Sunday, September 30, 2007

"these are a few of my favorite things . . . "

(cue Julie Andrews . . . )

Away back when I began my retail position, several bloggers had asked me to pass on any wisdom regarding kitchenwares I gained during my time training at the store. It’s taken me almost a year, but I feel as though I may indeed be ready to share some of my acquired knowledge with you! While what I’m about to show you hasn’t all been purchased at my store, most of it has (because I shopped there long before I started working there!) The following items have permanent residence in my kitchen for the rest of my life (or their lives,) and nearly all of these items are used at least weekly, if not daily.

And now, a few of my favorite things . . .

The Toddy Cold Brew Coffee System:
I know I blogged not too long ago about my Toddy, so this will be a shortened version of that post. Cold-extracted coffee tastes amazing, has very little acid, stays fresh in the fridge for a week or longer, and although it takes a little pre-planning, it is extremely convenient because it is ready when you are ready to drink it. I also enjoy how low-tech the system is – it requires no electricity, other than to grind the beans!

salt pig:
This is a mini stoneware casserole from Le Creuset that I use to keep kosher salt near the stove. Many salt pigs are either open, (which I can’t have in my kitchen because my salt is stored so close to my sink,) too large, or hard to open, so this casserole fit the bill. My only regret is that I didn’t buy one of the super-cute mini-casseroles that they make, like the pumpkin, tomato, or green apple. Maybe someday . . . !

whisk, small and standard spatulae, and wooden spoon:
The whisk is a traditional French whip style from “Best,” and my spats are silicone heads with wooden handles. (I’ve finally gotten into the habit of removing the heads for washing and drying after some, um, interesting mold/mildew experiences!) The small one was a birthday gift a few years back from my friend Ann – it is by Le Creuset, and is blue and SPARKLY. My standard one is just plain clear, but it gets the job done. The spoon is, I believe, a French-style wooden spoon, and I just like that shape the best. Nothing too special.

potato masher, strainer, locking tongs, and Microplane:
The potato masher is also by “Best,” and is nice and small – good for a small batch of mashed potatoes (because who really wants to eat reheated mashed potatoes?), and also does a nice job of mashing up guacamole, refried beans, salsa, and other yummy things. I don’t know what brand my mini-strainer is, but it does a nice job of straining the seeds out of lemon juice, dusting powdered sugar, and other small odd jobs. Both pairs of locking tongs are by OXO – I don’t care for many of their products in general, but I love their tongs. I find them very easy to open and close, (using the “hip check” method,) and they hang nicely from the little loop in the locking mechanism. I received my Microplane as a free gift for subscribing to Cook’s Illustrated once, and I am so glad I did! Hard cheeses, ginger, citrus zest, chocolate, and whole nutmeg are no match for this baby. Notice I still own the one without the handle – why, you ask? Well, because the one with the handle is super closed up in the back and looks really difficult to clean! The handle-less model is nice and open, and you can also flip the cover around and put it on backwards if you want to catch and measure what you are grating. Handy.

measuring cups and spoons:
I have loved these oval cups and spoons from Cuisipro for years now. The spoons fit nicely into narrow spice jars, and sit up level on the countertop. The cups are sturdy and fit nicely into narrower bags/canisters. My only complaint is that sometimes a small clump of flour gets lodged in the crevice between the handle and the cup . . . which scrubs out easily using a fingernail brush. No biggie.

This is the Best. Flipper. Ever. (By Lamson Sharp.) The shape, slats, and slight flexibility make it perfect for flipping or moving just about anything – tofu steaks, pancakes, hash browns (the grease drains right through!), falafel, bean burgers, poached eggs, cookies, sweet potato fries, you name it. It is metal, so if you have nonstick pans you care about, well, maybe you should just get some stainless cookware and buy this flipper anyway. Tee-hee.

This is part of my old, inexpensive, “Simply Calphalon” nonstick, anondized aluminum, cookware set. (Not pictured: the lid!) It is, however, a sauté pan, which I believe is the only fry pan I will ever need. Don’t get me wrong, I love my cast iron, but the straight, high sides on a sauté pan are just so darn convenient – they keep everything contained so nicely, and because of the straight sides, there’s more cooking surface area at the bottom. Someday, I’ll replace this with an All Clad piece.

salad spinner:
I don’t own a ton of Zyliss products, (just because I don’t own a ton of gadgets, and they tend to be very gadgetey,) but I have tried many of them. Zyliss makes products that work well all of the time. I love my salad spinner – greens are well-dried after only a few pulls, and the size I have came with a separate storage lid for the fridge. This spinner also is not too large or too small – just right for a head of romaine or a bunch of kale.

tick-tock timer:
Is it wrong to hate digital timers? Digital timers have always broken on me, or the batteries fall out, or they get bumped off the fridge into the dishwater and stop working. I like tick-tock timers. I especially like this die-cast aluminum timer that I bought ages ago – it is manufactured in Italy, and so sturdy, I will probably be able to will it to one of my grandchildren someday. I have seriously knocked it off the kitchen counter at least twenty times, and it keeps on ticking.

stick blender:
Again, I believe I have recently waxed poetic about my Bamix. Efficient, powerful, quiet, and comes with multiple blades for a variety of uses. (I think I can get rid of my hand mixer because of the Bamix! Wahoo!) Also, unlike traditional blenders, the Bamix does not require transferring liquids into a tall, narrow, akward container for blending, and it stores efficiently in the drawer. I love my Bamix.

