Food first is SAVEUR’s motto. This week the magazine’s senior web editor, Helen Rosner, is sharing her favorite recipes and culinary picks in honor of our limited edition Birchbox Home: From the Garden collection.
When you start getting into cooking, there’s a pretty predictable trajectory: At first, as you’re getting turned on to the science-magic-deliciousness trifecta of knowing your away around a kitchen, you tend to be a little bit of a gadget freak. A single-purpose aebelskiver pan? Desperately need it. A heart-shaped fried-egg mold? Essential. An enameled cast-iron pot specifically for steaming artichokes? Could not possibly live without it. But give it a few years, and most cooks come around to the side of serious (almost extreme) minimalism, realizing that all they need to pull off even the most ambitious meals are a heavy-bottomed pot, a cast-iron frying pan, a tempered-glass baking dish, a seriously good knife, and maybe a pair of tongs. This gadget-eschewing asceticism is, for the most part, pretty on target with reality (not to mention it makes life simpler for those of us who live with cramped, storage-space-lacking apartment kitchens). But there are a few tools that may on the surface appear to be amateur-hour uni-taskers, but in reality will take your gastronomic life to a new level. These three are my essentials:
Bottled lemon juice is to the real thing what tiny airplane orange juice is to a glass of pulpy, syrupy liquid sunshine: A pale, tragic facsimile of something that ought to be a vibrant, bright, multifaceted, totally exhilarating flavor. This ingeniously designed squeezer gets every last bit of juice out of a half-lemon (or half-lime—both will work in the lemon-sized version), with just a little, low-effort squeeze. None of the mess of a reamer, none of the energy overkill of an electric juicer. I go through a dozen lemons and limes a week now, sometimes more, and I’ve graduated from a wedge of lime in my Diet Coke to the juice of the entire fruit.
Unless you’re cooking for an army, a 12-cup food processor isn’t going to see much use in your life. But a four-cup processor? That’s genius. That’s perfect. That’s fresh pesto on a daily basis, perfectly emulsified vinaigrettes at the press of a button, and flawlessly airy whipped cream to top your store-bought desserts. (Like citrus juice, once you’ve made whipped cream yourself and discovered how incredibly simple and gorgeously delicious it is, you’ll never go back to Reddi-Wip again.) I use this so often that it just lives on my counter—which says a lot, given how little counter space I have.
I was resigned to being a terrible baker until a friend gave me an OXO digital scale and a stern talking-to about how silly I was not to be using it. Turns out he was right: I’m an impatient cook, which makes for good bit-of-this-and-bit-of-that stovetop dinners, but for the precise science of baking that means brick-like cakes and crumbly tarts. The scale eliminates all the guesswork: You put a big mixing bowl on top, set the scale to zero, add your ingredients by weight (re-zeroing the scale after each one), and poof, you have exact proportions with almost no room for error. (And, almost better than that, you’ve only got one bowl to clean, rather than a whole host of measuring cups and spoons.)