Friday, December 26, 2008

Ten Useful Kitchen Gadgets

While I'm dredging up old stuff from the restaurant web site, I might as well repost this article that I wrote about three years ago for the Northern Virginia Daily. The advice about which kitchen gadgets are actually useful (as opposed to the myriad that are not) is still valid today.

Ever wondered why restaurant food is so different from home food? It’s because we take just a little extra time to make things special. Here are ten of my gadgets and tricks to help you easily glamorize your home meals.

  1. Please squeeze me. One look in one of our reach-in refrigerators would show dozens of clear plastic squeeze bottles, like the ones you see holding ketchup and mustard at a diner. They’re filled with everything from flavored oils to homemade sauces to pre-prepared sauces. We use them to dot dishes with flavor and to decorate plates. Blend chives and olive oil and let separate. Decant the oil into a squeeze bottle and you’re ready to go.

  2. Beyond coffee. We use the common and cheap coffee grinder for grinding whole spices. As the Indians and Mexicans do, toast whole spices and then grind them for a fresher, more vibrant flavor.

  3. Zest for the best. The fantastic Microplane® grater/zester is the tool for grating hard cheese over pasta or a salad. It’s also the tool that we use to grate lime zest over our Thai and Mexican soups.

  4. Bag it. Use a pastry bag with a star tip to pipe those mashed sweet potatoes onto your Thanksgiving plates and your guests will think you’re a kitchen genius. For cleanliness and food safety reasons, we’ve switched to one-time-use disposable bags.

  5. Be the wizard. Think we’re knife wizards with hours and hours of spare time to hand slice all those beautiful cucumber scales for our cold poached salmon? Or those potato scales for our potato-crusted sea bass? Think again. After having gone through three $250 professional mandoline slicers, we think that cheap Japanese benriners cannot be beat.

  6. Blend in. Our inexpensive immersion blender lets us thicken and puree soups right on the stove, without moving the hot pan and without risking burns using the big blender. And it makes salad dressings a snap—we can make small quantities right in the speed pour bottles from which we dress salads.

  7. On point. Wonder how we get those lamb racks on point—just how you want them—time and again? It’s a five dollar meat thermometer, the best investment you’ll ever make to safeguard against both over- and undercooking foods.

  8. Soft and curly. Another favorite is our soft-handled vegetable peeler. Besides getting a constant workout on potatoes, it’s also responsible for the beautiful cheese curls on our salads and soups. When yours becomes dull, get a new one.

  9. Cook’s friend. Parchment paper has hundreds of uses from lining pastry pans, to making icing horns, to shoring up the sides of soufflé pans. A favorite use: making packets of fish, vegetables, herbs and white wine for a sensational baked fish en papillote that will amaze your guests.

  10. Foiled again. Forget how useful aluminum foil is? We bake our baby beets in a foil pouch on a sheet pan. They steam without burning and we have no mess to clean. Do the same for roasted garlic to enhance your sauces, stews, and pasta.

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