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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

6 Kitchen Items I Can't Live Without

Besides large appliances like the refrigerator, oven, range, and microwave, every cook has her favorite gadgets and tools in the kitchen.  These gadgets streamline the cooking process and make our lives easier, reducing time spent in the kitchen while simultaneously increasing time spent enjoying your culinary creations with family or guests. 

Here are my 6 Kitchen Items I Can’t Live Without

6.  12-inch oven-proof skillet -  This should be the first pan you purchase when furnishing a kitchen, and they definitely get their fair share of use in mine.  I use my 12-inch skillets nearly every day.  Being able to transfer my skillet to the oven really increases the versatility of what I cook, which is a feature I value.  This means I can get a really good sear on my filet mignon on the range then bring it up to my preferred doneness in the oven (rare to medium-rare for this girl).  

My 12-inch oven-proof skillet is a non-stickCalphalon (Calphalon Contemporary Nonstick 10" and 12" Combo on sale for $49.99 at Macy's!) which is nice, but super heavy.  I think next time I’d go for a stainless model ($109.99 at Macy's), which is better for building sauces.  If you’re really lucky, you have both!

5.  InSinkErator - I never knew how much I love my garbage disposer until it was gone.  And when you're used to it being there, it can cause serious problems when you forget it isn't working.  This recently happened to us when I overestimated the ability of my garbage disposer and fed it peach pits.  ATTENTION HOME COOKS:  PEACH PITS ARE TOO MUCH FOR YOUR GARBAGE DISPOSER!  THROW THEM OUT INSTEAD!!!  Luckily, our disposer didn't break.  One of the blades instead got stuck on one of the pits.  Hubby was able to fix the problem easily by purchasing a disposer wrench.  I've learned my lesson.  No more abuse of my InSinkErator Badger 5 1/2 HP Continuous Feed Garbage Disposer ($99.96 at Home Depot).

4.  Wooden Spoons -  I once purchased a set of wooden spoons for a friend as a housewarming gift.  She couldn't understand why someone would use such a thing.  (She didn't do much cooking beyond Easy Mac.)  Wooden spoons won't melt into food if you accidentally leave them in the pot, and they don't add any flavor to your cooking.  My grandmother has wooden spoons that are older than I am.  Buy yourself a set and you're in good shape for years (Calphalon Wooden Utensils $3.99-$4.99 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, but you can often find a cheap 3-pack at your local grocery store which work equally as well as the Calphalon, heavier wooden spoons.  I tend to prefer my cheap ones to the heavy duty Calphalon ones).  Bamboo works well too.

3.  Small and Large Food Processor - When my mother bought me a small food processor, I never saw the need for it.    I didn't know how much I would use it in the future.  After I got married, I wanted to make good recipes for dinner including onions - an ingredient hubby and I aren't exceptionally fond of.  Using the food processor I was able to chop the onions smaller than I would ever be able to do by hand, allowing me to impart the flavor of the onions (a building block on so many recipes) without the crunch of a large chunk of onion.  And it only takes a few seconds to whip those onions into a paste.  Try the Cuisinart 4-Cup Mini Food Processor, $49.99 at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

I married a southern man.  My northern friends might ask what this means.  This means making biscuits.  And not Bisquick biscuits, but real biscuits - from scratch.  Using a food processor to mix the flour with the cold butter and/or cream cheese allows me to get a really good crumb and produce a delicious biscuit from scratch.  I use my Cuisinart DLC-10 S Pro Classic 7 Cup Food Processor ($99.99 at for the big projects.  

2.  Garlic Press - I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking "In these economic times, there's no way I need to be spending money on a fancy schmancy garlic press!"  You might be right.  If you aren't a big garlic fan and don't use a lot of garlic in your cooking, then this gadget is superfluous for you.  I even used to agree with you, even though Hubby and I are huge garlic fans.  Until my mom bought me my garlic press.  

When a recipe calls for 2 cloves or garlic, I tend to add 4 cloves.  When a recipe calls for 6-8 cloves...  Well that's a lot of mincing!   A garlic press allows you to streamline the process and reduces the mince to a tiny speck, which will disappear into the recipe while still infusing the dish with the flavor and aroma of the garlic.  I use the Oxo Good Grips Garlic Press, $15.99 at

1.  A Sharp, Well Balanced Chef's Knife -  I know you have found yourself in this situation:  You're helping a friend get ready for a party and she asks you to cut up the vegetables for crudites.  She hands you a flimsy, light, dull, dreadful excuse for a chef's knife.  Of worse yet, a steak knife.  This host clearly is guilty of either A. Keeping the good knife for herself, or B. not knowing a good knife when she sees one!  I have three chef's knives; two of which I like and use regularly, one of which I abhor and only use when the other two are dirty and I'm too lazy to wash them.  The first, and my favorite knife of all, is a Mundial Stainless Steel antique, given to me by my grandmother.  She tends to use paring knives for her cooking prep and happily gave me this amazing knife.  Well hefted, and slightly heavy to allow for easy passage through vegetables or meat, this is my favorite knife.  Coming in second is, believe it or not, an old Ginsu.  Lighter than it's Brazilian cousin, the Ginsu definitely keeps it's sharpness.  My least favorite knife is a cheap, light, flimsy (the blade bends when you're trying to slice raw carrots!) Faberware Walmart Special.  

This is one aspect of the kitchen where spending a little more money really can make a difference.  My Mundial knife (get a comparable knife for $34.95 at is probably at least as old as me, and the Ginsu (Walmart; $15.99 for two knives) is nearly that old.  The Faberware I purchased just out of college and only stays with me until I get a suitable replacement.  I'm saving my money for an 8" Wusthof Grand Prix II Cook's Knife ($135.00 at Macy's) because it fits well into my hand.  

If you're in the market for some good knives, don't purchase a cutlery set.  My mother purchased one for me and I almost never ever use it.  Instead, figure out what knives you need for your cooking.  I use my chef's knife for nearly all my prep.  I use a bread knife for splitting rolls, bagels, etc. and cutting bread loaves.  I have several paring knives for peeling potatoes, apples, etc.  And I have a set of steak knives.  All the other knives in my collection never get used, just sit there and collect dust.  Visit a higher end kitchen store and hold the knives in your hand before purchase.  A knife's weight and feel can determine if you will use it or not.  No sense in spending $100+ on a knife you won't like because you ordered it from Amazon without giving it a try first.

Whether inherited from a family member, given to you as a wedding gift, or picked up along the way, these tools and gadgets make our lives in the kitchen a little easier.  Take a look around your kitchen and give thanks to the hard-working items you use on a regular basis.  

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