Kitchen tools you'd take to a desert island

lobsterbirdApril 16, 2007

Hi, I've been going through my kitchen cabinets and related storage areas and trying to clear out things I don't use. I have a small kitchen (9x9) and storage is at a premium. The jelly cupboard in the livingroom holds extra sets of dishes and serving pieces. The shelving at the top of basement steps off the diningroom is home to lesser used mixing bowls, baking dishes, crockpot, and bar stuff. We recently went wireless and borrowed two of these shelves for the computer router, charger, and printer, as well as charging equipment for camera and dust buster. One shelf will serve as a mini desk with shredder, stapler, stamps, pens and pencils.

In 2003 when we remodeled our kitchen, I threw out a boatload of stuff, but here it is four years later and I'm finding that my shelves and cabinets are still a bit crowded and not as easy to access as I'd like. And there are times when it seems I just don't have the right size casserole dish or implements for particular meals. It's hard to part with certain things that have been with me a long time or belonged to my husband's or my family. If I could find the perfect tools, appliances, serving dishes, etc. I might change my tune. Here's a good example: I have my mother's late 1940s Sunbeam mixer with the original bowls and a newer cheapo hand-held mixer. The cord on the Sunbeam has finally given out, and I'm thinking of parting with both mixers and getting a decent quality hand-held mixer to replace them. I'm not a breadmaker, so I don't need a powerful mixer. This would clear out a whole cabinet, but it would be tough to part with mom's mixer. My normal reaction is to replace the cord because they don't make things like they used to, and because I know I would never buy another upright mixer.

I remember hearing that Alton Brown (host of TV show "Good Eats") had written a book about tools for the kitchen that were necessary, those that did double duty, and things you can toss. Anyway, I was just looking at this book on Amazon, "Alton Brown's Gear for Your Kitchen" and I'm thinking about borrowing it from the library. Has anyone here used this book to help clear out their kitchen tools and stuff? Here's part of the editorial review on Amazon:

"Brown's opening challenge is a 60-day, four phase process of ridding your kitchen of all things unused and insignificant--easy on the surface, but tough in the doing. That leaves room for essential gear. And to help make those choices, Brown looks at pots and pans, sharp things (not just knives, but graters, mandolins, and cheese slicers, too), small things with plugs (as in small appliances--from food processors to coffee makers to deep fat fryers), kitchen tools unplugged (those items that fill drawers), storage and containment, and safety and sanitation."

Any other sources or ideas to help in my search?



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I haven't seen that book, but I don't cook like a TV show either. Prior to seeing Martha Stewart, I only knew a mandolin as a musical instrument.

With things like the Sunbeam mixer, I doubt if I could just donate it to a thrift store. Our local university has a culinary degree program as well as there being a culinary program at our local vocational high school. I would probably make the effort to find someone who would really appreciate having a good machine and give it the loving home it deserves.

I find my needs have changed over time. What I needed for cooking as a single mom with one child is pretty different from cooking for a family of six. If you don't find some other references to read, you could make a stab at your own elimination program again.

Pack up anything you haven't used to cook with in the past couple of months and just put those boxes in a corner somewhere. Label well. Over the next few months, if you don't find yourself pulling items out, you'll know you did double duty with something else.

I have two sizes of cast iron pans I use for everything, two sauce pans, one larger pan big enough for pasta and one stockpot. For baking, I use my cast iron quite a bit and then I have four sizes of pyrex baking pans. A cookie sheet and a muffin pan and I'm pretty well set.

For gadgets, I love my coffee maker and my toaster. I use a hand mixer also, and definately need my old wooden rolling pin. But those little gadgets like graters all fit in one drawer. I guess I'm just a chopping kind of person since I never liked my food processor and gave that away.

