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Baking Equipment

5 Jan

I was recently asked what equipment is absolutely critical to me in my sweet life. Its an interesting question because I have only really begun to bake seriously over the last year or so. Before that, I would bake, but not with any real attempt at making and remaking the same recipe in the same way. I guess I was always comfortable with just winging it – which is fine. But if youre serious about baking, you do need a few serious tools – and a couple of fun things as well, just for the pure pleasure of it.

I have collected most of these items over several years. I have gotten to the point where if I want to bake, at any time, I can. I like that. These are the things which I have found to be pretty important in how I bake, and pretty critical in ensuring the finished quality of my baked goods. If youre passionate about baking, too, look over this list. And tell me if Ive left anything out! πŸ™‚

A good oven, that you know how to use

An oven is (obviously) pretty critical to easy and happy baking days. You need an oven that fits your kitchen and budget, but is also the best you can afford. I like an oven that has the capability for convection too so things cook faster if youre making loads. I have a Rubine oven which I got on sale when I was renovating my house, but I dream of a big Viking oven – possibly even a double or triple one! Ahh, if I had the budget, and more importantly, the space. But you do with what you have. Make sure your oven is sturdy, has a good warranty, and is roomy enough to bake the things you love.

Oven temperature thermometer

 

It is absolutely critical to have a good oven thermometer. I have an Oxo oven thermometer, and I use it every single time I bake. When a recipe calls for preheating the oven (as most do), you must allow the oven to come up to the right temperature before putting in your creation. If you dont, you mess with the science of baking, and you can get very poor results. I never knew when my oven was at the right temperature (or in fact, if it was running too hot or cold). My oven thermometer helps me regulate the heat in my oven, and know the timing of when to put my baking in. I could not do without it.

And just a note here. I really like the Oxo brand of baking equipment. They are well designed, fairly priced, robust, easy to use, and very reliable. I love the measuring jugs for their flexibility and cleverness. I love my Oxo electric candy thermometer, for example. It helps me regulate the temperature for candy making, custard and ice cream bases. I would not do without it.

Really high quality pans/baking sheets

When I first started baking, I had a few baking sheets that I purchased in the supermarket. They tended to buckle in the heat of the oven. When I got serious, I started to read reviews online – particularly those at Cook’s Illustrated.

I ended up getting twoΒ Vollrath Cookie Sheets – huge sheets, with shallow curves on the short sides. My oven is small enough that the sheets actually slide into the grooves and thus dont need to sit on the racks. They are wonderful. I use them all the time. For baking, but also for prep work. They can be lined or unlined, and the cookies or baked goods still have minimal sticking. They are amongst the best investments I have ever made.

I also have several large baking sheets/pans, with a shallow lip all around, a bundt pan, a few tart pans (including one that has a removable base), a few glass baking pans, a square pan, two muffin tins (for cupcakes as well as muffins) and quite a few round cake tins in various sizes. Ive collected them over the years, and use all of them constantly. These days, I pay attention to build quality over anything else. I would rather buy one very good baking pan which can be flexible, rather than four or five single use pans which will warp, pit, or conduct heat unevenly. I find that for fairly priced baking goods, Ikea is a great bet.

Cooling racks

If you bake, you need cooling racks. These racks, which sit on a flat surface, are used to cool the pan/dish/ingredient once it comes out of the oven. If youre icing a cake or using any liquid (syrup or chocolate for instance) over a finished baked good, a rack is also useful, set over parchment paper or a baking tin, to allow any extra liquid to drip off. I have four or five of them, and have had them for so long, I cant remember where I got them!

KitchenAid mixer

I could not live without my KitchenAid stand mixer. I use it almost every time I bake. It is a workhorse, and makes life so much easier and happier. It is heavy, easy to clean and totally reliable. I love the level of control I have with it. Given that, as I am beginning to make macarons, I am going to invest in handheld electric beaters with flat blade whisks. Apparently, these are best for whisking macaron batter!

