Beyond basics ... more useful cookware and kitchen tools
- Baking sheet
- A flat, rigid sheet of metal on which cookies, breads, biscuits, etc. are baked. It usually has one or more turned-up sides for ease in handling.
- Basting brush
- Used to brush food as it cooks (to bring out flavor and preserve moistness) with melted butter or other fat, meat drippings or liquid such as stock. A bulb baster also can be used.
- Coffee grinder
- Very useful for grinding whole spices, such as coriander and cumin, for curry pastes and other recipes. Be sure to use a different grinder for spices than the one used for coffee.
- Compost bucket
- Conveniently store food scraps in this odor-eliminating container before transferring them to an outside composter.
- Double boiler
- A double-pan arrangement whereby two pots are formed to fit together, with one sitting partway inside the other. A single lid fits both pans. The lower pot is used to hold simmering water, which gently heats the mixture in the upper pot. Double boilers are used to warm or cook heat-sensitive food such as custards, delicate sauces and chocolate.
- Dutch oven
- A large pot or kettle, usually made of cast iron, with a tight-fitting lid so steam cannot readily escape. It's used mostly for moist-cooking methods, such as braising and stewing. The magic of the Dutch oven is that it can go from the stove to the oven, and you can store it in the fridge or freezer without worrying that food will react to the porcelain enamel surface.
- Food processor
- Brought to the United States from France in the 1970s, this machine has revolutionized a majority of home kitchens. It consists of a sturdy plastic work bowl that sits on a motorized drive shaft. The cover of the bowl has a feed tube through which foods can be added.
The food processor is efficient and speedy and can easily chop, dice, slice, shred, grind and puree most food. Most processors come with a standard set of attachments including an S-shaped chopping blade and several disks for slicing and shredding. There are special attachments including juicers and pasta makers, as well as accessories such as French-fry cutters, julienne disks and beaters.
- Immersion blender
- This handheld blender may be immersed right into a pot of soup (or other mixture) to puree or chop the contents.
- A hand-operated tool with various adjustable blades for thin to thick slicing and for julienne and other special cuts. Mandolines are used to cut firm vegetables and fruits (such as potatoes and apples) with uniformity and precision.
- Electric machines used to beat, mix or whip foods. There are two basic kinds: Stationary (stand) mixers are bigger and more powerful and can handle heavier mixing jobs. In addition to the standard beaters, stationary mixers are usually equipped with an assortment of attachments that can include dough hooks, wire whisks and special beaters.
Many have attachments such as citrus juicers, ice crushers, pasta makers, sausage stuffers and meat grinders. Portable (hand) mixers, have a smaller motor, but still are capable of whipping cream and egg whites and mashing potatoes.
- Mortar and pestle
- A mortar is a bowl-shaped container and a pestle is a rounded, instrument shaped like a baseball bat. As a pair, the mortar and pestle are used for grinding and pulverizing spices, herbs and other foods. The pestle is pressed against the mortar and rotated, grinding the ingredient between them until the desired consistency is obtained.
Try making Fresh Herb Pesto with this tool instead of a food processor — grinding the herbs by hand releases their essence more fully!
- A special cooking pot with a locking, airtight lid and a valve system to regulate internal pressure. Steam that builds up inside the pressurized pot cooks food at a very high temperature, which reduces the cooking time by as much as two-thirds without destroying the food's nutritional value.
Newer pressure-cooker designs feature built-in valves and indicator rods that indicate the pressure — the more pounds of pressure, the higher the internal temperature and the quicker the food cooks. Pressure-cookers have a safety valve, which will automatically vent the steam should there be a malfunction.
There are many styles of pressure-cookers on the market today, most of which are made for stovetop cooking. Pressure cookers are useful for foods that would normally be cooked with moist heat such as soups, stews, steamed puddings, tough cuts of meat, artichokes, etc. They can also be used for canning. Learn more about pressure-cookers.
- Sharpening steel
- Long and pointed, this thin round rod is used to keep a fine edge on sharp knives. Use it by drawing a knife (while applying slight pressure) across the steel at a 20- to 30-degree angle. Doing this 5 to 6 times on both sides of the blade prior to each use keeps the blade razor-sharp. Dull blades will not be helped by a sharpening steel; knives also need to be resharpened frequently. For maximum efficiency, choose a sharpening steel that is longer than the knife to be sharpened.
- A reusable silicone baking mat that makes it easy to bake without time-consuming cleanup. Place it on a sheet pan to bake cookies, cakes, and pastries — the mat turns any pan into a nonstick surface with no greasing necessary. Made of woven glass fabric coated with food-safe silicone, it can be used at very high temperatures.
- Also called a Crock-pot, the slow-cooker is an electric pot that cooks food with low, steady, moist heat. It's designed to cook food over a period of 8 to 12 hours. Slow cookers can cook a dish while you're gone all day, and they don't heat up the kitchen. Learn more about slow-cookers.
- A steamer can be made of bamboo or stainless steel, and is handy for steaming vegetables. Just boil a small amount of water in a pot, put the steamer in (it expands depending on the size of the pot) and plunk in any vegetables you wish. PCC carries Norpro stainless steel steamers.
- Strainer (also called sieve)
- Use this tool to strain liquids or to sift dry ingredients such as flour or confectioners' sugar.
- A round-bottomed pot popular in Asian cooking, where its uses include stir-frying, steaming, braising, stewing and even deep-frying. Woks are designed to cook foods quickly and evenly over high heat.
Sources: PCC Cooks, Real Simple, and The Food Lover's Companion.