We all have one. That collection of kitchen tools that are in handy reach. Often used. Some historic. Some newly bought. Some falling apart, but still valued. We almost don’t realize we have created an important collection. Stop and think and look at them.
This is your team. Your pals. Your right-hand assistants. Your gals-friday. 🙂 They know you, too. And they’re pleased to be of service.
And when you’re out shopping— in a supermarket, or a TJ MAXX, or any food-related store or food-related department — it’s the cooking tool area/wall/shelves that somehow (how? you wonder) always draws you in.
I tick off each item as my eyes drink in the stunning toy-store-like array: yep, I have that, I have that, too, I don’t have that, but do I want it? (do I need it?), oh, look at those cute measuring cups…and spoons to match!, but I have measuring cups and measuring spoons…still, should I get another set?, oh! there’s a rabbit-shaped tea infuser…awwww!, but I have 3 tea infusers and I don’t use any of them, but here’s another large ladle…this one in red, so pretty!!….
Know what I mean? In other words: more toys to play with my food, please.
Back at home, my favorite toys bask in the spotlight of being favored stars. I use them over and over. I know their personalities. I know what I can rely on. And I know their limitations.
Here are some of my favorite gizmos. Not all of them. Just a handful of favorites. Are any of these on your list?
Wooden Spoons, Wooden Forks, Wooden Spatula
So common, right? I couldn’t move at the stove without them. I have plastic and metal spoons, too, but I can only make risotto with wooden spoons. I can only stir sauce with wooden spoons. I love sautéing with a wooden spatula. And I can only prevent boiling spaghetti from sticking to itself with a wooden fork.
On one of my cooking trips to Italy, we took a class at a beautiful hotel in Ravello. Our chef-instructor (Vincenzo) insisted we use nothing but wooden utensils to stir any of the dishes we were making: pasta, sauces, vegetables, fish. He believed that metal utensils had an affect on the taste of the food. (Hmmmm…maybe so.)
Scissors (2-3 kinds)
Scissors are like having sharp shears for fingers. I keep 3 kinds in the kitchen. The smaller blue-handled pair are for paper and string and non-food items. The bigger blue-handled ones are better quality and cut almost everything: cheese packaging, parsley leaves, fish portioning, pizza slice cutting, fat trimming, whole peeled tomatoes in the can cutting, mozzarella cutting, plus: you name it. The black-handled scissors come apart — I use them for meat and, in particular, chicken cutting: boneless chicken into pieces, whole chickens into pieces, etc. Then you can take apart the chicken-y scissors and clean them well.
This isn’t just a colander. I found it at TJ Maxx. It’s an Italian import and according to the label was intended for scooping gnocchi. I love that it’s not round. It’s elongated a bit, so it fits in the pot of boiling pasta (or gnocchi) easily, so you can lift and drain. I take it wherever I go cooking. 🙂
Lemon Squeezer & Microplane
I resisted the lemon squeezer. For years I squeezed a lemon half with one hand, into my other hand, letting the juice fall through fingers, and pits get stopped in my palm. But one of my cooking class students brought me a bright yellow lemon squeezer (thanks, Karen!). Once I started using it, I take it out for every lemon, lime or orange. And each time I appreciate the counter-intuitive “put the lemon half in the other way.”
And thank you, carpenters, for this rasp with a handle called a microplane. Yes, instead of shaping wood it works great for making lemon zest, orange zest, lime zest, grating fresh ginger or garlic, or grating a bit of cheese, or a nut of nutmeg.
If pastry is in your repertoire you know how fun, and often necessary, fluted wheels are. You can cut a straight line, but better yet, cut a beauty-wiggly line. Mine are used mostly for pasta: ravioli, farfalle, lasagna sheets, tortellini, more and more. I love fancy edges.
Offset Spatula & Flat Whisk
How did we ever manage without the offset spatula? I knew nothing about these babies until they populated my tool kit in culinary school. I have a small one (and have added more) and a large one. Smooth cake batter, ice the cake, frost the cupcakes. And I’m also in love with flat whisks. They do the same job as a balloon whisk, but they bend and can scrape the inside edges of your bowl.
French Rolling Pin
My mom had a French pin first, then gave it to me. She used to have a rolling pin with handles. Then the handles fell off (a very old pin), but it was perfectly usable without handles. Somewhere along the line she got the French one. And somewhere along the line, I ended up with it (I think she still uses the handle-less old pin).
