So you like to cook, but unlike Julia Child, you haven’t bought every kitchen gadget ever made. And walking into Williams-Sonoma can be a little overwhelming. There are so many potentially useful gadgets! I mean – ebelskiver pans! Garlic zooms! Storm Trooper spatulas! (Okay, I totally bought that last one.) But for those of you (I’m guessing most of you) who don’t have endless cash to toss on kitchen utensils, here are three items you might not have in your box of kitchen tools from college that you might actually use anyway.
The Marble Rolling Pin: Unlike the wooden rolling pin, or the plastic one, or even the ceramic one, the marble rolling pin has both the heft necessary to roll pastries and other doughs flat as well as the ability to stay colder, longer, which helps to keep the shortening and butter in pastry doughs cold, thus retaining their consistency and not melting before you put them in the oven. (This is important. Ask Alton Brown why.) Plus, marble rolling pins have a better smoothness that, if well-cared for, tend to retain their smooth texture longer than wooden, synthetic, and ceramic versions. In a pinch, you can use a rolling pin for cookies, pies, quiches, piroshkis, empanadas and other pocket-style food items, pizzas, and basically whatever you need to roll out really flat. Plus, you can use it to crush garlic, crumble dried breads for toppings, and crack nuts. You can see how it transcends a lot of different food scenarios. For its multiple purposes, as well as its general beauty and utility, this is one worthwhile kitchen splurge.
The Large Dutch Oven…With a Lid: And with a lid that fits, I might add. Large Dutch ovens let you make huge batches of whatever you like: soups, stock, sauces, preserves, pasta for a crowd, and so forth. Large batches mean being able to cook ahead and freeze things in smaller batches, so that makes this item a score for anyone pressed for time. This size also makes it ideal for projects that require a lot of room; poaching eggs comes to mind. The lid makes for easy draining of water, as well as lid-on cooking when that’s what your recipe calls for. A lid that fits is a precious thing; ill-fitting lids can be clumsy and tend to defeat the purpose. You can store things in the fridge in a pot with a properly-fitting lid, as well, which goes a long way toward cutting down food waste. If I had to get more specific, I’d avoid anything with Teflon or other synthetic non-stick coated surfaces, as those tend, over time, to wear down and flake off into your food. You don’t want to ingest those. Instead, go for a model that distributes heat evenly, like a copper-bottomed model, or else a heavy-duty, enameled cast iron model (such as those offered by Staub and Le Creuset).
The Medium Skillet with Sloping Sides: This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many homes I’ve been in that have only very large skillets (like, wok size) or very very small ones (like, single fried-egg size). In fact, most boxed sets of cookware tend to carry the two extremes instead of a solid compromise. A good medium skillet will be roughly the size you want an omelet to be before you fold it in half, which is my main purpose for desperately needing to own one, but that size also happens to be big enough for stir-fry for two, browning taco meat, sauteeing all sorts of things, and generally getting shit done in the kitchen for two adults. I’ve listed my arguments against nonstick surfaces above, but whatever you get, try to aim for sides that slope up instead of directly vertical sides, so that slipping things out of the pan and onto a plate is easier. And try to aim for sides that are about 2″ in height; too short, and you won’t be able to hold a large enough quantity in the pan, not to mention it makes stirring messy things a lot easier when you’ve got some height holding them in.
Well, those are my three quality kitchen splurges. What are yours?