The current issue of the LCBO’s drool-worthy magazine Food & Drink celebrates its 20th year in publication. As is often the case with anniversary periodicals, there are supposedly definitive lists and compilations. One such collection was composed of five items which change the way “we” cook; in no particular order, they are: Santoku knives (a versatile Japanese knife), hand blenders, microplanes; silicone, and mandolines.
The list makes some good points. Would the term “smoothie” be part of our lexicon without the convenient immersion blender, or could we have imagined that silicone would cause our muffins to slide out of their cups crumb-free? New technology is great, but most home cooks have their own beloved items, technology and trends be damned. Here are my top five kitchen essentials.
Pepper grinder — The pre-ground stuff can’t match the piquant taste of freshly ground black pepper no matter what you’re seasoning. My grinder, while not fancy or pretty (read: stained and plastic with a fake wine label on it) is extra-special as it has sentimental value. I actually appropriated the grinder from a roommate when we moved off-campus for our second year of university. While I no longer have the friend, I at least have the grinder to remind me of those student days.
Garlic press — It’s another well-loved freebie. My sister gifted me a pricy Pampered Chef model — we’re both garlic lovers — for a babysitting gig long ago, but I’d gladly pay full price for it. It’s large enough to hold big bulbs of great local garlic, mincing it easily and thoroughly without much force. It’s comfortable to use and easy to clean. No unwieldy chopping — or garlic-scented hands — for this girl.
Stock pot with broken lid — A big pot cooks anything, from piles of pasta to a week’s worth of soup. My Lagostina model was sufficient but an unintentional modification makes it sublime. The handle fell off the transparent lid long ago, and its screws are also long gone. But the two small holes where the handle should be are ideal for letting steam escape while something simmers within. Nothing boils over due to neglect in this pot.
Perforated pizza pan — Sure, it cooks all manner of pizza, but it does much more. Its holes eliminate the need to flip Charlotte’s beloved chicken fingers midway through cooking, and when lined with foil, roasts vegetables without burning their bottoms. When used in a low-temperature oven, it thaws frozen breads nicely, and is great for reheating solid leftovers, especially pieces of meat. Baking stones work on the same premise, but are less indestructible than my cheap-o pan.
Pourable batter bowl — Imagine a measuring cup large enough to make a cake or fleet of pancakes in, and then being able to pour it in the baking or frying pan, drip-free and with fewer dishes to clean up afterward. This alone makes it an invaluable kitchen item, but the batter bowl is also great for measuring stock for soups and risottos, or when you have to blend an egg yolk into a portion of a cooking item, like pudding.
I like items that are easy to clean and multi-task, can you blame me? Food must be flavourful, though, so the single-purpose garlic press and pepper grinder are worth it.
While Food & Drink has been criticized for being a 200-page alcohol advertisement, it does contain some pretty inspiring recipes, and, lately, some that are more down-to-earth. Here’s a dessert recipe that’s squarely in the middle of the spectrum. It’d be a great end to a Thanksgiving feast.
Apple-Cranberry Crisp with Warm Toffee Sauce
(From Food & Drink, Autumn 2013)
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
8 cups peeled and sliced apples
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen whole cranberries, cut in half
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
6 tbsp. melted butter
Pour water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add sugar and butter; do not stir. Place saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil without stirring. Let bubble for 5-7 minutes, until sugar begins to change colour. Swirl pan until sugar turns deep golden. Pour in whipping cream near side of pan; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Cool until lukewarm before pouring into a container (sauce will thicken as it cools).
Evenly spread fruit in a 9x13 pan. Stir together sugar, flour, cinnamon and oats. Add butter and stir until crumbs evenly form. Spread over fruit and bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 40 minutes.
To serve, pour 1 tbsp. of sauce on each serving plate; cover with a portion of crisp and drizzle more sauce on top.