Gear Guide: In the kitchen

Seasoning the sauce

I absolutely geek out on gear. Baby gear. Kid gear. Winter gear. Biking gear. Skiing gear. Running gear. Baseball gear. Garden gear. I really, really want to buy a Silhouette machine because it would nicely complement my crafting gear. For a few years I’ve been contemplating buying Owen a kayak for his birthday, probably because that would mean a whole new set of gear. I want to try backpacking, but not for the nature. For the gear.

But there may not be gear as near and dear to my heart, and gear in such constant use, as my very best, very favorite kitchen tools. If you cook at all, these are the essentials I think you should have. They are tried, tested, and true, and they will make your time in the kitchen all the more satisfying.

These may or may not be in order of awesomeness. I’ll decide that at the end.


This might be in a class by itself. Like the BOB stroller, anyone who has one knows why it tops the list.

I don’t even bake — or I didn’t, until I had this mixer. Now, 25 dozen spritz just isn’t intimidating, nor is homemade frosting or from-scratch red velvet cake or beat-to-stiff-peaks instructions. When I turn the mixer on and watch it whirl I always think of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers on the farm, cutting lard into flour by hand or whipping egg whites to peaks with a wooden spoon (and what must have been a truly fierce bicep), only to see the pies and cakes devoured by their nine children, husband, and several farmhands in one sitting. And I get always get a rush (and laugh a little maniacal laugh) when refrigerator-cold cream cheese and butter simply submits to my will and becomes frosting in about two minutes.

Seriously, this thing is awesome, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what it can do, like grind meat if you want it to, knead bread, or make pasta. I concur with others who’ve suggested that a KitchenAid might be reason enough to get married.


When something just works, just does what it is meant to do, and doesn’t give you any hassle, you might forget to appreciate it. Not so my humble Oxo Good Grips vegetable peeler. Because there’s nothing worse than a bad peeler. Get one and I promise you will eat more veggies. And use less Bandaids.


I’m sure there are many perfectly good brands of food processors out there, but mine happens to be a Cuisinart. And it happens to be awesome. Therefore I recommend it to you. If you need to grind nuts into flour, make breadcrumbs, pulverize caramel into dust, concoct spice blends with your son, or want to shred cabbage, carrots, zucchini, or onions, puree baby food, or just make pesto, sauces, soups, salsas, or dressings, your food processor’s going to be your best friend. It does what no other kitchen tool can. Your blender cannot make these things happen. I know. I used to try.


But then there is the immersion blender, that little wonder of an idea. How about, instead of letting your hot soup cool and removing it, in batches, to the blender, and blending (carefully, with the top off and dishtowel over it so it doesn’t explode), you just plunk the blender down in the soup pot, press a button and stir a little bit, and voila! Perfect soup (or sauce) exactly at the consistency you want it to be with no mess. And then, how would you feel if you just popped that little blade off and put it in the dishwasher while you sipped your delicious soup? You’d be happy, right? Then get one of these. I cry a little bit from joy every time I use it. (It also works great for a quick whirl through sauces that have chunks of tomato or mushrooms large enough for your ever-vigilant children to spot. They’ll never know.)


How did I go so long without knowing about these? I got one as a gift from a work white-elephant party and it is the bomb. This thing creates the most beautiful citrus zest (that actually tastes good and not like waxy peel mixed with parts of your thumb), grates expensive Parmesan cheese into delightful fluffy curls, and grates dark chocolate and nutmeg coffee-shop fancy, all with supreme ease.

You will not cut yourself. You will not eat pith. It is not hard to clean. The Microplane will not let you down. Best work-party gift ever.


I think you get the drift. I have eight cutting boards, four sets of measuring cups, and five sets of measuring spoons. At least half a dozen rubber scrapers and four whisks. I also have seven colanders and about 10 mixing bowls.

The key here is having a lot of each kind of thing you use all the time, so you don’t have to stop and wash something just to move on to the next step or risk food poisoning by reusing your cutting boards. You can also make multiple dishes or meals at once, especially helpful if hosting Thanksgiving or stocking up your freezer.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter if these are top-quality or cheap, and bowls and colanders nest, cutting boards are flat, and spoons and cups are small. I promise you can find room, and you’ll be glad you did. (The poor souls in your home that do the dishes, though, may see this another way.)

A little boy washing dishesThat’s my list. There could be others, of course; my mandolin almost made the cut. (Hee hee.) And everyone knows you need good knives and pots and pans. But when I really thought about which tools were my absolute favorites and made my life easier or made cooking even more of a pleasure, these are it. In order of awesomeness.



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  1. Christine says:

    I must not let you go further without adding my Wusthof knives to the list…there is, without doubt, nothing worse than a crappy knife. When we got married, these and the Kitchen Aid Mixer (which I woefully under use) were the best thing that happened to us. Every time I make something with these, which is basically everything i cook, I smile smile smile. We’ve added on to our basic set too, with the ever helpful additional chef’s knife, tomato knife, steak knives, and three versions of paring knives. Seriously. I. Love. Them.

    • Kristen says:

      Christine, I second your warm and fuzzy feelings about your knives. I never realized until I had good knives, that there is really no need for the extensive chopping block full of options. I basically use one fabulous knife for everything. Everything. And ever since my husband showed me the proper chef way to chop,it’s my favorite task in the kitchen. I tell you that knife never even gets put back in the drawer. If someone accidentally drops it on the floor, everyone gasps – you know, like an expensive vase has just broken. Value is in the eye of the beholder I guess.

      • I probably didn’t include knives because, inexplicably, I have just middling-quality knives. Not bad enough to cut me, not good enough to write home about. As as Scott and I have been together 20 years, and there are four major gift-giving occasions per year, he’s had 80 chances to get this right. But somehow he continues to miss this one, and I doubt he’s reading this now.