Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gift Ideas List---Finale

Sometimes a great gift is many little gifts all wrapped together. Choose a container that’s useful like a basket or a bucket or a bowl and wrap it all with a dishtowel or two or three or an apron or a picnic cloth and fill it with a bunch of fun kitchen gadgets. Like a child and her toys, the cook never has too many gadgets.

There are dozens and dozens to choose from. Here are a handful of my favorites.

The Whisk.
Select one large, one medium and one small in dishwasher safe stainless steel. Look for the classic shaped balloon whisks with smooth fat stainless handles (not plastic or wood). Some of the newer models have ergonomically correct handles---made of silicon or nylon---for greater comfort. Those are very nice too. Count the number of tines (wires). There should be at least 20. The more tines, the faster the job goes. What about some of those newer shapes you ask? Well, I prefer classic equipment that’s been around for a long time (and with good reason).

Okay, okay, let me backtrack a bit and qualify that statement. Several years ago my Christmas stocking produced a tiny whisk with a handle shaped like an egg.
I love that little thing and use it happily and often for small jobs like beating single eggs.


Shop for stainless steel with a nylon tip to avoid scratching non-stick pans. Self locking tongs close flat, store nicely and are a plus. OXO has a terrific line of kitchen do-dads and their tongs are winners. One long and one short should fit the bill.

Silicon Spatulas.
Le Creuset Exclusive 3-Piece Silicone Spatula Set, Cobalt Blue 
The silicon spatula has got to be the greatest improvement in the kitchen gadget family that I have ever seen. No more dried out rubber bits crumbling into our food or misshapen rubber coming out of the dishwasher. These things are impervious to heat up to 800°, dishwasher safe and come in a multitude of fun colors that I adore. Big ones, small ones, spatulas that can scoop…..I love them all and have many. Look for smooth solid handles that are comfortable to hold. I prefer wood and Le Creuset offers a nice set (pictured) in a full range of colors.

Wooden utensils.

If I were starting out today I’d only buy bamboo. Bamboo is a renewable wood resource and that appeals to my environmentally conscious self. Bamboo is heat and stain resistant and will not scratch non-stick pans. It is dishwasher safe, light weight and built to last forever. Look for a set with spoons and spatulas of assorted sizes and shapes.

Graters (including the microplane).
One of my earliest favorite kitchen gadgets is the box grater. It is a turn of the century tool that has shown remarkable lasting power and is, for me, quite sentimental. I can still see my Mother, my Grandmother and Nana shredding their knuckles along with potatoes, cheese, chocolate and onions. The box grater is versatile and has benefited from updating. The catch plate that snaps onto the bottom of the newer models is very handy indeed and I do like the new ergonomic rubber grips. To go with the box grater are micro planes of various lengths and widths and enough specialty graters to fill a barrel.

A micro plane has joined my old grater and I do have one of those old fashioned (metal) rotating barrel graters that is going to rust and has many dents. I don’t have the heart to throw it away. It still works….sort of.
OXO Softworks Grater
Look for long lasting stainless when buying a box grater. Go for the ergonomic rubber handle and the catch plate on the bottom. OXO has a nice slim one with good sharp blades and a box at the bottom for catching and storing.

For micro planes, I like the medium grate flat bladed, long and skinny rubber handled models.

It will be labeled grater-zester because that is what it does and it does it very, very well. The brand I like best (and the one that my friend gave me) is actually called microplane. Look for this logo:

Zyliss Restaurant Cheese GraterThe old fashioned rotating cheese grater is especially nice to put on the table with a favorite hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Zyliss makes a rotating barrel grater that does a great (no pun here) job, is dishwasher safe and is the grater you’ll find on most restaurant tables. A model offering interchangeable barrels with finer and coarser grates is a big plus.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gift Ideas List Part Deux

The Pan.

Let me say one thing up front and then we’ll move on. On principle, I do not endorse buying any cooking equipment labeled for celebrity chefs unless they do what Paul Newman did and donate every nickel and penny to charity. A name does not make the product.

OK. Nuf said.

The best value is a very good cast iron pan. And, the best are the pre-seasoned pans made by Lodge. There is little you cannot do---and do well---with these pans. I use them for sauté, frying, braising, searing and moving between stovetop and oven. They make the best pancakes and corn bread and are built to last beyond a lifetime.

What can’t you do with a Lodge cast iron pan? Put it in the dishwasher. These pans must be washed by hand and given a regular rub down with vegetable oil. Given their price---under $25 for a 12” model---they are a spectacular value.

At the other extreme----the most luxurious and expensive---are pans made of copper. Copper is beautiful and heats quickly and evenly which means it is highly responsive. There is little wait time for your pan to reach temperature and it also cools quickly, protecting delicate sauces or meat from over browning. Copper does need regular polishing but there is something about using a copper pan that just promises gorgeous food.

The most popular copper cookware found in this country are made by Calphalon, Ruffoni , All-Clad, Falk and Mauviel Cuprinox.

What you need to look for when buying a copper pan:
1. A lifetime warranty from the manufacturer. You’ll be spending a king’s ransom when you buy good copper and you need assurance that the manufacturer will guarantee it’s quality.
2. Thickness or gauge. The thicker the copper the better the heat distribution. Look for a pan that is 2.5mm thick.
3. Lining. The best copper pans are lined in aluminum. If you find one that is cheap, chances are it’s lined with tin and the copper coating is just for show and will wear off quickly. Do not waste your money on a thin tin lined copper pan.

Falk and Mauviel Cuprinox make the best copper cookware. Prices for a 12” pan average $290. (I said it was a luxury.)

For all around practicality, price and general use I love Cuisinart's Chef's Classic Stainless cookware. I give it high scores for performance and value and it is good looking. The handle is handsomely attached with rivets and stays cool to the touch. It goes easily from stovetop to oven and is dishwasher safe. No, it is not non-stick but food cooked in a properly heated pan will not stick….even crepes.

A 14” Cuisinart stainless pan is about $38. If you can buy only one good pan, make it this one.

Non-stick. I love non-stick pans for every day use. They are forgiving and you don’t have to break the bank to get a good one.

But, the main benefits of using nonstick pans, besides easier cleanup, is that you don't have to use much oil to coat the surface. This cuts down on fat and keeps meals healthier. Look for nonstick cookware that has several layers of the nonstick coating. Three layers are good enough. More means the price soars. Calphalon has a 2-pan set-----12” and 10”----for under $50. They get my vote.