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The Essential Kitchen

Updated on July 26, 2016

Do you watch a lot of Chopped?

I spend much of my free time with The Food Network on in the background. While I work, while I read, while I chat on the phone. I think on a subconscious level, I hope that if I watch enough professional chefs honing their craft it will carry over into my own cooking.

And it has, to a certain extent. But it's easy to get wrapped up in the vacuum sealer, liquid smoke glamour that is the Chopped Kitchen and forget that you are not a professional chef. You would not use half the gadgets these chefs use. But there are some gadgets that can definitely improve your cooking and your prep work. They may sound scary but they are actually kind of great and easy to use if you've already mastered the knives and don't store shoes in your oven.

The Spiralizer

This is by FAR my favorite kitchen gadget. I received this as a Christmas gift and expected to use it maybe once a month to make zoodles. Boy, was I wrong!

In addition to making zoodles, I use my spiralizer to make curly fries, amazing salads, and fancy looking roasted vegetables. My favorite veggies to spiralize are sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, English cucumbers, and carrots. I hope to try some more root veggies once they come into season a the Farmer's Market.

My favorite thing to make is definitely salad. I'm not a huge lettuce person and, although I'll suffer through mixed greens for the nutritional value, I would rather not eat it regularly. What do I do instead? I cut an English cucumber in half and spiralize it. It's such a refreshing base for a summer salad and because they're such a wet veggie, you need significantly less dressing. I prefer olive oil and lemon juice with minced garlic as my dressing and it pairs wonderfully!

The Chopper

This is also my mom's favorite kitchen gadget. The Chopper, as we've affectionately named it, is kind of a funky looking contraption you expect to not work well. But it does! This will save you so much time chopping up onions, celery, and carrots. You just cut your veggie into manageable portions, put it on the blade, and chop. All of your veggies fall into the container so you're not chasing down bits of onion that have fallen under the cabinets after dinner.

Pro Tip: If your blades get dull, chop up some aluminum foil.

A Rice Cooker

I asked for a rice cooker a few years ago for Christmas. My mom thought I was crazy but since it's all I wanted, that's what I got. I have no regrets. Making rice is a breeze and I never worry about overcooking it. Plus, you can steam foods in the top while cooking the rice!

So let's say you're making chicken, rice, and broccoli for dinner. Pop the chicken in the oven then put the rice and the broccoli in the rice cooker. Set a timer. Sit and watch Chopped until your dinner is ready. AMAZING!

I actually have a friend who has two rice cookers. One for plain white rice and one for flavored rice. She is very picky about her rice.

A Crockpot

You need a Crockpot. But not just any Crockpot. You need a Crockpot with a timer!

Close your eyes and imagine this. It's February. It's really, really, really cold out and you had to park further away from your door than usual because some jerk took your regular spot because he too, was suffering an arctic chill. You had a crap day, someone ate your lunch, and you just want to curl up in bed and go to sleep. But you're hungry.

Fortunately, you thought ahead. Before you left for work this morning, you dumped a bunch of crap into Ol' Reliable (what I call my Crockpot and suggest you call yours). You set the timer and left home to suffer through the coldest, crappiest day you've had all week. You walk in the door and your food is cooked. What's more, it's cooked and still warm. You scoop out some dinner into a giant bowl, curl up in bed, and finally feel warm again.

This is what you stand to gain with this Crockpot.

Panini Press

The Panini Press is a wonderful invention! You can cook just about anything on this sucker but I usually use it just for Paninis. You could use a regular pan to make your warm sandwiches but then you won't get such fancy grill marks and and it won't be all perfectly mushy and gooey.

My favorite Panini to make on the fly? Roast beef, mayo, tomato, swiss cheese on sour dough bread. Does it sound disgusting? Yeah, it does. But I ate it a lot in college and it reminds me of simpler times.

A Hand Mixer

There's something about a hand mixer that just makes life better. Namely, it's ability to make whipped cream and waffle batter quickly. Now don't get me wrong, I love my KitchenAid mixer as much as the next gal. But the hand mixer wins every time when it comes to these two things because it's just so much easier to clean.

Waffle Maker

Speaking of waffles...you need a waffle maker! How are you going to make Chicken and Waffles without one? You can also make hash browns, cinnamon buns, and brownies in a waffle maker. Buzzfeed loves putting random things into a waffle maker. It just makes things more delicious.

If you have space, you should have two waffle makers. One fun one and one serious one. I only have one at the moment and it makes Mickey Mouse waffles, which are the best tasting waffles. If I somehow gain more kitchen space, I will definitely invest in a serious waffle maker because I think the waffles come out a bit crispier.

A Grill Pan

A grill pan is one of those things that sounds really intimidating but actually isn't. If you are living in an apartment, it's hard to get access to a grill. Some complexes have them but I've found they are typically overtaken by families who stake them out in the early morning for a family BBQ. I don't have that kind of commitment.

Can you cook your steak on the stove or in the oven? Sure. Will it have fancy grill marks that make Alex Guarneschelli swoon? No. A grill pan can help you achieve this. Just makes sure you turn the oven vent on.

A Food Processor

A food processor is one of those things I really don't use very often but when I do, I thank god I have on. It's great for making sauces, pestos, hummus...you can even make pizza dough and pie crust in some! I'm not sure why you would want to make pizza dough or pie crust in your food processor but it's an option.

A blender is not a food processor however, a food processor can be a blender. A blender is really limiting in that, if you want to make a small amount of something you have to reach way inside to get it out and will probably get pesto all over your forearms.

I have a set with 3 different container options which is really helpful. There's also storage lids that make pesto even easier to make because you don't have to dirty multiple containers. Because dishes suck.

A Bread Machine

Do you really need a bread machine? Probably not. But once you have one, it's hard to go back! Nothing beats waking up, throwing together some ingredients, and then smelling your bread cook all morning. I like the basic white bread the best, warm from the machine, with some grass fed butter. Put together an easy soup and you will have the most comforting lunch of your life.

There you have it! 10 essential kitchen gadgets for the budding chef. I hope this made your decision making a little easier as you add to your collection. Is there anything I missed? What are your favorite gadgets?

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