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Thinking about holiday gifts? I was cooking something with lemon zest the other day and thought about how much I like my microplane zester, so it occurred to me to do a blog post about favorite kitchen tools that are beyond the basic measuring cups and spoons but not so exotic that you only use them once or twice a year (like olive pitters and blow torches). To make it a little more interesting I decided they had to be under $20. I enlisted the help of my foodie friends Ted and Brad to come up with the following list and did a couple of recon visits to my local kitchenware store as well as Bed, Bath and Beyond to make sure they fit the $$ limit.
Each of these would be a nice gift for your favorite foodie if you know they don't currently own said item. They would also be a good hostess gift or (better yet) a nice gift for yourself. I always like the gifts I give myself because I never have to take them back. :-) I was having lunch with my friends Michelle and Jessica the other day and Jessica mentioned that she had made a salmon recipe. Michelle commented that she would never make a salmon recipe because she didn't like salmon, although she's never actually tasted salmon. We went on to discuss another recipe and I asked her if she has a food processor. She wasn't sure but thought she might have a hand crank one ("hand crank food processor"? I mean, really.) Anyway, I think I need to take Michelle on a little shopping trip so she can pick up a few items.
So in no particular order, here we go.
First and foremost, you need a meat thermometer for food safety but it also ensures you don't overcook your beautiful roast or turkey and turn it into cardboard. Last year I asked The Brother how he knows when his turkey is done since he doesn't have a meat thermometer, and he replied "we guess". Oh boy. I was over at my foodie friend Brad's house a few weeks ago for Gourmet Club and noticed that he used not one, but TWO meat thermometers to check a rolled stuffed pork roast to ensure he didn't accidentally hit the stuffing instead of the meat. Good idea. Ted takes his thermometer on road trips to his daughter's house. Another good idea. Get a good quality thermometer and don't leave it in the meat when you put it back in the oven or the plastic face will melt. Trust me.
Straight Edge Stirrer
Brad calls this a "flat bottom stirrer" but somehow that sounded somewhat provocative to me so I call it a straight edge stirrer. Whatever, it's used to scrape the bottom of the pan to release meat bits and incorporate them into an ensuing sauce. I also use it to scramble eggs and other pan scraping/stirring tasks.
Meat tenderizers are used to pound meat or poultry to make them an even thickness for cooking and to tenderize the meat. The one I show above is not the most common variety. The most common variety looks a lot like a two-headed hammer with one flat side and one side with jagged teeth. I had one of those once, and tried the jagged teeth side on chicken breasts that were covered with plastic wrap (you always cover the meat with plastic before pounding). The teeth tore up both the plastic and the chicken, resulting in a mess. I decided I needed a pounder without teeth and with as large a pounding surface as I could find for efficiency. Hence the version above. I call it "The Whammer".
You'll find this particular gadget in the Asian section of your kitchen store near the woks. It will be called a spider, although I think it actually looks more like a spider web. You can also find all-stainless versions in the kitchen utensil aisle, in which case it will be called a skimmer. (Don't ask.) In either event, this is your go-to tool for taking things out of liquid. For example, I saw a chef on Food TV use this exact item to take blanched beans out of boiling water and put them into ice water. I drop tomatoes into boiling water for a few seconds to make them easier to peel and use my spider to take them out one at a time. It's also perfect for taking meat out of a wok so you can cook the vegetables and then put the meat back in. You get the idea. What to look for - a rounded (bowl-shaped) mesh head rather than a flat head so it cups the food you're scooping. Think tomatoes.
I hope these gave you some holiday gift ideas! If you have any questions or other favorite gadgets that you would add, drop me a comment below. Back to recipes next week!