stuff that just works!
© 2011 by KV5R — Rev. Jan. 31, 2011.
This article is just a collection of tips, tools, and utensils that I’ve found to be useful and inexpensive over the years. None of these items are expensive professional tools, but they are better than the “cheapo” stuff, and will serve the average amateur cook well and last a long time. I’ve also included a few non-kitchen tips.
I suppose I learned kitchen-stuff from my mom, and she from hers, and it took me a long time to realize that there are many things that our ancestors didn’t use that are now very useful kitchen accessories. For example, here are some things my mom never used in the kitchen:
- Scissors — I keep a pair of stainless steel scissors hanging on a tack right by the sink and use them several times a day. There’s no need to have a fight with every plastic bag!
- Scrubber sponge — the kind they sell at at auto-parts stores with a nylon mesh on the outside. Those have become hard to find, so I now use the O-Celo foam scrubber sponges. I’ll never use a floppy, sloppy, stinky wash-rag again!
- Plastic dish brush — get one with stiff plastic bristles; great for cleaning things with holes, like perforated pans.
- Stick blender — I keep mine right behind the sink (with the cord attached above it so it can’t fall in). Why whisk an egg for three minutes when you can power-blast it in three seconds? They also turn an all-day soap-mixing job into two minutes.
- 10 inch serrated bread knife with offset handle — it’s the only knife I use in the kitchen.
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE) cutting board — easier on your knives than wood, and doesn’t absorb bacteria.
- Digital baker's scale — once you get used to it, cooking by weight is so much better than by measure.
- 8-qt stainless mixing bowl — get one with high sides, not the wok-shaped ones.
- Plastic bowl scraper — they flex and fit the curvature of the bowl, so you get everything out in 5 seconds.
- Bench scraper — get a big one, like 5 by 7 inches. Not only for bench scraping, but everything from soap cutting to transferring chopped foods to the pot. I donno how I ever lived without it.
- Dial thermometer — small, light, cheap, and unlike the glass ones, unbreakable. Make it a habit to test the temperature of water that’s going into dough, and the interior temperature of breads and meats. Very handy.
These are some of the things I’ve learned to do to reduce kitchen effort and clean-up to almost nothing:
- Make meals in large flour tortillas — Hot or cold, you can eat almost any meal rolled up in a tortilla, with a paper towel wrapped around the end. Nothing to wash afterward!
- Cook, re-heat, and eat in the same dish, whenever possible.
- Always be cleaning while cooking, so that by the time you eat there is nothing left to clean or put away. Then eat. Then put all the left-overs in one pan and pop it in the fridge. Finish it off later, then wash the pan or better, use non-stick and just wipe it out with a paper towel.
- There is usually no need to transfer foods to various containers for cooking, serving, and storing. Unless it’s a formal dinner party.
- Keep a spoon and fork in a cup of water on the corner of the sink. Change the water daily. Eliminates washing flatware.
- Never fill a sink with soapy water to wash dishes. That nasty habit persists from the days before running water. Wash and rinse each one under running water. Never use soap unless the dish has oil, grease, or raw meat on it. Most dishes do not need soap, and should not be mixed with those that do.
- When bringing water to a boil, always put a lid on it! It will boil much faster, with much less energy. An open boiling pot is a refrigeration process. Get pots and pans with glass lids.
- Keep utensils and spices that you use every day out on the counter. Eliminates a lot of drawer and cabinet action.
- Buy a 25-pack of car-wash terry-cloths ($10) and keep two or three in the kitchen, one clean and one not so clean. Rotate them out to the hamper as needed. Never move about the kitchen with wet hands! Keep a terry in reach at all times.
- If you fry, get a splatter screen. These fine, round screens lay across a skillet, let the water escape, but keep in the oil splatter.
- Keep looking for ways to break with traditions and habits and make your kitchen activities more efficient.
