Right equipment makes big difference in the kitchen

"Being you is so complicated," says my husband Steve when he's caught me in what he kindly refers to as one of my "behaviors." They're never outrageous acts, as far as I'm concerned, but merely methods used to fine-tune the pleasures in our life.

Our sandwich meats, beef, cheeses and favorite ice creams come from one market while bread, poultry and juices are obtained at another. Produce — when it really matters (and when would it NOT?) — is harvested from yet a third and a fourth source. Wine and beer is more of a roving operation.

Life's a ballet, that's for sure. So whenever I can pare it down to the most simple movements, to save time and energy without affecting quality, I do. In the area of cooking, it often comes down to using the right equipment. And boy, can the right tool impact life for the better.

Take the morning coffee routine. For all of you who are grinding your own beans and struggling with the inadequacies of your electric blade grinder I have two words for you: burr grinder. Before I acquired mine, the ritual was a tortured affair.

You see, blade-style coffee grinders produce an uneven grind. Plus, there's the risk of scorching the beans during grinding. So my grinding process was a three-way routine, beginning with a 10-second burst. I followed that with a three-second cool-down (can't scorch those beans!), followed by a nine-second burst. Throughout the process, I also felt compelled to shake the grinder to counteract any uneven grinding taking place.

If a person isn't awake after such a vigorous routine, then it's going to be a long day. Anyway, that burr grinder was a wise investment.

My kitchen thermometers also have been savvy purchases. We've become so temperature-conscious these days — particularly when it comes to preventing food-borne illness — that every kitchen needs one or more to function well. Because a thermometer measures the internal temperature of your meat, poultry and casseroles, it takes the guesswork out of cooking. Want perfectly cooked prime rib? A thermometer is the answer.

And more important than any quality issues, you can achieve the exact degree of doneness necessary to ensure harmful bacterial have been destroyed. You'll have to analyze your own needs, but at the very least, every cook should own an instant-read thermometer to accurately and quickly gauge food temperatures by inserting its probe into appropriate areas.

For even more flexibility and ease in cooking, consider the following three items:

  • Combo probe thermometer, timer and clock with heat-resistant sensor cable. Set a desired internal temperature, then stick the probe into the meat before it goes in the oven. It monitors the internal temperature of the meat as it cooks, sounding an alarm when the desired temperature is reached. It can also be programmed to measure a temperature drop.
  • Digital candy thermometer. This is my new best friend. It's programmable in a range of minus 40 to 450 F and begins beeping 3 degrees away from the target temperature. There's a temperature guide on the sheath and adjustable stainless-steel clip. It's great for making jams and jellies, too.
  • Programmable digital TempFork thermometer. Stick in the TempFork; if the meat's done, the fork beeps. Allows you to program up to nine "speed dial" temperatures for your favorite meats or poultry and preferred degree of doneness (these programmed numbers can be recorded on the back of the fork handle for reference).

They're all produced by Component Design Northwest Inc. in Portland. For a full rundown, check out www.cdn-timeandtemp.com.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.

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