Sounds like it's really time to truthfully evaluate your own cooking habits and just keep what works for you.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 3:12AM
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I agree with Quiltglo. If you can't find the book at the library you can evaluate your cooking habits. I confess to having a couple of boxes of kitchen stuff left in the basement after a remodel almost 2 years ago. Time to let it go!
Getting rid of your mom's mixer could be tough. Do any of your friends have the kind of handheld mixer you aspire to own? Do they like it? Would one of them let you borrow it for a couple of days? A trial run at ownership might make it easier to decide if that's the route you want to take. If no one you owns has one of these mixers try posting a question in the cooking or kitchen appliance forum.
For me kitchen knives, kitchen shears, airbake cookie sheets, a small set of pans, tongs, tongs, tongs, mini cuisinart, coffee maker, a set of measuring spoons and cups, and a colander are most used in our kitchen. We are not small appliance gadget people. There are no panini, quesadilla, slushie, hot dog roasters and makers here. I have been thinking about getting a blender.
As far as not having the right size casserole dish or implements, can you keep a running list? Will you really make enough cookies to buy the cookie press (or whatever). Can you use another size dish without compromising the outcome?
Evaluate over the next week or so... you'll come up with the right plan for your style of cooking and your kitchen's storage abilities.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 9:12AM
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I agree w/ the idea of doing a trial run w/ the mixer you think you want to switch to--and so.....did you know that if you buy an appliance at Bed Bath & Beyond, and it doesn't work the way you want it to, you can take it back? Even if you've used it?

At least, that's why the BB&B guy told me. Check w/ your local store, and if they have the same policy, that might let you try out a mixer that your friend.s don't have.

I cleaned out the kitchen for our remodel, and I have to say I mostly did a really good job.

My problem area: I have mixing bowls than I really need, so I put one WAY up on a shelf to see if I can persuade myself to get rid of it eventually. (I could probably eliminate a few others, but they are sizes I really like--big enough but not too big.)

(however, I have the room for it still; nothing else would go in that space if I ditched it, so it's still there)

And, a few new things have come in--gifts, all of them. One that I am actually sort of glad to have, though it

(also--a word on stand mixers. I don't bake bread either, but boy do I really love being able to turn on the mixer and walk away from it! also, have you ever really beaten the butter and sugar together for 7 minutes? Do so sometime, and see the difference it makes in terms of "light and fluffy." And who wants to stand there holding a heavy hand mixer for 7 minutes? If you can spare the counterspace and the money, get a big stand mixer.)

I also think you may need to get a little self-protective when you look at those things that belonged to family. Are they TRULY worthy of heirloom status? Worthy enough that they deserve to frustrate you for the next 8 years?

Just because someone once used those mixing bowls or hand utensil doesn't mean that there's any great emotional or historial or familial meaning behind them.

This is coming from the woman who treasures her grandmother's cookie jar and her crinkle potato cutter (used to make cookies for that jar), and her ultra-thin spatula from the '50s. And who gave away the too-small and too-ugly brown Corningware casserole, and would toss the old broken power mixer in a heartbeat.

I'm also the woman who is terrified of breaking the lid to my huge Corningware casserole I was given as a wedding present. A valuable piece of my toolkit even though it *wasn't* a family heirloom.

I pick and choose what I keep, and what matters to me in a sentimental way. I love that cookie jar because of what it meant to *me* when I was a kid visiting grandma, not because it belonged to her. There has to be something more before I'll keep it. I'd have to love that mixer and how it works, before I'd keep if it is was unfixable.

(that said, if that mixer's motor is still strong--sometimes they wear out with age--AND if you like how it functions, or how it's made, or how much space it takes up, etc., it could be worth fixing the cord)

Here is a link that might be useful: the powerful KitchenAid hand mixer

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 9:49AM
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Thanks for your responses. This nor'easter has blown our power and chased me out of the house to the library just to get warm. I'm going to look for the Alton Brown book, but I think you guys are right about evaluating our cooking habits.

On first examination, I would say I'm very limited in my gadget collection. I have the mixers I spoke of, a food processor, a blender, two coffee mills (one for spices), and a crock pot. My coffeemaker sits on the counter since it's used daily. I think my main downfall is my accumulation of vintage crockery and such. I have a thing for pottery and tile and this is just an extension of it. I may have to be ruthless when it comes to evaluating whether to keep or part with these things.

