The Hungry Engineer

Kitchen Wish List

28 Aug 2008

As a long-time consumer of kitchen items, I have a reasonably well-tooled kitchen. There are very few items in my kitchen that don’t get fairly regular use. But there is always room on my wish-list for a few cooking tools (and I won’t include cookbooks or general books about food, ‘cause that wish-list would make Santa cringe). Some of them are tools I already have that should be replaced with something more useful and others would be brand new additions.

I am leaning on the food-blogging (and food-blog reading) community for help. I’m looking to eventually acquire these items, but (like most people), I hate buying something and finding out it isn’t up to the task at hand, or that there’s a better tool out there for the job. Please take a look at these and let me know your thoughts on the matter. If you’ve purchased one of these items and it’s the be-all-end-all of tools, I would love to know, and I would imagine this information could be very useful to other folks as well. My way of reciprocating will be to post about the tools in my kitchen that I find especially useful and/or well-designed (for a first dose, check out my fangirl post about my Vitamix).

Bread Knife. I would like to replace my bread knife. In my mind, it has two fatal flaws. First, it is wooden-handled. There are dozens of purists out there who would string me up for this, but I’m not a huge fan of wooden kitchen tools. I like the weight of my wooden cutting boards, but I hate that icky feeling where I wonder if I’m getting them clean enough. I have a wooden spatula that works and plays well with my enameled cast-iron dutch oven, but I will generally only make tomato sauce with it because no matter how hard I wash it, it seems to always smell of tomato sauce. Right or wrong, I feel that plastics and composites are more sanitary than wood. Second, it has a wimpy 7" blade. For certain loaves of bread, this is simply too short. And how about laterally slicing cakes to make the uber-layered beauties that always look so darned tempting in the magazines? My normal brand for knives is Wustof’s Classic line. However, I’ve been looking into Victorinox’s (that’s right, the people who make the Swiss army knife) 10" or 14" bread knives. The ones I’m interested in are plastic-handled and obviously much longer than the knife I have now, and while I’m certainly not opposed to the notion of spending $80 on a new bread knife, their $25-30 price tag certainly piques my interest. Do any of you have a favorite bread knife? Has anyone ever tried out the Victorinox kitchen knives?

10" Cast Iron skillet. I would like to acquire a 10" cast-iron skillet. I have a 12" one, but certain applications would like a smaller pan. I had been considering purchasing a pre-seasoned one, but I am undecided. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want one that’s been commercially seasoned – somehow I’m bothered about what that seasoning might entail. To retain some control over my cookware, I may purchase a plain old Lodge unseasoned 10" skillet and do it myself. I’m curious if any of you out there have experience with both methods and care to share your preferences?

Candy Thermometer. More specifically, I would like one that is differently shaped than the one I currently use. Below is a picture of my candy / deep-fry thermometer. It has plastic parts, which simply will not work for sticking it in a pot of boiling sugar or rapidly heating oil and leaning it against the side of the pan, and the pot I typically cook these sorts of things in is too short to clip the thermometer to the side. Consequently, I must stand over the pot full of hot liquid and hold the thermometer long enough to get a reading. Then I take it out and sit it on the stove top (where the temperature drops back down) and then later, when I want to check again, I stand over the hot pot waiting for the temperature reading. As any busy cook knows, these fits and starts are murder on your productivity. I would like to find one of those flat metal candy / deep fry thermometers that you can stick in a pot of hot oil and lean up against the side of the pot and walk away, popping in every once in a while to check your reading. It’d be super-swanky if the flat metal thermometer had some sort of heat resistant (but much less conductive) handle for removal from the hot oil without burning one’s hands, but I’d settle for less if I had to. This is the sort I was thinking about, though specific brand / model recommendations would be very helpful.

Instant-read Digital Thermometer. I’ve come to the conclusion that instant is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to thermometers. My current instant-read feels like it takes ages to reach temperature. It may shock you to know that I, as an engineer, rely quite heavily on my instrumentation (specifically thermometers and scales). I take a steak’s temperature to see whether it’s cooked the way I like it (that face test or hand test feels a bit subjective to me – plus I don’t cook enough red meat to ever really get consistent results). I could’ve hugged Alton Brown the day I read in his baking book that you could determine bread was ready to come out of the oven by testing its temperature. For me, it is imperative that a replacement instant-read digital thermometer be as responsive as possible. Are there any particular models that you’ve had success with?

Roasting Rack. This one’s sort of funny. I have a roasting pan and rack. I bought it a few years ago for $10 when I decided to cook my first Thanksgiving turkey. It is enormous, and the pan is flimsy (good enough for once a year, but not okay for regularly roasting chickens). I have this huge saute pan that I use mostly for frying chicken. I have the notion that I could purchase a small roasting rack, roast my chicken in the saute pan, and then very easily transfer the drippings to the stove top to make sauces and gravies (all without shelling out the dough for a proper roasting pan). I am considering this model here, but naturally I defer to your judgment, if you’d like to share it with me.

In-pot rack for canning. This needn’t be anything fancy. I just don’t want my canning jars to bounce around against the bottom of a pot of boiling water. Thus far, I haven’t been able to find such a creature (without the big handles to lift the jars from the pot), but I’m certain something like it must exist. This will be my first real foray into canning, so any advice is appreciated – heck, maybe I don’t need the rack at all. I’d be curious to know what sorts of solutions this community has employed?

Burr Grinder. My current burr grinder is about to die. It has served me well for several years, its only real failing being that it couldn’t seem to grind coffee finely enough for me to use in my espresso machine. Since it’s on the cusp of finding its way to the trash, I need to hunt up a new one. I would like the new burr grinder to be capable of producing espresso ground coffee, but I would also like to not break the bank with the purchase. Any suggestions are extremely welcome.

As one might expect, this wish list could go on and on, but these are the things that are on my mind right now. Again, I appreciate any advice or commentary you’d be willing to share.

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