Well, our kitchen is currently a staging ground for 29 boxes of flooring, which has made it supremely difficult to open the fridge and pantry, let alone actually cook a meal. And while the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, we can’t exactly access them. So I apologize for the current state of affairs and lack of recipes, but in the meantime I thought I’d share with you some of the kitchen tools I cannot live without…and maybe a few wished-for items I am certain will improve my life.
Like many of you, I have more kitchen gadgets that I could possibly need. An “herb roller” that I’ve used precisely once. A bottle opener shaped like a shark that, while awesome-looking, is not terribly effective at opening bottles. And while I love my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, I use it less than once a month, and then almost exclusively for pizza dough and ice cream.
So what tools do I use at least once a week, if not every day? What would I recommend you get if you’re new to this whole cooking-for-yourself thing?
First things first: You need a big knife.
It doesn’t need to be a hundred-dollar feat of German engineering, but it needs to have some heft to it. Use gravity to your advantage! My weapon of choice, if you will, is an 8-inch chef’s knife. The length makes it easy to tackle something as unweildy as a butternut squash or a roasted chicken. The flat of the blade allows me to paste garlic with ease. By gently holding the tip in place, I can mince herbs like nobody’s buisness (unlike that worthless herb roller). If you buy only one thing to improve your kitchen skills, this is the best possible upgrade you could make.
But you might also want a paring knife for those tiny, delicate tasks.
I have this knife in straight and serrated versions. It makes quick work of halving cherry tomatoes or slicing soft veggies (like summer squash) when you don’t need the weight of a big knife. It’s also great for slicing softer cheeses like goat and feta. And they come in a rainbow of colors!
While we’re on the topic of cheese, I love my flat grater. It takes up minimal space in a drawer and makes quick work of a block of cheese.
I don’t like buying shredded packaged cheese because of the added preservatives and anti-clumping agents. Plus, it doesn’t melt as well as the real thing — and isn’t that the point of shredded cheese? This allows me to grate as much or as little as I need. It’s cheaper, takes nearly no time, and burns a few extra calories (a good thing, since we’re eating cheese, after all!). And if you need a lot of shredded cheese (smoked mac n cheese, anyone?), you can always use the shredder disc that came with your food processor. You can also grate carrots, potatoes, or cucumber, to name a few more uses!
I also like to use my Microplane zester for parmesan cheese, citrus zest, or if I need some garlic paste (though I prefer to do this with my chef’s knife — I don’t like getting my fingers too close to the super-sharp holes).
This is a wonder tool I use so often, I’ve considered getting a second one in case the first is dirty from the night before!
Another item I wish I had two of is the good, old-fashioned glass measuring cup.
I’ll use this to proof yeast in, measure out liquid for a recipe (especially useful for when you need a warm liquid, since it can go in the microwave) or just mix a marinade or dressing in since I can keep track of the ratio of ingredients.
In the same vein, I love-love-love my kitchen scale.
It’s great for measuring out ingredients for baking (weight is much more accurate for baking than volume), and it’s so easy to add ingredients — just hit the tare button between each one. And I can easily portion out perfectly uniform hamburgers or meatballs, or separating leftovers into equal amounts, or making sure I brew the perfect amount of coffee, or weigh out my snack of one ounce of almonds…the uses are endless! It’s not just for Weight Watchers followers or obsessive-compulsive types. The food scale is, after the chef’s knife, the second-best tool you could add to your kitchen arsenal and one I use literally every day. Make sure the model you choose has a tare button and can switch from ounces to grams.
Okay, now that we’ve prepped our ingredients like never before, let’s get to cookin’!
I reach more and more these days for my trusty cast-iron skillet.
I have four cast-iron pieces now (a skillet, a fryer, a dutch oven, and a reversable grill/griddle), but I strongly recommend you at least start with a 10-in skillet. I use cast iron to brown meat, produce deliciously charred veggies, make hash browns that would make any Southern grandma proud, bake corn bread in…anything you normally make in a nonstick skillet can probably be made better in cast iron without the threat of Teflon giving you cancer. I love that I can go from the stovetop to the oven to the grill. People are often intimidated by the care process, but once your items are properly seasoned, water and a sponge are all you need (never soap!). And I really think it makes food taste better.
I also love to use my crock pot when I think enough to plan ahead, and my schedule allows (I leave the house at 6:30 am and don’t get home til almost 6 pm, if I left something in the crock pot that long it’d be cooked into oblivion before I got home).
I tend to prep the ingredients the night before while I’m cooking dinner (prep once, eat twice!), then leave it in the fridge overnight (Bonus: extra marinating time) before having Scott start everything up at a predetermined time (his schedule dictates whether it cooks on high or low). The food comes out great every time. It might not be the most beautiful to look at, but it tastes amazing. This is especially great when you know you have a really busy couple of days and you won’t have the time and energy to cook a full meal. And crock pot recipes run the gamut from set-it-and-forget-it to multi-step prep and precooking. You can choose how much work you want to do. I love this simple red model but I’ve been considering the upgrade to a larger, programmable, locking model…
Finally, this is something I didn’t even know I needed until I had one. Scott bought it when he was on a smoothie kick. Well, he doesn’t make many smoothies lately, but I still use it all the time.
It’s easier to clean than my food processor (how many times have I mentioned how lazy I am?) and quite honestly it does a better job. I mix up salsas, hummus, pestos, and yes, smoothies in the Ninja. It works better than a traditional blender for drinks. It can decimate an onion, cutting prep time down to nothing.
So there you have it, a few of my faves. What do you use most often in the kitchen?