Grinder / Food processor / Immersion blender

OK, I admit it, I am a wee bit of a collector of kitchen kit. I admit it, and yet oh I love them all. I have a small grinder – for nuts, coffee beans, chocolate and spices. I also have a Cuisinart food processor which I use for easy quick puff pastry and doughs, and to grate, chop and mix with speed. I also have my beloved Kenwood immersion blender which I use to liquidise fillings and toppings. I am lucky that I dont have to choose between them!

Whisks, spatulas and spoons

I love my whisks. I have a heavy duty balloon whisk, for whipping cream, hand whisking batters and setting up icings. I also have a smaller whisk, and a sauce whisk which is flat. I dont like the non-stick whisks, but this is totally personal preference.

I have three heavy duty spatulas, which I use for everything from smoothing icing to stirring batters, and I also have an iSi silicone spatula scraper which has become like an extension of my hand. If I had to chose just one spatula, this would be it. It scrapes out bowls, mixes, stirs, smooths … everything! And because you hold it in the palm of your hand, its very intuitive.

I also have several offset spatulas, with stiff metal blades, offset from the handle for easy workings. To be honest, I cant even remember where I got them – I have several different sizes and lengths – but I use them for everything from removing cookies from the sheet to smoothing icing and fondant. An important instrument in the baker’s arsenal!

And I have a few mixing spoons I use all the time, in particular a Tovolo silicone mixing spoon which I find to be very hardy – I use it when I stir candy, melt butter or chocolate, and for stiff batters or to integrate egg into a batter. I also have several hand made cherry wood spoons by Jonathan’s Wild Cherry Spoons which I got at Dean and Deluca in New York. I bought these as gifts, and regretted that I did not keep one for myself! So when I was in New York recently, I made sure to get a few. I love them, and use them all the time.

Mixing Bowls

I have four stainless mixing bowls – two large and two small. My favourites are from Ikea – they have a rubber bottom, which is useful to make sure that the bowl doesnt slip and rubber lids which makes storage in the fridge simple. But I also love my small stainless bowl which has a very wide rim – it sits perfectly on my saucepan, and is what I use to melt chocolate or butter. I prefer stainless to plastic or melamine bowls, but again, its a matter of preference.

I also have several small bowls which I use for mise en place – prepping ingredients before actually starting to cook. Very useful, and indispensable when you need to be quick and focused.

Digital scale

I used to have a very cool looking manual scale, but I rarely used it. I never believed it was accurate, and I could never really judge small increments of weight (which you need to do with some degree of accuracy when you bake). Every time I start to bake (and actually, most times I begin to cook), I pull out my Oxo digital scale. It is brilliant. Easy to use, incredibly sturdy, simple to clean and it has the choice of ounces or grams. I love it, and use it every day.

Measuring cups

Many cooks prefer to have two sets of measuring cups – dry cups, which are traditionally a scoop variety and liquid measuring jugs. They measure the same volume, but some people find it easier to scoop dry ingredients. I am not one of those. I have two measuring jugs (4 cup and 2 cup) by Oxo which I use constantly. I love them because they also give liquid measurements along the sides (fluid ounces and milliliters) and they have a solid rubber handle. They pour very well, and are easy to control. I also have one glass measuring jug which I use particularly if I have sticky substances like honey which need to be measured out.

I like measuring jugs more than the scoop cup because I often use them as small bowls as well. I can measure out my flour and add the baking soda or powder, spices or salt, directly. All my dry ingredients can usually be combined easily in my 4 cup measuring cup, and this saves me quite a bit of washing up!

Teaspoon and tablespoon measures

Accuracy is critical in baking. Often you are required to add a teaspoon of this, half a tablespoon of that. When compiling my recipes, I have found that measuring spoons are vital in ensuring I can replicate my recipes exactly, over and over again. I used to have tons of measuring spoons – heart shaped ones my sister gave me, cheap plastic ones, flimsy round ones. They never really did it for me. But I adore my new set – five stainless steel measuring spoons by Progressive International. These are double spoons – one side of the spoon is round and the other is oval. I find it useful to have two versions of a particular measurement at hand at all times – this makes it easy if I am measuring liquid and dry. The spoons are heavy duty and very accurate.

