January 26, 2003

10 more things -- If I Had $1000000

So, going along with my top 10 kitchen essentials, here's 10 more things I really rely upon, but could certainly make do without (with each, what I'd use if I didn't have it). I actually had to work pretty hard to come up with 10 items here -- I guess I use less stuff in the kitchen than I thought.

I have a bunch more stuff that I use, but much less often. For example, my food processor and blender are the only ways to really do a good job for some foods -- but they probably see use maybe one a month. That puts them on the list of "nice to have, but not really." And while I adore my chinois strainer -- I know that only a small fraction of people can afford $50, or make stock, soups, and sauces often enough to justify it.

1) Aluminum Half Sheet Pans. I have four of them, two not quite as heavy as the others (you can easily tell when you pick them up). A half sheet pan is also known as a jelly roll pan, or a cookie sheet (although technically, cookie sheets are flat where sheet pans have sides). Get ones from heavy stamped aluminum. The reason these are called "half sheet" pans is that they are half the size of full sheet pans used in commercial kitchens. Most home ovens can't fit full sized sheet pans. The cheapest source is restaurant supply places. In a specialty store you'll probably pay around $20 each -- but they last much longer than more home-directed versions.

Used for baking, keeping mis en place organized, set next to the stove to catch drips/hold spoons/tongs. Placed under things you don't want to drip (like pies, lasagna, etc). You can roast bones for stock in them in a pinch.

If I didn't have them I would: Use sheets of aluminum foil for lightweight work, use large saute pans for roasting work.

2) Small glass bowls. I have about 75 of these (used for soup service at parties) but they get used all year round. I'd probably have a dozen or so even if I never had parties. Any size is fine, but these seem to hold about a cup and a quarter.

Use for mis en place. This is such an important part of my kitchen working process than I do it without really thinking about it. It basically means preparing the items you need together, before you begin cooking. It results in a cleaner kitchen, more organized cooking, and a better flow.

If I didn't have them I would: use paper plates, other plates, bowls, paper cups, plastic cups, coffee mugs, etc.

3) Large Roasting Pan. I'm not especially enamored with mine, but it does the job and doesn't need to be overly fancy. Get one with as heavy a construction as you can afford, and don't get non-stick. Stainless or anodized aluminum (same purchasing guidelines as for saute pans apply here).

Used for roasting large meat items, but more often (for me) roasting bones for stock.

If I didn't it I would use: Large saute pans or Half Sheet Pans.

4) Plastic Squeeze Bottles. They are cheap, get them from beauty supply stores, less than $2 each. Get the kind without a screw adjustable top, you'll need to cut the top in order to let the product out. Get two or three, so you can cut some of the tops to different diameters.

Used for placing sauce on plates in fancy artistic manner. Can also hold chocolate and caramel sauces for longer periods in the fridge (although then you need to warm in a water bath before use). Can hold flavored oils, but I don't recommend this for more than a few days (due to the chance of botulism starting).

If I didn't have them I would use zip lock bags with a corner snipped, or cones of parchment paper.

5) Small paring knife. Most folks will tell you this is the 2nd knife you should get. I disagree. A combination of a chef's knife and serrated knife will do you just as well in all but fancy cooking situations. But, if you do sometimes need to do fine cuts, a paring knife is really the only way to do it well. I've actually got 6: 1 very nice plain one. 1 very nice "bird's beak". 1 cheaper plain. 1 cheaper bird's beak. 1 cheaper flat nose. 1 very very cheap stamped one (which I use for things that I don't care if I damage the knife). If I had only one it would be the nice plain one.

Used for fine mince, shallots especially. Vegetable carving, small dice, tournee vegetables, etc.

If I didn't have them I'd use a smaller chef's knife, but probably wouldn't try fancy cuts like tournee unless I felt like cutting myself.

6) Bowl scraper. I tried to find a link to this because it's hard to describe, but failed. It's a teardrop or "schmo" shaped bit of thin white plastic. Often has a hole at one end (I guess for your thumb) to help you keep a hold on it while in use. They're very cheap. You can find them at specialty kitchen stores. In commercial kitchens and trade shows, they are often "gimmes" from various food and service companies.

Used for, well, scraping bowls out. Way more efficient than a spoon or spatula. One or two swipes and a bowl is completely empty and clean. Excellent and fast for folding cake batter, egg whites, etc. A bit messy to use because there's basically no way to not get some on your hands. Can't be used in pans (they melt).

