If your kitchen drawers and cabinets are anything like mine, one of their primary functions is to conceal an embarrassing number of unnecessary gadgets. A quick survey of my kitchen reveals a nine-piece Messermeister garnishing tool set my husband bought three years ago... and hasn't used once; ice cream and melon baller scoops in four different sizes (and various states of disrepair); six different sizes of sieves (three mesh; three metal); two Amco lime and lemon squeezers, and a quantity of serving cutlery, mixing spoons, tongs, and Microplane graters that would require shutting down our kitchen for at least three days in order to inventory properly.
To be fair, not all of these gadgets are purchases we've made. My husband, who once worked as a private chef and cooks at least two meals a day at home, has received many of them as gifts. But we're as guilty as you probably are of buying lots of kitchenware we don't really need.
If we were to strip our kitchen down to the bare essentials, which would probably be a good project to take on, there are seven gadgets with which we'd refuse to part, besides our set of good Wusthof knives, cast-iron skillets, and copper-bottom pans. And though I don't advocate cluttering your kitchen even more, these are seven pieces of not-so-obvious kitchen gear that every serious home cook should consider acquiring because they are versatile and simple workhorses that get the job done.
We acquired our first clay pot while living in Mexico; seven years after we bought it at our local market, it still serves a remarkable number of purposes. The original Crock-Pot (and far more versatile than that plug-in-the-wall invention), clay pot cooking has long been used in many parts of the world–from Morocco to India and Germany to Vietnam. You can cook almost anything in a clay pot–beans, rice, and even bread–but it's especially effective for cooking meat, particularly if you're someone who is worried about overcooking or undercooking beef, pork, and poultry. The clay pot circulates moisture continuously while in the oven or on the stovetop, preventing meat from drying out, and it's far more forgiving than other cookware if you leave the pot in the oven longer than intended.
Like a cast-iron skillet, clay pots need to be cured and maintained properly for best results. Don't take your clay pot out of the oven and immerse it in water; it will crack. When it has cooled down, fill it with lukewarm water; add baking soda or vinegar and let it soak for an hour before rinsing it and rubbing it gently with a dry cloth. You don't want to use abrasives or hard dish soaps, as these leach into the pores of the clay and will change the flavor of future meals cooked in the pot.
Two sturdy whisks
I burned out our electric mixer over a year ago and just haven't gotten around to replacing it. In a way, I've been challenging myself to find a recipe that requires a handheld electric mixer, but so far, I've learned that nearly everything can be mixed by hand if you have a little bit of patience. Plus, electric mixers take up far too much space. If you're adamant about needing an electric mixer, invest in a quality make and model; the cheap grocery and department store versions give out much too quickly if you're a regular baker or cook. Otherwise, two sturdy whisks will do just fine. Buy one larger balloon whisk—12-inches--for mixing batters and doughs, and a smaller egg whisk—6.5-7 inches—for eggs, homemade salad dressings, and other thin mixes.
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