Monday, June 1, 2009

Cool, Cool, Cool...Cool Tools

If you have ever spent a sleepless night watching infomercials then you have no doubt seen some amazing kitchen gadgets that are supposed to make your life easier. That is not to say that these gadgets do not work or do not make your life easier, they just might do that. The main problem with most of the items pushed is that their uses are limited and they take up a bunch of space. It would be great to have a juicer than can juice a shoe so you can wake up every morning to a tall glass of fresh juiced shoe, but seriously, how big is your kitchen? You honestly have room for the juicer, the chopomatic, the dehydrator, the magic bullet, and the Chef Tony knives? The Workshop is not that big. Keep in mind, these things are not a waste of money and can do what they do very well. The point that is being driven to is that these things can never replace the old standards, and that it it better to have a solid base of equipment and the knowldege to use it.

So what kind of stuff should you get in 3 easy payments? Basic stuff that can be used to make myriad things well. Things that people have been using to make food for centuries. You ever see an elderly woman with a face that looks like a well worn bomber jacket using a Magic Bullet to make her great grand mothers recipe? No, you have not. She is using a machete that gives the phantom pain of a tetanus shot just looking at it and a block of wood that must have had heads/hands chopped off on it.

The following is a general list of equipment that it is good to have in a kitchen. If you do not have these do not freak out. Take these with a grain of salt. This list is sort of a desert island proposition, that is to say what things you might want if starting from nothing on a fixed budget.

The first thing that you should have? A knife you say? That is a good idea for sure, however you can actually prepare more stuff with just a big old heavy pot than you can with just a knife. So the first thing you should get is a good heavy dutch oven kind of thing. These things range in price like you would not believe. You want to pay $600 for one? Sure. Oh, you said $60? Sure, you're covered too. You can even find some that are made out of cast iron and will outlast you and cost next to nothing. Now, why should you have this before a knife? Versatility. In this same pot you can boil stuff, broil stuff, saute stuff, braise stuff, pan fry stuff, deep fry stuff, steam stuff, sear stuff, or break things (it is heavy). Most things that you cook in a dutch oven are cooked by moist heat, the main exception being sauteing and frying which can be considered dry heat. So it takes care of half of the cooking methods. So in other words, if it involves cooking you can basically do it with one of these. Look for the heaviest, thickest one you can to promote good heat distribution and make sure it is oven safe with a tight fitting lid.

Now it is time to bring in the knife. With this little guy you can now control more of what you cook. You can ensure more uniform cooking times by adjusting the sizes of things and you can peel things that need to be peeled to be tasty. You should get the knife that fits your budget and feels best in you hand. A decent knife, if cared for, will last you forever. Also, remember to pick up a honing steel to keep your knife sharp. There was a huge long thing about knives last post, so check that out if you have more questions.

The Cooker loves to grill so that comes next. If you have a grill, be it a gas (indoors or outdoors), wood, charcoal, or even Foreman you can create a whole bunch more fun things. The grill will take care of your dry heat cooking needs. There are flavors that you simply cannot recreate any other way than with a grill. Plus, if you talk to someone that has grilled a long time, you will have a hard time stumping them on how to use the grill to cook just about anything. I bet they could even make a good soup directly on the grill if need be. When looking for a grill, the biggest thing that you will need to decide is how you want to generate the heat. This will depend on if you have access to a backyard type of area or not. If not go with an indoor grill or even a Foreman grill if that is the best you can do. The best thing to grill on is a real wood burning grill, however this not only requires the most attention and skill, but also requires the most time to get going. Gas grills are somewhere in the middle of those. The Workshop uses a charcoal grill as it has a nice blend of flavor and convenience. Just never use lighter fluid with anything, it tastes nasty. Especially on the Foreman Grill.

Better get a cutting board next. With this apparatus you can now do more precision cutting and slicing. Never use anything harder than your knife for a cutting board, i.e. glass. Wood is great for veggies and a plastic composite is great for meats. Aside from that you decide what you like. If it is plastic get the biggest that fits in your dishwasher. If it is wood, get the biggest that you do not mind lugging around or keeping on your counter.

The next thing to get would be a saute pan, 10" should be good. A saute pan differs from a fry pan in that the saute pan has straight sides and the fry pan has sloping sides. This allows you to do a couple more things in the saute pan than you can in the fry pan. This will allow the searing of meats and veggies, shallow braising, sauteing of course, and risotto making. When buying a saute pan get the thickest, heaviest pan that you can. The metals involved in the pan can start getting involved at this point. Generally speaking multi-metal "clad" pans are better than single metal pans. They are also more expensive so get what you can. As far as the size is concerned, go for a 10" pan as it will give you some good size to sear off big things but not be so big that you can't cook small amounts of things in it.

This is the point where everything starts blending together. If you have the previously mentioned items you can make just about anything that is not baking related. The following list is another set of kitchen essentials but they are not as important as the previously mentioned ones. They have more specific uses but are nonetheless used quite a bit. If a description seems necessary then it will be added of course.

Vegetable Peeler (the ceramic ones are worth the money)
A box grater, to make short work of cheese, taters, citrus zest, etc.
Bread Knife
Paring Knife
Whisk (any kind works fine)
Non Stick Fry Pan, look for non-stick pans that are oven safe. Older non stick pans give off a cancer chemical when used over high heat or used in the oven. That is not to say that you are going to get nose cancer from smelling the fumes, it just means that it could be a good idea to get a pan that doesn't add more to your daily carcinogen consumption.
Assorted Pans, take a look at the kind of things that you cook most often and go from there as far as which pans you get. The alternative is to buy a pan set which works just fine too.
Food Processor, if you get a good one it will last you forever. However, take a look at how much you will actually use the thing because the Workshop's gets used maybe once a month or so depending on what is being made. Oh there is a cool one that is a food processor and a blender, which means taking up less room.
Food Mill, this is awesome for making purees of things, be it the world's best mashed potatoes or red pepper coulis.

That seems to be enough for right now. Questions? Ask in the comments section and the Workshop will drop some knowledge on you.