Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Make It Yourself" tools


First, let's look at some of the things you need.  Most of these things can be found in second hand stores if you look for them.  Always be alert for cooking utensils when you are browsing the second hand stores.  

Get a pastry cutter.  I don't like the ones with heavy wire, much like a wire whisk.  I want the pastry cutter with rigid metal blades.

Wire whisk.  Several of these of different sizes.  I don't like the flat ones or the spiral ones.  Just plain wire whisks will do the best job.

Wooden spoons. At least one long handled one you can use for continuous stirring over a hot pot. By this I mean, have a couple of 10” wooden spoons for normal mixing but find one with a longer handle for the times you are standing over the pot, stirring continuously while the steam billows up and cooks YOU. A long handled spoon is really nice at this point in your life.
 
Spatulas:  I, first, want a thin metal one that will easily slide under my eggs or pancakes.  But, I also want a rigid plastic one that I will be using for things like browning meats or scrambling eggs.

Scrapers: be picky.  Get scrapers with flexible soft rubber blades and blades that are well secured to the handle.  It's a pain when the head comes off of one of these things while you are scraping batter out of a bowl.
 

Mixing bowls: Several different sizes. Glass, plastic or stainless steel; whatever you like best. I kind of like glass or plastic as they can also be used in a microwave and I want a more curved bowl with as little flat bottom inside as I can get. One with a flat platform outside but completely rounded inside is great.   

Rolling pin:  I'm traditional here. Wood.  Use what you like but I can tell you, you'll be much happier with an actual rolling pin than trying to make pie crusts by rolling it out with a big bottle and a wooden rolling pin just seems to work better for me than plastic, porcelain or stone! 

Flour sifter.  I like the kind with the squeeze handle, not the hand crank. 

Knife:  Once again, a very personal choice.  I have a Dexter sandwich knife that is almost always in my hand.  The shape is just what I want, the blade stays sharp and I use it for almost anything a knife can be used for.  A really good chef with whom I worked had a set of knives that he kept incredibly sharp.  I've seen him use his big knife to slice through a piece of typing paper that was just hanging from the ticket rack...slicing UP through the paper!  Try it.  Also, a bread slicer so you can more easily make uniform slices of the fresh bread you just baked.  I use what they call a “fiddle bow” bread slicer which has a serrated blade, some space and a wooden back so if you cut with the blade into the bread and the wooden back holding the slice in place, each slice is about the same thickness.

 Mixers, electric, hand and stand up.  Kitchenaide standing mixers are the gold standard but I also like my Sunbeam.  Electric hand mixers seem more useful to me for smaller dishes or making stuff for one or two people.  An old fashioned hand cranking mixer is nice to have.  If the power goes out or some other problem exists, being able to crank on your hand mixer and make your whipped cream or cake mix with that can make you the hero! 

Baking pans: 9x13 and 9x9 cake pans .  I like glass the best but regular non-stick or metal cake pans are good. What they call "jelly roll pans" which are basically sheets with a small edge around them.  Multiple sizes.  I also use small pizza pans as cookie sheets or to catch boil-overs in the oven.  If you will be cooking for larger groups then getting larger sizes of these is important. 

Casserole dishes of various sizes are good to have.  Once again, think about how big your groups might be.  You might want pretty good sized dishes. 

Covered roasting pan, preferably with an internal rack.

Sauce pans of various sizes.  You'll be using these for gravies, breakfast cereals and so on. 

Stock pots in various sizes, I have one, two and three gallon ones.

Cooling racks; square, rectangular and round.

If you’ve got all this stuff in your kitchen, you can do almost anything, from baking your own bread to putting together your traditional turkey dinner. 

Like I’ve said, stocking your kitchen with a trip to the second hand store can save a bunch of money and often get you some really nice stuff.  A lot of what I use would be considered antiques but I often find the older stuff is the best.
 
Now we come to one of my real passions in the cooking world...Cast Iron.  I have skillets, pots, dutch ovens, fryers, griddles...I love 'em.  I have a skillet that is only about 4" in diameter that is just the right size for frying one or two eggs.  I have another skillet that is 15" in diameter that I use for groups.  I can scramble more than a dozen eggs and cook them all at once in this skillet.  I can brown 5lbs of hamburger in it.  Make several small pancakes all at once.  It's great but I pretty much just store it unless I'm doing something like a hunting camp or roundup crew where I'll need to cook large amounts all at once.
And, yes, those of us who are seriously into cast iron cooking are fanatic about caring for it.  NO SOAP!  If I have to scrub it, I put salt in it and use the salt as an abrasive.  Actually, this article at http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/11/the-truth-about-cast-iron.html argues with me a little about the soap issue but it's a really good article and explains a lot about why and how to use cast iron.
 
This article also touches on the fact that older cast iron looks a little different than newer.  Either is good but I am always alert at second hand stores, yard sales and antique stores for older cast iron pans and I've taken some time to research them a little so I have an idea of the value of a pan when I find one.
 
Here's a picture of the difference between pre-1950 and more recently made cast iron.  The pan on the right is older and was made back when they still polished them as part of the manufacture process.  If you find one with this satiny sheen, it's worth grabbing!
 
Ok.  If you have the tools I've talked about here you have the makings of a pretty efficient kitchen.  Are there other things?  Of course.  Meat thermometers and candy thermometers.  I once had a thermometer that would show me the surface temp of my pans.  Another cook where I was working broke it.  That's what I get for not taking it home each night.
 
Anyway, this stuff is a good start.  As we move along here, I'll likely think of other things you should have but, for now, get out to the second hand stores, antique shops and yard sales and get equipped!
 



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