Help me help my kitchen help me.
February 27, 2006 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Indespensible kitchen supplies? Culinary magic aids? Killer cutting board?

Cooking my girlfriend dinner every night gets me a certain bit of leverage in getting nice culinary gifts, but I'm at a loss as to what i should be hinting towards right now.

I just got a nice 10" Shun chef's knife, so I was thinking a quality cutting board. Would a straight-up bamboo block be my best bet?

Rotary grater? Mandolin? Ice cream maker? Million cup food processor? Magnetic knife block (!!!!!!)? What makes your life easier or more fun in the kitchen?

PS We live in an apartment, so smaller is better
posted by soma lkzx to Food & Drink (55 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I love my Mandolin, anything silicone (bakeware especially), spice grinder, but more than anything else, it's about the pots and pans.

I have never loved a kitchen tool as much as I love my Circulon 4.7l Saute Pan.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:21 AM on February 27, 2006

Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen is the be-all, end-all advice for this question.
posted by frogan at 9:24 AM on February 27, 2006

My current love is my Kitchen-Aid Food Processor. I bought a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer first, and while I love it, I love the food processor far more.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:24 AM on February 27, 2006

Try a Kyocera ceramic knife and you'll never go back to metal. Then again, they cost the earth.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:31 AM on February 27, 2006

Oooh. Oooh. The knife holder. Get the knife holder. It's the sexiest thing I ever saw.

Also, this site fulfills all my c00king pr0n needs
posted by Jofus at 9:36 AM on February 27, 2006

Like WinnipegDragon said, nice pots and pans. I love my All-Clad Saute pan.

A hand-crank pasta maker is nice to have around. Homemade ravioli are about 3832902390 times better than the frozen kind. Alton Brown had a show about making them, though he went a bit too far when he set up the ironing board.

If you do a lot of baking a Kitchen Aid stand mixer is nice to have.

This past christmas I got a couple of Microplane graters, which are wonderful for all sorts of things.

Waffle irons are nice, but only if you use them. We use ours at least once a month.

Another thing I got for christmas was a chef's coat. It's great to have when you're cooking for people and want to protect your clothes.

Polder digital thermometer. The day I stopped timing my meat was the day my cooking went up a new level.

Cast iron grill pan. Make sure you have enough ventilation though, they can get smokey.
posted by bondcliff at 9:42 AM on February 27, 2006

Spend way too much money on a really good vegetable peeler. "Way too much" is not even that much, for a vegetable peeler, and it is so satisfying to just effortlessly spool the peel off of apples, carrots, taters.
posted by Capn at 9:43 AM on February 27, 2006

Parchment paper. If you do anything with baking or desserts ever, you need parchment paper. Chocolate-chip cookies baked on parchment paper is the way God intended for them to exist.
posted by Anonymous at 9:43 AM on February 27, 2006

Best juicers ever.

You will never go back.
posted by anjamu at 9:43 AM on February 27, 2006

I'm not fond of owning a lot of kitchen gadgetry, but if you don't have a KitchenAid mixer, get that, because it can be used for a great many things -- mixer, shredder, slicer, and so on. Think of it as the motion plant for your kitchen. Do not under any circumstances purchase a different brand. KitchenAid has gone downhill in the last few years as they chase after a wider market, but the mixers are completely unchanged.

If you're in the market for a cutting board (or a butcher block), you can't really go wrong with a Boos block.

Something else I've noticed many kitchens lack -- but which makes my life tremendously easier and more fun -- is a nice wide offset spatula. I got mine from an antique kitchen store, but new ones are readily available.

Likewise, I get a fair amount of use from my brass skimmer for all sorts of things.

If you don't have a decent supply of tongs, get several in at least two lengths. I don't really like the OXO products that are readily available, but a decent restaurant supply place should have the more generic type.

With this stuff, a good knife, a wok, a couple of pots and some Lodge cast iron, you have the kernel of a powerful, flexible kitchen that can accomplish just about anything you set out to do.

Although if you're looking for something extravagant, spring for a Hurricane. These are amazing for boiling and high heat wok use. In my old place, I had it hooked up to the gas line next to the stove.
posted by majick at 9:43 AM on February 27, 2006

The Microplane grater kicks ass around the block. Lee Valley's measuring spoons and cups are also righteous.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 AM on February 27, 2006

I've not found a rotary grater that holds up under heavy use. I would love one, though.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:44 AM on February 27, 2006

My gadgets (most used to used a little less):

1. Vita-Mix (I use it at least once a day, often multiple times. And no, it's not "just a blender").

2. Henckel Twin Cuisine knives and The Slab cutting board (in Maple) by the Board Smith. The above-mentioned Boos Blocks are good, but I think these are better and they're certainly more attractive/unique looking.

