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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kitchen Essentials

I thought I’d include a little article (she said, mooning over these items) about kitchen essentials I CAN NOT live without and why everyone should have them.

If you’re a home cook, especially a serious one, your gear can be the difference between fabulous and mediocre.  Now I’m not saying any of these things will necessarily make or break your meal, but everything helps.

Some people swear by silicone bakeware, or a certain brand of utensil, but, all things being equal, I find that if you do things right, it won’t matter if you’re using your grandmother’s eggbeater and tongs that don’t close anymore.

My first and most important can’t-live-without item is my chopper.  Now this thing, serious chef or not, will save your life. (one day maybe literally!) Wicked sharp, with a flat blade, flat cutting surface, and no serrations, this knife does everything but cut bread.  I use it seriously, several times each day. It is the most often reached for and, as a result, most often washed, item in my kitchen arsenal. It never leaves the counter.   Mine has a somewhat flexible blade, which I like, because I use it to scoop up chopped things, after I have chopped them, and transfer them to the pot or pan.  But if you prefer a standard, thick tang, go for it.  It can cut through soft tomatoes, and frozen meat alike.  Having a good knife makes your work SO much easier. I can’t even remember what my life was like before the chopper. (and some very thoughtful friends who got me my knives as a wedding gift.)

The second thing, though less glamorous-looking, are my kitchen shears.  Definitely the second most reached-for item in my kitch.  Cutting fresh herbs, opening packages, threatening my husband when he comes into my cooking space, all of these are great reason to have a pair of good heavy duty kitchen shears.  They will serve WAY more purposes than you can ever imagine. Not much to explain about them.  They do need to be scrubbed pretty well after you use them on food, as little bits tend to get stuck, especially if you are meat-cutting. (Don’t laugh, have you ever tried to de-bone chicken without kitchen shears?)  So get them. Or USE them if you have them and they are gathering dust in a drawer.

My third item that is more of a non-essential, but I could not survive without, is my wok. (shown here with shrimp-fried-rice and the other kitchen essential COFFEE!) Wok? you say? Yes, W-O-K, the big dishy metal pan that the Chinese so favor. These are a huge amount of applications for a wok besides chicken fried rice. I use mine for stir-frying, fajitas & tacos, deep-frying (yes), and a host of other genius plans.  Deep frying may be the most surprising, but most useful, item on my list.  We have been through three electric deep-fryers in the past couple years. None of them produced a satisfying crispiness and that golden brown color we all want on our fried foods.  Even the one that claimed to be ‘commercial grade’ was crap-ola.  We figured out that the oil simply wasn’t getting hot enough and staying that temperature, to sustain good frying.  So I began experimenting with a huge jug of oil and various pots and pans in my over-stuffed cabinets. The wok emerged the clear victor.  It seems to heat the oil more evenly without scorching it.  Its wide mouth gives the oil a lot of surface area when thingies begin to float, and its deep-ness lets them sink to the bottom until they are ready to float. The sloped sides also make it easier to skim things off the surface when done frying.  So, more often than not, our wok is filled with frying oil.  Stir-fries are a no-brainer, as are fajitas, which, after all, are latino stir-fries.  The key is, with this pan, to keep the food moving. It makes tossing food like a pro on TV, easy for uncoordinated me.  The other thing I use it for is boiling noodles.  No, not like spaghetti or macaroni, but big, cumbersome and troublesome noodles like manicotti, lasagna, and jumbo shells.  Again, the surface area and deep-ness come in handy and your noodles stick together and break less often.  I’m sure you can find many other uses for this wonder-pan.

Those three items. That’s my holy grail list of what I need to have around.  And all these things you can probably acquire for under 50$. How cool is that? 

There is one other item on my countertop that I find it hard to exist without.  But this one is a big-ticket item and you can certainly make do without it.  My stand mixer. Wooo baby, my life was so much easier the moment I brought her home, my beautiful, open-box-price KitchenAid.  She would have run me more than 200$ new, without all the add-ons and doo-dads.  Never underestimate department store open-box deals, hehehehehe.  But seriously, you can often find them at tag sales, yard sales, thrift stores.  People who don’t cook just don’t appreciate then and see them as heavy, bulky, and useless.  I’m here to tell you otherwise.  If you are a baker, ESPECIALLY if you like to make bread, Get One.  KitchenAid, MixMaster, Sears brand, whatever suits your fancy, they are life savers and time savers!! So for someone impatient and cheap like me, a goldmine of opportunity.  I’m not going to go on and on about the positive sides of owning a stand mixer.  Suffice to say that it is my go-to for dough of any kind, kneading needs, batters, meringues, any anything else that requires whipping, mixing, or kneading.    

So there you have it, a short list of my kitchen essentials and why I love them so.  Next up, new recipes!!

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