Well Dined

15Mar/120

My Favorite Products Pt 2

Continuing from Part 1, which covered cookware and bakeware, I am going to list my favorite kitchen products. In this post I will be covering Tools and Cutlery. Most of my links will be to Williams Sonoma, because that is where I buy my products, but you can find the same or similar items at Sur La Table, Macy's, and even Amazon.

Cook's Tools

You will need an assortment of wooden spoons, whisks, spatulas, ladles, tongs, etc... I won't go into super detail on these except to remind you that if you are using nonstick pans you must use wooden or silicone tipped tools. Here are links to good whisks, tongs, and spatulas for that purpose.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

Mixing bowls are a necessary kitchen item and I highly recommend this set of 10 nesting bowls for $40, they are probably my favorite kitchen product EVER. Every size you could possibly need is included and because the bowls are glass, you don't have to worry about them reacting with food (like metal bowls) or retaining odor (like plastic bowls). These bowls are so perfect for setting up your mise en place ("everything in place" in French), which is the number one thing that will save your sanity in the kitchen - have all your ingredients measured, cut or prepped, and ready to go BEFORE you start cooking.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

Another necessity in the kitchen is a set of measuring cups and spoons. I use this All Clad stainless steel set because they are super sturdy and durable, easy to level off, and include measurement lines inside the cups for different measurements (like 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 inside the 1 cup). The most basic is the standard size set (1/4, 1/3, 1/2, and 1 cup; 1/4 tsp, 1/2 tsp, 1 tsp, and 1 tbsp) for $50; I also have the odd size set for $40.

(Image and product information courtesy of Amazon)

You cannot use a dry measuring cup to measure liquid and vice versa (one of the most common mistakes made in cooking), so you must also have a liquid measuring cup. I use a 4 cup Pyrex glass one, like this one on Amazon for $11, and a smaller 2 cup size. **EDIT** I just found out that Pyrex changed the type of glass it uses in its measuring cups a few years ago.  The old ones were laboratory glass that you could put through extreme temperature changes without shattering; the new ones are regular glass and you should be careful about exposing them to heat and cold in rapid succession. **EDIT**

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

I actually have both the traditional metal colander set and the mesh one shown above ($37), but I find that I use the mesh set more often. The mesh colanders are more stable and allow you to drain small items like rice or couscous; they can also act as strainers so that you don't have to buy a separate set if you don't want to.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

These Microplane graters are good for everything - spices, cheese, vegetables, zest - and are only $17 each; they will keep you from having to buy all kinds of specialty graters. If you prefer a box grater, though, this one is a good option - for $25 it has 6 sides and everything from super fine grate, to medium shred, to slice; plus it is made from durable stainless steel.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

These peelers are super sharp and come in a set of 3 - for $17 you get a straight peeler, a serrated peeler (for tomatoes), and a julienne peeler. If that is too fancy for your needs, I suggest these amazing $4 peelers - they are cheaper than the sturdier looking ones out there, but work way better! They are seriously the best, sharpest peelers you can find.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

Okay, this one is a bit unconventional, but since this is a list of my favorites I have to include this. This is a vegetable chopper that I use ALL THE TIME. It makes all my veggies into perfect looking little cubes that are all the same size, and it powers through prep time (it is especially great for chopping onions). The cut veggies fall into the plastic container, which you can then turn on its end to get a measurement of how much you have. It is $30 and comes with 2 exchangeable cutting plates for chop, dice, mince (perfect for garlic), and slice (perfect for cucumbers) - though I pretty much only use the dice.

Let's talk thermometers: if you are cooking meat, you need to have an instant read thermometer that will tell you if it is up to a safe internal temperature. You don't have to go to fancy here, just get a simple instant read thermometer like this one. If you do a lot of big roasts (Thanksgiving turkey, beef roast, etc...) you may want to invest in a leave in thermometer that you can program to beep when the meat has reached the temperature that one want - these typically will have different settings for poultry, pork, beef, etc... My oven actually came with one of these that plugs into the oven itself, which is pretty cool. If you plan to do any deep frying (or candy making) you will need a different kind of thermometer. Also, this is a bit random but cool: an egg timer that you drop into the pot with the eggs that tells you when the egg is soft, medium, or hard boiled.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

This last tool is a bit of an insider secret, and definitely a specialty/splurge item. A food mill is the best way to get flawless mashed potatoes, vegetable and fruit purees, and tomato/apple sauces. This particular one is top of the line stainless steel for $150, but there are certainly less expensive food mills/ricers out there.

Baking Tools

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

You will need a rolling pin (I use the red silicone one shown above), pastry cutter, pastry scraper, biscuit/cookie cutters, pie weights, pastry brushes, and a cake tester (either broom style or steel). Out of that group, I nominate the pastry cutter as the VIP - it turns homemade pie dough into a quick and painless task.

You may also want a flour sifter, though if you have the mesh colanders or strainers listed further up the list, you could use those to sift. This one may sound a little odd, but ice cream scoopers are great for baking - use them to make your cookies, muffins, or cupcakes equal in size.

Cutlery

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

The basic pieces that you will need are a bread knife, a chef's knife, a paring knife, and kitchen shears. After that, you can add on specialty knives as needed. My favorite brand is Shun - they have the most gorgeous, sharpest knives that you have ever seen. The Ken Onion line has very ergonomic, comfortable grips; which is why I choose to link to the Shun Ken Onion 7 piece set ($850). A basic set like this is a great way to get started with quality knives. However, few people can afford very nice knives like these (I certainly can't!). Here are some more affordable options - sturdy poultry shears for $26, a super sharp set of 3 paring knives for $33, and a good quality chef and bread knife for $20 each.

With any knife (and especially the expensive ones), you want to be careful to take good care of them. Do not use knives on hard surfaces like glass or marble and do not put knives in the dishwasher (the will get dinged and dented as the bang against other items and the heated drying cycle can damage the handles). When you are handwashing a knife, place the blade flush against the side of the sink to prevent hurting yourself.

Use a honing steel after each use to keep the blade centered and aligned - note that this does not sharpen the knife. To actually sharpen a knife, you must take off some of the metal to recreate the edge. For very nice knives, I recommend having this done by a professional once a year. For less expensive knives, you can sharpen them yourself but you must know what you are doing. Asian and European knives are made with different angles on their blades; if you use the wrong sharpener (or try to use a whetstone without training), you can ruin your blade. This manual sharpener is set up for both Asian and European knives, and this one has a slot for sharpening scissors. A good test for when it is time to get your knives sharpened is to test whether they can easily slice through a tomato without tearing or pulling at the skin.

Cutting Boards

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

For cutting boards, wood is the best - it is the gentlest on knives and the fastest to cut on (plastic will hold on to the knife a bit, slowing you down), and for wooden boards, Boos is the standard. These maple Boos boards run from $30-$80. If you do a lot of roasts, you will want a carving board that has a groove cut into it to catch the juices.

You must take care of your wooden boards by oiling them every day for the first week that you have them, and every time you wash them after that. They can be washed with soap and warm water. A good way to disinfect them after contact with raw meat (or to remove stains) is to cut a lemon in half, dip the cut side in salt, and rub the board with it.

(Image and product information courtesy of Williams Sonoma)

If caring for a wooden board is more than you feel comfortable doing, you could go with something like these dishwasher safe composite boards by Epicurean for $35-$50. If you are really just need something fast and easy and on the cheap, go for this set of 4 plastic cutting boards for $20 - they are different colors to help keep you from cross contaminating foods.

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