Knives

Dont get me started on my knives! Its an obsession that makes me happy. But for baking, I really only use two knives. For larger jobs (chopping a big amount of chocolate or speeding through nuts and other hard ingredients), I use my Shun Santoku Knife. I really love that thing – solid, heavy, sharp and totally reliable. But more regularly, I use one of the three small Kuhn Rikon non stick paring knives which I have in a variety of colours. I like these knives. Theyre not “serious” knives in any sense – theyre light, theyre not crazy sharp, and they come in a variety of silly patterns and colours. But theyre very useful in the baking kitchen. They are small workhorses – they pare, peel and slice with ease, they are non stick, so they work through sticky substances easily and well. Clean up is a breeze too!

Bits and pieces

These are some of the items that I have found I use all the time when baking.

Dough Scraper and Chopper – again by Oxo, with a solid rubber grip. This scraper has a flat edge, so its not useful for for scraping down bowls. But it comes into its own when scraping dough off a flat surface and when dividing dough.

Rolling pins – I have several, most of them wood. Rolling pins are critical when you need flaky crusts, or are working with fondant.

Chopping boards – the more solid the board the better. I have two extremely solid plastic chopping boards, two heavy wooden boards and a small one for little jobs.

Cake Lifter – a large metal wedge, which lifts and moves cakes with ease. I love this thing! It makes broken cake layers a thing of the past.

Small Silicone Molds – for whimsy and fun, I have quite a few silicon molds which I bake little cakes in.

Pastry bags and tips – I never saw the use of these until I became serious with my baking. Now, I love them. The control that pastry bags give, with icing and batter, is unequalled. I use Ateco lined bags and tips, and I adore them.

Microplane zester – I use this zester for oranges, lemons and lime zest, and for spices like nutmeg or cinnamon. Simply the best.

Microplane coarse grater – I use this for grating butter into flour – the perfect way to get flaky crusts, pastries and scones.

Sieves – I have several sieves – small and large metal, a flour sieve and a nylon sieve. All useful in my kitchen.

Silicone baking and rolling mats – durable, easily washable, and very useful to prevent sticking of dough, cookies and fondant.

Parchment paper – I have huge, professional reams of this. I use it every day. From lining a baking pan, carrying and measuring ingredients, storing and wrapping. I could not do without it.

Boxes, bags and cake plates – I have found that as I bake more often, and as gifts, I need little paper boxes, bags, cake plates. They are so useful because they help to transport the baked goods easily, make gifts a cinch and you never have to worry about getting your favourite plate or container back!

Professional kitchen sources

Finally, I think one of the most non-negotiable parts of the baking kitchen is not in the kitchen at all! You need a good source of high quality baking equipment and ingredients. I have spoken about Bake with Yen in a previous post, and I like them for the basics of baking. But recently, I was introduced to PastryPro and I think I have found my version of baker’s heaven. This place is amazing, and I will do a full review of it soon. But for baking equipment, and staff who know exactly what they are doing – this is the place. Its a great source for the professional and home baker because they have everything you need, from equipment to ingredients to toys, all under one roof.

Find a baking shop, either online or near you, which professional bakers use, and make friends with the proprietors. They will give you good solid advice, and you will be able to source quality equipment at great prices.

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Baking requires a lot of patience and focus. And though this list I have made may look overwhelming, it is by no means exhaustive. Do remember that this list is the result of a passionate cook married with the spirit of a hoarder. I have tried to be restrained (probably failed miserably) but these are the things I use and love all the time!

Even More Kitchen Obsessions

21 Sep

I have been ill lately, and in no fit state to cook. I managed soup yesterday, but I worry that if I make something, I will pass on this nasty bug to one of my family. So with very little to occupy my time (well, except the Queen Z of course), I have taken to dreaming about my perfect, modern, streamlined, totally organised kitchen. These are some of the things I would have in it!

messerstahl

This knife block reminds me of Starck’s ghost chair. Sexy and streamlined, its truly a thing of beauty. Such clever design. Of course, I know that if I had it in my kitchen it would soon be scratched, splattered with food, and precariously sitting atop something… but a woman can dream cant she?! If I could have a kitchen that would fit a knife block like that … well, it would have to be as large as my entire flat at home!

