There are several items you just shouldn’t be doing without in the kitchen. You may be plugging along thinking you’re making it work, and maybe you really are. But I’d like to share with you the ten tools I think should outfit your kitchen in order to increase your quality of life. Perhaps you already own each of these, in which case I think you’re the tops! If not, don’t fret. I am including links to very reasonably priced good quality examples of each tool.
1. Let’s start with one we’ve mentioned before on 4SmartyPants.com. The food processor. I’m not going to spend a lot of time convincing you that you need this. If you are unfamiliar with my line of reasoning on the matter, please go back and read the post: There’s A Lot To Process Suffice it to say that with this tool you can chop, slice, dice, crumb, shred and puree yourself silly. Ask Mac, who recently purchased her first food processor and has been slicing and dicing everything in sight ever since. She will gladly tell you just how much prep time she’s saved since employing her food processor. I recommend a ten-cup processor, and you can pick up a decent one made by Hamilton Beach at Target for $47.24. (Click Here) That may sound a little pricey, but think of it as an investment, one that will pay off quickly when you consider the effort and time you save using it. (And they get a lot pricier than this!)
2. 8 inch chef knife. This is your all-purpose go-to knife. I recommend 8 inches as a minimum. I love kitchen knives, ask anyone who knows me. I have a nice set of knives (though they come much nicer, even!) and I take very good care of them. I like to use each knife for it’s intended purpose, but the chef knife is the versatile knife that can be used for the most jobs in the kitchen. I have 3, though 1 should be plenty. My main chef knife is a Calphalon, and I love it. But you can get the same job done with one much less expensive. My 2 backups are a Hamilton Beach and a Farberware. They do a fantastic job, as well. You can get a great 8 inch Farberware chef knife for the great price of $12.97 from Walmart. (Click Here) You have no business hacking away at an onion or a tomato with a paring knife.
3. Sharpening steel. You have to keep that chef knife sharp! It’s no good to you without a very sharp edge. And please, please get rid of the ridiculous sharpener you’ve been using. It’s murder on your knives. It’s actually just thinning your blade! You shouldn’t be using anything to keep your knives sharp except a wet stone (if you know how to use one) or a sharpening steel. I use my steel on my knives probably every other time I use them. You can get yours at Walmart while you’re getting your chef knife. They have one made by Presto for $14.97. (Click Here) Get it and commit to using it regularly, it will change your food prep experience, ten-fold. To use, hold it upright in your non-dextrous hand and holding the knife in the other hand at a 45 degree angle drag it from the base of the blade to the tip (with some pressure) then move it to the other side of the steel and repeat 15 times. This realigns the blade improving its edge and will keep it in tip-top shape.
4. Wood cutting board. Please refer to this post: Just When You Thought It Was Safe…. I will spare you the details, but if you aren’t using a wood cutting board or chopping block, it’s time to make the switch. These can get very costly, but you can find good ones for reasonable prices if you look hard enough. Walmart carries one right now that looks like a good one and has good reviews for $23.97. (Click Here) Edge grain is good, but if you can get one that is end grain, that is best (for your knives, especially!)
5. Nonstick skillet. I love stainless steel pots and pans, but there are just times when you need a good nonstick skillet. Eggs, for instance, just cause less stress in your morning when cooked in a nonstick skillet. I recommend having at least one nonstick pan in your kitchen, and don’t go less than a 12 inch skillet. Target sells a great KitchenAid skillet for $30.29. (Click Here) For pete’s sake, DO NOT use metal utensils in it for ANY reason! You will scratch the nonstick surface and it will peel and no longer be nonstick. It will also start to smell eventually as the nonstick surface deteriorates. Whenever you can, wash it with hot water and a paper towel, use soap only when really necessary.
