The first serious home baker I knew was my friend Jan. How do you do this?, I asked, sitting in Jan’s Ithaca kitchen, sliding a forkful of decadent, velvety-dense, tangy-sweet, artery-clogging (yet worth it), New York-style cheesecake into my mouth.
Jan pointed towards the KitchenAid Mixmaster on the counter.
“It’s easier to be a good baker if you have the right tools,” Jan told me. Until that moment, I’d assumed the only people who would own such a serious-looking appliance would already be “good bakers.” It had not occurred to me such an appliance could help you become a good — or better — baker.
Though it would be years until I started to cook, I did not forget my friend’s advice.
Here’s my list of 7 essential gadgets that make cooking easier, and recipes more delicious. Don’t wait until you identify as “chef” to buy them.
- Food Scale: How many carrots are in a cup? It depends how you cut them. Invest $16 in a kitchen scale, and eliminate the guesswork. Your recipes will turn out better. I promise.
- Immersion Blender: Liquify soups and sauces in the pot you cook them in. No more cleaning up spilled soup that (inevitably) leaks out of the food processor, or digging gunky vegetables out of the bottom of a blender.
- Tofu Press: The secret to making tofu people want to eat is to eliminate the water. Anyone who’s tried to do this without a press — stacking heavy coffee table books and/or cast iron pans on top of it — knows the story does not have a happy ending. At some point, the coffee-table-book-cast-iron-pan weight becomes unstable, and crashes. Do yourself a favor and spring for this gadget. It will change your relationship to tofu.
- Toaster Oven/Air Fryer: When I replaced my 25+ year old toaster oven last year, I scoured Consumer Reports for ratings. Who knew? Toaster ovens aren’t just for leftovers anymore. They crisp, they fry, they bake, they do the dishes and bear your children (just checking to see if you’re awake). After using my new toaster oven/air fryer for a week, I proclaimed to my friend Marjorie, “I’m ashamed to admit how much this appliance has improved the quality of my life.”
- 11-inch Scan Pan: When Sur la Table had a Scan Pan sale, I bought this wok-like pan. A few months after it arrived, I realized it was THE pan I reached for just about every night. It feels right, cooks right, and you can put it in the dishwasher (which my cleaner-upper husband Max appreciates).
- Meal Prep Bowls: Julia Child gave this advice to novice home cooks: “Read the recipe all the way through before you begin.” My addendum: … and then, measure out every ingredient, and put it in a bowl next to the stove, so it’s ready when you need it. The French have a term for this: Mise en place. Consider it your new French friend.
- 14-cup Cuisinart food processor: I use this for everything — even things I’m not supposed to use it for, like chopping onions and tomatoes (only when I’m in a hurry). In the summer, it becomes a full-time pesto-making machine.
The point that having the right tools will lead to becoming a better cook, rather than needing to wait until you’ve achieved that, is terrific. I put off getting a KitchenAid Mixer because I’m not a good baker, although I’ve come around to not caring about being better at baking so I probably still won’t buy one. Nonetheless, this post spoke to me directly and I won’t forget it. I also like the easy links to the best options for purchasing. Thank you, Marla!
Let me know if you start baking. I want some.
Marla, I’d add 1) having several sets of measuring spoons and cups 2) a micro plane makes for delightful delicate zests or powder of citrus fruits , hard cheese, block chocolate et al.
Agree with measuring spoons – I have 2 sets because I seem to always lose one. Love my micro plane, but I can live without it. No cheese! Vegan!