Knife block by Messerstahl. Dreams by me πŸ˜‰

with stones!

Talk about sleek. This water pitcher uses Binchotan charcoal and Iouseki stones from Japan. At once earthy and modern, I can imagine having this in my stainless steel fridge. The water is filtered through the charcoal and stones, and becomes mineral rich in the process. Its a gorgeous serving carafe as well. I love it because the charcoal and stones last up to 6 months – when one thinks about treading on the earth lightly and with care, using a product that gives you up to six times more use than regular water filters… well, that just makes me really happy. Plus its stunningly beautiful. I wish I had more room in my luggage!

alessi

In my Β dream kitchen, I would have this Gnam bread box by Alessi, designed by Stefano Giovanonni and Elisa Gargan. The kitchen of my heart is brushed stainless steel with bamboo wood accents – light, airy and yet very industrial modern in colour. However, my life is not monochrome, and I would want the occaisional pops brightness… I adore the colour of this bread box, and yet its modern lines are very in tune with the design aesthetic that I love. How gorgeous is this?!

I must pause to admit here, that the kitchen of my dreams will in all reality stay exactly that. I am too messy, too much of a hoarder, and like cosiness too much to be able to maintain a zen space of which I dream. Within two minutes, it would be messy, warm, splattered, covered in photographs and notes, and painted with the textures of my life. I understand and accept this, but in a world where I wouldnt have to do the cleaning up and putting away, I might attempt a streamlined kitchen!

by prepara

These gorgeous modernist tubes hold water at the bottom, and fit into the door of the refrigerator. You can safely store asparagus and a variety of fresh herbs fresh for up to 3 weeks! What a pleasure that would be. One of the reasons I dislike buying fresh herbs is that they very rarely survive to the second cooking… I use them once for a recipe I am dreaming up, and then when I go to use them again a few days later, they are sticky and dying. Its an expensive waste, but this would solve that problem in absolutely stunning style. What I would give to have six or seven fresh herbs at my disposal day and night. And to be honest, at USD$30 for a set of 3, the Prepara Herb Savor is an economical designer friendly way to be green.

profi plus

I love this Profi Plus Bobble Whisk by WMF. Its so beautiful and yet so simple. One of the main reasons we whisk ingredients together is to aerate them – and the bobbles are designed specifically to enable more air to circulate within the ingredients while whisking. Theres the science of it, and then theres the pure aesthetic pleasure of looking at and using something so pretty. This whisk is about USD$30 – but I think it is worth it. I love things that work well and are designed with care and thought.

from DWR

Back in Malaysia, I have two very used and beloved black granite mortar and pestles. They were bought in the markets, and have been used for everything from grinding spices to making sauces. They are heavy as hell, and very comfortable. This, however, is a mortar and pestle from design heaven (actually, its USD30 from Design Within Reach, but you know what I mean!). I would probably keep my black granite ones, but this piece would be on the counter top (next to the ghost knife block). Its simple and yet sensuous. Those curves are lovely, and that pestle looks like it could fit in the palm of my hand perfectly. Stunning in its simplicity, and yet very user friendly.

And finally, a bit of whimsy. This tea kettle, by Michael Graves, from Alessi, is something that I lusted after for ages. I loved its usefulness, and yet its sweetness. Its charming and yet so beautifully made. Thanks to one of my best friends (yes, you, ZaZa), I now own this gorgeous piece. I have to figure out a way to use it in my real life kitchen though… its so gorgeous, I am saving it for best. I have come to realise, in the course of writing this blog, that the best is NOW. So when I get home, I will take it off the highest shelf, where I look at it and admire it, and actually start making tea with it πŸ™‚

More Cooking Obsessions

7 Sep

So here I sit, eating the last of the vegan chocolate cake (man, it was good), full as a tick after a phenomenally good veggie burger from BGR The Burger Joint. Their veggie burger is sooo delicious – black beans, oats, rice, molasses, with a smokey BBQ flavour, slathered in mojo sauce, roasted onions, fresh ripe tomatoes, lettuce, on a toasted brioche bun. Their fries are amongst the best I have ever had – I cant decide between the Yukon Golds or the sweet potato fries. And dont even get me started on the vanilla bean shake … pure sin. Creamy, flecked with vanilla bean, so thick it takes effort to get the good stuff. Full I am, full full full.

