Anyone who cooks will have a few favorite gadgets in their kitchen. When you open that jumbled, messy kitchen drawer, your favorites are the ones on top. If not, they’re the ones sitting on the counter, or more likely, in the sink or dishwasher.
I’ve downsized from a full-sized house and kitchen to the bare necessities, just enough to fit in a tiny boat galley. These bare necessities have traveled across the country in my Honda Civic, sailed the Intracoastal Waterway, and been used for camping in Newfoundland. They were unpacked into a camping trailer in Washington, packed up again, and moved to an apartment with 1 square foot of counter space. At this point, if I don’t need it, it’s gone — I don’t have room for it!
This is a list of those little indispensables, the items in my kitchen that are always in the to-be-washed or just-washed pile of dishes. If you’re looking for a gift for a friend who cooks, you might just find a few ideas below.
- Microplane grater. I can’t live without it, because the foods you can prepare with one are the ones that give recipes their WOW factor. For example, fluffy mounds of parmesan and romano cheese. Fresh-grated ginger. Finely-grated chocolate. And something I didn’t even know about until I had my Microplane: Whole nutmeg. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back to the ground stuff. When you’re wrapping up the Microplane as a gift, include a bar of nice dark chocolate and a nutmeg, so the recipient can try it out and immediately experience the WOW factor.
- Stainless steel graduated measuring cups. I use them constantly as scoops — not just for flour and sugar, but to serve things like yogurt, nuts, and stew. It’s great so know exactly how much you’re serving to each person. And if you’re serving rice or whole grains, you can spray a 1- or 1/2-cup measure with a little oil spray, scoop out a serving, and then place a perfectly-shaped mound on each plate.
- Big beefy garlic press and rubber garlic peeler. When we first downsized, I got rid of my small, inefficient garlic press. I thought I’d just use a knife — smash each clove with the flat of the knife, peel it, and chop it. But it took me so long to prep fresh garlic, I got lazy and started using garlic less and less. The new tools have remedied that. I can be halfway through a dish and suddenly decide to add garlic. I grab the garlic cloves, roll them in the little rubber tube, and out they come, sans papery peel. Then I pop them into the garlic press and press or slice them directly into the pot.
- Cheap stainless scissors. It’s amazing what you can use scissors for in the kitchen — they don’t even have to be sharp. You can use them to cut a pizza or quesadillas. Snip some dried fruit into little bits, or snip fresh herbs into a pot on the stove. One of my favorite uses for scissors is to cut wet, sloppy things that come in cans, like whole canned tomatoes or roasted peppers. Leave a pair of cheap scissors on the counter for a few days, and see what else you think of.
- Silicone baking mat. No longer do I hesitate to bake something, thinking the cleanup is not worth the effort. With one of these mats, cleaning up after roasting nuts or baking cookies, fish, or chicken is a breeze. I don’t know how I lived without one (well, I didn’t always have an oven, so that might explain it).
- Stainless steel cocktail shaker. Even if you don’t drink cocktails, a stainless cocktail shaker is a beautiful thing, and it’s handy for blending all kinds of things. You can use a large one to shake up a batch of instant pudding, blend milk and flour for a white sauce, beat eggs, or making a smoothie without a blender.
Next week, in A few of my favorite things, part two, I’ll list some of the larger indispensables, the ones that take up a lot of room in my tiny kitchen. Things like the second-generation pressure cooker, cast-iron skillet, and most important of all: Barry, my sous-chef!