Cooking--it Makes Everything Better!

Many, many professional cooks, amateur cooks, and cooking bloggers tend to agree on one simple premise: The world is better, home is better, and health is better when we cook for ourselves. And I’m sure you Cook’n subscribers agree wholeheartedly.

One professional cook and cookbook author, Michael Ruhlman, not only preaches this philosophy, he takes time to assess kitchen tools to help us average-Joes have an easier time cooking, and thus do more of it. As I start planning my gift giving, I make it a habit to check out what his thoughts are on kitchen tools.

He says that his number one favorite is the inexpensive Japenese mandolin, aka a Benriner (the brandname). Ruhlman says this is a tool virtually all serious cooks own; it’s used for all manner of slicing, julienning and *brunoising (what is that?). Gnarly sweet potatoes become gorgeous chips. Under 20 bucks—can’t beat it.

Ruhlman also mentions that his most used small appliance is the hand blender, or immersion blender, a fabulous tool for pureeing soups and sauces, making vinaigrettes and mayos. He says he wouldn’t want to be without one. Two brands he recommends are the inexpensive CuisinArt blender, and the KitchenAid (nearly 3 times as expensive, but some feel it’s worth it.) This is a tool I bought myself for my birthday a few years ago (TO me FROM me). I agree with chef Ruhlman…LOVE it!

This master cook included another tool he mentioned that he couldn’t go without—the Silpat, a silicone baking mat that is a great all purpose surface for baking. SILPAT can turn any pan into a non-stick surface. Just place it on a cookie sheet or pan. It is especially great for working with sticky materials such as gooey batter, taffy, caramel, or anything the imagination allows. Nothing sticks to SILPAT, so it can save a lot of time when cleaning up, as there is no more sticky mess on your pans!

This tool never needs greasing, which saves both time and money. It can be used for any baking recipe that calls for parchment paper, which also saves money and creates less waste for our environment.

These non-stick baking mats are made of fiberglass and silicone, and can be used thousands of times. The Silpat website says their products conform to US regulations on food grade silicone, and are FDA, NSF®, and Kosher certified. Finally, this magical tool can be used at temperatures varying from -40°C to 250°C (-40°F to 482°F).

I found one of these kicking around in my baking drawer when my daughter, Sarah, was living with us for awhile. At the time I didn’t know what it was and thinking it was an ugly plastic placemat, I was going to toss it out. Luckily (for both of us), she caught me just in time and gave me a cook’s tutorial. I decided I needed to do a better job at keeping up on the brightest and best in the kitchen tools department!

So with the new year close at hand, let’s take stock of OUR tools—replace some if they need it (rubber spatulas come to mind—they get so ratty and jagged), clean ‘em up if they need it (*hand-mixers come to mind—batter, pudding, etc., can get caked on them quickly if they aren’t maintained), and use them more, because WE need it. Like Michael Ruhlman says, the world, the home, and our health is better when we cook for ourselves!

(*NOTE: For the curious, Wikipedia says brunoising is a culinary knife cut in which the food item is first julienned and then turned a quarter turn and diced again, producing cubes of about 3 mm or less on each side, or 1/8-inch dice. In France, a "brunoise" cut is smaller, 1 to 2 mm on each side, or 1/16-inch dice. Woo hoo…why not just say “dicing?”)

(*Another NOTE: To make less work for yourself going forward, hand-mixer-wise, place a paper plate between your mixer and its beaters, as the photo shows.)


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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