Ask serious cooks to name their single most indispensable kitchen utensil, and most will go straight to their knives. A few good, sharp knives in different sizes are certainly essential, but most home chefs have other favorite implements as well. Mine is my Kitchen Aid silicone spoon spatula. The spoon is flexible and flat-edged at the front, which makes scraping down the sides of bowls easy and efficient. It also enables you to get just about every last drop of, say, cake batter, out of the mixer.
I asked a dozen other Islanders who cook often to name their favorite and/or most essential kitchen tools, and I was surprised at the variety of responses I received.
I started close to home, with my husband, Charles Silberstein, a psychiatrist, who is one of those great cooks who, irritatingly (to me), never seem to have to use recipes. His favorite kitchen implement is our new Nutri Bullet. This gadget is essentially a small blender on steroids. Every night before I go to bed, I put a variety of fruit and some juice in the blender cup, and leave it in the fridge. In the morning, my husband pops it onto the motor, and within seconds has a delicious fruit smoothie, which he shares with our son. “I love this thing because it helps to keep us healthy,” he says.
Don McLagen, entrepreneur and seasonal Chappaquiddick resident, couldn’t live without his Keurig single-cup coffee maker. He and his wife, Barbara, both like their coffee freshly brewed, (“How could you start your morning properly without a brand fresh cup of coffee?” asks Barbara), but since they arise at different times in the morning, they find a single-cup brewer essential. Not to mention that they prefer different coffees – Don likes French roast, while Barbara goes for Double Black Diamond (both made by Green Mountain Coffee.) Don notes that an instant hot water gizmo is an important accompanying implement, explaining that “You don’t want to put your hot coffee into a cold cup.” Don’s poem inspired by his coffee maker appears as a sidebar on this page.
Tanya Roddy, household helper, mother, and year-round resident of Vineyard Haven, is Irish by origin. It may therefore be unsurprising that one of her two favorite kitchen implements is her potato peeler, made by Oxo. “I use it every day,” she says. “It’s so fast; I love it for peeling carrots, especially.” Her other favorite kitchen toy is her cherry pitter, which efficiently pits both cherries and olives. A person with a small child like Tanya’s daughter, Layla, does not want to give her child cherries with the pits in. “It’s just so handy,” Tanya says. “My Mum got it for me.” Shaped like a cartoon character, Tanya’s pitter appeals to Layla, who has learned to use it herself.
Don Ogilvie, businessman, and his wife Fan, a poet, are both serious cooks, living year-round in West Tisbury. Together, they chose two indispensable, favorite items that they use in their home-cooking. First, there are their cast-iron skillets – six of them in all, all of different sizes ranging from the rather mini to the gigantic. “They’re the best,” says Don. “You can cook really hot and make everything — scallops, onions, burgers — sort of caramelized, without ever burning anything. And they last forever. Our big one is from Fan’s father, and it’s got to be over 100 years old.” Furthermore, they point out, cast-iron skillets are “bon marché” — i.e., inexpensive — and they’re one of relatively few pans that can go from stovetop to oven. Both Fan and Don note that cast-iron skillets require a specific kind of maintenance. Don’s recipe for cast-iron skillet care is shown in a sidebar on this page.*
The Ogilvies’ second indispensable, favorite kitchen thingy is their wooden cutting board. Don made this board himself, a dozen years ago, from wood from a black oak tree on their property that had fallen down. It is large — nearly three feet wide by 16 inches deep, so they can chop all of their meal’s ingredients on the same board – no removal required until an item goes into the pot. It has a splash guard on the backside to prevent chopped items from rolling off the board, and it has a downward-hanging lip on the front edge that anchors it to the counter so it doesn’t move around while in use. This is a seriously well-designed cutting board; Don has another career in store for him if he ever retires from business.
Farmer Debby Farber of West Tisbury is partial to her orange ceramic Le Creuset covered rectangular casserole dish. “I love the idea of casseroles,” she says, “I find them comforting.” Intending to make more casseroles, she bought this dish, but so far, she’s used it only once, for macaroni and cheese. “But I still love it,” she says. “I think it’s so pretty that I leave it out for decoration.”
Artist Cindy Kane of Vineyard Haven and her husband, Doron Katzman, a master carpenter, are gourmet home chefs. Doron is a big fan of his lemon reamer, a white plastic gadget about six inches long that sells for less than $5 at Amazon.com. “I use a lot of lemon and lime in my cooking,” he explains. He used to have a lemon juicer comprised of three pieces, including a collection cup at the bottom, but often when he needed it, he couldn’t find all the pieces. With his reamer, he simply squeezes his citrus juice right into what he’s cooking, or into a cup if he needs to measure.
