Wednesday, 18 April 2012
A Cooks Tools . . .
When I first moved over here to the UK and got married , almost 12 years ago now, Todd had the typical bachelor’s kitchen . . . well . . . the type of kitchen a bachelor who was not even remotely interested in cooking would have at any rate!! You know the kind . . . one pot, one old beat up frying pan, a couple of mismatched plates, some mugs, and assorted mixed up cutlery. Oh, there were a few drinking glasses too, and they didn’t match either!! Probably all someone else’s discards and the odd thing picked up at a charity shop. Enough for him though. His idea of cooking was to wander through life with a tin in one hand and a tin opener in the other!
Then I came along and his life hasn't been the same since!!!
The first thing I did was to go out and buy some matching plates. A friend took me to a Denby Factory outlet outside of Chester and I was able to get six lovely denim blue plates with terra cotta edges, and they only cost me £2 a piece. I have kicked myself ever since for not getting all the matching pieces, as I‘ve never been able to find it again! After that, we were really lucky and blessed. All our friends from church got together and gave us a lovely set of china dinnerware, all decorated with roses and gold, and a nice set of pots and pans as a wedding gift, so then . . . we were pretty much set, as far as eating goes!
For a woman who loves to cook though . . . my kitchen was sadly lacking. Over the first couple of years together,we slowly got the things that I really felt I needed as a cook, and I’d have to say that now I am pretty well set up. There are a few things on my wish list, but they are only wishes . . . not must haves.
1) One of the first things I had to have was a food processor. I couldn’t manage with out a food processor and I have two sizes. A tiny one for tiny bits of chopping and whirring together small batches of salad dressings, mayonnaise etc. and a larger one for much larger jobs! I don’t know how anyone could manage without one, although, having said that, my mother did for many years and still does! I just find them to be a great time saving device. You can make short work of a lot of chopping and whirring in very short time! (You can also make very nice pastry and lovely buttermilk biscuits in them!)
2) My stick blender. This tool is invaluable to me for pureeing soups and sauces. You can also make a good mayonnaise in it in less than a minute. It can be quite dangerous to puree hot liquids in a regular blender and I find my stick blender a lot safer to use and a lot more convenient. I got mine on e-bay and I doubt I paid any more than £10 for it, a real bargain!
3) My kitchen scales. I have a flat Salter one now and it's fabulous. You can put any container on it you want, pot or bowl or whatever you want to measure your ingredients into. It weighs in grams, ounces, millileters, etc. You just add whatever amount you want and then you can set them back to zero and measure in the next thing. I wouldn't be without them now.
4) Measuring cups and spoons. I have a few glass measuring jugs that measure out in imperial measures on one side (ie. Cups and ounces) and then also in millilitres on the other side. Then I have a few jugs that measure in grams and litres. These are mostly for wet measures, which, as any cook knows, are not the same as dry measures. Then I have several sets of dry measure cups, which are all in imperial measures . . . cups, half cups, quarter cups, third cups and so on. I also have a Measure-all that I got from Pampered Chef. It works wonderfully. You just spoon in what you are measuring, level it off and then you use the inner tube to push whatever it is out into your bowl, etc. Easy peasy really.
I also have a few sets of small measuring spoons that graduate down from TBS (tablespoon) right down to the quarter teaspoon measure. A lot of the time when I am cooking I am able to just eyeball things and guess exactly how much of something I am using, but when it comes to baking . . . that is very fool hardy. Baking is an exact science, and you really need to be exact when you are measuring out things like baking powder, soda, sugar and flour! Eyeballing ingredients then can lead to total disaster!!
