SAVEUR 100's Kitchen Gadgets and Books

Kruk The kitchen tool I really couldn't do without is a kruk, or Thai mortar and pestle. Its extra-deep ceramic base can hold a good five cups' worth of ingredients and is rough enough for easy grinding. I use the palm-wood pestle to grind and mix ginger, galangal, lemongrass, garlic, and papaya to make green papaya salad, and it's also handy for making pestos, spice rubs, tapenades, and vinaigrettes. A full-size kruk goes for as little as $25 online, and smaller versions cost even less-not bad, considering the years of nonstop use they'll get. -John Hanesworth, San Antonio, TexasMichael Kraus
Pyrex Glass Measuring Cups They are the little black dresses of the kitchen. I've collected Pyrex measuring cups in different sizes over the years, so I always have the right one for the occasion: the small one-cupper for melting butter in the microwave; the standard four-cup size for whisking salad dressings; and the huge, eight-cup version (known in my house as Big Bertha) for mixing and pouring pancake batter. They're made of heatproof glass and have a simple design, which hasn't changed much since my grandmother's day. They're also almost impossible to break. In a kitchen full of faddy tools, this one lasts forever and never goes out of style. -Linda M. Yardley, Wilmette, IllinoisMichael Kraus
Nakiri Knife The Shun Pro Nakiri knife has a beveled blade, like a cleaver's only narrower, and is lightweight but strong. It's also very sharp. In Japan, chefs use the Nakiri for cutting vegetables into uniform slices, but you can also use it for all kinds of jobs, like mincing herbs and garlic. It can handle anything a mandoline can and is easier to clean. And who needs a food processor when this knife makes such short work of julienning? -Yvonne Khoo, Summit, New JerseyMichael Kraus
Oven Thermometer Baking is a science, and just being in the ballpark with temperature won't cut it. My oven isn't exactly precise, so after burning one too many pastry crusts, I finally went to the supermarket, bought an oven thermometer, and confirmed that my oven runs hotter than its gauge says it does. Now, whenever I bake, I hang my thermometer from one of my oven racks, peek at the temperature through the window, and adjust my dial accordingly. -Lydia Daniel, Costa Mesa, CaliforniaMichael Kraus
Flour Sack Towels Flour sack towels are my constant kitchen companions. Made from soft, lint-free flour sack cotton and sold everywhere from Amazon.com to Bed Bath & Beyond, they're strong, sheer, and absorbent. I keep one hanging sinkside for drying dishes and for draping over my rolls as they rise. And they won't leave fuzz on my glassware. -Susan Betz, Morgan Hill, CaliforniaMichael Kraus
Tiffins In 1966, shortly after my husband and I were married, the U.S. Army stationed us in Bangkok, Thailand, and I quickly learned to love ginger, lemongrass, chiles, lime leaves, and the other signature flavors of Thai cooking. My favorite find, though, was an ingenious vessel-common in many parts of Asia-called a tiffin, a set of metal containers that stack neatly and clamp together with a handle on top. More than 40 years later, we still use our tiffin tins for heating foods, storing leftovers, and, when they're stacked and clamped together, as a lunch box capable of transporting multiple dishes at once. -Kathi Byam, Springfield, VermontMichael Kraus
Boos Butcher Blocks I think of my cutting boards and butcher blocks from the 123-year-old John Boos Company as cherished pieces of furniture. My favorites are my six-foot-long maple butcher-block counter, where I roll out pasta and knead dough, and my heavy cherry cutting board. And it's not just their beauty that I love. John Boos boards stand up to years of chopping, cleaving, and slicing and still hold their smooth surface. -Karen Shane, Marana, ArizonaMichael Kraus
Sharkskin Wasabi Grater Sushi chefs in Japan swear by this tool: a piece of durable, rough-textured sharkskin that's mounted on a wooden paddle. They use it to grate the gnarly green wasabi root into a pungent paste that has a much finer consistency than what you can get with a regular grater or even a microplane. I found mine at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, and it is so easy to use. Just rub the root over the sharkskin and scrape off the paste that builds up on the paddle. Now I grate ginger, shallots, and garlic on it, too. -Megan Wyatt, Bainbridge Island, WashingtonAndré Baranowski
Sharpening Stones Every time I watch my husband, who is a chef like me, sharpen our knives on one of his old-fashioned oilstones, I admire the simple elegance of the process: he just rubs the moistened blade at an angle against the rectangular block's finely abrasive surface. Using a stone takes time, and good ones are more expensive than sharpening steels and even some automatic sharpeners, but that's made up for tenfold by the time you save when working with a flawlessly sharp blade. -Jennifer Hough-Loos, New Orleans, LouisianaAndré Baranowski
Immersion Blender I'm always amazed by how much I get out of my immersion blender. I stick it right into my pan to make the smoothest sauces and gravies, and I pulse it in my pot for chunky soups. I can make fresh salsa, I can whip cream, I can chop nuts, and I can even blend single servings of fresh fruit shakes, all with one hand behind my back! -Missy Bozarth, Buffalo, IowaMichael Kraus
Turning Fork My grandma always had the most useful kitchen tools: a handheld nut grinder, a wide spatula that my father claimed was the only thing he really wanted to inherit, a special knife for tomatoes, and so on. But she especially loved her wood-handled, long-tined turning fork. Now I reach for my own "granny fork," as the tool is so aptly nicknamed, every day. I turn the bacon and pierce the sausage for breakfast. I test the meat. I poke holes in the potato for baking. I pull the spaghetti from the pot, transfer the chicken to the platter, flip the grilled cheese. Flip, turn, stir, pull, pierce, test, taste, serve, and repeat. -Dina Moreno, Seattle, WashingtonAndré Baranowski
