My Favorite Things: Tools and Sources

Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens… and my favorite food tools and sources.

1.  Microplane grater/zester.  I use it several times a week for citrus zest and grating parmesan.

2.  KitchenAid mixer.   I wouldn’t bake nearly as much without it, and I wouldn’t even attempt bread without it.

3.  Cuisinart Food Processor.  Slicing, dicing, and grating, sure, but I also wouldn’t even try to make pie crust without it.  Be careful, though – the blades are sharp!

4.  Parchment paper.  It makes cleaning up so easy, and I re-use it for multiple sheets of cookies from the same batch.

5.  Our CSA.  Driftless Organics supplies us with fresh, local, organic vegetables all summer and fall, and they’ve even partnered with a grass-fed beef supplier, where we buy beef in bulk.  I’m beginning to feel like a CSA-evangelist, but I strongly believe in this model of partnering farms with consumers.

6.  Our fine collection of grocery stores, specialty markets, co-ops, and farmers’ markets.  Within five miles of our house, we have several fantastic grocery stores, my favorite warehouse club, dozens of specialty markets, and a wonderful co-op.  We may or may not have let our house’s proximity to Trader Joe’s (walking distance, for Pete’s sake!) influence our decision to live here.  Farmers’ market season saves me from my own black thumb, and I’m looking forward to exploring more local orchards and berry patches this summer.  I’ve never lived in a place with so many fantastic options so close to my house, and I’m incredibly grateful for the access to great ingredients.

7.  Chipotle.  We eat at Chipotle when dinner is a flop, or when we haven’t had the chance to get to the store, or when I’m just too knee-deep in toddler mania to cook.  We have two Chipotle restaurants within five miles of our house, and we’ve recently discovered that they will make a plain quesadilla (not on the menu) for our son.  Most importantly, they use ethically-grown ingredients, and their corporate slogan of Food with Integrity makes us feel safe eating there.  Besides, it’s just damned good.

8.  Glass storage containers.  I bought a box of these containers with snap-on lids at Costco as sort of a Christmas gift to myself.  I’m not wild about using plastic for safety reasons, and these glass containers even work in the microwave.  I guess it’s a testament to my nerdiness how much I love these containers.

9.  The dishwasher, and Cascade Complete detergent.  On busy cooking days, I may run it twice or three times, and with Cascade Complete, I don’t have to rinse the dishes much before running it.  (No, I’m not being paid by Cascade!  It’s just the only thing that works.)  I heard recently on NPR that running the dishwasher uses only 4 gallons of water (especially without excessive pre-rinsing), but washing the equivalent number of dishes by hand uses 20 gallons of water.  Yay for lazy.

10.  Our extra freezer in the basement.  My parents bought it as a Christmas gift for us the year that I started commuting two hours per day, so I could cook meals in advance on the weekends to be reheated on weeknights.  Since then, it has held hundreds of pre-made meals, an insane amount of food that I made during the nesting stage of my pregnancy, hundreds of ounces of breastmilk, CSA vegetables, pizza dough, homemade bread, and chicken stock.  It’s especially handy in our current house, where the freezer attached to our refrigerator isn’t big enough to hold a frozen pizza.

11.  My favorite saucepan.  All-Clad 12″ saute pan, given to us as a wedding gift.  I plan to still be using it on our 50th anniversary.

12.  Le Creuset Dutch Oven.  I bought ours at TJ Maxx for about half of the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.  I use it all the time, especially for soup and risotto.

13.  Cookbooks:  The Contessa series (of course), Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, the St. Paul Farmers’ Market Cookbook, The New Best Recipe from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.

14.  Pastry board with a “lip” for the countertop.  Mine was a wedding gift from Williams-Sonoma, but I’ve recently seen them at IKEA as well.  The lip keeps the board from sliding around, especially when rolling dough.

15.  Knives.  Most chefs love their knives, don’t they?  I patched together a collection of hand-me-down knives with a few special purchases thrown in for good measure (a carving knife, and a santoku knife), until the old knives just weren’t cutting it any more.  Ha, ha – cutting it – I’m so punny.  So, I bit the bullet and bought a set of Henckels knives from Costco.  The block that came with the set had some extra slots for additional knives, so I supplemented the collection with some paring knives from IKEA.  All of the knives are terrific, but I have to say, I think the IKEA knives are the best-kept secret out there.  They are a small fraction of the cost of other knives, and they work great.  I know that IKEA has the reputation for selling furniture that can be assembled with an Allen wrench, and trust me, there is plenty of that there.  I also find the store to be so crowded and confusing that each time I go there, I swear it will be the last time that I ever set foot there again.  (My mom and her friend recently met me there, and I overheard my mom telling her friend that navigating a foreign country would be a piece of cake compared to finding a recycling bin at IKEA.)  But, I’m drawn back by these inexpensive kitchen utensils, and their children’s toys and storage.  I will suffer the crowds and the long lines, as well as the labyrinthine layout, all in the name of buying cute toys and bargain kitchen equipment.

16.  French Coffee Press.  This is perfect when we only want a few cups of coffee, which is all that’s ever really consumed at our house unless we have guests.  I can never quite figure out how to make a half-pot in the automatic drip machine, and making a full pot just seems wasteful when we’re not really iced coffee people.  I’ve used the french press to make loose-leaf tea with great results as well.  We also have a small milk frother that looks a lot like the french press, and it makes great foam.  Incidentally, I also saw these at IKEA the last time we were there.

17.  Meat thermometer.  I don’t cook meat or poultry without it.  Someday I’ll tell you the story of how I set one on fire, but you’re not old enough to hear about it yet.

18.  Pepper Mill.  I have this lovely one from Penzeys, which is incidentally another of my favorite sources for spices and recipes.

19.  Silicone whisks.  Also from IKEA, the silicone keeps them from scratching nonstick cookware when whisking gravy and sauce.

20.  Salad spinner.  I have a love-hat relationship with our salad spinner, because it takes up a ghastly amount of cabinet space (not to mention dishwasher space) for something that only does one thing, but it does such a fine job of that one thing that I keep it around.  It’s indispensable during the CSA season for lettuce, spinach, greens and fresh herbs, and it also makes a fine toddler toy.

After narrowing down the list to 20 items, I can’t wait to hear about your favorite things.  What did I miss?  Coming soon:  my favorite ingredients.



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6 responses to “My Favorite Things: Tools and Sources

  1. Laura

    I enjoyed reading your list … I agree with a bunch of them (especially the parchment paper) and I will need to check out a couple of items, Ikea knives…who knew.

    When I got married 18 years ago, we bought a set of pans. I don’t think they make them anymore but I believe they were called pro-ware by Faber. I am so glad we invested what seemed like a fortune in pans that cook great and are still going strong.

  2. In case anyone needs an incentive to wash and spin salad greens:

    My memory is foggy from my last few IKEA visits, but IKEA may also have salad spinners. Regardless, it’s now apparently more worthwhile than ever to give up some cabinet space for one.

  3. Pingback: My Favorite Things: Ingredients « The Contessa-Curessa Project

  4. Mary

    This is a delayed comment, but I have recently purchased a Le Creuset casserole pan, and have decided I can not live without it. See, e.g.,

  5. Pingback: Sunrise Smoothies | The Contessa-Curessa Project

  6. Pingback: French Chicken Pot Pies | The Contessa-Curessa Project

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