My Favorite Cooking Tools

I've got a lot of kitchen stuff. Just ask my poor husband who put together a giant Ikea armoire to house extra pie plates, cake pans, cookie cutters, etc. etc. etc. We have a big kitchen with lots of cupboard space, but where to put the 3 (yes, you read that right) waffle irons? The juicer? The panini press? Downstairs. But what do I actually use on a daily basis? That's a whole 'nother story. When push comes to shove, the number of tools I use regularly is pretty small, and I'd argue that you really don't need too much to have a high-functioning kitchen. I've declared a moratorium in fact, on buying new things, and an all-out ban on any one-purpose tool. Here are my top 8 favorites, in no particular order - these are the versions I actually own. If you came into my kitchen right now, you'd see these all here!

Lodge 12" Cast Iron Skillet: This is probably my number 1 most- used item. It's for cook-top, for oven (you know I love a good frittata!) and it comes pre-seasoned, so you don't have to mess with that. What's more, once you cook with it for a while, it'll get super-seasoned, such that it's virtually non-stick. Yes, that's right. I don't own any non-stick cookware (Teflon's evil, in my book) and yet I can prep all the same stuff w/the same lack o' grease (if I want, remember, some fat is good, and in fact, in some cases, fat helps you absorb the vitamins in your food). I do wash mine with soap and water (this is controversial in the cast iron world) because I don't want tomorrow's flapjacks to taste like last night's curry. But maybe you like curried flapjacks?

Breville Hemisphere Blender: I have a love-love relationship with this thing. I use it at least once a day for my a.m. green smoothie. It's super-powerful - large chunks of frozen fruit are NO MATCH for this bad boy. It's mostly glass, so I'm not freaking out about plastics, and it's easy to clean, too. What's not to love?

KitchenAid Manual Citrus Juicer: I have this exact one pictured. Got it at Target for $10, I think. It's orange (I LOVE the color orange) and it's low-tech and I use it almost every day for juicing fresh lemons, limes and/or oranges. Usually for salad dressing, because as you know, I think it's a crime to buy the stuff. It's amazing what a hit of fresh citrus will do for  a dish - this is simple to use and goes in your dishwasher.

Microplane Zester: Speaking of citrus, I use this thing all the time, too. Citrus zest adds great zing to dressings and sauces and adds a bright note to cooked dishes with few, if any, added calories. This is also great for very finely grated cheese - if you want it to melt quickly into your dish, this is the tool for you.

Digital food scale: This is an inexpensive digital food scale, goes up to 5 lbs. and has a tare feature (you can put your plate or bowl on it and then "zero" the scale so you're then measuring whatever you put in or on that bowl or plate). I use mine all the flippin' time. Just measured out 7 oz. of cantaloupe this a.m. for my smoothie, in fact. Want to see what 3 oz. of chicken really looks like? This here's your friend. Whether you're watching what you eat or not, a digital scale can be a useful kitchen tool - for instance, many serious bakers weigh their ingredients to get more precise measurements . . . this little puppy might help those pastries come out more gorgeous than evah!

Cuisinart: I love this thing. I've had mine since 1996. It's beat up and the white base is yellow-ish. It's not pretty, but it's a workhorse and I use it often. I can slice potatoes wafer-thin for holiday gratins, grate a boat-load of cheese in a flash, whip up healthy edamame dips for parties, whirl up big batches of pesto with my CSA basil bounty . . . you can even make bread and pie crusts in this thing. See also: the Mini-Prep by Cuisinart - a mini version of this. Originally purchased to puree foods for baby L., I now use it primarily for chopping nuts and making small amounts of salad dressing.

Chicago Metallic Baking Sheets: Why, oh why do people buy baking sheets coated with non-stick coating? That coating's toxic, my friends. It has PFOA in it and when you heat it up, it emits a gas that's not good for you. And if you have pet birds, it'll kill 'em. What's more, it'll blacken the bottom of your muffin or cookie quicker than a jack-rabbit. Furthermore, most cookies and pastries don't need to be baked on a greased sheet anyway, 'cause they're greasy, all on their own. What you want, my friends, is a set of these. They come in lots of different sizes and they're heavy (heavyweight = even baking) and uncoated and they'll last you a lifetime. What if you're feeling the need for non-stick? Zero mess? That's where aluminum foil and parchment come in. These are worth the investment. I use at least one multiple times per week - from fish sticks to chicken nuggets to cookies to roasting veggies . . . DI uses the big rimmed sheets to prep items to put on the BBQ. Get one, test it. You'll see.

Pepper Mill: This is my pepper mill. It's fancy, no? I treated myself to this one, made by Peugeot, a couple of years ago when one D & I'd gotten for our wedding broke. That first pepper mill got me hooked on freshly ground black pepper. Great for adding a certain something to lots of different dishes, and for finishing dishes too. Crack some over salad. Add it to your soups. Lots of bang for zero calories. MUCH better flavor than buying pre-ground pepper. If you want to get really fancy, you can get peppercorn blends for slightly different flavors. And you don't have to have this Rolls Royce of pepper mills. Target has pepper mills. Walmart does too.

These are just a few of my favorite things . . . as you can see, they're not all fancy or super high-tech, but they're multipurpose, sturdy and functional. What're your top 8 kitchen tools?

{Disclaimer: These reviews are my own, unbiased opinions, and I was not provided with these products to review . . . bought 'em with my own, cold, hard cash.}