I love to cook and I really enjoy preparing a delightful meal in the kitchen. There are some essential tools a home cook must have and then there are those wonderful specialty gadgets that make preparing food a little more fun.
The one item in the kitchen that everyone uses is a knife. A good quality blade that keeps a sharp edge is vital to food preparation. From chopping, dicing, slicing to peeling, skinning and deboning, a good set of knives will help to simplify the food preparation process. But with use, even the best blades will need to be sharpened. Make sure you have a good steel or other type of knife sharpener to keep your blades at their peak efficiency. A dull knife is more likely to cut fingers than a sharp knife!
There are a variety of cutting boards available made from an assortment of products. Wood, bamboo, plastic, marble and glass are all acceptable. The porosity of the plastic and wood should be taken into consideration for hygienic purposes. Glass and marble do not absorb any food contaminants but are very heavy and tend to dull the knives used to cut on them. Once their use is completed, they should all be washed in warm, soapy water and spritzed with a spray bottle full of hydrogen peroxide.
Ceramic or steel bowls are the containers you need to set your pre- or final prepared food items. My personal preference is a set of ceramic bowls as they come in a variety of sizes and can go in the oven, microwave and refrigerator. Plastic has the bad reputation of warping or melting when too hot; cracking when frozen and permanently discoloring when storing tomato based foods. Health concerns of BPA’s leaching out of the plastic into the food can be avoided by using glass, ceramic or steel.
Pots and pans
Good quality pots and pans do not have to cost a fortune but should be sturdy and dependable. Stainless steel is the best material but a poor conductor of heat. These should be clad on the bottom with copper or aluminum to allow for a more even heating. Do no confuse an aluminum pan with a steel pan. Aluminum absorbed into foods via cooking with more acidic products has been linked withAlzheimer’s disease. Although not proven, it is best to avoid using entirely aluminum pans. Another material in question is Teflon. Known to emit over 20 chemicals when heated, Teflon (perflurooctanoic acid PFOA) has been shown to cause birth defects in lab animals and employees manufacturing the material. Again, this is a recommendation to play it safe when using kitchen utensils.
Measuring cups and spoons
Pyrex or steel measuring cups and spoons will have a longer lifespan than their plastic counterparts. As mentioned for bowls, plastic tends to warp, crack and absorb foods and flavors. It is best to stick with glass and steel.
Having a keeper of cooking time is so important in the kitchen. Knowing how long the meat should cook, the pasta has been boiling or the cookies have been baking will allow for perfect results instead of a burnt meal. There are several types – wind up that sound like an old fashioned alarm clock to digital varieties that can time several things at once. No matter which you choose, you will appreciate having it in your kitchen.
Every cook should have spatulas, scrapers, spoons, whisks and tongs in her kitchen. The new silicone scrapers are wonderfully durable and do not degrade as some of the older rubber types do. Wooden and steel spoons and spatulas are also better than their plastic counterparts for reasons mentioned previously. Although steel can scratch your pans, using them gently will avoid excessive damage during stirring or turning. Tongs can help to avoid scraping the bottom of the pan by turning each piece of meat individually. Whisks are wonderful when you need to beat eggs for omelets or soufflés or are making a liquid mix such as gravy or pancake mix. They help to remove the lumps and allow a little more loft or air into the mix to make the final mix fluffier.
Blender or Food Processor
Often there is a need in a recipe to turn food matter from solid to liquid. A blender is the best choice for this task but a food processor can puree foods down to very fine particles. If you are pressed for time, a food processor will assist in speeding up the preparation of vegetation for recipes. Several types of vegetables can be processed together as well as the addition of liquids, herbs and spices. Blenders are also wonderful aids in beverage preparations – smoothies and frozen drinks (daiquiris, margaritas) for example.
Baking Pans or Stones
When baking any type of bread, cookie, pizza or rolls, baking stones are my personal preference. Stones can be used anywhere a cookie sheet is used, but it provides for a more even heating and cooking without burning or scorching. For foods needing to be crisped such as pizza, a stone is ideal. Meats can also be cooked on a baking stone but be aware the flavors tend to remain. If you choose to cook meat regularly on a stone, identify one stone just for cooking meats.
Home made bread not only smells wonderful, but is healthier than store bought bread. There are no preservatives, hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup. The shelf life tends to be a little shorter, but the benefits are so much better. Bread makers can also mix cookie, pizza or any other type of dough but can only bake loaf breads.
Garlic is a wonderful ingredient to most entree and vegetable dishes, however peeling garlic is time consuming and messy. A garlic press can save you a few moments by removing the peel and mincing the garlic into small usable pieces.
For the cook who does not have the luxury of time to make her or his evening meal, a crock pot is a wonderful tool where you can place all your ingredients and allow it to cook while you are at work. When you come home your meal is ready to serve.
There are many wonderful kitchen gadgets available to the home cook. You can spend hours on-line or in stores such as Bed, Bath and Beyond exploring all of them. Choose the basics to get started and slowly add to your collection as your skills and needs expand.