I cook a hot breakfast pretty much every morning and make dinner most nights and there are some tools that make meal prep a lot more pleasant. These are gadgets that fill me with joy every time I use them. I do love a handy gadget and have bought a lot of them over the years. Most tend to take up more space than they’re worth but some are golden. I figured that Christmas would be the perfect time to tell you about my favorites, just in case you’re looking for some gift ideas for the cook in your life (or non-cook that you’re hoping to inspire).
This funky bagel cutter is a new addition to my kitchen but my family adores it. We eat bagels a lot. Like a dozen or two every week. And cutting bagels easily is a total pain, even for me. You’d think I would have enough experience to do it properly. For a while we had one of those contraptions that looks like a guillotine but it was a pain to store–it took up way too much room. I was thrilled to find the TableCraft Bagel Cutter last year. It’s a smallish knife with two plastic guides that slide over each side of the bagel. It couldn’t be easier to cut a bagel perfectly in half. Although the knife is pretty sharp I feel fine letting my kids use it. And the fact that I don’t have to be on constant bagel-cutting duty is fantastic! I just throw it in my knife drawer in between uses. At $15 it would make a great and affordable gift for any bagel-eaters you know.
These Endurance measuring spoons have gotten more use in my kitchen over the last decade than anything else. Not kidding. I have used these thousands and thousands of times. They are still going strong and I can’t recommend them highly enough. $15 may seem a little steep for a set of spoons when you can get plastic ones for $5 but they are so, so, so worth it! The thing I like the most about these more than any other type of measuring spoon is that they are long and thin so even the tablespoon measurer can fit into a spice bottle. The sides of these measuring spoons are pretty straight and the bottom is flat. That’s really great if, for example, you have been using the 1 tsp. measurer for some cinnamon and then you need only half a teaspoon of salt, you can eyeball it pretty well without having to get out another spoon. That’s a lot harder with round measuring spoons. Here’s a tip: When I was growing up we kept our measuring spoons hooked together on the ring they came on. It was a complete pain–like cooking with a set of keys. I finally realized they work a lot better if they’re seperated. I don’t want to have to dig around in the drawer for spoons, though, so I keep all three of my measuring spoon sets in a little vase (actually a votive candle holder) on the counter next to my mixer.
Years ago I got a Zyliss garlic press. I was enchanted by the ability to throw a clove of garlic with the skins on into my press, squeeze and perfect mashed up garlic would come out! My old Zyliss has been a workhorse (I love garlic and eat it in nearly every meal) but it only held one small clove. So I tried several other garlic presses that had larger capacities. These just didn’t get nearly the amount of garlic out that my Zyliss did. I was thrilled earlier this year to find a new larger Zyliss–the Susi 3–that combines maximum squeezability with a larger capacity. And it’s got a handy cleaner-outer that gets the leftover peel out. I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes it takes some major elbow grease to squeeze the garlic press (especially when there are two cloves inside) but it seems to be the nature of the beast. All brands are similar in that way. Even so, this is one of those tools that everyone should have. And at around $15 it’s a great deal.
Everybody needs a good rolling pin. At some point I promise you’ll need one. Those dumb rolling pins with handles are wimpy. I’ve seen ones that are marble or metal but for my money you just can’t lose with a sturdy wooden rolling pin. I prefer the style of rolling pins that are straight across, not tapered. My favorite rolling pin came from Sur La Table years ago and I use it not only to make pies but to roll out bread dough for cinnamon rolls, to smash nuts and Oreos, and to beat my recalcitrant husband (kidding! Mister is very obedient.) Mine was $30 and was made in France (which meant I had to buy it because I’m snobby like that). Ateco makes this rolling pin that is very similar but is maple wood, not beech. The length is the same (almost 20″. It’s beautifully long!) but it’s less than $13! What a bargain!
You will certainly need a rolling pin if it’s pie you’ll be making. Too afraid to make pie, you say? Well, try out this nifty thing: it’s a zippered piece of thick plastic that helps you roll out pie crust into the perfect shape and size. When I first bought this I figured it was just some stupid gimmick. Wrong-o! It’s fantastic. Pie crust is much easier to roll out and there’s no more rolling things into a giant rectangle. Not to mention there isn’t the wastefulness of throwing away parchment every time you make pie crust. You guys, this thing costs $5. Totally worth it.
