Each of us has a different approach to kitchen equipment. Some of us–whether because we’re just starting out as cooks, or we live alone, or because we’re minimalists or purists–have a fairly austere selection: a couple of good knives of different sizes, cutting board, measuring tools, a few good pots.
The rest of us tend to accumulate. Some of us love quirky little gadgets, like lemon zesters and olive pitters and gnocchi boards and butter stamps. Some of us have a weakness for electric appliances, like crockpots and blenders and waffle irons. Some of us like vessels from elsewhere, like tagines and iron nailhead teapots.
Every apparatus weakness a cook can have, I have. I have to struggle with myself every time a kitchenware store has a “$25+ free shipping!” sale. Yet over time, I have come to realize that some of the things I acquired impulsively have become treasured, multi-use members of my kitchen.
So, without further ado, here are 5 things I’ve learned to love. They aren’t essential in the way a knife or a bowl is essential. Yet I can’t imagine doing without them.
1. OXO Good Grips 2-qt Batter Bowl. You wouldn’t believe how often you end up needing a huge bowl with a pour spout and a small footprint and a no-skid base. Just a few examples: pouring soup into a blender. Rapid-cooling ice cream base (sealed ziploc bag in ice water). Storing a leaky bag of marinade and meat in the fridge (or just holding a lot of marinated meat period). And, of course, making pancake/waffle batter. The measuring marks are just a bonus.
2. High-heat silicone spoonula. These are unbeatable–as heat-resistant as wood, as flexible as rubber. They don’t hurt non-stick pans or anything else, and they won’t melt (up to a point). You can cook caramel with them. You can scrape out corners and wipe out bowls with them. You can spoon out sips of soup to taste for salt. Mine was a wedding gift from Williams-Sonoma. It’s 14 years old and still going strong though a bit stained and charred on the handle.
3. Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender or “stick blender”. A friend gave me one of these a couple of years ago and I am still wondering how I managed to do without it my whole life. It’s not just a better replacement for most applications of a traditional blender, where you have to pour and scrape and wash multiple containers. It’s also perfect for smoothies, or for beating eggs when your kid absolutely, positively won’t eat eggs with visible white. You can even get an attachment that whips cream in no time flat.
4. Bench scraper. I’d never heard of these before cooking school, but once I got one I never looked back. In a kitchen you’re constantly needing a small, flat, rigid plane for stuff: cleaning off your counter, dividing dough, cutting up gnocchi, transferring small chopped stuff to the stove. I like the kind with the ruler printed on it, which makes it easy when you need to make sure your cookies are coming out exactly 2″ in diameter, or your dice are really 1/4″. And any time something sticky/gooey/spready/crumbly lands on something flat, and you wish it hadn’t, it’s a lifesaver.
5. Spiral skimmer. I had seen these in Chinatown for years before deciding it was OK for me to get one, and even then I feared I’d end up never using it. Wrong! Although these are really for deep-frying, there are so many times you want to strain things out instead of pouring things through a colander. You end up using a slotted spoon (too small!) or worse, your hands (ouch!). If you blanch vegetables or boil ravioli or dumplings or soak dried mushrooms, you can pull them out of the bowl/pot super-fast with a 7″ skimmer. The spiral design is better than mesh, which traps water through surface tension. Plus, although I’ve never done it, I bet you could separate eggs really easily with a spiral skimmer.
Yes, recipe testing is part of my job. But you don’t need to cook professionally to make your life just a bit easier in the kitchen. None of these things is terribly expensive–I think the blender is $35. Everything else is $5-15. Go for it! indulge yourself. (Or make a cook you love very, very happy.)