My kitchen is filled with workhorses that I take for granted: the wooden cutting board, balloon whisk, measuring cups, microplane and . But as I’m spending even more time cooking at home during quarantine and lockdown, I’m coming to appreciate all the smaller extras that I don’t strictly need but which make my cooking life easier.
After singing their praises to family and friends, I thought I’d share them with you. These are all products I actually own and use in real life. They’re inexpensive to buy, versatile, easy to clean and simple to incorporate into your cooking routine. Here are the tools I never want to be without, and how they make the act of cooking more enjoyable.
Xujia via Amazon
The wide, saucer-shaped bowl, long handle and pleasant weight make these beautiful spoons perfect for almost everything — eating soup, curries, rice dishes, spooning yogurt out of the tub, spooning anything out of any tub, really.
My Korean friend called them “jjigae spoons” to refer to the right utensil for eating a category of stew. In my family, they’re known as “life-changing spoons,” which is how I first convinced my family to adopt them. It’s what we still call them today. E.g., “Can you please set the table with the life-changing spoons?” I hardly ever use “regular” spoons anymore, unless all the jjigae spoons are dirty and I don’t feel like washing one.
You can buy long-handled spoons online or in many Asian markets. My personal preference is to get a set with round handles, not the thin kind with the flat ends. Prices vary, but they’re not expensive either way — say $16 for a pack of 5 good quality spoons, or even $15 for a pack of 8.
Bench scrapers, also known as pastry or dough scrapers or cutters, are typically used to pry dough off a work surface, but I use mine multiple times a day for either scraping or lifting items from my cutting board to a pan or bowl. I used to use the side of whichever knife I had in my hand, but this tool shovels more diced onions at a time and is safer anyway.
I’ve also used straight-sided bench scrapers, but the offset design is much easier for sliding under a pile of chopped food. It’s equally adept at its intended purpose of working with bread and pastry dough. This Tovolo bench scraper is the one I use and costs around $10.
My friend bought a fancy new dishwasher with built-in wine holders and gave me three purple silicone tubes that help keep your wine glasses safe in the machine. “Here, you like wine,” she said. “You should use these.”
She was right. They may look derpy, but they’ve probably saved my wine glasses more than once. You fit one grippy end around your overturned stemware (as pictured) and slide the other end, a hollow tube, over a peg on the bottom rack of your dishwasher. A wire that runs two-thirds the length of the attachment supplies structure.
If a glass feels extra wobbly in the center of the bottom rack, I’ve been known to clip on two of these silicone holders for extra stability, one on either side. I used to hand-wash my wine glasses and still managed to break one here or there. Not anymore. It costs about $12 for a set of eight. I’ve run them in the dishwasher on a weekly basis for almost two years.
Lifver Home via Amazon
Small bowls are hardly interesting or new, and I have plenty of them, especially fluted and ribbed ramekins. But these wonderful dip bowls, specifically this design, have made cooking and serving food more of a delight. I just love them. They’re useful enough for daily prep and pretty enough to serve on.
You can mound a surprising amount of food in the hollow, like lemon zest, wasabi or even grated cheese. They cost $18 for a set of eight 3-ounce bowls.
Here’s how I use them:
- Spoon rest
- Used tea bag holder
- Salt piggy
- Egg holder
- Prep bowl for ingredients like garlic, shallots, ginger
- Prep bowl for blending spices (the mix flows into the pan really easily, without getting stuck in creases)
- Garnish server
- Server for individual desserts, like squares of chocolate, a brownie or a tiny scoop of ice cream
- Sugar caddy for after-dinner coffee or tea
- Ring valet (especially when taking off to work with slimy or sticky food)
Lodge via Amazon
I had never heard of a pan or pot scraper until my colleague Rich Brown sang its praises. I have an elaborate and finely-tuned method for steaming and scraping off stuck-on crud from pots, pans and bakeware. But I started getting a lot of time back once I began using this $5 tool — or $8 for two.
It fits into your palm and easily scrapes away gunk with its flat and curved edges, which can also better reach into corners. Still expect a little sponge work, but mostly to wipe away loosened and leftover stuff. I was amazed with how my Lodge pot scraper obliterates the scum that builds up in a ring around the pan, say the leftovers of reduced marinara.
It cuts through residue faster and more efficiently than a hard plastic spatula and it won’t gunk up the scrubby side of a sponge with cheese, egg or starchy buildup. I recommend keeping it visible on your sink, near your sponges and dish soap. I initially put it into a drawer and forgot about it, but now it’s top of mind.
Prep Solutions via Amazon
My dad endearingly referred to these as “rubber fingers.” This set of two — one with a pointy end (pictured) and one that looks more like a paddle, cost me $4 and are awesome for scraping, scooping and pushing down all types of food. Think the last little bit of something gooey from the jar, or getting every little bit of beaten egg out of a small bowl. I still use full-size spatulas for large work bowls, pots and pans, but these nonstick minis work better than spoons or my finger and fit really well into drawer dividers. They’re machine washable, too.
Elegantly draining pasta, reaching for items on the top shelf, juicing lemons and even cleaning window blinds. A pair of 9-inch or 12-inch silicone-tipped tongs costs about $15 and has become a trusty kitchen companion that does far more than just flip browning vegetables and meat. Here are seven clever uses for kitchen tongs.
Endurance via Amazon
I love a small saucepan for so many reasons, including frying perfectly round eggs one at a time and reducing broth and sauces. Melting butter and making modest quantities of caramel or hot milk and cream are also great in an itty-bitty pan, especially if you’re trying to keep a small amount of liquid from evaporating too quickly.
I bought a “cup measuring pan” that’s a lot like this one, with a long handle, and I like it, though it’s not as thick as some of my other kitchen pots. I’d also happily consider a butter melting pot for butter, sauces, warming milk and boiling single eggs, but I currently use a tiny milk frothing jug for that, intended for espresso. Whichever pan you get should cost between $15 and $25, tops. Mine was about $15.