great gadgets: non-gadgets! my go-to kitchen pieces

I wanted to bring you a list of my favourite kitchen tools of late, the gadgets I would actually recommend you buy to make cooking easier and more enjoyable every day. And then I realized that the things I’m reaching for right now are not gadgets at all, but the simplest, most ordinary things. These unsung work horses are so useful that they’ve all crept forward to the “easy-to-reach/grab” forefront of my kitchen and pantry. Here’s why…

Extra-large black*, lightweight cutting board: Having had a small condo kitchen, I was loathe to buy anything big–anything at all–that I didn’t really need. But the very large, though sleek and light, cutting board was a smart buy. Even if you don’t have a large prep area, I highly suggest covering it all with a cutting surface when you’re working. Going from slicing an unwieldily bunch of kale in batches to grating parmesan that’s next to a watery, chopped tomato is made so much easier when your large cutting board gives you room to separate and work with all three at once. There’s room to keep your stand-by ingredients ready to be tossed into a pan, and you can even shove some garbage scraps off to a corner. However…

Lightweight (inexpensive!), shallow, non-reactive glass bowls: I do like the idea of having a little bowl beside you to toss your egg shells, onion skins and herb stems into. It’s surprising how cutting out four, albeit tiny, trips to the garbage can save time and make your cooking process flow better. These clear bowls from Ikea came with James when we merged households but I use them so much more than he does. They are the perfect depth and width for making a breading station of flour, egg and breadcrumbs, and because they’re both surprisingly durable and yet dispensable (let’s face it, I’m not worried about breaking one though I never have!), they’re great to have stove-side to catch food I need to get out of the fire quickly and they get stacked and shoved aside to be cleaned later when I’m frantically stir-frying. Because they’re not metal, they can hold anything acidic for a long time too. I never eat out of them–they’re so often used for cooking that I need them at the ready for real work. I’ll drink soup out of my lazy, never-worked-a-day-in-their-life, prettier bowls instead.

My microplane grater: You do have one right? I think I remember the day I bought mine. It was life-changing. The best thing to come of it for me will always be the pillowy clouds of parmesan it produces. The kind you pile high on a kale salad like baby clown hair (…what?) or watch sink into a bowl of hot soup. It’s not the texture or bite you want for everything but cheese tastes different grated this way and it has it’s purpose in our house. Many, actually. And then there’s the whole zesting thing. I wouldn’t add lemon, lime or orange rind to as many dishes if I had to peel and mince zest, and that would be sad. You want a fine zester and this is the one. It grates garlic, frozen ginger and lemongrass from your freezer, nutmeg and any tough object without a care. Talk about your multi-purpose tool. Keep it clean and dry and it will never rust or become dull. And the long, all-metal kind in the picture is the best. You can rest it carefully over a pot and grate right into your food if you’d like since it’s long enough and can handle the heat.

Metal sheet baking trays: You don’t bake? I barely did either. But you know what makes a nice serving tray? These things. Sure it’s a “look” and it might not fit into every table setting but it’s a cute, reliable way to cart out drinks to the backyard or place in the centre of a very casual, family-style meal, ready to receive hot serving platters or pots should you want to serve straight from them. Once lined with parchment (which I prefer for every use, even over Silpats or foil for baking), they are perfect for baking, roasting non-watery vegetables, pizza-making, and even cooling down food too, like that sushi rice that you want to spread out, or the nuts you just roasted. Just don’t cut on them. Knife nicks add character but compromise the trays too and you can eventually cut right through them if you try.

Metal dough scraper: Speaking of things you might want in your kitchen even if you don’t bake, you will be surprised how attached you get to this. Yes, it’s great for scraping dough off your board, but I use it daily to get mountains of food from one place to another in fewer trips and with far fewer spills and splashes. That big cutting board is great but balancing it over a hot stove and trying to get just the kale stems into the pan and not the leaves, sucks. You’re also going to drop everything else on the board attempting that trick. This thing is like an extra hand but better since it doesn’t have fingers for that minced garlic to slip through. It helps you portion and separate chopped food with precision too, and you can stick it into a wide pan to hold back your food while you drain off liquid. There are probably a bunch of other uses–I find more all the time as we get to know each other. It’s always trying to impress me.

A well-seasoned, cast-iron wok: Le sigh. Staring at its patina gives me an unhealthy sense of pride. I become almost smug. But I want this for you, too. They’re not just for stir-fries or Asian cuisine. This is likely the single biggest, heavy-duty pot in your kitchen if you allow yourself to think of it that way, and you can turn to it when almost every other pot you own is too small for your big batch cooking needs. Did you know that once it’s well-seasoned, you just rinse and rub it with some coarse salt to clean it out? Making it your biggest and easiest to clean pot.

Jars, jars jars: The downside is, they’re not stackable. I know you may not be able to hold on to every one you come across, but a couple in varying sizes will actually take the place of other containers. There’s nothing better for storing your homemade soup–it can even cool down right in a mason jar before going into the fridge, and it won’t spill or leak. Smaller ones can store spices and you can shake your salad dressings  in them when you’re too lazy to pour the oil in slowly while whisking (I’ve done that maybe four times in my life). Right now mason jars are keeping spiced nuts, iced tea and homemade mustard contained and fresh in my fridge. They’re perfect for transporting your picnic or potluck contributions and a cute presentation too. And despite being reuseable, dishwasher-safe, able to handle hot-to-cold conditions, they’re also cheap and easily replaceable, so you don’t have to worry about getting them back from thieves friends. Oh and oil rubbed onto stubborn labels usually removes them.

Tiny, clear, glass tumblers: Another Ikea find, I’m using these all the time because…they’re cute. Also, they stack! But mostly, they’re adorable for serving tea, wine, cocktails, ice cream, parfait or an other single-serving layered dishes in the summer. Multiples filled with food on a dining or buffet table can make a memorable impact. They can even house your tea-light candles.

So it seems I’m totally wireless and analog in the kitchen these days. These cheap, cheerful, trusty tools are my go-to’s right now. If any of them are laying dormant in your home, I hope this inspires you to keep them close from now on.

*Why black? If you shoot photos, it comes in handy as a neutral backdrop for overhead shots and it’s wearing beautifully too.