3. I have two juicers: a Champion masticating juicer and a L'Equip centrifugal. The Champion gets more use and is my recommendation but it's more expensive.

4. KitchenAid 12 cup Food Processor

5. Excalibur Dehydrator (not for small kitchens).

6. I'll second Microplane products. They absolute rock.

7. A good (safe!) Japanese Mandolin. However, unless you would use this a LOT, I'd say just a good sharp knife will do the trick. In fact, I prefer to use my Henckel knives and only resort to the Manodlin in very dire circumstances.

8. Not a gadget, but maybe take a course? I've taken some cooking classes and next week am taking a French Pastry course and the week after that a Knife Skills course. I learn at Dish Cooking Studio

9. An absolutely kickass cook book (though it works best if you have my top 4 or 5 things, above).
posted by dobbs at 9:54 AM on February 27, 2006

The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Reinhart.
Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher.
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee.
American Cookery by James Beard.
Alton Brown's books are nice.
Rosie Levy Beranbaum makes cake and pastry books that are often referenced.
And the CIA and Le Cordon Bleu have a bunch of books that you might want to look at.
posted by stavrogin at 10:11 AM on February 27, 2006

Almost forgot: Cuisipro makes great oblong measuring spoons (for getting in spice jars) and a superb whisk.
posted by dobbs at 10:26 AM on February 27, 2006

Cast iron skillet = mandatory. Alton's book on kitchen gear has been my bible as I start to equip my kitchen. I finally sprung for an oven probe thermometer and a quick-read digital like his, and they've been invaluable.

Caveat: Don't take his advice on the Viking blender, they've been getting horrible reviews. I'm going with a Waring, his second choice.

Also, be sure to check out Amazon, you can usually find some pretty incredible deals.
posted by keswick at 10:27 AM on February 27, 2006

Screw that knife block - get one of these. It's an under-cabinet knife block and it kicks ass. Blades are stored on the side (so you don't damage the edge) and they're kept out of the way when not used. Counter space is precious. Don't waste it.

I also really like these mixing bowls. They're melamine, dishwasher safe, and have a non-skid bottom. Sweet.
posted by plinth at 10:31 AM on February 27, 2006

DO NOT get a magnetic knife block. Every time you attach a knife, you're inducing a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the blade. Get a nice, wood, pass-through (holes, and water, go all the way through) block.

I second bondcliff's suggestion of a good (All-Clad) pan. If you don't have good pots and pans, using one will be a surprising difference (basically, they hold heat better and disperse it more evenly, as well as clean more easily)- you'll find plenty of threads here with various recommendations.

Also, they're pricey, but everything we cook in our Le Creuset stuff comes out delicious.

A handful of other "stuff we can't live without", based on a look in our (apartment) kitchen:

- Cuisinart, both full-size and the Mini Prep
- Meat thermometer, with remote sensor
- Silicon spatulas
- A nice, heavy roasting pan (I hesitate to recommend this, since they're big and not used very often, but they make all the difference when you do)
- Microplane (a little citrus zest goes a long way)
posted by mkultra at 10:49 AM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: CunningLinguist: there is nothing more mystical to me than ceramic knives. i have dreams about being able to use one.
frogan: i'll definitely give the alton brown book a read-through at the bookstore
bondcliff: i can never decide whether a pasta maker is something I should get, but then i realize i live with someone who hates pasta (how?!)
dobbs: great idea on taking a course! i'm looking into some as we speak. as for measuring spoons, i really like my kitchenaid ones. they're totally adorable.
majick: every time i run into chinatown i see the wok bases and curse myself for moving into a place with an electric stove, again and again.
everyone about cast iron: i do need a new cast iron skillet, dripping water in my pantry killed my old one.

this thread is great!
posted by soma lkzx at 10:56 AM on February 27, 2006

Besides my ceramic knives and All Clad pans, I'm irrationally attacked to this non stick egg/crepe pan. I'm not a big non-stick fan, but this tough, sleek and beautiful baby is marvelous for omelets and pancakes. And you really can't beat the price.

