Tuesday, May 25, 2010

10 Kitchen Must Haves for a Food Revolution

As I've been cooking my way through Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Book (check it out-in the last week I've made three recipes, and more are on the way) I have noticed that there's been a definite change in my cooking these days.

In order to keep cooking fresh, and not processed, some things have stood out in my kitchen as a necessity to keep this Food Revolution going! Some are foods, some are gadgets, but all have been very, very useful:

1. Fresh lemons

I used to always use lemon juice, but it's hard to top the juice and zest of a REAL lemon. They add so much flavor to recipes and eliminate the need for any of those processed, salt filled spice mixes. You can get 'em by the bag at the store, and why not? They are so much better than the stuff sitting in plastic lemons on the shelf.

2. A Microplane Classic Series Zester

My friend Anne gave me this wonderful tool for Christmas, and it has become THE most used item in my kitchen. The little sharp blades take off bits of lemon peel with just one stroke. It's not only good for lemons, but Parmesan as well. I highly recommend that you run out and buy one. NOW.

3. Fresh Herbs

I've said this many times, but fresh herbs are a must have in a kitchen. I love being able to just trot out to my container herb garden and snip off chives, oregano, or cilantro. They add a huge amount of flavor, save you money (instead of paying $2 for a bunch of herbs at the store) and impart so much flavor into your cooking.

4. A Kitchen Scale

This useful little gadget has helped me out a lot when I haven't been sure about measurements. 8 oz of chocolate? Easy. Just weigh it. 1 pound of potatoes? Ditto. Mine is a cheap little one, but it has been well used. When I'm cooking something and not sure about the weight measurements, it always comes to my rescue.

5. Good wine

No no, not for you to drink while you're cooking, although I suppose you could. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from Food Network was to only cook with wine you would drink, and for the longest time I thought they were crazy. Why would I do that?

Until, of course, I tried following their advice. Smart people, those chefs. Totally right. It affects the outcome of your dish a great deal. Use decent wine-doesn't have to be expensive, but if you'd drink it, cook with it.

6. A few really large mixing bowls

I have exactly two-one stainless, and one pyrex bowls that are huge-I can let bread rise in them, do a double batch of cookie dough in them, stir muffin batter, or toss a good sized fruit salad. They really come in handy and I use them on a regular basis.

7. Real Parmesan Cheese

That stuff you buy that is like sawdust? EW. Don't use it. Go to your deli and get some real pre-shaved Parmesan, that will bake up all gooey and delicious in your pasta. You don't need a lot, and it's really worth the money. Trust me. Once you try the real stuff, you'll never go back.

8. A Good Knife and Cutting Board

Now, I'm not an expert on knives, in any way at all. But I have found that all it takes is to have one really good knife that you use for most things, and you're set. From what I have read (by Anthony Bourdain, Jamie Oliver, etc) you don't need anything super heavy or expensive, just something that is light, flexible, stainless steel, well balanced, and good quality. Research and invest in a good one. (I still need to do this-mine is okay but I could use a better one) While you're at it, get a couple good cutting boards. Use one for meat, and a different one for veggies.

I prefer wood cutting boards. My plastic one is all warped and useless, and a chef one tells me glass tends to dull the knives. Come to think of it, I need a good cutting board.

9. Quality Chocolate

What, you ask? Isn't chocolate just...chocolate? What's the difference? Believe it or not, there is one. It just depends on what you are using the chocolate for. Cupcakes for little people? Meh-go with the cheaper stuff, they won't care. Truffles to give to co-workers? Invest in the good stuff-I like to use Lindt or Green and Blacks for dipping, drizzling, etc. Fry's Cocoa is my brand for baking in cakes. If I need lots for chunks, I go with Baker's squares or, depending on the quantity needed, Green and Blacks. Chips are always Hershey's Chipits.

I never, ever, buy no name chocolate. Ever. You can TASTE the cheapness.

10. A Well Made Cooling Rack

Now, if you start baking, cooling racks are important. You need something to transfer those cookies or muffins to while they cool off. The perfect rack has some weight to it, is large and has spaces, but not so wide apart that smaller items will fall through the wires. My favorite one has a grid on it with the spaces small enough that even mini muffins can cool without falling over.

Recommended from Twitter by Shan, Elizabeth, and Chibijeebs :

A Cookie Scooper

Apparently gives you uniformly shaped cookies, makes it easier to scoop them out, and is really fast. Metal is better than plastic, but you can get formed silicone so it doesn't scratch anything either. In fact these ladies were so convincing that I want one. NOW.
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