5) Baking pans in various sizes and shapes. I have several large cookie sheets, three sizes of regular cake tins (both round and square) several larger baking tins( 9 X 13, which are great for sheet cakes) muffin tins of varied sizes, including mini muffin tins, a couple of Yorkshire pudding tins, deep cake tins to make fruit cakes in, a few tart tins with removable bottoms, a spring form pan with a removable bottom (I could really use a couple more in different sizes) a friand pan (one of my most recent acquisitions and one I love!) and some lovely Bundt cake tins. Todd gave me a lovely Cathedral shaped one for Christmas the first year we were together (Todd won a cake baking contest at church using that tin . . . the judges were dazzled and bowled over by the shape!) and my good friend Eliza sent me over one last year of the normal bundt shape. I also have a few small ones that I got at Lidl a year or two ago. One makes a group of mini cakes in various sizes, one makes a group of small cake bases to put strawberries in and one is a German Kugel sized one.
6) My wooden citrus reamer. I remember buying this at Lakeland during the first year we were married. It only cost a few pounds but it was something I had to save up for at the time. I can remember being very excited when I got it! It is the best citrus fruit juicer ever! True, it won’t take the pips out, you have to do that yourself, but it is ideal for getting all the juice out! I also have a heavy duty one which I bought from Pampered Chef, which I love. It actually turns the lemons etc. inside out and removes the pips. You get all the juice with that one.
7) My chef’s knives. As any good chef knows, your knives are your friends and it is worth investing in a good set of knives that will last you a lifetime. Ones with good edges that can be sharpened easily and that will stand up to much use. Knives with bevelled edges or serrated edges are not really a good investment. For one thing, you can’t sharpen them very easily and for another, a serrated edged knife you can’t sharpen at all. The most dangerous tool in the kitchen has to be the dull knife. (ask any chef) I sharpen mine regularly, at least once a week. I have a sharpening stick that I use just for that purpose. I have two good sets. One that I bought when I was taking my Chef's course and the other ones are Jamie Oliver ones which I was gifted with and they're good too.
8) Kitchen scissors. It took me awhile, and he completely destroyed one set, but I think I have finally taught Todd that kitchen scissors are not for cutting off dead branches on trees and sand paper etc. They are for using in the kitchen, and nowhere else! I use my kitchen scissors all the time. They are great for cutting up meats and mine are so good you can even cut up a chicken with them. I use them all the time to cut up things like dates and other dried fruits. They’re great for snipping chives and spring onions too!
9) Wire whisks. I have oodles of wire whisks, my very favourite one being the one that has an additional little ball in it that is great for whipping up cream and egg whites by hand! I also have several smaller sized ones, just wonderful for whisking together salad dressings or other small amounts of things. Wire whisks are very handy tools to have!
10) My electric mixer. I only have a hand held one in my own home, although I have had a Kitchen Aid stand mixer on my wish list for a few years, candy apple red please! You really have to have a good electric mixer. They make a real difference when it comes to making cake batters and they are plenty handy when it comes to mixing up a batch of cookie dough as well!
11) My piping bag and nozzles. You need a piping bag and nozzles if you are going to do any fancy work or make profiteroles. You can get a really good set at Iceland. You can use small zip lock baggies for piping small amounts, but if you are going to do large amounts and want a fancy edge, you really need a proper piping bag. I have to say that cloth bags are pretty useless when it comes to piping egg whites though . . . it seeps through the bag and makes a bit of a mess I think. I prefer to use a plastic one then. Plastic are also a lot easier to clean.
12) Various glass ramekins and pudding basins. I have a couple of larger ones (straight sided ramekins) to use for making large soufflés and a couple sets of smaller ones for individual sized soufflés. I also have various sized pudding basins and a set of small aluminium ones to make individual puddings. (I first saw Delia using the small ones and knew that I just had to have a set) The small ones are invaluable for making individual sized summer puddings!
13) Oh yes, I forgot to mention a good set of saucepans and skillets in various sizes!! You won’t be much of a cook without them! I have the set that we were given when we got married and then a couple of summers ago we bought a really good set from a Dutchman in our drive. He had them in the boot of his car and gave us a whole spiel about having just left a cookware show and only having this last set left and not wanting to take them all the way back to Holland with him . . . long story. We probably paid too much for them, but they are a nice set of pots and pans. I also have various skillets right from small to large. Most are non stick and I have a couple of others as well. I would really love a few Cast Iron skillets and I would LOVE to have some Le Creuset cookware, in particular the large casserole dishes. Oh!! and a good grill pan!!! (one that makes those lovely dark lines on grilled steaks and such)
14) Various glass casseroles and baking dishes. The shallow ones are great for doing gratins, lasagnes and other recipes where you want nice crispy edges and golden toppings. I also have several covered ones for oven stews etc. Todd got me a really nice Emile Henry one last year for Christmas and I love it. It is the perfect size for a large lasagne! I use it a lot when we have the missionaries over!
