Our Editors Love These 6 Kitchen Tools—But Not for the Reasons You Think
And there’s not a KitchenAid mixer or Crockpot on the list.
May 22, 2018
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1 of 7Photo: Laurey W. Glenn
Everyone has that one favorite kitchen item they regularly use and love to pieces—whether it’s a treasured cookbook, family heirloom, or a high-tech tool. At Cooking Light, we try out a lot of kitchen gadgets (some are great...some, not so much).
Recently, some of our staffers were discussing the items we can’t live without. The crazy thing? We realized that our favorite tools weren’t necessarily the latest, greatest, or most expensive things from Williams-Sonoma (though there is plenty we love there, too!). Rather, they were items that had been useful—and used—enough that we formed an emotional connection.
Here, our six favorite kitchen items—plus, why we love them so much.
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One of my favorite dishes my mom made growing up is this perfectly creamy carrot soup. It’s a really simple dish—just carrots and onions cooked down in vegetable stock and soy milk and blended together. So, after I got my first apartment, as I was walking the aisles of Target with my mom and filling a cart with kitchen essentials, I grabbed an immersion blender off the shelf.
The idea was to make the carrot soup when I was missing home at college, or when I needed something warm and comforting as the weather dropped. But it turned out to be easily my most used—and most versatile—kitchen appliance.
The hand blender works magic when it comes to soups, but the addition of the mixing cups works as a cheap-man’s version of a food processor. I’ve successfully used it to make hummus, pesto, sauces, salsa, and more. Because it’s compact, I’m able to excuse myself for still not owning a food processor or blender. Sure, one day I’d love to have a fully-stocked kitchen with ever appliance under the sun. But for now, my immersion blender is my go-to when it comes to blending and chopping.
Ekco Brand Chromium Slotted Spatula, Circa Late 1970s.
Frankly, I'm not even sure where I got this thing, but if I had to guess, I'd say that my father probably gave it to me, right after I graduated from college, as part of a giant housewares dump when helping me set up for my first apartment. That was nearly 20 years ago, and it's when I also got most of the knives I still use, and a good deal of my pots and pans.
The spatula itself is nothing special—it probably didn't cost much brand new, and "vintage" versions are selling on Ebay for under $20 (or were—I actually bought a backup while writing this, for about $12).
But here's the thing: It's perfect, and I love it.
I've tried using a ton of other spatulas through the years, from fancy fish turners to long-handled flippers, to the solid ones that short order cooks all seem to use. But none of them feel quite as good, or work quite as well as this one.
The metal on the flipper is the perfect thickness for me—it's bendy enough to get under a piece of fish or pancake without breaking it apart, but solid enough to still heft a burger or a steak. It's a great length—I can reach across my biggest cast-iron pan with it, and still keep my hand away from the heat, and yet it doesn't feel like I'm poking at things with a ten-foot stick. And I also just really like the angle, and the way it fits in my hand.
But mostly, I love it for the same reason that you love almost any old thing that's managed to make it through the years—because I have a whole lot of happy memories using it to make food for myself, and for my family and loved ones.
-Chris Michel, editor, CookingLight.com
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Tiny Silicone Spatula
Don’t judge it based on its size—this small, but mighty silicone spatula is one of the most useful and versatile tools in my kitchen. While perusing Sur La Table for inexpensive, last-minute Christmas gifts, I spotted these tiny spatulas. My first thought? These are totally useless, but they’re cute and cheap—perfect!
I ended up keeping one for myself. As a former line cook, I’m constantly on the hunt for functional and reliable kitchen tools, and to my surprise, this little guy checked all the right boxes.
This spatula’s sturdy silicone head perfectly keeps its shape when you’re stirring scrambled eggs, spreading frosting over cake, or scraping out the last bits of homemade nut butter or pesto.
Plus, I’ve found that using it dramatically cuts down on my food waste, since I’m able to get to those awkward, hard-to-reach spots in measuring cups, mason jars, food processors, and blenders.
If you don’t own a mini spatula, do yourself a favor and pick one up.(Sur La Table still sells them). Trust me, your kitchen needs this pint-sized powerhouse.