If you’re short on counter space, get a range cover. Stainless is even better. Stuff that just works (from left): The Miracle Blade knife set is a good deal for the money. I got two sets for under $20 on-line. Stainless dry measuring cup set. Below that is a carbide knife sharpener—works well and is easy to use. Bulb baster, ice pick, measuring spoons, and kitchen brush—cheapos are fine and very handy. Invest in good stainless mixing spoon and spatula; the cheap plastic ones don’t last. Dial thermometers, cake spatulas, wire wisk, and the Swing-A-Way can opener (it’s the best).
Get an HDPE (high-density polyethelyne) cutting board and use a jig-saw to customize it for your sink. Note how I modified this one so that its drain grooves drain into the sink. Use a piece of non-slip shelf and drawer liner under it to keep it planted. Do not use wood cutting boards—they are hard on knives and they absorb bacteria. On that are the course and fine strainers, stick blender, oven mitts (silicone is best), and the “bug scrubber” sponge, available in the auto-parts stores.
SS Kitchen scissors—hang them on a tack and use them all the time for opening plastic packages. Cheap kitchen towels: 25 of them for $10 in Walmart auto-parts dep’t—use them for about a year then relegate them to the garage rag box. Wash separately—they do shed lint.
Here’s my collection of things to use in soaps. The little Braun coffee mill is great for pulverizing almost anything. Here we have powdered Mulling spice and dried orange peels. I now use a Krups coffee mill.
Store your fragrances and related tools in a sealed container, else they’ll stink up the house. Put wadded paper towels amongst the glass bottles.
A turkey baster and 2-ounce syringe ($3), a couple of smaller syringes; a little funnel; fragrances and natural exfoliants.
Here’s a decent collection of bread-making stuff. Forgot to show olive oil spray.
Get a stainless mixing bowl. This one is 8-quart and costs $8 + s/h.
I wish I had gotten one with higher sides.
Get a 1.5 liter glass canning jar, the kind with with a bail and seal. I keep my sourdough starter in it. Better than a crock, because it warms and cools faster, and lets you see the sides of your starter.
Let’s sterilize it in the microwave. Start by pinching the hinge and removing the lid…
Then remove the little keeper ring…
Now that it’s all apart, wash, rinse, and then…
put some water it it and microwave the non-metallic parts for a few minutes. Make sure the lid isn’t sealed! Handle with a cup-towel; dump the water, reassemble, and close. When the steam collapses, the jar will be sterile and vacuum-packed.
A good stainless steel steamer cooker. Good thing I inherited this old beauty, I’d never be able to afford it! Use the basket for soaking and rinsing beans; it makes a good colander as well as steamer.
A stainless colander—this one just happens to fit my pot. Great for thawing frozen vegetables in the sink, draining hot pasta, etc. Plastic ones are junk.
A commercial-quality stainless steel and cast-iron electric burner is handy for overnight simmering, and is a lot more versatile, and cheaper, than a dedicated electric skillet, wok, roaster, and slow cooker. Avoid the cheapo, 900-watt, unstable $25 models. This is a $65, 1500-watt burner with variable thermostat.
A digital kitchen scale is essential for soaping and precision baking. Don’t buy this model—it shuts off way too fast, and it uses a stupid watch battery. Get the KD8000 Scale by My Weight for a few dollars more. I now use the KD8000 and love it!
Kerosene lamps are handy for power failures, but they smell like a jet engine. Better, a Coleman propane lantern, with electric ignition. Test it periodically, and keep extra propane bottles and mantles handy. Store in an outbuilding.
Night gear for country dogs: Put a brass bell and an LED flashlight on an old collar.
Slip it on to let the dog out after dark. The bell and light help you keep track of the dog, and also alerts dangerous critters to the dog’s approach. The collar and bell are from TSC; the 9-LED light is 4 for $8 delivered ($2 each), on Ebay. Don’t get ripped off by last year’s LED flashlight prices! They are now cheap (if you shop), and last almost forever. I got 4 from Rollerpak.com, bought a 10-pack of AAA batteries, and put one in the house, one on the dog, one in the vehicle, and one in the workshop. Very handy.
So there you have it! I hope my little collection of tips will save you a bundle.
That’s the end of the bread articles for now. Please also see my homemade soap articles, amateur micrography, homemade video/photography accessories, and homemade antennas!
—Best Wishes, KV5R