Toolin' Around

If you can read you can cook. While this statement is true, being a good cook is really dependent upon the tools you have.

As we begin fresh in 2014 and reflect on the past year's rich experiences with countless dishes, nutrient-rich seasonal produce, lessons learned, blessings counted and new intentions set, I thought it timely to share with you some of my favorite kitchen tools.
The new year is a great time to assess what you have--or what you don't have--and think about enhancing your culinary experience with a few kitchen upgrades or add-ins. There are appliances, cookware and tools that I cannot imagine cooking without. How can you zest without a microplane grater? How can I puree without my immersion blender?

Many are very inexpensive, but essential to everyday cooking; while just a few might be costly, but well worth the investment since you will have it for years.

So, let's get cooking. These are in no particular order, and I surveyed David as well, so here goes...

Microplane grater
You don't need to go to a gourmet cooking store for this kitchen essential. But just drop into a hardware store and pick up a rasp. This woodworking tool was the inspiration for the microplane grater.

There are a variety of improved options, but just choose what you like best. I have three kinds and use them all, but prefer the ones with a plastic handle. I use them for grating hard cheeses like Parms and pecorinos, zesting citrus and have even been known to grate garlic and a bar of chocolate with this tool. Even better? It's cheap and you can pick one up at the grocery store.

Food processor

This is my number one favorite kitchen accessory. It's probably the one thing I could not live without. Can you see how the on and pulse buttons are worn out? But it works perfectly.

I use it to make mayonnaise, cookie dough, crackers, bread, mustard. I use it grate cheese or vegetables...whatever you can think of, I have probably made it with this very food processor. Elana Amsterdam of Elana's Pantry makes every recipe with a food processor, and since I do love what she does, my food processor gets a lot of work.

Food processors come in all sizes and colors and, while I do have the mini as well, the 11-cup is the one I cherish. It sits on my kitchen counter where it stands on ready alert.

Pie crust? Baba ganoush? Bring it on. Priced between $150-$400, it can be pricey but worth its weight in gold.

A cadre of wooden spoons, spatulas and whisks
We have four ceramic canisters filled with spatulas, wooden spoons, whisks, mashers, tongs and more spread throughout the kitchen. One by the cooktop, one by the cutting boards and two by the kitchen window (pictured above) which are exclusively dedicated to assorted sizes and colors of plastic spatulas and wooden spoons.

I tend to prefer the plastic spatulas, while David chooses the wooden ones. Though, with more and more frequency, I have been loving the new and bigger wooden spoons Santa left David in his stocking this year. It's each to his own in our kitchen and we both have everything we want.

Instant read meat thermometer
This was David's addition to the list. As the certified carnivore and meat cooker in the family, he would be the one to know how vital this tool is in his world.

Easy to use and quick, you will never wonder what temperature the meat is again. Say goodbye to tough turkey or overcooked lamb. This is the trick. And for $20-$30 bucks, I think that's a reason to get one. 

Immersion blender
OK, friends. I am serious when I tell you that I use the immersion blender frequently. It makes a chunky soup smooth in an instant and you don't have to dirty the blender or food processor. I think that's what I like most about this tool. It's simple, efficient and smart. And for about $40, a smart tool that will save you lots of work. I promise.

Non-stick skillet
We have a boatload of skillets--non-stick, metal, copper, enamel, cast iron and more--but the one I turn to for nearly everything is the 10-inch non-stick skillet that we paid less than $20 for from a restaurant supply store.

I make eggs, fry bacon, cook the dog's food, saute vegetables and caramelize plantains. You name it, this is the pan for me. It's my go-to.

Quality and sharp knives
I am not one who spends hundreds of dollars on knives. In fact, if my husband has his way, I would only use plastic knives, but, if he wants to eat, that's not going to happen. Did I mention that I have a tendency to nick my fingers when I chop? Oops...
I particularly love that offset knife which I use exclusively for slicing ripe and juicy tomatoes.

Rather than the super expensive, signature brands, I buy my knives at the restaurant supply stores around town. They work perfectly for a home cook and last forever. They are sturdy and economical and just need to be sharpened professionally twice and year. At home, we use a sharpening steel.

Adjustable measuring spoons
If you are a baker or one who follows recipes to the letter, these sliding measuring spoons are a must. I find the multiple and attached measuring spoons bulky and clumsy and I have a hard time managing them all at the same time. But with this one, you can measure a teaspoon or a tablespoon seamlessly.

Go crazy and pick up both of these. I found mine at Sunset Ridge Hardware Store, but I know they sell them at places like Bed, Bath and Beyond as well.

Honey drizzler
I love honey. However, since evolving from white granulated sugar to the liquid gold, I find honey to be quite messy. Not that I am complaining, because I totally lick my hands and the jar and whereever else it lands, but it's, well sticky. Fortunately, this magical tool makes getting honey quick, easy and not at all messy. 

Grapefruit spoon
'Tis the season. Citrus season, that is. And if you are lover of grapefruit, this serrated spoon is the best ever! I put one in each of our stockings years ago and we have been loving them ever since. Clever, cheap and they make eating grapefruit so simple.

Multiple cutting boards
I have a lot of cutting boards. To be honest, we have more than 15. We have different cutting boards for different purposes. We love the colored plastic ones indicating veg, poultry, beef or seafood. We also have lots of flexible and wooden cutting boards or all sizes. Then there's a cheese board and super small cutting board for who knows what.

While I do have my favorites, we use them all, so now you have permission to start your own collection of cutting boards.

Salad spinner
We are salad eaters and this is one tool we really appreciate when we need to wash and dry lettuce. It's amazing what dirt comes out of the lettuce leaves once you get it home.

Whether from the farmers market or store, wash, wash, wash your lettuce. Because no one wants a salad made with wet lettuce. Yuck.

Lime or lemon squeezer
Whether your citrus squeezer is green or yellow, this is a one-for-all and all-for-one kitchen helper. Just don't buy them both. They work interchangeably.

While the ones in Mexico are metal and super cheap, what both versions do that I like it catch the seeds. Invariably, if I use my hand as a seed catcher one or two little boogers slide through somehow and end up in my salad dressing or other dish where I don't want seeds.

There it is. My list of must have tools to improve what comes out of your kitchen. With these simple items, I bet your cooking improves and you'll even start to cook more frequently. Because that's the way it works, you know. The more you practice, the better you get.

Happy New Year and cheers to a healthy 2014.

Buen provecho!
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