Before we get to the food, let’s talk about kitchen tools. If you do anything in the kitchen then you probably own a cutting board, a knife, and a pan of some sort. The usefulness of these things for even the most basic food prep tasks is obvious. However, I want to talk about a different category of gear: tools that I had initially overlooked or first regarded as frivolous. Each one has since earned a respected place in my kitchen.
I dedicate the following to my college friends who really need to just buy a meat thermometer instead of frantically asking me if I think that their pork chops are done *cough*Kyle*cough.
If I were to suddenly find myself in a zombie apocalypse and could only carry a few items with me- one of them would undoubtedly be a dutch oven. Who needs Rick Grimes when you’ve got a hunk of hard-anodized aluminum at your side?
Hopefully the closest that I’ll ever come to living in a post-apocalyptic society is college; once I got off of the freshman meal plan, a dutch oven was the only pot/pan that I kept in my arsenal. It’s deep enough to handle soups, boil pasta, and make dishes large enough to feed the masses. It’s oven-safe, so you can make anything ranging from circular brownies to roast pork loin using the same pot (just not at the same time). It does everything that I need a pan to do (although flipping omelets can be a challenge).
For any college student… or apocalypse-survivor… looking to up their cooking game (without the clutter)- a dutch oven is the tool for you!
PSA: Non-stick items don’t stay non-stick forever if you don’t treat them right: Dishwashers are a no-no. Use sponges that are advertised as safe for non-sticks. Any utensils/spatulas, etc. that are used in non-stick dishes must be silicon, plastic, wood… basically any material that isn’t metal, as this will scrape off the non-stick coating. Read more (courtesy of the kitchn) here.
It was just three years ago that I, and one of my college roommates, were attempting to cook chicken for the first time. We frantically inspected the meat for done-ness and called in a bystander for a second opinion. Thankfully, we survived our first (imagined) encounter with salmonella!
My cooking skills have grown in leaps and bounds since that time, but a meat thermometer is still often employed in moments of doubt *cough*Kyle*cough*. It certainly would have saved me a lot of stress along the way!
A meat thermometer is essential to achieving perfection in larger roasts. Throw out the recipes with vague timelines and let a thermometer guide you to meaty perfection. Check out these recipes from The Food Lab for my two favorite large roasts, both of which my husband and I pulled off for our extended family last Christmas!
Funny story: my husband and I were making fresh pasta with a friend. Just flour and eggs. Pretty simple. Our friend handled the flour measurements while my husband handled the eggs. When the two combined, a dough of play-doh-like-consistency should have formed. What we actually got was just very clumpy flour. Did we misread the recipe? Did we buy the right size of egg?
After a few minutes of puzzlement, we discovered that our friend had measured out far too much flour. Sure, she achieved the number of cups called for in the recipe- but she had packed the flour into each cup measurement, resulting in way too much flour. The situation was remedied by another trip to the grocery store to purchase eggs and then dinner was saved!
Even when measuring volumes properly, there can be a lot of variation in the actual mass. How fresh is your flour? How was the flour stored? Recipes that provide weight/mass measurements are far easier to achieve consistent results with, so I will provide weights in all of my recipes. Unless you’re dealing with eggs (which have standardized sizes), it’s so imprecise to describe things in terms of size… what exactly does a medium onion look like, anyways?
Flour duster (?)
Not quite sure what you’d call this thing, but it’s great. I first encountered using a can like this to dust flour on surfaces while taking a cooking class in Taipei. Previously, I had been spreading flour by hand which would inevitably result in uneven surface coverage, sticky hands, flaming pie crusts- actually that last one was from a dream- and this silver bullet eased by baking woes.
A mechanical flour sifter would work just as well, but I favor the simplicity of a tool like this over others with moving parts (as they can be subject to breakage or be more difficult to clean).
It doesn’t look like much, but my counter would be a wreck without it. In addition to being a handy cutting tool, a bench scraper is essential for cleaning-up after any cooking activities involving flour or foods that get stuck to the counter.
Chain Mail (Steel wool alternative)
I remember my parents telling me to be extra careful when handling steel wool- this sentiment was confirmed while working in the food service industry when dishwashers would tell me their horror-stories related to these innocent-looking scrubbers.
My husband came across chain mail as an alternative to the steel wool menace. It gets the job done when a little extra elbow grease is required to get a pan clean. The chain mail doesn’t get food and nastiness entangled in its mesh like steel wool does. Plus, it’s pretty!
When you spend as much time in the kitchen or on the treadmill as I do, you need something to keep your mind occupied! When listening to the same old tunes gets stale, I reach for the wealth of podcasts that can be found online.
To get your appetite going…
- Gastropod (looks at food through the lens of science and history)
- The Sporkful
- Faith Middleton’s Food Schmooze (from our local CT NPR station)