As I have become more experienced in the kitchen, there are certain tools that I no longer can imagine cooking without. I love kitchen tools! Today I am going to share my thirteen (+one) favorite tools. Some of them are pretty ordinary and standard and a few may be new. Perhaps my list will inspire you with a new idea for a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift for a cook in the family or add something to your own inventory. I’d love to hear about your must-haves also. Perhaps there is something you can share with me that I will no longer be able to live without after today…
13. Measuring cups and spoons: I know some people get by with a pinch of this and a dash of that, or they know that the middle of their palm is about a teaspoon, but most of us probably rely on measuring cups and spoons on a daily basis. I have two sets of measuring spoons, and three sets of dry measuring cups. It seems like there is always a teaspoon of something wet and a teaspoon of something dry in a recipe, so I like having two sets. I also have a one-cup and a two-cup liquid measuring cup. Perhaps surprisingly, it has only been in the last few years that I have used the liquid measuring cups. I used my plastic dry measuring cups for everything. The most recent development is the two orange cups in the picture. I received these hand-me-downs from my boyfriend Terry’s mom sometime in the last year. They are a 2/3 and 3/4 cup measuring cup. I always got by before with my 1/3 and 1/4 cups but not anymore. These two cups are actually dirty in the picture because I now use them all.the.time. They are pretty much always dirty. I had no idea how often I use those measurements.
12. Assorted cutting boards: I have about 8 cutting boards that I use regularly. I like little ones for small jobs such as slicing a few carrots to add to soup, and I like big ones for jobs such as cutting up watermelon. The yellow one in the picture is used strictly for cutting raw chicken. Most of my cutting boards are super thin. I have found these to work fantastically for transferring cake layers onto a cake when I am making a multi-layer cake or to slide between the layers when I am trying to tort a cake layer.
11. Custard cups: This one has been a surprise to me. A few Christmases back, I asked for some ramekins because I wanted to learn how to make creme brulee and some other things. I received some porcelain type ramekins and about 6 of these glass custard cups. These custard cups are constantly in the dishwasher. No, sadly, we don’t eat creme brulee everyday, but I have found a thousand uses for them. I put a handful of chocolate chips in them to add to pancakes when I am cooking them. Salad toppings when I serve it salad bar style. Teaching the kids to crack eggs. Small snacks. Melting butter. Sorting candies and sprinkles for cake and cookie decorating. A side of ranch or salsa or sour cream. Sorting small objects for a craft. I don’t know what I would do without these handy little cups.
10. Wooden spoons: I make most of my cookies by hand with a plastic bowl and a wooden spoon. Most of my baking or cooking includes a wooden spoon at some point in the process. The two flat ones on the left in the picture are my go-to tools for breaking up and browning hamburger or sausage. I have a fancy tool for breaking up ground meat, but I always come back to my wooden spoon.
9. Mixing bowls: Nothing fancy here. I use a plastic set with lids that I think came from Wal-mart. I use the plastic most often for mixing cookies, bars, and other desserts. I like the lids for when I chill my cookie dough. My second choice is a few glass mixing bowls. These are particularly good for when a recipe calls for melted butter first. I can put the butter right into the bowl and then into the microwave. No need to add more dirty dishes.
8. Microplane zester: I use this tool more than I expected. It is great for zesting lemons or limes for desserts. It is also a grater for cheese or fresh ginger.
7. Juicer: I have tried and failed at using many other juicers and methods before. I love this metal yellow one, and I no longer avoid recipes that call for fresh juice. It does a quick and easy job of juicing the fruit. I feel like it extracts more juice than other methods, and it can be cleaned easily. These are sold in different sizes for different fruits, but I just use the one size for both lemons and limes. Make sure it’s metal. The plastic ones will not hold up.
6. Good knives: It’s kind of ironic to list this when I don’t really have them myself. My knives may not be fancy, but the one on the far right does almost everything for me–chopping vegetables and fruit; cutting pans of bars; chopping chocolate. The solid silver knife is best for cutting chicken and other meat. I love the little paring knife for jobs such as cutting the green tops off strawberries.
