By: Lynn Ogryzlo
“Who destroyed my butter!” Yes, I tend to get a little over excited when it comes to food, especially when I see a glob of guck where a beautiful pound of fresh creamy butter once sat. It happened in one of my cooking classes. A recipe called for three tablespoons of butter so someone took the tablespoon and scooped three crater size holes in the top of a beautiful pound of butter.
Now what? What was I to do with it now? It was ruined!
Yet, right next to the pound of butter was a measurement card. This little tool, the size of a recipe card, holds the correct measurement for tablespoons, cups, ounces, grams and milliliters. Just hold it up to your pound of butter and slice 3 tablespoons off the end of the pound at exactly where the three-tablespoon mark indicates. Your recipe will be perfect and so will the pound of butter. It’s that easy.
You can buy a good, sturdy butter measurement tool at L’Escoffier Kitchen Emporium at Niagara Restaurant Supply in St. Catharines along with lots of other quality tools for the kitchen. When I was there I asked Maggie Hildebrand for the 5 most popular kitchen gadgets today and she replied, “mostly people are going high quality, useful items instead of faddish gadgets.”
Good quality knives and bake ware top the list of good quality items that people are buying. “Le Creuset, cast iron bake ware and knives are making a comeback,” says Maggie. A good quality knife will outlast its owner and many times, they’re handed down in families. Because food connects us all, using your grandmothers’ kitchen knife is like holding your grandmothers hand.
When it comes to knives, iconic Canadian food writer, Elizabeth Baird agrees. Her little pairing knife is her most precious kitchen tool. “I bought it in Nova Scotia. It has a pointy end and is easy to keep sharp. It’s multi-purpose so I can pick out the eyes of potatoes and slice tomatoes like a breeze.”
But with a good knife comes the ability to use it. Many useless tools seem to be trying to compensate for a lack of knife skills. Gadgets like onion choppers, egg slicers and avocado guillotines are attempts to make cooking tasks quicker but are no match for a good knife and some skill.
My one exception to the knife rule has to be a mandolin. It’s the one tool that would do the job of slicing thinly and evenly better than a knife regardless of all the skill in the world. With this little tool you can julienne peaches for a salad, slice potatoes into French fries and carrots into matchsticks. For elegant presentations, a mandolin can ultra-fine julienne most vegetables and when deep-fried, make impressive garnishes on any dish.
Knowing the right tool for the job makes kitchen life so much easier. It’s no wonder fewer and fewer people are spending time in the kitchen when, without some of the proper tools, working on an inspiring recipe turns out to be a challenging and frustrating experience.
Take for example a Silplat baking liner. Just one rubbery cookie sheet liner costs about $50 a piece; gasp if you wish, but I had one and it lasted me well over 10 years. This little baking liner guarantees perfectly baked goods from fish to cookies and it amazingly doesn’t transfer flavours from fish to cookies. I actually wore mine out and since then I’ve bought inexpensive liners ($19 – $29) and not only do they not work as well, they only lasted a year so I’m back to the better quality liner. Maggie is right, there is no substitute for good quality.
Proper kitchen tools are an investment in time and flavour and will save you money in the long run but not everything will cost a lot of money.
You can buy a rice cooker for as little as $40. It’s an inexpensive and indispensable little electric pot that saves time and makes me look good every time I use it. I fill it with water and rice, a drop of olive oil, I may add a bouillon cube, salt and some herbs. Then I turn it on and walk away. It not only cooks rice perfectly every time, but it will keep it warm until I’m ready for it.
Dinner’s become so easy; I always make twice as much rice as I need. Leftover rice can be stuffed into peppers and tomatoes, works well in soup or makes my family’s favourite fried rice an easy task. You can be really creative with a rice cooker using broth instead of water and throw in some vegetables half way through the cooking time. They’ll be cooked al dente by the time the rice is done.
A few years ago I was determined that no one would ever pick basting bristles off my pastry again. That’s when I discovered silicone-basting brushes. They’re ultra soft so they won’t pull or tear the tender surface of a roasting bird or puff pastry, yet they’re sturdy enough to stand up to wiping oil around a sizzling skillet. The brushes are completely sealed underneath and designed with the specific purpose of ensuring no loose bristles.
Next time you’re working in the kitchen don’t underestimate the significance of good quality kitchen tools in the processing of putting a great meal on the table. They play a supporting role in the reputation of a great cook. You don’t need a kitchen full of expensive culinary paraphernalia to do the job, but a simple set of good quality tools that serve you best.
Lynn’s Top 10 Kitchen Tools
#1 Knives: You can’t cook very much without cutting things up so a good set of knives is essential to any good cook. Buy one at a time and only buy what you need for your style of cooking.
#2 Cutting Board: I am a huge fan of wooden cutting boards, they have memory and work with knives for highly efficient cuts every time. Buy a nice thick one and oil it often to keep your investment from cracking.
#3 Pepper Mill: There is no substitute for fresh cracked pepper at the dinner table and there is no substitute for a good pepper mill that will grind pepper into consistently fine or coarse dust.
#4 Silicone Tools: These are for the baker in the family. From spatulas to basting brushes or baking liners, silicone is the new tool that ultimately more efficient than traditional tools and heat resistant.
#5 Microplane Grater: Go ahead, throw out that big square box. These graters are precise, sharp and perfect for precision zesting and grating anything from nutmeg to Parmesan. They’re also thin enough to reach into tall containers like zesting lime for a carafe of Margaritas.
#6 V-shaped Peeler: Forget the strait edged peeler, this one won’t take off your fingers and will do the job of smoothly peeling carrots yet will also master monster jobs like winter squash and giant sweet potatoes.
#7 Mesh Strainer: It strains pasta and berries, clarifies soup and broth and doubles as a steamer. It’s multipurpose and saves space in the kitchen.
#8 Whisks: A good whisk will give you command over the delicate jobs like whipping eggs for omelets, crafting velvety aioli or silky custard for crème brûlée. I also use it for mixing (sifting) dry ingredients.
#9 Immersion Blender: fantastic for taking pots of vegetables and whipping them into a luscious soup. Takes the place of a blender but with more ease and less mess to clean.
#10 Champagne Stopper: Last but certainly not lease essential kitchen tool is my champagne stopper. I love bubbly wine and this will allow me to open a bottle and keep the bubbles intact for a few days if necessary – although I haven’t tested it. My champagne never seems to last that long.
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to REV Publications. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.