10 must-have items for the gourmet kitchen

digital thermometerAs a former chef, I still cook a LOT. It relaxes me, feeds creativity and my husband seems to enjoy this little hobby of mine. A win-win, if you will. But my sous chefs do a lot of the heavy lifting — the best, tried-and-true kitchen (and, naturally, wine) tools that help make my daily culinary exploits move a lot quicker. Thought I’d share.

Hygienic cutting boards
This suggestion might sound a bit trivial, but it’s only that way until you wake up in the middle of the night with raving case of salmonella poisoning. Only happens once before you start being a little more careful with food handling. Plastic, marble and glass cutting boards are less hospitable to bacteria than wood, which can harbor microbes in the grooves formed by a knife. I’d love to be able to recommend renewable bamboo cutting boards but good ‘ole fashioned petroleum-based boards provide superior protection. Try these from Oxo that have grips to prevent it from sliding on the counter. (Also read my post on helpful hints for the kitchen)

Digital instant-read thermometer
This is the nifty gadget that chefs often have tucked into their chef coat pockets… giving them that “ready to test meat at a moment’s notice” look. It’s much quicker than a regular, mercury-based thermometer and you can make decisions on the fly about whether you’re about to ruin a $20 slab of meat. These tools have also come way down in price. Here’s one for less than $12.

Microplane grater
I use this virtually everyday and it’s probably my prized kitchen possession. It’s super sharp (learned that the hard way, but only once), dishwasher-friendly, well-designed and works on everything from fresh nutmeg to parmesan cheese. I find the coarse grade the most useful, but it comes in a finer, zester grade too. You can find it at Williams Sonoma and on Amazon.com.

Freezer bags
You might wonder why I listed these but they’re super handy (and reusable, I might add) when I find wild-caught fish at the store, buy as much as the store will let me, and then freeze it. The loose-fitting plastic wrap packaging meat or fish comes in isn’t enough to keep it fresh and freezer burn-free for a couple of months. Pop it in a plastic bag (again, with the petroleum products, I know) and feel better about it. You know where to buy these…

Good cutting knives
“The sharper the knife, the less you cry.” It’s not just a book title, but the truth. Stainless steel knives are an absolute necessity for any home cook since you can sharpen them to sword-like perfection. And this is important since dull knives, ironically enough, have a tendency to slip and descend upon vulnerable fingers. I use three knives more often than others: 6-inch utility knife, 8-inch chef knife and serrated paring knife. Frankly, brand doesn’t matter but handle weight and craftsmanship does. Stick with Germany’s Henckel or Wustof, or France’s Sabatier. They might seem expensive but they all come with a lifetime guarantee… I even used it when one of my blades broke back in my restaurant days. You can start shopping here on Amazon.

Cherry pitter
If you don’t like fresh cherries, you can move on to the next line. But if you do, this handy doodad (which also doubles as an olive pitter) has saved hours and allows me avoid groaning when thinking about the de-seeding work involved. Isn’t $15 worth the time savings? The cherry pitter I use is dishwasher safe and small.

Quality wine glasses
In the wine world, there are Riedel people and there are Spiegelau people (among a few others). I fall squarely into the Spiegelau camp since they’re cheaper and basically the same quality stemware. And I don’t support the “glass for each type of wine” trend (and there are seemingly new ones released every year), but see a logical reason for white wine and Bordeaux glasses. TheBordeaux glasses sport a fatter, rounder bowl to allow sufficient wine swirling (why is that important?), often needed for tannic or “big” red wines and the generic white wine design is appropriate for most white wines. An inexpensive place to start looking for high-quality glasses is on Amazon.com. (Read my related post: How Much Do High End Wine Glasses Matter?)

Screwpull corkscrew
So you’re looking for a fabulous corkscrew that won’t take up so much room? Or maybe you don’t want to fork out $40 – $50? Screwpull is for you. I use my Screwpull every, single day. Really. Comes with a foil cutter. Taylor tested and approved. Around $20, check it out.

Good pepper mill
It’s elusive… and the suckier ones will drive you bananas. It took me years to uncover a pepper mill that would last and produce ethereal flakes of my favorite spice — fresh ground pepper is simply irreplaceable. Nor can the trusty Peugeot pepper mill I’ve used for close to ten years. Still grinding like it’s momma taught it. There are a few different sizes and colors on Amazon.com

Wine Away stain remover
No wine enthusiast should be far from a spray bottle of this save-the-night (and my new pants) miracle maker. Simply spray it on a fresh stain and it disappears before your eyes. A lifesaver when too much wine becomes your carpet’s enemy. Costs around $10.

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