The Basics of Measuring Devices
A set of measuring spoons is essential; two are even better, because
one is always dirty at just the wrong moment. Same with measuring
cups; two sets are better than one. Start with a two-cup glass or
plastic cup for liquids, and a set of one-quarter--to one-cup dry
measures (they're not the same thing). When you're ready, buy a
four-cup glass measure, and another set of dry measures.
A scale is not essential, but as you progress in your cooking
you will find it useful. (When cookbooks call for "one pound
potatoes," you'll actually know what that means.) Electronic
scales are overpriced; get a spring-loaded scale with an easily
adjusted zero so you can readily compensate for the "tare"
(the weight of the container holding your ingredient).
The Basics of Straining Devices
Anything with holes in it to drain liquid or force through pureed
food is a strainer. You need more of these than you think, although
it's fine to buy them as you need them. A colander is the first
order of business, and you need it desperately, because you want
to have pasta for dinner.
Soon, though, if not immediately, you'll also want a fine-meshed
strainer as well, and probably two--one large, one small. A food
mill is essential if you want to make applesauce or pureed tomato
sauce, but you will be able to live without it if neither of those
matter to you.
The Basics of Miscellaneous Tools
Some tools are too obvious to mention. But beyond a can opener:
* Cheese grater: This can be a small, handheld device for grating
Parmesan directly onto pasta, as long as you have a food processor
for heavy-duty grating. Otherwise buy a sturdy box grater.
* Instant-read thermometer: The most accurate way to determine
whether food is done, especially for inexperienced cooks. You may
never have cooked a leg of lamb in your life, but when that thermometer
says 130 [degrees] F, you know the inside is rare. This is a near-must.
If you fry, you may want a frying thermometer, which will make your
life a little easier. And if your baking times seem off, buy an
oven thermometer, and use it.
* Metal racks: For cooling baked goods and roasting. Buy ones
that will serve both purposes, by making sure they'll fit in your
* Timer: May be manual or electronic; some electronic types allow
you to time several things at once, a definite plus if you can figure
out how the things work.
* Vegetable peeler: The new U-shaped ones are best. Absolutely
* Whisks: You need at least one stiff one, for keeping sauces
smooth. But you may not need more than that if you plan to beat
cream, egg whites, and so on electrically. Start with a medium-sized,
stiff whisk, and build from there.
* Baking stone: If you're going to make pizzas or "boules"
(page 227), you'll want one of these.
* Brushes: Great for spreading oil, melted butter, marinades,
etc. Start with a one-inch brush, and buy it at the paint store,
where it'll be much cheaper.
* Citrus reamer: You can cut a lemon in half, pick out the seeds
with a knife, and squeeze. Or you an use one of these, and save
twenty seconds each time.
* Eggbeater: You can use a whisk in most cases, but if you're
not going to buy an electric mixer, you will want this for those
times when you must beat eggs until thick.
* Funnel: When you want it, you'll need it.
* Mandoline: There was a time when buying this brilliant slicing
device would set you back two hundred dollars, and you can still
spend that much on a heavy-duty French model. But the thirty-dollar
Japanese mandolines are almost as good, and will last for years.
Even if you're good with a knife, there's no way you can cut slices
as quickly and uniformly as you can with a mandoline; there's a
reason every good restaurant kitchen has a few lying around. I strongly
recommend this tool, and just as strongly recommend that you be
very, very careful when using it. Hold off on that second glass
of wine until you're done slicing.
* Melon baller: Good for coring pears and apples, too. Buy one
that has some heft to it, but don't rush out this minute.
* Pizza peel: If you have a baking stone, you'll want one. Good
for large breads as well as pizza.
* Ricer: The best tool for making mashed potatoes, and therefore
Gnocchi (page 165). Only if you care about these two dishes.
* Rolling pin: Try making a pie crust without one. Buy a straight
rolling pin without ball bearings; it's lighter, more easily maneuvered,
* Salad spinner: Nice item, and not only for drying salad greens.
It's excellent for dunking anything that you want to rinse and drain
repeatedly. Not essential but close.
* Skewers: Good not only for grilling but for testing for doneness.
Not essential at first.
* Steamer insert: You can steam most foods on a plate or in a
bowl, but collapsible aluminum steamers are useful.
* Zester: The easiest way to remove zest from lemons and other
citrus, but not the only way; you can remove zest with a vegetable
peeler and mince it by hand.
There are other manual devices--like a pasta machine (page 155)--that
you may never need. Again, it depends on what you wind up cooking
(no one, or almost no one, cooks everything). My personal belief
is that a time-saver you use once a year is probably not worth having.
Because there are few kitchen tasks that cannot be accomplished
with what you already have on hand, it doesn't really pay to make
a fetish of gadgets.