-Elizabeth Laseter, SEO editor, CookingLight.com
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Vintage Wagner Cast Iron Skillet (Year Unknown)
From the outside, this cast iron skillet doesn’t look like much. But, to me, it’s really special. My now-fiance, Nick, and I had only been dating for a few months when we picked a random weekend to go antiquing. A few weeks before, I had told him I was in the market for a cast-iron skillet and he (serendipitously) pointed one out in the antique store. I looked at it in horror—the skillet was $15, covered in grime, and had obviously been sitting in the same spot for years. Nick saw its potential and bought it for me.
At first I was a little skeptical because I didn’t want to poison our food (let me tell you, this thing looked ROUGH), but after cleaning it with some kosher salt and water I was surprised to find that it looked almost brand new. And in the almost-three years since we spotted it that day, it’s made gorgeous steaks, late-night grilled cheese sandwiches, and skillet cornbread for dinner parties.
It sounds a little weird, but my Wagner cast-iron skillet reminds me of my relationship with Nick: It’s seasoned with years of memories, love, and lots of food shared together. And, like the best relationships, it only gets better with time.
-Jaime Ritter, associate editor, CookingLight.com
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Kuhn Rikon Y-Peeler
I used to be a bartender, and as anyone who has ever made a cocktail knows, citrus peels are clutch for introducing flavor into a drink. Too often, you see bartenders hacking away at fruit with dull knives, producing thick, unappealing strips of peel with layers of bitter pith attached. This is a cocktail-ruiner! Not to mention that it’s just aesthetically unpleasant.
I wasted many a citrus fruit trying to cut the perfect peel, until I went to work at a posh tea parlor (don’t ask) in New York, and the bar manager insisted on always, always having a Kuhn Rikon peeler behind the bar. He, like I, has very strong feelings about how untasty and offensive ugly peels are. The first time I peeled an orange, and the skin came away easily—just the fragrant, oil-rich orange part, no pith at all—I fell in love.
Fast-forward to today, and I keep one in my purse at all times (I’m not even joking). With that and a wine key, you could pretty much take over the world! But seriously, I buy them three or four at a time, and others must feel as strongly. I went to get a new one the other day, and the salesperson at Williams-Sonoma told me that most people buy multiples—and that it’s one of the most popular items in the whole store.
I can see why: I can cut perfect strips of orange just right for flaming (which you can NOT do with a thick peel), but I also use my little peeler to shave all manor of vegetables into ribbons for salads, pasta dishes, and pizza toppers. You can shave chocolate to garnish a cake, make elegant cheese shards to shower over dinner. It is also impossible to make great limoncello without this peeler. But my personal favorite? Ribbons of cucumber twirled around in a gin and tonic. Life, it seems, is just a little bit prettier and tastier with this $5 peeler in it.
-Kaylee Hammonds, social media editor, Cooking Light
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Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
In the fall of 2013, I was rifling through one of many antique markets in Micanopy, Florida, when I spotted it: An original 1966 printing—and only the 13th edition—of Mastering The Art of French Cooking. I haggled the price down to $20 and felt like I won the lottery.
For me, the beauty of Mastering The Art of French Cooking is how it has remained essentially the same for more than 20 reprints and many special editions. 57 years have passed since Knopf first published the title, where Child cleverly devised a two-column format with ingredients and instructions for pulling off complicated dishes (such as beef bourguignon) at home.
It was the first cookbook I ever bought (like, ever), and yet it continues to teach me all these years later by carefully walking me through each and every step I need to take. The very first time I cooked "with" Julia Child, I followed the seven detailed steps for a classic Hollandaise, and even when I ended up with a runny mess, I found the instructions so inviting that I tried again and again—until, voila, I had it right.
Child makes even the most advanced dish seem approachable for someone who has very little experience in the kitchen, and if you have the patience, she'll teach you things you never thought you'd be able to learn. I’m slowly cooking my way through both volumes, and savoring the life lessons along the way.
In the book’s foreword, Child imparts her sage “words of advice,” which I always remember: “Pay close attention to what you are doing while you work, for precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food… You may be slow and clumsy at first, but with practice you will pick up speed and style.”
And she signs off with these very important words: “Above all, have a good time.”
-Zee Krstic, assistant editor, CookingLight.com
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