What Kitchen Tools Do You Really Need in Your Kitchen?

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I have hundreds of people come into my home each year to take cooking class and I inevitably get asked the question, “What are your favorite kitchen tools?”.  My absolute favorite kitchen tool is my chef’s knife.  To be honest, I am not a huge gadget person, but once I really thought about it, I realized there are some tools (including my chef’s knife) that I wouldn’t want to live without.  Bonus: if you click on the picture it will take you right to Amazon.  Yes, I am an affiliate 😉

Microplane Zester/Grater
This is great for getting superfine zest from citrus and it ALSO grates hard cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano.

Meat Thermometer/Kitchen Timer
A definite must-have, this keeps the guess work out of knowing when your meat is done.  The thermometer stays INSIDE of the oven and the readout is OUTSIDE of the oven AND an alarm goes off when your meat has reached the correct internal temperature.  Magic.

The Chopstir

When I was first introduced to this tool, I assumed it would go the way of other gadgets I have been given- the Goodwill bin.  Boy was I wrong!  The Chopstir breaks up ground meat as your sautéing it so there are no huge chunks and all of the meat cooks evenly.  I love the name too.

BUILT Neoprene Oven Mitts
My oven mitts get used a lot more often than the average household’s so I need an oven mitt that works AND lasts.  When I found these BUILT neoprene oven mitts, the search was over.  They mold to your hand so they never feel bulky and you always get a great grip.  They obviously withstand heat very well.  I don’t know if you’re supposed to or not, but I throw them in the wash (not in the dryer) when they get grimy.  Added bonus- they have a lot of cute designs.

OXO Angled Liquid Measuring Cups
If you know me, you know I am a stickler for liquid versus dry measuring cups.  The dry measuring cups you can get anywhere, but these are my go-to liquid measuring cups.  I love these because you can read the measurement from above instead of bending down and reading the cup from the side.  I also like the grips.  These will stack if too, you just have to angle the handles the right way.

Lemon/Lime Squeezer
I use mine almost every day!  You get all of the juice and none of the seeds.  It is easy to clean AND easy to store- two very important requirements for my kitchen tools.  It is sturdy and will last a lot longer than the plastic versions.

There are some other favorites that I have but this is a great start!  What are some of your must-have tools in the kitchen?

 

I know I have been absent!  This time of year Whisked Away (my small cooking school) is extremely busy!  It is a good thing, but I just haven’t learned how to balance it with blogging.  Any tips??

As I am sure many of you do, I make cookies for my neighbors and a few other families around the holidays.  I like to do something different each year and I have gotten a lot of inspiration from Trader Joe’s.  I have to admit that I have a love/hate relationship with Trader Joe’s this time of year.  They always have such yummy and unique goodies- I just can’t resist buying and tasting them!  Needless to say, the goodies are NOT good for you.  Darn you Trader Joe’s!

Two of the things I tried this year were the Salted Dark Chocolate Almonds and the Dark Chocolate Caramel Corn.  Yum and yum.  I started thinking… why not do my own version of caramel corn WITH the Salted Dark Chocolate Almonds?  I gained a few pounds just thinking about it.  I have never made caramel corn so I looked around Pinterest and some of my favorite blogs.  I finally settled on a Taste of Home recipe.  You will need:

10 cups popped popcorn
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup Trader Joe’s Salted Dark Chocolate Almonds

Can you tell I literally ripped open the almonds??  They are so sinfully good.  I used the Popcornopolis brand popcorn from Costco.  After I ravaged the almonds, I preheated the oven to 200 degrees F.  I put the popcorn in a large bowl and then lined a sheet tray with parchment paper.

Then I put the butter, brown sugar, dark corn syrup and salt in a heavy saucepan.  I also accidentally added the baking soda, but luckily I realized it in time and got it out!  Once the mixture came to a boil I cooked it until it reached 238 degrees F on a candy thermometer.  THEN, I added the baking soda and stirred to combine!  I quickly poured the sugar mixture over the popcorn and added the chocolate almonds.  I stirred the mixture very quickly.  A lot of the chocolate from the almonds melted.  I could hardly keep my hands out of it!

