After a brief hiatus to finish the Website and some other time sensitive projects, I wanted to return to this series and talk about measuring tools.
Measuring cups and spoons are obviously critical...I keep 2 sets of cups, one metal and one microwave safe. Each are simple 1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup sets of 4. I only keep five measuring spoons: 1/8 tsp, 1/4 tsp, 1/2 tsp 1 tsp & 1 Tbl...this is not rocket science, I understand, but I'm trying to be thorough...
While I'm normally an "essentialist" who keeps as little as possible in the kitchen, I probably have/like having more Pyrex liquid measuring cups then many folks. 1, 2, 4 and 8 cup stackable (which is really the key for conserving space) sets make for really efficient cooking, and I keep a second 2-cupper around because I always seem to need it. I also recommend at least one 2 cup "plunger" style measuring cup that is perfect for honey, syrups and butters and thick creams. (I'm in the market for a 1/4 cup small plunger, but only because I hate trying to measure honey by the tablespoon. I don't think its necessary, but its an easy, small addition that saves me some aggravation.
And speaking of aggravation-saving, non-essential tools I recommend, I would very much recommend picking up a gravy separator with measurement lines. Skimming gravy is one of my least favorite, inefficient kitchen tasks, and this tool makes it SO much faster and easier.
One last thought on volume measurement: look for some 4-6-8 quart clear plastic Cambros with lids and measurement lines. They are great multi-taskers that I use for storage, transporting food, marinades, brines, and large scale cooking.
That handles the volume measuring, but don't forget about measuring weight. Having a digital scale with a tare function is essential for precision baking and is helpful for portioning everything from two level cakes to meatballs.
The next crucial area of critical measurement in the kitchen is HEAT. If there was only one piece of advice I could give to novice cooks that would improve their cooking results (other than to taste the food before you serve it), it is to learn to cook to temperature instead of time. That requires thermometers: First, if you have a suspiciously inconsistent oven, getting a hanging analog oven thermometer may solve some of those problems. There is a decent change your box runs a little hot or a little cold.
I use two styles of probe thermometers. Most of the time, my instant-read thermometer is my go to tool to test done-ness of meats, custards, and even baked goods. You can get a very reliable one for less then $20. It is the only tool I carry in my knife bag that isn't a knife. The other probe thermometer is a roasting thermometer that has a wire leading to a digital display. This is for my big meat roasting projects, and it has single-handedly changed my position on Turkey as something I am interested in putting in my mouth. For instant-reads, go for simple and reliable. For my leave-in model, I like the ones that have a built in timer that can be set to a target time or temperature. I also think this is an item where you pay for what you get. I wouldn't by a cheap one unless it has amazing reviews.
My last thermometer is a candy/fry thermometer. I want it to be an old school bulb style liquid thermometer (they aren't made of mercury anymore), because I can judge the rate of temperature change as well as actual temperature. That and an adjustable clip is all you need. Here you don't need to spend money on an expensive model.
Now, in the past, I would have mentioned a timer. But save the ten bucks and use your phone. There is a better chance you won't walk away from that then anything in your kitchen...
One last thing. A friend of mine was picking on me for calling these tools "essential." She said, "I can cook with a lot less stuff than that!" I totally agree. However, the point of these articles is to examine the essential tools for creating a kitchen that reduces stress and adds value to your cooking experiences.
The hope is that these lists optimize your cooking options, and give you permission to throw out things that just take up space. If you are completely satisfied with your cooking experience and the tools that you have, then of course, ignore me! But if you are frustrated that your kitchen is cluttered with things you never use, or if you can't seem to execute your meals the way you want to, your tools may be part of the problem (unfortunately, we can't completely rule out operator error :)).
I cannot tell you the number of times something in my kitchen has gone wrong because I tried to do it with less than ideal tools. And then my wife gets to quote one of our favorite preschool characters, Handy Manny: "Right tool for the right job."
Next week...Utensils/gadgets/and everything else that doesn't have a cord.