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Best Kitchen Tools: From Cake-Making to Wine-Opening.
Don't get frustrated in the kitchen, get the right tools!
Did you know that the tools and equipment you use in the kitchen can dramatically affect the outcome of a recipe?
That's right. You could hold all things constant (same ingredients, same proportions, same cooking times, same methods) but change the instrument used and go from perfectly tender quick breads and muffins to tough, tunnelly impostors in your pans--or vice versa.
Some tools make things easier, some tools make things better, and some can change your entire outlook on cooking.
Here are some of the tools that help me get great results (almost) every time.
Take the Cake
Talk about frustration! You turn out three gorgeous, perfectly cooked layers of cake, slather them with fluffy, fudgy frosting, and stack them high, only to step back and observe the domestic Leaning Tower.
Or maybe your cake is so dome-shaped that the icing is sliding off the top and puddling in pools around the base.
And decorating! How do you get that perfect, even coating of buttercream?
The answers are as easy as 1-2-3.
- Cake Leveler: The adjustable wire on this leveler lets you create flat, even layers every time. What to do with the cake you trim off? Can you say delicious bread pudding?
- Cake Turntable: Rotate the cake with one hand, spread or pipe icing with the other, and create flawless cakes in a gentle fluid motion. Ok, "flawless" may take some practice, but this tool will certainly help you get there!
- Offset Spatula: With several lengths and widths available for your decorating needs, the long, flat surface of the offset spatula spreads buttercream as smooth as fondant and keeps your wrist from mucking up its perfect path.
Chef'n Silicone Spatulas
I have four of these: one is small and skinny, one is a little larger, one is a spoonula, and the forth is a swarthy, blade-like item which I admit I like best, half because it is the most useful and half because it makes me feel like a pirate.
You might think, "Gee, you must really like this tool if you have four!"
But you have no idea. Sometimes all four are in the dishwasher at the same time, nasty and cloaked in grease, and I fish them out and wash them by hand so I don't have to use a less pleasing spoon or inferior spatula. I'd really like to double my collection.
Why they are the best: These durable, flexible spatula/scrapers are heatproof up to 500 degrees, so they won't melt in a hot cast-iron skillet, and with no sharp edges, they won't damage your favorite nonstick omelette pan. They scrape up sticky doughs and batters expertly, work well to cut or divide dough into portions (they won't damage silicone mats like knives can), and--bonus--they come in all sorts of pretty colors!
My Main Squeeze
This is a pretty simple tool, but it sure simplifies juicing a lemon! No more fastidiously fishing out seeds or tediously twisting a lemon over an old-fashioned cone-shaped squeezer.
These squeezers come in three sizes, color-coded in yellow for lemons, green for limes, and orange for, well, oranges.
I appreciate the attempt at diversification, but I gotta say my yellow squeezer works equally well on lemons and limes. I might consider adding an orange model to my collection in the future, but what I'd really like is a ruby-red version--I think you can imagine where I'm going with that.
All About All-Clad
Worth it? Absolutely. In fact, I'd love for mine to have a twin.
First, you need to know that this is a serious saute pan.
If you do your research and read the reviews, you are bound to come across a few stories reading roughly:
I was so excited when I received this expensive pan as a wedding present, but after using it, I was so glad I didn't pay for it myself. Everything stuck to the bottom of the pan, and our dinners were ruined the first year of our marriage till we finally bought ourselves a cheap nonstick pan...yada, yada, yada.
This is NOT a nonstick pan, which is actually one of the best things about it. For sauteing, pan-frying, or braising (the most underrated cooking method ever), this pan cannot be beat. The aluminum core allows for proper heat conduction, while the stainless steel exterior helps to even out the heat and won't react with acids or leach metallics into your food.
Yes, foods may stick to the bottom a bit during cooking, but in many cases this is preferable in order to develop caramelization and to create fond for flavoring sauces and pan gravies (for more on fond and related topics, check out Everything You Need to Know about Stock-Making), and most foods will self-release at the appropriate point if cooked properly.
This pan is great for deep-frying small morsels, too, but I admit I am a little partial to my cast-iron skillet for most frying applications.
Rustic, comforting, and mind-blowingly affordable, cast-iron skillets are reminiscent of Grandma's house, fried chicken, and cornbread. Popular rumblings suggest they may even help you increase your iron consumption as well--bonus!!
Fine Cooking magazine recently reccommended the Lodge model I know and love to its readers, and I wasn't at all surprised. If properly seasoned and well-maintained these skillets will develop nonstick properties and can be handed down from generation to generation.
The nation's oldest family-owned cookware foundry, Lodge is an eco-responsible company located in my home-state, Tennessee, which certainly scores some extra points with me, but their product truly speaks for itself.
For a great Spanish Croquetas recipe that utilizes a Lodge cast-iron skillet for frying, check out Tapas Party! and see my skillet in action!
Weigh the Benefits
For years I shrugged off suggestions that measuring ingredients by weight instead of volume would improve my baked goods. It always seemed such an unnecessary hassle.
Then I went to culinary school and witnessed the difference first hand. Now I get giddy over my incredibly easy-to-use Salter Digital Nutrition Scale.
