10 Simple Essential Tools That Should Be In Your Kitchen (But Probably Aren’t)

As far as kitchens go, I like to think of them as the room where beverages and snacks are kept. I am aware that there are devices in there which, when used properly by my husband, transform ingredients into delicious meals. I just don’t know how to use them. Yet I love learning about all those kitchen gadgets – I am always in awe of them and their ingenious purposes. But I wonder if they are really worthwhile and effective. So out of curiosity, I turned to Lynn Bowen Walker – author of Queen of the Castle: 52 Weeks of Encouragement for the Uninspired, Domestically Challenged or Just Plain Tired Homemaker and host of the Queen of the Castle Recipes Blog – to find out what a real cooking whiz feels are the simple things no kitchen should be without. That way I’ll know just what to buy my husband for the holidays to ensure he continues to feed me.

1. Sharpie Pen

77381_8637Well I must confess, this is NOT what I expected to see topping Lynn’s master list for kitchen contents. I was thinking more along the lines of pot holders. But I suppose if even I know enough to buy pot holders, those would be a no brainer. As for the Sharpie? I assume it would be helpful for marking all those Ziploc bags of leftovers to be stored in the freezer. Or to clear the nasal palette with a good sniff. Let’s see Lynn’s explanation…

“One of the most useful items in my kitchen, my sharpie helps me keep track of what I have in the refrigerator and freezer, and how long it’s been there. Use it to write contents and date directly on plastic bags or recycled plastic butter tubs that you’re using to stash leftovers in. Keep another sharpie in the pantry to note the year you purchased that can of French onion soup, so you’ll be sure to cycle through your food, oldest cans first.”

2. Apron

Alright! This one makes sense. An apron. Of course. What kitchen doesn’t have an apron? Uh – wait a minute. Ours doesn’t have an apron. Maybe that’s because my husband feels they are too girly? But I do see men wear those humorous ones while grilling at barbeques. In fact, we recently heard the funniest story about a relative who donned an apron while in a vacation house unaware of the naked man’s image displayed prominently on the front. So there are obviously plenty of styles to choose from. Other than amusing me while I watch my husband wear one while cooking, I suppose the importance of the apron is to have a handy place to wipe your messy fingers without ruining your clothes. Am I right Lynn?

“You thought aprons were just for grandmas. They’re not. Even if your idea of cooking is simply to splash a smidgen of Paul Newman’s Low Fat Sesame Ginger Dressing on a bag of prewashed spinach, you’re still liable to get the occasional oily splash on your two hundred-dollar cashmere sweater. Wear a full-length apron when you’re prepping food in the kitchen. If you’re a messy eater, leave it on until you’ve finished dessert — and maybe even finished with the dishes. (Grandma also used her apron to carry produce in from the garden.)”

3. Candles

We have scented candles in our kitchen. They match the décor and were a gift. They have never been lit. And since people don’t tend to cook over open fires anymore unless they are camping, I’m curious about the candle’s appearance here. I’m guessing they are essential for hiding the smell of that burnt casserole, or for mood lighting while cooking. Because don’t you know, aprons are so sexy.

“Definitely a must for dinnertime ambiance. Bonus: diners are less likely to see the lumps in the mashed potatoes, or other kitchen mishaps you may not be eager to disclose.”

4. Ice Cream Scoop

850163_74489321This is more like it. My kind of list! I grew up with a father who loves ice cream. And he inherited this love from his father, who had his own set of special ice cream bowls. So you can see that I of course know exactly where to find the ice cream scoop in our kitchen. Even I am capable of serving myself a bowl of that delicious treat while waiting for the next meal. Therefore I can only assume that Lynn is an ice cream addict just like me. Why else would the scoop show up so high on her essential list?

“Use the rounded scoop not just for ice cream, but to portion out perfect little mounds of cookie dough before doing your holiday baking. They’re also handy for scooping perfect little igloos of (perhaps lumpy, yet candle-lit) mashed potatoes.”

5. Pedestal Cake Plate

Yummy – more dessert related items! I believe this is a type of plate on a built in stand that typically holds a big layered cake, or a pie, or perhaps even a quiche. I have no idea why we need one though. I do know how to bake an occasional sweet tasty treat because I love them dearly. And therefore I typically eat them out of the pan they were baked in because I am impatient. I am guessing that this fancy cake pedestal is important because it looks nice and it saves counter space.

