home Pacific NW Magazine home

Cover Story Design Notebook Plant Life On Fitness Taste Now & Then

Spring Home Design 2003: Glass HousesTaste

If redoing the kitchen is out of the question, try a new tool or two
Photo spacer
Silicone pan liner with wire whisk and Microplane grater (left); Heat-proof spatula
Every few days, I remodel our kitchen. The wall between the kitchen and our master bedroom comes out and an archway goes in. Beyond the archway, French doors are installed on the far side of what used to be the bedroom, and a table and chairs are placed on the new deck. Sometimes I build in the other direction. The wall between the kitchen and dining room goes away and a kind of conservatory goes in. Now we must enter the kitchen through the new greenhouse room. It's a good look.

No one sees these changes, of course. They all happen inside my head. But I do talk about my grand designs, and it drives my wife crazy. She's a realist.
spacer Photo Silicone hot pads and basic tongs
"Do you have any idea what that would cost?" she wants to know.

So, instead of a full-blown remodel, I settle for a new small appliance once in awhile, or a new kitchen tool that makes being in the kitchen more fun. Recently I bought a toaster. Betsy was dubious. She thinks I'm a spendthrift and likes to "make do" with what we have.

"I hope you're planning to get rid of your two old toasters now," she said.

I have more luck with small tools. Betsy likes the Microplane grater as well as I do and uses it to grate garlic into the best aioli I've ever tasted. The new offset serrated knife has also proven to be a big hit with her. I found her slicing French bread with it almost as soon as I brought it home.
Photo spacer
Half sheet pan
"It's gorgeous!" she said. "I can't believe it. These beautiful, thin little slices!" Even though we had to walk through the old kitchen door and across the driveway to eat our toast in the garden, I think Betsy enjoyed it just as well as if we had walked through the still imaginary French doors onto the as-yet-unbuilt deck. Once in the garden, though, I caught her eyeing the back of the house. "You know," she said, "the view from a deck would be really nice."

Until then, I'll content myself with the smaller, finer things in a cook's life. Some of my favorites:

The Off-Set Serrated Knife

I thought a basic set of knives pretty much began and ended with a good French chef's knife. Not so. I find myself reaching for the 7-inch blade with its ergonomically designed handle every time I want to slice or dice tomatoes, cut a tray of bar cookies or slice a hunk off a crusty French bread.
spacer Photo Stackable measuring cups and a garlic peeler
Photo Measuring spoons
Photo Santuko knife, left, and off-set serrated knife
A Santuko Knife

Every young chef-wanna-be right out of culinary school has one of these, and though I don't have one yet, I have handled one and, sooner or later, I know I'll give in and join their ranks. The handle is profoundly comfortable and the blade has a slight ripple that causes slices to fall away instead of clinging to it.

The Half Sheet Pan

At 11 1-2 inches wide by 16 1-2 inches long, this workhorse of the restaurant kitchen has become indispensable at home. Ostensibly, it's a jelly-roll pan, but even if you never make a jelly roll in your life, you'll find yourself reaching for this pan every time you make a batch of cookies or scones. I use mine for focaccia, sheet cakes, pizza, bar cookies, virtually everything I bake.

Silicone Pan Liners

I discovered these things when I spent a month as a brow-beaten stagier in a French restaurant kitchen. The pastry chef had me lay paper-thin slices of syrup-soaked quince on sheet pans lined with this stuff and he baked them overnight to form magical, crisp garnishes for his quince sorbet. At home I use them to turn my basic half sheet pans into nonstick baking sheets.

Heat-Proof Spatulas

I used to go through rubber spatulas like crazy because the rubber either melted or crumbled after any serious use; then someone gave me a heat-proof silicone spatula and it's lasted for years. For the style-conscious, Le Creuset makes a line of colorful silicone spatulas with wooden handles. For more utilitarian cooks, restaurant-supply stores carry virtually indestructible spatulas from Rubbermaid.

Silicone Hot Pads

The latest innovation in silicone kitchen therapy is a hot pad that can be tossed in the dishwasher. It works even when it's wet, and it comes in a variety of colors.

A Good Wire Whisk

I know this thing has been around for centuries, but a shocking number of homemakers still rely on those ridiculous egg beaters that are cranked with a handle. I guess there is a place for those in the world but it cannot take the place of a good wire whisk.

The Microplane Grater

I came into my first Microplane grater when a cooking-school director persuaded me to use one to grate citrus zest at a cooking class. I was so enthusiastic that, during the break, all the students bought one for themselves. It's an adaptation of a wood-working tool that serves as a perfect spice grater. I use it for ginger and garlic, whole nutmeg and hard cheese. Microplane is a brand name, but so far the manufacturer seems to have a pretty good monopoly on the market for this tool.

All the tools pictured here were picked up at Sur La Table in the Pike Place Market. A trip to a restaurant-supply store like Bargreen Ellingson at 1275 Mercer St. could save you a few bucks on some of the pricier items, but most items at the supply houses run neck-and-neck with retail-kitchen-store prices.

Greg Atkinson is chef at IslandWood on Bainbridge Island. Barry Wong is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.

Cover Story Design Notebook Plant Life On Fitness Taste Now & Then home
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company