I can’t tell you how I hemmed and hawed over this purchase – I think I had it on hold at work for over two weeks. After much debate, I ended up purchasing this All Clad MC2 3.5 quart casserole at a very deep discount (because it was the last one and we are no longer carrying it, although All Clad continues to manufacture it,) and I have never once regretted it. I love casseroles because they have those two little stubby handles, instead of one big, long one that is hard to control and gets in the way. Also, 3.5 quarts is the PERFECT SIZE POT – popcorn, no-knead bread, pasta, smaller batches of soups, rice pudding, curries, I can’t even begin to list what I’ve cooked in this pot. My general opinion on cookware is this: everyone needs 2- and a 3.5-quart saucepans (or casseroles,) a 5.5-quart Dutch oven, a 5 or 6-quart sauté pan, and a 10- or 12-inch cast iron fry pan, and that’s it. (Also, possibly a larger stock pot for big jobs.) Some folks think sets of cookware are the way to go, but I generally believe they contain extra pieces that you pay for, but just don’t need. I’m building my collection slowly, one piece at a time.

I had been suffering with a wire mesh colander for years, and just recently purchased this laser-perforated stainless-steel colander by Endurance from work (using a gift card I received as a staff incentive.) The holes are small enough that spaghetti does not wiggle through and rice rinses nicely, but large enough that they are easy to clean. (Still need to use cheesecloth when rinsing quinoa, however.)

mixing bowls:
I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved this set of three bowls with lids. The bowls are nice and tall, so it’s hard to slop stuff over the edges, sturdy but still comfortable to lift and pour from, and durable enough that I haven’t dented them yet, despite dropping them several times (and many adventures with the electric mixer.)

Free cutlery is a beautiful thing. Free excellent cutlery is indescribable. These are my two favorite knives for almost all prep jobs (excluding watermelon and squash, when I require a heavier-duty knife and a longer blade.) Top is my MAC Mighty 6 1/2 inch santoku, and on the bottom is my Global Small Vegetable Knife, at about 5 1/2 inches. Both are freakishly sharp, stay sharp for a long time, and hone beautifully.

cutting boards:
These three beauties are by Epicurean, a company based in Duluth, Minnesota, that manufactures NSF-quality cutting boards from recycled wood leftovers and a food-grade laminate. This material was originally used to make skateboard ramps! The boards are similar in hardness to bamboo, so they are gentle on knives, don’t show much wear, don’t stain (yet, anyway,) are dishwasher safe, and don’t require any oiling like hardwood or bamboo boards do. I love these! Score ones with visual defects at a discount (like I did) if you can!

I'll make another post in the future, as I collect more can't-live-withouts! Until then, I guess I'll just have to keep cooking?


Anonymous said...

You've got some great products there. I'm very intrigued by your collander. When mine wear out, that will definitely be the one I buy.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm a fellow vegetarian who's lurked on your site for quite a while. Actually, I tried to leave a comment on another post in the past and blogger wouldn't let me.

Anonymous said...

awesome post!

Anonymous said...

I am so jealous! I NEED a microplane grater and some good mixing bowls! All of your kitchen tools/gadgets/toys look great.


madeinalaska said...

I agree what a great post! I have a few very blog worthy kitchen stuff.. mostly stuff my honey has splurged on as gifts.. his way of saying keep on cooking! (in a good way, eh.. not like a vacume or an iron)..its amazing how the right tools get the job done.. or atleast inspire.. huh?

bazu said...

Thank you for this post! We have a lot of favorites in common, but I'm also learning a lot- I think I'll come back here a lot as I plan future kitchen purchases.
One thing you might be interested in- I gave up trying to rinse quinoa. Instead, I just toast it for a few minutes (tossing frequently) in a hot cast-iron pan- it tastes just fine. My ocd just wouldn't let me deal with rinsing the tiny little buggers!

Catherine Weber said...

Crystal, thanks! I do love my colander -- a lot. :)

Johanna, thanks!

Courtney, yes, you do NEED a Microplane! :) They are pretty cheap, too! Come see me on Saturday and we'll get you hooked up. ;-) How's your visit with your mom going?

Julee, I always think cooking gadgets are great gifts, personally -- I love to cook, and everyone loves to eat, so everyone's happy, right??

Bazu, thanks for the tip on quinoa. I'll have to carefully think about it . . . because I have a hard time liking quinoa as it is, and know that I like it if it's been rinsed . . . we shall see. :)

Catherine Weber said...

rcw biologist, thanks for stopping by! (Didn't mean to neglect you in my last comment.)

Judy said...

What a well stocked kitchen you have. Maybe I should get a job in a kitchen store!

Anonymous said...

I am going to stop by your store and pick some of these up. DBF works in SP and I like hanging out on Grand while I wait for him. I hope you are there to help me with my selections!

Catherine Weber said...

Judy, I have to say, it is pretty darn fun. Tempting, sometimes hard to take home a paycheck, but fun!!!

Karen, I work in Uptown in Minneapolis -- but I'd love to see you there!

Michelle said...

i am insanely jealous of all of your lovely kitchen things! those knives alone make me drool....

Anonymous said...

hi Catherine,
Is the Bamix dishwasher-safe, or should it be hand washed? Which one do you recommend (I looked briefly at their website and saw a large price range). You can email me at my gmail account. Thanks!