If you're looking around and wondering how you wound up with 15 spatulas, 12 wooden spoons, eight or so ladles and six kitchen electronics (half of which you have no idea what they do), then it's time to break open some drawers, clear off some shelves and take your kitchen down to its useful and clutter-free basics.
In our kitchen, which is comfortable for one person but a tight squeeze for two, we've narrowed it down to tools -- outside of essentials like pots, pans and mixing bowls, of course -- that are not only used on a regular basis, but serve at least two purposes, if not more.
1. Food Processor
From making pasta dough to whipping up peanut butter to grinding meat and shredding cheese, the food processor is probably the most indispensable tool in our kitchen, apart from the stand mixer.
2. Stand Mixer
I can't count the number of times I've left this stand mixer to cream butter and sugar, whip cream or knead dough while I prepared the rest of the day's meal. And apart from saving time and sore arms from manual or handheld electric mixing, we use several of the attachments regularly, such as the pasta cutter, the cheese grater and, perhaps most importantly, the ice cream maker.
3. Handheld Mesh Strainer
With a one-year-old around the house, the mesh strainer is perfect for steaming rice, draining and rinsing boiled vegetables and smashing cooked apples for homemade applesauce. And, it doubles as an excellent sifter for dry goods such as flour and powdered sugar.
While I'm fairly competent at rough-chopping vegetables, nothing beats grabbing the mandoline and getting all of the chopping and slicing out of the way in a fraction of the time it would take me with a knife. And with the julienne blade to finely chop veggies and the waffle blade to make crispy, light sweet potato or beet chips, I rarely have to pull out the big kitchen knife for veggie prep.
5. Digital Thermometer
A digital thermometer is important to have around, if only for the fact that it saves you so much time with chicken and other meats. Instead of checking the roast every 15 minutes and cutting in to see if it's done cooking yet, you just insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, set it to go off when it's reached optimal temperature and leave it alone. I also use it for the very occasional deep frying recipe to gauge my oil temperature, as well as for more technical cooking with candies and caramels.
From grating nutmeg to zesting citrus to grating cheese over salads or putting the final touches on a plate of pasta, the microplane is the only handheld grater I keep in the kitchen.
7. Bean Grinder
Apart from grinding coffee beans every morning, a good coffee grinder is excellent for finely grinding small batches of dried herbs and whipping together dry rubs, since such a small amount of ingredients tends to get lost in a food processor.
8. Cooking (Cooling) Rack
Cooking (or cooling) racks allow for 360 degree air circulation around cooling cookies and breads, but they also serve to keep roasts off the bottom of the baking pan, which results in a much juicier meat, and allows coated items like homemade chocolate-covered candy bars to drain and cool uniformly.
9. Magnetic Chalkboard
The magnetic chalkboard is essential to our kitchen and my own methods of organization. If dinner involves three spices, I pop them off the magnetic spice rack and stick them on the chalkboard. Coupons for the next shopping trip are held in sight with a magnetic clip, and the chalkboard aspect allows me to keep a running grocery list and write out dinner notes and reminders in the same space. We even attached a couple of hooks to the bottom for quick access to reusable shopping bags.
10. Bench Scrape
This might sound like an odd one, but bench scrapes are ideal for cutting thin crusts and dough, scraping the last bits off a cutting board and scooping up chopped produce in one swoop. I've also used it for cutting cookies that "merge" in the oven and cutting cold butter into flour for pie crust recipes.
BONUS: Mason and Ball Jars
Mason jars are another indispensable item in our kitchen, and while they're not a tool, per se, they've served a number of functions, from water glasses to salt shakers to egg beaters (add egg, seal lid and shake!) to butcher twine dispensers, and even as the occasional candle holder.
There are plenty of other things I'd like to have around, of course, but every time I think about adding a new item such as a cookie press to my kitchen tools collection, I try to consider how often I'll use it and if there's anything else I can really use it for. It's helped keep our kitchen fairly clear of junk so far! Now if I can only come up with a method like this for the closet...