These Tiny Tools Are My Secret Weapons in the Kitchen
Small gear, big help.
Anyone who knows me, knows I am a maximalist. Go big or go home is my mantra, more is more, and excess rules. I’m a big girl with a big personality, and I live in a big house and drive a big car. I entertain at scale, so I have giant serving pieces and huge mixing bowls and sheet pans the size of Montana. I have a 60-cup commercial-sized rice cooker, and a 7-quart stand mixer, and I could probably sleep four in my fridge. I think all wine tastes better out of a magnum.
But my deep dark secret weapons for cooking and baking?
They are all mini.
For all of my bluster about big stuff, the items that get used in my kitchen more than any other are all diminutive. It started, I have to be honest, with The Borrowers. For those of you too young to remember the children’s book, it was about tiny little people the size of mice who had to make regular human objects into things that could be used at 1/100th scale. So, a thimble might become a soup pot and a matchbook might become a crib, and I loved the ingenuity of these creative approaches to household needs.
So, as I got old enough to start to stock my own home? As much as I love the practicality of a big thing, I am powerless against Lilliputian cuteness. And so little versions of cooking tools and gadgets started to populate my drawers and cupboards. Once I started acquiring these adorable items, I began to see their practical value. You don’t always need something big to have a big impact on your efficiency in the kitchen. Any of these will be a solid addition to your kitchen gear, and a great gift for a foodie in your life.
I bought this four-cup mini Cuisinart food processor when I was in college in the late 1980s. Having just celebrated its 30th anniversary in my kitchen, it is going strong, and I would say that I use it about 25% more often than my 14-cup version. Making a quick salsa, salad dressing, aioli or mayo, chimichurri or pesto, or compound butter is a breeze in this, and the size means that the blade actually works well for small batches, which is not true of the larger version. In a household of two people, while we do entertain a lot, most meals are just for us, so I love that I can make just enough dough for 4 biscuits or two servings of pasta. The grating disc makes quick work of shredding things, which is wonderful when you need ½ a cup of grated parm or a cup of shredded cheese for a recipe, or just one grated carrot for your slaw. The parts take up less than half the space in my dishwasher than my big one, and it even came with a juicer attachment which is perfect for fresh-squeezed juice for cocktails or breakfast for a party of 4 instead of a party of 40.
It was a natural to also add this Kuhn Rikon Swiss Chop Chop, which I have told you about before. Chopping half an onion or one shallot or three cloves of garlic are now a breeze and my hands don’t get all stinky. It is the analog version of the mini processor, and easy to clean up, and small enough to fit in a drawer. It is such a workhorse in my kitchen it is also the most gifted item I buy for friends.
There are few things as useful in a kitchen as a good silicone spatula, and these miniature versions are ones I reach for again and again. Whether it is a spoonula for getting every drop out of a jar, or a flat one for scraping out something sticky from a measuring cup, these are so useful to have around. I use them for everything from spreading softened butter or mayo on sandwiches, making that little two-egg omelet for one, or getting the last swipe of peanut butter (and by peanut butter I mean Nutella) out of every crevice of the jar.
A whisk is a beautiful thing, but you don’t always need a giant balloon. When I need one egg’s worth of egg wash, or to quickly combine a small amount of dry ingredients for baking, or making a cornstarch slurry to thicken something, these whisks are what I reach for. From the littlest with only a one-inch whisk, to the largest which is three inches, whatever little mixing job you have, they will take care of it in a flash.
Tongs are terrific for cooking and serving, but you don’t always want or need a big one. Whether it is a five-inch version of your favorite metal or silicone locking tongs for cooking, or wood or metal ones for serving, these get plenty of action in my kitchen. I love the cooking ones for control when turning small items in a pan, like baby potatoes, cippolini onions, scallops or shrimp, or when browning meatballs. I just feel like I can have a gentler touch and am less likely to damage or drop the items in question. For serving, I love smaller ones on appetizer dishes and charcuterie and cheese boards. They are the perfect size to snag an olive or cornichon, to transfer a mini quiche or keep people’s fingers out of the crudités.
When I first found this little glass beaker that measures either up to three ounces or five tablespoons, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Recipes that call for multiple tablespoons of liquid are made super simple with this, and much more precise and less messy than doing it one tablespoon at a time with a measuring spoon. The little silicone version is only two-ounces, and the flexibility make it great for sticky items like honey or molasses. The glass beaker ones I buy five to ten at a time and keep them around to bring as perfect host gifts.
Mise en Place Plates and Bowls
These three-inch plates (which I stole unapologetically from my sister and brother-in-love) and little pinch sized bowls that I have collected over the years make your prepwork fun and
colorful, and also are very handy for serving. I will put a bowl out next to the olives to catch pits, or fill with grainy mustard or fig jam on a cheese board. Measuring out anything from a fraction of a teaspoon to an ounce of an ingredient while prepping for a recipe keeps everything in order but doesn’t make a mess of a bunch of big bowls and plates. I also use the plates to help store half a lemon or lime or onion, cut side down, to take up less room in the fridge, or to serve things like butter on a dining table.
You don’t always need a huge amount of finely grated zest or cheeses or things, and when I need just a touch of something, this little microplane is a godsend. Perfect for grating fresh nutmeg, getting just a half teaspoon of citrus zest or a tablespoon of parmesan, or just one clove of grated garlic or a teaspoon of fresh ginger, it makes the same quick work of that fluffy fine grating with less cleanup and good control. I find I am much less likely to slip and grate my fingers when using it with smaller items.
Half-Sized Plastic Wrap
I first discovered this 15 cm wide cling film at a Japanese market and have been keeping it stocked ever since. Ideal for wrapping small items, topping a little bowl or plate, I am always delighted to have this in my drawer. Whether it is to save that last tablespoon of butter, to cover half an avocado, or just to keep little serving bowls protected on the dining table before service, I love this stuff. If you have kids and are packing endless school lunches, you will find this stuff super helpful.