I’m the first to say, that while I love my kitchen, it’s a long way from perfect. But until we win the lottery (or at least finish paying two rounds of tuition), I’ll make do with a four-burner gas range and single oven. In the meantime, these 10 smaller kitchen investments make cooking easier and food tastier:
- Baking stone – Whether a discount-store pizza stone or a slightly pricier cookie sheet, stone holds heat more evenly leading to better baked goods. Estimated cost: $10 to $80
- Nutmeg grater and whole nutmeg – This is all about flavour and aroma. Powdered nutmeg is fine, but it lacks the olfactory impact of freshly-grated. Add another dimension of taste to muffins, sweet potatoes and more. Estimated cost: $20 to $40
- Enamelled cast-iron Dutch oven – Like a baking stone, the heat transfer in one of these stove-to-oven pots is more even, resulting in tastier food. For tender, juicy roasts, try searing meat on the stove, then finishing low-and-slow in the oven. Layered lasagna, cooked with the top on, stays moist and delicious throughout. These are great for crusty bread, too. La Creuset is the big name here – and they make beautiful pots – but if you’re more budget conscious, you can get the same effect with Cuisinart, KitchenAid or Lagostina versions. One note, however, be sure the pot handle can take the highest heat setting in your oven. Plastic or rubber handles will limit your ability to bake bread. Estimated cost: $70 to $500
- French press and bean grinder – If you’re starting your morning with an automatic drip, you don’t know what you’re missing. French press coffee is richer, fuller-bodied and easier to make and clean up. Coarse grind fresh beans, scoop them into your press, add boiling water, wait five minutes, press and enjoy! It’s that easy. Ready for cleanup? Coffee grounds are great for your drains. Rinse, dry, done! Estimated cost (press and grinder): $40 to $100
- Butcher block cutting board – If you’re lucky like me, someone you love will make you one of these. If not, it’s definitely a tool worth adding to your kitchen. Look for one that’s attractive enough to stay on the counter, sturdy enough to handle the heaviest chopping and easy to clean. Treat once a month with a blend of beeswax and kitchen-safe mineral oil. Estimated cost: $50 to $150
- Philips automatic pasta maker – Admittedly, this was a bigger kitchen splurge for me, but worth every penny. Pick your pasta (spaghetti, fettuccini, penne, lasagna, ramen, dumpling sheets…), add flour, add liquid and press start. The machine mixes, kneads and presses your dough, turning out fresh pasta in less than 15 minutes. Bonus: My husband has decided this is the equivalent of a kitchen power tool and now surprises me with fresh pasta on a regular basis. Estimated cost: $250 to $300 (watch for sales)
- Indoor grill/griddle – Living in Canada, there are several months where outdoor grilling involves shovelling and shivering in the cold. A better option? Bring the grill indoors, without the smooth or propane fumes. There are plenty of models out there, at a wide range of price points, but I’ve rarely gone wrong with Cuisinart. Their version features reversible grill/griddle plates that pop out and can be cleaned in the dishwasher. Use open as a flat griddle for pancakes, eggs and bacon breakfasts, or closed to sear meats or paninis. Estimated cost: $110 to $150
- Frothing whisk – Fun, compact and easy-to-use, a small, battery-operated frothing whisk turns milk or creamy into a lighter-than-air topping for hot drinks and desserts in just seconds. Estimated cost: $10 to $30
- Good quality knife and sharpener, plus a magnetic knife strip – Another investment we’ve only started to make in recent years, but now wonder why we waited. Given a choice between one or two professional knives and a drawer full of the kind we’ve been using for the past 20 years? No comparison. Food is easier to work with and looks better when you use the right tools. Using a honing tool after every use to keep your edge. The magnetic knife strip is also a relatively new addition to the Hot Dish Kitchen, but we’re already in love. Clean and convenient, it keeps our best knives within easy reach, and protects them from the wear and tear that happens when they bang around in drawers. Plus, it looks great. Warning: If you’re used to using dull knives, expect a few slices and scrapes at first. Knives are sharp. Who knew? Estimated cost: $100+ per knife
- Stand mixer – For years, the worst part of baking was standing fixed in one spot, holding a hand-mixer until my arms ached. In its most basic form, a good stand-mixer frees you to tackle other tasks while the machine handles the tedious work. Add a few attachments here and there, and this kitchen workhorse becomes a food processor, pasta maker, meat grinder and more. Estimated cost: $300+
Honorable mentions: I’ve revised this list a few times now as I think about yet another kitchen “essential” that should be included. Among the runners-up: Automatic rice cooker for easy sushi, side dishes and cereal grains; immersion blender for soups, shakes and sauces; and if you don’t have one for other purposes, a tablet or laptop is a quick and convenient way to find recipes, check for substitutions and figure out ways to work with the ingredients at hand.
Missing something? Tell us which kitchen tool you can’t do without and we’ll share it here.