One of the main reasons I started an Amazon Store last year was because I was getting a lot of emails asking about my favorite kitchen tools. We have a LOT of kitchen appliances and cookware at our house. I did my best to get rid of the things we didn’t use when we left Charlotte, but somehow I still ended up with an entire pantry dedicated to kitchen appliances in our new house.
I am not a huge fan of uni-taskers, but there are a few for which I will make an exception. Take the ice cream maker – it only makes one thing, but when I want that one thing, I am really glad I have it.
I’m not going to even get started on the rice cooker. You guys already know I feel about this kitchen tool! But perhaps surprisingly it is still not the one I consider most important.
Ever time I post a recipe involving the food processor I get at least one comment or email saying “I don’t have one, but I have a blender!” I know you guys don’t want to hear it, but these two appliances are not one and the same. Yes they both make things smaller, but in a much different way. One chops, the other purees, and the outcome just can’t be compared.
Speaking of blenders, I scored my Vitamix last fall with a 50% off coupon, but I still couldn’t believe how much money I was plunking down on a blender. You’ll be happy to know that this post is not my way of telling you that you MUST buy a $400 blender in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. Honestly, I like it and I use it to make my smoothies, but it hasn’t totally rocked my world the way I thought it would. No matter the price tag, lets be serious – it’s still just a blender. A blender that also moonlights as a doggie chew toy…
When I got to culinary school, I started almost every class listening to my instructors tell us that “a chef is only as good as his/her knife” and “a dull knife is a dull chef.” To some extent that is true – a good knife can make a world of difference in your speed and precision as a cook. It is also true that a dull knife is actually much more dangerous to use than one that is razor sharp.
A good knife is probably a very close second, but if you ask me, the most important kitchen tool is actually…
You really, truly cannot cook without it. Just a few short years ago, I was literally petrified of the kitchen. Casey has always been a great cook, so our nightly routine would be for him to cook us a fabulous meal, while I would keep our wine glasses filled and sit on the counter and talk to him while he worked his magic. But as I began to have more of an interest in nutrition, we started talking about the possibility of culinary school, he started suggesting more and more than I practice my skills in the kitchen.
The only problem was, I didn’t have any skills in the kitchen. One of the first meals I ever made was my biggest kitchen flop ever. Years later, Casey and I still laugh about how horrific it was, and how hard it was to choke it down.
To give you a little perspective on how quickly things can change, this was back in 2008 – not very long ago! I knew I needed to start cooking more if I was going to seriously consider culinary school, so Casey suggested I make dinner one night. I spent all day looking at recipes trying to decide what I would make. Finally, I settled on a Red Lentil Dal from Cooking Light – very nutritious, and it seemed easy enough. I printed off the recipe, carefully made my shopping list, and headed to the grocery store as soon as I left work.
One of the items on my list was red lentils. Having never cooked them before, I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I knew they were dried, so I headed to the section of the grocery store where you can find dried beans and grains. I stood there for many minutes confused, scared, and questioning myself. An employee came by and asked if he could help me find anything – “nope, just fine – thanks!” The problem was – I had no confidence in myself as a cook. I felt like a fraud, and I felt like everyone knew it.
I took my best guess and headed home with a bag labeled “small red beans” – and I got to work. I followed the recipe nervously, terrified that I was going to mess it up. The cooking time on the recipe said 25-30 minutes, but even after 35 my beans were still rock hard (imagine that!). I let them cook longer and longer, finally getting so flustered and embarrassed that I ladled it into bowls and announced that dinner was ready.
We sat down at the table and I watched his face with the first few bites. “It’s good” he choked out as he crunched through a bite of rock hard beans. But I knew it wasn’t – it was horrible. Out came the tears as I recounted the whole saga of beans vs. lentils, my humiliation and unwillingness to ask for help, and the ungodly long cook time. God love him, Casey made it half-way through a bowl of uncooked red beans before finally saying “It’s probably not good for us to actually eat this.”
It took a long while for me to find the confidence to go back in the kitchen and try again. But I did – over and over and over again, until I started to finally feel like I was getting the hang of things. The Joy of Cooking became my bible, and with it nearby, I felt like I had a friend in the kitchen that I could ask for help – even when I felt like a total fool.
I hear from readers all the time who tell me they don’t know what to do with ingredients, don’t know what to put together, etc. But just a few years ago, I didn’t either! The more I learned about cooking, the more I realized that you have to be willing to mess up and make mistakes in order to improve and succeed. Every dish will NOT taste or look good!
Here I am three years later with a Culinary Arts degree hung proudly on my wall. Sometimes I still find that hard to believe. But over the years I made many many bad meals in order to finally learn to develop the truly delicious ones.
Every mistake is a learning experience, and if you don’t take a few risks with trying new ingredients or combinations, you will never learn what works and what you like best. The next time you are doubting yourself in the kitchen, take a good look in the mirror. You don’t need a Vitamix, you just need a little confidence.