2 different timings and can be used as a stop watch as well. I didn't realize how something so minor (no pun) can be so nice to own. I tend to misjudge time when I am cooking but the timer keeps me on track.
A less practical suggestion would be to buy one of those personal DVD players. You can watch and follow along with cooking/baking DVDs
I am asking Santa for a rice cooker. I just took a cooking class that showcased these things (I'll let you know the particular brand personally, if you'd like - but don't want to come across as a schill). Anyway, the chef showed us how to make all sorts of rice perfectly in the cooker, AND made full meals in the cookers as well - chicken with shiitake mushrooms, fish and scallops, even a lemon custard. Knowing some other possibilities with the rice cooker, I think it's a great gift.
Kuhn Rikon can opener it does not leave sharp edges, a flat meat pounder-not the kind with teeth, they tear up meat, funnels in several sizes and at least one metal one for pouring off hot oil into jars. Banton rollong pin and a French rolling pin. Ilike the Kuhn Rikon vegetable peelers and have about 5 of them, plastic cutting mats, they come in packs of 2 and are quite handy. I don't know if Cuisinart is making them any more but they used to make square cutting boards with a raised edge all around I have about 6 of them. They are quite handy for juicy things, are made of plastic and go in to the dishwasher. I have a funny little rolling pin thing that has a handle in the middle and a roller at each end one is about 4" long and the other about 2" it is great for rolling out tart doughs in the pan or pizza dough, a tart tamper is also handy. At Cost Plus I have bought a bunch of wooden forks that I love for stirring a lot of things I also have a bunch of wooden spoons. I also have some antique "granny" forks. They are carbon steel and have very sharp tines and are great for spearing things while cooking. If you don't have one a Foley Food Mill is another great item to have, makes great mashed potatoes and you don'thave to peel them and apple sauce too and just about anything else you want to puree.
A good French-style rolling pin - the type that is just a long dowel of wood. More control that way.
Pyrex pie pans.
A zester (buy a decent one, the really cheap ones aren't sharp).
A bunch of wooden spoons.
Nesting bowls - I prefer the lighter stainless steel, though some prefer tempered glass.
A bunch of little bowls for measuring spices and things out into.
One or two tart pans with removeable bottoms.
One good springform pan, 9 or 10 inch.
Two deep 9 inch cake pans.
A 12 inch cast iron skillet (for cooking as well, of course, but also for upside-down cakes, soda bread, corn bread, etc.)
A set of nesting round cutters for cookies, biscuits, etc.
Two pastry bags, one at least 16 inch, the other 10 or 8, with at least one large round plain tip and one large star tip, as well as a coupler and at least one small plain and star.
A generous supply of parchment paper.
Two bread pans.
Two muffin pans (12 muffin size)
A few nice cookie sheets.
A spatula or two for lifting cookies and pastries.
An offset or straight (personal preference) spatula for frosting. A little offset one comes in handy more often than you would think as well.
A cake turntable (only if you plan to do cake decorating.)
I consider the above to be the basics. Other things I like having, thought they aren't necessary by any means, are ice-cream scoops in the truffle size and a medium size (for cookies), a tiny rolling pin for marzipan, a blowtorch (either a real one from the hardware store or an unnecessarily expensive but travel-worthy one from the kitchen store), a bundt pan, and a nice (okay, an absurdly large) assortment of cookie cutters, and a bavarian mold.
I gave a friend a box of baking supplies as a wedding present, including several items I wish I had for myself. The first among those was a silpat sheet, but she also really loved a set of alphabet cookie cutters. Silly, I know, but she has kids and loves to bake pies that say "eat me" or to make cookies with smaller cookies on top in the kids' initials and so on. Little cutters are nice for quick marzipan decor as well - flowers and leaves can often be bought in sets and they're nice to have. I also yearn for a few silicon baking molds, particularly the half-spheres.
Oh, and a bench scraper is handy.
