More Kitchen Essentials

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I don't really use fancy knives, a lot of gadgets, or measuring cups; I am a creature of habit and my kitchen reflects my casual cooking style. Culinary essentials? Mine are a mixture of tools and ingredients, gadgets and gizmos. Here are my ten favorites, in no particular order.

Microplane Zesters and Graters At one point I was convinced that a box grater was sufficient for all my grating needs. As it turns out, I was only lying to myself because I am a lying liar who lies. I received two microplane graters for my birthday last year, and they have changed my cooking habits. I'm no longer afraid to add lemon. I get more zest and finer cheese -- with less effort and fewer injuries. Truly a win-win.

Rice Vinegar Is it a tool, appliance, or gadget? Nope, but vinegar is the king of my kitchen. Balsamic, red wine, apple cider... all awesome. But the greatest of these is rice vinegar, a tangy dream of a flavor that compliments just about anything. Add a bit of olive oil, plus some salt and pepper, for a fabulous dressing for salads, pastas, quinoa, fish dishes and more. I am never without it.

Tupperware I'm a teacher by day. If you haven't set foot inside a high school cafeteria recently, you might not know that the food served looks like this. Teachers eat free, yet most of us wouldn't dare. Frozen foods get *real* tired, so my answer is Tupperware. I typically make a huge meal at night -- and before I even eat it, set two portions aside for my lunchy-lunchy-lunch box.

Silicone brush Surprised was I to find a silicone brush in my Christmas stocking two years ago, but the joke's on me -- I use the thing all the time, from basting meats to brushing pastries to buttering fish and veggies. The brush is sturdy enough to get the job done, yet gentle enough to keep dishes intact. Plus, these guys are dishwasher safe, and the "bristles" never lose their shape. Hallelujah!

Cuisinart I am a sucker for soups and purees, so the Cuisinart has become a close personal friend. Yes, I complain about lugging the thing out -- and cleaning it up afterwards -- but I every time I use it I can feel my face filled with wonder as I witness the liquefaction of a solid. As it turns out, Science was not my strong subject. But I do know delicious simplicity when I taste it.

Paring knife Professional chefs will faint at the thought, but the bright-green Williams-Sonoma paring knife is my go-to chopping agent. To hell with those big old chef's knives -- paring knives are small, manageable and seriously sharp. The smaller blade gives you more control, so you can cut your veggies with maximum speed and agility. Plus, they're easy to clean and easy to store.

Nylon spatula While some chefs use spatulas of varying shape and size for their culinary needs, I limit my spatula use to one: The nylon OXO spatula. It's sturdy, yet flexible, and works for all my spatula needs: eggs, fish, cookies, pancakes and more. Also? Spatula is one of my favorite culinary words (along with pudding, pupusa and soufflé).

Green onions Whether used as an ingredient or sprinkled on as a garnish, green onions add an incredible flavor and crunch. I use them *everywhere* -- tossed with salads, mixed with pasta, or sprinkled on fish, eggs and meat. I chop the bunch and leave it in a container in the fridge. All week I sprinkle them on the dishes of my choosing (which is most of 'em). Experts warn us not to chop green onions early for fear of the dry-out factor, but whole or cut, mine never last more than a few days anyway.

Wooden spoons Yes, I've heard the gripes about wooden spoons picking up flavors from everything they touch, but geez, what kind of gremlin spoons are you using? I've never had a problem with flavor absorption, plus they work nicely with my nonstick pans - no scratching, no scraping, no dents.

Sriracha Part of me fears that Sriracha has become too commercial, too ubiquitous, too trendy. But the other part of me doesn't care -- What's not to like about the fact that it's everywhere? Sriracha, after all, is fantastically awesome. It has become like pepper for me, a hassle-free way to spice up soups, meats and rice dishes.

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