“Even if you’re not a cake fan, these plates are perfect for presenting food for a party or special buffet. Food at different heights adds interest to the table. Caterers often use the higher plates to present their most impressive dishes, such as oysters on the half shell, shrimp with cocktail sauce, or chocolate-covered strawberries. Makes less look like more.”

6. Small Throw Rug

Ooo-ooo-ooo! I know! I know! This rug is for keeping your feet from getting sore after standing on them all afternoon in the kitchen whipping up a meal. The one in our kitchen however is a favorite spot for the cats to curl up and take a nap while waiting for crumbs to fall their way. I wonder how Lynn keeps her pets off of her rug and out of her way?

“Put one by the sink to make working in the kitchen easier on your legs. It’ll also soak up wayward water splashes, keeping your floor a bit cleaner.”

7. Kitchen Scissors

441516_25756388We’ve got several pairs of scissors located in our kitchen. Does that mean they qualify as kitchen scissors? Because we don’t use them exclusively in the kitchen. Sometimes we use them to open that frustrating packaging that DVD’s and CD’s come in. Other times they are handy for splitting open a cardboard box. They work well on cutting open re-sealable packages of food. And they help to cut the wrapping off of those scented candles we were talking about before. Something tells me Lynn means scissors designed specifically for cutting raw meat or some other such disgusting idea that I leave for my husband to handle while I eat my bowl of ice cream.

“In your kitchen knickknack drawer, keep a pair that you use solely for kitchen jobs. You’ll be surprised at how often you reach for them as you’re chopping fresh basil or cutting open particularly stubborn food packaging.”

8. Extra Ice Cube Trays

Well, we have an icemaker in our fridge so I’m not sure if we even have ice cube trays anymore. I had a bad habit as a kid of never re-filling them when I used the last cube. From an early age I shunned all kitchen related duties. So the icemaker dispenser solved this problem in my life. In college I remember ice cube trays were handy for making jello shots. What other use could they possibly serve? Some clever spice tray? I’m willing to bet that isn’t what Lynn has in mind.

“These are great for freezing milk that’s about to expire, which you can add to blended fruit smoothies. You can also freeze small portions of extra tomato sauce or fresh herbs covered with water. When you need just a bit of flavoring for soup or stew, pop out a cube and throw ‘er in.”

9. Coarse Sea Salt

759487_26331663If we have this in our kitchen I don’t want to know about it. Sounds like a description of an accidental gulp of the ocean while being knocked over by a wave. Though I do love the beach I am not a fan of the taste of salt water. However, based upon the few cooking shows that I have seen in passing at my in-laws’ I am taking a stab in the dark here that coarse sea salt is something used as a rub for flavoring or to act as a spice in mixtures you brush onto food. My husband loves to create marinades – maybe this ingredient will kick those up a notch?

“Substitute this for regular salt in baking or vegetable dishes. It gives a nice little bite that may convince you to never go back to regular salt again.”

10. Parchment Paper

OK. Isn’t parchment paper that old timey material the kings and queens used to write on with feather quills dipped in ink? Though I do recall making a pastry wrapped appetizer for a football party last year and being instructed to use this really thin type of wax paper. I’m guessing that is also called parchment paper even though I didn’t buy it at a stationery store. It came from the grocery store – a place I am annoyed by and avoid at all costs – except for ice cream. It worked like a charm since none of the flaky pastry stuck to the paper. Just as any essential kitchen item should behave. Unless of course Lynn truly is talking about ancient writing paper and has an odd habit of writing out all of her recipes with quill pens. Seems to me it would be a lot easier to just post it on her blog.

“No, Molly, this isn’t in case you have a hankering to write out the Declaration of Independence. It’s smooth, thin paper, sold by the sheet or by the roll, that spares you from ever having to grease a cookie sheet again. Just lay out the paper on the pan, use your handy dandy kitchen scissors to cut to size, and bake cookies to your heart’s content; they will slide right off the pan, leaving you virtually no clean-up. And that much more time to watch Thanksgiving Day parades, football or holiday movies.”

queenofthecastlecoverSo there you have it. Lynn’s Top 10 items for your kitchen that you really should have but probably don’t. How well stocked are you? Do you have any other essential items to add to the list? I for one am making my husband a gift basket of all these items we don’t already have and giving it to him for the holidays – along with some of Lynn’s recipes I’ve been dying to try. And then I’m going to take him out to dinner.

ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF SXC.HU WITH THE EXCEPTION OF BOOK COVER, COURTESY OF LYNN BOWEN WALKER

Comments

  1. Susan says:

    The only thing I don’t have is the coarse sea salt, although I have regular salt and coarse Kosher salt. Couldn’t I just throw them together? lol

    I have 3 different sizes of ice cream scoops for cookies. They are wonderful. The large 1/3 cup size is also perfect for muffins, unless you’re making the huge ones.

    Couldn’t live w/o parchment paper! I never have to wash cookie sheets!

    I have to add a couple of things to your list: 1. a set of Microplane graters, 2. a set of small colanders with handles that fit over a measuring cup. They’re perfect for straining lemon juice. 3. a citrus reamer 4. a long-handled basting spoon…beats the heck out of a bulb baster.

    • Molly G. says:

      See how prepared you are?! Lynn will be pleased. As for basters – I’ll take your word on that. I believe they have something to do with putting juice on a turkey. Although the squirting method always looked kind of fun to me, it probably isn’t the simplest way to accomplish the goal.

      • Susan says:

        I meant to say that I have regular sea salt, not just regular salt!

        As for those basters, it really does make your turkey more golden brown.

        I love kitchen gadgets, and if I had more drawers, I would have more gadgets! :)

      • Lynn IS so pleased. I could not live without my microplane graters either. I’ve got to admit, though, I don’t have your numbers 2, 3, or 4. I do have an electric juicer, for when large baskets full of lemons are staring at me, begging to be juiced. What, exactly, is a citrus reamer? Same thing as a juicer?
        And I do love my bulb baster. All that suctioning and squirting.

  2. Teri says:

    I really enjoyed the thoughts on gadgets, very refreshing. Tell Andy real men wear aprons. I have at least one of every gadget on the market. Some I don’t even know what to do with but that doesn’t matter. A good pastry blender is a good tool to have. Salt and Pepper grinder a must.

  3. Everyone needs a flat whisk. I think it is really called a sauce whip. It looks like a ballon whisk that has been flattened out into the shape of a flat giant spoon. So very much easier to clean than balloon whisks but great for whipping batters.

  4. Sandy says:

    I have them all!!!! What a fun post, very clever! I have to share my aprons with you. I have one that says “Too many wines spoil the cook” and another that says “WOW – Whine Over Wine”. I also have one from an antique shop in St. George Island (my favorite vacation spot). I heart aprons.

    I would second Susan on the microplane. My other essential gadget is my immersion blender, that also converts to a mini chopper and an electric whisk (to make mayo and whipped cream of course!)

  5. ds says:

    Sharpie! Yessss!! I could not live without my sharpie(s)! Can never get the parchment paper to lie flat on the cookie sheet–suggestions? Melon ballers make good cookie scoops too. Agree with Susan on the necessity of small sieves & microplane graters, and with Sandy on the immersion blender. The “motor boat” has rescued many a sauce & is great for pureeing soups.

    Wonderful post–thank you!

    • Molly G. says:

      I was excited to learn that Sharpies now click like regular pens which seems that would be especially key for cooks – labeling with one hand, using immersion blenders with the other.

      • Aaaah, DS, curling parchment paper, a question for the ages. I got fed up with the rolls from the grocery store — mainly because they didn’t tear well, but also the curling issue — and went to our local Smart and Final warehouse store and bought me a big box of parchment paper sheets. They are too large for my baking sheets, but of course I have my handy dandy kitchen scissors waiting patiently in a nearby drawer for just such purposes. Try the parchment sheets and see if you like them better.

    • Molly G. says:

      Or see Delma’s comment below if the parchment curls get you down.

  6. Mojo says:

    Hah. I can shorten that list to two items.
    1. Telephone
    2. Basket of takeout/delivery menus
    OR (for the less technophobic)
    1. High speed internet connection
    2. Bookmarks of all takeaway/delivery places that deliver in your neighborhood.

    The latter doesn’t have quite the same ambiance as the former, but it does have the advantage of an audit trail AND less chance of an order garbled by the ESL student who answers the phone. Still, a fluorescent-lit dinner with a bouquet of takeaway menus… that’s hard to top.

  7. Delma says:

    Funny Molly! I probably have all that stuff somewhere – except for the apron. I would add the Silpat baking mat. It makes any cookie sheet non-stick, and unlike parchment paper, you can use over and over.

  8. Anastasiya says:

    That’s a funny post Molly :-) I kept giggling all the time that I was reading it. I have about 3/4 of these tools in my kitchen and I do not think that I need the rest of them. (Candles are probably at the very bottom of my list. With two toddlers running around I can already smell my house burning :-) )
    And I love ice-cream and that ice cream scoop is my favorite tool in my entire kitchen :-) I do not like baking so I use my ice cream scoop just for ice cream. Yummm!

