Now that you’ve got your pots, pans, and knives, are you ready to start cooking? Not just yet. There are some other tools that you’ll need in your kitchen to whip up tasty, healthful meals.
If you like to peruse cooking catalogs or meander through cooking stores, you’re probably amazed at all of the gadgets and gizmos that are out there. There’s a tool for just about everything, from pitting olives to hulling strawberries to getting that pesky skin off garlic. It’s hard to know what you really need, and if space is an issue in your kitchen, there’s no way you’d have room for all that stuff anyway. What often ends up happening is that you buy some nifty gadget that you think you just can’t live without; soon, it ends up buried in a drawer somewhere, never to be used.
So, just as we’ve done for the pots, pans, and knives, let’s look at what utensils and other tools you really need to have on hand (and feel free to add your own, too!).
Wooden spoons. One might argue that these really aren’t necessary, since you can get by with a silicone cooking spoon or spatula. But I find that I always reach for wooden spoons, whether I’m stirring pasta into boiling water or mixing up some egg salad.
Wooden spoons are inexpensive, sanitary, and easy to care for. You should hand wash them (washing them in a dishwasher can dry them out), and if they start to look too dry, rub them with some mineral oil. You can even buff out stains with sandpaper (or just buy some new ones, since they’re cheap enough). Keep a bunch of these tools on hand and make sure you have different lengths to match the depth of your pots and pans. If you want to get fancy, look for wooden spoons made out of bamboo or beech.
Heat-resistant spatula. This is a highly versatile tool which can take you straight from the frying pan to the mixing bowl. If you’re sautéing or stir-frying, this spatula will get the job done. You won’t have to worry about food sticking to it and it won’t melt! They usually come in different colors so get a couple that match your kitchen.
Slotted spoon/serving spoon/ladle. I lumped these three tools together because they often are sold in a set. Slotted spoons are useful when you want to lift a food item out of a sauce, broth, or fat. Serving spoons and ladles come in handy for dishing your creation into a bowl or onto a plate. If you have nonstick pots and pans, use utensils geared for this type of cookware so that you don’t scratch the nonstick surface.
Tongs. You see TV chefs using these, so why not pick up a pair? They’re great for turning a chicken breast, mixing vegetables into pasta, and tossing salads. Buy a set that is spring-loaded and that has a locking device to save room when you store them.
Serving spatula. Good to have if you’re, say, flipping pancakes or burgers. You can get a deeper spatula for serving lasagna out of a pan.
Whisk. You might think only pastry chefs or bakers need whisks, but you need one too! Whisks are essential for making gravies (they help get those pesky lumps out!) and sauces, and are great for whipping up eggs for an omelet.
Measuring spoons. You probably have a set of these lurking in your kitchen drawer. These are spoons that typically come in a set of at least four: 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon. Sure, you can always throw in a pinch of this or a dash of that when you’re cooking, but there will be times when you need a more precise measurement (especially if you bake). And using your flatware teaspoons and tablespoons won’t give you an accurate measurement.
Measuring cups. You need a set of dry measuring cups for measuring foods such as rice, pasta, peanut butter, flour, and sugar. A liquid measuring cup (usually glass) is needed for measuring out liquids (obviously) such as milk, juice, oil, and broth.
Vegetable peeler. I know, dietitians tell you to eat the skin and peels of fruits and vegetables whenever possible, but there are times when you’ll need to peel a potato, for example. Get a good peeler (I like the ones that are Y-shaped) and make sure it feels good in your hand; otherwise, you’ll soon get fatigued.
Meat thermometer. To make sure your meat and poultry is thoroughly cooked, keep a meat thermometer on hand. There are several kinds to choose from, ranging from the “old fashioned” liquid thermometers to electronic probes to digital thermometers. Some give quicker readings than others.
Did I leave anything out? What’s essential in YOUR kitchen?
Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin.
Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.
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