Friday, February 5, 2010

kitchen essentials

A fabulous friend of mine who just moved into a swanky studio recently asked me about what kind of knives she should purchase for the new pad. "Decent ones that aren't crappy," was the way she phrased it. I offered up my suggestions of where to go and what to look for and it was then that I realized I've never gone over the basic kitchen essentials with you guys, which is totally insane. So let's make up for lost time, shall we?

I cannot stress enough how important good knives are. One of the reasons I initially hesitate when a friend asks to cook dinner at their place is because I immediately wonder if there's going to be a knife issue. Do they have what I need? Will I need to bring my own? (Which, by the way, I have done on several occasions. This weekend, for example, I brought a pizza cutter in purse when I went to make 'zza.) Without good sharp knives, it becomes increasingly difficult to cook with ease. Below are the three essential knives every cook should have. A serated (for bread, tomatoes), a chef's knife (the one pictured below is called a Santuko), and a pairing knife (for fruits, small jobs, etc.). For what it's worth, I'm quite partial to J.A. Henkel knives. They definitely are up there in price but, to me, they're worth every penny. And as important as it is to have one of each of the knives below, it's equally important to have a knife sharpener. Almost any knife can become a great knife when you're armed with a sharpener. And if you were lucky like me, you were gifted with an electric one for Christmas last year. What? You don't have electric knife sharpeners waiting for you under the Christmas Tree? Well. Then I'm sorry.

Keep in mind that you're less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife. I know it sounds backwards but it's true. A dull blade will slip. And when the blade slips, well, I want to be as far away as possible. Be careful!

Next are the tools that I use at least one of on a daily basis. From top to bottom: a spider skimmer, a flat-edged wooden spatula, a medium ribbon grater, a fine microplane, and tongs. The spider skimmer may not be a necessity for everybody but I feel like once you have it, you'll find yourself using it for all sorts of things. I use mine every morning to gently lower my eggs into a pot of boiling water for my breakfast of soft boiled eggs. But it's also great for blanching vegetables, fishing things out of pots, etc. They're crazy cheap too and you can find them at any kitchen supply store or on every corner in Chinatown. The flat-edged wooden spatula is an unsung hero. You know when you're cooking ground meat and you're desperately trying to break it up but a wooden spoon sure as heck isn't getting you anywhere? Well this guy will be your new BFF. I can't even tell you how much of a huge help and time saver the microplanes are. No more chopping garlic. Grate it on up (for salad dressing this is particularly helpful). The medium-ribbon grater is even great for cheese, carrots, whatever. You get things finely chopped in seconds. The fine grater is fantastic for zesting citrus and grating ginger. Lastly, tongs. Tongs, tongs, tongs. These are like an extension of your hands and I cannot imagine my kitchen life without them.

I should also mention that the huge wooden cutting board these are photographed on is my Boos Block. Get on that too. Because having enough space to chop is imperative and will remove a lot of cooking frustration (ESPECIALLY in a tiny city kitchen). That and the rest of these kitchen basics will undoubtedly make your life easier. You'll want to get in there and cook because you're armed with the tools to whip up whatever it is your hungry little heart desires.

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