(also, this has been asked several times before so you'll find more good stuff in the archives.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2006

attacked = attached......what does that typo mean???
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:04 AM on February 27, 2006

soma lkzx, I love KitchenAid, but you can't squeeze those suckers in a standard spice jar. This means you're pouring (and more than likely spilling or over/under filling). With the Cuisipro, even the tbs one easily goes in.
posted by dobbs at 11:06 AM on February 27, 2006

Sam, of the excellent food blog Becks & Posh, sent out a call for similar recommendations when she had a big Sur La Table gift certificate to use. The complete list of recommendations is here.

Personally, I second the recommendations for top quality pans, both instant read and remote/probe thermometers (you don't want to mess with the long wire when you just want to quickly check a steak or pork chop; on the other hand, you don't want to pull your leg of lamb every five minutes to check it), and lots and lots of tongs (my dishwasher usually sees at least 3 pairs per load). I don't own a food processor, stand mixer, or juicer - primarily due to space requirements - but they are at the top of my list when I move into a bigger place; I can't tell you how many recipes I've passed over that start with "Using the paddle attachment..."
posted by rorycberger at 11:06 AM on February 27, 2006

BTW, for well-used cast-iron skillets you have to go to ebay.
posted by lilboo at 11:09 AM on February 27, 2006

And just in case no one else said it - a well-made immersion blender is pretty well-used at my house - I even use mine to crush ice.
posted by lilboo at 11:14 AM on February 27, 2006

i can never decide whether a pasta maker is something I should get

If you don't have one and you'd still like to make homemade pasta, do it the way Nana used to do it and cut a broom handle (or wooden dowel) to about 3 feet and use it to roll out the dough on a wide cutting board. I've done it this way and it's not all that difficult.

If you want a drool-worthy catalog, get The Baker's Catalog from the King Arthur Flour Co. Mostly baking stuff but they carry a lot of items that the employees have used and tested themselves. Just about everything I've ordered from them has been great. And if you're ever up that way in Vermont, it's one of those stores (like Williams Sonoma) where you want to buy one or two of everything.
posted by bondcliff at 11:16 AM on February 27, 2006

My girlfriend and I bought a KitchenAid Mixer recently. It's great if you bake a lot. I'd highly recommend it.
posted by mto at 11:30 AM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: mto: I found my grandmother's (?) KitchenAid mixer in the basement and got terribly excited, but it turns out it didn't have a dough hook! I was anxious about whether a new one would fit, since the mixer was so vintage-y, and have just generally been too lazy since then to find out the answer.
rorycberger: that list is great!
dobbs: i planned poorly when buying things for my apartment, so i ended up in situations like storing flour in a container you can barely fit a 1/4 cup into, and I guess it made me used to pain and turmoil during measuring. Those Cuisipro look awfully nice, though.
posted by soma lkzx at 11:41 AM on February 27, 2006

anjamu: Best juicers ever.

Sorry, but this is the best juicer. A gallon of lime juice is a snap, especially once you get down the part about throwing the peels over your shoulder into the trash can.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:41 AM on February 27, 2006

mto: How could I forget to mention that? My KitchenAid Mixer is the workhorse of my kitchen. My blender is also a KA as is my food processor. It's only a 5-cup model, but I got them all free when I bought my major appliances.

Best. Deal. Ever.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 11:57 AM on February 27, 2006

I love my KitchenAid 6 quart mixer, Krups panini press, Microplane grater, Cuisinart coffeemaker, nested mixing bowls, (and Shun 8" chef's knife).

Up next on my own culinary wishlist are this immersion blender, and this rice cooker.

(My partner wants me to have a slow cooker next so that we can have a pot of meatballs available at all times. I'm slightly less into that idea.)
posted by birdie birdington at 12:05 PM on February 27, 2006

Response by poster: birdie birdington just reminded me, if i'm a Nice SO i'll be buying a coffee maker as part of the Kitchen Goodification Process. What's up with them? I don't drink coffee, so I don't have a damn clue.
posted by soma lkzx at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2006

  • If your SO prefers quality over quantity and ease-of-cleanup, go with a French Press.
  • If your SO prefers quality and ease-of-clean up over convenience, go with a manual-drip.
  • If your SO prefers convenience over quality, go with an automatic drip.

posted by keswick at 12:19 PM on February 27, 2006

I have a bamix immersion blender that I absolutely love. It crushes lots of frozen fruits (with a bit of liquid) without problems, and it purees hot soups in the pan. It is easy to clean, and takes almost no space. It is expensive, though, and in the US there are probably brands that cost less and are just as good. I would never go back to a cheap immersion blender.
posted by davar at 12:34 PM on February 27, 2006

There is a particular cutting board that I couldn't be without: Cuisinart Prep Board. It's light-weight, white plastic, and the sides come up a bit to contain the juice of whatever you're chopping. I use it mostly for cutting up tomatoes. The rectangular on is best: large enough for comfortable chopping, yet it fits easily into the dishwasher.
posted by wryly at 12:36 PM on February 27, 2006

Two items:

The conical measure by far the most useful measuring cup I've ever owned. I think it's an Alton Brown recommendation too.

