Five awesome kitchen tools

Today we have a very special guest blogger. Not only is he totally handsome and charming, he's also a great cook. Yep, it's my Ryan - here to share with you his favorite tools in the kitchen. Now I may be known as the resident baker, but Ryan is the one who keeps us fed and happy. He loves to watch cooking shows and rarely repeats recipes. I have to make special requests for my favorites, because he's ready to try something new! He's figured out what works for us to keep our small kitchen efficient and full of home cooking. Lucky for us, he was willing to share. Let's give him a warm welcome!

For the past year or two I have found myself spending more and more time in the kitchen.  I'm the type that tends to get excited over kitchen gadgets, but inevitably, if the gadget only does one thing well it will just end up at the bottom of the kitchen gadget drawer, collecting dust and taking up room.  Before you know it, the drawer is overflowing with bits of metal and plastic, a sharp jungle of points and edges that nobody wants to deal with.  Thus I've started to try and reduce some of the clutter in the kitchen and search for different tools that not only do their job well, but serve as a good replacement for other items, helping to reduce the dreaded unknown of the gadget drawer.  Here are a few gadgets and tools that I have come across that I think would serve all home cooks well and help reduce kitchen clutter.

1. Once you have a mandoline in your kitchen you'll soon wonder how you ever lived without it. The increase in the speed you can slice vegetables alone makes this gadget worth the extra space it takes up.  A mandoline will also give your slices a perfectly uniform thickness, with most models coming with detachable or adjustable blades, so you can change the thickness and type of slice.  Some other models include blades that can serve as a large grained grater, so you can replace that box grater you have at home too.  One thing you should be cautious about is working with the blades on a mandoline.  Typically the blades are quite sharp, noticeably sharper than your average knife.  Most slicers will come with a grip or food holder you can use while cutting to help protect your fingers.  In most cases, with a bit of common sense and care, you can get away with just holding the item you're cutting in hand.  A good mandoline will should run you between $20 or $30 dollars and should come apart easily for cleaning.

2. If our mandoline can start the job of replacing the box grater, a microplane grater can help finish it.  Microplane graters come in a variety of grains (course, fine, etc.), and work great for zesting citrus fruit and grating harder cheeses.  The different grains are suited to different purposes; a course grater works better on hard cheeses and chocolate, while a fine grained grater excels at zesting lemons and cutting cinnamon and nutmeg.  You can also kiss that silly garlic press goodbye, because a microplane grater will  do a fantastic job pureeing garlic and ginger. The other advantage microplane graters have over their boxier cousins is that they are much easier to wash after use.  Since they are a flat surface, with all the teeth facing a single direction, cleanup is a snap.  A quality microplane grater tends to be about $10 or $15 dollars.  Keep an eye out for sets that include multiple graters with a variety of grains, they can often be a great deal.

3. Once thing I learned quickly in the kitchen was that properly cooking meats can be a challenge from time to time.  Sure, a recipe might have a recommended cooking time, but considering the differences in heat sources and cooking surfaces, a 'supposedly' medium-rare steak can end up well done (or a little too rare) by following the recipe's directions exactly.  A quick and easy way to take care of this problem is an instant read meat thermometer.  Just insert it in the piece of meat and in a few seconds it should tell you the internal temperature.  Some models will have notes on the display that list recommended cooking temperatures for a variety of meats and donenesses.  A basic analog meat thermometer should run you $5 or $10 dollars. Digital thermometers are $15 dollars and up, with high end digital models that are oven-safe and can alert you when the thermometer has reached a preselected temperature.

4. A good dough scraper can be one of the most versatile tools in your kitchen.  Dough scrapers are designed to make splitting up dough as easy as possible, but they have quite a few uses outside of baking too.  You can use a scraper to quickly move ingredients between work surfaces and to help clean up work surfaces after you're done with prep work.  Most dough scrapers have a sharp edge, so they can chop up vegetables in a pinch too.  Some scrapers also have measurement units listed along the base that can double as a ruler in the kitchen.  Dough scrapers are usually made of stainless steel or plastic and come in a variety of sizes and handles.  You should be able to find a dough scraper for $10 just about anywhere. 5. One kitchen gadget that we don't actually own (yet!) but I want to mention anyway is a kitchen scale.  While it's probably not a necessity in every kitchen, it can really be useful for a few reasons.  First, a kitchen scale can help you better understand proper  serving sizes.  Too often we are served giant portions at restaurants and over time they can distort what we think the 'right size' a serving of meat or side-dish should be.  Once you have a scale at home, you can find out exactly how much 6 ounces of meat really is and what a healthy serving looks like.  Owning a kitchen scale can also open up a new world of recipes to you.  While most recipes written for American home cooks have a list of ingredients by volume, many recipes written for British or Australian audiences will often list the ingredients by weight.  Many baking recipes for bread and cakes also list ingredients by weight.  By having a kitchen scale at home, you can start cooking with any of these recipes without having to do the messy math to convert between weight and volume.  Kitchen scales come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, capacities, so prices can vary widely.  A good home scale should cost somewhere between $25 and $50 dollars, depending on the brand and style.  For most home purposes, a 10 or 11 pound weight capacity should be more than sufficient.

These are only some of the tools that have found a home in our kitchen, but I hope something in this list has piqued your interest and will help you make some choices about what you need to get dinner on the table.  Most of these tools are pretty affordable and can be found at most home and kitchen supply stores.  What kitchen tools or gadgets have you found extra uses for in the kitchen and couldn't imagine cooking without?