My Favorite Kitchen Helpers
January 12th, 2011 | D.I.Y., How-to, Sustainable, cook, culinary, favorite, feature, filter, gadgets, grinder, homestead, howto, kitchen, knife, mandolin, mortar, pan, pot, steamer, tools, urban, utensils, whisk
These are some of my most helpful friends in the kitchen. I tend to like to do things as manually as possible, I think this is just habit from growing up in a place without much electricity. I also find that doing things this way gives me a good workout. I have often thought of putting together a culinary workout type video–if we just spend more time walking, pounding, chopping, whisking and whatnot we would find we have burned plenty of calories by the time we sit down to eat. It is my personal opinion that most of the cooking shows these days are really just geared to sell you some new useless plastic utensil, and I know many people with houses full of unnecessary kitchen gadgets they never use. I don’t really like that old saying–Keep it Simple Stupid–but it does work.
Last year I had a bout of tennis elbow and had to start cooking with my left hand. I suddenly realised what it is like cooking when you can barely chop. This made me value my long years of practice chopping and whatnot, so I do understand that other folk may need other equipment, but I will say that it is worth your time in the long run, to practice chopping until you become proficient.
The first thing I will mention which I don’t have a photo of, is that these days it is vital to get a water filter. Britta doesn’t do the trick, it is best to invest in one that hooks up to your tap. It is important to get the chlorine out of your water, especially if you have digestive issues as the chlorine can kill the friendly micro-organisms in your gut. The type of water filter you will need will depend on what is in the water in the city that you live in. Vancouver has fairly good water, so I just use a basic water filter. I think the pipes in the building that I live in are pretty old, in such cases it is good to have a water filter that will take out heavy metals. I am using an aquasana filter currently, but that is mostly because it is cheap and practical.
I got the lovely blue trundle cart last year (pictured above) and it has really helped me incredibly. We live in an apartment and don’t have a car, so in the years previously I was giving myself all kinds of backaches hauling our groceries, cat litter and whatnot home on my back. With this trundle cart (I am sure there is another name but I quite like this one) I can manage to do all my shopping twice a week and cram all the stuff in there. I also use it to go fetch my weekly milk, for laundry, for hauling plants and shovels about when I do guerilla gardening and there are plenty of other uses for this handy cart. I think it only cost me $30 as well, much less than 3 sessions of acupuncture. It fits easily on a bus as well. A very good friend.
Some of you have seen my baby before–a beautiful stone mortar and pestle from Myanmar. A nice big mortar and pestle like this are essential if you don’t have an electric food processor. Spending time pounding ginger and garlic, or crushing seeds and nuts with this baby is a very satisfying activity. I love the sound of the tapping and crushing, it reminds me of when I lived in Asia. Sometimes you can find these in Chinese supermarkets. I found a nice one in New Zealand in the Chinese supermarket in Auckland.
Of course, my knife is my most important tool. I am not writing this post to promote any brands in particular, but this is a good knife. I bought it in New Zealand, it is German (Goldhamster) and the weight and balance are perfect. The blade holds an edge very well. It is important to keep your knife sharp as it is much easier to cut yourself with a blunt knife. I have chopped the tip of my left pointer finger off several times–it usually does a remarkable job of growing back again. I saved the dried out end of my finger and nail from the last time I chopped it off (gross, I know)–it’s my souvenir from when I was working for Peter Jackson’s company when they were making King Kong. That was probably the worst pain I have experienced to date.
A good knife will last you a lifetime. You don’t need a whole variety of sizes, this size is quite sufficient for most purposes. (A good paring knife and a good bread knife are two other helpful types, but not strictly necessary) The small chopping board pictured below the knife is also very handy. I find that having a small bartender cutting board is very useful when you just need to do a quick cutting task, like cutting a lemon and whatnot. Preferable to having to wash a whole huge cutting board after doing a small, simple task.
This spice or coffee grinder has just given out on me. I will replace it with the same brand and model. In this case I do have to admit that I like Braun for household electric equipment, they are sturdy and durable. I put this grinder to the test constantly as I use it to grind all of my nuts into flour, my spices–even my cheese curds I grind in here. For a long time I didn’t even have a blender so this grinder and my mortar and pestle have kept me in business. On the GAPS diet we use a lot of nut flour and I bought this second hand when we first arrived in Vancouver three years ago, so I am not surprised it has given out. I also like this because it is easy to clean.
This is one of my main requirements when buying kitchen gadgets. I hate having to fiddle around cleaning tons of finicky parts that can easily get rancid food stuck in hard to reach places. With this I just wash the top and wipe out the inside. It doesn’t take up a lot of room when stored either. The main drawback is that it can only grind about 1/2 c worth of nuts at a time and makes a loud racket while doing so. This is practical for a household of just two people. I am sure if I had a couple of kids and was on the GAPS diet I would want something else to help grind nuts.
