Story and photos by Brandon Matzek
Over the many years I've experimented in the kitchen, I've tested a wide variety of cooking gadgets and equipment. Avocado Saver? Don't even know why I purchased it. Banana Slicer? Utterly ridiculous. Whoopie Pie Pan? Tempting, but not needed. Here, though, are 10 practical and inexpensive items that will elevate your kitchen creations and make your cooking time more enjoyable:
Before you go out and purchase any other items on this list, get a quality sharp knife. Instead of purchasing the 40-piece knife block, invest in one good-quality blade. I prefer a chef's knife. If you're worried about cutting yourself, just know that more accidents happen with dull blades than sharp ones. You can find the Schmidt Brothers Chef's Knife at West Elm.
Heavy, sturdy and reliable, cast-iron pots are a must-have when making soups, stews, sauces and syrups. Thick cast iron provides even heat distribution, and an enamel coating makes for easy clean up. Start with a 5-Court Dutch Oven, then buy additional pieces as needed. Available at Williams-Sonoma, Le Creuset and Staub are both beautiful and reliable. Macy's also carries an affordable line of Martha Stewart Cast-Iron cookware.
This versatile kitchen workhorse is perfect for pureeing fruits and vegetables, emulsifying vinaigrettes, grating cheese and even making pie dough. I purchased the Cuisinart Food Processor at Macy's in 2007, and it's been making my life in the kitchen easier ever since.
When I'm cooking my way through a new recipe, I always measure each ingredient exactly. Purchase measuring cups that are metal or ceramic, because the measurement markings can fade from plastic alternatives. My cups are from Anthropologie, but many other retailers like Target and Macy's also carry suitable options.
Eyeballing a teaspoon of baking powder or a tablespoon of yeast can result in a disastrous finished product. Precision is needed when preparing baked goods at home, so get yourself a set of measuring spoons. Visit Crate & Barrel for a selection of classic and colorful variations.
Aside from a chef's knife, the Microplane Zester is my most-used kitchen gadget. Hundreds of razor sharp edges easily shred through lemon rind, Parmesan cheese, garlic, ginger, chocolate and nutmeg. No other grater compares. You can find a number of Microplane products at Williams-Sonoma.
A cup of flour can vary in weight based on how tightly you pack it into a measuring cup. For certain ingredients, it's best to measure with a kitchen scale to ensure consistently delicious results. Digital kitchen scales can be found at many retailers, including Target and Sur La Table.
Pre-ground spices can lose most of their flavor after sitting in the cupboard for several months. To keep flavors fresh and bold, purchase whole spices and grind them as needed. The difference in flavor is quite remarkable. I purchased a coffee grinder at Target; however, I only use it for spices.
Medium-mesh strainers can be used to strain foods like pasta, beans, pickles, peppers and capers. Fine-mesh varieties are perfect for custards, citrus juice, stock and cocktails. I also like to use my strainers to rinse smaller quantities of ingredients like rice, quinoa and berries. I got my strainer at Target.
This geeky gadget will eliminate all guesswork when it comes to the doneness of your food. If you're notorious for cooking up dry chicken or pork, then you need an instant-read thermometer. Williams-Sonoma has a number of thermometer's available; however, I went with one on Amazon.