From the way she waxes on this month, you would think Merrily was shilling for somebody, but she swears her opinions are unbiased. Our entertaining maven shares her favorite high and low tech kitchen tools—and recipes that make good use of them
If I had boundless time and capital, I would open my own kitchenware shop on the Country Club Plaza. It would be called “The Watched Pot” (get it?) and it would be just darling, with crisp yellow-and-white striped awnings. And did I mention I would sell kitchenware? Never mind that I would be going mano a mano against my friend Louise Meyers, who owns the venerated Pryde’s Kitchen & Necessities, not to mention retail behemoths Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. I wouldn’t be much competition for anyone because my prices would be outrageous, my hours irregular, my service capricious. This is a fantasy, after all, and in it I am as rich as Croesus. I wouldn’t be in business to make a profit. I would be in it solely to indulge my love for kitchen equipment.
And love it I do. Cookware, bakeware, barware, cutlery—I adore it all, don’t you? In fact, isn’t it funny how the acquisition of the silliest little kitchen tool can put us in the mood to have people over? Here then are some of my favorite things.
The thrill of the grill pan
When I first got my All-Clad grill pan, I had such a crush on it. I cooked with it every night. The pan’s ridges produce gorgeous char marks on meat and fish—and provide fat drainage—all without the nuisance of grilling. Although a grill pan won’t yield the smoky flavor of an actual grill, it’s great for cooking Angus beef steaks for a small weeknight dinner for two or three. Sear the steaks over high heat, three to four minutes top and bottom, then quickly brown the sides. If you serve these with A.1. sauce and Smashed Potatoes (email me for the recipe!), everyone will want to kiss you.
Because beef is so inscrutable
A ThermoWorks Super-Fast Thermapen instant-read digital thermometer will cost you a usurious hundred bucks, but you are buying the security of knowing you will never again ruin a high-dollar chunk of meat, fish or fowl. There’s just no way you can know what’s going on inside a $95 tenderloin of beef unless you take its temperature. Once you own a Thermapen and you know that your filet needs to be taken out of the oven the very instant its internal temperature reaches 132 degrees (it will rise about 10 degrees while it rests), your stress level drops considerably. There are a slew of $15 to $20 digital meat thermometers out there, but they are slow and inaccurate. Buy the Thermopen and you will only cry once. (I purchased mine at Pryde’s; they keep them behind the counter.)
Leggo my Cutco
The insufferable food snob Don Loncasty was appalled when I shared with him my plan to tell you the Cutco 9-1/4-inch chef’s knife is my all-time favorite. “Cutco? They’re shameless marketeers,” he sputtered. “There is no quality there at all.” I disagree. I have a drawer full of Wusthof knives, yet I reach for the Cutco over and over again. It’s not much to behold—the handle looks fussy and overdesigned—but it makes it an effortless joy to chop vegetables for Marcella Hazan’s Minestrone alla Romagnola (e-mail me!). The Donald heartily endorses his 7-inch Wusthof utility knife. He will concede, however, that his Cutco serrated knife is good for slicing his legendary homemade baguettes; he uses Julia Child’s classic recipe.
I wish my Crock-Pot would break
I use my slow cooker a lot. It’s an old six-quart Rival, a thoroughly reliable appliance, and I am tired of looking at it. If it would have the decency to give up, I could get the model recommended by the staff at Cook’s Country magazine, who drive me insane with the persnicketiness of their recipes, but offer, in every issue, a thoroughly researched “equipment review.” The Kitchenaid 6-Quart Slow Cooker ($99.99) got six out of six stars. If I bought it, the first thing I would make in it would be my Spaghetti and Meatballs For A Crowd recipe, featured in a recent article about me (she said, self-congratulatorally) in the H&H section of the Kansas City Star. If you missed the recipe, email me and I’ll send you a link.
Take heed of sous vide
Every self-respecting foodie now owns a sous vide (French for “under vacuum”) and I can see why. The devices produce melt-in-your-mouth foods with minimal exertion, unusual in foodie culture, which tends to confuse effort with results. With sous vide, practically any vessel in your kitchen can be transformed into a precisely controlled water bath. You put food into a Ziploc bag, pop it into the water-filled pot, insert the sous vide device, set the temperature and time, and walk away, sometimes for as long as three days. Once cooked, the items can be held at the perfect degree of doneness, so you are not scrambling around the kitchen before a dinner party.
Full disclosure: I don’t own a sous vide, but I’m going to get one. I’ve enjoyed enough sous-vide prepared items to make a believer out of me. My friends Michael Henry and Terry Anderson (lovingly known as The Hendersons) hosted a dinner for 12 and served a sous vide recipe, 72-Hour Braised Short Ribs, which was unforgettably good. The Donald likes to prepare Julia Child’s rack of lamb with Dijon rosemary crust, among other things. Both the Hendersons and The Donald own the Anova brand sous vide ($176). My Washington DC friend, Allen Fawcett, swears by his Sansaire ($199).
Small tool, big power
It mystifies me that many people with otherwise well-equipped kitchens do not own immersion blenders. What is fun, I ask you, about hauling out your blender to puree a soup, your stand mixer to whip cream, your food processor to make pesto? My stick blender does all these things for me, with great efficiency and ease. I like to make Julia Child’s Potage Parmentier (potato and leek soup—only six ingredients, counting water and salt! E-mail me!) and purée it into velvety goodness with my Cuisinart Quik-Prep, which cost me about 30 bucks. But the Kalorik Sunny Morning Stick Mixer is only $16 on Amazon and it was given top marks by Cook’s Illustrated.
It’s the little things
I threw out all my other potholders after, on a recent visit to Pryde’s, I bought a pair of HotSpot HoneyComb Silicone Potholders. Their grip is so flexible, they feel like cloth, but they are heat resistant to 675 degrees. They can be used as jar openers, non-skid mats under cutting boards, and trivets. When they get dirty, they go in the dishwasher. I’ve started giving a pair of them as a hostess gifts. If you buy them at Pryde’s ($22 for two) they will wrap them up festively for you. But if I had The Watched Pot, I would give them to you for free, just because I like you.
David Likes The Spiralizer
“So what’s selling like hotcakes at WS?” I asked my friend David Jimenez. Devotees of Kansas City Spaces remember David, who wrote for the magazine before moving to San Francisco to become senior vice president of visual merchandising and store experience for Williams-Sonoma.
“The Spiralizer!” he said. “You’ll love it. You crank a handle and it turns vegetables into noodles. Go get one at WS on the Plaza. Let me know how the store looks.”
So I hustled over to WS (the store looked great) and bought a Paderno Spiralizer with four blades ($49.99). David was right—I love it. You can make zucchini spaghetti, apple and pear chips, curly fries, potato nests. You can even make a low-carb mac and cheese, using spiralized butternut squash instead of pasta. Throw a spiralized carrot into an ordinary green salad and suddenly it’s fabulous.
The Spiralizer is available in two models: a four-blade version for $50, and for minimalists, a three-blade sku (that’s retail talk) for $40. I got the four-blade. You know me—more is more.