Five easy changes to your kitchen will improve both the quality of your food and the ease with which you make it. Whether you are an experienced cook or a novice, whether your kitchen is packed with tools or you are outfitting your first apartment, smartening up your organization and paying attention to basic tools will benefit your cooking for yourself, your friends, and your family.
1. Move your herbs and spices away from the heat. Resist the temptation to keep spices handy and to keep a peppermill on top of the stove. Purposeless-random heat does not improve your parsley. Extra credit: Alphabetize your spices on a rack. You will save time and rarely buy what you don’t need. True confession: This habit dates from my days of selling Spice Islands spices to grocery and drug stores in Northern California.
|My travel-size Peugeot Peppermill|
2. Keep your knives sharp. This is Rule #1 under the heading “Safety First.” Trying to cut with a dull knife is frustrating and dangerous. Unless you are willing to invest in an electric sharpener, find a local professional knife sharpener (Eversharp in Minneapolis) and take your knives in once a year. Expect to pay between $1 per blade on sale, or $1 per inch. Buy a knife-steel from the sharpener, who will demonstrate its use, and remind you to use it every time you chop.
3. Purchase a heavy-duty sheet pan. Unlike the thin pans from the grocery store, a heavy duty aluminum pan will never buckle under extreme heat and will last forever. An 18×13 weapons-grade pan called “half-sheet,” can be had for less than $20, from either a restaurant supply house (Hockenberg’s, $7.30) or a cooking emporium (Williams-Sonoma, $19). I bet you won’t want just one.
4. Buy (or beg for a gift) a good quality peppermill. There is no substitute for fresh ground pepper. I have one near-but-not-next to my stove, and a tiny Peugeot Peppermill that travels with me.
5. Acquire one Microplane grater. In an entertaining history of Microplane, the New York Times reminds us that this handy tool was born in a woodshop. Now that Grace Manufacturing, Inc. has embraced its culinary functions, there are a dazzling number of choices. If you must pick just one, I recommend a long, thin one with small holes that grates mountains of fresh Parmesan in minutes. It will zest your lemons, grate nutmeg, and make short work of ginger and garlic, too.