If I had a large island kitchen with 42-inch cabinets and a generous gift card to Williams-Sonoma, I would buy myself a massive ice cream machine (you know, the one the Iron Chef uses to make garlic ice cream), a pasta maker (the roller-type to make homemade ravioli), a champion juicer for my morning smoothies, oh, and one of those walk-in freezers (okay, maybe that's taking it a little bit far!). Unfortunately, I have the typical, small NYC kitchen and no birthday, anniversary or gift giving holiday coming up. So, below is a more practical list of my "Top 10 Favorite cooking tools... As New York Times columnist Mark Bittman points out in this video "Kitchen Starter Kit", the truth is you only need a few basic tools to get cooking! In fact, he outfits a kitchen with the basics for less than $300 dollars! Bittman says the best place to get your cooking tools is at a restaurant supply store, and they have some in every city, so happy shopping!
Pastry Scraper (or Bench Scraper)
This is a broad, stiff piece of metal with a plastic or wooden handle. I use this tool all the time when I'm chopping up veggies. Rather than use my Chef's knife to gather up the veggies off the cutting board— which can ruin the blade of your knife— I use this scraper to scoop up the cut veggies and clean up my board. ($8 dollars on Amazon).
Plastic Vegetable Peeler
I have five or six of these light weight, plastic vegetable peelers, in all different colors, including green, red, black and white...I use them every day, especially when I don't feel like pulling out my paring knife to make a salad. (Just $10 dollars for three peelers on Amazon).
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="From left to right: paring knife, Chef's Knife, Bread knife"][/caption]
Chef's Knife (also known as a French knife)
This is the most basic tool in the kitchen. I've already used it to pare, trim, slice, chop and mince all kinds of fruits and veggies, and I have some nicks on my fingers to prove it. Tip: Be careful when washing your chef's knife and putting it away... According to my instructor, that's when the most accidents happen. In terms of what to look for in a good quality knife, it should be equally balanced, meaning the weight of the blade is equal to the weight of the handle so that chopping feels effortless. The balanced weight of the knife should allow you to follow through in a slicing motion, just as you would follow through with your forehand in tennis or your golf swing.
This is the second most often used knife, used for paring, peeling, trimming, and cutting veggies and fruit. The knife's short blade (typically 2- to 4-inches) provides flexibility in peeling veggies— great for removing the thin outside layer of onions and garlic, digging out potato eyes, and thinly slicing cheese.
Used to slice bread and hard-to-cut veggies like tomatoes and eggplant. If you bake your own bread or often buy fresh loaves of bread from the bakery, this is a great knife to have on hand. Also, comes in handy when you want to slice through a grilled panini or a large, stuffed sub.
This spatula— my absolute favorite cooking tool— has a broad, flexible rubber tip and a long handle. I use it to fold egg whites into chocolate, get that last bit of icing on my cupcake (or right into my mouth!), and to just move things around in my mixing bowl. Tip: Not all rubber spatulas are heat-resistant, so check and make sure that you get one that you can use with hot food and that can go in the dish washer. As an aside, the angled measuring cup pictured above is a pretty good tool to have, too. I like how you can read the measurements from the top, ha, because bending down to eye level is just so much work!
I use this bad boy all the time for making soups and dips. It's tall, narrow, and has a rotary blade at one end. It has variable speeds, and entirely portable so you can immerse it right into your pot of soup to puree a thick stock. Check out The Cuisinart SmartStick Hand Blender ($49.95 dollars at Crate & Barrel)— It's my absolute favorite kitchen appliance!
Nonstick frying pan
Great for cooking foods that typically stick to the pan such as eggs and omelets. Tip: Use only heat-resistant plastic spatulas and utensils to avoid scratching the surface of the pan, so that means no metal spatulas or metal spoons! If you scratch the surface of the pan, tiny amounts of the Teflon coating can get into your food (ha, and aluminum is definitely not an ingredient you want to try out). If you do scratch the surface, no worries, these pans are inexpensive (around $30 bucks), so just get yourself a new one. Believe me, it's worth it! Check out Mark Bittman's video above for more useful cooking pans and pots...
Blue Steel Wok
A wok is perfect for stir-frying, steaming, braising, stewing and deep-frying because it has a large, round bottom. I use my wok all the time for stir-frying veggies and tofu. Great for preparing a lot of food in a healthy way! My wok (pictured above) is made of stainless steel, which works just fine, but I'm looking forward to taking a trip down to Chinatown and buying myself an authentic blue steel one. The advantage of blue steel is that you don't have to wash it out. Every time you use it, you just heat it up and rub it down with some salt and oil.
This is a fantastic, inexpensive hand slicer that makes beautiful, fast cuts. Great for slicing veggies for garnishes and salads. My favorite part is that you can use your palm on the mandolin so it doesn't slip. If you are looking to cut down your time in the kitchen, this is the tool to get! ($22 dollars on Amazon). Apologies for the no photo! My mandolin, along with my knife set, is in my locker at the Natural Gourmet Institute— You know, the normal things one keeps in their school locker!
For the latest on these and other useful cooking tools, browse all of Foodista's tools here.
Sources: The Natural Gourmet Institute & "In the Hands of a Chef: The Professional Chef's Guide to Essential Kitchen Tools (Culinary Institute of America)