Hey, Mother’s Day is this Sunday!
(You probably already knew that. Unlike me — because, since a decade ago I got married on Mother’s Day weekend, I always think it’s right around my anniversary. And since we’re celebrating our anniversary next weekend in Chicago, I’ve been thinking that’s when Mother’s Day will also occur. I have obviously been wrong, as discovered last night. Related: sorry Mom, but you won’t be getting a card from me today, or tomorrow. But maybe next week? It will never be said that your birthed a punctual middle child.)
In the spirit of having an impending day that often includes gift-giving, I thought I’d share my recommendations for a few (mostly) inexpensive things that are — in my mind — near-indispensable tools in the kitchen. You might not have time to request them for yourself, but if you are a mom, and your weekend plans include some shopping time to yourself, perhaps this is a good time for a self-gratifying splurge at Target (where you can possibly purchase all of these things, last I checked).
1. Oven Thermometer: $6
If I could make a set of rules for the kitchen that everyone in the world had to live by (that should happen at some point, right?), one of the first ones would be to require an oven thermometer in every single oven. No matter how fancy or expensive the oven in your kitchen, you need one of these. The vast majority of household ovens do not accurately display the oven temperature. Frequently, an oven will tell you it’s preheated when it’s not yet up to temp. And then, it will over-heat, often up to 50º higher than the setting. In a best-case scenario, you have to wait 10 extra minutes for your scones. But more often, you’re taking burned food out of the oven. And all of this can be fielded by using a $6 oven thermometer.
I don’t assume my oven is adequately preheated unless my thermometer tells me so. I also check it during the cooking process, and adjust the knob as necessary to keep a relatively even heat. For a while, I gave one of these as part of wedding gifts, even if the bride didn’t request it (I know, I was one of those annoying people who went “off-registry,” probably leading to the return of dozens of oven thermometers across the country — but at least I tried). If you don’t have one of these in your oven, put it on your list. You and your baked goods will never be sorry.
Also, plan to buy a new one every year or so — if you’re like me, yours will get so splattered with cooking food that after that length of time you will no longer be able to read it.
2. Instant-read Thermometer ($3-$10)
These run a range of prices. For many years, we used a cheap analog version ($3) which works great, especially if it’s that or nothing at all. But a couple years ago I splurged (seven more bucks) on the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated equipment reviews, the CDN ProAccurate quick-read digital ($10). I love this thermometer.
Last week, on my infamous day of inconvenience, I took it with me to Emily’s house to read the temperature of our grilled steaks. Her adorable 18-month old dropped it in the grass, and it stopped working (I hold no one responsible but myself, since it was my thermometer, and something of mine was just bound to break that day). I chalked it up to a used-up battery (we’ve never replaced it), and brought it home to deal with later. This week, no less than three times, I needed that thing. I had no idea how often I reach for it — to check the temperature of everything from warm milk in yogurt-making to warming custard in ice-cream making. Not to mention cooking sausage, roasting chickens, grilling steaks, etc. Cooking meat well requires a knowledge of internal temperature — it’s not just for Thanksgiving turkeys!
Tim checked the battery on ours last night, and it must’ve just needed to be tightened, because now it’s working like a charm. I like the pricier CDN for it’s speed and digital accuracy, but even the $3 ones will make any cook a more accurate one.
3. Digital Food Scale ($40-$50)
Ok, I know, I just threw a $50 one in there, like it’s nothing. But if you know me, you know I don’t spend $50 on much of anything — so it must, for some people, be worth it.
My first kitchen scale was purchased at a yard sale for $2. It was plastic, with an old-fashioned red line that marked the weight. For weighing out pounds of potatoes, apples, dried beans, etc. in recipes, it was just fine. Accurate, but not down to the gram. Which is what you need in baking.
So a couple years ago, I bought one of these using birthday money — and have never looked back. I would replace it in a heartbeat if it broke, for by now I can’t imagine my kitchen life without it. The reasons why:
For years — and I mean at least 10 — I baked bread using cup measures. I fluffed and scraped, just as recommended. And for each and every one of those years, my bread dough was different every time I made it. I chalked it up to humidity, to living in the deep south — and even scoffed at books that told me accurate measurements would mean consistent bread dough. They don’t live in the South, I’d say, eyes rolling at their NYC-ness.
And then one day, I bought this OXO scale on yet another Cook’s Illustrated test recommendation. And I kid you not, my bread dough is always the same, every time I make it (it might bake a little differently, based on weather, but the bread dough is consistent). I’m so wed to this contraption, I’ve put off posting my new-and-improved pre-fermented sandwich bread recipe because I just don’t want to figure out the measurements by volume (so do me a favor, and if you bake bread, ask for one of these for your next birthday, so I can then post the recipe w/o suffering a backlash of frustrated non-scale-owners).
No exaggeration: if you bake bread with any regularity, you need one of these.
- all the rest of your baking
Even when I’m not making yeast bread, I’d much rather use a recipe that uses weights rather than measures. For no other reason than the fact that I only dirty one bowl. No measuring cups to wash, no butter knife for scraping flour. I put my mixer bowl on the scale, and add my ingredients one-by-one, zeroing out the scale between additions. It’s a thing of beauty. And my kids like to push the buttons.
- your ebay & etsy goods
Wanna skip the post office? Your kitchen scale will weigh, down to the ounce, the crap you sell on eBay — so you can buy your shipping label online and arrange for a carrier pick-up. Save your gas money, baby — the scale will pay for itself (make sure you get the 11-pound capacity for those bigger boxes).
So go, ye, and purchase! Spend $3 or $65 for one or all three — no matter your list, your kitchen life will improve. And just so you know, the links above are affiliate links — so if you use the link to purchase an item from Amazon, I will add your pennies to my virtual change jar, saving up for that Kindle (which according to my calculations I should be able to purchase in the summer of 2016). Of course you can also get them all at Target (perhaps not that version of the OXO scale) or your local kitchen store.
And if you’re a mother, happy day on Sunday! Work it for all you can — unless of course you are my Mom, with a forgetful daughter, and then you can just be looking for videos of cute grandkids in your inbox.