I dumped the mixture onto the sheet tray and baked it for 45 minutes (stirring once).  Lucy and her friend, Ali, were watching the timer… literally!  Their eyes were glued to it.  I sent them outside assuring them time would go by faster if they were playing!  They took another timer outside with them so they would know when my timer went off!

A very long 45 minutes later, it was done.  The girls came in and loved it!  Because of the melted chocolate, they got pretty messy.  I put the sheet tray in the fridge until the chocolate set.  O.M.G.  I had to send this stuff home with Ali because it was beyond addicting!  This is a KEEPER and if I can keep myself from eating it, I will be putting it in my cookie tins FOR SURE!

 

 

I was so excited when Georganne of the lovely Frances and Smeeks stores came with her friends Marcia and Cathy for a birthday celebration.  They were so much fun and cooked a delicious meal!

Not to mention ,  I received a nice shout out on the blog 🙂

If you have never been to Frances and/or Smeeks they are must-see stores!

I know I am a couple of days behind,  but I have to be honest… finding time to blog is nearly impossible with our packed schedule!

Our second day we dove into cooking after a short lecture by our instructor and Chef Extraordinaire, Chef Lorenzo Polegri.  Among other top honors, Chef Polegri is a member of the prestigious James Beard Foundation and has cooked at the James Beard House many times.

Chef Polegri concentrates more on the adventure of cooking rather than spending time going over the details of measurements.  If you want measurements you are provided with recipes, but I didn’t pick up a measuring cup or spoon all day.  My group (my sister, brother-in-law and mother) were joined by five student from the Art Institute in the states who were all there on a two week culinary exchange.

Our first task was to break down a side of beef that had come from a local farm.  I just love that almost everything we work with is from the region that we are in.  In other words, everything is local!

From that, we made stew and ragu.  To accompany the meat dishes, we also made fresh ravioli, ciabatta and biscotti.  The professional pasta maker, Maurizio, was there to guide us.  He doesn’t speak much English,  but he communicated his technique by actions alone quite well and you didn’t need to speak Italian to understand his deep passion for creating magnificent pasta.

We then had a quick lecture of Umbria’s history given by Bonnie who is part of the TVB Foundation, a group that fosters international education in Orvieto.  It is always interesting to learn how the history of a country has so much influence on the food and vice versa.

From there, we ate the lunch we had made on the beautiful patio of Ristorante Zeppelin, where there are herbs and flowers abound!  Although it was a bit warm and humid outside, there was a lovely breeze and the shade of the table umbrella provided enough relief from the heat to enjoy the wonderful (if I do say so myself) meal we had all created.

Still a bit jet lagged and sleepy from our large afternoon meal, I headed back to our hotel for a quick nap.  Quite frankly I could have slept a lot longer, but how could I live with myself sleeping the afternoon away while I was in Italy!  Plus, we had to be ready for the barbecue at Chef Polegri’s farm that evening.

I just realized it is 1 am and I have to be up and ready for our next excursion by 7 am tomorrow morning!  More soon!

Ciao!

Morning came very quickly but we were all excited to head to the farmer’s market where we picked up a few things for the morning’s cooking class.  If I could sum it up in one word- BEAUTIFUL!

 

We headed back to the restaurant where we had a pasta lecture with Bonnie. There is a lot about pasta that I didn’t know like each region in Italy has specific pasta types that are associated with it!

After the lecture, we moved into the kitchen for our cooking class.  We were joined by five lovely women from Canada who made the class a lot more lively!

Now, I have made gnocchi several times before but I have never made it the “right” way or as Chef Lorenzo put it I was making it the lazy way!  I learned how to put the classic marks on it with a fork.  I practiced A LOT as there was a ton of dough.  I definitely had the hang of it by the end of class.