Ah, my cooking thermometer. How I love this thing. I’ve tried different styles but I keep coming back to this one. Did you know that the best way to check if bread is baked throughly is by taking its temperature? (It should be around 190°) My thermometer has been used for everything from frying donuts to making soap. My husband regularly swipes it to check the meat on his BBQ. It’s one of those things that you never knew how much you needed until you finally get one. This is my favorite style of kitchen thermometer since the probe is at one end of a thick wire and the readout is at another. It’s much easier to read than the kind of thermometer that has a readout on the probe itself (fine unless you have to stick your head in a 400º oven to read it). It has a beeping alert to tell you when the food has reached its proper temp. I started out with a Polder many years ago. When my first one broke (I put it in my apron pocket then accidentally threw it in the washer), I got a cheaper version at Costco. Sadly I didn’t realize it was only for meat and the highest temp it measured was 200º. How dumb! I learned my lesson and got a Thermoworks which is pretty similar to my old Polder. It’s still going strong and was worth every penny of the $20 I spent.
I can’t believe more people don’t know about Bake-Even Strips! I would marry these if I could! They are the greatest secret ever for making a cake that’s totally flat on the top. They’re by Wilton and you can get them in the cake decorating section of any craft store. They cost about $9-10 but most craft stores have coupons so use one for a set of these! Here’s what you do: put the strips in a huge cup of water for a couple of minutes. Then lift a strip out and run it through your fingers to squeeze out a little of the extra water. Wrap it around you cake pan (make sure it’s a cake pan with sides that are straight up and down. The cheaper cake pans have slanted sides. Why, I do not know. Get yourself a couple of 8″ pans with straight sides if you don’t have any) and as it bakes it will insulate the outsides of the cake so the entire thing bakes at the same time and you have a completely flat cake. No more trying to even out the top of a dome-shaped cake. Yahoo!
I make cookies probably three times a week. Cookies are hands down my favorite thing to eat. And I will be more than happy to show you all the blue ribbons I’ve gotten from the State Fair over the years. So when I tell you that, next to a mixer, the most important thing you need for making cookies is a good cookie scoop, you need to listen to me. My hands-down favorite is the OXO Cookie Scoop. These cookie scoops come in three sizes. Medium is the one that I can’t live without (although the large is a nice size for muffins). It makes absolutely perfect cookies in a flash (about 2-3″ across depending on how much the dough spreads). Please don’t tell me you’re still scooping dough out of the bowl with a teaspoon! Get out of the stone age and buy this cookie scoop! I’ve used other brands and this is the best.
My mother swore by spring whisks while I was growing up. Some people listen to their mothers but I tend to do exactly opposite of what she says. So when I grew up I bought traditional whisks for my kitchen. But this is a case of mom being right: Spring Whisks (sometimes called French whisks) are simply the best. They get in the corners of containers that bigger whisks can miss, and they do a much better job of breaking up clumps; super helpful if you’re making a roux or white sauce. Although I hate to admit that my mother was right, this Spring Whisk is the best. It’s several inches taller than spring whisks you’ll find in stores–better for keeping your hands clean and away from any hot pans.
Ok, So this next item isn’t a gadget. But at less than $15 it’s still gadget-priced. It’s a bread pan made by USA Pans. I make loaves quite often and was always cursing the pans. It seemed like bread stuck to every single kind of pan–especially glass or metal ones–no matter how well I greased them. I found these pans on Amazon and ordered three. There’s no way to describe these except to say True Love. These pans are gloriously heavy and are lined with a layer of silicone called Americoat (how patriotic!). Without them even being greased bread just slides right out. Every time I use one of these I exclaim at least once, “I love this pan!!!” I’ve also bought the Pullman Pan which makes a huge, square loaf with a very pale, soft crust (perfect for sandwich bread but you need a different recipe since the pan’s bigger). It’s even more magnificent since I was always forgetting to grease the lid (a very bad thing to do). And best of all, USA pans are made in–you guessed it–America! My goal is to eventually replace all my baking pans with USA Pans. They’re that good.
Happy Baking and cooking, everyone! If you have any gadgets you just adore, please let me know!
I bought these all myself with Mister’s hard-earned cash. I get a tiny smidge of money if you buy these things from Amazon but you are welcome to get them wherever you want. Some items might be harder to find locally than others. Like that bagel cutter–never seen it in any store.