How to Use Your Kitchen Tools
You don't need expensive tools
to be successful in the kitchen. Professional cooks and avowed foodies surround themselves with all of the latest and greatest tools, but you don't need costly gadgets to insure that your recipes will be a success.
There are some basic tools that every kitchen should have--they're not expensive, but knowing how to use them efficiently and is correctly is important.
Measuring Cups--which ones to use, and when?
Use a liquid measure for liquids--water, milk, broth, oil.
- Fill the cup to the appropriate line, place it on a level surface, and read it with your eye at the level of the liquid. Water surface curves downward, so use the bottom of the curve for accurate measurement and not the edge that is against the measuring cup. This is helpful for bread recipes in which the exact amount of water is crucial.
Use a dry measure for powders, such as sugar, salt, flour.
- Spoon or scoop the powder lightly into the cup. Run a knife or spatula across the top to level the surface and scrape any excess back into the jar or canister.
You can "fake" some kitchen tools (for example you can use a mesh sieve in place of a flour sifter, or use a drinking glass as a cookie cutter), but you must have a real, honest-to-goodness cutting board to save your countertops, your knives, and your fingers and thumbs.
Cutting boards come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Before making that purchase, consider that wooden boards need to be seasoned with oil. They don't hold up well after being washed in the dishwasher, and can become a breeding ground for bacteria. I avoid them.
Whatever type of board you select, keep these simple rules in mind:
- Don't use the same board for multiple purposes, especially when preparing raw meats. I have one board for vegetables and fruits, one board for meat, poultry, and seafood, and one board for pastries and breads.
- Keep your board clean--hot soapy water after each use. (Even better--clean it in the dishwasher).
What types of knives do I need?
Shopping for knives can be a bit overwhelming--there are so many varieties, sizes, types of handles, etc. Where do you begin?
I believe that the every-day cook can function very well in a kitchen with just these four:
- a chef's knife
- a serrated knife
- a utility knife
- a paring knife
Chef's knives come in many sizes, but I am most comfortable with a knife about 8-10 inches in length. The chef's knife is an all-purpose knife used for chopping, dicing, mincing, and slices meats, fruits, vegetables, and some cheeses.
A serrated knife has a toothed blade with is useful in slicing bread and tender fruits such as tomatoes.
Utility knives are all-purpose knives with a 5 to 8-inch blade. They are used to carve, bone, slice, fillet and cut fruits and vegetables.
Paring knives are small, usually about 4 inches long and are used for routine tasks such as trimming small food items (fruits and vegetables).
What to look for in a good-quality knife?
There are only a few features of a knife that determine its quality. The most important part of any knife is the blade. Although ceramic blades are now the "in thing" and have an amazing sharpness, they are also fragile and can break easily. I prefer forged stainless steel.
The next consideration is the shape, material, and structure of the handle.
- The shape of the handle should be comfortable in your hand. Pick up the knife, hold it, and imagine using it in your kitchen. Is it comfortable? I'm petite (5 feet tall) and so large tools feel very unwieldy for me.
- The material of the handle is also very important. Plastic handles will splinter and shatter easily. Look for a polycarbonate--dishwasher safe and sturdy.
- Another common feature of the best quality knives is that the tail of the blade, called the tang. It should be solidly riveted into the handle. The length of the steel should be visible from tip of the blade to the butt of the handle. If the handle solidly encases the blade, walk away.
What is Wrong with Using Cheap Knives?
Less expensive knives are made from a much lighter gauge of steel which means that they will not keep a sharp edge for very long. The blades of cheaper knives are also often very thin, making them brittle and more likely to break or for the edge to chip. Handles made from wood or plastic perish very quickly and are usually not dishwasher-safe. Also, the blades are not always set into the handle very securely. All of this makes cheap knives more likely to be blunt which forces you to use more force when cutting with them which in turn makes them more likely to break or for the blade to come loose from the handle.
How to use a knife safely
It's important to keep your knives sharp. Dull knives are a safety hazard and can be very dangerous.
The more blunt a knife's edge is, the more pressure it takes to cut something. The more pressure your hand and the knife apply to a piece of food, the more likely you are to slip and cut your finger instead. Sharpened knives also reduce the time it takes to prepare your meals, since your cuts will be faster and more accurate.
This low-tech tool could be the hero in your kitchen. Believe me, it does a LOT more than simply whip egg whites (but knowing how to do that is important, and doing it the right way is pretty cool). In addition to turning a puddle of egg whites into a billowy cloud of meringue, a whisk can be used to:
- Remove the lumps from brown sugar
- make the best scrambled eggs in the world
- create your own mayonnaise (trust me, you'll never want the stuff from a jar again)
- blend the dry ingredients for breads, cakes, and cookies
- make whipped cream
- prepare smooth, lump-free gravy and sauces
- blend salad dressings
How would you rate your kitchen skills/
Are you a confident cooker?
© 2014 Linda Lum