You touched on a number of areas of interest of mine, so I thought I'd comment:
French-style dowel rolling pin: more control... Okay, sure, as in, better for stretching pasta and yeast dough. But rolling out pastry for pie, an axled pin allows a very light touch spread-from-center technique. One should avoid, for any kind of rolling, as much of the down-smooshing as possible: smooshing overworks and toughens your dough.
Pyrex pie pans. Cooks Illustrated's testing reveals dark colored pans generally cook better by heating up more and caramelizing more.
Kitchenaid mixer. Before Christmas rolled around I happened to need one in a hurry (while on vacation! :) ) so I walked into a store and was amazed that I got the Artisan model (higher horsepower) on sale for < $190... now they are $250. So, these are available cheap and will be after Christmas too... Also, I think the cheaper tilt head models are better than the more expensive ones where the bowl moves up and down: the bigger ones have the head in the way all the time, and the bowls have no bases.
Nesting bowls. you can get sets of metal bowls cheap, so look for a sale and buy multiple sets, like 4. Why? Because the exact same sized bowls will nest like crazy and you can then have a whole mess of bowls in a small space. If you don't want that many, pick a size you like and give sets of other sizes as gifts.
9 inch cake pans. According to cooks illustrated's tests (again) you must also have 8 inchers. A recipe will have been designed for the size of the pan and it makes a difference.
A 12 inch cast iron skillet: and a sign that tells outsiders to your kitchen not to "help" by cleaning it because they will ruin it for you. Same for your knives which they invariably shove into the cutlery tray of your dishwasher.
re: Reared on Home Cookin
That's a great suggestion on the bowls - I'll do that next time I see a sale.
I actually have 8 inch, 9 inch, 10 inch, and 12 inch cake pans, but I think smeone just starting out should stick with 9 inch. Most recipes are designed for nine-inch. I actually rarely use my 9 inch because I like to use cardboard rounds beneath when decorating, which come in even sizes. But at this point I don't have any trouble determining the quantity of batter for a pan, so it doesn't much matter.
Dark pie pans are no doubt better for browning. I like Pyrex because I'm terrible about determining when pies are done. I always want to drag them out too early - no idea why. With a Pyrex pan, I can actually look at the bottom, see it's underdone and force myself to throw the thing back in the oven. But most people probably would do better with dark pans.
As for the rolling pins - I really think this is a matter of personal preference. I switched a few years ago when my old dowel pin lost a handle. I bought the French pin on a lark, because I happened to be in NY and was on my usual pilgrimage to Bridge's. I couldn't believe how much I liked it for everything, including pastry. I find it responds to my touch better - I can roll very gently or with fair force. But it does take a certain getting used to, if you've always used a dowel pin. I think both can work equally well. (Mine's a straight dowel, not a tapered, which I tried at a friend's house and didn't like as much.)
My cast-iron skillet and knives are protected because I just don't allow outsiders in my kitchen except for peeling potatoes. Once that's done, they are handed cocktails and shown into the living room!
I've been disappointed in my Salter scale. It turns itself off in a minute or so, often when I am just midway through measuring something.
This is problem if I have a container with multiple ingredients already measured into it, plus an unknown amount of the ingredient I was measuring when the power went off.
Am I missing something obvious? Is there some way to get it not to turn off?
I think pies when I hear baking, so I'd say a pastry blender, pie pans (pyrex works great!), pastry cloth, and a good rolling pin.
For cookies, you've already gotten great advice (although a couple of different sized spatulas can be really useful).
