– When the coronavirus pandemic closed our office last March, we went from working in a fully kitted-out Food Lab to our own much (much) smaller home kitchens. We have recipe tested, prepared our family meals and maybe done some recreational cooking as well, and all of that can take a toll on our equipment and patience. If you, too, have been spending more time than ever in your kitchen, take a look at some of the purchases we’ve made to help make our lives easier. They range from the inexpensive to splurges and cover a wide array of interests and uses.
Why did I wait so long to buy this inexpensive tool? Maybe because, these days, I have been baking more than I ever have before. After improvising with knives or the sides of metal or silicone spatulas, I finally gave in. No more waste as I try to get that last bit of dough out of the bowl or off the counter for breads or sweets.
The metal scraper is a great tool for cutting dough for square biscuits or slicing sturdy bar cookies. It’s useful for cleaning bits of stuck-on dough off counters or leveling off dry ingredients as well. The set comes with stainless steel and plastic scrapers that fit snugly together, making them easy to find in my cluttered utensil drawer. They are dishwasher safe as well.
(Chef’n Pastrio 3-in-1 Bench Scraper Set, $10) – Ann Maloney
Three meals a day for three people, plus recipe testing for work, meant I was washing a lot of dishes. Between drying pots and pans and washing my hands constantly, I was going through dish towels like there was no tomorrow.
It took a few months of dealing with perpetually wet cloths before I decided to take a page from our Food Lab protocol and get myself a large pack (24, to be precise) of cheap dish towels. It has made a huge difference, and I no longer hesitate to toss aside a damp or dirty one when there are so many clean towels waiting for me in the cabinet.
(Utopia Towels, 24-pack, $16.99) – Becky Krystal
I’m not sure why I kept acquiring unshelled nuts over the year, but it’s an item you really need a nutcracker for. And to my surprise, it’s difficult to find one! I found a Tablecraft silver zinc nutcracker at Ace Hardware on a trip for something else, and it does the job nicely. It also happens to look just like the one my grandmother used when I was a kid, so it unlocked a little sweet nostalgia I’d completely forgotten about.
(Tablecraft 8-7/8 in. L Silver Zinc Nutcracker/Pick Set, $5.99) – Kari Sonde
Electric Tea Kettle
Tea has been one of my constant comforts during this pandemic, a soothing self-care routine I engage in each morning and many afternoons. I’ve been drinking loose-leaf tea for years, but rather than using a kettle, I had been boiling water on the stovetop, decanting it into a glass measuring cup and pouring it over the leaves. It was annoying and often messy. Finally I treated myself to Oxo’s programmable tea kettle, which is fast and accurate (set the temperature to a precise temperature depending on the type of tea), not to mention stylish. Of course, it’s great for coffee lovers, too.
(Oxo Cordless Glass Electric Kettle, $79.99) – Becky Krystal
Coffee Maker for One
When my husband decided he wanted to stick to cold brew indefinitely (he claims it wakes him up better), I needed a small contraption to make my morning cup. Enter the diminutive 1-cup moka pot. I thought I would dread hovering over coffee each morning, but instead I look forward to it.
The soothing ritual of filling the tiny funnel with finely ground coffee, setting it on my stovetop and waiting for it to start making slurpy sounds — which means the brew is done — has become my favorite morning practice since the quarantine began.
It’s low-maintenance, too: All you need to clean it is water. In fact, the manual the pot arrives with tells you in no uncertain terms that the pot is to be washed with nothing but water and absolutely no soap. And best of all, its pocket-size cuteness means I can pack it with me whenever it’ll be okay to travel again.
(Bialetti Express Moka Pot, 1-Cup, Aluminum Silver, $22.93) – Olga Massov
We keep our plates, lid collection, pots and pans in a rack to avoid lids raining down upon us from overhead cabinets, but they still kept sliding around and falling to the floor in disarray, driving us insane. Eventually we’d had enough and just searched “lid organizer” to find a YouCopia StoreMore Lid Holder at Target. Now one household chaos is reduced to an occasional nuisance, and we’re both visually at peace when we try to find a lid. We may get another smaller one for takeout container lids — there are still more lids.
(YouCopia StoreMore Lid Holder, $19.99) – Kari Sonde
Reusable Storage Bags
I’m the person who typically has disposable plastic storage bags of various shapes and sizes drying on the dish rack beside the sink. I try to clean and reuse them as many times as possible but, inevitably, they fall apart and need to be pitched.
It wasn’t until I found myself cooking three meals a day at home, and tucking away leftovers far more frequently, that I realized I needed to invest in more durable, sustainable food storage bags. Stasher’s reusable silicone bags are those things and more.
Their airtight seal is easy to secure, I can see inside the food-grade silicone, and they stand up to the fridge, freezer, dishwasher, microwave, oven and even sous-vide cooking (not in my kitchen, but good to know!).
Stasher bags come in several sizes and colors. Best of all: They’re a breeze to clean, which has helped me cut down on plastic use and waste in my kitchen.
(Stasher Reusable Silicone Storage Bags, four-pack bundle, $49.99) – Matt Brooks
Jumbo Sheet Pan
I’ve long advocated one key to crispy roasted vegetables: making sure you don’t crowd them on the pan. So when I bought a new range with a slightly roomier oven, after my old one conked out, one of the next things I couldn’t resist was an extra-large sheet pan to go in it.
This isn’t a full-size sheet pan — no 30-inch stove could accommodate that — but it’s 15 inches by 20.5 inches, a couple inches longer and wider than the standard half-sheet (of which I have several).
That might not seem like much of a difference, but do the math, and it adds up to 73.5 extra square inches of space — in other words, a lot more cauliflower.
(King Arthur Jumbo Sheet Pan, $29.95) – Joe Yonan
One of the most documented side-effects of working from home is using your home wares, especially kitchen appliances, a lot more than usual. This wear and tear has ushered in a flood of home repairs and replacements in our household, and I’m willing to bet yours as well. So, when our decade-old toaster, which we use daily, gave up the ghost, it did so with a definitive “I’m done” sign: Its plastic lever, used for lowering the toast into its dry sauna, snapped off, and with it my patience for household appliances made with plastic bits and bobs and cheap manufacturing.
Which is how I wound up purchasing a toaster that cost twice what I was hoping to pay, and I don’t regret a thing. I love the all-metal construction (especially the lever!), and love the little metal crumb tray that makes it easy to keep the toaster tidy — no more shaking my toaster over the sink. And my inner design geek loves the retro design, proof that well-made, functional products can be beautiful, too.
(Smeg 2-Slice Retro Toaster, $169.95) – Olga Massov
Pullman Loaf Pan
It was after about my third loaf of sourdough that I came to a stark realization about myself: I do not appreciate round bread. Sure, it’s fine if you’re just tearing off a hunk to go with dinner, but it is not conducive to stable sandwich making.
I liked the idea of a Pullman loaf pan because the lid opened up the possibility of a perfectly square slice (and you can leave the lid off if you want a standard rounded crown). The cooked loaves easily pop out of the corrugated aluminum pan. They come in 9- and 13-inch lengths. Now my sandwiches are more symmetrical than ever.
(USA Pan Pullman Loaf Pan, $19-$29) – Jim Webster