Tool Time

While I’m away on my imaginary vacation, I’m leaving the pantry stocked with posts from Exit 51 that would have been part of the Flashback Friday series. The following originally appeared on 6/29/09 at Exit 51.

Tool Time

The kitchen here at Exit 51 is kind of small.  When I say that I’ve stayed in hotels with bathrooms bigger than my kitchen, that’s not an exaggeration.  It took a lot of creative thinking when we renovated to try and balance maximized storage space with everyday functionality.  And even after all that, it’s still a struggle to keep things in check.

Laugh if you like, but I think it is necessary to have three separate pairs of spring loaded tongs. If I had my way, I’d have every conceivable kitchen gadget on the market.  Well, maybe not every one.  But I’d definitely have more.  Because even though gadgets and gizmos won’t make you a better cook, they can certainly make it easier for you to be the best cook you can.

image from williamsonoma.com

image from williamsonoma.com

For instance, I hate chopping onions.  It’s not that I don’t know how to.  It’s just that I would rather do almost anything, including spending a day on jury duty, rather than chop onions.  I dislike it so much that I often leave them out of recipes altogether.   Half the time, my eyes are so watery that I can’t even see what I’m doing.  It’s just an accident waiting to happen.  My solution?  The mandoline.

Alton Brown may be inclined to call it a ‘unitasker’ but I don’t always think that’s a bad thing.    Would you prefer that a surgeon use a scalpel to make his incisions or would a swiss army knife be just as good?  Ok, maybe that’s stretching the analogy a bit thin but you get my point.  The point being that tools exist to make things easier.  And I’m all about making the workload lighter.

Like any tool, it takes time to get to know it.  The mandoline above and I have been getting to know each other for a few months now.  And I don’t know why it took me so long to upgrade to the fancy french precision cutting machine.  I used to have a much fussier, less user friendly, OXO.  Not only did the hand guard leave gruesome puncture marks in my sliced veg or potatoes, but the dial that controlled slicing thickness was always a little jiggly.  Especially when I would slice something like sweet potatoes, one end was always a little thicker than the other.  And despite the presence of a hand guard, on at least one occasion I ended up slicing off more than I intended to.  Yes, those slicing blades are SHARP and they can take off part of a finger lickity split.

My new mandoline?  It has two screws that adjust the cutting thickness.  Once you tighten them, that blade is not budging so all my slices come out the exact same thickness.  And it is virtually impossible to cut myself because not only is there a hand guard, but there is also a collar that runs along a fixed track.  As long as the collar is installed on the mandoline, my hand never comes within three inches of the blade.  Pure genius.  And everything is dishwasher safe.   Bonus.

With the exception of waffle cuts, everything the mandoline does I could do with a knife.   To me, it’s worth finding the space to store this unitasker.  Just last week, it sliced up six large onions in a matter of moments.  There were still a few tears involved but they were as much tears of joy that I wasn’t hacking into those things with my chef’s knife as they were a reaction to some powerful onions.  That alone has got to be worth a place in the cupboard.

Caramelized Onions

I like making large batches of caramelized onions.  If I’m going to go to the trouble of doing a little, I might as well do a lot since these can be freezed for later use.  Depending on how many onions you use and the size of your pan, it can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour to get beautifully soft, deep dark caramelized onions.

  • 6 large onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt

Heat olive oil and butter in a heavy frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add onions and a pinch of salt.  Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently until onions have cooked down to a soft pile of deep brown goodness.

Use in salads, on sandwiches, or freeze for later use.

{printable recipe}

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9 Responses to Tool Time

  1. Jen W. says:

    I’ve never used a mandolin, but I think it would help me fix one of my cooking handicaps: I can’t cut vegetables the same size. Some are always too small or too large. Someday I will try the mandolin to see if it helps!

    • Wendi says:

      Jen, the mandoline is great if you are slicing a lot of something – onions, potatoes, cucumbers. It makes the job easier. But good knife skills are great to have. I wish mine were better than they are.

  2. If I had the space, I would devote an entire drawer to spring-loaded, silicone-tipped tongs. They especially come in handy when trying to pull things off the top shelf.

  3. I don’t think I’d sleep at night without my mandolin & I’m not sure how many sets of tongs I own, but I do remember seeing at least 6 of them in the dishwasher the other day after a particularly big day cooking up a feast. I say ‘bring on the kitchen tools’ it certainly helps with productivity.

    • Wendi says:

      Anna, good to know I am not the only one addicted to gadgets. It is probably a good thing that my kitchen doesn’t have a lot of storage space so my obsession doesn’t get too out of hand.

  4. Emily says:

    a little thyme in the onions is a good thing

  5. Emily says:

    growing on my back deck as we speak. along with basil and spearmint ( I managed to kill the mint in Junew when I was in hospital and it was neglected….massage lady gave me more! who the hell kills MINT?)

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