My kitchen lifesaver
In my opinion the most important thing you can have in a kitchen is horizontal space. No matter how great a cook you are, no matter how many nifty gadgets and impeccable techniques you have in your arsenal, if you don’t have a place to chop your veggies, to set your mixing bowls, or to let baked goods cool, you won’t get very far in the kitchen.
Having the space itself is the first struggle. My tiny kitchen is so full of drying dishes, cooking utensils, food products and random junk that just making a shoulder-wide space to work is a challenge. Lots of houses and apartments, especially older ones, just don’t offer a lot of space to being with.
The second issue is quality of your work surface. Anyone who has had to roll dough on a table that was too short remembers it forever, probably by the shooting pains in their back. And some surfaces are so difficult to clean that you don’t even want to start cooking at all.
If you’re lucky, you have huge counters at just your height made of wonderful materials: a stainless steel counter, a section of granite or marble for pastry work, and a solid butcher block for chopping.
The rest of us have to improvise.
This is my lifesaver, the board that protects me from both my awful tile countertops and my vinyl-sheeted table. (I took a picture of it in mid-pastry mixing so you can see it in action!) It’s a relatively cheap cutting board from Target, under the Giada di Laurentiis brand. But it’s big, about 16″ x 20″, and it’s practically a substitute table for me.
I found out soon after moving into this apartment that tile countertops are from the devil. All kinds of food and gunk get stuck in the grout and cracks and are impossible to get out, and you can forget about rolling out cookie dough on it. What a disaster.
My table wasn’t much better. For one thing, it’s really short, and for another, the protective clear plastic table cover on it slides all over the place. There is no pastry rolling on that.
My first attempt to ever be able to make rolled dough again was a pastry mat, basically a thin sheet of plastic that you lay down, then roll your dough out on. It worked for a while; it kept the dough from getting all stuck down in the counter grout, but it was very sticky. I had to use tons of flour just to get the dough off, plus it came rolled up and I always had to pin down the corners lest it roll up and away.
I started reading about the different surfaces for rolling pastry, and decided to go with wood. Stone is good if you’re making serious stuff like puff pastry, but I’m not at that level yet. I’m not worried about keeping the surface iced, I just need to be able to roll out cookies and pie crusts.
There are many arguments about what types of cutting boards to use (people take this VERY seriously). In addition to the different types of wood, there are considerations like edge-grain versus end-grain, and maintenance, and oiling, and whether to wash with soap, and whether or not wood REALLY has fewer germs than plastic.
I disregarded several of these issues for one basic reason: this is not a CUTTING board, this is a PASTRY board. No knives touch this board, other than the occasional butter knife to release a stubborn cookie cut-out. I don’t have to worry about blades nicking it or meat juices soaking in and contaminating vegetables. I did have to take some of the maintenance advice, though.
As soon as I got it home and washed it, it became covered with little splinters. It’s a cheap board, so that’s not completely bizarre, but does require some work. I got a sanding block and lightly sanded the splinters off, then wiped mineral oil on it every day for a week, and occasionally since then. I never immerse it in water, just wipe it down like it was a butcher block counter top.
And it has made my life SO much better! The wood does a perfect job of holding dough steady while being rolled without becoming too sticky. When I flour the board, most of the flour stays on the surface instead of immediately being soaked up by the dough. It’s plenty big for rolling pie crusts and cookie dough, and it has little rubber feet to keep the board from moving around.
That does mean that it’s not reversible, but I really don’t care. I’m not chopping up the surface or drowning it in blood, so one surface will be just fine.
Someday I want to replace most of my plastic cutting boards with wood, but they are expensive, so I’m doing it slowly. It’s nice to have one smooth and flat, so that you can just scrape chopped veggies off the edge and into a bowl, and one with a groove around the edge for cutting meat, so the juices don’t run all over the place.
A good cutting board is an invaluable tool, and definitely worth investing some research and money into.