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Living with a Small Kitchen: Food prep (gadgets) - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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Living with a Small Kitchen: Food prep (gadgets) [Nov. 8th, 2011|09:38 am]
Okay, you got the pots and pans, you got the knives, you got the small appliances. Now you gotta put stuff together. You know, actually cook stuff?

It's kind of remarkable the number of other things you don't need in order to put together delicious food: your stock pot and sauce pans can even double for mixing bowls.

But seriously. If you're not in still in college or just gotten out of it, why would you live like that?

Well-made, well-fitted tools make life in the kitchen much easier and change cooking from a job to a joy. It's possible to get by with cheap and flimsy versions of most tools, but I recommend replacing such tools with quality items when the opportunity arises.

Also, don't buy stuff until you need it a couple times, but when you find yourself wishing you had it for the second time? BUY IT. It's really easy to end up with a drawer full of stuff that you never use, but it's equally frustrating to be continually makeshifting when the tool that would help you do this job quickly and easily isn't in your arsenal.

So, where to start? How about with the most used items in my kitchen: mixing bowls.

I have a few...

This is two sets of metal mixing bowls, for a total of 8 (minus one second-to-smallest bowl that got left at my ex's years ago), plus a set of glass bowls that go down to itty bitty. I'd been coveting those glass bowls for years and finally was given a set for my birthday this year. I was over the moon!

Now, some people might think this is a lot of mixing bowls, particularly of the metal ones - who needs two full sets? And yet I can report that today alone I used all but two of those bowls, and it wasn't even a crazy-busy cooking day. And the nice thing about metal bowls is that they can stack well without worrying about chips and dings.

The glass bowls are exceptionally handy when setting up mise en place for a complex dish. It's satisfying to go all Julia Child with those little bowls filled with prepared ingredients.

Who can resist a chance to play Food Network Star? Plus, it's just doggone handy. I wouldn't mind a second set of these bowls.

What next? Baking stuff! We've already covered cookie sheets (of which I now own four), and baking pans. But after that there are all the other things: cooling racks (I have three), a baking stone (I want a better one than I currently own), round cake pans (I don't own any, but I don't bake cakes), pie tins (I have one and never use it), springform pans (these I have, but have only used a couple times) loaf pans (I have one large, want one smaller). What you should actually own depends on what kind of baking you do. If you are a sweets fan, stock up; if not, don't feel like you need to own these things. Remember, you can buy things as you discover you need them.

And then there's all the tools for the alchemy of turning a pile of ingredients into a meal:

Due to the small size of my kitchen, I only have one drawer for kitchen utensils, so I keep an eye out for things that don't get used and get them out of there. Even still, the clutter gets away from me at times and I have to sort it all out again.

Top of my list is wooden spoons. I have about half a dozen, three of which are high quality spoons I bought at Lehman's in Amish Country. I remember as a kid my mom having one, only one, wooden spoon. I imagine she used it for cooking, but I remember it well as the source of paddlings. Mom had a lot of large, long-handled metal spoons that we used for most the cooking, and they were the source of many finger burns. I use practically no metal tools in cooking these days, and they are bad for cast iron surfaces and for the few nonstick items I have around. So the wooden spoons are wonderful for protecting cooking surfaces and being poor heat conductors.

Spatulas, ladles, serving spoons, have two or three of each around so that you don't have to be continually running to the sink to rinse things off. I use nylon ones, preferring the OXO Good Grips brand as quality without the runaway price. There are some silicon ones out there, but they feel kind of...bendy to me, and I don't trust them. Remember, though, that you can easily melt these in a very hot pan, so be careful with them.

You can only see one whisk in the drawer, but I actually have three: one large metal one, one large silicon one and the small silicon one in the picture. I have the silicon ones for use in my nonstick pressure cooker when thickening sauces. When I was a kid, whisks were only of the potato-masher variety, and I remember thinking that whisks were rather exotic things until I bought one. Now I wouldn't live without one (okay, I would, but I wouldn't be as happy). Also, tongs. If you grill meats, you should know never to turn them by stabbing them, which lets the juices run out. Tongs. Use them.

