Sunday, May 13, 2007

Inessentials

Mark Bittman had an interesting article in the New York Times a couple of days ago on no-frills kitchen equipment. I feel pretty much on the same page as Bittman when it comes to this. I hate accumulating gadgets that only serve one purpose and machines I never use. I'll never own a bread machine or a rice cooker. I've been doing without a microwave for about a year; if I ever get another one, I'll want a small one. Like toaster-sized.

But the article reminds me that there are a few things I need to shop for before my batterie de cuisine can be considered complete. I list them here just so I won't forget them:

  • A food processor. I've long considered this an inessential, mainly because I don't have one. But you know, making pesto with a mortar and pestle is only interesting the first twenty or so times you do it. I should probably upgrade.

  • A stand mixer. Bittman sneers at this, but I'm becoming one of his "baking fanatics," so there you go.

  • A great big thick cutting board. I'm tall. A work surface about four or five inches higher than usual would improve my life in all kinds of ways. Julia Child was about my height, and she had high, custom-built countertops in her kitchen. But alas, I rent.

  • A roasting pan. Currently I own a roasting rack, but no pan for it. Go figure. I usually set the rack on a baking sheet, which works fine but makes an ungodly mess. I sometimes find myself deciding not to roast the chicken or pork loin I'm craving because I don't want to have to clean the oven afterwards. Not acceptable.
Apropos of my knife situation, Bittman points out that the knife used most often by professional cooks in restaurant kitchens is the stamped-blade, white-plastic-handled Dexter-Russell brand. It costs $10 from a restaurant supply shop, maybe $30 elsewhere. I spent $90 on my Global. Thank you, Mark Bittman, for making me feel like a putz. On the other hand, he states that "a decent steel is expensive enough that you may as well graduate to an electric sharpener," which is pretty silly, considering that (a) a sharpener and a steel do two different things, and (b) a "decent steel" can be had for $15 or $20 if you know where to look. And a mandoline is essential? Come on!

20 comments:

T said...

Yeah, I read that article (did I send it to you? My mind is a sieve!). Anyway, I was intrigued by the $10 knife--might have to check that out. But it's funny--just as I sat down at the computer, I was thinking about food processors, thinking that if I want to make my own marzipan again, not at ICE, I'm going to have to get a processor, since the blender blades leave too much wiggle room for vagrant almonds.

My next purchase will be some mixing bowls. I can't believe we've made do without them this long!

Hummph to the mandoline, but as everyone knows, I find the whooshy thing absolutely essential! I'm not sure Bittman would agree, but whatever.

Rob said...

Yeah, and I am SO not going to make marzipan with a mortar and pestle.

I used to have this awesome set of 10 nesting bowls from Williams-Somoma. They varied in size from a hugeass mixing bowl to an egg separater. The whole set was about $20 and I loved them. I think they went missing when I moved to DC. I really should replace them someday.

T said...

Cool! Good to know WS makes something that's a good value! Although I might just go for the cheap, sturdy, and distinctively cooking-school stainless bowls....

sara said...

Oh GEAR! Endless fodder for conversation. This from the household with every appliance and gadget, multi-use and otherwise, known to man. I got a lovely mandoline for xmas from my mother in law (who has outfitted, I kid you not, probably 90% of our kitchen). It is great for a few things, but NOT essential by any stretch. Also a little scary.

The standing mixer is essential if you bake, not if you don't. It is also one of my favorite posessions. Elegant and unimproveable.

Years ago I got a set of three mixing bowls which were the best I've ever had. White with a lip and a handle and a very useful rubber ring on the bottom and durable as hell. You'll remember those, probably, Tes. I think I have only one left, and only because I lost the other two. By the way, if a standing mixer is in your near future, don't buy bowls because the mixer comes with two really nice stainless bowls. (How on earth do you do without mixing bowls, rob? It's like not having forks.)

And yes, a food processor, which I harrumphed at, is great. Moreso probably for cooking than baking, explaining why I don't use mine quite so often.

Does electric kettle count on this list? I'll never live without one again.

By the way, have you discovered rhubarb?

sara said...

Tes, what's the whooshy thing?

Mike said...

My prejudice against single-task kitchen gear was validated when my 15yo stepdaughter, three years before she was either, decided out of the blue to make popovers and made a flawless dozen in an ordinary muffin pan. Popover pans had always been the example I cited of kitchen gear that would be nice to have and yet just plain wrong.