On the same note: this set from Paderno is the best measuring spoons set I've ever had (and I seem to collect them). Big features:
-unlike round spoons, these fit easily into spice jars.
-Heavy SS so they don't bend and are completely indestructible (even prying out brown sugar lumps).
-Have odd sizes like 2/3 of a table spoon, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons (1/2 tablespoon). This makes scaling baking recipes easy. I don't have to do fractions on Sunday morning to split the pancake recipe, for instance.

Finally, if you don't have one, get an immersion blender. This Braun set was top rated by Cooks Illustrated this month. I've owned it for years and find it indispensable. Its' one of the few power appliances I use in the kitchen.
posted by bonehead at 12:41 PM on February 27, 2006

Sorry, the link to the Paderno spoons is here.
posted by bonehead at 12:42 PM on February 27, 2006

Things you need if you do not already have: A Kitchenaid mixer, a microplane, good thermometers (probe, quick-read, hanging-oven and maybe fridge).

Arbitrary choices: My silicone oven mitt makes flipping a chicken so much easier. And while it may seem too obvious to mention, investing in tactical organization supplies (good spice racks, canisters for flour/sugar/etc) is key for small kitchens.

If you're feeling extravagant, invest in a piece of Le's a hell of a lot less hassle than standard cast-iron. I finally worked myself up to buying their 3.5-quart round buffet dish, which does wonders for braising, long-simmering soups and sauces, that sort of thing. The smaller oval ovens would serve well as a smaller-sized roasting pan, which is a good thing--I've managed to screw up a few chickens by trying to cook them in a pan that's more suited to ducks and turkeys.

Just to be contrary: My food processor, waffle iron, and wok are basically just taking up space, and I ditched my (admittedly vintage) blender last summer and haven't missed it at all.
posted by Vervain at 1:07 PM on February 27, 2006

Ditto Vervain's last comment. Having lived in small kitchens for many years, countertop space is more precious than rubies. A toaster, a blender, a juicer, an espresso machine and all those other small appliances are space thieves. You either need the shelfspace (and the dicipline) to keep putting them away or suffer only having one spot to put your cutting board. It's much easier and cheaper to buy only those you absolutely need. Be ruthless with counterspace. It's very liberating.
posted by bonehead at 1:22 PM on February 27, 2006

On the space note- a hanging pot rack is a godsend. I love my wok, though. I only wish my gas stove put out enough BTU's to really fire that puppy, though...

Also, I can't believe I forgot to mention a pressure cooker. Buy one! You'd be amazed how easy it is to make delicious stews, braises, and risottos in a fraction of the time.
posted by mkultra at 1:27 PM on February 27, 2006

I love my Kom Kom Miracle Knife. It's got an orange handle and a dark metal blade that rotates and locks. In one position, it's an ordinary peeler with a long, pointed, V-shaped blade for making tomato/radish roses and the like. In the other position, it carves long strings from harder veges like carrot and green papaya. You can even lock it halfway/sideways to peel/shred large vegetables quickly. The bottom end of the handle is a corer. It cost next to nothing, and I use it all the time.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:49 PM on February 27, 2006

soma, I would bet that a new dough hook would work just fine on the old mixer. KitchenAid doesn't change the design so often. And here's something else you can do with the mixer: pasta. You attach the pasta rollers and cutters to the front of the mixer and the motor turns them for you (I just got the pasta attachments as a gift and I'm excited to try them). So when the pasta hater is away you can sneak in a snack.

You can also use the mixer to shred vegetables, make sausages, make ravioli, tons of stuff. The things are powerful and indestructible.

