Saturday, May 22, 2010

10 Kitchen Tools You Can't Live Without

Long term readers of the L&TM5K will remember Phineas, one-time frequent commenter who even today stops by to dominate the occasional Wednesday Quiz. Among his other mad skillz, Phineas is a serious amateur chef, and has been keeping a, a -- what? a blog? a weekly newsletter? -- on fancy home cookin'. It's called Be a Better Cook - I'll Help -- Cooking Advice from a Passionate Home Cook. Much of what he writes goes a little over my head, frankly, since I am of simple peasant stock and prefer foods that can be prepared, consumed, and, if necessary, cleaned up after in less than a quarter of an hour. But it is well-written stuff, and is getting some critical acclaim out there, so I do recommend it for those of you burdened with sophisticated palates.

Recently, though, he happened to write a post about something which I just happen to have a rare expertise in. It was called "10 Kitchen Tools You Can't Live Without." Now it so happens that, many years ago, I found myself marooned on an island -- Great Britain -- for the better part of a year, and was forced to assemble the kitchen tools that would see me through this time period. So I know, from cruel experience, exactly what Kitchen Tools You Can't Live Without. Let's take a look at the list that Phineas -- who, probably to protect his privacy, is calling himself "Tom McGuffey" on this new project -- came up with, and see how well he did.

Here's his list:
1: Chef's Knife 8"
2: Cutting Board
3: Peeler
4: 10" and 12" Non-stick Saute Pans
5: 8 Quart Stock Pot
6: Largish sauce pan
7: Paring Knife
8: Strainer / Colander
9: Microplane Grater
10 Dutch Oven
Now, here's the actual list -- as I say, forged from real, cruel experience:

#1: A pot. This is very useful for heating up anything liquid, from boiling water for noodles to preparing a nice can of soup. It is also good for heating up refried beans -- now generally available in the UK, but at the time something I had to special-order by the case from a specialty shop -- or dahl, much more widely available in the UK than here.

#2: A pan. This is good for frying things, such as eggs or pancakes. If you are doing fancy cookin', you can "saute" in it.

#3: A spatula. A necessary companion for the pan.

#4: A spoon. Useful for transferring liquid, runny, or granular foods to the mouth. Also useful for stirring things cooking in the pot.

#5: A fork. Useful for transferring foods that need some kind of stabbing to the mouth.

#6: A knife. In addition to a serrated knife capable of getting through a block of cheese, I also splurged on a table knife. This latter is a rarely used appliance, but it's generally considered part of a culturally appropriate trio with the fork and knife.

#7: A bowl. Good for containing most foods made in the pot while consuming them. Not a strict necessity, as it is perfectly workable to eat out of the pot, but a nicety.

#8: A plate. Much like the bowl, for foods made in the pan. Plates are more important than bowls, as pans can be difficult to eat out of.

#9: A cup. For containing liquids, such as tea or water. This was eventually supplemented with some of the pint glasses that one can find for free in the neighborhoods around British "pubs," or bars, if one is out and about early on weekend mornings.

#10: A cheese grater.

So, we see that although Phineas didn't do a BAD job -- he realizes, for instance, that it's tough to run a kitchen without a pan, a pot, a knife, and some sort of way to grate your cheese -- he perhaps forgotten to think through the final stages of the dining process. As far as I can tell, he's going to be transferring food directly from the pot or pan to his mouth using either a chef's knife or a paring knife, which is not only inelegant, but raises significant safety concerns.

He also includes on his list one item that I can not only live without, but that I can live without knowing what it is: a "Dutch Oven." I was initially baffled by "Microplane Grater" as well, but I'm thinking that's a cheese grater, and having a cheese grater on the list shows Phineas to be a man of good sense who will be able to deliver the nachos when the chips are down. Which is especially good for him, because with nachos you don't need a fork or spoon.

Mind you, the above list cuts close to the bone. I do not recommend living without the following supplementary tools:


#11: A blender. Used to make the banana/orange juice/fruit concoctions that one has for breakfast, and the carrot/orange juice/spinach concoctions that one sometimes has for lunch.

#12: An air popper.

#13: A baking sheet. Cookies!

#14: A cooling rack. Cookies!

Be a Better Cook - I'll Help -- recommended for you foodies out there!


Elaine said...

Hmmm. Our kitchen remodel meant that for five months, our tiny laundry room was 'the kitchen.' An electric griddle and a toaster-oven were major equipment, as there was no stove, only a deep laundry sink, and pretty much no place to put anything. Def agree about the colander and the chef's and paring knives. Amazing what you can get along without if you have to. I myself regard the crockery and utensils separately from 'kitchen (as in cooking) equipment.'

Jenners said...

This is pretty much the kitchen tools I have ... but I have a few of the plates, bowls and forks, knives and spoons.

Fool for paper said...

