Tom Rutledge shares his tips of the most useful kitchen tools and products - just in time to make a request from Santa!
'Tis the season for a list: presents to give, food to buy, songs to play, errands to run, people to write to, people to see, people who are naughty, people who are nice. But as we all know, head and shoulders above these lists in terms of importance is your very on wish list for presents you expect to receive on JC's birthday.
So, spare a moment from your box ticking mania to ensure friends, family, colleagues, and loose associates are focusing on what really matters at this time of year. It's important that you provide clear instructions to avoid disappointment and to spare the gift-giver the hassle of making good their mistakes on your behalf.
To this end, I've prepared a list of essential kitchen hardware so you can line up a good haul of useful things. They will keep on giving all year long. In fact, every time you're having a whale of a time in the kitchen in 2014 you can reflect back on your prudence for requesting the below.
There's a certain attraction to having an imposing arsenal of knives, especially after watching Kill Bill. However, you may not need that many. A cheap knife is a false economy and by insisting on a couple of really really good ones you can get away with just three. Make sure the blade is made from high quality carbon steel that will sharpen well and allow a fine edge. The metal of the blade needs to run from the point all the way through to the end of the handle and the handle needs to be heavy enough to balance the blade. Treat them well and they will become some of your most treasured possessions.
- large cooks knife - for everything from chopping carrots to calving eye fillets. This will be your most versatile and most used.
- a small paring knife - good for fiddly little things and for attacking things you want to hold rather than rest on a board - think peeling an apple.
- a large serrated knife - essential for bread, tomatoes, and anything else you're likely to squash by applying downward pressure rather than the to-and-fro of the saw like teeth.
2. A Wooden Spoon
Is there a better piece of kitchen kit? I'm not sure that there is. It's pretty much man's second invention after the mastery of fire when it comes to cookery. They got it so right at the get go that it has required little improvement since. Essentially just a stick - it is genius. They don't conduct heat, last for generations, and cost very little. Forget the snappy metal implements that will scratch you pan and the unnecessary silicon number. This humble and historic utensil will serve your every need.
3. Measuring equipment
A bit of a kill-joy in the kitchen some might say. There's nothing better than trusting your instinct with a pinch here, a knob there, and a dollop somewhere else (still talking about cooking) but sometimes precision is a good thing. At a minimum I would recommend a good set of digital scales, a measuring jug with millilitre and cup gradations, and (if you must) a set of nested measuring spoons.
Get one of these and you won't look back. With the application of the minimum of elbow grease you can turn chocolate to dust, reggiano to feathers, and garlic cloves to a mercurial paste that your crusher can only dream of. Super versatile, and super easy to clean.
A good colander will serve as a strainer, a steamer, and (if you swing it like a billy) a salad spinner. You'll use it for everything from salting eggplants and making cheese to rinsing tinned lentils and draining pasta and countless things in between.
6. Pepper grinder
Freshly cracked pepper is one of the best things known to man. Best not to cut corners with a cheap grinder. Check out Peugeot mills. The French mightn't have the same reputation as the Germans when it comes to car assembly - but do not doubt their knowledge when it comes to grinding. Oh, and steer clear or those battery operated numbers. Imagine not having pepper just because you don't have two AAs. Tragédie.
7. A Large Non-Stick Frypan - or Two
Get ones that heat up quickly and are easy to clean. Be sure to get ones with ovenproof handles so you can start something on the stove top and finish it in the oven with out creating extra washing up.
8. A set of pots
Small, medium, and large. Obvious but necessary inclusions. A few are needed so you can have all elements of your meal arriving at the same time. Again, go for the ones with ovenproof handles.
9. Mandolin Slicer
The first inessential item on the list, but a life changing one nonetheless. Use to thinly slice fruit and dice and julienne vegetables. It'll save you a lot of time, protect your fingers from the hazards of excessive knife use (i.e. cuts and lacerations) and generally convey the impression that you're knifemanship is top notch.
10. Stick Blender
I'm a sucker for gadgets and power tools in general, yet this is the only electric appliance to make the list. By all means set your sights on a KitchenAid stand mixer and a Magimix food processor down the track. In the meantime, this will help you liquidise soups, whip cream, and blend pesto - assuming you go for all the attachments. Make sure you do.