With winter around the corner, it’s time to step up our game in the kitchen with the proper tools to do the work. Now that we’re preparing more and more meals a day at home, we need quality pans to create quick batches of omelets, grilled cheese and stir-fries.
(Mark Pittman’s chicken and vegetable cobbler from The Oregonian’s recipe files is a perfect candidate.) This Martha Stewart 6-quart enameled, cast-iron version has served us well for years now and is available at Macy's for around $200 (catch the Black Friday special, and it’s $69.99).
These days, we roast potatoes and vegetables several times a week or, heck, throw an entire meal’s ingredients on a single metal sheet. Nordic Ware’s Commercial Baker’s Half Sheet has passed the test for years in our kitchen and gets high marks from Epicurus, Wire cutter and Bon appétit.
Second, it’s nice to have boards of different sizes for different tasks: a little one for mincing garlic and herbs, a medium one for cutting up fruit and vegetables, a big one for slicing a loaf of bread. Here are a couple recommended by America’s Test Kitchen: Teachers by Protean Edge Grain Carving Board, for $100; Ox Good Grips Utility Cutting Boar d, $18.
That’s why our holiday wish list includes a microwave splatter guard, preferably in duplicate or triplicate. We’ve got our eye on this silicone Maria Piggy Steamer, recommended by the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, for covering potentially messy dishes.
It’s a bit pricey at $17, but it will take up hardly any storage space, it’s got an adorable pig nose, America’s Test Kitchen says it also works as a grip for loosening jar lids -- and who wants to spend more time cleaning the inside of the microwave? The silicone may have permanent stains from tomato sauces or dishes made with plenty of turmeric.
New spatulas are inexpensive, make great stocking suffers, and can reflect a cook’s personality. Williams Sonoma has a fun line of celebrity-designed BPA-free spatulas that won’t chip, crack or absorb food odors and flavors, and have beech wood handles that look like an artist’s paintbrush.
The spatula designed by Kristen Bell carries a message that seems apt for the moment: Cooking is my love language.” It’s $14.95, and 30% of the retail price benefits Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry. Patting lettuce leaves with a dishcloth won’t blot up all the moisture, and is impractical if you’re making big salads for your family.
That bath will revive any greens that were starting to turn limp, and the water will let any dirt or gritty residue float to the bottom of the spinner. Then it’s time to dump the water and take the greens for a spin (a fun kitchen assignment for young ones).
But laying an open cookbook on a counter takes up precious space, and increases the chance that pages will get splattered with sauce. Crate & Barrel has a beautiful stand for $39.95 that’s made out of beech wood, with a large acrylic shield that covers multiple pages.
Potato ricer: We aren’t fans of specialty kitchen gadgets that do only one thing, like avocado slicers or cherry hitters. Our favorite is the Ox Good Grips stainless steel model, which Home Depot sells for the great price of $25.99.
The knife is lightweight and comfortable to grip, which makes it easy to do detailed tasks like hull strawberries or cut hard cheese. When the blades in either tool go dull (bound to happen eventually with repeated use), the low price means it's no problem to replace them.
Additionally, this inexpensive strainer from Winch is a favorite for its many culinary applications, like rinsing berries, draining beans, sifting powdered sugar over tiramisu, and even poaching eggs. We love it in mini as well, for amounts under ¼ cup (it's in heavy rotation in our homes for oil, vinegar, and even booze for cocktails).
The True Twister corkscrew, in addition to having hundreds of five-star reviews on Amazon, won our product test in the budget category; the chrome twist handle is smooth, weighty, well-balanced, and easy to grip. Mini spatulas make quick work of a ton of seemingly impossible tasks, like scraping out the last of peanut butter jar or the bottom of your blender.