Kitchenwise: 11 great tools for the holiday kitchen
It's that time of year: We're all on the on-ramp to the holidays.
With feasts, parties and other events ahead, it's a perfect time to make sure your kitchen is ready and raring to go.
Here are 11 items the well-stocked holiday kitchen should have:
Roasting pan and rack
For a turkey, ham or roast, you'll need a sturdy roasting pan, either 11-by-14 or 13-by-16 inches (which will fit up to a 20-pound turkey, for example), fitted with a nonstick rack. The rack ensures even browning, and lets you roast vegetables in the pan below the meat if desired. Get a pan with high sides to prevent splatters, and generous handles for easy lifting. Make sure it's solid, and can also be transferred to the stovetop so you can finish making gravy in the pan. It's worth paying more for quality on this one: A good roasting pan will last a lifetime.
To get the great pan liquid for gravy after you've roasted poultry or meat, you'll want to remove most of the fat. There are two kinds of fat separators: pitchers and bottom drainers. Both work fine. (Sometimes they might be labeled gravy separators.) Choose one with a 4-cup capacity, a wide strainer, and a big spout to pour off the liquid cleanly and easily. Definitely make sure it's dishwasher-safe.
A dry turkey is to be avoided at all costs, and this is where a simple baster comes into play. These come in plastic or stainless steel, and are usually inexpensive. But don't buy a supercheap one as the bulb may not have a good seal, and therefore not suck up the cooking liquid as effectively. Wash this utensil especially well after use to keep the bulb pliable and the baster clean (some even come with a cleaning brush).
When turkey breast meat registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it's ready to come out of the oven -- and you don't want to be guessing at the temperature. Some thermometers stay in the turkey (or the roast) the whole time, and some even have a remote reader that saves you from opening the oven to check the temperature. But there are also lots of great instant thermometers available, and a quick check gives you instant results, as promised. There are dial versions, digital displays -- buy one that has a screen you find easy to read.
Carving board with trench
If you have ever carved a turkey (or chicken or roast) on a cutting board without a trench, then you have probably spent time mopping up precious juices from the counter and floor. You want to collect those juices in the canal carved in the board and put them to use in your gravy (or just drizzle them over the sliced meat). I lean toward a good-looking, sturdy wooden board, which is also great for serving if you're not going the platter route. And, of course, you'll be using your board for all of the slicing and dicing as you get ready for the meal.
If you've been wanting to up your knife game, now's the moment. Good knives don't have to cost a fortune, though some can get pricey. If you're going to buy one good knife, make it an 8- or 10-inch chef's knife. Bigger knives do more work, so go for the 10-inch if possible. Shop somewhere where you can hold the knives to compare heft and feel, and talk with a salesperson about what you like.
Plenty of choices here, from plastic to glass to metal. Get a nice assortment in a range of sizes; it's almost impossible to have too many during the holidays. Some have a rubber rim around the bottom, which keeps them nicely in place as you stir and whisk away.
Baking dishes and casserole pots
Roasted vegetables, stuffing, casseroles. you'll need a number of baking dishes to make sure all those sides have a place to cook (or reheat). Casseroles are deeper and should have lids, and might hold anywhere from 2 to 4 quarts of food, or more. The most popular baking dishes are usually something in the 9-by-13-inch or 2-to-3-quart range, and you should mix and match shapes and depths. If you are bringing a side to someone else's home, look for a baking dish with its own snap-on lid. It's great for portability and for storing leftovers.
Rimmed baking sheets
These are the workhorses of the kitchen, indispensable for holidays and all days. The most commonly available and useful size is known as a half sheet, measuring 13-by-18 inches. You will use these for roasting vegetables, making cookies, broiling chicken, baking fish, you name it. The rimmed edge prevents drips over the side, which prevents the fire alarm from going off (very important). Buy heavy sheets -- lighter ones can warp during cooking, especially at high heat or under the broiler.
Where there is Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, there will also be pie. With luck, it will be homemade (or at least semi-homemade -- a pre-made crust can be unrolled or transferred into your pie plate. Shhh ...). A 9-inch pie plate is the most useful size. Metal works, but glass or ceramic tends to look prettier on the table.
Some of us have a pretty serious fixation about storage containers. In a perfect world, you'll have some "good" ones (for you alone to use and keep) and some that are up for grabs (bought to be packed with leftovers for your guests to take home). "Good" ones might be made of durable plastic or glass, should be stackable and dishwasher-safe, and have sturdy lids to keep things fresh. The take-away containers just have to seal up tightly, and then they are no longer yours to worry about.
• Katie Workman has written two cookbooks focused on easy, family-friendly cooking, "Dinner Solved!" and "The Mom 100 Cookbook." She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.