Less is more when it comes to kitchen

  • By Martha Stewart / Martha Stewart Living Magazine
  • Wednesday, February 15, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

When it comes to cooking equipment, a minimalist approach is often best – especially for the small things. If your drawers are cluttered with unused hand tools, it’s probably time for you to take inventory and pare down.

The things that have been around for years are often the best (such as wooden spoons and box graters). Some new gear is also good (such as silicone spatulas and Japanese mandolines), but most of it is a reinvention of items you probably already have. Though it’s tempting to buy “new and improved” kitchen gadgets, you will most likely find yourself reaching for the time-tested basics when you cook.

Everyone should start with a few good knives. It’s worth splurging on high-carbon stainless steel. Next, choose tools that can serve multiple purposes, such as a peeler, a whisk and a melon baller.

Then clear out everything you thought you needed but don’t, and make room for the essentials that can tackle almost any cooking task with ease. Here’s a list to help get you started:

1. A serrated bread knife is good for slicing more than a crusty loaf. It also finely chops chocolate bars without making a mess.

2. A Japanese mandoline not only does knife work lickety split, it creates uniform pieces. It slices (very thin to very thick) and juliennes (fine to large). Great for gratins, fries, salads and more.

3. Invest in high-quality stainless-steel kitchen shears. Use them to cut foods such as lobster, chicken and chives or to snip twine and parchment.

4. Choose an all-steel, U-shaped peeler to peel vegetables and fruits, shave cheese and curl chocolate.

5. Cotton flour-sack towels dry lettuce and other produce well. Wrap just-steamed vegetables in them so they stay hot. Use them instead of cheesecloth for straining.

6. A stainless-steel footed colander with abundant big holes is invaluable for draining pasta and vegetables. Stainless steel doesn’t react with acidic foods.

7. Use a spider strainer or shallow skimmer when blanching vegetables. It scoops out copious amounts at once, which keeps the water boiling and ready for the next batch.

8. Stainless-steel nesting bowls with generous widths are good for prepping, folding and mixing. Get at least five sizes, so you can do more than one job at a time.

9. Box graters work for hard cheeses and vegetables. Microplane zesters grate citrus and nutmeg.

10. Tongs have endless uses: tossing, roasting, lifting, even reaching onto high shelves to grab something.

11. Basic metal whisks whip cream, make dressing and beat eggs. They also break up ground meat for sauces and chili.

12. Whether you prefer plastic or wooden cutting boards, you will need one for raw meat and another for produce. It’s good to have a large one and a small one. At a home-supply store, buy a roll of rubber matting. Cut a piece to fit under each board to keep it from sliding.

13. You will need a few inexpensive stainless-steel spatulas. Choose at least one thin, flexible spatula and one or two long, wide, heavy-duty models. Use the flexible one for turning pancakes and removing cookies from cookie sheets. Long, wide ones are ideal for lifting fish out of a pan and moving it to a serving dish, or for transferring a decorated cake onto a cake stand.

14. Even the best knives won’t work properly if they aren’t sharp. A V-style sharpener and a honing steel will do the job – and will last for years.

15. Silicone spatulas can be used on high heat and won’t melt while cooking. They don’t dry up quickly, get stained, absorb flavors or lose their shape. Purchase two sizes: a large one and a small one (for narrow spaces), both with long handles.

16. Have two round wooden spoons with long handles on hand so that you can stir all the way to the bottom of deep pans. One should be for savory foods and one for sweets.

17. Every cook needs a glass measuring cup for liquids and nesting sets of spoons and cups for dry measures.

18. An oven thermometer is critical to successful cooking, especially baking. Oven thermostats can be off enough to affect results dramatically.

19. Digital timers that hang on the refrigerator by a magnet or clip onto an apron are useful when you have multiple dishes cooking simultaneously. Label each timer with a piece of masking tape.

20. Lots of cooks have citrus reamers, but a citrus press gives you more juice with less effort.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd St., New York, NY 10036. E-mail to mslletters@marthastewart.com.

2006 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc.

Talk to us

More in Life

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay walks into the Prohibition Grille along Hewitt Avenue in Everett Wednesday Dec. 5, 2012 while reportedly filming an episode of Kitchen Nightmares at the Everett restaurant. (Mark Mulligan / The Herald)
Even more films and TV shows filmed in Snohomish County

Readers point out projects previously missed in this series, from reality television to low-budget indie films.

Daniella Beccaria / for The Herald

15-month-old Kantu attempts to climb a pumpkin at Stocker Farms in Snohomish on Sunday, September 20th, 2015. Stocker Farms offers a U-pick patch, farm animals and a corn maze.
Best pumpkin patch in Snohomish County

You voted, we tallied, here are the results.

The city of Mukilteo is having a naming contest for its new $75,000 RC Mowers R-52, a remote-operated robotic mower. (Submitted photo)
Mukilteo muncher: Name the $75,000 robot mower

The city is having a naming contest for its new sod-slaying, hedge-hogging, forest-clumping, Mr-mow-it-all.

Local musician Alex Johnston, whose newest album "Daylight Fooldream" pairs with short film he made with help from his partner Mikaela Henderson, sits with his morning coffee on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023, at Narrative Coffee in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Folktronica musician shoots 37-minute visual album on iPhone in Everett

Alex Johnston, 31, describes his music as ”if Coldplay and Bon Iver had a love child.”

Death of parent with child. Piece of paper with parents and children is torn in half.
Helping children cope with the hard realities of divorce

I’s important to set aside one’s feelings and find a way to make this challenging transition as comfortable for children as you can.

In Belgium, each type of beer has its own glass – whether wide, tall, or fluted – to show off its distinct qualities.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Bruges brews lift a weary traveler’s spirits

The Belgian city is a mecca for beer lovers from around the world.

Children’s author Barbara Herkert to lead Story Time at Edmonds Bookshop, Friday September 29th, 9:30-10:00 am!
Author to read her new kids book at Edmonds bookstore

Author Barbara Herkert will read “This Old Madrone Tree” Friday at Edmonds Bookshop.

Can he get the fare difference refunded after he was downgraded?

American Airlines downgrades Thomas Sennett and his family to economy class on their flights from Boston to Phoenix. Why isn’t it refunding the fare difference?

From left, Elora Coble, Carol Richmond, David Hayes, Karli Reinbold, Giovanna Cossalter Walters, Landon Whitbread in a scene from Edmonds Driftwood Players' production of "Murder on the Orient Express." (Dale Sutton / Magic Photography)
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Edmonds Driftwood Players opens its 65th season with Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express.”

Photo caption: Back-to-school is an ideal time to pick up new habits that help your family reduce waste and learn about resource conservation.
Go green this back-to-school season

It’s an ideal time for the entire family to learn the three Rs — Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Some collectibles are found in nature; some imitate them. If it weren’t for the attached figure, this Royal Dux porcelain vase might pass for a real conch shell.
This shell-shaped vase would make a fine souvenir of summer fun

It may not be a real shell, but this art nouveau piece could still evoke fond memories of days at the beach.

Arlington Garden Club celebrating its 90th anniversary

The club has monthly programs for north Snohomish County gardeners and awards scholarships to area students.