Essential Gadgets: Steph’s Kitchen

Before I begin, I must make a confession: I do not, as of the writing of this post, own an Instant Pot. I have 2 Slow Cookers and a pressure cooker that I only use for canning (and not w/ pressure), and I used to have a rice cooker until it literally caught on fire, but no Instant Pot. I’m growing more interested in one, though, the more I hear about friends making whole dinners in them! And also, the multitasking.

I love Alton Brown’s “NO UNITASKERS” rule (w/ the exception of the fire extinguisher, of course). It’s a good rule of thumb for the kitchen; if it only does one thing, you probably don’t need it. You won’t see any strawberry hullers or olive pitters or banana slicers in my pantry (they’re a thing!! check them out!). But there *are* a handful of gadgets that I couldn’t imagine being without — especially this time of year, when there’s so much fresh produce that begs to be sliced and diced and preserved. These are the items in my kitchen that are never far from the counter, if they leave it at all:

1. Food Processor (big and strong – go for the power!)
I use my food processor for pastry dough, cracking whole grains, making pesto, hummus, crushing almonds (when the macaron itch strikes), and basically anything else I want to blend that isn’t liquid. I really like my Cuisinart and the blade set it came with: supersharp (for chopping/blending), notsharpatall (for dough), and two plates that slice and grate, respectively. I never use the slicer, I rarely use the dough blade, and only grate carrots. So the supersharp blade stays in. It’s a counter hog, so I do put it away between uses, but it’s so worth it for the quick work it makes of any task.

2. Immersion Blender, aka Stick Blender
This is my go-to tool for making soups!! I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pour hot soup in the blender, and in multiple batches when you have a large pot, but it’s not pretty. Between this and the food processor, my blender is made nearly obsolete. I actually use this for cutting whole oats, too. I’m still experimenting, but I’ve found that I don’t mind if most of the oats stay whole, as long as there are enough that are broken open to release the starch that makes the oatmeal creamy. I’ve heard people say that they use their stick blender for quick smoothies, too; I haven’t tried it, but I love the idea!

3. Wooden spoons
Lots of them. If you’ve ever picked up a metal spoon left in a hot pot by mistake, you’ll run out and buy some of these now. They don’t have to be fancy, though I’ve seen some gorgeous handmade spoons at art fairs before. And you can make your own spoon butter to keep all your wood tools looking gorgeous and fancy;  I need to do that one of these days!

4. Silicone Spatulas
While I’m on the subject of simple stirring tools, I believe you can never have too many silicone spatulas. Wooden handle or plastic handled (though handles you can’t remove makes me a little squicky about getting them clean), I use them as much for cooking as to scrape bowls. They keep me from scratching up the pans, and can be great at lifting eggs and pancakes to see if they’re done yet.

5. Knives
Pretty much the only knives I use are my large (8″ maybe?) santoku knife, my (7″?) chef’s knife, and a small paring knife. Check out this post by Julia Moskin on knife skills and choosing a knife – it’s awesome.

6. Kitchen Scissors (dedicated to kitchen use)
A must. To cut open packages of meat, strings on roasts, to spatchcock a turkey or chicken, cut herbs, etc. It took me a while to admit it, but I love the kind of scissors that are made specifically for kitchen use, because they break apart for cleaning. And if you’re going to use it to cut open a raw turkey, you’ll appreciate anything that facilitates cleaning it.

7. Tape or Labels (the roll shown is dry-erase tape)
Not really a gadget, but essential in helping me keep from wasting things because they’ve sat in the fridge too long. I use the dry-erase tape on short containers. For taller glass containers, I just use a sharpie! You can scrub it off when you’re ready, but it doesn’t smear.

8. Graduated beaker
I had to look this up, I kept calling it a flask. But apparently it’s a beaker? It’s a plastic cone (though I’m sure you could find glass), and it measures in tsp/Tbs/cups/mL all at once. Fantastic for recipes that call for several different liquids, because you can stack them.

9. Food Saver (bag sealer)
I might go months without using this at all, but I appreciate the heck out of it when I’m making soups or really anything that I want to freeze in portions. Especially in the fall, I’ll make a large pot or two of soup and freeze 15-20 bags all at once. They make pint and quart bags, and they also make a roll of the bag material that you can use to make your own bags — as large or small as you want! The plastic can handle pretty hot soup going in, and they can go straight in the freezer after sealing. Because they’re flat, they store really well. Though you might find you need to add a bin of some kind to your freezer, if you’re going to stack them more than 2-3 high. Frozen soup avalanche!

10. Mandoline
This is probably my most prized kitchen possession at the moment. I use it to slice turnips, radishes, beets, carrots, and I’d use it to slice kohlrabi if I knew what to do with kohlrabi… This is an oxo, and slices as thin as 1/16″, up to 1/4″. There are attachments that supposedly will cube and julienne, but I’ve never had any luck getting them to work any more efficiently than my knife. But the plain old slicer is magic. Never mind more expensive versions; this one was under $50 and I can’t imagine ever wanting another. I’d ditch the so-called “finger safety guard”, as I found it more hazardous than the v-blade. BUT! Get yourself a good “cut-resistant” glove to use when slicing. Trust me on this.

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