After lunch we went on a walking tour of Orvieto with Bonnie.  The town is so incredibly charming and it is nice to be able to walk to everything.  Our first stop was the Torro Del Moro- the famous clock tower of Orvieto.  The views from the top were spectacular!  We were then on to the Duomo- the cathedral.  I grew up in Washington, DC and went to services at the National Cathedral every Friday.  Undoubtedly stunning, it just does not have the same history as cathedrals in Europe.  I was in awe.

Our final stop was St. Patrick’s Well which was more about the journey than the destination!  There are two stairways- one to go up and one to go down.  Once you get to the bottom it is really just a pool of water.

We got to shop a bit and then it was dinner time!  We tried to make it an early night as we have to be up and at ’em for our overnight trip to Tuscany tomorrow!

Ciao!

About 15 minutes away from Orvieto is another small town called  Baschi.  This is the town where Chef Polegri grew up and where he still resides.  He lives on his family’s farm which sits atop a small hill and overlooks the countryside.  The farm has been in his family for a century!

Upon arriving we took a quick tour.  It was absolutely breathtaking!  There is a small vineyard from which they produce wines.  There are pear, fig and apricot trees, artichokes, tomatoes and much more.  Across from the farm is a field that is bursting with sunflowers- it was stunning!

When we got back to the farm house, the meal began!  It was so lovely to be outside in the countryside enjoying fabulous wines and amazing food- IN ITALY!  It was pretty surreal.

Another wonderful day in Italy!

We are here!

In a nutshell the first 12 hours have included: Met Chef Lorenzo, Vitopaola & Kim, freshly baked bread, Wild Boar Ragu, local white wine, Ravioli with Asaparagus and Black Truffles, Hotel with the most precious keys, nap, Shower, Sparkling Wine, Four-Cheese Risotto, Red Wine, Wild Turkey with Cannelini Beans, Red Wine, Vanilla Gelato hugged with Soft Lady FInger, Red Wine, Walk in Orvieto, Duomo, Hotel, Water, computer and finally bed!  Below are a few pics….

I am incredibly excited to share this and can’t wait to bring students next summer!

 

 

For those of you who love to bake, you know how challenging it can be at times!  Here is a list of 50 tips that will help you improve your skills!

Today I gathered with a few other women from the culinary world to “tour” the Hayden Flour Mill.  If you live Phoenix you may be thinking of the huge white brick building on the Tempe side of the Mill Avenue Bridge.  You would be right…  and wrong.  This is the original Hayden Flour Mill.  The Zimmermans purchased the naming rights and are heading a movement to grow, harvest, mill and sell local wheat, yellow corn and chickpea products.   See their inspiring story here!

The entrance is hard to find, but if you need a landmark it is in the back part of the Pane Bianco building (which incidentally is now a full service restaurant) on Central just north of Indian School.  The Mill consists of basically just that… a stonemill.  But, that is all they need!  There is also a table and a floor to ceiling rack of supplies, but the showpiece is definitely the stonemill.

How beautiful is that?  To the right is Emma.  Her father re-established the company, but he still has his day job so she is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Hayden Flour Mills.  I think it is amazing that her father’s passion has rubbed off on her as she obviously enjoys it!  Emma explained a bit about the wheat and corn they use and then she was kind enough to demonstrate this awesome machine.

Back in the day the mills were powered by the water running from the canal but this one has a motor.  This is the corn going through the stonemill.

Within minutes, polenta, cornmeal and corn flour were in our hands!  The flour is used and sold at Pane Bianco as well as some of the better Farmer’s Markets in Phoenix and Scottsdale.

After Emma finished up with us we headed over to Pane Bianco for lunch.  I had the fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil sandwich.  No brainer.  On our way out, Emma gave us polenta and cornmeal.  I can’t wait to use it!

I highly recommend trying the wonderful products from Hayden Flour Mills!  You might also want to check out their website for some great recipes!