15) Roasting tins. I have several shallow ones and one large covered enamel one that I managed to bring back with me from Canada the last time we went over. Todd saw me with it and thought how ever on earth was I going to manage to bring it back, but I did. (I can be very stubborn!) It fit perfectly in my suitcase. It only took up as much room as the width of it’s sides, about 1mm in thickness. I fit my clothes inside it and all around it and it wasn’t really all that heavy. It is large enough to do a turkey in it, which was what I wanted.
16) Good mixing bowls. I have a few sets of mixing bowls. A set of graduated stoneware ones, a set of plastic ones and one really invaluable stainless steel one. You want a good stainless steel bowl for whipping up egg whites. Egg whites and fat do not mix, not when you are trying to whip them up, in any case, and so you want a bowl to use just for that purpose, one that has not taken in any grease…the bowl must be immaculately free from grease. You can’t do that with a plastic bowl.
17) My microplane grater. I only have the one and it is in a smaller size just perfect for zesting citrus fruit and grating nutmegs and parmesan cheese. I absolutely love it and wouldn’t be without it. You do have to be careful of your fingers though, it’s very sharp!! (lesson learnt the hard way . . . don't ask!!)
18) My electric bread maker. I just cannot make bread. I have tried for years and only ever managed to come up with lovely browned door stops. My bread maker takes care of that and I am able to make lovely, high, deliciously soft and beautiful loaves of bread with it. I have the Morphy Richards one with the raisin and nut dispenser and it is fantastic! I highly recommend it to anyone. The Panasonic Bread Maker is also very good.
19) Stainless steel rings. These are invaluable when it comes to making anything you want stacked or even small tarts and moulds, small refrigerated cheesecakes, that type of thing.
I have a lot of other gizmos such as garlic presses, zesters, fruit juicers, vegetable peelers etc. and I’ll probably gather a few more before I am through, much to Todd’s chagrin, but this is my list of must haves and can’t live with outs! But then again, to me, cooking is serious business! I don't think I really have room for much more in my kitchen now . . . and in truth, I really should scale back a bit, but . . . I don't know how I could ever cope with less than what I have now. I know . . . I'm incorrigible!
Today I actually have a recipe for you here at The Cottage. This is a fabulous salad. Not only is this dish full of lovely colours and very easy to look at, but it is full of delicious flavours. This is a truly wonderful combination!!
*Avocado, Bacon and Tomato Salad*
You want to keep your vegetables fairly chunky in this for the best presentation . It has a lovely flavour and wonderful texture. Try to let it sit for at least an hour before eating, preferably two. This really helps to allow the flavour to develop fully.
6 slices of smoked streaky bacon
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 TBS white wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 drops Tabasco sauce
2 medium, fully ripe avocados
2 medium ripe tomatoes
1 small onion chopped
2 TBS chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Fry the bacon until crisp. Drain well on paper towelling and then crumble. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Peel and chop the avocado in one inch chunks and drop them into the dressing, gently stirring to coat them thoroughly. Chop the tomatoes into half inch pieces and gently fold them in as well, along with the chopped onion, crumbled bacon and the chopped parsley.
Cover and refrigerate for two hours before serving. Serve on lettuce leaves, if desired.
Baking in The English Kitchen today, some delicious Lemon and Sultana Cookies!
Oh, and moving on with the Cook's theme here today, here's my latest creation. Another recipe poster, this time featuring my infamous Lemon Curd Recipe. As usual, it's available as a print or a card. Thanks for looking and have a wonderful day!!!