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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: Break in your gifted gadgets with projects that turn graduates into grown-ups.
For many of us, summer is a time of leisure. For recent graduates, though, it's a confusing state of limbo between the mundane comfort of dorm life and the anxiety that accompanies the white walls and bare counters of a first apartment or house.
Friends and family will eagerly fill these empty spaces with everything from picture frames to tacky wall art. But the most useful gifts you'll receive will find their home in the kitchen, gradually wearing as they move from block to block and city to city. Get to know these new tools, and what they're capable of, then start cooking with them. Here's how.
A knife collection, or at least the start of one, is a tell-tale sign that you've entered adulthood. Say your goodbyes to that one stainless steel table knife you used, unwaveringly, to butcher tomatoes, hack meat, and tear pizza for the past four years, and welcome a basic, high-quality knife set -- complete with a chef's, paring, and filet knife -- into your kitchen. These three staples will cover most of your bases as you prepare to host the occasional steak dinner, zest citrus for cocktail garnishes, and (some day!) cut your wedding cake.
How to Use Them:
- Buy a whole fish (or chicken) at the market, then filet it at home. This saves money, and uses more of the animal.
- Chopped salads and breakfast hashes are now fair game. Customize these vegetable-based dishes according to what's in season.
- Use your new paring knife to hull your strawberry haul, peel apples, and scrape the seeds from vanilla beans.
You'll soon come to know the blender as your best friend in any season. It will save you from turning on the oven and stove during sweltering summer days, and in the fall and winter, you'll be gorging on soups galore. Save yourself some cash by making your own mayonnaise, salad dressing, and pesto at home instead of buying them at the store -- this also means that you can adapt them to your own personal taste.
How to Use Them
- Make a big-batch smoothie on Sunday, then freeze leftovers in ice cube trays for hot-weather weekday breakfasts.
- A high-speed blender is the key to this six-minute custard.
- Blending crêpe batter yields incredibly airy, delicate pancakes.
- In the summer, cool down with chilled soups.
If you see a square, heavy box on the gift table, rejoice -- the stand mixer is the holy grail of kitchen gadget gifts. A true workhorse for intense baking projects, stand mixers save time, preserve your strength, and make homemade croissants a little more managable. And with an endless offering of attachments, fresh pasta and home-churned ice cream have never been easier.
How to Use Them
- Gone are the days of dry cakes with sad dollops of store-bought whipped cream. Put your new mixer to work whipping up everything from maple frosting to cream cheese buttercream.
- When you don't have to hand-mix the batter, making five separate layers for this American flag cake is a cinch.
- Whiped at a high speed, egg whites and sugar become a shiny, thick batter that bakes into a simple but elegant pavlova.
- Mix the dough for these orange-scented sticky buns at night, then bake them the following morning for an indulgent breakfast before work.
Food processors are often undeservingly categorized under "inessential kitchen tools," but they are arguably the most versatile gadgets in your kitchen. They take the guesswork out of biscuit and shortbread dough, transform whole nuts into creamy spreads, and can chop, slice, and grate almost anything.
How to Use Them
- Grinding your own meat at home yields results leagues beyond what you'll find in the store.
- Process rogue herbs, a handful of nuts and spices, and a drizzle of oil for a bright summer pesto. While you're at it, whip up a few batches of harissa, sriracha, and cocktail sauce, too.
- For pies, blend fat into flour using a processor for a perfectly flaky crust. You can also use coconut oil in place of butter for an equally decadent vegan version.
Baking tools often come in sets, and for good reason. Baked goods require a good amount of equipment -- from pans of varying sizes for tiered cakes, to a spectrum of piping tips for cupcakes. Sets with a diverse selection of these items can greatly improve your baking repetoire (and the happiness of your friends and family).
How to Use Them
- With this cake tools set, master the layer cake, beautifully frost it, then display it for all to see. Or keep it to yourself. You graduated; you deserve it.
- Bake cupcakes for every holiday and top them with everything from Christmas trees to skulls.
- Gifted sheets and trays? Bake up an batch of classic chocolate chip cookies.
More: Even professional bakers need guidance when cutting cakes.
How are you -- or a recent graduate you know -- using graduation gifts? Tell us in the comments!
Stand mixer photo by Carey Nershi; all other photos by James Ransom