Cooking Under A Brick When you think of all the money you can spend on barbecue accessories, it's nice to know you can stop at a vacant lot, pick up a brick, wrap it in foil, and produce some of the most tender, evenly cooked chicken you've ever eaten. Just butterfly the bird, and the brick will keep it pressed down onto the grill or grill pan. You can use a brick for grilled sandwiches, too. I've even supersized the process by using a cement cinder block for grilling a turkey. -David Crown, Harrison Township, MichiganAndré Baranowski
Pages 1072 and 1073 of Joy of Cooking The tattered red ribbon bookmark is always tucked between these pages of my old copy of Joy of Cooking, seventh edition. That's where you'll find the Tables of Equivalents and Conversions, and they may just be the most useful two pages of culinary information ever put into print. The more I cook, the more I rely on them: for doubling recipes, converting metric measurements, switching from dry ingredients to wet ones-for almost anything that requires me to adapt, improvise, and invent in the kitchen. -Steven Horn, Beverly Hills, MichiganMichael Kraus
The Apprentice At the public library where I used to work, a lot of books crossed my desk, but something about The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), a memoir by the French chef Jacques Pepin, immediately spoke to me. I took it home, and by the next day I was telling my co-workers that I thought I might be in love. Whether describing his training in the great restaurants of France or his career in the United States as a chef, television personality, author, and teacher, Pepin has an engaging, low-key way of talking about his many accomplishments. His warmth, honesty, and joie de vivre always shine through. Each chapter is punctuated with recipes that vividly evoke the period he's recalling: his mother's apple tart, with its unfailingly light and tender crust; the braised striped bass he prepared at the New York City restaurant Le Pavillon; the chicken salad he learned to make from the actor Danny Kaye, whose poaching technique he admired. Along the way, Pepin provides the kind of ingenious cooking tips that viewers of his television programs have always treasured. But it's the example of the man himself, his obvious passion and his dedication to his craft, that I found the most inspiring of all. -Charlotte Belair, Vancouver, British ColumbiaMichael Kraus
Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook On a recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, I happened on a wonderful restaurant called Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, named for Sema Wilkes, who ran the kitchen for years until she passed away, in 2002. The fried chicken was as good as my mom's; so were the bacony green beans and the creamy mac-and-cheese. I left with a copy of the Mrs. Wilkes' Boardinghouse Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2001), and I've been enjoying it ever since. The recipes remind me of what I love about Southern country cooking: it's simple, soulful, and full of flavor. I didn't know you could find recipes like this anymore! -Norma Jean Brearley, Pinole, CaliforniaMichael Kraus
The Olive and The Caper Everything about Greek cooking appeals to me¿the simple seasonings, the fresh seafood, and especially the mezedes, or appetizers, which are a big part of dining in Greece. My favorite mezedes recipes come from one book: The Olive and the Caper (Workman, 2004) by Susanna Hoffman. It's not just the delicious flavors and the good instructions; Hoffman is an anthropologist and storyteller as well as a cook, and her recipes all come with history. She tells us not only about the fashionable way to eat olives in Socrates' day (while reclining, naturally) but also stories like the one about her Cretan friend who wooed his bride with a grilled eggplant salad. I make a new discovery about Greece, both culinary and cultural, every time I open the book.-Janet Thompson, Santa Ana, CaliforniaMichael Kraus
The New York Times International Cook Book When my wife and I got married, 37 years ago, we wanted to travel the world but couldn't afford to do it. Then I came across a copy of Craig Claiborne's New York Times International Cook Book (Harper & Row, 1971). What an idea: a cookbook categorized by countries! Making meals from the recipes in this book became our way of exploring the world. We could enjoy the cuisines of France, Italy, China, Cuba, and on and on. One night we'd try the French-style poached pears; another night, it'd be a Russian beef Stroganoff. Nothing could have prepared us better for our real-world travels to come; Claiborne taught us that sharing the food of a place gives you the best insight into its culture and its people. My cookbook collection has expanded since those early days, but my dog-eared copy of the International Cook Book is still the one I go to more than any other. -Ronald Ortman, Tarpon Springs, FloridaMichael Kraus
Nourishing Traditions Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions (NewTrends, 2001) is a masterpiece. The book explains that healthy living isn't about swearing off rich foods. It's about cooking and eating the way we did before mass production, sticking to unprocessed food prepared in traditional ways, whether it's preserved fruits, homemade yogurt, or naturally raised poultry. -Rachel Geiser, Apple Creek, OhioMichael Kraus
Sweetness and Power I first read Sidney Mintz's Sweetness and Power (Penguin, 1985) while studying at the London School of Economics, and it revolutionized the way I think about food. By documenting, in fascinating detail, how sugar became a source of wealth and power during the days of European empire building, Mintz established that even the simplest food could support serious academic inquiry.-Claire Gilbert, Seattle, WashingtonMichael Kraus