So obviously, I didnt do a lot of cooking today! I just ate, and ate very well. And that got me started thinking about some more of my cooking obsessions. I have written before about some of the things that I cannot do without, and I have remembered several other bits and pieces which I really adore. These are the things I take for granted in my kitchen, but which I could not do without. They make my daily life as a cook so much better.

Chef's Mat

I never think about it because its always there, but my GelPro Chef’s Mat is something I absolutely could not do without. This piece of kitchen equipment is used every day, and here in the US where I dont have one, I feel the difference. This mat is used in the most heavily trafficked areas of the kitchen – where I stand and chop vegetables, in front of the stove when I am cooking for ages. Its a very simple concept – a thick mat, filled with gel, that completely alleviates any fatigue associated with standing and cooking for long periods of time. This mat is so comfortable, easy to clean (simply wipe off any spills or stickies) and if anything sharp (like a knife) drops, then its cushioned and wont chop or cut floor or feet.

I love my mat. Its meant to stop foot, lower back and arthritic pain when cooking or standing for long periods of time. Its truly amazing. Its quite expensive, and for a long time, I really wondered if it was worth it to get one. But I did because I am sucker for new and interesting things, and I have never regretted it. Its quite beautiful in its simplicity, but its very well made, with anti microbial additives, so it never gets moldy even if its left without being cleaned for a while.

If I had to give a cook a present that they would not give themselves, this is what I would get them. I cannot tell you how fantastic cooking on this surface is – pure absolute pleasure. It makes standing over a hot stove for hours on end, or chopping a mountain of vegetables over the sink, totally easy. And it does it without me even remembering its there!

Magnetic Clips

When I cook, I often print out a recipe I have already written, and I need a place to put it so I can refer back to it as I mix and chop and saute and bake. Magnet clips, which are attached to my fridge, do the trick. I love the Endo Magnet Clip because it can hold up to 20 pages of writing. I usually have a pencil handy too so that I can notate and adjust recipes as I cook them. These clips are used constantly in my house.

Not only do they hold recipes, but I clip my shopping lists to them, important notes to my housekeeper, emergency contact numbers, calendars. Again, this is something that I never really thought about, but which makes my kitchen more efficient, and helps me do the work I need to do. I wouldnt be without them.

Magnet Hooks

And may be even more than I love the magnet clips, I love love love these magnet hooks that cover a whole lot of space on my fridge. As I have written in an earlier post, my kitchen is teeny tiny. I need to be able to access stuff quickly, but I also need to be able to store it nicely too! I like having things to hand … and because its my kitchen, and I know my own patterns and rhythms, I know that certain things, I want to be able to grab without opening a drawer or looking around for it.

These gorgeous magnetic hooks from ThreeByThree are wonderful. I use them to hang my oven mitts, my cooking aprons, dish towels, certain utensils, and for the big huge strong ones, even a fry pan or two. Seriously. They are amazing. They come in great colours, and are really strong. Useful beyond measure.

French OvenI have many, many pots and pans. I have different ones for different things, and of course, I love to collect them. I have a few copper pans that I have saved up slowly to purchase, but I have to say, my Le Creuset oval French Oven is probably one of my favourites. I found this pan at a Filene’s Basement store in NYC, for USD99, and I carried it home to Malaysia on my lap in the airplane (long ago, when you could bring things like a heavy cast iron pot onto the plane!).

Since then, many moons ago, I have used this pot for everything under the sun. You can bake brilliant bread in it, its wonderful for soups and stews, South African potjiekos, gratins and any manner of pasta. I have used it to bake a cake, and a tart when I didnt have the proper cake pans. Because it goes from stove top to oven with effortless ease, its the perfect multidimensional cooking vessel. Because its made of cast iron, the way it conducts heat is brilliant – even and strong, with no burning spots. I love this pot, and if I had to choose just one, I would probably choose this one.

