A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Find out what bowls me over in my kitchen

Today I'm continuing to describe my rationale for keeping certain tools in my kitchen and discarding others. By the way, the tests I'm describing are not a conscious mental process I undergo.  When I assign a spot on my countertop to appliance A and relegate appliance B to the big box to-be-put-downstairs-for-someone-else-to-take, I'm really just operating out of intuition, but I came up with these tests after the fact to explain — to you and to myself — why I made the choices I made.


Some items in my kitchen I find myself pulling out day after day after day.  These are the "go-to" tools whenever anything needs to happen, the tools I consider my sidekicks.  First on the list?  My trusty cutting board and knives:

What a strange pair!

Alongside my fanciest and most expensive ergonomic chef's knife, a cheap serrated paring knife that was in Peter's kitchen when I arrived, and which I have used 3,258,884 times since.  (It's now up to 3,258,885.  I just cut a slice of apple to give to the dogs.)  The chef's knife performs all manner of chopping, slicing, mincing, dicing, and even smashing of garlic cloves (with the flat side of the blade) to make them easier to peel.  Its broad blade also conveys the chopped food to wherever it needs to go.

The little cheap guy peels and slices fruit, removes pits and cores, and does a pretty good job with many tasks which other tools may have been better designed to do, but which I'm too lazy to fetch out of the drawer.  I've considered upgrading to a "superior" paring knife — and indeed, I already have a nice one by Cutco in said drawer — but I get such great results from the cheapie that there's no real reason to look elsewhere.

Anytime I use the knives, of course, I also use the cutting board.  My board is small — to fit the tiny counter space I have available — but it's sufficient for most tasks.  Only when I have to chop a bunch of greens do I wish for a bigger cutting surface; I usually end up processing the bunch of kale or whatever in several batches.

(By the way, I do have in my drawer other, less-frequently-used knives that I keep around because they do jobs not suited to my star pair: among these a bread knife, a meat knife, two nifty pairs of kitchen shears, one of which can even cut through chicken bones, and a super-sharp serrated knife that is perfect for tomatoes.)

Other tools I use so often that they don't seem like gadgets, more like part of the kitchen itself, are my pots and pans.  I have a big stock pot/steamer, a large stewpot, a medium saucepan, a small saucepan, a frying pan or 2, and a huge cast-iron wok.  These live in the oven of my range when they're not being used, since we do virtually all of our baking in the countertop convection oven.  (No space goes to waste in MY kitchen!)  Down under the counter I keep another medium saucepan and a double-boiler, which are in danger of not qualifying for retention, at least not under the frequency-of-use rule.  We'll have to see whether I end up considering them indispensable....

Over the years, my approach to cooking — and therefore, the tools I've reached for with frequency — has evolved.  I used to bake a lot, and amassed a huge (HUGE!!) collection of the most specialized equipment: spritz cookie press with dozens of inserts, frosting bags and a myriad of tips, springform pans, bundt pans, muffin tins in various sizes, an aebleskiver pan to make one single type of Danish pastry, pastry cloths, rolling pins, cookie cutters, bread pans, cake pans, pie plates, cookie sheets — well, you get the idea.  And I was living in small apartments then too!

But now my approach to baking is to walk on over to Café la Bergamotte and pick up a Napoléon.  Or to the Big Booty Bread Company for cheese rocks.  So all that "stuff" would be serving no purpose in my kitchen.  Gradually, it has found its way downstairs to a box in the recycling area of my building, where I hope it was found by someone who will use it often and who appreciated the thrill of getting something great for nothing.  Lately, I've been feeling the baking bug again, so I hope I don't regret having dispensed of almost everything I would need to resume that activity.

Nah.....if there's anything I've learned in my four plus decades on this planet, it's not to regret anything.  What a sad waste of time, to spend it wishing things were otherwise!

I'd rather use my time to show you a few more of my kitchen items that I use nearly daily:

My mortar and pestle, which is what I miss most when I am cooking in someone else's kitchen.  I use it for spices, mostly, and sometimes to crush garlic.  I'd treasure it if all it did was grind my roasted cumin seeds.  Bonus points: it looks really cool and makes me feel like a medieval alchemist whenever I use it.
My rice cooker.  Since I dabble in all kinds of Asian cookery, I find myself making rice a lot, and this baby does it perfectly every time, without taking up a burner on the stove.  It could qualify for retention under the wide-applicability test as well, since it cooks any kind of grains and is also a steamer that cooks veggies and heats up tamales like a dream.  
Ta-da!  These Pyrex bowls are my bestest friends in the kitchen.  Even if they were completely without function, I'd love them for their cheery colors and adorable way of nesting in one another.  I smile every time I open the cabinet and catch a glimpse of them.  But these bowls aren't just pretty; they're workhorses as well.  I use them daily to mix ingredients,  bake in, serve in, hold ingredients awaiting addition to a recipe, store fruit, toss salads, you name it.  I've even been known to eat right out of them — cereal in the green one, popcorn in the yellow one.  OK, the red one.  All right, I admit it, the blue one.  I LOVE popcorn.
In closing, I'd like to introduce one item from my utensil drawer which has NEVER been used.  I don't even know why I own it, except that it looks sort of fun to squeeze:

Let me know if you need a baster.  (Do I look Amish in this picture?)

And now that I've admitted to you my love affair with a set of graduated bowls in circus colors, it's time for you to open up to me.  What is your absolute favorite piece of kitchen equipment, and how did it win your heart?

