Food gurus dish on favorite kitchen ‘friends’

Convenience ranks high in discovering the ideal utensil `
By: Gloria Young, Home & Garden
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If you like to cook, chances are you have a favorite kitchen gadget or utensil. Often it is something that saves time or simplifies cleanup. Or it is something that evokes pleasant memories. For Carol Arnold, manager of the Foothill Farmers Market, the immersion blender is tops. “I don’t like kitchen tools very much,” she said Monday. “I hated using a Cuisinart because it was a big deal to clean it.” The immersion blender caught her eye when she saw someone using it on a cooking show. She was further sold on it when she found out it came with a chopping attachment for small quantities. “I don’t have to use a blender. I don’t have to use a Cuisinart,” she said. “I can use this for both jobs. I chop. I blend soups. I mix smoothies. I probably use it four-to-six times a week. You can use it for small quantities and have much less to clean up.” At Newcastle Produce, chef Chelsea Federwitz is particularly fond of her new sushi knife — for a couple of reasons. “I use it for sushi and for vegetables,” she said. “It has a really nice cut — great carbon steel.” But what makes it even better is that it was a special gift. “I’d been eyeballing it for quite a while,” she said. “It’s pretty expensive — about $250. My boyfriend surprised me with it.” The super sharp blade makes it an excellent kitchen tool. “But, it’s kind of a finicky knife,” she said. “There are certain methods to using it.” As with any knife, the 8-inch Shun from Kershaw will need sharpening eventually. “But it is important that you have it professionally sharpened,” Federwitz advised. Danielle Nelson, owner of The Big Salad in Downtown Auburn, has a couple of favorite items — one for her home kitchen and one at the restaurant. “I would have to say that my food processor is my favorite (for home) because it can do so many different things,” she said. “You can make sauces, spreads and soups. It’s really versatile.” Nelson first began using a food processor when she and her husband owned Dingus McGee’s in Colfax. “I saw so many different applications for it, I had to have one at home,” she said. At the restaurant, the nut chopper ranks at the top, because the eatery goes through so many nuts for its salads and other menu offerings, she said. Courthouse Coffee owner Linda Lareau was thrilled to finally find the perfect whisk. “It’s really small,” she said. “The way it beats the eggs (is great). It moves fast. It is just the right size.” Lareau’s kitchen at the coffee shop is not very large, so everything is scaled down. “I have a small oven, so it has been really hard to find just the right utensils, especially for baking,” she said. “I’ve had to use mini things for such a small kitchen.” The café is known for its baked goods. And although Lareau turns out extra large muffins and other generous-size pastries, the preparation is on a smaller scale. “It kind of reminds me of when I was a kid and I had one of those Easy Bake ovens,” she said. “I feel like I’m using the same kind of utensils.” Another favorite is the convection oven. “It is the smallest convection oven I could find,” she said. “It has cooked the most beautiful quiches, cookies and muffins. And I use it every day. That baby has really turned out some wonderful, yummy, giant-size muffins.” For Steve Riccardelli, owner and chef at Confluence Kitchen and Market in the Bowman area, it’s all about family memories. “Something I use a lot that’s actually a very inexpensive thing a lot of people can have is a hand-crank pasta machine,” he said. “It has two rollers that come together and make sheets of pasta.” The one he uses now is similar to the one his family used. “I was raised making our own pasta,” he said. “I learned how to make it when I was a little kid. When I learned how to make pasta in our family, I was only allowed to crank the handle. Then I gradually was allowed to do more.” The sheets of pasta offer a lot of room for creativity. “You can put on whatever filling you like and shape it how you’d like it,” he said. “It’s really versatile.” The pasta machine runs about $25 and is readily available through kitchen supply catalogs. You’re also likely to find them at yard sales, flea markets and thrift stores, Riccardelli said. Caterer Cathy Bianchi says angled spatulas are ideal for many cooking tasks, particularly cake decorating. “I think I use my angled spatulas more than I use anything,” she said. “They’re used for icing cakes, spreading the filings. When I’m layering — if it is a filling or a casserole — because of the bent angle on it, you don’t get your knuckles down in the food.” Spatulas are available in a variety of shapes and sizes — rounded or tapered — depending on the function. “The angle makes a difference,” Bianchi said. Food columnist Susie Iventosch is always trying out new recipes from soups to sandwiches, main courses and desserts. Although she takes a hands-on approach to most food preparation, her mini Cuisinart really comes in handy, she said. “It is great because you don’t have to pull out the big Cuisinart, and cleanup is easier,” she said. She also likes her Cuisinart Mini-Mate Plus, particularly for grinding spices. “If I’m doing curry, I dry roast cumin seeds and sesame seeds, and then I put them in there to grind them and turn them into a very fine powder,” she said. Recently she tried out the mini-mate on coffee beans and that worked very well, too, she said. Another favorite is her microplane grater. “I use it for nuts and cheese,” she said. “I was at a kitchen store and looking for a new cheese grater and they said ‘Have you tried this?’ What I like about this one is you can do a block of Parmesan or other cheese.” For Nancyjo Riekse, former PlacerGrown marketing director and Slow Food movement promoter, singling out one kitchen item was an easy choice. “My favorite kitchen tool is my Vita Mix,” she said in an e-mail. “I can’t live without it. (I use it to) make sauce, soup, ice cream, mandarin juice — anything I need. I love it. In fact I got it at the fall Home and Garden show in 2001.” Gloria Young can be reached at