    • Molly G. says:

      Seems like an ice cream scoop would indeed be essential in a house full of toddlers. Every good parent deserves an ice cream break!

    • I agree, Anastasiya, burning down the house with candles will NOT add to your dinnertime ambiance. :) On that note, a small fire extinguisher is also a nice item to tuck away in your kitchen cabinet. I’ve used mine only once, while toasting sesame seeds in the oven, but boy, was I glad I had it.

  9. Ashley Ladd says:

    Wow, Lynn! You’re a wiz in the kitchen. I love the idea I’ll have to start doing that. about the ice cube trays in particular.

  10. Very interesting and very clever list. I agree with kitchen scissors. They seem to be the most used tool in my kitchen. The only thing missing from your list that I use every day are spatulas. Decades ago they were rubber spatulas and they were perfect. Now they are some sort of plastic product and not as pliable. But I use them for everything from mixing pancake batter for breakfast to spreading mayo on sandwiches for lunch to scraping sauce over chicken breasts for dinner. Indispensable.

  11. Susan says:

    OMG, I can’t believe I forgot the immersion blender/chopper!!! It’s like my right arm which I use all the time! :P

    Parchment paper tricks: to make it lie down on the sheet, flip it over so it curls downward and then kinda fold the edges up. It will hold until you get the first few cookies on there and then it’s good to go.

    To get a straight tear, make sure the lid is tucked into the box, pull out the desired amount of paper and then kinda wrap your hand around the middle of the box, thumb on top and keep a firm grip while you tear. This works very well, at least until you get down to the last couple of feet of paper left on the roll.

    I’m really liking this kitchen gadget post! Let’s me show off! lol

  12. Many people have mentioned the immersion blender and mini chop, but I’m going to add cooking thongs and measuring spoons.

  13. stacy says:

    Okay, I’m missing the small rug and parchment paper. I confess I only use the apron when I’m finishing something up after I’m already dressed up and I only use the ice cream scoop for ice cream. I have my first bottle of sea salt and used it in my pasta last night, didn’t use much. My favorite thing on this list is the kitchen scissors. Jason bought be a set of five and I use at least one everyday, sometimes I can dirty 2 or 3 in a day!
    I have ice cube trays and knew they could be used for herbs, but never thought of tomato sauce or milk.
    Thanks for the list. I don’t feel like such a kitchen novice now :)

    • Molly G. says:

      I must give 2 thumbs up to parchment now that I know that is in fact what I used for those pastry apps. But it appears Delma’s Silpat Baking Mat suggestion is another alternative.

      Good job on the sea salt! I’m impressed in your daring ways.

    • Stacy, it sounds like you are well on your way to becoming a kitchen expert. I agree, those kitchen scissors are super handy. I use mine all the time for snipping up herbs and other little kitcheny jobs where I don’t want to have to worry about whether there’s old Elmer’s glue stuck to the blades.

  14. Ali says:

    Sharpie check, apron check, icecream scoop check but it sucks, candles check, scissors check, parchment check…..rushing out tomorrow to purchase the rest of the items… check check check.
    Now, where can I get the other essential item, a guy to do the cooking? I have an electric kettle (I’m a Brit) and I love love love it!!!!!

  15. jill says:

    Great post! And this book is going on my list!!!

  16. I can see Sharpies as kitchen tools. I’m always losing mine though. I think if I was to keep candles for the kitchen they would be unscented. Too many kitchen smells might bother the guests.

    • Molly G. says:

      Good point Chris. I’m always thinking of ways to cover the burnt smell of my cooking efforts. Proper cooks would want to highlight the aroma of their delicious dishes.

  17. caite says:

    hmm… I use kosher salt…close enough. I use parchment paper and deal with the curling. But speaking about sheets, I recently bought a box of aluminum foils sheets instead of a roll at Sam’s Club and I love them!
    I own, but rarely use, several aprons. Personally I also think you are better off having a small fire extinguisher in the kitchen instead of those candles.

  18. Lys says:

    OK – this list really got me thinking – and I have now noticed that not only do I need Sharpies & Ice Cube Trays – but also I need to read Lynn’s book asap! I swear by the microplane, a great chef’s knife with cutting board and, yes, the immersion blender. Obviously, I spend way too much time in the kitchen *LOL*

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