Not long ago, a friend emailed asking for some input on knives for his kitchen. He wasn’t happy with the last set that he’d bought and wanted to know what brand I might recommend for replacements. I suddenly felt that my “serious foodie” façade might crumble around me. I didn’t have a succinct answer, couldn’t rattle off the knife brand of choice and its most salient characteristics. Truth is, my knife collection is among the more motley you might find and I’m pretty happy with it. Have a look (sorry about the darkness):



In there you’ll find a mix of Viking, LamsonSharp, Ecko, Anolon, Sur La Table, Henckels, Sabatier, Flint Stainless and one or two of nonspecific origins. Of them, the knives I pick up most often include the Sur La Table bread knife, the Viking chef’s knife and my old Sabatier paring knife. But as long as they’re sharp, I honestly find any and all work well for the appropriate task.

When it comes to stocking my kitchen, I’m pretty much an independent type relative to brand-driven purchasing. There are a handful of branded items that I swear by. They include a number of Microplane items (a personal favorite is the nutmeg grater, super efficient), Mario Batali 5-Piece Measuring Prep Bowl Setand this Kyocera Adjustable Mandolin Slicer.

 nested bowlsnutmeg grater






But otherwise, I tend to be pretty much an anti-gadget person. It wasn’t a fully conscious decision to avoid clutter (trust me, I still have drawers and cupboards full of plenty of stuff nonetheless) nor to avoid spending the money on said gadgets. Just a proclivity toward max functionality with minimum of space requirements. Same reason I’ve never owned a coffee maker. I make coffee using a cone filter, brewing directly into an insulated carafe.

I still clearly remember a cooking class I was teaching in a local cookware shop; and no, it wasn’t Sur La Table. I was about to peel some garlic during the class, when the owner tossed one of those rubber tubes at me and said “here, use this!” I fumbled with the silly thing for the sake of her potential customers, but was hard pressed to make it look easy and expedient. I’d much rather simply lay the flat of my knife over the clove and smack the blade to help loosen the skin. A gentle rap leaves the clove whole, or a more aggressive whack mashes the garlic enough to take you at least halfway to chopped.

Which leads me to one of the tools in my kitchen I would surely put near the top of my “10 items for a desert island kitchen” list. The lowly paper towel. At about paper towels$1.15 per roll (Costco prices), I get more mileage out of paper towels than almost anything else in my kitchen, well beyond the standard “dry this” and “wipe up that” work they do. I use dampened paper towel to wipe down mushrooms and other vegetables.  When I’m not using my favorite no-skid KitchenAid Chopping Board, laying a damp piece of paper towel under the board will help avoid slipping around.

And when I’m doing mise en place, I lay a damp piece of paper towel over the chopped herbs, onions, mushrooms, whatever else might be appropriate to avoid drying out before I get to cooking. After I’ve cleaned a bunch of herbs, lettuce or other greens, I layer them in paper towels, roll up in a relatively snug cylinder and store in a plastic bag. I find this creates just the right amount of moisture–not too much (which promotes spoilage) nor too little (which risks wilting)–to keep well for a few days, if not a week.

And, honestly, while we break out the nice cotton napkins when guests come over, for most dinners at home my husband and I use folded paper towels for napkins. When you think about it, isn’t a package of paper napkins just a more showy version of the same product?

So there you have it, my starter list for the “101 kitchen uses for paper towels” project, which only just occurred to me. Do you have other favorite uses for the ubiquitous paper towel that I’ve missed? Always looking to get more use out of this and other kitchen workhorses.