You’ve probably heard the excuse: there’s too much chopping and cleaning to do to cook at home. It takes up so much time! It’s no fun.
Well, that simply isn’t valid when there are so many tools available to make food preparation easier, more fun as well as helping to make cleanups quicker.
Here’s a list of five simple kitchen tools that take up very little cupboard space, don’t require electricity to use and are easy to clean (one of the suggestions is a cleaning medium in itself!). The simplicity of these is breathtaking and they make life in the kitchen so much easier.
So here, in no particular order of favourites, are five things I wouldn’t be without in my kitchen.
1. Bicarbonate of Soda
Yes you read right. Basic bicarbonate of soda (also known as bicarb soda or baking soda) is first on the list. Why? I hear you ask. Well, for many reasons, including:
- Cooking: Many recipes call for bicarb soda – from cakes to honeycomb, pancakes and fritters.
- Cleaning – so many uses, including:
- removing stains from plastics: such as soaking up oily residues in containers before washing up.
- combined with a soft scouring pad, bicarb will shine up stainless steel, including pots, lids and sinks.
- Burnt-on food on the bottom of saucepans wipe clean. Sprinkle a layer of bicarb on the bottom, add enough water just to cover. Return to the stovetop and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer, making sure it doesn’t boil dry. You’ll see burnt-on food just lift off.
- It also works to clean off burnt-on food from ceramic and induction hotplates (sprinkle some on, moisten and let dry. Burnt food just wipes off)
- use to shine your kitchen sink
- deodorise your drains: drop a handful in the drain, pour in some white vinegar and watch it fizz. Wait five minutes then run water down to rinse.
- Medicinal: A teaspoon in water will help settle an upset stomach.
Recommended reading: Bicarbonate of Soda Hundreds of Everyday Uses, by Diane Sutherland and others
When I say mandolin, I don’t mean the musical instrument. What I mean is the kitchen tool with a sharp blade that results in perfect, even sliced food.
I have a basic Borner Original V Slicer with cutting blades for chips and julienne-style cutting. I purchased it years ago and thought it would end up just another cupboard clutterer. Now I wouldn’t be without it.
The real bonus of a mandolin is you can get even slices or strips with virtually no effort. This is particularly useful if you need to do lots of slicing at a time.
For example, if you’re doing a potato gratin for a party and need to slice up loads of potatoes. The mandolin makes short work of this. It’s also great for fine onion slices for that French onion soup.
My slicer is white, so I keep it virtually stain free (carrots love to leave their mark) using … you guessed it … bicarbonate of soda.
There are many brands available on the market, but check out the Borner. Even after owning mine for about 8 years, it’s still as sharp as ever and I’m very happy with it.
A word of warning: mandolins are tools, not toys and extremely sharp, so ALWAYS use the guard. Some longer vegetables, like carrots, can be started without a guard. But I’M CAREFUL and put the guard on when it’s short enough to not break.
Having seen a serious accident resulting in a deep cut after not taking enough care when using a mandolin. It was rather scary, so I NEVER take risks and neither should you.
3. Danish dough hook/whisk
When is a whisk not a whisk? When it’s a Danish dough hook.
I can’t believe it took me so long to notice them – and I have the wonderful Nigella Lawson to thank. Why? There she was, using this wonderfully simple tool on a video and I instantly knew it was something I’d use again and again.
As you can see, it’s just a bit of sturdy twisted wire on a wooden handle. But it’s been a game changer for bread baking and other dough mixing I do.
As a bread baker, what it’s done for me is make dough mixing easy. I have my KitchenAid, but it’s the KSM50 and I’ve found its dough hook to be rather useless. But as I increasingly make no-knead doughs and sourdough breads, this whisk is changing my life.
Why? Because it just does its job well without mess and with minimal cleanup. Also because the open wire means you don’t get dough sticking in hard to clean places. It just washes clean with a kitchen scrubbing brush in a jiffy.
Oh, and I also use it when mixing starters. I could use a spoon, fork or whisk, but the hook mixes flour and water through starter with ease.
It is also a talking point. Mine hangs on a hook in my kitchen and I’ve had several people ask what on earth it is. Kind of makes you look all smart and kitchen nerdy.
Bottom line is if you make dough of any kind, this is a tool you need in your kitchen.
4. My favourite garlic crusher
My first Joseph Joseph garlic rocker was plastic with a stainless middle bit like the full metal one I now own. I loved that the garlic wasn’t pulped completely and sat on the top of the holes. This meant easy transfer to the food. I wasn’t happy with the fact that it broke after about a year. The plastic just snapped on one of the wings and it just didn’t work any more.
I was aware of the all metal variety, but couldn’t justify the cost. I already had good knives and a normal style garlic crusher at home! That was until I was gifted a very generous voucher for Minimax Hobart (then called Habitat). And so off I went, and suddenly I had a gleaming new, all metal garlic rocker.
Things I like about this are:
- the garlic is more like a fine chopped consistency
- you can crush heaps of garlic at a time as you’re not constrained by the size of a holder
- it collects the garlic on the top as you crush and it’s really easy to clean.
For cleaning, I don’t put it in the dishwasher, but instead I just clean in hot water. I also use a brush to push bits through that get stuck. They unstick very easily.
5. Apple corer & slicer
Another simple one, this little tool has been a go-to in my kitchen for some years. It makes coring and slicing apples a breeze, whether for pies or for eating or just stewing, the even slices are really handy.
If I need slightly smaller pieces, I’ll first cut the apple across the width, which saves chopping lots of individual pieces. Then I use the tool to core and slice the pieces. So easy!
Oh, and kids love using this as well. I place it somewhere a bit lower than a kitchen bench so they can get all their strength behind it and voila, there’s a cored and chopped apple snack done in a jiffy.
Mine is an eight slice, but I’ve also seen 16 slice ones that do finer slices.