Tomorrow: the wide-applicability test


  1. I used to own a catering business and restaurant and I also have a huge assortment of cooking and baking gadgets. I love my half sheet pans of which I have quite a few. I use them for all kinds of things. I also LOVE my microplane. I just threw my baster out!!! You look more like Hannibal Lecter in that photo. Brains anyone?

  2. Hannibal Lecter? I shall make a stronger effort to smile pleasantly in my photos, at least as long as I keep the beard.

    Did you do any of the cooking in your establishments? What sort of food did you specialize in?

  3. It just looks like you are about to do something evil with that baster. Maybe it is my own sick mind.

    I was the pastry chef in the restaurant. In my catering business I cooked EVERYTHING...soup to nut. I just started making some of the desserts served in the restaurant I work in now. It is fun for the moment but could become a dread in the future. I get bored easily.

  4. A pastry blender. I usually only use it once a year at Christmas. But when you are making TONS of yeast pastry, a pastry blender is a necessity.

  5. Now we know whose house to hit at Christmastime — I'll bring the eggnog!

  6. My favorite is my new 12 cup food processor. I use it to chop and mix everything and I think it's even given me a new confidence in the kitchen and made me a better cook... somehow I feel more creative with it sitting there.

  7. Now THAT's a great thing to dedicate counter-space to: a creativity-enhancing machine! Congratulations for finding yours.

  8. Chef's knives are the best, mine gets used multiple times daily. I like my Chicago one I got twenty years ago, because the heel of the blade is a sharp corner that I can pop out potato eyes or other small blemishes with and not have to put the knife down and get out the paring knife. I have a much more expensive Henkels, but they made that back corner softly rounded and useless, probably to protect us from hurting our little selfies.

    I love my cast iron griddle, it lives on my stovetop and I cook with it daily. Eggs, tortillas, hamburgers, etc.

    And my teakettle with the dragon spout my inlaws got me. I use it multiple times daily, ever since I read about exploding water from microwave heating. Rare, but scary.

  9. Hi, Treadle27. You've anticipated tomorrow's post, in which I'll divulge my uses for a griddle. Interesting use for the blade corner, which I'm going to have to try with my (non-Henkels) chef's knife.

  10. I only use my cherry pitter in the summer, but I use it a lot then, so it stays. I love my microplane grater.I use my japanese lemon juicer all the time. I also use my baking stone every week for baking bread and pizza and pie crust. I never used my double boiler, so I gave it to my daughter.

  11. My most frequently used kitchen gadget is also my rice cooker, for the same reasons you mentioned -- cooking rice, oatmeal, steaming stuff. In fact, tonight I will be using it to steam some Chinese dumplings. It lives on the counter, and that's really saying something because counter space is at a premium in our kitchen.

    Other greats: cast iron griddle, and a small electric food chopper that gets tons of use when I have a baby to puree food for.

    Our kitchen is also small, so some less frequently used items are stored in the basement until they are needed. We don't use our bread machine very often, but I can't bring myself to get rid of it because it is great for making pizza dough and other yummy breads. Our food dehydrator is a hulking monster that only comes out once in a while too.

    We never used our baster either, so I gave it to the kids to play with in the bathtub!

    Get rid of the mustache portion, add some suspenders and a hat and you'll fit right in in Lancaster County! :)

  12. No.1 would be my grandmother's rock maple pastry board. Its 2x3 feet and has a lip that hooks it over the edges of the counter so it doesn't shift. It must be at least 70 years old at this point and we use it several times a week for bread and pizza dough.

    No.2 would the same Pyrex bowls you have! Our colors were (big to small) black, red, yellow, blue, green)..alas after almost 20 years together and two kids only the blue and green ones remain. How I wish Pyrex still made them.

    No.3 would be a tie between our Cuisinart 5 quart saute pan and a 3 quart Creuset dutch oven I bought 25 years ago. The knob has a has as chunk missing from it and the enamel is darkened but I still love to use it. One of these days I'll see if those places that re-enamel cast iron bathtubs could refinish the inside.

  13. My mom has a pastry board just like the one you describe, which I've had my eye on for years. (I wonder if my mom is reading......)

    @Melissa: Believe me, no matter what I did with my facial hair, I would definitely NOT fit right in in Lancaster County! Although that's where our raw milk products and most of our meats come from....those Amish are wonderful producers of high-nutrition foods.

  14. You don't look Amish to me, but you are looking a bit like Silvander Dan from Norman Lindsay's book The Flyaway Highway, one of my childhood favourites. I found some reference pics here:
    (he is a faun, I think, with horns and goat legs and a habit of doing cartwheels)

  15. oh, I miss my Cuisinart Food processor that just died a couple months ago after about 25 years of heavy duty work. Used for baby foods,muffins, soups of all kinds (mmm, borscht), chopping cooked meat for leftovers soup, homemade bread and buns, the list goes on and on. I will be replacing it soon, because I won't make soup without it.
    The good knives, they sit in the drawer:(

  16. @Jane: Thanks for the introduction to Silvander Dan, who looks like an intriguing guy — well, faun — and whom I'm happy to resemble.

    @Joyce: Sorry to hear about the demise of your old reliable food processor. I hope the ones that are available now — made in China, probably — provide you with as many years of quality service, but I have my doubts. Nothing seems to last as long or work as well as the "vintage" models of yesteryear.

  17. coffee maker is my fav.

    second is the cup scooper i use for swirling dead sea bath salts in my bath.

    i did use my kitchen aid mixer twice. it is very pretty and modern and looks cool as hell. (once for cookies and once for pineapple stuffing-both delicious)