Despite have well-stocked shelves, there are a few key items that I reach for every single day when cooking.
My husband and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. With three perpetually hungry, growing children and hearty appetites of our own, food disappears almost as soon as it comes through the door. We cook for at least an hour each night, and try to make it easier by putting in 4-5 hours of prep on weekends to ease the pressure of busy weeknights.
Over the years, we have stocked our kitchen with a wide range of useful tools, from cast iron frying pans and stainless sauté pans to a stockpot, microplane, blender, and slow cooker. I have countless baking pans, a large drawer full of stirring/scraping/scooping utensils, and cupboards full of bowls.
And yet, I still reach for the same few tools every time I start work in the kitchen. These are my favorite tools, the most useful ones that serve multiple purposes and are easiest to use. After all the hours spent together, they almost feel like extensions of my hands. These are the kitchen tools I can't live without.
A medium-sized cutting board: We own two cutting boards. One is a big, expensive, heavy bamboo board with a metal handle on the side and a carved trough around the edge for catching meat juices. It's a beautiful board -- but I rarely use it! It's so much easier to grab the cheaper, lighter, partially-broken-off cutting board that's the perfect size for chopping an onion, lifting up, and scraping it into a pot. It's quick to rinse in the sink before cutting the next ingredients.
A single excellent chef's knife: Guests are always baffled by the fact that there are only two sharp knives in our kitchen -- a MAC chef's knife and a Wusthof paring knife. We've never needed any others. Before my husband bought the MAC knife eight years ago, I'd never known the pleasures of a superior knife that cuts through anything with ease. It makes food prep far easier and more enjoyable.
Iron crepe pan: I have three other lovely frying pans (one 12-inch cast iron, one stainless, and one higher-sided sauté pan), but the 9-inch de Buyer iron crepe pan is the one I grab every single time. Once again, it's easy to wield, even when full of food, and easy to clean in the sink -- not as finicky as cast iron when it comes to scrubbing and using soap. I use it to make pancakes, crepes, and omelet. I use it to fry aromatics for the slow cooker. I brown tofu, tempeh, and ground beef in it. I sauté fish. I make quick cream sauces to drizzle over pasta.
Small saucepan: The most useful pot is a 1.9-litre (2-quart) stainless steel sauce pan by Cuisinox. It's heavy enough to prevent burning, but not too heavy to lift, with a perfect-fitting lid. It's easy to wash with a scrub pad. I use it for rice (1.5 cups is just right for my family), lunchtime pasta for me and my toddler, after-school hot chocolate, hardboiling eggs, cooking lentils or any grain pilaf, making a small batch of Marcella Hazan's tomato sauce or some popcorn for snacking. That pot is on the stove constantly, always in use.
A wooden spoon and spatula: There's an array of wooden spoons in the utensils drawer, but only one gets used over and over again. I bought it in a marketplace in Recife, Brazil, and it has a long, thick handle that goes halfway up my forearm. The spoon part is big, requiring fewer stirs to mix batches of sauce or curry. It's good for mixing chocolate chips into heavy cookie dough, using the handle as a lever against the side of the bowl. I also love my wooden spatula, a cheap thing I bought at a dollar store years ago. It has holes in it for draining, but I can use it on my enamel-bottomed Creuset because it scrapes like a metal spatula without scratching the surface.
Le Creuset pot: Our 5-quart cast iron dutch oven feels like another member of the family, joining us for dinner on the table nearly every night! That pot, a bright cherry red that has darkened over years of use, is used daily because it does everything well -- sautéing, simmering, boiling, baking, braising.
Metal salad tongs: I was given a double set of metal salad tongs at my bridal shower years ago and never thought they'd be so useful. I reach for them all the time, as they're perfect for tossing salads, serving food at table, flipping veggies on the grill, frying falafel, lifting spaghetti, grabbing reheated baguettes in the oven. They're as utilitarian as regular tongs, but pretty enough to go on the table, even with guests.
Stainless mixing bowl: There's an array of bowls in our cupboards, but the stainless one sees the most frequent use. Why? Because it's light. It takes less effort to pull it down, compared to the heavy ceramic ones, and it's easy to tip its contents into prepared baking pans or soup pots. It's convenient to wash and dry. I use it to collect vegetable scraps, to whip cream, to mix muffin batter, to hold cooked protein while stir-frying different vegetables.
What are the most important tools in your kitchen?