Top Ten Kitchen Tools

My sister-in-law Kelsey asked me to write a post about the top ten things I think everyone should have in their kitchen.  I’m pretty passionate about some of my kitchen tools and have been known to travel with them to less-than-well-appointed kitchens (like the one in Gavin’s bachelor apartment). 

I honestly think you probably need more than ten things in your kitchen, no matter how simple you’re going, so I’m going to split things out into sub-categories (not all will have ten things).  This one is going to be the tools section.

1. OXO tongs.  Or really any kind of nylon/silicone head tongs that are decently long and sufficiently grippy.  These can be  used for TONS of things and in fact, I gave them to all of my bridesmaids as part of their wedding gift.  Honestly, I wish I had a second set, and so does main-dishwasher Gavin.  These also make a great spaghetti server, way better than those dedicated spaghetti ones.

2. Paring knife. I have one of these knives (they come in tons of colors, mine is orange) and they are not only affordable, but also a Cooks Illustrated top choice.

3. Chef’s knife. This is the other knife you really need and will make your big tasks, like cutting five pounds of potatoes, much easier.  Pick one that you like the feel of in your hand and that is reasonably-priced, not the cheapest thing you can find.  That’s not going to last or be pleasant to use.

4. Box grater. I’m so passionate about the need for grated cheese that I convinced Gavin to buy one of these for his apartment before we got married.  I like the box style because it’s the easiest to use, although slightly more annoying to store.  Yes, you can buy your cheese pre-grated but then it’s covered in that powdery stuff and your macaroni and cheese will not taste as good.  Plus you can use this to slice cheese, grate parmesan or lemon zest finely, turn potatoes into hash browns, or grate carrots for carrot cake.

5. Heat-resistant spatula. This is useful for scraping AND cooking, which makes it a winner.  I have a few, but my favorite is definitely this one from OXO. (Noticing a trend?)

6. Good-quality flipper.  This doesn’t get quite as much use as some of my other tools, but if you ever want to make anything remotely pancake-y or burger-y, a spatula is the best tool for the job.  Again, OXO makes a great one.

7. Cutting boards.  I have a giant wooden one that lives on my counter and I love and some smaller plastic ones for raw-meat-jobs, but I would really recommend one wood and one plastic.  Wood is better for your knives and is both more enjoyable and beautiful but I just feel better about putting anything with raw chicken juices on it directly into the dishwasher.

8. Measuring spoons and cups.  I like metal ones, but almost anything will do.  Just make sure the labels for the measuring spoons look like they’re going to stick around (embossed or raised letters are a good bet) or you’ll be confused someday.  Having a 1/4 teaspoon is nice, but you can usually eyeball it anyway.

9. Peeler.  You can definitely make tons of things without a peeler, but you’re also limited to buying baby carrots and eating your potatoes with the skins on.  I like big carrots and sometimes I even like my potatoes peeled.  So I think a peeler can be handy.

10. Mixing bowls. It’s nice to have a set with a small, medium, and large.  Ours nest and have air-tight lids, so we can also use them for food storage, which is nice, but (kitchen hack alert), a plate works pretty well as a lid for most bowls.

There are obviously tons of other things I own and love (meat thermometer, kitchen scale, even a cherry pitter), but I think you could definitely make the basics with these ten things!

If you could add one more thing to the list, what would it be?

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Sunroom or Slow Cooker Room?

It’s been HOT here.  We bought a patio table at the beginning of the summer and haven’t used it since June.  HOT.

One nice thing about our old-fashioned house layout is the door to the kitchen, which lets me trap my cooking heat in there (and also the smoke when we make chicken or pizza in the oven so we don’t set the smoke detector off…but that’s another story).  Sometimes even that is too much, so we’ve been using the slow cooker more often.  How do we keep that from heating up the house too?

Solution: use the slow cookers in our sunroom, which is already un-air-conditioned (and also unheated).  It doesn’t heat up the house, which is awesome.  And they’re not totally outside, which a lot of other people say they do, so they’re safe from the crazy squirrels in our neighborhood.  (Seriously, crazy.)

Additional bonus: the table they’re on cost $5 at a garage sale. Score!

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Macaroni and Cheese Cooked in Milk

Okay, so I’m kind of a macaroni and cheese connoisseur, something I alluded to in my last post.  Macaroni and cheese with a huge side of vegetables comprised a huge and embarrassing percentage of my single dinners.  Gavin thinks we eat it way too much, and I think we’ve had it about four times since we got married three months ago.  (That said, he accompanied almost all meals with the super-great side dish of “chips and cheese” aka tortilla chips with shredded cheese on top, sometimes melted.)

Anyway, I am always up for new and easier ways to make macaroni and cheese, so I tried this one from Heavenly Homemakers.  The basic premise is that you cook the noodles in the milk, which pre-makes a creamy sauce without fuss.  I really wanted to like it.  We always have milk and noodles and cheese!  My current favorite (also super-fast and low-dish-creating) way requires cream, which we definitely are more likely to run out of.

Buttttt, we did not like it.  Granted, I had a hard time keeping my milk at a simmer on my apartment gas stove (it really wanted to be much hotter!) but I had to add a ton more milk and when it was done, it was much more…solid than macaroni and cheese should be.  So I consider this one a fail and am going to keep making macaroni and cheese the way I do now.

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Meal Planning

Once we got married and I was suddenly responsible for cooking for two each day (actually cooking, not just eating macaroni and cheese or a whole cookie sheet of roasted green beans or cheese, grapes, and carrots for dinner), I started meal planning.  At first this took me a LONG time, but I can do it faster now.  Here are some hints.

Shop the meat sales.  When something you use goes on sale, buy it.  Take note of the price so you can compare sales and also use the per pound price for those funky sales like “5 packages of meat for $25” and know whether or not you’re actually getting a deal.

Keep track of what is in your freezer.  I use a spreadsheet-style Google Doc that lists what we have, the quantity, and is color-coded by if it’s pork, beef, poultry, a pre-prepared meal, etc.

Make a generic plan.  I keep this in a Google Doc too (you’ll note this is a trend…).  For example, we usually eat pasta on Mondays, chicken on Tuesdays, some other meat on Wednesdays, a soup/salad on Thursdays, etc.  That helps me keep some variety and not serve chicken every single day, although Gavin sometimes still claims I do.

Keep track of what you’ve been eating.  I just copy and paste from my meal plan into a page that lists things we’ve eaten each week for dinner.  That helps me see when the last time we had spaghetti and meatballs was and if it’s too soon to have it again.

Use Pinterest to your advantage! If I am looking for a chicken dish, I can use my pinboard of chicken dishes.  Organize your pins how it works for you.  For example, if you want to always have a crockpot meal on Wednesdays, keep your crockpot meals in a separate board.  I like to look for dishes by meat, except soups and salads, so I organize mine that way.

In short, meal planning is awesome and you should do it too, especially if you have to get a real dinner on the table (almost) every night.

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