Frying Pan

But I am very lucky, because I dont have to choose just one! My other favourite pan is my Green Pan. I use it all the time, every day, for just about everything. When I was renovating my kitchen and house, I was very aware of trying to be as ecologically friendly and sensitive as I possibly could. I read that non-stick pans were being reevaluated for their health and safety functions, and so I started doing some research.

I invested in several pans – a cast iron pan, which I love, but which is heavy and can be a bit unwieldy. I also bought a Green Pan, and I instantly fell in love. This is a GREAT non-stick pan – easy to use, very light, and yet incredibly functional. My Green Pan is the pan I reach for when sauteeing, frying, grilling cheese sandwiches, making pasta sauces, just about anything. It uses PTFE free Thermalon (dont ask me, I have no idea what it really is) technology which seems to be less scratch resistant and more sturdy than my other non stick pans. I use less oil and butter, and the heat conductivity is superb. Cooking with this pan makes me happy.for the oven!

One of the most annoying things about having an old oven is that temperatures can be so incredibly unreliable. For this reason, I really adore my Oxo Oven thermometer. It hangs on the oven rack and shows me temperature in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. Sometimes when you bake, a few degrees can make a huge difference between burned cookies and cakes or ones that turn out perfectly. Since I dont have the luxury of (or the money for) professional baking ovens, this oven thermometer which only costs USD15, ensures that I get as close to perfect as possible. I bake so much at home that I could not do without it! I love Oxo for all their kitchen stuff – beautifully designed, well thought out, useful and user friendly. Their salad spinner is the stuff of legend, their knives are sharp, comfortable in the hand and powerful, and their storage containers are awesome. But this simple thermometer is useful beyond words.

Santoku

And finally, an indulgence. I told you that I was totally obsessional about knives. Well, I was perusing a sample sale online, and I found this set of Ken Onion limited edition Shun knives. A paring knife, and this 7″ high carbon stainless steel Santoku knife. Look at that handle, imagine how it will fit snugly in the hand. Check out the blade… its so beautiful I could cry. It was so expensive, even on sale, that I almost did cry, but its my gift to myself for this trip. I cant wait to get them, and will write about them as soon as I have used them well enough to know how they feel in the hand… I was just so excited, I had to share them!

MoMA Obsessions

29 Aug

I wrote in an earlier post about how most passionate cooks have obsessions – knives they love, immersion blenders, wax paper! Well, my sister left a copy of the Museum of Modern Art catalogue on my bed for me the other day, and I am truly obsessed. Their kitchen stuff is amazing … not only does it look gorgeous (oh how I wish my whole kitchen was design chic!) but some of it is bloody brilliant too! If I had an unlimited budget for this trip to the US, these are the things I would bring home with me:

An adjustable rolling pin. USD$20.00. How clever is this?! Not only does the rolling pin have measurements printed on it (so you know youve rolled out enough for a 9 diametre inch pan, for example) but it also has disks which you slot onto either end of the pin. These disks will ensure that you get the proper thickness of dough – from 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/16″, 1/8″ – wonderful for a pastry cook who needs to follow precise instructions.

Garlic crusher – USD$25.00. Clever and beautiful all at the same time! This sculptural piece of steel pulverises garlic in one easy roll. Much easier to clean than a garlic press, and because its made of steel, you can use it to wash your hands of the garlic smell too! I love this piece. Its something I would use all the time!

Jar Tops – USD$25.00. Green, sexy and clever, all rolled into one! Repurpose those glass jars with universal screw caps. Theres shakers, pourers and cruets. I think I might have to get this… so smart! I love the idea of using a pourer for milk, and then repurposing another glass jar and using the pourer for a sauce. Such a useful set to have in any kitchen.

I have been looking for a good knife sharpener for a long long time. I have tried loads of different sharpeners, but I never get it quite right. This one (USD$65.00) uses water, and coarse, medium and fine grinding wheels to ensure a perfect blade. And with my knife obsession, it is worth it to look after them well. My hands tell the story of poorly sharpened or blunt knives – theyre just not worth it if you cook often!

