Mr. Magpie is head chef de cuisine in our house, but I’ve learned a thing or two observing the maestro, too. I thought I’d share some of our favorite under-the-radar gear that makes cooking more efficient, or more consistent, or more impressive, and sometimes all three.
1 // KITCHEN SCALE. We measure everything by weight. I have been surprised by how much better baking projects in particular turn out when ingredients are measured in weight! Many cookbooks provide loose approximations in volume but weight is the best path forward. We actually have this OXO scale that we love (I specifically appreciate that the display can be pulled out from the scale in situations where you are measuring something bigger than the diameter of the scale, which actually does happen with some regularity), but Wirecutter recommends this $20 style and I’m inclined to go with their rec. I personally like that their rec includes a coated surface/buttons in event of accidental spillage (which happens with fair regularity as well). Plus, it’s $20 and comes in cute colors.
2 // SPIDER STRAINER. I don’t know how we lived before this — it is in constant use in our home. Great for removing items from boiling water (i.e., green beans, carrots, etc) and especially for frying (dip item slowly into oil while in this basket to prevent splatter, then remove just as easily). This gives you the flexibility to remove items individually if ingredients/items are cooking at different rates. It’s also always readily available in our kitchen crock and therefore I find myself reaching for it when I just need to rinse a handful of berries, or drain a small amount of water, etc. I personally like this wood handled style (versus the more prevalent stainless steel ones) because it does not conduct heat, so you can be removing items from hot oil without worrying that the handle will burn you.
3 // MEAT THERMOMETER. Mr. Magpie is more confident in his ability to assess doneness via various visual and physical indicators, but I always use a thermometer for peace of mind, especially when cooking chicken. This ensures you never have to worry you’re serving something undercooked! I also reach for this in baking for various reasons. I have a candy thermometer as well but find this is great for measuring water temp out of the tap (i.e., when you need “warm” water to activate yeast and have no idea what “warm” should feel like).
4 // CHEF’S PRESS. These are presently sold out everywhere, but will be restocked in January, so keep your eyes peeled. Mr. Magpie has used these religiously for the past couple of years. The idea is that you apply these on top of a steak, chicken, etc for more even browning/searing in a pan — corners/edges/areas no longer curl up away from the pan. These are also great for griddled sandwiches and even tortillas! We have four of them. If you need additional heft, you can stack them on top of one another.
5 // OXO STRAWBERRY HULLER. If you are like Mr. Magpie, you have the patience and precision to individually hull strawberries nearly every day using a paring knife. If you are like me — a “pragmatic cook,” we’ll call it, rather euphemistically — you simply chop off the top third of the strawberry and chuck it in the garbage. Santa surprised me with this genius little huller in my stocking and we’ve been joking that it’s saved our family hundreds of dollars in discarded strawberry bits. You use the pointed edge of these tongs to insert into the berry, twist, and remove the stem/green bits without wasting much berry at all. Genius, and so easy to use!
6 // VOLLRATH QUARTER BAKING SHEETS. If you’ve been following me here for awhile, you’ll know I’ve used NordicPro baking sheets for a long time and have loved them. However, Mr. Magpie recently discovered Vollrath, and I think we will be swapping out nearly all of our sheets for this brand over time. These are even heavier duty and more reliable. I specifically encourage the quarter-sized sheet — our most used sheet pan size! — which is perfect for a handful of chicken nuggets for the littles, or a spray of walnuts for a baking project, or a couple of a baking potatoes.
7 // OXO CHERRY OR OLIVE PITTER. I have used this more than I could have ever anticipated. Prior to its purchase, I’d never have thought to include cherries in a salad, and I nearly always bought my olives pitted. This solves that problem for you. (And here is one of my favorite salads, featuring cherry, goat cheese, and bread!)
8 // RAMEKINS. The absolute best for tidy mise en place / cooking prep. Dice/chop all your ingredients and stow in these ramekins so that they are at-the-ready. We use these constantly. Bonus: they are microwave-safe, and can therefore be popped inside to soften butter, or to house hot liquids, etc.
9 // DUAL-SIDED MEASURING SPOONS. These are brilliantly designed. First, they nest inside one another magnetically, meaning that you’re never fishing around your implement drawer looking for the 1/4 tsp measure. It’s always right where you left it, hugging the 1/2 tsp measure. Second, I can’t tell you how often I need to measure two different herbs/spices/seasonings and instead of having to rinse out every time, you have two ends to use. Third, one end is wider and one end is narrower, meaning that it accommodates narrow spouts if you need them to.
10 // BENCH SCRAPER. Useful for so many reasons — great for dividing and scraping dough, but also helpful after dicing vegetables and needed to transfer them to a bowl or pan. A simple scoop with this leaves nothing on the cutting board behind.
11 // EMILE HENRY BUTTER POT. Americans are typically pretty squeamish about the potential for food spoilage and so we tend to keep butter in the fridge, unlike the French, who keep it at room temperature, in butter pots like this. We’ve recently adopted the French way and I don’t think we’ll ever look back. It is lovely to have room temperature, spreadable butter on hand at a moment’s notice, whether for toast in the morning or green beans in the evening. The secret to this particular design is a small pour of water in the basin, which you replace every 3-4 days. The water creates a seal around the lip of the butter dish that preserves it. Genius! This marble style operates similarly if you’re more into that look.
12 // LODGE HANDLE COVER. Really…handy (no pun intended) when you’ve gotten your skillet searing hot and then need to move it to a back burner. We also sometimes use this as a visual signal to one another: watch out! This pan is hot!
13 // HOMWE OVEN MITTS. Please retired your Williams-Sonoma mitts in favor of this less-expensive but far-superior pair. For reference, I feel like I was burning through the W-S ones every year or two, and you could never truly remove something from the oven for more than a second in them anyway. I bought our Homwe ones December 11, 2017 and they look good as new. The silicon tips protect hands far, far better and just hold up better in general. No brown mittens/holes! I pop these in the washing machine every few weeks (air dry afterward) and they’re spic and span.
14 // HEDLEY & BENNETT APRON. An apron is absolutely essential for a serious cook! This particular brand was dreamt up by a young cook who spent thousands (!) of hours finessing the details to make it the best possible apron, and it’s now used by tons of top-tier chefs (working in Michelin-starred restaurants!) I love her mantra: “Better gear can make you a better cook.”
P.S. Home gear I love.
P.P.S. All my favorite laundry day essentials.