But the French pin has tapered ends and that makes all the difference in the world. You can use the ends to press out a small area of dough that may be thicker than the rest of the dough you’re rolling out, or even out the edges of circle. (I just found another one at Home Goods.)
As far as I’m concerned you can do nothing at the stove if you don’t have tongs. Turn browning cutlets, lift searing meat, turn wilting greens, pull out the already golden garlic. I never have enough tongs. I can’t stop buying them! I’m afraid I might leave one or two behind at an on-the-road cooking party and I never want to be without. Pet peeve: tongs with locks. Oy. Why do they have to lock? Then you have to unlock them. Tongs are meant to be grabbed and go-ed.
Someone gave me a gift card for King Arthur Flour and after combing the website I couldn’t resist this nut cruncher. Its most endearing features: 1. majorly low-tech (no wires, no electric), and 2. cranks like a jack-in-the-box. And the job it does: turns nuts into crushed nuts with a few likable chunks.
Another convenience I avoided for years. There was a drawer of them when I taught at Viking. I always resisted them, and dragged out the parchment paper instead. It’s their texture, kind of clammy, that put me off. Until one day at Costco a set of 2 half-sheet pan silpats and 1 quarter-sheet silpat was boxed with a price of only $22. That’s pretty cheap for silpat. So I bought it. And got hooked. Now when I take out those clammy-feeling liners and think: yippee! (Just bought the circle one for a 9″ cake pan!)
Leave me a list of your can’t-do-without or particular lovelies!
Then stay tuned for my favorite Italian cooking tools (or regular tools co-opted for Italian cooking), i.e. pasta machine, gnocchi board, potato ricer…
…sorry to add but couldn’t resist for, aside from the usual, an unusual, for me, kitchen tool gift has recently become…. as a favorite old leather coat, almost. It belonged to a…friend’s grandmother, then mother, then passed to her after her mother passed on. It was to be put away in a basement, most likely to remain hidden in a box for a couple decades, maybe held up by a younger relative’s hand in a room somewhere, fiddled a bit questionably with a moment or two before being laid back down and sent to some recycling center where it would have ended its practical form: a hand blender, double blade. Having grown up in post-war US, I’d never seen one before. Italian made, despite it’s… at least 60 years, still works perfectly, the blades whip around with ease, the metal wheel spinning round, the three elements combined announcing to anyone within 10 meters ‘something fluffy is being made, air enters, a volume mounts.’ After the first time I was quite hooked, the comfortable cross-barred red wooden handle you hold with the left while turning the smaller bearing red wooden handle-knob with the right.
Because, well, if you’re prepping anything, basically, for less than 5-6 people by the time you would have bent over and opened or pulled the draw, peered in, grabbed the main motored blender body, maybe muttering after fiddling and clanging about for the right thingy, no not those two twirly thingies but the the regular ones, the whisks, no not the small ones, finally found them huddled beneath maybe 9 pairs of chop sticks, a pastry thermometer used once sometime when Bush was president, if not Clinton, a full set of lime green sac-a-poche filters still in their package, 7.99, close together maybe to assuage their kitchen abandonment, managed to slide them in, put the plug into the socket, wait I forgot to add the powdered sugar, then finally turned on and fluffed the cream – with the old-tech hand beater you’ve already dished out the whipped cream, maybe a pinch of cinnamon, sliced the strawberries, served the plates cleaned and put away the hand beater. Of late even pancakes have become usual. And meringue not infrequent (on egg white the little thing’s a beast.) I’d never have thunk that more than any wine cork, knife, pincher, thong, tomato peeler (which doesn’t work on tomatoes but is great for just about everything else, like a mandolin,) or grating plane… that the first indispensable tool that would come to my mind would be: a hand beater.
that was a beautiful piece of writing! you have totally topped all my kitchen tools combined 🙂 Thanks so much for ringing in with that love letter (a poem really) to a hand beater…perfect!
Just wondering if you had any couples cooking classes coming up? Son in law and daughter both love to cook and he is from Italian family. I think they would love your classes. They both have birthdays coming up.
Hi Barbara, thanks for checking in. My cooking classes are for small groups — sometimes couples come– sometimes not. So classes aren’t designated that way. It’s just a mixed group or 6-7 people. Currently my classes are sold out through the end of June…but I do make gift certificates available for future classes. Write me an email and I can send complete info. Thanks!