While I’m working on an actual recipe to post, I figure, let’s have lists and stuff! Everybody loves lists.
Here are my kitchen must-haves, part 1: Non-food items, whether equipment, gadgets, or fun dishware.
These are not big things like knives or pans – to be honest I have shitty cheap Ikea knives, and cookware is one of those things where you buy what you can afford. I’m not slave to cast iron or any other particular kind of pan. These things are specific little doohickeys that make cooking easier for me; they’re generally inexpensive and easy to find and use. Anything that makes cooking more fun or at least less of a chore meal-in-and-meal-out is awesome, whether it’s a big fancy stand mixer or a little silicone bowl.
Mine is smaller than the one in the picture, but I think it might have been a discontinued model – it was a Christmas gift from my parents, and it totally hooked me on smoothies and frozen banana “soft serve.” It’s small, lightning fast, and surprisingly quiet – and it can make ice into powder in a few pulses. Grownup boozy snowcones ahoy!
This little baby has enabled me to make truly awesome tofu. Most bad tofu you’ve eaten probably had a lot to do with how it was prepared. The best method I’ve found involves freezing the ‘fu and then thawing it (the formation and melting of ice crystals changes the texture), then pressing the heck out of it to get as much water out as possible. The XPress makes that part effortless – a tension spring does all the work, and you can leave it in the fridge overnight if you want (though it only takes about 30 minutes). It’s totally dishwasher safe, very important in my world. It’s kind of pricey for a few pieces of plastic and a spring, but if you eat much tofu (and you will once you figure out how to cook it!) it’s a godsend. Before the XPress I was doing the traditional “bunch of books on top of a pan on top of tofu wrapped in a kitchen towel” method. Such a pain.
Heat resistant up to 400 degrees, dishwasher/nonstick safe, flexible but not floppy – I use this thing for everything. I should get a second one someday, in fact, just so I can have the pretty green one. $6.99 on Amazon.
This is another one I owe my mom (and her QVC habit). I’ve used a lot of food containers but this brand is exactly what they claim to be – you can shake and spin and drop and even through them across the room and not a drop of their contents will leak. In fact that’s how I marinate my freshly-pressed tofu – cut it up, put it in a Lock & Lock with the marinate, clamp it shut, and shake the shit out of it. They make sort-of-bento-esque models with removable cups, item specific containers for bulk foods in the pantry, and even a tofu marinating vessel (which I didn’t know about until just now – as soon as I can afford it IT WILL BE MINE). I don’t have anything like the collection Mom has but I’m definitely a devotee.
Mise en place, people. If you really want to cook without stress, you need to learn this idea – it’s French for “everything in place,” and refers to having all your ingredients and equipment prepped and ready before you even start cooking. The best way to do that employs prep bowls – pre-chop and dice and measure out all your veg and spices and whatever else you need, and have it in bowls around the stove where you can see what you’ve already used and don’t have to stop mid-sauté to chop an onion. This doesn’t have to involve specialist equipment – any old bowl will do. But I’m especially fond of little bitty bowls like these adorable silicone numbers; the term “pinch” bowl means of course that you can reach in and grab a pinch of something, but in this case you can also pinch them shut partway so they’ll pour right out.
No Ove Glove, no ove love. Way less awkward than a traditional hot pad, I’ve been using an Ove Glove to take stuff out of the oven since (yes, again) my Mom gave me one for Christmas years back. It’s made of Nomex and Kevlar, and can stand temps up to 540F. I have a mild phobia of fire and high heat, so using regular hot pads and mitts made me really uncomfortable – I couldn’t get a good grip on what I was doing, and was always afraid of the pan slipping out of my hand. I feel a lot more secure using a glove, and as bulky as it looks, it’s actually snug enough that it doesn’t feel like a giant monster paw like a lot of silicone gloves.
Not for coffee. For spices. If you’re going to use one for the latter make sure you have a separate one for the former – no matter how well you clean them, the last thing you need is turmeric in your fancy ground coffee. Trust me, you’re going to want to grind your own spices at least sometimes once we’ve talked about it. *stern face* But coffee grinders are magnificent for grinding spices – this cute little KitchenAid number is less than $15, but if you look at a thrift shop or dollar store you can probably one for five dollars. Before I got one, I used the Punk Rock Piss Off Your Downstairs Neighbor Method – I put my spices in a zippy bag and smashed them with a hammer. Don’t do that.
There are some disposable things I’m willing to buy, especially if they’re all that stands between me and just not cooking. Fact: I’m never going to buy a steamer. Actually I think I have one somewhere, but why would I ever boil water when I can just open the microwave? I love that so many frozen foods now come in steam-in bags, but what do you when you’re starting from raw? Enter these beauties – specially designed for microwave steaming. There’s even a chart on the side telling you how long to nuke your bag o’veg. They’re awesome for potatoes – you can make life a lot easier for yourself by pre-cooking potatoes for a lot of recipes, but again, boiling them is often inconvenient. There are other brands, these are just the ones I’ve used for years. They’re recyclable, but not reusable as far as I can tell; there are other less disposable microwave steaming solutions, but I’ve never tried them. Got one you love? Let me know in comments.
Note: If you’re doing frozen and the bag your food is in isn’t made for steaming, don’t fret. Set it on a plate, poke a few holes in it with a knife, and nuke it for 4 minutes. See if it’s done enough, nuke a minute more if needed. No, really, it can take it – I wouldn’t cook it for 20 minutes or anything, but a quick par-cooking to get the veg ready to do other stuff with won’t melt the bag.
Even if you never go near a cake, you need an offset spat. Anything that involves spreading whether it’s frosting or the top layer of a casserole is infinitely easier to deal with if you don’t have to worry about getting your knuckles in it. They’re inexpensive, come in several sizes, and will amaze you with their usefulness. In fact a straight spat is also really cool to have – trust me, they work better than butter knives for smoothing things over. Spatulas are more flexible, and have the same shape on both sides, so you get an even spread you can’t get from something like a butter knife or rubber spatula that’s blade-shaped. Angled things are great for getting into the nooks and crannies of a jar or bottle, but straight-sided spats are where it’s at for besmoothing.
Next on Stumbling Towards Ahimsa: Indispensible Foodstuffs!
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