If I didn't have them I'd use a spatula for some stuff, and my cupped hands for others. You just haven't lived until you've folded cake batter with your hands!

7) Ramekins, various sizes. Plain ceramic, white, fluted outside. I have half a dozen 1/2 cup sized, half a dozen even smaller, and an assortment of larger sizes going up to about 8 cups.

Used for baking items like gratain, custard, souflees, beans, mac-n-cheese, molten chocolate cakes, etc. Use can also use them for serving items, as mis en place cups, salt wells and so on. Can take the place for anything you'd cook in a non-square pan.

If I didn't have them I would use oven proof glass/Pyrex (including measuring cups, which I've made souflees in twice!), plain glass bowls for non-oven use, straight sided oven proof coffee cups or mugs for small cakes and souflees.

8) "Lexan" square containers. I have four of these heavy-duty clear plastic containers with snap top lids. Two hold 1 gallon, two hold 1.5 gallons. Non-staining. You can find them at specialty stores, but again will pay less at restaurant supply places. The 1 gallon sees more use.

Use for holding stock for cooling. Storage of dry goods (short term, they are too expensive to use as your only "storage jars" technology). Brines for, well, brining things. Leftovers.

If I didn't have them I'd use gallon zip lock bags for storage & brining. Stainless bowls for stock cooling.

9) Pizza stone. Get the largest rectangular one that will fit in your oven. Round ones are cute because they remind people of pizza, but are much less useful. Get one as thick as possible also. The point is to hold heat and more mass == more heat.

Used for pizza (obviously), baking bread. Also, I often leave it on the bottom rack of the oven just to help maintain an even temperature in the oven. In fact, it's usually there most of the time. If you have a gas oven, you probably want to consider this -- it's a cheap way to really even out the heat.

If I didn't have it I would use unglazed quarry tiles, which are cheaper and what I used before. But they are a headache to get in and out of the oven, or to move from the bottom rack up to where you want to cook on it.

10) Mixer. Okay, a specific brand is all I'd get: KitchenAid. I really hesitated to put this on here, as I don't like gadgets in the kitchen, and this is an expensive one. But it is one I use fairly often. If you do a fair amount of baking (breads or desserts) consider getting one. It takes making of bread from a somewhat time consuming process to something you can do on a week night if you have time to allow for the rise. I use mine at least once a week, so it goes on the list, while the other appliances don't. Your milage may vary depending upon what you cook.

Things I look for: as heavy a motor as you can get, particularly if you are going to use it for bread. Large capacity (5 or 6 quart). Ability to take attachments (if you think you might want that in the future). I personally prefer the kind where the bowl lowers from the bottom rather than a head that "tilts up." Most pros agree, and the reason for this is twofold: a) up until very recently, large motors (and > 4 quart) were not available in the tilt-up variety and b) you'll see professional chefs "bumping" the bottom of the bowl in order to raise it up and allow the sides to be scraped without stopping the motor. One other plus of this design is that you can more easily apply heat in the form of a blowtorch to the underside.

I recommend getting all three beater types: paddle, whisk, and dough hook. I use all three regularlly. I wouldn't get a multi-purpose device (ie, mixer, blender, food processor, lawn edger, all in one!) unless you neverintend to make bread in it. The motors just aren't as strong, and you end up with a device that's less useful at all jobs and not very good at any one of them. If you are going to use such a device mostly as a food processor and only sometimes for batter work, it can make do. But, then you're not really getting a mixer, are you?

Why all the obsession with the strength of the motor? Aside from the bread making issue, you'll find that in regular use the motor will get hot. Making compound butter, or whipping cake batter often involves upwards of 10 minutes of continuous mixing. A smaller motor will wear out if you do this, because it is being forced to work too hard for its design.

Use for breads, cakes, batters, compound butters. Bowl serves as an extra stainless bowl. Fairly inexpensive meat grinder attachment available and worthwhile. The only reasonable way to make lobster butter (I'll do an entry on that at some point).

If I didn't have it I'd use whisks, bowls, and my own arms like everyone (and I) used to do. For lobster butter, I'd use a blender, but boy is it a pain!

KitchenAid KP2671XWH Professional...

Posted by dowdy at January 26, 2003 07:25 AM