I don't do cakes, so will leave you to other advice...
re: Tamar G
I have to say I hated the flexi-mold silicone baking pan and loaf pan I bought awhile back. The house stunk of burning rubber, and the stuff I baked in it had to be thrown away, as it tasted the way the house smelled. I returned them and am sticking with still very servicable, old baking pans from about 25 years ago.
re: Tamar G
I have only used mini-canales molds, but I loved it. you just pop it out. There was no rubber smell at all, although I was cooking at 350 and didn't get higher than that. Do other people have a problem with rubber smell at high heat? I've mostly heard good things so far but I'd like to know if they cause problems.
re: Tamar G
I've never had a problem with smell, I actually find that pretty odd, and they're great for some cakes/cookies that are hard to get out (i.e. madelines, certain bundt cakes). However I don't like them for everything, crusts don't get quite as crispy and I've over/under-cooked things because it distributes heat differently than a conventional pan and I haven't quite mastered that. But they cool very quickly to the touch and you can toss them in the dishwasher.
I just did a piece on my favorite kitchen gadgets from my kitchen for the Tokyo Food Page. See the link below.
Also, have heard that the baking stone for the oven is great. Especially if you are committed to baking. Of course a reliable scale.
re: Yukari Pratt
Thank you for the link. I hope to get into Chicago's Chinatown before Christmas to buy a Wok for my daughter. (She wants one that does not have steep sides, kind of a more open curve, to move things to the side easier? Have any suggestions on a wok??) But I will look for a mandoline and other things you mentioned. Thank you again, Mary
For baking: (for the baking pans, there's a number of brands: Doughmaker, Kaiser, Chicago (something or other)
High quality measuring spoons, measuring cups and liquid measures.
Marble pastry board and rolling pin
Stainless steel scraper
Silpat mats for cookie baking
Silicon basting/pastry brushes
Spring form pan
A couple of sizes of tube pans
Tart pan (with removable bottom)
Kitchen Aid mixer!
Set of stainless steel bowls
Set of plastic mixing bowls that pour with non-skid bottoms
Penzey's double vanilla
"air cushion" cookie sheets or Doughmaker's cookie sheets
high quality non-stick cooling racks
microplane grater (one for citrus zest, smaller one for nutmeg and spices)
Strainers of verying degrees - be sure to ask for a "chinoisse" to sound super-cheffy.
The red/green/orange silicone oven mitt thigies - I never realized the joys of having dishwasher-safe oven mitts until I had 'em.
Do you have a salad spinner yet? Oh no - you don't have to get married these days in order to own one.
Ditto a spare coffee grinder (or two) for spices.
As far as baking (blech!) goes, do you have a bench scraper? Do you have one of them baguette perforated pans? Maybe just ask several people for gift certificates to the King Arthur catalogue (they have GREAT gear).
Here are a few off the top of my head:
OXO measuring cups
welding gloves for use as potholders
12" fry pan
spring loaded tongs
good chef's knife
kitchen shears (not poultry shears)
1/2 sheet size jelly roll pan
glass mixing bowls
very large cutting board, at least 12 x 16 and preferably much larger
Third the microplane -- very useful in grating fine shavings of parmesan, citrus, nutmeg. Very sharp, very convenient, easy to clean. A great addition to the repetoire.
I would also add good measuring spoons and cups, and a good peeler. I have the oxo peeler, and friends will come over for dinner, and will ask what they can do to help. I often ask them to peel potatoes, carrots, etc., and am met with a groan -- until they have their hands on my oxo peeler. If a chore can be made simple by a good implement, the task of peeling is made easy with the oxo peeler.
Someone gave me a tip a while back that if you are right handed, it's good to have a left handed cook friend to exchange peelers with. My $5.95 oxo peeler is probably just about ready for the left hander (I've had it for about 6 years, and it's still sharp, just not as very sharp it was at the get go, and it's done a great deal of peeling, very well, in it's day in my kitchen :-) But for the price, I think it paid off in spades.
Check out the Endurance stainless steel measuring spoons. They're elongated rather than round so you can dip them into spice bottles. Very handy. Set includes 1/8 and 3/4 teaspoon measures--also handy and not often found on the cheaper sets of spoons. Finally, each spoon is marked with the equivalent measurement in milliliters, convenient if you need to convert a recipe from a British book.