Five kitchen tools I use all the time

The other day, my friend Jen asked me to do a post on kitchen stuff I really love. She also asked me to do a post on things I regret buying, which will be the next post.

I have provided links for those things that are easy for me to find links on Amazon or elsewhere, in case you wish to purchase something. These are not affiliate links. Bill and I did, in fact, sign up to be Amazon affiliates when we fired up this blog, but they ceased running the program in Illinois. Just so you know. 27 April 2014 Note: The links are now affiliate links. This means that if you buy any of these, I get a tiny cut of the price. This doesn’t increase your purchase price. You can read more here

So, let’s get down to it. Below you’ll find five kitchen tools (in no particular order) that I never, ever want to be without again. Five tools I dread having to replace. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

h2. 1) Enormous Stock Pot

This thing is huge. I actually have no idea how much liquid it holds. Lots. My guess is that it’s a 20 qt stockpot, but I’m not sure. Marty, who gave it to me & so probably knows best, thinks it’s a 16 qt stockpot. But he gave it to me so many years ago that he forgot he gave it to me, so maybe he misremembers.

So, why do I love it? Entirely about capacity. I can easily fit several poultry carcasses in this thing (even a broken down turkey alone is dwarfed by it), along with more than plenty of water to boil them down for hours. Beef bones fit in this guy easily. All my veggie trimmings? Perfect. It’s also great for boiling several ears of corn at a time. Finally, it doubles as my canner. I know I would probably appreciate having an actual canner, since I could fit more jars in at once, but in a small kitchen, it’s great to have something that does double duty. And it’s tall enough to safely water-bath process quart jars, so when I started experimenting with that I was thrilled.

16 qt Stainless Steel Stock Pot

h2. 2) Zojirushi 5 L Electric Kettle

I partially love this thing because I am home all day most days. However, I drink enough tea that it was a good idea that we bought it even before I was home all day every day. No joke. Also, Bill drinks about that much coffee.

I love this because of it’s capacity as well, though I also very much appreciate that it has a very wide range of tolerance for how much water it can safely heat. Anywhere from 1 L to 5 L. Keeps it at 195F the entire time it’s plugged in, though we could have set it for 175F or 205F. Safety mechanism to keep you from sleepily burning yourself in the mornings, but not so complicated as to prevent caffeine consumption. You have to be awake enough to press two buttons in sequence. That’s it! Furthermore, I often need a bunch of boiling water on hand for various recipes or canning or what-have-you, and this does the job admirably. So handy.

This thing is completely worth the counter space it takes up. Best $50 we ever spent, when we got it used from a tea shop that was closing. The only downside I see is that, someday, it will break, and then it’ll be closer to the best $150 we have to spend1.

5L Zojirushi Hot Water Kettle.

h2. 3) Calphalon Toaster Oven

Apparently, I like big things. Because my love for this toaster oven is at least partially about capacity. I LOVE that it fits a 9 × 13 pan (which was something I hoped for, but didn’t expect to get). I like it as a toaster as well. The convection feature seems to speed up baking, but you have to watch it. We use this guy almost daily, and it works like a champ. Just the other day we toasted bagels in it in the morning and roasted zuchhini in it that night. I’ve baked on hot days, and it’s great for just six muffins. The only downside is when baking; with convection off, it takes forever and with it on, it goes both lightning fast and requires rotating the goods to prevent burning – so, a little bit of babysitting.

Now, all that said, it seems I love this product, but Amazon reviewers almost universally do not. So, maybe we got the one working one they made.

Calphalon HE650CO XL 1400-Watt 0.7-Cubic-Foot 6-Slice Convection Oven

h2. 4) Set (+1) of Calphalon Commercial Anodized Aluminum Pans

Capacity? Ha, ok. In this case, not really. Heck, one of the pans is only big enough to fry a single egg. Which we do surprisingly often. It works great for that. I’m not sure we use the tiny pan for much else. However, the other pans get used all the time, and I never hate them.

They’re just non-stick enough, without being so non-stick you never get any fond. They’re actually reasonably easy to clean, which is good since the bastards aren’t dishwasher-safe. They’re nice and heavy2 and have reasonably even heating, which is good because my stove isn’t level. They go from stove-top to oven safely, so I don’t have to think about that in the slightest, and they hold up under the broiler. Also, when on the stove-top, the handles stay reasonably cool, though there is a caveat to this that I’ll discuss below.

The thing that looks like a cross between a wok and a skillet is what they call an “everyday pan”, and it did not come with the set we purchased. I am so very glad Bill owned one when we moved in together. I owned one when I lived alone in Baltimore and it was my favorite pan. Or one of. I had a beloved hand-me-down cast iron skillet that was the other. Both were lost in the move to Chicago.

Downsides? Well, they’re pricey. The dutch ovens (not pictured) that came with the set get a lot less use than the pans. One is huge, the other is tiny, and neither is as heavy as I want a dutch oven to be. None of the pots or pans is dishwasher safe. Finally, with the big pans, to get the leverage I need to lift the large skillet or saucepan, I need to grab fairly near the cooking surface itself. This area is NEVER cool. Which means I’m often struggling to lift (and often tilt) a hot pan using a potholder, and this is often ungainly.

Calphalon D1382PB Commercial Hard-Anodized 12-Inch Everyday Pan with Lid

I cannot find a link for the set. I guess they don’t carry it any more.

h2. 5) 6 3/4 Quart Oval Le Creuset Dutch Oven

Bill’s mother, sister and brother-in-law gave this to him our very first Christmas together. He unwrapped it with complete awe and joy, because he’d wanted one for awhile. And? We promptly took it back to his place and made our friend Jessie’s Guinness and Red Wine Beef Stew in it. Oh, so tasty.

I was afraid to use it for ages. I was afraid of chipping the enamel. I was afraid of dropping it while it was soapy and shattering it. I was afraid it was too big. So, I almost always turned to our 5 qt cheaper World Market dutch oven. These days, it’s the only one I use. Like, saying that, I think I might donate the other one…

So, why do I love it? Capacity, right?

Actually, no. I don’t mind the capacity, but I think I’d be fine with a 5 qt dutch oven, given I used to use one exclusively. I love it because it works. Perfectly. It’s heavy, so it’s got great heat retention. It heats up reasonably quickly. It does have nice capacity. And, it’s so easy to clean. That’s actually what swung me over to using this one all the time. I was sure the 5 qt would be lighter and easier to clean. Then I had to use them both simultaneously one day, and I discovered the Le Creuset is actually less heavy than the World Market dutch oven and substantially easier to clean. I actually, at one point, had dropped and chipped the World Market dutch oven. I never have with the Le Creuset.

Finally, I love it because it’s beautiful. It was beautiful right out of the box, with a lovely gradient from dark to light grey, but over time it has gotten a patina of love and use over that grey that says, “this is a valued piece of kitchen equipment and a valued gift”. Which is its own kind of gorgeous.

Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 6-3/4-Quart Oval French Oven, Marseille (I can’t find the color we have.)

fn1. Though, I keep my fingers crossed it won’t. Bill knows a coffee shop owner who says they just don’t break. Like, even under the conditions of a coffee shop. So maybe we’ll luck out.

fn2. Actually, the biggest skillet and the biggest sauce pan are both so heavy that I struggle to pour things out of them. I can barely do it one handed with the skillet, sometimes. Never with the big saucepan.