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10 Kitchen Tools to Help You Cook Like a Pro

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Infomercials may promise that space-age technology and three payments of $39.95 are all you need to become a master in the kitchen, but luckily, that's not the case. For professional chefs, quality and simplicity often trump flash when it comes to kitchen tools. If you've already got the basics, a few new items can make cooking dinner a little bit easier and tastier. In our quest to find the right gear to elevate our culinary efforts, mental_floss chatted with Jill Santopietro, a cooking instructor and recipe developer who has tested recipes for superstar chefs like Michael Pollen, April Bloomfield, and Alex Guarnaschelli. She acknowledges that while there’s no replacing years of hard practice, investing in a good set of tools can make life in the kitchen easier. “It's like driving a Nissan versus a Maserati,” says Santopietro. “Having better tools makes cooking a more enjoyable experience … it makes it fun.” 

Santopietro shared some of her most beloved pieces equipment that she uses in her kitchen at home. Even if these tools make you feel like Julia Child, the skills required to use them unfortunately aren't included. 

1. WOODEN SPOON

Wood has the benefit of being strong and yielding at the same time. Wooden spoons can be used to stir thick mixtures without scratching the bottoms of your pots and pans, and the material isn’t as easily affected by high heat as metal or plastic, which means you don’t have to worry about it melting or getting super hot to the touch. Santopietro prefers spoons with a square edge so she can easily scrape caramelized bits of food from the bottom of her pans. Wood also has a nice feel in your hands, and using it makes you feel like a classically trained French chef even when you have no idea what you’re doing. Buy at Amazon

2. VITAMIX BLENDER

While many great tools are simple, a little innovation never hurt, either. If you're looking to invest in a fancier piece of gear, a good blender should rank high on your list of splurges. Cheap blenders are easy to come by, but a quality model can revolutionize your cooking life for years to come. Santopietro owns a Vitamix, which is powerful enough to blend sticky dough, nuts, and whole fruits and vegetables. The 2-horsepower device moves so quickly that it can puree your soup and use friction to heat it up at the same time. Santopietro uses hers to make pestos, aioli, and even baby food.  Buy at Amazon

3. SPIDER

Though it doesn’t sound like something you’d want in your kitchen, the spider is embraced by chefs all around the world as an essential cooking tool. Traditionally used in Asian cooking, this skimming utensil uses a wire-mesh basket to retrieve things like fried dumplings, vegetables, and pasta from hot oil or water. Its wide, shallow shape makes it gentle on delicate foods like ravioli and poached eggs, and the long bamboo handle keeps chefs far removed from any spitting-hot oil. The mesh is also fine enough to catch small bits of food like puffed grains.  Buy at Amazon

4. MISONO KNIFE

For professionals, the importance of a good knife in the kitchen can’t be overstated. Not only does it make the cooking process easier, it makes it safer as well. Cooks tend to press down with more force when cutting with a dull knife, which can lead to slippage and injury. A well-maintained, quality knife saves a lot of pain and frustration in the long run.

Santopietro uses a Misono knife which is made from super-sharp stainless steel that’s been forged by hand. The factory is based in the Seki, a Japanese city with a 750 year legacy of crafting knives.  Buy at Amazon

5. PEPPER MILL

A pepper mill is an essential tool for any serious home cook. Freshly ground pepper lends dishes a distinctive texture and spice that the pre-ground stuff just can't replicate. Santopietro recommends keeping a large pepper mill at home. That way you can grind to your heart’s content without having to refill it as often. Buy at Amazon

6. OXO PRECISION TONGS

For some home cooks, cooking with big, clumsy tongs is an unavoidable part of daily life, but it doesn't have to be. Santopietro opts for OXO precision tongs, which are precise enough to lift a single strand of spaghetti from a pot of boiling water. They’re also great for handling bacon, thinly-sliced vegetables, and hard-boiled eggs. Buy at Amazon

7. CAST IRON SKILLET

While it may be low-tech, the cast iron skillet is another tool that most professionals swear by. A cast iron skillet will last a lifetime with proper care, and the more you use it the more it develops layers of flavor-imparting seasoning. Cast iron is durable enough to get "screaming hot" which makes it the ideal choice for searing steaks or pan-frying vegetables. It also distributes heat evenly, which is important when cooking meat. After using your skillet to make dinner, you can fill it with cake batter and toss it in the oven to make dessert. That makes every other pan in your arsenal look lame in comparison. Buy at Amazon

8. SHARPENING STONE

If you decide to follow Santopietro’s suggestion to invest in a good kitchen knife, a sharpening stone should be your next purchase. You can pay to get your knives sharpened by a professional, but Santopietro does the majority of her sharpening herself at home. As long as you use proper technique, doing your own sharpening saves you money in the long run, and you’ll never have an excuse to let your knives get dull. Buy at Amazon

9. WOODEN CUTTING BOARD

Nothing compares to the look and feel of a quality wooden cutting board. The sturdy-yet-soft surface is easier on a knife’s edge and results in cleaner cuts. Santopietro uses a plastic cutting board for things like chicken that might contain harmful bacteria, but wood is a great choice for firm veggies and cheeses.  Buy at Amazon

10. DIGITAL THERMOMETER 

For some recipes, a few degrees one way or the other can make or break the whole dish. An instant-read thermometer determines the temperature of what you’re cooking in just a few seconds, which could mean the difference between luscious liquid caramel and a pot of burnt sugar and cream.  Buy From King Arthur Flour
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Bad Moods Might Make You More Productive
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Being in a bad mood at work might not be such a bad thing. New research shows that foul moods can lead to better executive function—the mental processing that handles skills like focus, self-control, creative thinking, mental flexibility, and working memory. But the benefit might hinge on how you go through emotions.

As part of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, a pair of psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada subjected more than 90 undergraduate students to a battery of tests designed to measure their working memory and inhibition control, two areas of executive function. They also gave the students several questionnaires designed to measure their emotional reactivity and mood over the previous week.

They found that some people who were in slightly bad moods performed significantly better on the working memory and inhibition tasks, but the benefit depended on how the person experienced emotion. Specifically, being in a bit of a bad mood seemed to boost the performance of participants with high emotional reactivity, meaning that they’re sensitive, have intense reactions to situations, and hold on to their feelings for a long time. People with low emotional reactivity performed worse on the tasks when in a bad mood, though.

“Our results show that there are some people for whom a bad mood may actually hone the kind of thinking skills that are important for everyday life,” one of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Tara McAuley, said in a press statement. Why people with bigger emotional responses experience this boost but people with less-intense emotions don’t is an open question. One hypothesis is that people who have high emotional reactivity are already used to experiencing intense emotions, so they aren’t as fazed by their bad moods. However, more research is necessary to tease out those factors.

[h/t Big Think]

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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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