My wife and I like to cook and bake. A lot. It usually starts with Elizabeth turning to me and asking, “Wanna make something?” Cut to five hours later and we’re assembling sandwiches using a whole chicken we just roasted, slow caramelized onions, and a loaf of challah we baked from scratch.
Given all our time in the kitchen, we’re constantly on the lookout for tools to help make cooking easier/faster/better. I’m not talking about late night infomercial, “you won’t believe how terrible your life was before you bought this” gadgets – I mean solid tools for truly upping your culinary game.
Here’s a situation we’ve all been in: a recipe calls for a pinch of salt, so you drop in what you think is the right amount only to later find your dish either tastes like a salt lick or is as bland as a conversation with a copyright lawyer. (Not to put copyright lawyers on blast but, come on, there’s only so much anyone needs to hear about intellectual property litigation). Fortunately, you can get measuring spoons that feature useful “Pinch,” “Dash,” and “Smidgen” sizes in addition to the standard teaspoons and tablespoons. The extra precision helps make your seasoning spot-on.
Another awesome tool that eliminates guesswork in the kitchen is a solid digital scale. Say a recipe calls for a cup of brown sugar – do you pack it in? Do you not? Do you throw it into the air and hope for the best? With a scale, you can get the exact amount of ingredient you need, down to the gram. And with online conversion charts, switching cups to grams is a cinch.
Speaking of brown sugar, that stuff is a pain to store – leave it out of sight for too long and it turns into a rock solid mass harder than any high school calculus test. I’ve spent more time than I care to think about, hacking away at blocks of brown sugar using knives, forks and, on one memorable occasion, a screwdriver and a hammer. The simple solution for avoiding this headache? A brown sugar container. It’s got a terra cotta disk in it to keep the sugar from clumping up, so you can bypass the power tools.
When making meals, Elizabeth and I are both usually up for whatever needs doing – chop this, measure that, stir the other thing. But when it comes to frying some chicken cutlets or pan searing some pork, she tends to let me take that over. Is it because my supreme skillet skills? I wish. No, it’s because getting burned by hot sputtering oil sucks. Fortunately, we discovered splatter screens. They keep oil and grease in the pan and out of your face.
Now I don’t know if this is weird, but I kind of love chopping – it’s satisfying to turn a pile veggies into a pile of bite size bits. But even though we have a pretty decent chef’s knife, sometimes I want to work faster and more evenly than my so-so knife skills will allow. Enter a mandoline. This thing is perfect for just going “boom, boom, boom” and getting perfect, even slices of whatever you need. (Tip: when searching for a mandoline, don’t confuse it with a mandolin).
The last thing I want to recommend is a simple baker’s tool that doesn’t get nearly enough love: the bench scraper. When dealing with dough, you’ve got to have one of these – you can use it for kneading, for slicing, for unsticking dough, for cleaning your countertops, and for a dozen other things I can’t think of right now because all I want to do is go use it to make some baguettes. Seriously, if Batman were a baker, he’d have this on his utility belt.