I also have two silicon basting brushes, and do a great job. I probably don't need two, but they came as a package and are too shiny to just get rid of.

Those are the things in pretty much every kitchen. Let me point out a few that are a little more unusual. At the bottom right of the photo is a dough scraper, with a pastry blender lying on top of it. If you do any baking, I recommend both. The pastry blender makes easy work of cutting cold butter into flour for pie crusts. They come in two varieties, one like I have with wires from handle to handle, and one that has solid metal on the sides and blades just at the bottom. I prefer the latter, and don't much like the one I now own as it feels flimsier and fussier to me (it does the job, though, so I keep it).

You use the dough scraper to do just what it says: scrape dough back together. It's a godsend when working with sticky doughs. At the end of the baking process, you can also use it to scrape up stubborn leftover bits of dough from the counter. Care is required, though, to use the blade quite flat in order to avoid damage to countertops.

The bright yellow gadget is a lemon juicer, and I looked askance at Ferrett when he purchased it, but I'm a convert now. Fast and efficient juicing. To its right is a weird triangle thing with a round white label. It's a jar opener. Not necessary, but handy.

At the bottom left of the picture are both a meat thermometer and a candy thermometer. Just get them. You will be grateful to have them at a moment when acquiring them would mean disaster.

What you don't see in the drawer are measuring spoons and cups. My measuring spoons hang on a ring off the side of the fridge so they are at hand at all times. Measuring cups are tucked in another drawer. I have a set of dry ones, and two glass liquid ones, one 2-cup and one 4-cup. Two different sizes are handy to have around.

There are a couple other things that I recommend for any kitchen. First, these fabulous bowls that are available at World Market:

They are pasta-style bowls, wide and shallow, and about the circumference of a large salad plate at the lip. Not only are they great for eating out of, they are the best shape ever for dredging and coating foods with flour or breadcrumbs. I use them all the time.

Second is something I found at Costco. In the automotive section. A couple years ago I bought a package of white terrycloth auto-detailing towels like these, except it was a package of 40. They have been the handiest things ever. With these puppies around, you never are without a towel, and you're never tempted to rinse out that towel you used to wipe up raw chicken and risk contaminating other foods. We use them as a substitute for napkins daily, saving paper waste. And spills? No worries! There are always plenty of towels available for sopping things up.

Third is parchment paper. OMG, parchment paper! This silicon-coated update of waxed paper is heatproof and keeps everything from sticking. I can't believe it took me years to get around to buying a roll of this wonder, and I can't believe it took me this long.

Finally, if you have stainless steel, you will thank me for turning you on to this:

My lovely All-Clad pan was coated with brown spatter stains that seemed to be permanently bonded to the pan. I was quite frustrated with the situation, and tried many solutions. Then I saw this wonder being touted by another stainless steel owner. It's amazing stuff! I've seen the regular cleanser in grocery stores, but the stainless steel one is a little harder to find. I've seen it at Bed Bath & Beyond, and of course amazon.

That pretty much finishes up my kitchen. I'm sure others have different absolute musts, but this is what gets me through the meals I make.

Crossposting from Dreamwidth now. Sigh. If LJ won't let you comment, you can comment here: http://zoethe.dreamwidth.org/785064.html?mode=reply:

[User Picture]From: ba1126
2011-11-08 03:16 pm (UTC)
We have a revolving 'hanger' (like a round tie rack?) that hangs under the cabinet in an unused corner near the stove. It holds a set of tools that came with it (potato masher, slotted spoon, spoon, spatula, etc.) and it was made by "Flint". We've had it 47 years, as it was an 'engagement gift' from my FIL. The spatula handle broke (probably from over use) but other wise everything is still going strong!! We bought 'commercial' spoons and slotted spoons which hang 'nested' where the spatula used to. On another counter we have a decorative 'jug' which holds all the wooden and plastic spoons, sporks and spatulas. The unit that holds the microwave has cabinet space for baking pans,etc. below, and shelves for ingredients above, plus a drawer that holds meat and candy thermometers, egg seperators, and other tools. The top of this unit holds Tupperware storage for various flours. Hubby has a plastic box with lid that is stored in the dining room which holds "seldom used" gadgets, like funnels and the egg slicer.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 04:22 pm (UTC)
Alas, I have no space for hanging down things, but I do have spoons and whisk and such in a stainless container like your jug next to the range.
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[User Picture]From: cinema_babe
2011-11-08 03:25 pm (UTC)
This post is full of awesome (and kick ass advice as well)!