5. Rubber spatulas: These need to be the right balance between bendy and firm, and you need a variety of sizes. The big wide ones are best for scraping out a mixing bowl and the narrow ones are essential for scraping out a soup can or other small objects. I especially like the kind that can withstand heat, so I don’t need to worry about using it in a hot frying pan. It appears that I can never have too many of these. Even with all of the spatulas I have, I sometimes still find myself having to do a quick hand-wash of one to have what I want for a recipe. You can see that I have a hard time parting with spatulas I particularly like. One of the white ones pictured has a chewed off tip from a run-in with a blender, but I haven’t quite brought myself to throw it away. I may need an intervention.
4. Parchment paper: I’m not sure that this really counts as a “tool” exactly, but when I was thinking about which things I use on a daily basis and can’t live without, this came to mind. A few years ago, I could hardly have told you what parchment paper is, and now I use it constantly. It is great for lining baking sheets of all kinds. I use it for making chocolate candies and such because the candy just peels right off after it sets. I use it between layers when stacking bars on a serving platter. I have used it for tracing pictures to use in cake decorating. It is amazingly useful stuff.
3. Pampered Chef Chopper: I actually have two of these because at least one is always in the dishwasher. I hardly know how to chop an onion any other way. I have no tears when I use this chopper, and I can get an extremely fine dice. I love onions cooked in most savory dishes, but I know my kids would balk if the pieces were at all large–I don’t particularly like large chunks either. This tool is great for carrots, nuts, chocolate, olives, etc. It is worth it to me just for the onions.
2. Stand mixer: I almost never use my hand mixer anymore. I have had the smaller white Kitchenaid mixer for a few years now, and I have loved it. It is so nice to be able to turn it on and walk away to work on another task for a recipe. This past Christmas I received the larger professional model, and I love it too for bigger, more heavy-duty jobs such as breads. I have really been spoiled and would have a hard time going back to only a hand mixer.
1. Scale: This has become my most essential kitchen tool. I absolutely love it for adding many different ingredients to recipes. When a recipe calls for a cup of peanut butter, for example, I don’t have to mess around trying to stuff peanut butter into a measuring cup as tightly as possible and then scrape it back out or just eyeball it. I now know that a cup of peanut butter is 9.5 ounces. I can put my mixing bowl on the scale, zero it out, and then scrape 9.5 ounces of peanut butter from the jar directly into the bowl. No extra dishes. No mess. It’s wonderful! I love it especially for wet ingredients such as corn syrup, sour cream, Miracle Whip, and butter. I have perhaps gone a little overboard, but I will use it for making breads such as dinner rolls or pizza crust. I will weigh the whole ball of dough and then divide that amount into the number of rolls I want, so I can weigh my dough as I go to make perfectly even-sized rolls. When a recipe says to put half the crust mixture into the pan…yep, I weigh the whole amount so I can get exactly half on the bottom and half on the top. I use the scale to weigh meat. I will buy a bulk package of hamburger and then divide it into one-pound packages when I get home. Again, no estimating. I can make them perfectly even now. Same thing when I set out to make hamburgers. The scale is also great for weighing Pinewood Derby cars to make sure they are within regulations. *Many professional bakers use only a scale for measuring ingredients, particularly flour. I do not usually weigh my flour because things seem to turn out best at this altitude when I go a little heavy-handed on the flour measuring. I suppose I could weigh my “heavy-handed” cup and then use that measurement whenever I need flour, but I have not done that so far.
*Honorable mention: Half-sheet baking pans: I used to use an assortment of different sized baking sheets that had all become kind of nasty looking no matter how much I washed them. The sad state of the old baking sheets is what inspired me to always line my cookie sheets with foil. I was given two of these half-sheet pans last Christmas, and I loved them so much, I asked for a third for this Christmas. When baking cookies, I now always line these pans with parchment paper. Having three baking sheets is perfect for my method of baking cookies. I can have one pan in the oven, one pan cooling completely, and one pan loaded and ready to go into the oven next.
I’d love to hear about your kitchen must-haves. Do you agree with the things on my list? Do you have anything I didn’t mention that you would add?