If you value cooking fresh homemade food for your family but don’t want to be a slave to your kitchen, it’s time to hit the after-holiday sales. When you have the right tools in your kitchen, you can cook faster and do some pretty cool things. This is a great time of year to find kitchen products at great sale prices and invest in your family. So let’s do some shopping and set your kitchen up for success in 2023.
When I was learning to cook, I went through a phase of wanting every kitchen gadget from Williams Sonoma. I was seduced into making many impulse purchases. The pans I bought for poaching eggs and making filled donuts were used only a few times. The thrill of buying them was greater than the benefits they provided. However, the mini food processor, microplane, waffle maker, and Dutch oven were worth their weight and every penny. They made it easy to make healthy and delicious meals. Over the years, I've realized what is essential. I'm not saying no to buying something fun and perhaps frivolous, but you need the essentials.
While I hope you get a thrill from adding some of the following items to your kitchen, I know you will get a lot of use out of them. For each, I will explain some benefits so you can decide if it is a useful and necessary addition to your kitchen.
Porcelain Baking Dishes
Knowing you'll have to do the dishes can be enough to stop the cooking process before it even starts. But when you have a dish with baked-on food, you may question whether cooking was worth it. With porcelain baking dishes, even the stickiest burnt-on foods will slide off. There are many choices for porcelain baking dishes. My recommendation is the brand Villeroy & Boch. They are easy to clean and will stand the test of time, unlike other baking dishes that become stained and unpleasant to look at after a year.
These baking dishes also come with a porcelain lid, which is very useful. The lid can be used to cover the dish while cooking, use to keep food warm before serving, used as an attractive serving platter, and as a cover for storing. Investing in them will serve you well.
These are five years old and hardly look used. Despite being used weekly.
To get the best deal, decide what size and style you like and then do a Google search and click the shopping tab. You will find various retailers who sell them. I often find excellent sales at Villeroy & Boch and through a Google search. So don’t be in a hurry to buy. Keep your eyes on them and wait for a sale; you’ll be thrilled when you use them. Click the image below of the Roast Chicken to watch a video and see how easy a porcelain dish is to clean. Even with burnt-on food.
The Le Creuset Dutch oven is a stylish and durable kitchen staple. It can be used on the stovetop or in the oven and is perfect for roasting, braising, steaming vegetables, making soups, and even boiling pasta.
To find one, check out this link or keep an eye out for discounted prices at home goods stores like Marshall’s and Tuesday Morning.
Crêpes are an ideal addition to your family menu due to their ease of preparation, ability to freeze, and versatility. They can be made gluten-free and dairy-free and served in a variety of ways. Serve crêpes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Store them in the freezer, and warm them in the oven for 2 minutes. They will be ready to fill with a savory or sweet topping of your choice.
Even though you can make them in an 8- or 9-inch non-stick pan, to achieve perfectly browned and crispy crêpes, use a cast iron pan like the De Buyer Blue Steel Crêpe Pan. You can find one here on Amazon.
For the price, it will be one of the most valuable additions to your kitchen.
The microplane is a handy kitchen tool that can help you add an impressive touch to many dishes. Use it to grate nutmeg, a secret ingredient in many French dishes, as well as for grating lemon and orange zest. You can even use the microplane to grate garlic. You can add zest to pestos, fruit salads, and baked goods.
You can purchase a microplane on Amazon or at any kitchen store. This is a tool you will reach for often.
Garlic Press & Garlic Roller
Garlic is an irreplaceable ingredient packed with health benefits and antioxidants. Its flavor makes any dish come to life. To get the most out of garlic, it should be used fresh. Pre-peeled minced garlic doesn't have the same flavor or nutrients. I often hear people complain about peeling and mincing garlic. A garlic press and garlic roller are two tools that can help make this process easier and faster.
My Italian father would scold me for using anything other than my fingers to peel garlic. Or the palm of my hand to mash—or a knife to mince—a fresh clove of garlic. Many renowned chefs would also agree that garlic should never be manipulated beyond smashing it with your hands or mincing it with a knife. However, I give myself permission to "break the rules" for the sake of saving time and for convenience, with minimal effect on taste. If these two tools help you add more fresh garlic to your dishes, it's worth it.
A garlic roller is a silicone tool that makes peeling garlic a breeze. Place a clove inside the roller, place the garlic roller on a dry surface, press on it slightly with the palm of your hand, and roll it back and forth a few times. The skin will fall off, leaving you with peeled garlic in seconds. You can find garlic rollers on Amazon, often in three packs—perfect for hostess gifts.
The garlic press is a great tool for crushing or slicing garlic. Place a peeled clove in the press, and press down—the garlic is ready in seconds. You can find garlic presses in any home store or kitchen store or on Amazon. I suggest getting one like this on Amazon because the slicing option is also very useful.
Fresh garlic is easy enough to peel and mince, but when you are trying to get dinner on the table, every minute counts. These two tools are worth a few dollars to save you some time.