There are exceptions, of course. My household would never part with the pizza stone you bequeathed it, and I've put a little mileage on my mom's old pair of rosette irons. Christmas requires a manual nut grinder. And although our waffle iron doesn't get as much use since the county made us get rid of the chickens, it would be the next to last small appliance I'd give up, before the coffee grinder (and I paid my dues using a manual one for six years or more).

I went through one hand mixer every three years or so from 1991-98 and then bought a KitchenAid hand mixer that still has plenty of good years in it. I think the total investment in this series of machines is still not enough for a used stand mixer, but admittedly, the KitchenAid's longevity isn't hurt by my recent tendency to use a spoon instead of a mixer whenever possible. (I also admit that I'd be happy to have a stand mixer. I'd feel entitled if I baked about 50% more than I do.)

The house of Heather's older sister gave us the WS 10pc mixing bowl set for a wedding present, along with some spatulas that might outlive us. We also got a WS gift card, at least part of which will go toward a decrimping can opener of the sort you introduced to Sheridan Street and for which the cashier mocked you for buying. We miss it.

Tes: Can you actually drain pasta with your mind? A sieve is a terrible thing to waste...

Rob said...

Oh, I have mising bowls, Sara, just not the sexy WS set. And yes, I do like your set too. Aiee! so many options!

In a comment on Tes' blog, I declared that for a lack of a better name, I would start referring to handheld immersion-blender-wand-thingies as "whooshies." I need one of those, too.

Rob said...

Oh, and I've consumed rhubarb, but I somehow doubt I've discovered it in the no doubt delightful sense to which you refer. Details, please?

Rob said...

Mike, how is a popover pan different from a muffin pan? I've always made popovers in a muffin pan. I never knew there was another option.

I'm very happy to know that pizza stone is still seeing use. I should add one of those to my list too.

sara said...

One could argue that a manual coffee grinder is as single use as an electric one. (You can do spices in those things too, but it makes the coffee taste funny.)

The whooshy thing is even more handy when you have babies. Instant baby food from whatever you're having for dinner! And great for soups. Sometimes I'll stick it in and just whoosh part of the soup, leaving a lot of it un-whooshed, which makes it seem heartier.

We had a decrimping can opener for a while. I remember Rob calling it the Functional Couple Can Opener.

I signed up for this subscription local produce thing, and the past couple of weeks we've gotten rhubarb. I made a sweetened sauce out of it for pancakes, and just yesterday a quick-bread with walnuts. Don't listen to the recipes when they say use additional sugar when substituting rhubarb. Baking recipes are almost always sweeter than they need to be and rhubarb's greatest feature is its edible tartness. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors, but you have to add so much sugar. Rhubarb is tart in a way that is good with MUCH less sugar. I can't wait to try rhubarb bars (like lemon bars). Buy thumb sized stalks as pink-red as you can find. Apparently the leaves are mildly toxic.

This subscription produce thing is great. I'm all choiced out about food. It's so fun to have someone else say here, here's what you're eating this week, and its organic and local and delicious, go home and cook some stuff!

Rob said...

Yeah, John's getting a half share from Waterpenny Farm. I'd love to do it too, but just cooking for myself, I'm afraid I'd get overwhelmed. Still, I know what you mean about having some of the work of choosing what to cook made for you. (John, the offer to help with your surplus still stands.) And rhubarb bars--mmmm.

And sure, a coffee grinder is single use, but we're talking about coffee.

An Briosca Mor said...

I'm proud to say that my kitchen has been a microwave-free zone for over 20 years. And the only time I ever did have a microwave it was for about six months when I was in a house that had the microwave built in to the range hood. AFAIC the microwave is only good for heating up lunch at the office.

I used to use my bread machine fairly often until the NYT no-knead bread recipe surfaced. Now a mixing bowl, a spatula, and a cast iron Dutch oven are my bread machine. No more waking up in the middle of the night wondering What is that strange thumping noise downstairs? Oh yeah, the bread machine... But also, no more waking up to a house filled with the smell of baking bread, alas.

I can't imagine life without a stand mixer. My Kitchen Aid is probably close to 20 years old now and still going strong. I don't know how Mary Duke does what she does with only a hand mixer.

