By Sarah Jio
I love to cook, always have, but I don’t love slaving in my kitchen. Are you with me here? I want to get in, get out (preferably with a glass of wine in hand), and put yummy food on the table. I’m always looking for time hacks and short-cuts that help me make great meals for my friends and family, and over the years, I’ve developed a pretty incredible list of gadgets that do just that (at least, I think so).
Here are my six favorite inexpensive kitchen finds to date and why you need them in your life right this second:
I know, you read those two words, and you were like, whaaaa? Hold up—you know when you’re at a really hip restaurant (I mean, pre-Covid if you can remember that far) and they bring out all these fabulous pickled things in cute little dishes? I’m not talking about dill pickles here, but pickles of the tres chic variety. Think pickled carrots, fennel, red peppers, and those addictive pickled red onions you find the juiciest, high-end burgers. Did the chef spend hours making those pickles? Probably. But you don’t have to! Nor do you need a degree in culinary science to make your own.
Enter the magical “Easy Fermenter” lids: Just pop your sliced veggies in a mason jar, follow the recipe, and voila—in no time, you’ll have restaurant-quality pickles, and at the very least, a fun and nutritious kitchen science experiment for the kids.
Not only has it been the one product I’ve used, consistently, for the last fourteen years, it’s my #1 most used tool in my kitchen (and that’s saying a lot, given that I seem to have every kitchen gadget known to man). Here’s the scoop: When my oldest son was a baby starting to eat solid foods, I tried a gazillion baby food gadgets, all of which were messy and clunky. Then I discovered Cuisinart’s “Mini-Prep” device, which is like your big daddy food processer’s baby sis. But don’t be fooled by its size, this little machine is mighty and it goes far beyond baby food.
I use it to make all kinds of sauces and marinades (my kids are so addicted to pesto, that I swear I blend up a batch every other day), and it’s a miracle worker for quickly pureeing veggies to sneak into muffins, pasta sauces, and soups.
If you already have one, good girl. If you don’t, get one. This relatively inexpensive kitchen staple may date back to your great-grandmother’s era, but it’s a modern staple, too. Void of all the chemicals in modern-day nonstick pans, cast iron can go from stovetop to oven (a godsend for seafood and meat), and has this supernatural way of giving your dish that perfect, golden-brown sear.
And, while this may sound controversial, I don’t fret about using a tiny bit of soap to clean my cast iron pans. I know, I know, naysayers consider it sacrilege, but as long as you keep your pans well-seasoned, you’re all good (hint, just spray a bit of olive oil on them when they’re clean and dry, and occasionally send them into a hot oven to maintain the surface’s smooth, seasoned coating). Bonus: If you’re anemic, cast iron can give you a little boost of iron!
Love wine, but loathe washing your wine glasses? Me too. They break in the dishwasher and handwashing can often leave them looking dull. But settling for lackluster wine glasses is a thing of the past, thanks to custom-shaped scrub brushes designed to release every last bit of residue left behind from even the boldest of cabs.
Another cleanup tip you need in your life? Even if you’re not a cookie baker, be prepared to be wowed by the time-saving prowess of the humble silicon baking sheet. Avid bakers have loved these things for decades to minimize cleanup and prevent sticking, but their usefulness goes far beyond sweets. A few years ago, I began using them for everything from roasted veggies to anything else that might leave my sheet pans a mess.
Now, instead of scrubbing a layer of baked-on food off of my pans, I just toss my baking sheet in the dishwasher or give it a quick soak, and I’m done. Oh, P.S. the French Sil-pat brand is always fun, but there are lots of off-brand options that do the job for far less!
Since when are scissors sexy? I’ll tell you—since the moment when you have a herd of hungry kids fighting over a hot pizza and there’s an easy solution in your hands to calm the chaos. Whether scoring pizza into slices or cutting chicken nuggets into bite-sized pieces for your toddler or even cutting meat into thin slices for stir fry, a pair (or five) of sharp scissors in your kitchen utensil drawer makes all the difference.
I have to give my mom credit for this one: She always kept a clean pair of “culinary” scissors on hand that were designated for food-use only, and now I’m a total convert. Confession: I think I may have a dozen or so!
Sarah Jio is a journalist and the New York Times bestselling author of 10 novels with Penguin and Random House Books. (www.sarahjio.com)