The stand mixer takes up space in the kitchen, and I often grumble when I have to take it down from the shelf and set it up. But it's worth it for the convenience it provides and the things I can do that I otherwise couldn't do in less time. Plus, lifting it up a few times gives me an arm workout. A stand mixer is commonly used for mixing cake and cookie batter, but even if I only used it for homemade whipped cream, pizza dough, and homemade aioli-garlic mayonnaise, it would be worth it.
All three take 3 minutes to make with the stand mixer and are staples on a family-friendly menu. Kitchen Aid makes a durable product. I have put mine to the test for over 20 years.
Homemade waffles with bananas and cinnamon make an excellent substitute for store-bought cereals. With a waffle maker, you can make a batch of waffles, place them in a gallon-size Ziplock bag, and store them in the freezer. To serve, warm the waffles in the toaster and top with bananas and maple syrup for breakfast or Italian hazelnut spread or jam for a snack. Making waffles is a fun family weekend activity. Note: You can also use your stand mixer to make the waffle batter conveniently.
You can use your stand mixer to make the waffle batter conveniently. I suggest getting a waffle maker like Cuisinart with non-stick and removable plates for easy cleanup.
The Raclette Grill is a one-hit wonder, meaning it has one use, but you can create an exciting family dinner with minimal effort. A Raclette dinner is a traditional French dish served in winter months and is especially appreciated after a day of skiing. All you need is a Raclette Grill and some simple ingredients—an assortment of charcuterie (various types of meat), boiled potatoes, and raclette cheese. Click the photo below to see how to serve a French Raclette dinner.
Consider getting a Raclette Grill for fun family dinners and unique, entertaining ideas to give your guests a meal worth raving about.
Copper pans are praised by many chefs for their even heat distribution and superior cooking quality. Though they are not cheap, they will last for generations, so you won't need to replace them every 5 - 10 years. There is a plethora of options. My preferred brand is Mauviel 1830, which has been making copper pans for 800 years. They are solid, well-made, and beautiful—even when tarnished.
Cooking with a copper pan is a night and day difference compared to a basic stainless steel or non-stick pan. If you're worried about copper tarnishing, I clean mine with Copperbrill 2-3 times a year.
You can learn more about Mauviel here or look for copper pans on eBay or at antique markets. I found this one in France at a flea market for $22—a new one would cost around $150.
If you're tempted to buy pre-shredded cheese for convenience, consider this: pre-shredded cheese contains cellulose, a wood byproduct used to prevent clumping. Opt for a block of fresh cheese instead and use a cheese grater. It's a small investment in your family's health, and the fresh cheese tastes much better. Grating cheese can be a fun task for children to do in the kitchen. Plus, fresh cheese offers more exciting choices.
Visit the cheese counter at your local grocery store or specialty shop for advice and samples. Different cheeses are an easy and fun way to change up recipes. You can use a box grater or a one-sided grater.
The box grater has different sizes, which you may find beneficial, and the one-sided grater is a little easier to clean, but both are practical and essential additions to your kitchen. The one-sided grater is also practical for serving a block of parmesan cheese at the table. Everyone can grate fresh cheese on pasta or vegetables. This one tip can make eating dinner more exciting for young children. You can find a one-sided grater here on Amazon and a box grater here, or in any home goods store.
One Non-Stick Pan
A non-stick pan is essential for making eggs. When using a copper pan for cooking eggs, it can be tricky to prevent them from sticking, even when the pan is well-coated with butter. The simplest solution is to have a non-stick pan, even if you only use it for eggs. It’s also invaluable for making Omelet Baveuse, a French technique for cooking the perfect omelet. This is an excellent last-minute dinner idea. It’s creamy and moist and can be ready in under 15 minutes.
Pair an Omelet Baveuse with a soup or salad, a few slices of dry sausage or other charcuterie (assorted meats), or a light healthy dessert—like fresh fruit and nuts, and dinner can be ready in no time. You can also use an 8- or 9-inch non-stick pan to make crepes.
Nonstick pans are not as durable as copper pans, and you'll probably need to replace them every few years. Therefore, I don’t recommend investing too much. Any non-stick pan will do the trick, but I especially like this one by Tramontina. It’s a quality pan, and the price is right. You can find it on Amazon, but I would also do a Google search to compare prices.
For another quick and easy dinner, a French clafouti is right up there with an Omelet Baveuse. It is like a quiche without the crust. You can put anything in them, ham and cheese, leftover roasted veggies, leftover chicken, or fruit. A fruit clafoutis is a healthy and satisfying dessert that can be served with a lighter meal like soup or salad to make an easy and satisfying dinner.
Any shallow glass baking dish will do to make a clafouti, but I love the porcelain option from Williams Sonoma. Porcelain cleans up easily, and the scalloped edges create a very elegant look.
Ramekins are a versatile kitchen item. They can be used to make Oeufs en Cocotte, a delicious French dish of baked eggs with fresh herbs and cream, plus your choice of ingredients such as ham, cheese, or asparagus.