As for a food processer, the little attachment for my whooshy does the job. That's where I make pesto, guacamole, etc, and mince garlic, ginger, shallots, etc for my mise en place. Cleans up quickly in the dishwasher too.

I use my mandoline exclusively for pommes frites, and maybe occasionally for something else. I suppose I could cut the spuds by hand, but it would be hard to get the uniform 1/4" x 1/4" rods that way. (Which is to say: My knife skills suck.) I'm not too scared by my mandoline, because it's an OXO. The Volvo of mandolines. Although watch, I'll amputate a finger the next time I use it now...

P.S. CSA orientation meeting at Lori's house next Thursday, then first delivery on Wed 5/30. Triage at RiRa that night, and every Wed thereafter all summer long. Also, looks like I'll be getting a bumper crop of strawberries from my little patch this year. May need to unload a few of those as well...

Olwyn said...

okay--so i'm new to this blog thing. but as an avid baker, i had to chime in here.

i must admit sheepishly to having a kitchen aid coffee grinder which is awesome because the hopper and lid pops into the dishwasher so i can grind anything in it (okay, not anything) coffee, herbs, flax seeds, and not have everything be coffeefied.

i, too, love my kitchen aid stand mixer. i wish i wasn't ridden with guilt when i registered--i only got the smaller one, not the larger capacity. if/when you buy one--get the larger, heavier duty model. sigh. i really dog mine.

and i love my mixing bowls that my friend virginia makes--she started me on a bit of a pottery bowl thing--i now have some ginormous bowls--perfect for breadmaking (still haven't tried your recipe you passed on, rob). though i did get 2 even larger ones from homegoods (some english pottery company) for--no kidding--$10!!

right. and i can't believe a mandoline would be considered essential! that's nutty. we use ours once in a while, but not steadily. sheesh.

Rob said...

John, you have a food-prcessing attachment for your whooshy? Clearly I'll need to seek your advice before I go whooshy shopping. I'd hate to suffer from whooshy buyer's remorse.

Ever notice how some words become funnier the more you use them? Whooshy. Whooshy, whooshy.

I should also mention that I really enjoy my wok (thanks, Diana!). It's not an essential of course, but I get a lot of use out of it. The Alton Brown trick of using it on the outdoor grill works beautifully.

Di said...

You really needed a wok. I'm glad it's being put to good use :)

--she who eats cereal for dinner

Jeanette said...

Wok on the grill? [Makes note]

I got a decent Cuisinart blender/food processor combo a couple of years ago. The blender part is really heavy duty and the food processor, while smallish, is more than adequate for one meal's worth of pesto, or most anything else I typically feel the need to deconstruct efficiently. And whee, two appliances for the counter space of one.

I've got a few too many single use items I rarely use and ought to get rid of, but I'm considering adding a pressure cooker due to the large number of beany things I like to make. Canned beans are just not doing it for me, and they take so friggin long on the stovetop.

Rob said...

Yeah, the grill eliminates the need for an expensive (and single-task) 30,000 btu wok burner. I've wondered about a pressure cooker; I don't currently feel the need for one, but I'd sure use it if I had one.

Mike said...

A popover pan has popover-shaped cups, whereas a muffin pan has muffin-shaped cups. Perhaps G. proving that this distinction is functionally trivial is the culinary equivalent of Columbus "proving" the world is round, something most educated people already knew. But I had never knowingly had popovers that hadn't been made in a popover pan, and if I surmised that the curviness of the cups had an essential effect on the behavior of the dough, that would hardly be the dumbest notion I ever had. (Not half as dumb as the fortified wine sno-cones in college, just for one example...)

sara said...

Never did quite get the hang of the pressure cooker myself. (Though for a while I was making brown rice quite often in it - 20 mins). You can overcook stuff SO easily, and it's impossible to check how things are doing without stopping the whole process.

And a big YES to buying the larger capacity standing mixer. Mine is also the smaller and while still a surpassingly beautiful machine, it does complain under certain conditions, and dough for multi-loaf bread recipes tends to skoosh out the top a little.

Okay, so with a wok you need super high heat, right? What kind of oil do you use that doesn't burn? Have not gotten into the wok as much as I'd like.

Rob said...

Peanut oil is the stuff. Grapeseed is supposed to be the ultimate high-heat oil, but peanut does fine in my experience, and its flavor is a little more "correct."