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What In Heaven's Name Is A (Kosher) Kitchen? - Part Two
Before discussing the basic utensils, you probably are saying to yourself: "Why bother? It is just so much easier eating on plastic or paper dishes."
Yes it is easier, and certainly one can find some really nice plastic and paper dishes in the local supermarket. However, while these one-time throwaway dishes and silverware are great for some occasions, I am one of the those 'old-school' people who believe they should not be used on a regular basis.
First and foremost because real plates, glasses and silverware do lend an air of 'permanency' and 'stability' to the kitchen or dining room table. Yes, they do require washing and cleaning, which is inevitably more work than just scooping up all the stuff and dumping it in a garbage bag, but they also create an 'atmosphere'. Remember, it is not just the cooking and food you are trying your hand at, but the continuance of a family oriented unit.
It would also be wise to spend a bit of time thinking long range. Plastic is notoriously not environment friendly. It takes something like a couple of thousand years for the stuff to disintegrate. Whereas I am not an ecological warrior, I do believe that certain things should be used with some thought towards our environment.
Ever try to eat a steak with a plastic knife? So even if you are serving "only" on plastic, you probably will not be able to avoid the use of real cutlery and some plates. Once you get into the habit of serving normal, non-rushed meals on regular plates, you will find the whole atmosphere at the table changing for the better.
1. Silverware (Cutlery)
Plastic is notoriously not environment friendly. It takes something like a couple of thousand years for the stuff to disintegrate. You need silverware and you walk into your local housewares store and are faced with a zillion sets all in different price ranges. So you pick up the basic cheap set figuring that the difference in price is due to the pattern or the "brand-name". Well some of what you think is true, but here is a trick, my father taught me, and I have taught my children as well. Pick up a fork or spoon from the set you are considering, and when the salesperson is NOT looking, try to bend it back. (Now you know why the salesperson should not be looking at you!) If it bends, do not buy it. Just imagine putting that spoon in a pint of hard ice cream, and instead of getting a decent scoop you end up with a bent, out-of-shape spoon, or a broken one. Good silverware, (not expensive, but good as in well made), will be strong and heavy enough not to bend in your hands. Yes you will pay a bit more for it, but you will not find yourself back in the store a month in the future, buying yet another set of cutlery. If your family are serious meat eaters, invest in a set of some hardened stainless steel steak knives as well.
2. Some Specific Utensils
- A good peeler (or two) - Takes some experience on finding just the "right" one, so thank goodness these are fairly cheap.
- Large Ladle for Soup (Stainless Steel or hardened plastic that can withstand high temperatures.)
- Large Spoon(s) - One with holes for straining; One Without
- Large Fork (For poking meat inside the oven and holding meat while cutting)
- At least three or four good knives for cutting - different sizes
- A fair sized cutting/chopping board so you don't destroy your counter tops
- A strainer bowl (Either heavy plastic or metal)
- Oven Gloves to avoid any nasty burns when touching a hot pot
- A measuring cup which can measure solids and liquids
- If you are not good with remembering times and do not consult your watch because all great cooks do it by instinct, buy a timer. Instinct or not, if that steak becomes well-well-well done you are not going to be a happy camper and neither are the kids.
We are soda guzzlers and yes, we know all the arguments about health, sugar and too much gas. We also like big glasses where a few ice cubes can fit in easily. It is important to pick up a glass and hold it before purchasing. See if it feels good in your hands and make sure it is not made of thin glass, as it will break real fast. Always buy a few more than you actually need, because glasses do break and they get dirty quickly. There is no need to buy an expensive set unless you are getting serious about entertaining in your home on a regular basis.
Keep large hard plastic cups for the little kids to use when they are just hanging around. These have to be washed as well, but if they fall there is no breakage, just sticky soda all over the floor or carpet.
If you like wine or beer, then I am sure you are already aware of all the different possibilities of wine and beer glasses. It is a good idea to keep a few nice wine glasses around for entertaining.
