Somewhere in the sea of available kitchen gadgets, we know that there are some Holy Grail tools that will make prep, cooking and clean-up a breeze. These are the workhorses of the kitchen, and to them we owe our enthusiasm for getting behind the stove. But that, as they say, is a whole other blog post.
Here are my top 5 favorite tools that go beyond making cooking more effective, but simply make it look (and taste) more restaurant-like.
The Humble Squeeze Bottle
Perhaps you are thinking that pigs will fly before you make your own Worcestershire sauce; and that may be so, but next time you are eating at a restaurant wondering why the dish in front of you is so darn pretty and delicious, the answer is generally sauces, dotting and dipping over your food in elegant strokes and splotches. A couple different kinds of salsas, mustards or flavored oils makes the humblest of dishes look crazy cool and hits your tastebuds with about a million different contrasting flavors in each and every bite. With a squeeze bottle (or a whole family of them) you can have your favorite concoctions at the ready, like a spicy chile oil, a balsamic gastrique, or a creamy garlic aioli, and suddenly before you know it you will be on wordpress registering your very own domain.
You can find squeeze bottles on amazon.com.
See how attractive and tasty a plate looks with the addition of artfully arranged sauce!
Shout-out to Chef Erin for this beautiful Iron Chef creation.
2. Commercial Style Parchment Paper
Has this ever happened to you? *Imagine a video of someone attempting to cover their cookie sheet with a roll of parchment paper in those dinky little cardboard dispensers. As an obnoxious sound deploys, the parchment rolls itself right back into the container, spilling cookies and croutons all over the counter, and possibly injuring the protagonist.*
Well my friend, you are not alone. I always had parchment paper in my kitchen drawers, hoping that I would use it. But I usually opted for foil because foil stays put. However foil is expensive and I felt guilt ridden about disposing of so much metal in such a callous and wasteful manner. I was delighted when I observed the large open boxes of full size, pre-cut parchment sheets, ready to be grabbed and line cookie sheets of any shape or size without spontaneous rolling. What a relief! Line your baking sheets every time you use them, it will make clean-up much faster. Not to mention it helps certain baked goods come right off.
You can find parchment paper sheets on amazon.com
3. 00 Flour
In one of my classes I made a grilled flatbread/pizza hybrid covered with ricotta and eggplant as an appetizer. I had a few students tell me about their own pizza/flatbread woes, and how it just never came out that great at home. Now I am no pizza expert, no pie physician. This was only the third time I had ever made pizza dough, so believe me when I say that 00 Flour will change your crusts, people. It is the most finely ground flour known to Italians, or man. The removal of the outer bran makes it powdery when raw, and extra flexible and chewy when baked. When this chewiness remains on the inside and the outsides becomes hot and crunchy, we are inundated with the deliciousness of a perfect pizza crust. Homemade pizza dough is not hard to make, it's a simple combo of about five ingredients, plus a little time to rise (and of course, yeast which is alive), but the type of flour will make all the difference. Skip the delivery fee and make your own pizza right now.
You can get 00 flour right here at The Chopping Block! And you can also take some of our pizza-making classes, such as Neopolitan Pizzeria, The Tuscan Villa, and many grilling classes in which pizza is cooked outdoors under the summer sun or stars.
4. Food Processor
Some may say that the food processor is not necessary. And in many senses, such a modern product is not, strictly speaking, necessary. Humans were making salsas and pie crust by hand long before Cuisinart hit the scene, thank you very much. However like online banking and stamps.com, it saves you time. Suddenly something which would have taken many moons of crumbling and pastry cutting takes mere seconds (pie and tart doughs, chopping legions of veggies, combining the various cheeses found in a cheese ball). Biscuits, fresh from the oven become laughably quick and easy when kissed with the magic of a food processor's blade. Salsas and soups become perfectly textured in its spinning vault. The food processor doesn't elevate home cooking in the direct, aesthetic sense, so much as it makes multi stepped baking and cooking projects faster, more consistent and more fun. This could translate into blue cheese biscuits and lemon curd tarts appearing on the home table more often.
Our Boot Camps and baking classes, like Pies, Tarts and Crostatas, as well as our popular Pasta Workshop classes all make use of the food processor for quickly transforming flour into everyones favorite doughs.
We also have a handy guide that helps you determine the differences between a food processor vs. blender vs. immersion blender. Download our free electrical comparison.
The Microplane is a tool which walks a fine line between two worlds: is it a utilitarian god, given that zesting without it was an unpleasant chore that yielded sad, disintegrating piles of citrus zest; or is it a show pony tool? Are showers of tiny orange, green and yellow micro peels strictly necessary for making home cuisine really pop? Or do they just look really fancy? Admittedly, before the Microplane, I thought little of it, in a bizarre catch-22 that could never be rectified until I had one of my own. After years of grating lemons on box graters (shudder) or peeling off the peel in long strips with a paring knife and then mincing it finely, I didn't really *get* zest. Perhaps because I tired of it long before I had collected enough to truly taste it in my food. But a quality Microplane will pull off the most fragrant parts of a citrus fruit, and infuse dishes with the delicate, yet surprisingly powerful fragrance of orange, lemon, or lime oil, which live locked up in the shiny skin. Lemon zest will take crumbles from 'sweet fruit with crunchy topping' to 'more please'. It works in sync (and sometimes independently of) citrus juice to create complex, sweet, floral, acidic notes that, aside from salt, are usually what's missing when something tastes good, but not great. And I might as well as well mention that grating a hunk of chocolate over whipped cream with the blade of a microplane looks pretty darn elegant.
We carry Microplanes at The Chopping Block (and don't forget that if you're taking a cooking class, anything you used that day is 15% off). Let's face it, you're probably gonna be using the Microplane as well as the rest of these cooking tools pretty often because they are so awesome.