Top Ten Kitchen Essentials

A while back, Katharine Shilcutt wrote about her top 10 must-haves for her kitchen. Well, not everyone has the same kitchen needs, so here's a little different perspective. We find that a lot of specifics, like mixing/prep bowls, can be overcome by having mismatched dishes, and we are even guilty of using our plates at times instead of a cutting board. Since I have an embarrassingly small kitchen (no pantry!), space is premium, and many tools have to multitask.

10. Dexas PopWare collapsible strainer - Picked this bad boy up at Sur La Table one day on clearance. Bought on a whim, the strainer is used quite often, and takes up a fraction of the space that the old strainers did. There's no real comparison on durability versus its predecessors, but it won't melt in the bottom rack of your dishwasher.

9. Kyocera ceramic mandoline - When we decided that we wanted a mandoline, we realized that most "good" ones seemed to be edging out of our price range. We discovered the Kyocera version at Williams Sonoma but were skeptical because it wasn't adjustable. Still, we were not disappointed. You can basically wave your food in the general direction of the slicer, and it does the trick. It came with a hand guard/food holder that is never used, as you tend to lose some control with its use. This slices garlic and onions so thin, it would make Paulie from Goodfellas proud. After four years of constant use, it's still razor sharp.

8. Step stool - Having a kitchen filled with awesome things is useless if you can't reach them all, especially when you are forced to use those seemingly impractical top cabinets.

7. Ikea Grundtal Magnetic Knife Rack - After looking at several different knife rack makers when moving into the first apartment (375 square feet, yikes!), this one ended up being the winner. Holds knives? Check! Holds a bottle opener? Check! For $8 (a quarter of the price of its competitors), we were sold.

6. Garlic press/slicer - This sucker was too cool, a decent garlic press AND a slicer. It multitasks even though it's highly specialized, and as you can see from the photos, takes quite a beating. It doesn't slice things Goodfellas thin (it preceded the mandoline), but its awesome in a pinch. It used to have a neat little cleaning tool that attached, but it was devoured by the garbage disposal.

5. QuickMist oil sprayer - There was some major wariness before this was purchased, however, it proved to be invaluable. The pricey, just purchased, non-stick anodized cookware explicitly stated no non-stick spray was to be used. This did the trick! It's awesome for grill prep and basting, and can be used with homemade flavored oils to perk up dishes.

4. Cuisinart Classic Pro food processor - Oh food processor, how on earth did we ever survive without you? Before you there was no homemade mayo, and making things like latkes and chimichurri took forever... If you don't have the space or don't want to drop the dollars for a food processor, the handy three-cup choppers are a lifesaver too.

3. Oster blender - Yes, I make smoothies nearly every morning.

2. Kershaw utility knife - Knife snobs beware, this sucker was $14 at Williams Sonoma a few years back. Despite owning much pricier quality knives, we've found this is still the workhorse of the kitchen. It does everything from slice tomatoes to saw through bones and meat. After three years, it's still scary-sharp, even when it's accidentally ended up in the dishwasher a few times.

1. Steel wok - This and its spatula are the most used things in the kitchen. We bought this hammered steel wok for $15 at Ace Mart after we'd talked ourselves out of some fancy pricey non-stick wok.

Once seasoned, steel woks are nonstick, and you can keep them on high heat to your heart's content (and fried eggs will slide right out of them). In fact, the more you use it, the better they get, unlike woks of days past. If pans got jealous, all our cookware would hate our wok.

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Becky Means