For Your ConsiderationPosted: December 10, 2011
Since it’s the holiday season, it seems fitting to post some of my favorite things for the kitchen. Some of these I have and use, and others I daydream about someday owning. This isn’t necessarily a gift guide…it’s more like a reference page. That being said, feel free to drop hints when necessary.
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Smoked paprika – I absolutely love this spice. It’s made by grinding the pods of varying types of Capiscum annuum peppers. Farmers in Spain dry out their chilies over wood fires, giving them a deep, smoky flavor. This spice has just enough heat to make a difference but not overpower a dish, and it’s smoky flavor gives significant depth to any dish. Its versatility allows one to use it in anything from chili, baked eggs, guacamole, or a batch of lovely braised chicken thighs. Go easy, though, as a little bit goes a long way. It’s also a great spice to add to vegan or vegetarian dishes to add a little something in the background.
Vinegar – Now, I know there are hundreds of types of vinegars out there, but I’ve found that introducing just a little acid in the form of champagne, balsamic, or Sherry vinegar can really boost the favor profile of just about any dish. I love adding a little aged balsamic to my chili, as well as my beef stew, and Shepherd’s pie. Having the aged stuff around is great for special dishes, but it can be pricey. So, I always have an everyday balsamic at the ready on the counter.
Salt – I, admittedly, do not have much of a sweet tooth. However, give me a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips, and I’m a happy girl. I love cooking with sea salt and kosher salt, both of which are kitchen essentials, in my opinion. There are many different sea salt options, but if I were you, I’d go with La Baleine or Maldon. La Baleine comes in a flake salt or a fine salt – you decide. Maldon is a lovely flaky sea salt and both can be used for cooking or finishing. Kosher salt is usable for everyday cooking, as well as baking. If a fine salt is needed and I want to use Kosher, I just whir it up in my spice grinder for a few seconds and voilà, fine salt.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I always have olive oil on hand ready to be used for sauces, sautéing, vinaigrettes, and even for baking. I know there are recipes that call for regular olive oil and then there are those that call for Extra Virgin olive oil. There is a difference in flavor, I realize, but I don’t really want to purchase two types of olive oil if it isn’t completely necessary. You will have to choose for yourself which you prefer. The beauty about olive oil is that it is the perfect base for creating flavors of my own. If I want garlic- or rosemary-flavored olive oil, I just infuse those flavors into the oil and I avoid spending extra money. When possible, I try to refrain from buying things I could easily make myself.
KitchenAid Stand Mixer – I fell in love with my stand mixer the second I brought it home. In fact, the love affair may have started when I saw it on the shelf (green is my favorite color, after all). This machine does it all if you have the right attachments. It makes easy work of pizza doughs, meringues, cake batters, bread kneading, and fresh whipped cream. There is nothing like it and the more attachments one purchases, the better the mixer becomes. I have the freezer bowl attachment for ice cream, and let me tell you…I have now become a convert of homemade ice cream. There is no comparison to the ice creams I can buy at the store. I know just what goes into it and I can create interesting flavors when the mood strikes me.
Tongs, Wooden Spoons, Whisks, and Spatulas – I feel no kitchen is fully functional without a nice assortment of these items. I use these tools every single time I cook or bake and I can’t imagine my kitchen without them.
Knives & Knife Sharpeners – Okay, let’s be honest here, knives are expensive. But no tool in your kitchen arsenal will get more use than a good, sharp knife. I absolutely love Wüsthof Knives, but there are plenty of comparable brands out there. Just don’t buy a knife off the shelf at your local grocery store. If you make the investment, you won’t be sorry. With that, if you make the choice to spend your hard-earned dough on a few great knives, you absolutely must take great care of them. Don’t just toss them in your drawer with the rest of your tools. Store them in a block on the counter, on a magnetized strip on the wall, or a proper knife tray. Also, invest in a great cutting board and knife sharpener.
Miscellaneous Items – Normally, logic would tell me that single-use items are pointless and not worth the money. I mean really, how many people own something designed for just one thing and it ends up sitting in the drawer, collecting dust? Well, I have a few single-use and miscellaneous tools that make my life easier, so they get to stay. Among these items is an enameled lemon juicer, an off-set spatula, a dough scraper, a microplane, butcher’s cotton twine, a spring-loaded ice cream scoop and nesting prep/pinch bowls.
Digital Scale – Most bakers would tell you that they measure their dry ingredients by weight, not by volume. Because baking is essentially chemistry, accurate measurements are necessary for the perfect rise on a cake or texture of a cookie. I would highly recommend this digital scale by OXO. It has an 11-pound capacity, can be zeroed out between ingredients, and takes only 4 AAA batteries.
So, now you have an idea of some of the items I can’t live without. Believe me, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but it should give you a starting point in building your own kitchen arsenal or simply adding to the collection of someone you know. Enjoy!