“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” — Leonardo da Vinci
Do you appreciate simple, inexpensive kitchen tools that make your life easier? Me too! With the holidays approaching, I thought it would be fun to highlight my top ten favorite kitchen tools under $10. Buy for yourself or for that special cook in your life.
All of these items can be found in any kitchen store, and are also available online in the Straight Up Food store. (Click on the orange link in each paragraph below to see the item and read more about it.)
Magnetic measuring spoons
This kitchen tool gets the most oohs and ahhs from my students. What differentiates my measuring spoons is that they are magnetic, so they are easier to keep together and not lose. The second thing is that each spoon has two measuring ends (a round and an oval); if you cook a lot you will appreciate this. For example, if you had just measured 1 teaspoon of fresh garlic on one end, you could still measure 1 teaspoon of dried green herbs on the other end without having to wash it in between. I love this!
A lemon squeezer is a dream to work with, easily eliminating seeds and pulp from your juice. Just remember to place the cut citrus with the flat/cut side down so the juice comes out the bottom where the holes are (not the other way around, which seems more logical). They also make these citrus squeezers in green for limes, and larger ones in orange for oranges. However, if you just have the lemon squeezer, you can get away with using it for limes and oranges too (if citrus is too big, just quarter it).
A very thin scraper, often called a “bench” or “pastry” scraper, makes for easy clean-up on your cutting board, whether you are picking up chopped onions to throw into soup, or scraping debris off into the sink or trash can. Some people find that using the side of their chef’s knife works fine for this type of thing, but I prefer the larger, even surface of this scraper, plus it’s a safer way to pick up chopped or minced food.
This unpretentious little gizmo is pure magic. You simply place a clove or two of garlic (that still has that annoying papery skin on it) inside the plastic sleeve of the garlic peeler, and give it a good roll or two with the palm of your hand. This slight rolling pressure releases the papery skin from the garlic, and when you shake it out, the two will have been separated. (If it doesn’t separate on the first try, just give it another roll.)
Rice spatulas usually come with rice cookers. I love them! They are flat and wide with great handles. I not only use these with rice and other cooked grains, but also when I’m mixing big salads (like potato or veggie-grain salads), or folding together ingredients for baked goods. I have three of these and use them daily.
I love my “Y” peeler! I love the feel of the Y peelers. I find that the design also makes it very easy to peel thick-skinned foods, such as butternut squash. Having a good peeler is right up there with having a can opener that is a breeze to use; these kitchen items may seem fairly standard but there is quite a difference in quality. Don’t settle for dull, old or clunky, even for your simple items.
The Queen of dish washing gloves
If you are a sensitive-skin, dish-glove person like I am, and you haven’t tried quality dish gloves (maybe you’re still using the thin yellow ones) drop everything and get a pair! They cost more than the yellow gloves found in most grocery stores but they last much longer, so it’s very worth it. They are thick (but not too thick) and are made to fit your hands well, so they don’t sag and droop while you’re washing dishes. They also have little cuffs at the bottom so you don’t drip water on yourself.
Large silicone pancake spatula
If you make veggie burgers or pancakes on occasion using a non-stick skillet, a silicone spatula is just the ticket! It will not melt on the hot pan surface (like regular plastic can). This spatula in particular also has a wide head that is tapered at the end, making it easier to get under cooking pancakes without squishing them.
Silicone baking mat
Silicone mats are great for four reasons. They can withstand the high heat of the oven (won’t melt); nothing sticks to them (say if you are roasting vegetables); after baking, you can simply lift them out of the baking dish or off the cookie sheet and slide the food off; and last, they make for easy clean-up of pans. Culinary silicone is a food-grade, so is safe to use in the kitchen. They come in many sizes. Similarly, you can also use parchment paper, a silicone coated baking paper found near the aluminum foil in grocery stores.
Nut milk bag
If you are interested in making your own non-dairy milks, a nut-milk bag makes it easy. This is a nylon bag, so it’s strong and cleans up and dries easily. Some people also use cheesecloth, but it’s more delicate in construction. I make my own non-dairy milk on occasion because the taste is far superior to store-bought, you know exactly what’s in it, and it’s fun to make your own!