I got one of those nested bowl sets 20 years ago and 4 moves, 1 marriage and divorce and a host of other life type stuff they are still one of the best presents I ever got.

I might also throw in a set of 4 or 8 little glass custard cups. They're great for making individual size portions (cakes, fancy mashed potatoes, etc) but they're also great for mise en place as well as a dish to put salt or herb in so you don't risk cross contamination when working with meat.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 04:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I wondered if this one was just too obvious, so it took a long time to write and revise.

I do have a bunch of Corelle fruit bowls that come in handy for that sort of thing, actually.
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[User Picture]From: kmg_365
2011-11-08 03:35 pm (UTC)
Have to second the shout-out to Barkeeper's Friend. It truly is the shit. We bought ours at William-Sonoma when we purchased our All-Clad set many years ago. It goes a long way, so once someone's found it, it should last them for a while.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 04:25 pm (UTC)
It's like this amazing, magical cleaning invention! I'm still amazed when I use it.
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[User Picture]From: aiela
2011-11-08 04:29 pm (UTC)
This is reminding me that it's time to go through my utensil drawer again. I did it last year, and culled some things, but I know there are still things in there that I thought I might still need, but don't. And I like the above commenters idea about moving seldom-used but still needed items to another location - there's probably room in my storage cabinet for a box of things I don't use on a regular basis, but still would like to keep available.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:38 pm (UTC)
Definitely a good idea to move the seldom used items to another space. I'm lucky to have the built-in china cabinet for some of those things.
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[User Picture]From: ba1126
2011-11-08 04:37 pm (UTC)
I already responded with some of the ways our kitchen is organized, but realized I forgot to thank you for this excellent post!!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank YOU!
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[User Picture]From: ba1126
2011-11-08 04:39 pm (UTC)
Okay, I swear this is the last one... We have a great magnetic knife holder stored on a wall; keeps knives safe, handy and reduces the need for searching.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:40 pm (UTC)
I'm debating getting a magnetic knife holder for the side of the fridge, but at this point I mostly have enough counter space.
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[User Picture]From: fallconsmate
2011-11-08 04:50 pm (UTC)
the only thing i'd add is "broiler pan". most stoves come with one, but if you live in apartments, you may not have one because the last tenant took it with them. and you can find them in small sizes for people who cook for one!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:43 pm (UTC)
Oh, yeah. Broiler pan is a must! If I didn't include that in cook pans, I should have.
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From: anonymousalex
2011-11-08 05:12 pm (UTC)
Yay, kitchen post!

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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:43 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: merle_
2011-11-08 05:23 pm (UTC)
For mixing bowls I prefer ceramic to glass: you can't see through them and they are heavier, but if you drop them the shards tend to be a lot larger and easier to clean up. Metal bowls are a good idea though. I'll have to buy some.

For the small Food Network bowls (also useful for dipping bowls while eating) I just went to Chinatown and got some of the little bowls you get for soy sauce at sushi joints. At first I got three of them just as a whim, since they were cute and only fifty cents. There are about a dozen of them now. Once you discover how multi-purpose they are (good for tea bags too) you really can't have enough of them.

Otherwise we're pretty much in sync with what we have. I have way more (too many) utensils, though. A short vase is a good way to store handled things and can be shoved around the counter or placed elsewhere if needed.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:47 pm (UTC)
The soy sauce bowls are a great idea. I do have some small fruit bowls that I use for those purposes.

