This week I want to skirt the whole holiday gift guide thing again and talk basics.
Now it's my turn.
- Microplane Zester – Emily and Faith both had this on their lists. I use it for hard cheeses, nutmeg, ginger, citrus zest, chocolate and garlic. ($8.95 at Amazon or just about any cooks' supply shop, even some grocery stores)
- Metal Tongs – These were on Emily's list as well. I too reach for my tongs to flip cooking foods (from gently searing scallops to a three-pound roasting chicken), to toss salads, and to turn things that are marinating. I probably got these at a restaurant supply shop here in NYC. ($1.89 at Webstaurant Store or just about any cooks' supply shop)
- Wood Spatula – Also called a "turner", I use this more often than my wooden spoons because its flat edge makes scraping a sauce or moving quickly cooking garlic across the pan so much faster. It'll even flip an egg and is kind to my non-stick surfaces. ($3.95 at Sur La Table or just about any cooks' supply shop)
- Japanese Cleaver – This knife was a gift from Maxwell's mother to him years before I came along ten years ago. It has a black shoelace wrapped around where the handle and blade meet, but I'm pretty sure this is not the only thing holding it together. It sharpens up beautifully and stays that way after a lot of use. I tend to use it for everything from cutting through bones, to mincing garlic. The sound it makes when cutting an apple is priceless.
- Cast Iron Skillets – There are two: I use the standard ten-inch skillet for making big batches of eggs, searing any kind of meat from scallops to rib-eyes, roasting chickens, slow-cooking greens, and desserts like Tarte Tatin and even pies. It is a Griswold that Maxwell got at a garage sale when he lived in San Francisco in the early nineties. The smaller skillet is perfect for making one egg, toasting nuts, making single-portions of anything I make in the larger skillet and also as a meat tenderizer, ice crusher, and nut cracker. It is a standard-issue, 6.5" Lodge. ($10.95 at Lodge Cast Iron or just about any cooks' supply shop, even some hardware stores)
- Thick Wood Chopping Block – It's not a tool, but it's absolutely essential to the way I cook. It's my blank canvas and it comes alive with every meal I make. Having a permanent (it's so big and heavy, it is never put away) space where I can spread out and cook gives me freedom. Mine is made by Catskill and I got it from Overstock. They no longer have the same model, but you can get close. Look for something at least an inch thick and oil it with mineral oil often.
- Emile Henry Lasagna Dish – I don't make much lasagna but I sometimes roast my chickens in this perfectly-sized dish. I also marinate meats, make baked fruit desserts and roast vegetables in it. It was a wedding gift. ($49.96 at Sur La Table)
- Benriner Mandoline – People are always surprised to see how much I use my mandoline. We've talked about it at length before, but to recap, it's great for slicing vegetables thinly and evenly. Think shaved fennel, potatoes for chips or gratins, whisper-thin onions for caramelizing. During the summer months I use it just about every day to make thinly-sliced raw vegetable dishes. In the colder months, it will breathe new life into root vegetables. ($20.62 at Amazon and some cooks' supply shops)
- Bench Scraper – This particular one also came with my culinary school kit. These are great for scooping up things you've chopped without compromising your knife blade or dropping heaps on the floor. I also use it to divide pie and bread dough, "sweep" up the counter and measuring - it has a six-inch ruler on it. ($6.99, Chef's Catalog or just about any cooks' supply shop)
- Ramekins – I have a large assortment of ramekins that I use as prep bowls while I'm cooking, serving pieces for little first-course soups, dipping sauces, and individual baked desserts or small portions of ice cream.
(Images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)
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