Some kitchens are an unorganized mess of gadgets, utensils and home appliances, but yours doesn’t have to be. You don’t need a juicer unless you’re pouring yourself big glasses of fresh orange juice every day; otherwise you can just squeeze the juice out of a citrus fruit yourself. A garlic press is unnecessary if you have a microplane, which doubles as a zester and grater for hard cheeses.
You only need 16 gadgets to make virtually every meal you run across in any cookbook. Simplify your life in 2011 by clearing out the clutter in your kitchen and keeping only the utensils and gadgets you absolutely need, listed and explained below.
A silicone-coated spatula can scramble eggs in a nonstick pan and lift baked goods, vegetables, fish and meat off a baking sheet without scratching the surface.
Go for silicone-tipped tongs, which can turn shrimp or meatballs individually in a frying pan, lift pasta out of boiling water and flip waffles placed directly on an oven rack.
- Large spoon
A large stainless steel spoon can double as a ladle for dipping soup out of a pot or help you dive into a thick casserole for serving.
Pick out a wire mesh colander with fine grates for it to double as a sifter and strain gravies and sauces, as well as drain the water off vegetables and pasta.
Purchase a box grater with varying hole sizes for soft- to semi-soft cheeses and hard vegetables and fruits such as carrots, zucchini and apples.
Though the box grater works well for soft to semi-soft cheeses, a microplane really grinds into hard cheeses such as parmesan and also works wonders on garlic and citrus fruit zest, the latter of which can be difficult to remove from a traditional box grater.
- Chef’s knife
Buying a chef’s knife won’t be cheap, but it’ll make your life easier. Purchase a high-quality santoku (chef’s) knife that’s at least seven inches and has a full tang (meaning the blade doesn’t stop at the handle) in stainless forged steel, and make sure it fits and balances nicely in your hand.
- Bread knife
Otherwise known as a long serated knife, a bread knife will help saw through bread, carve meats and cut through tomatoes without crushing them.
If you love mashed potatoes, a potato masher is the easiest tool to crush them without making them gluey (like an electric mixer can if mixed too long). And if you were thinking about mashing potatoes with a fork… just don’t.
- Vegetable peeler
A vegetable peeler can easily remove the skin from woody root vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and carrots or from more tender produce such as cucumbers, apples and zucchini.
- Can opener
Though an electric can opener might prevent you from being cut or from germs spreading to the contents of the can, a manual can opener is cheap and is tried and true, since it’s been around since 1772.
- Measuring spoons
In baking, it’s important to measure ingredients exactly, particularly leavening agents such as baking soda and baking powder. Make sure to get a tablespoon, teaspoon, half-teaspoon and quarter-teaspoon measurement.
- Measuring cup(s)
Dry ingredients are best handled using “scoop and level” measuring cups (separate measuring cups for one cup, ½ cup, 1/3 cup, ¼ cup and 1/8 cup), but the unit of measurement for dry ingredients is the same if you use a liquid measuring cup (a clear one that has all measurements in a range, such as two cups, on it) if you don’t have much space.
- Kitchen shears
Purchase a pair of good-quality stainless forged steel kitchen scissors that separates into two parts for thorough washing. You’ll use these for everything from cutting kitchen twine to separating chicken parts to snipping green onions or bacon pieces over a hot pan.
Long before there were electric mixers, there were whisks, which whip cream, beats eggs and cake batters and keeps sauces, polenta, grits and gravies from clumping. Note: An electric mixer may be needed in addition to a whisk if you do a lot of baking.
- Silicone baking mat
Better than parchment paper (for its thickness, durability and easy cleaning), a silicone baking mat ensures even baking for cookies (no burnt bottoms) and makes clean-up for roasted meats or vegetables a breeze. You can either put it in the dishwasher or wash it by hand in less than a minute.
Read more on cooking and eating:
How to Grocery Shop on a Budget
How to Dine Like a Professional Foodie without Spending a Fortune
Save Time and Money by Preparing Meals at Home
Single Serving: Tips on Cooking Smart for One
Grill Out: How to Barbecue Like a Pro in Your Apartment Community
Photo Credit: iStockphoto/YinYang