Cindy notes that no one can live without a corkscrew, but her favorite everyday utensil is her flat-edged wooden paddle. “I use it for everything – sautéing, stir-frying, everything,” she says. “It’s exactly the right weight and length; it fits in my hand nicely. Also, it’s not fussy, and I like kitchen utensils that are made of wood.” Her other favorite utensil is her julienne peeler, which she purchased at Le Roux in order to make a zucchini ribbon recipe she’d seen in the early summer 2009 issue of “Edible Vineyard.” Shaped like a shaving razor, it looks like a regular peeler, but it has little teeth perpendicular to the peeling edges, so that when it’s applied to a zucchini, carrot, cucumber, or other vegetable, it produces spaghetti-like ribbons. “It’s a really novel thing,” says Cindy. “I mainly use it in the summer. The way it cuts zucchini is beautiful; if you didn’t know better, you’d think it was pasta.”
Personal trainer Yvette Peterson didn’t hesitate: “I LOVE my Breville juicer,” she exclaimed. She demonstrated her juicer’s excellence by making me a delicious green juice from kale, parsley, radishes, ginger, celery, a whole apple, cucumber, romaine lettuce, and a whole lemon — “lots of detoxing things.” The process took about three minutes, though she’d also spent some time earlier washing and trimming her ingredients. Afterwards, there were bits of kale all over the machine and the counter. “It’s messy,” Yvette admits, “but clean-up is easy.” She notes that the friend who introduced her to juicing owns a juice bar, and for her opening, she made this same green drink and added vodka to it.
Art consultant Carol Craven favors her collection of enameled cast iron Le Creuset pots. “I’ve had them since I first started cooking,” she says, “sometime back during the Civil War. I love them because I learned to cook with them. I cooked my way through Julia Child in the ’60s, and these pots were perfect for beef Bourguignon, coq au vin, all those first things I was learning to cook.” She notes that Le Creuzet pots are like a sophisticated version of the cast-iron skillet, which everyone used in the South, where she grew up. As is true for cast-iron skillets, these pots distribute heat very evenly, and they come in a useful range of sizes. In addition, they are easy to clean (they can go in the dishwasher), they last forever, and they’re “pretty on the dinner table.”
Psychologist Rufus Peebles learned to love mangos when visiting a friend in Bangalore, India, in 1967. However, like most of us, he found cutting them up with a knife to be challenging. “It was like performing major surgery, trying to get the knife as close to the seed as possible while keeping the mango from moving around on the cutting board, and trying not to cut my fingers off in the process.” Then, he read in a food magazine about the mango splitter — a device that removes the pit from a mango and slices the fruit into two halves. Fortunately, he found that Le Roux carried mango splitters, and he purchased two (one for himself, and, happily, one for me and my family). “The splitter makes mango-eating much more pleasurable,” he says, “because it’s so easy to work: you just stand the mango up on one end, put the splitter on top, and press down with both hands. I eat more mangos as a result of having it.”
by Don McLagan
Marriage saver, creator of heroes
protector of personal choice
my favorite kitchen appliance –
the single-cup brewing machine.
To have a hot mug when you stir
and to hold as your sleepy eyes wake
makes me your prince of the morning
marriage credits that last the whole day.
For better does not mean joint rising.
For worse doesn’t mean stale or cold.
My coffee is fresh when I want it
and yours is brewed new for you too.
For richer, there’s Double Black Diamond
Sumatran Reserve and French Roast.
For poorer, there’s decaffeinated
Vanilla and Hazelnut Hint.
In sickness, try Chamomile Herb
Sleepytime or Mandarin Orange.
In health, Dark Chocolate Hot Cocoa
is indulgence for gullet and tongue.
To love – ah, that’s the philosophy
of the tag-line, “Chose brew enjoy.”
To obey – went out with the griddle
and steam iron of Betty Friedan.
Until death do us part, there’s the rub
that none of us goes on forever.
Let’s just pray that you and I, dear
are survived by this single-cup pot.
How Don Ogilvie cares for his cast-iron skillet
When you first get a skillet, rub it with vegetable oil and put some coarse salt into it. Heat it, then let it cool and clean out the salt. Never use soap on your skillet, only hot water and a scrub brush and, if something is stubbornly stuck to it, abrasive salt. After washing, heat up the skillet on the stove, and then leave it there to cool. This will remove any excess moisture and prevent the skillet from rusting. If any rust does appear, clean it with salt and hot water, heat, then when cool, apply a little more vegetable oil.