This pan scraper (USD$15.00) was designed by Martin Puryear, and accompanied a major exhibition of his work at MoMA in 2007. It looks like a piece of art and is supremely functional. Its blade rotates 360 degrees, and yet it is made of nylon so it wont harm non stick pan surfaces. Wonderful for cleanup, to get all the bits and pieces out of a pan or pot or dish, and beautiful to look at. I want one!

Talk about art! This spaghetti measure (USD$26.00), designed by Paolo Gerosa, and made by Alessi is stunning. Each loop measures out a certain amount of spaghetti – for 1, 2 or 5 people. Depending on how many you are serving, you just do a little math and you have exact measurements! It looks like a knuckle duster, and I wish my whole kitchen was designed with beautiful objects like this in mind.

Do check out the MoMA online shop. Their things are exquisite. Curated shopping for form, function and design. Just such a feast for the senses! And a big dent for the credit card πŸ˜‰

Favourite Things (Part 2)

26 Jul

I was thinking just now (when the fire alarm woke me for no fire) about posting a few more of my favourite things. As a cook, I get obsessional. I have favourite knives that no one else is allowed to use, and, for example, I only like using the biodegradable rubbish bags. I only drink Ceres juices (from South Africa of course!) and while I will buy plastic bread, I try and only have organic milk and eggs. Strange, but these are my balances, in my kitchen. Its a pleasure to have been able to develop these choices and learn what balances appeal to me and only me. You would be surprised how much of a struggle it is sometimes to claim my own space. All this musing reminds me of a story …

When I first rented my apartment, I went shopping to fill up my pantry. I get nervous when I dont have enough in the pantry to make at least 3 good meals. Anyway, I stopped at the jam aisle, and flush with that particular pleasure one gets when living on one’s own, tried to figure out what jam I wanted. I suddenly realised… I knew what kind of jam my Ayah liked, my Mum, my sister, my ex-housemate, my other ex-housemate, my ex-husband… I knew what kind of jam was every body’s preference – except for mine. Hell, I didnt even know if I liked jam at all! And then I realised, jubilantly, that now was the time to figure that out…

It might sound like a minor episode, and in reality, it was, but it was also an empowering experience. Shopping truly for myself, and my tastes. For my desires and my comfort. Mindblowing, after a life of cooking and feeding everyone else. I think that is when my commitment to being a vegetarian really sunk in and stuck – because I did not have to do it for anyone else but me.

I suppose the reason I am telling this story now is that this blog is intensely personal as well. I cook what I like, when I like (to paraphrase Steve Biko). I cook to share, of course, and as an extension of my loving for family and friends, but also because cooking is me. And I cook because its what I love, and where my passion lies.

So on to my favourite things. Some may seem very ordinary, but they are indispensable to my kitchen. I couldnt do without them…

Pretty little cheese all in a row

Greaseproof paper / baking paper

Goddess, I love this stuff. I use it every single day, for something or another. Its such a simple kitchen staple, and until I really started cooking on a regular basis, and for my own whim and fancy, I didnt realise how much I used it, and relied on it. I like it better than plastic wrap or aluminum foil because its paper – much more environmentally friendly to throw away (some bits can even be recycled) and much better chemically when interacting with hot, soft, wet or otherwise foods.

I use greaseproof paper to line my baking tins for everything from cookies to roasted butternut. They are a wonderful means of preventing that sticky gooey mess that ends up at the bottom of the tin and that takes hours to clean. They are a brilliant way to ensure that cookies and cakes bake evenly, and dont stick to the pan. I used to think it was a waste to use baking paper on top of a perfectly good baking tin – but I used it once – in response to strict instructions in a recipe – and have never looked back.

I use it to wrap all my cheeses in comforting, organised little packages. I hate the plastic cling wrap or packaging that most cheese comes in these days. Once the cheese is open, the plastic encourages it to dry out quickly, or even for mold to form. I butter my cheese (I know, crazy, but it works) lightly to keep it moist, and wrap it in baking paper. It is fresh and delicious and there is so much less wastage.

