Lesson 1: Certain kitchen conveniences are especially well-suited for the professional test kitchen
One reason I moved from New York City to New Hampshire is that I wanted to have a large test kitchen, and that’s what I got. But I have never forgotten my early days testing recipes in a narrow galley kitchen that is typical of a city apartment. Whether your working space is capacious or cramped you will benefit from a few conveniences that, though completely optional, make recipe testing more efficient, productive, and even more fun.
- Hot water dispenser. This is one of my favorite appliances, dispensing steaming water instantly for blanching vegetables, filling a bain-marie, or adding water to a pan in which you’ll bake a cheesecake or soufflé. Dip a candlestick or tablecloth under it to remove spilled wax, or hold the top of a jar under it to loosen a tightly-sealed lid. And, yes, it also is great for making tea.
- Bins for flour and sugar. If you’re designing a new kitchen or renovating an old one, consider including large built-in bins for holding flour and sugar. Make sure they have removable plastic or stainless-steel liners that can be lifted out for cleaning and tightly-fitting lids to keep out moisture and insects. Large free-standing lidded containers for holding flour and sugar are almost as convenient if you’re lucky enough to have the space for them.
- Vertical pot rack. Where to keep your large and ever-growing collection of pans? You can improvise a vertical rack in several ways. A large and sturdy chain, one end of which is installed securely into a load-bearing ceiling beam (consult a contractor and/or your building’s management before attempting to do this) can hold hooks from which you can hang the tools of your trade. Get creative and improvise a floor-to-ceiling post, or have a metalworker fashion posts and crossbars to climb a brick wall or chimney; don’t forget to buy or make plenty of matching hooks too.
- Display rails for holding recipes in progress. A display rail is a narrow strip of metal or plastic that contains a roller system – similar to ball bearings – allowing a piece of paper to be inserted and gripped by the top edge for, well, display. The paper can be removed with a gentle tug. I keep one on the backsplash of my kitchen range where it can hold recipes to be tested or works in progress. I recommend purchasing a length that will allow at least two pages to be held side-by-side. You can find display rails where office or school supplies are sold.
- Collapsible containers. Start looking for collapsible kitchen tools and you’ll find bowls, colanders, dish racks, salad spinners, storage containers, graters, measuring cups, funnels, whisks, even a tea kettle and a bucket. You’ll admire these for the sheer cleverness of their design, and it never hurts to conserve storage space.
- Wall-mounted dryers. A wooden accordian wall clothes dryer and a smaller 8-armed version are great for drying herbs, pasta or damp kitchen towels. The arms of the small dryer are also perfect for drying reusable pastry bags and plastic bags.
- Tamis (flat flour screen) for sifting. Although I own several kinds of sifters, my favorite style is a tamis, a flat fine-mesh screen in a round wooden or metal frame, through which I sweep dry ingredients with a silicone spatula. A tamis allows a large quantity of dry ingredients to be sifted quickly and neatly into a bowl. Because a tamis has a single screen, I whisk the mixture after sifting to make sure the ingredients are thoroughly blended.
- A timer you can wear. If you’re a mutli-tasker (and who isn’t?) you may be working at your desk, on the phone, or helping with homework when the oven timer beeps. A timer that you wear can keep you from missing that critical moment when a recipe needs to be checked. The most versatile timer I’ve seen is a clock/timer/stopwatch with a neck cord and a magnetic back, and it can also be used freestanding.
- Dry Waxed Paper. You can find dry waxed paper in restaurant supply stores, club stores like CostCo and BJ’s, and online. Often used for wrapping deli foods, dry waxed paper is also handy in the test kitchen when preparing a mise en place. A sheet can hold a chopped vegetable, a mound of sugar, or lumps of butter or shortening. Place a sheet on a kitchen scale to keep it clean when weighing fruits and vegetables. The paper is recyclable and will help you save both water and time.
- Disposable Food Handling Gloves. Stores and websites that sell dry waxed paper are also likely to carry disposable food handling gloves. Purchase gloves that fit fairly snugly so your hands won’t slip around in them. Wear them when cutting up hot peppers, handling raw chicken, or for picking up anything especially greasy or messy. They are also useful for cooking demonstrations where there is limited access to a sink for washing; wear them for cooking and handling food samples, and have them ready for any audience members who would like to participate.