Of course the stockpot (with lid). This baby really does a great job. I pull it out at least twice a week to make a fat stock as this is the most affordable way to get good grass-fed protein into you. A good stock will save your life and keep your joints limber to boot. It is especially important to use stocks when pregnant or nursing. Good marrow bones or a good chicken stock can keep you from getting flu much better than a vaccination can. I also use it for making saurkraut as it can hold large amounts of chopped cabbage while mixing in salt and caraway seeds.
What in the world is that? I can hear many of you asking. This is an airline blanket, very rare and hard to find these days–heh–I used to collect them when I was travelling a lot and when airlines used to hand them out like candy. This is the last one I have left from those days. I know many of you think I am a pure traditionalist, but this is not always the case. Airline blankets are amazing incubators, they hold in the hot or cold really well and I use this blanket to incubate my yogurt. To this day it has never gone wrong. I highly recommend stealing a blanket from the next flight you are on that still has them, but be very careful as the airlines seem to be pretty fascist these days and might just disappear you for doing so 😉
Slow cooker. I got this beauty from a second hand shop and am very pleased with it. I was given a new fancier model for Christmas a couple years ago which I ended up getting rid of as it cooked too hot and kept burning my food. I say stick with the old fashioned, they knew how to do it years ago and it can’t be improved on. This is just the right size for us and I love to use it to make ox-tail stews, lamb shanks and other long cooking hearty dishes. It is nice to have it cooking happily away on the countertop for hours on end. The main trouble I have with this one is that it leaks as it cooks so I have to keep a cloth under it to sop up the liquid, but this is really not a huge problem given the amount of time and energy it saves me.
This is my most used pan. The size pictured here is just right for two people using an electric stove top. If I had a gas stove, I would prefer the next size up (10), but that size is too big for the electric burners and can cook unevenly. I make all kinds of stuff in here, from our b-fast scramble to carmelizing onions to searing and roasting meat as it easily goes in the oven as well. Also a great pan to make a delicious zucchini frittata in (I just realized I haven’t posted my frittata recipes yet either–coming soon!)
This bamboo steamer is such a brilliant creation who could go wrong? Not only does it fit easily on top of my pot, but you can stack as many as you like on top of each other, cooking several types of veggies, pot-stickers or anything else at once. A real energy and space saver. Plus it doesn’t break as easily as the Western type metal steamers. In fact it doesn’t break at all. I make sure I wash it right away when I finish using it to make sure it doesn’t get any food gunk stuck in it, and don’t let it sit soaking in dirty dishwater for any length of time. Clean as you go, is the famous kitchen motto.
I know, I know, what is so special about a whisk, many of you may be asking. A good sturdy large balloon type whisk isn’t so easy to find these days. This is one of the best ways to get a workout. It really isn’t as hard as people imagine it to be to manually whisk up egg whites or whip up some cream. This whisk is what I use to make mayonnaise, meringue and many other delicious treats. I used to do a ton of whisking when cooking industrially and it messed up my arm, but if you are just doing it for your own personal cooking it isn’t gonna harm you. It is also quite easy to whisk using both your left and right hand. So I say throw out your electric whisk and your weights and start whisking!
Funny thing is I don’t actually use this for mashing potatoes. I mostly use it for making pate and for mashing up my pumpkin for pumpkin soup. This is a very handy tool and is much easier to clean than a food processor. It will leave your food nicely textured, so you don’t have to feel as if you are at an old folks home where all the dishes are pureed to smithereens. This creates more of a ‘country’ mash.
I am not even sure what this item is called. I got this one at a second hand shop, I haven’t seen any modern versions of this yet. It is really handy for making pickles and relishes as it is used to push down the cabbage into the jar when making saurkraut, I have also used it to press out the air when making chutney. It is important when preserving food using the lactic acid technique to make sure there are no air-pockets and this tool is very handy for this purpose.
Any chef will tell you this is a must have in your kitchen. I call it a fish slice, although you could call it a spatula as well. This works amazingly for scraping out a pan, cutting something in a pan, pulling out a tender fish from a pan and all sorts of other helpful things.
And last, but not least the Japanese Mandolin. This item is not strictly necessary although it is a great help for making mass amounts of sliced vegetables. Also it slices nice and thin and makes great chips from carrot or whatever. This model is the only one you really need. There are many various types of mandolins on the market these days, but this original Japanese model is quite sufficient and I don’t recommend you bother with any of the fancier, more expensive German or whatever brands. Stick with the tried and true. The only thing you need to beware of here is that it is quite easy to slip and slice off your fingers. The blade is VERY sharp so be careful, use the finger guard. This is very helpful for making saurkraut or kimchi etc.
Of course there are many other tools I use on a regular basis in my kitchen, but this covers the basics. Another item I uses is the burr stick, I don’t really like the one I have so I am not showing it. If you are buying one, try to get one that will detach from the main body so that it is easy to clean. Again Braun is a good brand to look for for such an item.