I use it to cover puddings or mousse or soups – anything liquid that will form a skin – when I store in the fridge. This little bit of paper (sometimes I oil it a bit so as to prevent major sticking) prevents the skin from forming, and makes me feel much happier than if I were to cover a hot liquid with plastic wrap. I always worry (I told you I was slightly obsessional) that the plastic will release toxins in reaction to the hot liquid, and that would be bad for the consumers (namely me and those I love).

I use it around my cutting board, and underneath a bowl when grating cheese, to pick up the mess, and make for instant cleanup. Oh I love this stuff. Its simple and inconspicuous, but its a staple I cannot do without.

How do I love thee...

Immersion Blender

I have loads of fun toys and gadgets in my kitchen. Ive got my beautiful and deeply beloved Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (I saved up for that baby, and have used her a lot), my Cuisinart food processor, and my professional ice cream maker (on sale, and adored). But the one thing that I have found I use all the time is my Kenwood cherry red immersion blender. I bought it on a whim because it was on (another) sale. I thought, this might be fun to play with at some point. When I unpacked it eagerly at home, the plug point wasnt attached, and I am not technical in that way, so I left it until I found a friend who would figure it out for me.

I didnt really think it would get that much use in my kitchen, but to be honest, its the thing I turn to for most of my pureeing, chopping, mashing needs. I made the most amazing blueberry banana smoothie with my immersion blender – in seconds – and it just liquidised all that frozen fruit in the blink of an eye. I make the densest creamiest soups with it, I mash potatoes with it (they come out like silk if you use a deft touch, otherwise they can get a bit gluey), I creamed butternut and spinach for a pie and mixed them with sour cream — all using the immersion blender.

Its such a simple piece of equipment as well. It looks like a … well, now come to think of it, it could be, to a naughty mind, just a little obscene! Its a large wand, with a head that holds rotating slicers. It operates like a food processor, but its much smaller, and because its handheld, much easier to control. Dont get me wrong, I love my food processor. But in part because of space issues, its a big pain in the tukus to take it out of its little storage space. And once I am done, the food processor involves a lot of parts to clean up. Not so with the immersion blender. You pop off the metal part of the wand, wash it, and you are done. It is awesome. Probably my new absolute favourite gadget. I keep thinking of new ways to play with it…

Hardworking and beloved!

Fridge

When I first moved into my apartment, my landlady provided me with a fridge. Dont get me wrong, it wasnt an awful fridge. But it was definitely from the 1970’s, that particular vomity green colour that all major appliances had back then. It was very retro in not a cool way, and it wasnt very big. I could barely fit my juice and staples in, and I certainly didnt have enough freezer space for more than ice cubes and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s. I thank the good Goddess that this indispensable piece of kitchen equipment is par for the course. But when I renovated, I decided I deserved a larger fridge. I think I might have gotten my measurements wrong, or in my mind’s eye my kitchen was bigger than I thought it was, because this fridge just fit. I had to get things built around it, but I dont care! I love love love it.

Its freezer is on the bottom – a clever bit of design, because you dont use the freezer as much as the fridge part, and so bending to check out whats in the bottom of the fridge lurking in the veggie bin, is a thing of the past. My fridge is full of stuff – my vitamins and staples (flour, sugar, salt – all of which I keep in the fridge because of the high heat and humidity here) – as well as food I have just cooked and am saving for friends to eat and taste – or thats waiting to be frozen for next week – and fresh fruits and vegetables waiting to inspire me. It gives me great satisfaction to look into a full fridge – may be its that Jewish-Muslim feeding people thing, but I love knowing that if someone drops by, I will always, always have something to offer them.

My fridge makes me feel safe (against hunger, because as anyone who knows me knows, I could just fade away! πŸ˜‰ ) and satisfied. When I look in my fridge, I see all the things I have made (thats one last lone oven roasted fig in the centre, by the way, waiting for AngelKitten and Ezril), and I know that I have expressed my love and passion in a way that is distinctly me. I also am inspired. Sometimes I just look in the fridge and think… Oooh, I will make that today! Or I think, I need something soothing and quiet. And whatever my mood, I can always find inspiration there.

Its funny, but taking photographs of the interior of my fridge was a bit intimidating. Kind of like showing your your undies to complete strangers. Oh well, its me, and this is my blog, so fudge it πŸ˜‰