For family meals, use them to serve desserts, fresh fruit, or ice cream. Because the size is small, it’s easier to serve just the right portion. They are practical for everyday use and elegant for entertaining.
You can find a wide assortment of 4- to 8-ounce ramekins on Amazon or Williams Sonoma and home goods stores.
A steaming rack is often an overlooked tool. It can be placed into various sizes of pots and pans to steam vegetables, potatoes, and fish. Steaming food instead of boiling it helps to prevent water logging, resulting in richer, denser purees and perfectly cooked vegetables.
You can place your steaming rack in a Le Creuset pot.
When I bought this fry cutter, I was worried it would become a forgotten item in the back of my cabinet. However, it has become one of the best additions to my kitchen. It can cut a full sheet pan of potatoes for French fries in under three minutes, and the fries are all uniform in size, which ensures they cook and crisp evenly.
With this tool, burgers and fries will be better at home than going out, and you can serve healthy fries anytime.
The French have a deep appreciation for bread, which is an essential part of every meal. It is used to soak up sauces and juices, clean the plate, and help organize food and push it onto the fork. A small amount is all that is needed for a meal, but it is essential.
To keep bread fresh, a bread box is helpful. This box, designed by Italian designer Alessi, is the perfect size for half a baguette. This will keep your baguette fresh for a few days.
This bread box has a top that doubles as a cutting board with grooves to collect crumbs, reducing cleanup. Store the crumbs in a baggie in the freezer and use them for breadcrumbs. Commercially made breadcrumbs contain additives and preservatives, which can be difficult to digest. Using fresh breadcrumbs will make a noticeable difference in how your food tastes and how easy it is to digest. You can find the Alessi bread box here. Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table have some chic designs as well, such as this copper bread box, which was my second choice. I chose Alessi because I have a deep affinity for the brand.
You can also store bagels and croissants. Croissants are an exciting change from sliced bread for school lunch.
If you're unfamiliar with Souper Cubes, after you try them, you'll likely wonder where they've been all your life. Souper Cubes are silicone trays used to freeze food. Having some freezing trays is essential for having quick dinners on hand in your freezer. I like these because they are so easy to clean and flexible. Even with frozen food, you can push on the bottom to release the food—like soup or tomato sauce, for example. Pop them out, and they can go right into the pan. You can also freeze homemade guacamole, Bolognese sauce, pestos, herbed butter, berries from the summer, and cookie dough. There's a size for everything.
They come with a lid and the silicone is easy to clean.
I particularly like to use them for leftover tomato paste. When I open a can and can't use all of it, I store it in a Souper Cube tray and pop out a cube or two as needed.
You can mix and match what goes in a tray and have a variety of ingredients and premade meals at your fingertips. Most sizes can be found on Amazon, and Sur la Table has some exclusive sizes and colors.
We are coming to the end of the list, and I saved my top two picks for last. These can be total game-changers.
If you have ever blended something like soup in your blender and the lid blew off, spraying soup everywhere, or you dread cleaning a large food processor, you will especially love this little device. An immersion blender is an incredibly useful kitchen gadget. It purées soup in an instant, and clean-up is almost effortless. You can also use it to blend sauces, purée potatoes, carrots, parsnips and celery root, and make whipped cream.
Two brands that have served me well for years are the Cuisinart and Breville models. The Cuisinart immersion blender is easy to use and well-made. I had one that lasted 15 years, and I used it multiple times each week.
The Breville model is a step up, as it has several settings and attachments to create a mini food processor. This leads us to the next game-changer addition to your kitchen—the mini food processor.
Mini Food Processor
The mini food processor is a must-have for any kitchen. I use mine 3 - 5 times a week to chop, whip, blend, and mince ingredients. It's easy to clean, too—rinse and pop it in the dishwasher. I use it to make Caesar dressing, pestos and puree small portions of vegetables.
My favorite use is that it can chop an onion in 6 seconds. You can also chop carrots, celery, and bell peppers in no time, which is a huge time saver to make something like a Bolognese sauce.
To do this, cut the onion or vegetables into large chunks, place them in the food processor, and press the pulse button a few times. For an onion, pulse 6-8 times. Click the photo below to watch the video and see the result.
This Cuisinart mini food processor has held up well for the past 12 years. I did purchase one replacement blade after 10 years, which is easy to find on Amazon.
A Sweet Ending
Adding a kitchen tool that allows you to chop or blend in seconds or having a suitable baking dish, pot, or pan can change the quality of your cooking and your experience in the kitchen, making more things possible and more convenient.
Make a list of what you may want to add to your kitchen, and then consider what you would use them for. Will adding a specific tool help you make new dishes that can become regular go-to menu items? Will it help you use ingredients that are healthy additions to your food or uplevel the dishes you make regularly? Will it save time and money in the long run? Then start shopping. I added shopping links throughout this post so you can see the items. I suggest when you are ready to buy, do a Google shopping search to check for the best prices.
Write to me here and let me know what you add to your kitchen and how it helps you make cooking more convenient and exciting.
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