Kitchen Utensils

And because I didn’t cook last night because we ate a cockle-warming beef stew with feather-light dumplings at my mums, here instead is a run down of kitchen utensils that I find essential in my cooking experimentation.
The reason that I thought this might be of interest is because I consider myself an average cook who is not equipped with a huge kitchen filled with gadgets (which is not to say that this isn’t my long term goal of course). In fact, I don’t even own an ice cream maker or a food processor (although any potential perusers of this site may take note of this, for Christmas purposes you understand). Basically, I cook in the way that my mother and her mother before her cooked, excluding my electronic salt and pepper mills, and I think that this is no bad thing. I find myself browsing regularly through the Lakeland catalogue, lusting after some of the more avant garde items (like the sunflower shaped cake tin or the electric butter melter) but laughing at the idea of an avocado or green bean slicer. I mean, who actually eats enough avocados or green beans to warrant using these things?
In my kitchen, which is a tiny, second floor cottage kitchen, the amount of utensils that I have are beginning to look in the local newspaper for a new abode. They are getting too big for their current home and need to spread their wings and be displayed, on butcher hooks, in a brand new, shiny kitchen, 1200 square feet large. As it is, they are crammed into drawers that don’t close properly, forced into gaping utensil pots that were made only to hold 6 or 7 wooden spoons not 30 and shoehorned into any other unused space that the eye can see (and some that it can’t).
You see, I really am the worst kind of kitchen fanatic: one who can’t understand the need for all these new-fangled gadgets, yet yearns for them anyway. I haven’t yet purchased the aforementioned vegetable slicers, but I do own, amongst other pointless fripperies: mini Brioche Tins, a Strawberry Huller, a Sushi Roller, 2 (two!) Madeleine Tins and one of those tiny battery-run Cappuccino frothers.
Nigel Slater writes about kitchen tools most eloquently in his wonderful book, Appetite, and the reader can certainly get a sense of the author as a home cook through the photographs of his food, which proudly show off his battered old pots and pans and knives. I suppose the point is, that once you find something that feels comfortable, for example I use a tiny Sabatier knife for peeling all vegetables, you should treasure it as you would a piece of jewellery inherited from your grandmother. Of course, a lot of the reason that we fiercely protect our tools (my mum would go almost tumultuous with rage if she lost her ‘veggie knife’ – sadly it got thrown out, one bleak day, with the potato peelings) is because of sentimentality. They remind us of when we first stood at the kitchen stove stirring tomato sauce or when we left home and mum gave us some of her old wooden spoons and her favourite mixing bowl. Like the act of cooking itself, the utensils we use can evoke that sense of nostalgia that is so keen in cooks.
With that, here is my rough list of my ‘wouldn’t want to be withouts’:

1) A decent knife for peeling vegetables and other small food items. Probably the single most important item in the kitchen. As I mention above, I have a small Sabatier knife, which I purchased in a sale about three or four years ago. I never feel that it makes good financial sense to buy those cheap sets of knives that aren’t sharp to begin with. I’ve made that mistake and those knives look up at me, uselessly, from the drawer every time I grab a fork.
2) Knife Sharpener (to keep all your knives super sharp – there’s nothing more dangerous than a blunt knife and my fingers are a living testament to that!)
3) A decent set of mixing bowls of various sizes. I recently made a cake that needed three mixing bowls: one for the dry ingredients, one for the wet ingredients and one for whisked egg whites. I ended up using the dog’s food bowl as my mixing bowl was in the dishwasher (another item that I couldn’t do without – I loath washing dishes).
4) A set of wooden spoons. My work colleague recently told me that she’d replaced her wooden spoons that she’d owned for over 20 years because she thought that they’d be unhygienic after all this time. If only she had realised that wood is the most hygienic material you can use in a kitchen she would have been proud to keep those spoons, stained a dark patina through years of stirring and loyal service.
5) A Micrograter. I don’t actually use a brand name Micrograter because they are expensive but I find the little grater with a handle to be indispensable when grating small amounts of Parmesan or Lemon Zest or Garlic or Ginger.
6) Sieves: A mesh one for flour and icing sugar and a metal one for straining single portions of vegetables or stock etc.
7) Colander: I have an old pale blue enamel one that is so tatty that the holes are going a bit red with rust but I can’t part with it because I love it too much. Perfect for pasta and large vegetables like potatoes.
8) Set of Measuring Cups both for dry and wet ingredients. I have lots of American Cookery Books that all use cup measurements (which conversely I find more complex to understand than grams and ounces – I mean, it is difficult to measure half a cup of butter).
9) Set of Measuring Spoons, ranging from quarter teaspoon to tablespoon, these give you the most accurate measurement of spices. I actually have a couple of sets, again one for wet ingredients and one for dry.
10) A decent chopping board – well actually two would be good, a wooden one for chopping things and a marble one for rolling out pastry.
11) A decent set of bakeware (I know that technically this constitutes more than one item but I’d be listing at least another 10 items otherwise) including a small and large roasting tin, a muffin tin, springform cake tins in 7 and 8 inches, a pair of 8” dia. sandwich tins, two or three sturdy baking sheets.
12) An electric hand-whisk. I confess. I have a beautiful Almond Cream Kitchenaid which my husband bought for me from America. Unfortunately, I have been through, so far, two transformers to covert it, both of which have gone up in puffs of smoke. So, I now have a beautiful but useless Almond Cream Kitchenaid. So, to save my weary arms from beating butter and sugar together manually (the worst part of making a cake batter), I use an electric hand-whisk, which is possibly the easiest way of making meringue and whipping cream too. If all else fails though, you could use a burly husband.
13) A large stockpot. I use mine, which I purchased from Ikea, for cooking vegetables, pasta, soup, sauces, jam, sterilising jam jars in and for making stock.
14) A Bain Marie. Just because it’s a pain to find out a bowl that will fit on top of the saucepan that you’ve elected to simmer the water in. Plus, the melted chocolate can seize in the pan if you aren’t strict with monitoring the temperature (although, if this happens, add just a few drops of milk and beat it like mad, off the heat, to bring it back to glossy fluidity).
However, I could also add to the list a hundred other items depending on the day and what I’ve been cooking. Cooking is a transient art, one day you feel like baking a gateaux, and the next day you feel like making Pasta Putanesca. Some days you can’t even be bothered to eat off a plate, just straight out of the pan. On those days you might only use one pan, a spoon and a knife. And compared to our ancestors, back in the stone-age, this is well-equipped. Not sure how well I’d do with a flint to peel potatoes though...

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