It’s my favorite season. No, not Fall.
Thanksgiving prep season.
In all fairness, it’s not an official season. It may not be listed on your calendar. But it’s definitely on mine.
A few years ago, we made the executive decision that our family would no longer travel for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s just too chaotic. As a lover of serenity and quiet, two back-to-back holiday excursions — within mere weeks of each other — was as least one too many.
Thanksgiving looked something like this: Pack, drive, eat, drive again, eat again, drive some more, sleep, eat yet again, sleep again, drive home, unpack, do laundry, collapse from exhaustion. Christmas was pretty much a repeat of this itinerary — albeit with the added stress of Christmas shopping, gift wrapping, gift unwrapping, and crabby, overwhelmed kids who’d had too many gifts and not enough sleep.
Ugh. It sapped the joy out of our holiday season.
But no more. We stay home for Thanksgiving and save the road trips for Christmastime.
The added benefit of staying home is that I get to cook and bake and bake and bake to my heart’s content. As soon as I get through our October birthdays, I start making my lists.
And cackling like a mad scientist.
Thusly, I shall inaugurate the Thanksgiving prep season with an ode to my favorite kitchen tools. (Because who needs one more political post? Double ugh.)
These tools are not the “good-to-have-for-when-you-need-them” kind of tools. These are workhorses in my kitchen. If I don’t use at least one of the following in any given meal prep, well… I’d have to be experimenting with something weird like tofu or soylent and I probably need an intervention.
So here we go. Top Ten.
10. IKEA Cutting Boards
I saw a stunning Boos Block cutting board at the store the other day. Dark stain. Beautiful grain. Gorgeous.
It would never survive in my house.
I’m such a germophobe, I like my cutting boards scalded to death in hot water. Expensive wooden boards tend not to like that kind of abuse. These IKEA Legitim cutting boards, though, are awesome. Incredibly cheap. Practically indestructible. I think they’re even recyclable. Throw them in the dishwasher, kill the germs with extreme prejudice, and then reuse.
9. Silicone Baking Mats
Silicone baking mats work great as non-stick liners for baking sheets, but they’re not just for baking. I use the extra-large size for rolling out biscuits, pie crusts, cookies, etc.
Brand-name silicone baking mats can be expensive — and I’m notorious for staining them — so I buy cheapies. Around this time every year, my neighborhood ALDI carries store-brand silicone baking mats as a specialty item. One week it’s the cookie sheet size for about $5. The next week, they have the big counter size for about $10. They hold up really well, and I don’t feel guilty if they get stained.
8. Instant Pot
What if your slow cooker had a fast-forward button?
It just might change your life.
I’m fairly new to the Instant Pot craze, but my love increases daily. I bought mine as an Amazon Prime Day special and have spent the last few months breaking it in. I need to keep this short, so let me just tantalize you with this: fork-tender pulled pork that cooks in about an hour.
7. Fat Separator
This little gadget saves me so much time in the kitchen, I don’t know how I survived without one. I use it for making homemade chicken stock (and soup), pulled pork, pot roast, and turkey gravy on Thanksgiving. Just pour in the drippings, let things settle for a spell, and then use whatever you need.
Incidentally, don’t buy a small one. I wouldn’t go smaller than this 4-cup size. Because it’s nice when your cup “runneth over” until you’re straining off some fat… ewww.
6. KitchenAid Stand Mixer
My KitchenAid Artisan mixer is indispensable, particularly on family pizza nights when I use it to make three batches of pizza dough. I’ve had mine for close to 15 years and it stills works great.
I will say this: the basic metal bowl is not the best one available. When Chefs Catalog and Cooking.com closed last year, I managed to snag an awesome new beater blade, an extra wire whip, and both of these two bowls for less than $60 total.
I use the glass bowl most often, but I love them both. If you can upgrade your mixer bowl, you totally should.
5. Half Sheet Pans
I use these aluminum sheet pans for just about everything: cookies, oven-fried bacon, Texas sheet cakes. My favorite is oven-roasted vegetables. Potatoes, brussel sprouts, asparagus, you name it. Add a little olive oil and kosher salt, and suddenly, there’s a vegetable even my kids will eat (usually).
The best part: the half-sheet size fits perfectly in my dishwasher. Win-win.
4. Olive Wood Utensils
If you’ve invested in — for example — a beautiful new Le Cresuet pot, don’t you dare think about touching it with a metal spoon. Don’t scratch that beautiful enamel finish. Instead, use something gentle but practical. Not to mention pretty.
These olive wood utensils from Euna Mae’s are my favorite. In addition to being a great way to stir up some goodness without scratching your enamel pots and pans, they are drop-dead gorgeous. I want a whole jug of them someday.
3. Le Creuset French Oven
This one should be a whole post by itself. But the short version is: Yes, it’s worth it.
Years ago, I bought an enameled cast iron dutch oven from Sam’s Club for about $30. It was perfectly serviceable. I used it often. But it stopped coming completely clean when washed. Then the enamel coating on the bottom began to crack.
Soon after, I bought my first authentic Le Cresuet, a 9.5 quart oval in cherry red. It is a beast. I collapsed an oven rack with it once. But it cooks like a dream — and cleans up every time, no matter how I may have scorched something. No stains, no cracks, no chips.
I’ve added to my collection since then — a 7.25 quart Round Oven, and a 6.75 quart Wide Oven (aka Risotto Pot) — which might explain why the staff at the Le Cresuet Outlet store know me by sight.
I wish I were kidding. (And so does my hubby.)
2. Solid Silicone Spatulas
A couple years ago, as I was taking a “clean” spatula out of the dishwasher, the silicone blade separated from the plastic handle. When I tried to reassemble it, I noticed a yellowish-gray bacterial slime had accumulated in the crevice where the blade met the handle. So very nasty.
I switched to solid silicone spatulas and will never go back. These have a pliable blade but a good, stiff handle. Solid silicone means there are no nooks or crannies in which disgusting goo can hide. They’re dishwasher safe and heat-resistant, too — which I find is perfect for making caramel, melting chocolate, cooking custard for ice cream, and the like.
1. Food Processor
O, Food Processor! How I love thee! Let me count the ways.
Biscuits. Pie crust. Salsa. Marinades. Grated cheese. Cranberry relish. That’s at least six.
My food processor is a 9-cup model from KitchenAid. It’s about 10 years old and I use it all the time. The only problem: I use it for so many different things, I really need an extra bowl or two.
If you’ve ever struggled with your dough-making skills — or lack thereof — a food processor will save your sanity (while simultaneously obliterating your waistline). It offers much more precision and saves a lot of time. That “cut in butter” process that takes an eternity? The blade attachment of a good food processor does that job perfectly in a few quick pulses. Your biscuits and pie crusts will thank you.
Bonus: Jadeite Batter Bowl
I know I said “top ten,” and this is cheating. But c’mon. It’s a Jadeite Batter Bowl.
Back in 2000, I bought a repro Jadeite batter bowl from Linens ‘N Things. It was under $20 and the first kitchen-y thing I bought as a newlywed. I used it all the time, and for everything. Then our microwave went on the fritz and killed my bowl with a batch of peanut brittle. Cracked it right down the middle. (The bowl and my heart.) The jadeite craze was in full-swing and replacements were not to be had for love or money.
I found this one at an estate sale last year. Angels sang. I may or may not have done a victory lap around the checkout table.
P.S. I love estate sales. And jadeite.
That’s it: my Top
Ten Eleven Favorite Kitchen Tools. Now go forth and make good food.