Eliminating some of those extra utensils might surprise you at how much easier it is to find stuff and how much you really don't need those extra things.
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[User Picture]From: roadnotes
2011-11-08 05:38 pm (UTC)
I pretty much agree with everything you've written; the disagreements are more matter of personal style and habit. The little bowls, and the meat thermometer, though are absolutely essential. I'd never had a meat thermometer before living with Jane, and it makes such a difference in how the roasts come out.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:49 pm (UTC)
And poultry - not overcooking it for fear of undercooking it is awesome.
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[User Picture]From: catvalente
2011-11-08 06:12 pm (UTC)
Ooooh, I want those mixing bowls.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 07:50 pm (UTC)
I love them SO MUCH.
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[User Picture]From: daemonnoire
2011-11-08 08:21 pm (UTC)
I heart OXO Good Grips a lot. I have a set of their plastic mixing bowls, and they're my go-to for just about anything mixing bowl related. Between them and Kitchenaide, my kitchen needs are pretty well met.

We keep our utensils in a set of ceramic jars I found at a flea market many, many years ago. They're four different sizes, allowing me to sort the utensils so I'm not digging around looking for the little whisk in a drawer full of spoons and spatulas. This has also comes in handy because I have a constant visual reminder of which utensils could do with replacing any time we come across a particularly good deal.

To your list I would add an herb mincer, a garlic press, and a cheese grater. I'm not personally a fan of wooden or plastic spoons, I much prefer spoontulas. I think that may be in part due to my parents having a giant collection of wooden and plastic spoons when I was growing up, which never seemed to do much good for the actual stirring.

Adam thought the idea of using a product called "Bar Keepers Friend" on our pots was a little weird. Right up until the first time he used it. The only thing that keeps him from using it on everything is the little incident with one of my cookie sheets. (To be fair, I told him he could try it)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 08:50 pm (UTC)
I forgot the cheese grater. Duh. A garlic press would be nice. I have a mincer and find it too fussy to clean so end up not using it.

I like to minimize the number of things on the counter, so the utensil crocks would not work got me.

Bar Keeper's Friend should be given to every newly married couple.
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[User Picture]From: l8ntmthrnr
2011-11-08 09:54 pm (UTC)
Excellent post, i love the kitchen posts. Especially since its officially the time of year when I really start baking a lot. I have been wanting to add an herb mincer to my collection of supplies, but will just make due with using my knives after you mentioning how fussy it is to clean. A garlic press is a must, but lately I have been having a hard time finding one I like that actually does what it is supposed to, holds up well and doesn't require me taking out a second mortgage, I may have to break down and take out that second mortgage soon though.

I have a decent collection of wooden (bamboo actually) spoons and I far prefer them to any of the plastic etc. spoons I have. I also have the usual collection of spatulas, but I have to say, I have become a spoontula convert. I bought one at Sur le Table after using one at my Mom's house, it is completely silicon coated metal, which means it is protected from the heat for sauteing but sturdy enough (it's actually heavier than you would think to look at it) to stir up a batch of brownies with the added convenience of being able to scrape the bowl when transferring to the baking dish without having to get another utensil dirty.

I've never used Barkeepers Friend, but I have used Cameo copper cleaner for our copper-bottom pots, it is to copper pot bottoms, what it sounds like Barkeepers Friend is to stainless. Copper is notorious for getting discolored from being exposed to heat, and Cameo is a Goddess-send for getting it back to all of it's shiny goodness with very little effort.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-08 10:45 pm (UTC)
My approach to herbs is kitchen shears. I snip them up and it works great.

I have a spoontula (obviously a big brother to the spork) that I like, but it's gotten a bit melty and I haven't been able to find others sturdy enough to please me. Sur le Table it is!
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[User Picture]From: cynic51
2011-11-09 02:32 am (UTC)
Side note - Is there any point to me following LivingGraciously, or will all of those all be x-posted to this journal? The double-post is a bit annoying, but I'd rather that than miss anything if it's not all dupes.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-09 03:54 am (UTC)
They're all cross posted. Everything ends up here.
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[User Picture]From: whyelaborate
2011-11-09 12:45 pm (UTC)
I feel like this entry belongs in a magazine. :)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2011-11-09 02:06 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks!
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