10 Essential Tools for the Rookie Cook

By Reba Ray
Well, Reba’s back! And for all my loyal fans who were losin’ sleep wonderin’ what happened to Reba, sorry to leave ya’ high and dry. Fact is, I went away for a while. Well, duh, but really. I went to South America. I was half-way thinkin’ that a change of hemispheres might inspire some new down home healthy vittles recipes. After all, I picked up some jewels when I was there for a long spell the last time, in Ecuador. This time, I headed for the Atlantic coast, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, and I also meandered through Bolivia for a month and popped in to Paraguay too. For pret’ near nine months, I was… uninspired. I mighta even starved to death if it hadn’t been for the bakeries! Ah, heck, it wasn’t all that bad, but I can say in all honesty that I missed me some Mexican food!
If I didn’t learn many new recipes, I did learn what a gal needs to do some proper cookin’. I set up make-shift house a number of times and was at times deprived of what I consider to be essential tools for cookin’; and that, folks, is what I call roughin’ it. I’m writing ya’ll on my last day in South America, from Buenos Aires, and before I settle back into my home kitchen and forget all about my temporary deprivation, let me jot down here 10 things that if you’ve been doin’ without, you may be deprived and not even know it! If you’re missin’ any one of the things on this list, get off the computer, rush to the nearest department store, buy it and find out what you’ve been missin’!
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. A sharp paring knife. There are lots of cuttin’ jobs that require some precision with a knife and a big ole bulky choppin’ knife is overkill. You need a 3-inch blade, sharp paring knife to peel an apple, core a tomato and 100 other useful things you’ll find out once you own one.
2. A sharp choppin’ knife. Whereas there may be 100 useful things to do with a paring knife, choppin’ veggies is not one of ‘em. Get yurself a sharp 5-inch blade knife to chop carrots, potatoes and all other manner of large, hard fruits and veggies, as well as meats.
3. A large cuttin’ board. Now this can be one of them Plexiglas jobbers, but to me, there’s nothin’ quite like wood for sinkin’ yur knife into. If you’ve been usin’ yur counter or a large plate to cut things up, it’s like you’ve been tyin’ yur shoes with one hand all this time and didn’t know it.
4. Measurin’ implements, includin’ but not limited to spoons and a cup. Wonder why yur food doesn’t turn out as good as Mom’s? And yur using the same box of Stove Top she always used? Bet yur guessing on measurements. Girls, there’s a reason for measurements in recipes and it’s that in those particular proportions, the food just tastes better!
5. Scissors. By now, you’re probably thinking that I’m all about cuttin’. Truth is, life is too short to use your teeth to open things. Who needs the frustration? Who needs the powdered sugar all over your clothes and face? Oh, I can just hear ya: “I’ve got scissors at my desk, I’ll just bring them to the kitchen when I need to.” Goodness gracious, why don’t ya just chase yur dang tail! Don’t be so cheap. Pop a dollar at the dollar store and get ya some scissors for the kitchen, then write me and tell me how often you use them (once you stop using yur teeth!).
6. A garlic press. OK, this one is just for folks who love to cook with fresh garlic. If you buy minced garlic, then you don’t need a press. But if yur standin’ around choppin’ yur garlic into tiny pieces, a garlic press is gonna rock yur world.
7. A mixer. Different from a blender, these are those old fashioned-lookin’ things yur mom used to let you lick when she was makin’ a cake – back before the days of the raw egg salmonella scare. Like ole Thomas the Train, they are really useful for mixin’ up cakes and puddins’, mashin’ taters, and best of all, whippin’ fresh cream.
8. A nonstick skillet. This is not essential if you like playin’ in puddles of water-logged egg and you don’t care a dang thing about yur nails. Aw, I heard the news about skillet coatin’ being dangerous and all, but if you just use #9 (see below) on yur #8, that nonstick surface won’t scratch off and end up in yur eggs. Our “Moving Out…Settling In columnist, Kimberly Schluterman highly recommends hard-anodized nonstick coating. She’s had a cookware set for about five years and has not one single scratch anywhere. If you just can’t stomach nonstick coatings, invest in a seasoned cast iron skillet for perfect omelets and crepes and effortless cleanup.
9. A good heat-resistant spatula and wooden spoons. Girls, why would you go and spend a bunch of money on nonstick cookware and set about to slowly destroy it by usin’ metal utensils?
10. Tongs. Here’s another thing, like the scissors, that you think, “Oh Reba, I’m not ever gonna use that!” But you just wait till you get some and train yurself to stop using a fork for work cut out for tongs.
Oh, there are a whole bunch of other things that I lived without, like a microwave, toaster, tea kettle, coffee maker, blender and a bunch more. But it’s probably already occurred to you to get those things. In my travels, these were the things I found many a kitchen doin’ without, havin’ no idea how much more pleasant cookin’ could be when using the right tools.

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