I confess: I have a small kitchen that is overflowing with tools, gadgets, and useless purchases that seem like a good idea at the time. They’re only a few dollars, and if you have a coupon (Hello Bed Bath and Beyond!), it can seem absurd not to buy them. Things like a strawberry huller, slicers, choppers, and all those other things that either don’t work or just aren’t as useful as you think. I’ve had them all, and a few times a year, I find myself having to clean out my kitchen to get rid of them all. Several people on Craigslist have thought they’ve hit the jackpot by picking up my box of “Miscellaneous Kitchen Items”, only to go home, try them, and understand just why I’ve given them away.
Every so often, you find something that changes how you cook. Tools that cost a few dollars, but are worth ten times that amount. I’m not talking about tongs, spatulas, and things everyone has. You know how much a good knife will change your cooking. I’m talking about tools that actually do make your life easier in the kitchen. If you do a lot of cooking, any one (or all) of these will change the way you cook. The best part is that you can get all of these for less than $20.
1. Joseph and Joseph Garlic Press
I love garlic. If a recipe calls for 2 small cloves of garlic, you can bet I’m using 5 large ones. Peeling and chopping it, however? Not a fan. I’ve tried garlic presses that have the lever you push the garlic through, and frankly, I’ve never been impressed. They’re a pain to clean, and half your clove ends up stuck inside. I gave up on those after trying a couple, and even grated garlic on my microplane for a while, which was better, but sill not perfect.
Until I got the Joseph and Joseph garlic press. It looks a lot different than any garlic press you’ve seen, but that’s why it works so well. It’s all one piece, and it’s made of stainless steel, so when you’re done and your hands smell like garlic, you rub them on the press, and the smell’s gone!
It’s also easy to clean. Rinse it off, put it in the dishwasher and you’re done. I can mince 5 large cloves of garlic in 30 seconds with this thing. It’s amazing!
2. Oxo 4 Ounce Angled Liquid Measuring Cup
Measuring a tablespoon or two of liquid is a pain. A large liquid measuring cup usually doesn’t have measurements for such small amounts, and trying to pour soy sauce into a measuring spoon is not exactly ideal.
I got these in a gift basket someone gave me for Christmas one year, along with some silicone measuring cups, a couple utensils, and a bowl or two. While the rest of that stuff is long gone, I use these just about everyday for something. They’re perfect when you just need a small amount of liquid, even if you aren’t using precise measurements. They’re also plastic and easy to clean. I have a 2 cup and a 4 cup version of these angled measuring cups, and while I like them both, these get way more use.
3. Martha Stewart Magnetic Measuring Spoons
I have a thing for measuring spoons. If you were to come look through the drawers in my kitchen, you’d find several measuring spoons in each one. I don’t know why, because I rarely measure anything when I cook. I usually just use them as spoons to move spices and such from their container to their destination. Of course, you probably know, most spice jars aren’t wide enough for standard measuring spoons, but these ones are. Not only that, but they’re magnetic, so they stay together nicely when you store them (not for me, of course.)
4. Flexible Cutting Boards
These are seriously one of the best kitchen purchases I’ve made. Seriously. I don’t know what they’re made of or who makes the particular set I’ve got, but if you chop things at all, you need these. They usually come three or four in a pack of different colors, with the idea being that you’d use one for meat, one for fish, one for veggies, one for cooked foods. I don’t use them that way at all. I just use them to chop vegetables, slice cheese and apples, or whatever else I’m slicing. You can bend them to make sure none of your chopped goodies gets on your stove. Then when I’m done, I rinse it off and put it in the dishwasher. Since there are four of them, when I need to chop something else, I grab another. Not a day goes by when I don’t use at least two of these. I rarely use one of the many large, heavy wooden cutting boards I have anymore.
5. Mortar and Pestle
This one doesn’t get as much use as the others, and in fact, I bought it because I liked the way it looked. It is great for small jobs like smashing small amounts of herbs, crushing nuts and seeds, and grinding spices. Use it to small olives for tapenade, or make guacamole. I got this one at Crate and Barrel, but you can find them in any cooking store, made of anything from wood to marble, in lots of sizes.
Bonus Large Item: Le Creuset 5 Quart Braiser
I have quite a few decent skillets, pots and pans, but I find this one to be the one I use the most. It’s heavy, durable, and a looks nice enough that I can hang it in my kitchen for all to see (it’s the green pan in the photo above.) My favorite thing about it is that it’s so easy to clean. It’s pricey at several hundred dollars, but if you’re serious about cooking, I’d recommend anything from Le Creuset.
What kitchen tools have changed your life?