It is surprising how many jars can accumulate over a couple of years in the kitchen. One day I got tired of finding open pasta bags, where the macaroni or pasta was getting stale because they were put away by just folding the bag over. You can, of course, purchase clips to close the bags or buy Ziploc bags to transfer the stuff into after the original is opened. As I have said and will continue to say, I am lazy when it comes to housework. So I purchased a nice long airtight jar, filled it with Pasta, and now if the kids want to make something, they take it out of the jar instead of opening yet another bag and leaving half of it to get stale and be thrown out.
Jars are great, fairly inexpensive and add décor to the kitchen. Rice, sugar, noodles, instant coffee all keep great in airtight jars. So consider getting a few and your food will stay fresh that much longer.
(Since it is mentioned, a word on sugar. I keep two shapes of sugar in the house. One for cooking, and it sits in a airtight jar and is only opened when I need it for a recipe. Spilled sugar gets sticky and makes the floor and counter tops a mess. So when I serve coffee or tea I serve it with sugar cubes in a jar. These tend to cause much less of a mess and keep the spills to a minimum.)
4. Pots & Pans
"Just when you need Aluminum Foil, all the stores near you will be closed." Murphy's Law For Aluminum Foil To start out, an overall suggestion would be to purchase a decent set of pots. These sets usually come with three or four pots of different sizes, and though I am not recommending any specific brand just make sure that they at the very least can handle some stove top cooking. The big trick here is to buy pots that conduct heat without burning the food. Too thin or too cheap and you will end up with burned rice no matter how hard you try to watch it. Good pots are usually a bit heavier than the normal cheap variety, but well worth it.
Not every set of pots is the same. If you want to use them to cook inside of the oven make sure they are certified for such use. Dishes, pots and other utensils used in the microwave must be certified for microwave use as well, otherwise they will explode into a thousand pieces inside the microwave. (Yes, I have counted the pieces while cleaning out the microwave after it went 'boom'!)
If you spend a few minutes in any housewares store you will find an incredible amount of differing pots and pans. The price range between manufacturer and set can be in the tens if not hundreds of dollars. I have learned there is a reason for this difference, (though I am not defending the sometimes ridiculous sums asked for certain pots). Be aware that as in all other cases, the tried but true adage applies here: "You get what you pay for". You do not require the most expensive gourmet pots and utensils when you are just starting out. But you would be well advised not to buy some no-name thin stainless steel pot and hope to make an incredible roast-beef in it. Actually, one of the best pots for cooking in the oven, on our "normative" budget is going to be the good old cheap aluminum-foil pan. However, soup requires a decent pot, as does certain types of vegetable dishes and other such dishes.
Frying pans follow the same rules as above. Teflon is a good idea, so you wont have to scrub all day long, even if you have a dishwasher. Keep in mind, that the same frying pan used to make scrambled eggs or omelets, is not the same type of frying pan you will require to make stir-fried vegetables.
If you intend on cooking more than one thing at a time, say some spaghetti in one pot and rice in the other, the pots should be of different sizes. Personally, I buy pots one at a time, when I need them and for specific purposes. So instead of spending money on a full set of pots, I rather purchase one really good one at the size and quality that I need. However, if you are just starting out, purchase a basic medium quality set, and wait until your skills develop to get that really good pot.
A couple of oven-tempered Pyrex dishes are also highly recommended. I happen to love using them especially for lasagna (all different types), macaroni and cheese, fettuccine, salmon, and other dairy delicacies. A good set comes with a fairly deep oval dish and an oval top, (also deep), which can double in a pinch for another cooking surface.
5. A Few More Necessities
There are some other cooking supplies which you will find indispensable in the kitchen though you are probably so familiar with them that they get overlooked.
- Aluminum Foil - I guarantee you Murphy's Law will make itself felt with this product. "Just when you need it, all the stores near you will be closed." So always keep an extra roll or two around.
- Aluminum Foil Pans - These make cooking a lot of meat incredibly easy and keep the oven fairly clean. They also help you avoid making a large expenditure on expensive pots, when you will not be using them often.
- Plastic wrapping paper for food - Will help keep food fresh while it is cooling off in the fridge for a day or so.