With a new accuracy in my measurements, my baked goods have improved considerably, and that's not all. This particular scale not only helps you weigh out ingredients but can actually help you manage your own weight, as it is programmed with nutrition information to help you calculate calories...should you be inclined to do so.
Don't you find it grating...
when "helpful" tools make you work harder than you should?
That's why I love my Microplane Zester/Grater. It's "razor-sharp stainless steel blade" is so effective, it practically does all the work for you. Simply run a lemon over the grates, and behold a bounty of sunshine-colored zest. Just be sure to rotate the lemon as you go because this tool works so well, you'll be grating pith more quickly than you'd think!
This particular Microplane model creates super-super-fine shreds of cheese, which is awesome in most cases, but is definitely something to be aware of, as it can slightly alter the texture and flavor of certain cheeses. If you like the little "crystals" of flavor that burst on your tongue when you eat hard, aged cheeses, you would be better off pulsing the cheese to a rougher consistency in a food processor to maintain its textural integrity.
When Things Get Sticky
Breads, pastas, pie crusts, cookies, tart shells, you name it, the SilPat helps you make it.
Rolling out doughs on your kitchen counter can be a pain. The dough sticks, you make a mess, the headache rages.
Made of durable, heat-resistant, nonstick silicone, SilPats provide the ideal surface for rolling out doughs and lining baking sheets. This is not to say you'll never deal with dough sticking to the SilPat, but you should notice an appreciable improvement.
Cuisinart has the rare honor of being part of an exclusive club with such high-profile members as Coke, Kleenex and Xerox, whose names have all become synonymous with the type of item they represent.
With that kind of distinction, however, comes great responsibility to live up to the status you have created by continually setting the bar for quality in your product market.
The Cuisinart Elite Collection 12-Cup Food Processor does just that with innovations like the nested bowls for different-sized processing needs and the SealTight Advantage to prevent leakage/spewage of food.
Five different blade/disk attachments for processing, mixing, slicing, you name it, make this clever countertop wizard the renniassance man of machines.
Mix it up!
I've been whipping cream and mixing cookie doughs in my KitchenAid stand mixer since high school, and our relationship is still going strong. Talk about a love for the ages!
Occasionally I have KitchenAid envy when I see brightly colored models in store windows and friends' homes, but when I used my mom's more expensive, shiny, new Professional Series model over Christmas, I was glad to know my plain, white, Artisan Edition was waiting for me at home.
While I still fantasize about the Artisan Edition in bright orange or baby blue, I prefer the flip-back-head feature of this more modest model to the crank-down aspect of the Professional Series, and I've actually found that my mixer mixes much more thoroughly than my mother's.
I do, however, know people who would go to bed with their Professional Series, so my mom's particular mixer may just be defective.
Either way, KitchenAid's durable, attractive stand mixers have stood by me since high school, and with their bountiful bowls, abundant attachments, and delicious possibilities, how could I not return the favor?
Some for the Pot and Some for the Chef
Did you know that when cooked into food alcohol chemically bridges the gap between flavors and aromas to provide a full rush of WOW in your mouth?
Well it does.
Unfortunately, for years my ability to add wine to dishes was dependent on having someone around to pop that cork for me. But no more.
The Houdini has appeared to magically transform my abilities, and now the wine in my kitchen is flowing like water.
My husband actually hates this tool because it is so easy to handle that using it makes him feel like less of a man. He prefers the more traditional wine tool that adds gold stars to his culinary badass status. Can't find fault in that.
But since I have never successfully opened a wine bottle without it (sad, but true), I'll be sticking with the Houdini, thank you.
Honorable Mention and the Budget Buster
I have had terrible luck with blenders over the years. I always buy the cheap ones, and they always, always, always let me down.
When my husband and I were looking to replace the latest in the series of failures, he suggested the Magic Bullet.
I thought he was joking at first. Seriously, I said, like As Seen on TV?
Yeah, he said, my sister has one, and she loves it. Why not?
So we brought it home, and the mixed drinks and sauces that this thing cranks out have been superb. What's really magical about the Bullet is that you can whip up a sauce, serve it, and then store it all in the same container!
Second in my honorable mention manifest is the Cuisinart immersion blender. Everyone who loves to cook, or who does it begrudgingly, should have one.
Making soup? Sure, you could transfer scorching batches of liquid, ladle by ladle to a standard blender, pray for the best, and hope you don't get burned...or you could stick this convenient little tool directly into your pot and do the job in a third of the time with none of the pain.
Finally, the budget buster: This venerable blender really ought to be higher on the list, but I'm placing it down here because, admittedly, not everyone wants to spend upwards of $500 on a blender. However, as many times as I've bought and replaced cheapo blenders, I could have bought one of these bad boys long ago and saved myself some headaches.
This thing works. I mean, it really works. If you'd tried adding kale to a smoothie but haven't been able to get past the fibrous texture because your machine doesn't have the muscle, try the Vita-Mix.
If you'd wanted to use dried dates as a sweetener but have never been able to achieve a pleasantly smooth consistency, try the Vita-Mix.
If you'd like to whip up almost instant cauliflower purees as a healthier alternative to mashed potatoes, nothing beats the Vita-Mix.