6. Baking stone. I love stoneware! I have several pieces and use them a lot! Most of mine are from Pampered Chef, and they are fantastic. You really should have at least one piece of stoneware in your kitchen arsenal. I recommend either a pizza stone or a bar pan for the most versatility. They are great for cookies, pizza, frozen foods (pizza rolls, French fries, burritos, etc) and also for baking bacon! The absorbent nature of stoneware lends itself to a myriad of uses. One of my favorite discoveries was learning that a baking stone is the perfect surface for putting just-out-of-the-oil deep fried foods on. You don’t have to keep placing paper towels on a plate and making a big greasy mess. Just put it on the stoneware and it absorbs the grease! You don’t have to wait for your next invitation to a Pampered Chef party to get started. Target carries a 15 inch pizza stone by Good Cook for $15.79. (Click Here) That’s a great price! We got this exact stone as a wedding gift, and nearly 9 years later, it’s still working great! DO NOT ever use soap to clean your stoneware. It will absorb the soap and taint your food with a soapy taste. Hot water and a scraper are all you need to clean your stone. It will get darker and darker with each use and a really dark baking stone should be considered a badge of honor.
7. Slow cooker. But you already assumed that, right? A slow cooker can be your best friend on a busy day. In the winter, I make chili in my crockpot at least once a week. It’s great for other easy meals like creamed chicken (chicken breasts and a can of cream of chicken, break into small chunks and put on burger buns with cheese,) meatball subs (frozen meatballs and jar of spaghetti sauce, put on hot dog buns with mozzarella cheese,) and California chicken subs (frozen chicken breasts and package of ranch seasoning, shred and put on sub buns with ranch dressing and Swiss cheese.) The options are endless. I have 4 different sizes of slow cookers, but if you’re going with just one, get a 6 quart. Walmart has a Hamilton Beach 6 quart slow cooker for $30.54. (Click Here) I have this one and I love it.
8. Enamel cast iron dutch oven. I love this thing. In fact, as I speak, mine is on the stove cooking up a yummy pot of refried beans. This is great for soups, stews, rice, homemade stocks, browning ground meats, and many other uses. You can even use it for baking, usually up to 400 degrees. Do not immerse in water, dry completely after washing, and don’t use over high heat . Get one and use it, you’ll be glad you did. Yours is waiting at Walmart for $49.97 and is made by Lodge. (Click Here) I keep mine on the stovetop all the time, because it’s such a pretty piece!
9. Kitchen shears. I always used kitchen shears for things like opening food packages and cutting pizza, but I married into a family that uses them for everything. EVERYTHING! There are a lot of young children in the family, and I have seen my sisters-in-law and mother-in-law use kitchen shears to cut into bite size pieces: hot dogs, pizza slices, fruit, bacon, sandwiches, chicken, green beans, you name it. I have learned the versatility of a good pair of shears. Keep at least one pair in your kitchen and don’t use it for non food/cooking things . (They aren’t for crafting or opening toy packaging, etc.) You can get a great pair of KitchenAid shears at Target for $4.99. (Click Here)
10. A loaf pan (or 2). Did you know you don’t have to own a bread machine or buy bread dough mixes to have delicious homemade bread with dinner? It’s true! If you just have a cheap little loaf pan, you can easily enjoy homemade bread anytime! Loaf pans are also great for things like meatloaf (if you’re so inclined, I am not a big meatloaf fan.) I don’t recommend buying the disposable aluminum pans, because if you get the whim to bake some bread one day, you shouldn’t miss out just because you don’t have anymore disposable pans in the cupboard. Kitchen Collection has a set of 2 right now for $5.99. (Click Here)
To get you started, here’s a quick recipe for a delicious bread you can serve with dinner tonight.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces dark beer
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Coat an 8-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center. Pour in beer and olive oil and mix until just blended.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake 45 minutes, until golden brown.
Let it cool in pan 2 min then turn upside down on your wood cutting board and tap the bottom of pan with butter knife to release bread.
Slice and serve warm with butter.
Do you think something imperative is missing from my list?