The mini tongs that I wrote about last week got me thinking about other small kitchen tools that I use on a regular basis. Looking around my kitchen, I assembled a collection of well-worn things to share. They are far from fancy. In fact, some of them look like toys but all of them function like work horses.
If I were a parent or had kids to gift something to, I’d put together some of these items to get them started on their culinary journey. Oh heck, I’d give them to adults too. A couple of these tools were gifted to me.
I rarely use this butter warmer for warming butter. My friend Maki, a fabulous pastry chef in Santa Barbara, got me one years ago for Christmas. It’s perfect for sizzling a little bit of chile oil and making a small quantity of sauce or glaze. My husband uses it daily for warming milk for his coffee.
It’s a fabulous little saucepan with endless uses. I’ve had this Calphalon for nearly 20 years and it’ll be around for a few more decades, I’m sure. Calphalon doesn’t seem to make the same pan anymore but you can get away with a less expensive one like what Farberware makes.
Last week we had dinner with stylist Karen Shinto. She loved her tiny tongs and mentioned that she makes her salad dressings with a mini whisk. “It’s great for emulsifying the ingredients,” she said. The next day, my husband (the designated salad maker) switched from his small whisk to the mini one and it worked like a charm.
For a small batch of Hollandaise (I use a mix, seriously), I reach for the tiny whisk and the butter warmer. Now it’ll be used for our near-daily salads.
Earlier this year, Washington Post food editor and author Joe Yonan came to learn how to make tofu with me. He opened up my cupboards, and said in his Southern voice, “My oh my, someone likes prep bowls.”
Yeah, I devote a lot of space to small bowls and bowl-shaped dishes for mis en place and dipping sauces. Asian foods often require a couple sets of dipping sauce dishes so I have to be ready! Some are from travels to Vietnam and Singapore, while others got purchased from Asian markets, houseware shops, Big Lots and even Crate and Barrel. All of them are inexpensive and fun to have around. Libby makes glass prep bowls with lids that are super handy.
Japanese markets and Daiso yen ($1.50) stores are terrific for hunting down mini kitchen tools . I found this adorable and very useful metal strainer, which I use to strain liquids into small jars, glasses or bowls. The wires slip around and you have to adjust them but the strainer itself has mesh that’s not too fine or coarse. It’s perfect. I have about 4 or 5 mini strainers. Look for sturdy 3-inch ones like what OXO makes.
These inexpensive demitasse spoons are not going to be family heirlooms but they are incredibly useful for serving small quantities of sauces. Their lightweight size is good for small bowls since they won’t topple over. I suppose you could use them for espressos but I reach for mine to place small mounds of sour cream on a blini to enjoy with caviar, and to drizzle sauce into a rice paper roll, etc. I bought mine at a restaurant supply store so they’re not for afternoon tea service. However, they are highly functional.
Manresa restaurant’s beverage director Jeff Bareilles comes to dinner, usually with a bottle or two of something to drink. He likes to bring over various pieces of useful bar equipment and ‘forgets’ to take them home. How convenient for me. This 1/4 cup OXO measuring cup is a bartender’s dream for pouring precise amounts of liquor. Even in dim light or a slightly inebriated state, you can read your pours.
The measuring cup is great for bartending geeks but I use it for fish sauce, vinegar – ingredients that can be a little awkward to precisely measure in a cup or measuring spoons. The pouring spout is terrific.
The nature of my work and neuroticism makes me reach for this set of measuring spoons often. Yes, you can measure a pinch, 1/8 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon with these. We each pinch differently and someone took the time to put an average pinch quantity into a set of measuring spoons. The bonus of the spoons is their narrow shape – they fit into narrow neck spice jars. Lord, there are measuring spoon for a tad, dash, drop and smidgen too. I may have to get a set of these.
The last tool is one I grew up – a mini food processor. Asian food requires a lot of chopping and pounding. My mother had a Robocoup type of food processor in Vietnam. In the States, she got a food processor as soon as possible for making meat pastes destined to be turned into silky sausages (gio lua). When the mini versions appeared on the market, she bought one for chopping onion, ginger, garlic and all kinds of aromatics. They’re great for marinades and pastes.
Mini food processors are like a lazy cook’s knife and mortar and pestle. Admittedly, the texture will not be the same as when you cook unplugged but what a time saver. As you can tell by the depressions in the chop button, I use mine frequently. These small machines last for a long time and cost little. Be careful with the blade, just as you would a regular size food processor’s.
I have a friend who loves mini everything because of their inherent cuteness. In the realm of kitchen tools, something mini can be mighty too.
If you have a mini kitchen tool that you often use, tell us what it is and what you use it for!
- Cheap and Useful Kitchen Tools: 8 Favorites
- Vietnamese coffee maker buying guide
- Water spinach splitter (very clever design)
- Mr. Spring Roll Rice Paper Dipping Bowl (great ghetto gadget)