Must have a whisk and pepper grinder.

Elaine said...

The Fool is right! I mean, ordinarily a whisk is something in daily use here (salad dressing, eggs, yogurt lassi) though seldom during the Great Upheaval. And for 35+ years I've used a pepper grinder exclusively versus any pre-ground stuff. But again, the latter is not general equipment, but an exclusive vehicle for specific 'ingredients.' Funny how that line does blur...

sister jen said...

I'd have to add a bottle of Tabasco sauce. The big one that they sell at Costco. I know it's not really a tool, but if you don't have it, the guacamole won't taste right, and then it doesn't matter whether you have any of the other tools. (I only make guacamole.)

Aviatrix said...

That's awesome and good timing, as I'm just about to spend some money on kitchen stuff. When I first lived on my own I'm not sure there were ten things in my kitchen.

#1 The Bowl was large and oven safe and served as a vessel for both cooking and eating.

#2 The Cup served for drinking, measuring, and also eating out of when The Bowl was otherwise occupied.

#3 The Fork worked for mixing, mashing and eating.

#4 The Knife was responsible for filetting, peeling, scaling, slicing, chopping and putting rice on the back of the Fork. (Rice is cooked in the oven in the Bowl--you have to replenish the water frequently during the process).

#5 The Spoon is used in mixing, measuring, and eating.

#6 The Can Opener provides essential access to many low budget foodstuffs.

#7 The Cast Iron Frying pan was a late addition to my suite de cuisine, as I found it in a ditch. It served for frying on top of the stove and as a baking sheet inside. I also used it as a hammer, but that's not generally considered a kitchen function.

#8 The Plate served as a baking sheet, chopping board and eating vessel.

I think that was all there was. Also the fridge didn't work very well, so fish had to be consumed by Monday, and Thursday was "use up the sour milk in pancakes" Day. (Grocery shopping occured on Saturday).

In reverence to those days I have refused to learn the names and functions of different sorts of pots, pans and knives.

The Calico Cat said...

Just to quibble a bit...
If you have a paring knife, the peeler is superfluous. Ditto a lid for your pot - making the collander a waste of cabinet space.

Michael5000 said...

Fool for Paper: Thank you for your suggestions. However, in the occasional event something (typically scrambled eggs) needs "whisked," the fork can serve the purpose nicely. Pepper is available in pre-ground form, and is in fact given away for free in little packets in many restaurants.

Sis: I'm afraid I found I was able to live the year happily without tabasco sauce.

Aviatrix: You raise an excellent point about the can opener. I have long carried my father's army can opener on my keychain, so then as now I did not need a dedicated kitchen tool. It would have been difficult to live without.

Calico: You're quibbling with the wrong man. There's no peeler on my list, nor a collander. Indeed, I find I am not 100% sure what a "collander" is. Strainer thingy? In which case yes, the pot lid or even the plate held against the pot rim will serve handsomely.

Ben said...

What about a can opener? Maybe one of the kind that also has a bottle opener. That could replace the plate on you list, as anything that can be eaten off of a plate can also be eaten out of a bowl.

I see now that Aviatrix already mentions the can opener.

Aviatrix said...

My upcoming (May 31st) blog post reduces this suite to a small tupperware bowl with a lid, a swiss army knife, a plastic spoon and a copy of the national newspaper.

mrs.5000 said...

I think it is only partly because I happen to be all the way across the country spending a week with a family whose kids are comfortable with cloth napkins at every meal that this post made me laugh harder than any other post I can remember.

Michael5000 said...

Yay! I amused Mrs.5000!

Elaine said...

Oh, dear; oh, dear.

It's 'batterie' (not suite) 'de cuisine.' Even if I spelt it wrongly. (Julia, where art thou?) but then, Aviatrix can fly aeroplanes, so we should all buy her a meal!

Cloth napkins can be washed and re-used; just try that with the flimsies sold in your local grocer's. PLUS I am betting you can't get through a really good meal without more than one paper nappy (subtle undercurrent intended.) A cloth napkin can serve several times before needing a mere wash. Neatly folded and placed under the cast-iron pan, it will emerge pressed and elegant for your next meal.
I'm just sayin'....

I won't get into the cloth diaper discussion in the same post, but you can probably predict....

McGuff said...

I'm so glad Mrs5K got such a good laugh. So did I.

I realize that I should have couched my original article with a couple disclaimers.......

- I presume you already have dinnerware and silverware
- This is not a list of the "least" you could make do with....that would be a coconut shell, a swiss army knife (mentioned) and source of creating fire.

After all, I write about how to be a BETTER cook, not A cook.

Thanks to M5K for taking the time to rebut my assertion. He's far more entertaing than I.

Yet, I would like to bust him for using the word "palette" instead of "palate" in his first draft. THAT made my laugh harder than I have for a while.