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My Favorite Tools

December 1, 2011 | Frank Bonanno

One Christmas Eve, dinner came to stop when my three year old niece walked out of the kitchen carrying my very large very sharp carving knife.  That was back before I had children of my own and knew any better—back when you could travel cross country with potentially deadly cooking tools in a carry on. Emma’s nineteen years old now, and setting up a kitchen of her own.  I am, of course, giving her a knife for Christmas, which got me to thinking about all the tools that should be in her very first kitchen.  I listed the usual  suspects—spoons and forks, a frying pan and a stock pot—but I was thinking how much money and time might have been saved over the years if my drawers and cupboards started from the outset with the go-to’s that line them now.

This is a timely blog, I might add,  in case you’re gifting to your own kitchen stocker.

This first section is the Must Haves, because someone in our family uses them every day:

We have four sharp pairing knives in our kitchen drawer, because often the entire family is using one simultaneously.  I prefer the Japanese knives, because you only have to sharpen one side (an easier, safer bet for most home cooks). The Shun knife from Williams Sonoma usually goes on sale in December for around $60.

Good chef’s knife—6 to 8” long—probably Japanese too.  I purchased a Global for Emma, nice and light with a sturdy blade at $89.

Flat top griddle for toasting bread in bulk with the butter already smeared across it, grilling more than one cheese sandwich at a time, and of course, making pancakes—who wants to cook two pancakes at a time?? The Lodge cast iron version flips over to grill fish and chicken, and runs about $75.

Norpro stainless steel egg poacher—if you like eggs Benedict or a nice runny egg yolk sandwich, an egg poacher simplifies the morning.  Plus, the poaching inserts come out to handily provide a small sauce pot for daily use. (One problem with the Norpro, though—the handle of the pot is uninsulated and gets wicked hot, so do the egg inserts—so have an oven mitt handy)

A cast iron skillet won’t break the bank; heats quickly and uniformly; is easily seasoned to out-perform Caphalon, and lasts a lifetime.  Ours sits on the stove at all times—I imagine it to be a solid weapon, too, in case an intruder comes through the kitchen window.

If you have an iron skillet, it’s well worth the extra nine bucks to own a 7” square end metal turner—you know, a hamburger flipper, grilled cheese turner, pancake tool.  The bendy plastic spatulas are useless in my book (but then, I rarely cook on engineered non-stick surfaces).

Speaking of spatulas (which a metal turner is not), opt out of the traditional  rectangular rubber spat to go instead for a spoonula—it gets out the last of the cookie dough, stirs the oatmeal and soups, scrambes eggs. . . Anything the big spoon or spatula can do, a spoonula does better and cleaner.  Look for all-silicone (including the handles). Ours is Silvermark, which sells for around $15.

I prefer a sieve over a colander—fine metal mesh strainers are perfect for just a little bit of pasta, or to strain and blanch vegetables—you can even pass potatoes through for a fine mash or puree.  Can’t recommend a brand here, but make sure the handle’s long enough to stretch across the sink and balance over the drain.

Good box grater—For about $15, Oxo has a nice sturdy one that doesn’t bend under the will of a hearty hard cheese (“hearty hard cheese” that sounds funny).  The plastic box designed to catch the grated material is kind of a waste, though.  I used to overfill it and make a big mess until it ultimately became a box for Marco’s GI Joes.

Solid measuring cups—light, easy to clean, with graduated handles so they can stack and hang on a ring when not in use.  I like our Lifetime set because they are all of that and with metric conversions to boot.

Basic cookbooks—In my library, I have well over 500 cookbooks.  In the kitchen, we have three:  The Way to Cook, by Julia Child; The New Basic By Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, plus a beat to hell Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1950’s.

Everyone should have sea or kosher salt at hand for a pinch and a salt pig with a fat mouth to keep it in.

These are Useful but Unnecessary:

Pour spouts—for olive oils, hand soap, dish soap (that’s been transferred to an empty bourbon bottle) . . .

Microplane zester—yes, it’s easy to use the box grater; but it’s easier to clean a microplane; they’re handier to store, and I can grate parmesan at will or chocolate or orange zest right over my sons’ hot chocolate

Apple corer—use mine all the time, in spite of all my knife skills because it lets me pack a lunch with apples and pears in under a minute.

Egg slicer—again, a knife just doesn’t quite satisfy the task of perfectly concentric rings in 2 seconds for a nicoise salad.

Immersion blender—KitchenAid has one for under $40 that comes apart easily for cleaning.  These are for the small jobs when you don’t need a whole Vitaprep—to emulsify a pasta sauce for two, puree the pumpkin for a single pie filling, froth up chocolate milk for the kids, or make a single Orange Julius on the fly.

Santa Maria Novella Pot Pouri—My mom has this in her downstairs bathroom. My wife asked for it for our downstairs bathroom. My neighbor Tammy asked Jacqueline where she got it. Tammy’s sister wanted some for her house . . . get the picture? It’s an elegant, unobtrusive scent that covers foul um, bathroom, smells, but doesn’t compete with great kitchen aromas.

Countertop fan—A small one will keep the fruit flies away

And these are the Indulgences, which I only call indulgences because of the price point.  The first two I have in every one of our eight restaurant kitchens as well as my home, where they are used daily.

A Vita prep blender does everything; makes great smoothies, fantastic soups, even ice cream.  Vita preps also replace most food processor tasks.  A Ninja is pretty good, but the motor on a Vita-prep lasts and lasts and lasts.

Every baker needs a KitchenAid.  It does all the work for you— want to bring egg whites to a nice stiff peak?  Four minutes in the KitchenAid versus 20 with a whisk. Even better, if you can find a used one—10 years or older—you’ve got a helluva a machine that will last a life time.

Pasta Pentola Stock Pot— from All Clad, heavy duty, with an insert– the bigger the better.  Ours is 7 quarts, and we probably use it in our home no less than three times a week.

Toaster Oven— Trumps a toaster and a microwave every time. I use mine every single day for everything from making toast to warming pizza and making cookies