Cooking at home is a great way to eat healthier and cut down on the packaging waste associated with takeout. In this installment of Town & Country, Katherine and Margaret compare their top three most useful kitchen tools.
Katherine: Knead, cut, and sear
The original subject for this post was supposed to be "three small kitchen appliances I can't live without," until I realized how low-tech my kitchen is. Aside from my #1 pick, which you'll read about below, there is nothing I plug into an electrical socket in my kitchen that's particularly interesting, aside from the waffle maker, immersion blender, and toaster. As great as those things are, they don't fall into the category of "can't live without." Margaret graciously agreed to broaden the category somewhat to accommodate this country mouse's low-tech preferences!
I always find it interesting to step into someone’s kitchen and see what they have. A collection of small appliances and kitchen implements can say a lot about an individual’s cooking style and preferences, and often there are surprisingly vast differences between what you might think is hugely helpful and what I can’t live without. These are my three must-have tools that make cooking a daily pleasure for me.
1. KitchenAid 7-quart stand mixer
It’s hard to remember life before my KitchenAid mixer. Since I make all of my family’s bread from scratch, I used to spend long periods of time kneading dough by hand at the kitchen table. Not only did it take forever, but it also made a huge mess that further lengthened the process. When my husband gave me this mixer as a birthday gift three years ago, making homemade bread became a quick and nearly mess-free endeavor. It’s excellent for all kinds of baking, which is something I love to do. I have yet to discover the world of attachments.
2. MAC 8-inch chef’s knife
This knife gets used multiple times a day. In fact, it’s so amazing that I got rid of all the other knives in my kitchen because they were so awful by comparison. Now the sum total of knives in my kitchen is two – this one and a small Wusthof paring knife. It’s made of harder-than-usual Japanese-style steel, which allows it to keep a much sharper edge, and its thinner profile reduces cutting resistance. To paraphrase Seinfeld, “I’ve cut slices so thin, I couldn’t even see ‘em!” I’ve had this knife for six years and it makes me happy every single day. Seriously, if you haven’t invested in a really great knife up until now, it’s so worth it!
3. Cast iron frying pan
My cast iron frying pan was found abandoned in the forest near an old cottage that was slated for demolition. My dad brought it home, dirty and rusty, and told me it would be perfectly fine if I cleaned it up. Sure enough, that pan has been a wonderful addition to my kitchen. It takes the place of a non-stick frying pan, since it’s well seasoned and I’m careful not to destroy that seasoning while cooking. I love having a versatile pan that can brown, bake, broil, and braise on the stovetop, oven, barbecue, or campfire. Better yet, it’s non-toxic and adds iron to the diet.
Margaret: Boil, simmer, and stir
When we originally framed this story around kitchen appliances, my idea was this: TreeHuggers generally have a disdain for unnecessary gadgets, but the gadgets we consider “necessary” vary wildly from person to person. While some of our colleagues extoll the virtues of rice cookers, I have lived quite happily without one—or a microwave, or a blender or even a dishwasher. So, what are the three that you can't live without?
But now that I’ve read Katherine’s selections for the tools she can’t live without, I feel a bit embarrassed. Obviously, you can’t really cut or cook anything without knives and pans. Making an argument for why I can’t live without a vegetable juicer suddenly seems fatuous—although a juicer is a really nice thing for people who have eating restrictions.
So, in re-thinking the whole proposition, here are my favorite cooking tools, which have all earned their place in my tiny kitchen.
1. Electric kettle
It is a complicated matter to decide whether boiling water on the stove versus an electric kettle is more energy efficient, and it can vary depending on your type of stove and how the energy in your home is sourced. TreeHugger Pablo Paster concludes that a kettle is better than the microwave or stovetop, although one Stanford alum argues this is only the case if you’re using rooftop solar (which sadly my apartment building does not have).
Maybe I should get a camping-sized solar charger for it!
My boyfriend and I drink a lot of tea, and my electric kettle gets the job done much faster than a pot on the stove. I’m always careful to only boil the water I need at the moment. And in the summer, it’s nice to have a device that heats water without turning on the stove. My boyfriend uses it to make pour-over coffee—so we were able to get rid of a plug-in coffeemaker. It’s probably the one thing in my kitchen that I can say I use every single day.
2. Copper pots
There are few meals that we eat that don’t involve heating on the stove. I can’t say I rescued my set of copper pots and pans from being thrown away in the woods, but they did once belong to my great-grandmother. They heat quickly and evenly, and although they do need polishing from time to time, I’ve actually found them to be easier to clean then non-stick cookware. Plus, they are beautiful.
3. Wooden spoon
Candy-colored silicone spoons and spatulas are having a moment, but I find wooden spoons to be the most satisfying and eco-friendly option for mixing and stirring. They don’t scratch, they last a very long time and if one did get cracked or broken somehow it would be biodegradable. I really like the slotted one for cake mixes.
So, those are the lists of kitchen tools we'd hate to live without! What are yours?