Over the years I’ve aggressively purged my cabinets of needless appliances and gadgets. The decision as to what stays and what goes is driven by three simple questions:
1) How often do I use it?
2) Will it fit on my countertop? I firmly believe if items are stored in hard to reach places, they’re essentially useless.
3) If it does need to be stored, will I really, really get use out of it to justify the purchase? Such is the case with my pasta maker. It sits in the cabinet above the stove and still sees quite a bit of use—I make fresh pasta at least once a week.
Taking all this into consideration, these are the kitchen tech gadgets I’ve deemed unable to live without. Warehouse clubs like BJ’s and Costco are great places to stock a kitchen on a budget, making the price of membership a worthy investment.
Cuisinart Food Processor
My very first one was a gift from the Mr. some 13 years ago. I’m on my second one now—upgraded to an 11-cup, and not sure I’d want to ever consider kitchen-life without it.
I have two, okay actually three—the last one being the blender attachment to my Cuisinart Stand Mixer. It was a work necessity since I develop recipes for them, but in all honesty, I’m more partial to my stand alone counter top ones. My Oster Professional Series blender gets equal use along with my Ninja MasterPrep, the latter being an extreme workhorse, and in many cases providing the same results as more expensive professional-grade blenders for a lot less money. If you had to choose just one for space or budget reasons, I’d invest the $50 in the Ninja.
Cuisinart Electric Pressure Cooker
I’ve been using pressure cookers for about 15 years now. My first foray was working with stovetop models, all very efficient and relatively easy, but after going electric a year ago, there’s no looking back. This model can sear, brown, saute and there’s no guess work on regulating the pressure. It’s a necessity for anyone with a busy lifestyle—who doesn’t crave homemade lentil soup in 10 minutes?
Cuisinart Stand Mixer
I was a Kitchen Aid devotee for 10 years. Mine had special sentimental attachments too—it was one of the last gifts my aunt and uncle gave me before he passed away. I switched to the Cuisinart for work purposes a few years ago, but can 110% now say that if I had to buy a new one today, Cuisinart has won my heart. It has 800 watts—they also make a 1000-watt model, and the timer feature is especially great for creaming sugar and whipping frostings. It also doesn’t leave a puddle at the bottom of the mixing bowl when I whip egg whites, like my old mixer used to do.
Emerson 1000-watt Microwave
Want to melt chocolate in one minute, with no double boiler to clean up? How about make caramel corn in 10 minutes? Perhaps make fresh jams and preserves in 5 minutes. These are just a sampling of the things that I get done in a lot less time than traditional recipes by using a microwave. I’d never cook meats in it because that’d be gross, but heat a bowl of soup or steam veggies in 2 minutes? Sign me up. I know some of you will feel strongly about this one, so again remember it’s all about what suits your lifestyle. If you prefer using traditional stove-top methods, then rock on. Whatever gets a homecooked meal on the table is my motto.
This might seem more like an indulgence, but if you have school-age kids and face the daily challenge of packing lunch, crepes are a nice alternative to tortillas wraps and regular old bread. The more they stay interested in what you pack, the more likely they are to eat it, instead of toss it. A nonstick 8-inch skillet does the job too.
Pots & Pans
Heidi Swanson says it best in her new book, Super Natural Every Day (out in April 2011)—better to mix and match, and get the pans that work best for your needs. The Mr. bought a lovely 12 piece pot set almost 15 years ago, and I’ve whittled it down to only 4 of the original pieces. The pasta strainer insert was a waste of space for me personally, and I prefer another deep skillet to the one that came with the set. Over time I’ve also added some ceramic pots from Martha Stewart—they work great and cost less than Le Creuset, but are more prone to chipping. When I have spare pocket change, I’d love to invest in some Staub ceramic cookware.
Digital Instant-Read Thermometer
A must for the DIY lifestyle. Many base recipes including bread dough, homemade ricotta and making yogurt rely on accurate temperatures, and it’s the only sure way to know when roasted meats are cooked to the desired doneness.
Atlas Pasta Maker
If you’re as fond of homemade pasta as me—I make it once a week using this recipe, then you probably already own one. If you want to add it to your recipe repertoire, then you need one a.s.a.p. Making the dough takes minutes, rolling it out is what takes the most time and effort. Mine is the Mia Cucina, and came as part of the Mr.’s dowry so to speak—he bought it years before we met, and we’re going 16 years strong.
Strainers, assorted sizes
If my count is correct, I have six strainers. In truth, I’d like to add one more to that count—a large fine sieve. Those can be pricey but it’s on my wish list. I have a large one for straining pasta, a medium size I won as part of my prize package for this winning Food 52 recipe (and while it’s not essential for me, it does fold compact, so is good for small spaces), a few in-between sizes and two small ones for when I need to strain sauces and stocks.
Graters, box and hand styles
I should mention I have a 200 square foot kitchen. This allows me certain addictions, like owning four graters. One box style, and three hand graters—two of which are microplane ones. For bulk jobs, I sometimes call in the shredding disc on my Cuisinart, but mostly I prefer the texture and size when it’s done by hand.
Really all your slicing, dicing and chopping needs can be met with one really good knife, and some practice I should add. I’m one of these geeks who actually loves prepping ingredients. A few whacks on the chopping block is a low-cost stress reliever. I’m a Wusthof gal and have had my main knife for 15 years—the first one I ever bought, and it’s still my go-to knife. With good care—never, ever put them in the dishwasher, and honing before each use, a good knife can become an heirloom you pass down to the grandkids.
p.s. I also own a great scallop edged Wusthof panini knife—the best for cutting breads, and find my paring knife comes in handy more than I give it credit.
I fell in love with a pedrini one years ago and only wish I’d bought two, just in case this one ever gets lost. I even bring it on vacation for our annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod. My friend Erin uses a paring knife to peel because that’s how her mother did things. My mom used a peeler, so maybe that’s why I find this so indispensable.
A second set of hands that also get tossed into the vacation essentials bag.
A necessity for making ricotta, straining yogurt— two tasks I do weekly. Truth be told, I find cloth diapers, clean, new ones of course, do a much better job and last longer, so that’s what I use. Just be sure to wash them with an all-natural unscented detergent so nothing nasty leaches into your food.
Perfect for storing grains and nuts, and essential for canning.
Sturdy plastic ones are my preferred, though I have a few wooden ones for presenting food and setting up cheese boards for big gatherings.
I know many people have two sets of sheets, rimmed and flat, for baking. I use rimmed half-sheet pans for everything from oven roasted fries to chocolate chip cookies.
Whisks, Wooden Spoons, Rubber Spatulas
Yes, yes and yes—these are must haves for everything from smooth sauces to creamy frostings.
p.s. Bakers might want to add a bench scraper to this list too. Comes in very handy for scraping dough off countertops.
Last Word (for now, at least)
I’m sure there are some items I’ve left out that you all find indispensable. Some may have been an oversight, and others are more likely appliances I don’t use often, like breadmakers and slow cookers. I much prefer to make my dough by hand—I generally only use a mixer for work purposes, and I’ve yet to be blown away by any recipe from the slow cooker that isn’t achieved with similar if not better results in the pressure cooker in a fraction of the cooking time. That said, counter space is precious, so set yours up to fit your needs. This resources page is merely meant to serve as an insight into what works for me.