Kitchen Focus

Every spring, I go through my kitchen and set aside things that I haven't used during the last year. I don't usually get rid of them, I just put them into longer term storage elsewhere. (If I don't use them for a year after that, they get donated to friends, family or charity.) But year after year, there are some unlikely superstars that have special places in my kitchen. I wanted to take some time to give five of my favorites their due.

Spring-Loaded Tongs

Whether I'm at the grill or using the broiler, I've always got my spring-loaded tongs at the ready. Especially in high heat situations, I try to avoid using forks that pierce the surface of foods and allow precious juices to escape. Spring-loaded tongs solve that problem by giving you the leverage you need to move a large piece of food without having to break the surface. They are also great for pulling out hot oven racks for checking foods and even removing the grate from the grill when I want to cook something right among the coals. I have a large pair that is perfect for handling large pieces of food and giving me a safe distance from the grill's heat and another smaller pair that can easily find its way onto the dinner table for serving everything from salad to rolls. You can find them widely available, but I got mine at my local restaurant supply store -- where I didn't end up paying too much for them. Since they are spring loaded, I store them with a heavy duty rubber band wrapped around the ends to keep them in the closed position. It removes easily and I can easily replace them as they get worn or dirty.


Despite its funny name, a spider is indeed a useful kitchen helper. Named for its web-like basket, this tool is great for carefully removing food from hot and cold liquids alike. Whether you're boiling vegetables or deep-frying fritters, it can easily plunge into places you'd rather not go and retrieve your favorite foods without burning or freezing tender fingers. It can also be a big help with stir-frying and even dredging. I like to pop items that have been dredged in flour into the spider's basket and shake gently to remove the excess before moving on with the recipe. The holes in the basket are perfect for allowing extra flour to depart without taking the food with it.

Pizza Cutter

With a name like "pizza cutter" you'd think this tool would be a one hit wonder. However, this rolling blade with a handle makes quick work of everything from making ravioli to cutting brownies to, of course, slicing pizza. Anything that requires a sharp blade and the ability to keep straight lines for the distance is a perfect task for a good pizza cutter. I've even been known to roll out a batch of sugar cookie dough and use my pizza cutter to make perfectly sized cookies for snacking without having to worry about cookie cutters and rolling the dough more than once!

Wire Whisk

A whisk is for more than eggs -- although it does a great job with them too. I have my whisk on hand whenever I'm making sauces and it's my favorite tool for combining dry ingredients for baking. Nothing insures that that baking soda is evenly incorporated into the mix like a whisk. If you only have one whisk, make it a medium-sized balloon whisk like the one pictured here. Its size makes it useful in everything from a saucepan to a metal mixing bowl and the shape is perfect for making the perfect omelet or white sauce. And here's a little secret that can make life a little easier too: Try using your whisk to mix your hot chocolate and other powdered drinks. The smooth and frothy result will have you wondering why you never tried that before!

Silicone Spatula

While the wire whisk is a tool that plays well with eggs, I simply will not crack an egg into a skillet without my silicone spatula on hand. This heat resistant tool is simply the best utensil that I've found for folding eggs into scrambled eggs, gently flipping them when looking for over easy and coaxing them into a perfect fold when making omelets. Of course, it plays all of the roles traditionally given to plastic spatulas as well -- folding egg whites for angel food cake, getting that last bit of batter out of the bowl and bringing smiles to the faces of children when offered with a bit of pudding left on it! All of the spatulas in my home are made of silicone -- they are a little more expensive, but well worth the investment when you discover that melting chocolate can be simple and you never need to worry about sauces burning into the corners of your saucepan again. I have several sizes, although the standard pictured here is definitely the place to begin your collection. Its notched head is perfect for getting that last bit of mayonnaise out of the jar and it fills most roles perfectly.

There you have it. In my kitchen, these tools perform year after year without fuss or trouble. I rarely give them a second thought until I reach for them and find they are there ... usually the result of a misplacement by my dear husband! And, once back in my hands, all is well with the world again ... or at least there's peace in my kitchen!!!

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

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