A long while back, I wrote a post about my 25 kitchen essentials – covering all of the fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and grains that are necessities in my refrigerator and cupboards. I had planned to follow it up with my kitchen tool essentials – covering all of those gadgets that make cooking easier, more streamlined, and simply more fun. Well, I wrote that post about top foods in 2013…
So at long last, today I’m sharing 5 essential kitchen tools (plus one that’s just nice to have). I have many more essentials than that, but this post was becoming absurdly long. (Let’s face it. I have a lot to say about kitchen tools.) So this is going to be a series. I will share more in future posts! Look for them some time in 2017. 😉
1. Large cutting boards + extra smaller ones for fruit and serving
You can tell a lot about someone’s cooking style by her/his cutting boards. Whenever I cook in someone else’s house, the cutting board is the first thing that I notice. If it’s a very little plastic thing, I know they either don’t cook much or they don’t like cooking. And who can blame them? If I had to chop on that tiny thing, I wouldn’t enjoy cooking either.
To cook, you need breathing room without worrying that every diced onion or minced piece of garlic is going to fly off the side. While some people assume that a clove of garlic only needs an equally small cutting board, it’s so much easier to chop when you have space to do it, cutting with force, and not worrying about being gentle so that vegetables don’t fall off.
So I have two large cutting boards. One is a hardwood cutting board with a good amount of heft that just feels good to chop on. Being wood, it has to be washed by hand and requires regular treatments of mineral oil. The other cutting board is thinner and not as tactically satisfying, but it can go in the dishwasher. So depending on my mood, I gravitate towards one or the other.
Then I have several smaller boards that I use for either serving food or slicing fruit. Living in a vegan household, I don’t have to worry about which cutting boards have touched meat and which have not. (None of them have, obviously.) However, I do give consideration to which ones have come into contact with garlic. We are a garlic-heavy household, and so I don’t slice fruit on my regular day-to-day chopping blocks since fruits (especially citrus) seem to pull that taste right out of them. Even a garlic-lover like me doesn’t want a bowlful of garlicky mango or pineapple for breakfast.
2. Several sets of measuring spoons & cups
Another way you can tell someone doesn’t cook very often – their measuring spoons are still attached by that little ring. I hate that little ring. If I just need one measuring spoon, I don’t want that dirty one to touch the others, meaning that I have to wash all of them, and if I do need the others, I don’t want a wet sloppy spoon to touch another one that I needed for a dry ingredient.
All of my measuring spoons are separated, and I have several sets of them. Not only do I use them for precise measuring when putting together a recipe, I also use them for cookbooks, and even when I’m just cooking intuitively. I don’t like the shake-the-bottle method, where there’s the chance that a ton of spices could dump onto the food. Using a measuring spoon gives me some control, even when I’m not measuring. I especially like narrow measuring spoons that fit easily in a jar, so that you don’t have to pour out of the spice jar, and again worry that more will dump out than you need.
I also have several sets of measuring cups for the same reason. More measuring cups means if I’m cooking a large meal, I can have one set that’s just for dry ingredients and one for wet. That way I don’t have to wipe down something wet before measuring flour, for example, that will almost certainly stick to it no matter how well I dry it.
3. Fine mesh sieve
I use my fine mesh strainer (at the top of this post) all the time. Whenever I want to rinse something small that would fall through a colander, I reach for the sieve. It’s great for cleaning and sorting rice, barley, and lentils. I line it with cheesecloth when straining cashews, almonds, or other nuts for nut milks or cheeses. It’s also perfect for straining infused oil for Ethiopian cooking.
4. Food Scale
I waited on buying a food scale for the longest time. I am not a person who weighs food for dieting purposes, and so I just wasn’t sure how often I’d use it. Answer? Almost daily. Since I’m usually only cooking for one or two, I’m often dividing recipes in cookbooks. When ingredients are listed by weight, it used to involve some eyeballing. Then if the recipe didn’t turn out quite right, I wasn’t sure if it was because of a cookbook error or fault of poor measuring. Now I don’t have to wonder.
Plus, if I want to use exactly half of a bag of dried noodles or find out how many ounces are left in the block of tofu I’ve been slicing down for days, I can easily plop it on the scale. Of course, it’s also handy for writing recipes.
5. Chef’s Knife
A friend who tried going vegetarian once said her main complaint was that it was too much chopping. When produce is the centerpiece of your diet, there’s a lot of cutting involved. Of course, I would argue that everyone should be chopping and eating fresh vegetables, not just vegetarians. Still, I can’t disagree that I do my fair share of chopping.
Again, having the proper tools makes the process easier and more enjoyable. A large chef’s knife that feels good in the hand, is a pleasure to hold, and is very sharp, makes the process quicker and more pleasant. I have an 8-inch Viking chef’s knife, but it’s good to go to a cooking store, try out several knives, and see what feels best to you.
It’s the knife that I use 98% of the time, except for when I need a serrated knife for cutting tomatoes, bell peppers, or bread. It was a little more of an investment, but if you spend more on the chef’s knife that you’re using most of the time, you can get some wiggle room on the other knives that you use more sparingly. Plus, being vegan, look how much you’re saving on not needing steak knives! 😉
At our home, we call this this blender the Vita-baby. (I’m sorry.) I spent years desperately wanting a Vitamix before I bought one. Knowing that I already had a working blender that was $50 from Target, it was hard to justify spending several hundred dollars instead. (I ended up buying a refurbished model for a significant discount from the full-priced blenders.)
It’s an interesting thing, I think, about cooking tools that they don’t always seem as “legitimate” to some people as other kinds of tools. I know people who wouldn’t balk at spending hundreds of dollars on a tool for the garage but would never spend that much on something that goes in the kitchen instead. While of course, it’s important to keep your car running smoothly, it’s also important to keep your self running smoothly. And having tools that make the process easier, quicker, and more pleasant certainly helps in that regard.
We bought our Vitamix three years ago and have never regretted it. David and I use it several times a day for smoothies, creamy salad dressings, sauces for mac and cheese, soup, nut-based milks and cheeses… We put it through the ringer, and it delivers consistently smooth sauces and smoothies that would have been impossible with our old blender. Plus, I don’t have to soak cashews ahead of time if I want a salad dressing or mac and cheese that night. And it doesn’t require grinding chia seeds or flax seeds separately before making a smoothie. Even very fibrous things like hearty kale are perfectly smooth with it.
Maybe best of all, it’s really easy to clean. After I’m done blending, I just add a squeeze of dish soap into the blender along with a cup or so of warm water. I let it blend for about 30 seconds, rinse it, and let it dry. Our old blender was always taking up space in the dishwasher, and so many times, I’d want to use it, only to discover that it was in 4 or 5 parts and still dirty. With the Vitamix being so easy to clean, it’s always ready to use whenever I need it.