You may know I'm not particularly fond of the store, Williams-Sonoma.  It's not because it isn't a beautiful, brilliantly packaged and marketed product (well, maybe it is) but it's mainly because they just have so much stuff that you don't really need and yet convince you, the unassuming consumer, that you MUST HAVE IT!  So in my inbox this morning, I received "Top Ten Tools For Your Kitchen".  And, actually, their suggestions were not bad ones except for measuring cups, food scales and the indispensable citrus press.  In fact, a couple of their suggestions, I even have on my list of my five favorite things and yes, you're going to hear about them next.

So, let's talk about what you've got in your kitchen.  Not what food you have, what kinds of tools and equipment you have.  Do you have a favorite whisk or wooden spoon or spatula?  I do!  Williams-Sonoma even recommends wooden spoons, spatulas and whisks.

And, because I have favorites, I'm going to share a few of my go-to's.  I could come up with an entire list of things and maybe I'll do that, in the future but for now, let's just stick to some great basics.  I love basics because they're a really good way to get started.  Of course, there are the knives but I could spend an entire blog (or more) just on knives so let's save that too and get into some super cool tools that will make your time in the kitchen easier and, dare I say, fun!  This will also be fun because I'm going to show you pictures of my personal favs!  Yes, these really are my personal tools (not W-S's endless supply).

I limited myself to five but I have many, many more.

So here are the top five small kitchen tools on my Hit Parade and in my kitchen, right now!

Number 5 - Fine mesh strainer

Pour sauces or stocks through this to get perfectly clear liquids, nothing is left behind.  Also good for draining and rinsing canned goods.  W-S suggests a colander but this does so much more.  Colanders are good for 10 pounds of pasta but how often do you cook that much?

Number 4 - Microplane

Always sharp and makes grating cheese or veggies a breeze.  They come in many sizes from very fine to coarse.

Number 3 - Poultry shears

These are indispensable for cutting up chicken or other birds.  These are cool because they come apart for easy cleaning...no chicken "goo" left on these!  I highly recommend buying a whole chicken and cutting it up.  It's much more economical than paying for the butcher or Tyson's to do it.  If you don't believe me, compare the price per pound on whole chickens vs pieces.  See!? I rest my case.

Number 2 - Utility tongs

Man, I love these things!  If you don't have anything else for picking things up out of a hot pan, this is the tool.  They are really an extension of your hand.

Finally, and this was a hard one because I really love those tongs but...

Number 1 - Japanese mandoline

You must be careful with this guy but if you are...slicing is so fast and fun!!  Plus, it's super inexpensive.  So if it breaks (and it could although none of mine ever have), you don't feel bad throwing it away and getting a new one.  W-S recommends zee French variety, very heavy steel and VERY expensive (say that in your very best disapproving French accent).

So these are a few of my favorite things, I think I feel a song coming on.

But instead, how about a recipe?  Experiment with it and have some fun!

Penne Mac ‘n Cheese

Serves 4 – 6

¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup shredded aged cheddar
½ lb penne, cooked al dente, cooled and drained
½ cup Panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°.

Butter a 2 qt baking dish.  In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, stir in the flour and cook, stirring for about 2 minutes.  Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth.  Simmer until the sauce is thickened.  Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of mozzarella and ½ cup aged cheddar.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta and cheese sauce.  Stir in ½ cup of mozzarella and transfer to prepared dish.  Top with the remaining mozzarella and aged cheddar then bread crumbs.

Bake for at least 30 minutes or until the pasta is browned and bubbly.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Be sure to try different pasta shapes and different combinations of cheese but keep this in mind...you need a good "gooey, melty" cheese like mozzarella plus a flavorful one to go with it...otherwise, sky's the limit!

And as always...

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