Wednesday, January 6, 2010
My 100th Blog!
Wow! Sixteen months ago when I began blogging, I wasn't sure how much I had to say. Considering I have at least a dozen half-written blogs as well as the 99 I have published, writer's block is not a problem for me. But what to write for the 100th blog? After some thought I decided to do my "must have" list in the kitchen. I have been cooking and entertaining forever. I remember as a teenager in high school trying to make cookie dough for one cookie, successfully. I made cut out sugar cookies in college for a far away friend and I made pheasant for my roommates. After we got married, I loved the idea of feeding and entertaining our friends, and still do.
But all this cooking, baking and entertaining takes organization, passion and the right tools. I am lucky to have worked the last 12 years at WIlliams Sonoma. I am not any sort of spokesperson, believe me, I am a customer when it comes right down to it. I have bought many kitchen things over the last 25 years, some were flops, some show the wear of a gadget I can't live without. I have morphed too, into technology, the blog, and obviously the one item I can't live without is my Macbook. This the the greatest laptop, my second, and it has my life within it's little processor. But let's get down to the more basic items no kitchen should be without.
Recipe Box- Back when I got married, many of my female relatives wrote their favorite recipe on a 3x5 index card for me. My mom gave me her original recipe box in 1985. As you can see, I have moved up in capacity. Being organized is the main thing. Besides the usual file headings: Hot Appetizers, Cold Appetizers, Beef, Fish, Poultry, etc., one file is devoted to Family Recipes. An oil stained paper with Aunt Molly's handwritten Ravioli recipe, my Grandmother's handwritten jello salad, Squarkie's Czechoslovakian Cookies (with a note to put on coffee and call her when they were done), Aunt Florence's Chocolate Cake, Darlene's Baklava, my Mom's Steak in a Bag. That file is a blog in itself! But you must get all your loose recipes in one place. You also need to clean them out periodically because that Oat Bran Bread from 1988 may not be something you want for breakfast in 2010. Although I will blog my 1988 Oat Bran Bread right here, soon. My Family Recipe file includes things I will never make like Jelojdija (start with a four pig's feet) and things I make for my own family on a regular basis like Sloppy Joes. It is the one thing I will grab in a fire.
Cook Ware- Buy good pans, period. Buy one non stick fry pan, not made in China, that you swear to never use a metal utensil on or put in the dishwasher. Use it for eggs and grilled cheese.
When it peels, pitch it.
The rest of your pots and pans should be heavy, the right size for the job, and should never go in the dishwasher unless it is 18/10 stainless steel. Why? Dishwasher detergent is mostly bleach, there are abrasives and chemicals that are hard on most substances. There are dozens of cookware brands, I have many including Calphalon, All Clad, Mauviel and Le Creuset. Different pans for different jobs. Again, its own blog, maybe later. The new thing is cookare you can put in the dishwaher. Why? I don't get it, I wouldn't waste the space in there, but that's my take. Follow the manufacturer's directions. Your skillet has burned chicken on it? Well, turn down the heat to cook. It is the most common mistake. Most people are in a hurry and crank up the heat, be patient and warm up your pan slowly, it makes a world of difference. If you get burned on chicken or stuck pieces of whatever, what to do? Keep the pan on the heat and slowly add water to it and gently scrape up the burnt pieces. It is called deglazing, and you can do it with wine, herbs and butter and make amazing sauces (providing it isn't burnt to a crisp). Don't do this with a non stick pan and a metal utensil.
Santoku Knife- For a long time we all referred to it as Rachel Ray's knife. She really brought this timeless knife front and center to the American home cook. It has a flat blade and chops beautifully, even for an unskilled cook. However, there are knife rules. Ready? DO NOT, under any circumstance, put any knife in the dishwasher. Did you hear me? I am not kidding. Besides the chemicals I mentioned earlier, the force of that water is amazing, and one little bump against another metal, and your knife has a little blip. Many blips make a very dull knife. And FYI, do not sharpen a Santoku knife with a basic knife sharpener. Most knives in our homes are German or Western knives, and they are sharpened at a different angle than a Japanese or other Asian knife. So when you buy the Santoku, make sure you get the proper sharpener for it.
Roll Bands, a great set of rubber bands with different widths to put on your rolling pin. Every batch of cookies is the same thickness and your doughs will never be thin and shaggy on the edges.
Tart Tamper, pushes delicate dough into the crevices of a tart pan.
Bench Scraper, it scrapes up dough, cuts lots of things, cleans off stubborn stuff from counters, baking sheets, cutting boards.
Instant Read Digital Thermometer- You need to know if the chicken is cooked or if the water is too hot for the yeast. This is how you know that.
Tapered Rolling Pin, Marble Rolling Pin, Straight Rolling Pin, basically pie crust, short pastry and cookies. Again, the right tool for the job makes a difference. Chocolate Tools, I discussed these a while ago here . And I love my Pastry Board, one side is marked with pie crust measurements, and the other is plain wood, and it has these lips on it so I can roll and roll and the board never moves. A good thing for sure. I always bake on a Silpat. I bit the bullet and bought 4 of them, it makes baking cookies a breeze. Naturally non stick so no sprays (they are bad...), the cookies bake evenly, get nicely browned, even burnt sugar pops right off them, they are really so convenient. Because they are silicone they don't trap odors like anise or peppermint and they can be used over and over. I have had mine for at least 7 years. Don't slice biscotti on them, I learned that lesson the hard way. Of course it is because I have super sharp, non-dishwashered knives.
Microplane Grater- Originally a rasp grater for wood working, it morphed into the best zester for lemon and lime, wonderful for grating fluffy piles of parmesan and perfect for a grate of chocolate on whipped cream. Like every other company, they couldn't leave well enough alone and made a million variations and colors. The basic is the one you cannot live without. The best part? They are made in Russlleville, AR by Americans. How cool is that? I have even heard you can microplane your heels in the shower. I would recommend a separate one for that.
The SideSwipe Blade- This is an after market add on to a Kitchen Aid Mixer. I use the 6 qt Professional model, and at the time, the Side Swipe was the only silicone blade available for my mixer. We carry a version from another company at WS, but only for the Artisan. I suspect Kitchen Aid will come out with its own version soon. I love that I don't have to stop and scrape down the bowl, it does a great job. Google it.
Kitchen Aid Mixer- I am a baker, life would be pretty impossible without this. You don't need the biggest model on the market, but you need the right size for the job. They come with different attachments, dough hook, flat beater and whisk, and they all have a purpose. Plus you can add on items like a grinder attachment, juicer, pasta roller, even an ice cream maker. I invested in a small whip bowl for my mixer. It is only a couple of quarts and has its own whip attachment, because sometimes 6 quarts is too big even for me. Kitchen Aid was a great company to work with when I had an issue with my mixer. Customer Service is a biggie for me.
As usual I could go on and on and on. I covered the majority of my baking must haves. I think I'll save my other tools and must have ingredients for another day. I have plenty to talk about as we have seen here. Thanks for coming to check out the blog, all the nice comments and all the generous offers from potential tasters. I have a large project in the works, many care packages to make, events to bake cookies for and at least 100 more blogs to go. Stay tuned, and get in there and cook!