"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tools of the Trade

I am about the farthest thing from an equipment geek, kitchen or otherwise. I like my tools to be decent quality and to perform their stated purpose well. I am also a fan of tools that can be used for many things -- for example, I use rimmed baking sheets for practically everything, and when I knit, I nearly always do it on circular needles. I just don't have the budget or storage space for a lot of highly specialized, high-end equipment, plus I tend to the skeptical when people start raving that only a certain brand of [whatever] can do the job.

Once in a while I do run into a gadget with a single use that I think is brilliant. Those metal lemon squeezers that are bright yellow (or green for limes). That avocado gadget that has a cutting blade on one end, a pit remover in the middle, and a slicer at the other end -- genius!

But I recently acquired two new pieces of equipment that have given me that "where have you been all my life?" giddiness. Here is credit where credit is due.

Silicone baking mats. Those rimmed baking sheets of mine get a serious workout. I do a lot of roasting and broiling in them, and I've had night after night of big sheets protruding from the sink as I try to soak the stuck-on crud off them. I've used rolls and rolls of parchment paper, which then takes up most of the space in the kitchen compost bin. Also, truth be told, for some reason, buttering cookie sheets is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. Enter the silicone baking sheets. I did a big salmon filet with teriyaki sauce on one the other night, and the whole thing slid right off, skin and all. No scrubbing fish skin and burnt sugar off the pan for days. I just plop the sheet in the baking pan and that's all the prep I need to do. Looking forward to expanding my collection of these to fit all my pans.

Aeropress coffee maker. I know it's the era of the coffee geek, but though I love a good cup of strong, rich coffee (I tend to drink espresso, often with a little condensed milk stirred in), the last thing I have any interest in is delving into the terroir my beans were grown in, searching out the most perfect grind (or the most expensive, high-tech grinder to achieve it), or studying the ideal water temperature, pouring method, or filtration system. I've tried a number of methods -- basic drip coffeemaker (too big since I'm the only coffee drinker in the house), espresso maker (bulky and fiddly), Keurig (wasteful and too limited), French press (too muddy), and Chemex (charming to look at but hard to keep hot enough). Also, in the mornings, the kitchen tends to be in a bit of chaos, with three kids getting breakfast, school lunches being made, and usually whatever didn't fit into the dishwasher the night before still sitting there forlornly in the sink. Someone had mentioned an Aeropress in conversation, and a coffee geek I know chimed in and raved about it. I knew nothing about it, so I looked it up and was intrigued -- smooth and rich espresso using a small, inexpensive, easy-to-clean handheld device and hot water from the kettle. It was worth a shot.

It's amazing. The device is essentially a large syringe with a filter cap on one end that takes little circles of filter paper (they can be rinsed and reused, if you want). You put in a measure of coffee, pour hot water up to a line, stir briefly, and then press the syringe plunger down slowly over a waiting cup. You can drink it as espresso or add more hot water (or milk) as desired. Cleanup is ejecting the coffee and filter and rinsing the works under the running tap, the end. It's super quick and easy, and makes incredibly rich and smooth coffee out of even indifferent (and variously ground) beans.

I may be about to put the espresso maker into deep storage, which means I will achieve the Holy Grail of MORE COUNTERSPACE.

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