I recently had a personal revelation when I got an offset bread knife to replace my crappy old stainless one. My reaction was "why have I been torturing myself all these years?" I had a tendency to bang my knuckles on the cutting board and now that will never happen again.
posted by lackutrol at 1:56 PM on February 27, 2006

You can't get along without a few little brushes for various purposes -- buttering the top of bread dough, that sort of thing. The trouble is, the ones sold for this in culinary hardward joints cost three or four bucks apiece and always fall apart after not much use, at least for me. So now I go to the paint store store and get the cheapest little brushes they have, around 59 cents apiece. I have three in circulation and so far they haven't lost a whisker. I run them through the dishwasher without qualms and when they fall apart I won't care.
posted by beagle at 2:02 PM on February 27, 2006

Oh, also, space is a huge premium for me and maybe not so much for you, but Alton Brown has a good general rule: don't buy single-use tools. For example, don't get a lemon zester when a grater will do. This sort of thinking has saved me from at least some of the purchases I have been tempted by over the years.

Instead, I save up and buy my absolute favorite version of the multi-use tool, price be damned.
posted by lackutrol at 2:04 PM on February 27, 2006

beagle- Check out silicone brushes. They're cheap, and very sturdy.
posted by mkultra at 2:17 PM on February 27, 2006

rice cooker, rice cooker rice cooker. mine is kind of mediocre so i won't specify which one i have, but just having one is brilliant. you throw rice in, you get dinner out. brilliant.
posted by youcancallmeal at 2:18 PM on February 27, 2006

Re: bamboo cutting board

Bad idea. Use only a hard wood like oak or else use plastic.
posted by BradNelson at 2:39 PM on February 27, 2006

This might be something that everyone else has heard of, but I just discovered it last year. It's just a little rubber tube that you put a piece of garlic in and then roll across the counter under your hand, and it peels garlic flawlessly, immediately, amazingly. My roommate has one that she got for free somewhere, as they probably cost nothing to make.

Not a fancy techie item, but indespensable and fun nonetheless.
posted by hermitosis at 2:52 PM on February 27, 2006

I'm hooked on my Brook's Original Home Smoker, and my Magimix 22003 ice cream maker, but if you want something small and totally flash, go for a whipped cream maker, for fancy foams like Ferran Adria.
posted by roofus at 3:44 PM on February 27, 2006

My All Clad Satuese pan is my favorite kitchen item ever.
Cookie scoops: Vollrath disher #20 (the yellow one) I can't live without.
And I also can't live without stainless steel tongs of various lengths.

Plastic mandolins and China cats are fun too.
posted by culberjo at 3:47 PM on February 27, 2006

lillboo has a good tip on finding seasoned cast-iron on ebay. but you'd be surprised at how cheap these babies are at discount home-stores like TJ-Ma/rshalls. i picked up a 14" for five clams just a year ago, and with sufficient care during the initial oiling/seasoning, any hunk of iron like this will last you years. if budget is a Thing, the cast-iron skillet is a great bang-for-your-buck.
posted by garfy3 at 4:41 PM on February 27, 2006

If you're a bread baker (or a pizza fiend), I would recommend getting a baking/pizza stone for your oven. Or you could go to Home Depot and get some quarry tiles (or a large, unglazed terra cotta platter) for a less expensive, but equally effective alternative.

The extra thermal mass that's in your oven goes a long way to give you that crust-cracking oven spring on your bread.
posted by scalespace at 5:11 PM on February 27, 2006

Sticky Carpet: ooooooooh. That's all I really have to say about that. I want.

Mine is nice if you're poor. Like me.
posted by anjamu at 6:15 PM on February 27, 2006

Check the eGullet thread on sharpening knives, get one of the methods he recommends (I did the ceramic stick in board thing), and keep things sharp. Makes me and my partner very happy.

Although my partner gets all giddy any time I bring home something else made of silicon. Baking sheets was the start of it. Then I found some pans on sale. Then some tiny pans at the dollar store, in neon colours. She adores them.
posted by QIbHom at 1:45 PM on February 28, 2006

I find my cast iron wok indespensible, but good luck finding one. I'll up the ante on garfy3's advice by suggesting you seek out cast iron in thrift stores -- that's where I found my wok.

I like where bonehead's coming from re: countertop space -- in fact, this was almost an AxMe from me -- what's cluttering up your counters? My answer: just a Procter-Silex toaster, and my Braun juicer.

Which brings me to StickyCarpet and anjamu's juicer suggestions -- theirs are the mechanical type, basically only for citrus. I'm on my third Braun extractor which I use almost entirely for carrots, but they do citrus just fine too -- and for lemons and limes, you don't even need to peel the fruit!

Speaking of Sur le Table after a recent visit I was amazed at all the brightly-colored silicon stuff they're stocking now... and I've gotta get some parchment paper for my next batch of cookies.
posted by Rash at 4:40 PM on February 28, 2006

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