I'll check back in later after I've had some time to contemplate my storage and stuff with the lights on. Thanks again for your suggestions.


    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 1:53PM
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for a minute, I thought you had typed: "on first extermination"

LOL! accumulation of vintage crockery and such. I have a thing for pottery and tile and this is just an extension of it. I may have to be ruthless when it comes to evaluating whether to keep or part with these things.

You might also consider whether those things you have "a thing for" need to be considered "kitchen equipment" and therefore automatically stored in the kitchen.

maybe they REALLY should be labeled "things of beauty" and kept somewhere that you can admire them.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 2:18PM
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Another thought for the crockery items - can you use them somehow in another room? Maybe to corral hair care items in the bathroom or remote controls in the living room? Hmmn, I'd do that with the 50's Pyrex mixing bowls that DH insists on keeping, but they're really pretty beat up and ugly!

If you're not sure you want to part with your Sunbeam mixer, perhaps you could store it in the basement while you decide how well you can function with a hand mixer.

If you think you might have a larger kitchen down the road, you could even consider keeping the mixer in the basement until then. I would only do that if it had GREAT sentimental value, and I had ample storage room in the basement.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 3:01PM
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I too have been recently evaluating my kitchen utensils and appliances. I'm going to look at Alton Brown's book. I think he is very good at weeding out what isn't useful, even for a TV chef. There are a couple of things I'd take to that desert isle (which we hope has electricity): Immersion blender (I have one with several attachments so it can be a chopper, hand-held mixer w/ one whipping blade, etc.), Santoku knife, a set of stackable pottery mixing bowls, one cast iron skillet, and one 8 quart saucepan. Add a chopping board and I think you could make a decent meal with that.

I collect pottery too and use it for serving, baking, etc. That's the beauty of it, it's useful and decorative. And I agree with Tally Sue, put it all over the house. If you have some pieces that are of a certain color that go with, say, your living room, put them there. When I need to use a piece, I just go and get it from wherever I've got it displayed.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 3:13PM
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We are in the middle of remodeling the kitchen and so everything is in boxes. We still eat, and its interesting to see what you can do without. I am now in favor of the "pack it all up" theory and see what it is that you pull out and use in the next six months.
Alton Brown isn't going to be of much help to me.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2007 at 5:44PM
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Here I am back at the library again! Still no power or heat. I was able to find the Alton Brown book and had a chance to give it a once over. It's just what I'm looking for. Just like you all have suggested, the first thing he recommends is evaluating what you use over a certain period of time. Then there's another round where you mark specific items not used and reevaluate again later. There are chapters devoted to useful small appliances, pots, and tools, which I think will be helpful. Believe it or not, he even mentions the Sunbeam Mixmaster and what a good machine it was. Now I'm thinking I will need to get that cord replaced after all. I learned to bake using it, so it's not just a sentimental association with my mother, and it always worked well. I think I can create more space by removing some of the other culprits I mentioned.

I'll keep you posted. My time at the library computer is timing out.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 1:11PM
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Tina I am so sorry that you are still without power or heat. The library sounds like a great place to take refuge for part of the day. I am impressed that they have the book you are interested in! Sounds like you have made the right decision for you regarding the Mixmaster. This will make it easier to part with some of the less "valuable" items. Good for you. Stay warm and dry. Hope you have lights soon too!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 4:07PM
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Power and heat on again last night! Today I sorted through all the stuff removed from the shelves at the top of the basement steps. Everything was freshly painted last weekend and looks so much better, thanks to DH. Still need to do some organizing of the area -- drilling holes for all the computer stuff, wires and chargers, printer, etc. And more nails and hooks on the wall to hang all the stuff we use often -- vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies, cat litter stuff. It's such a small area, but serves multiple functions.

The Sunbeam Mixmaster is back in its home in the cabinet. Isn't it funny that once I seriously considered parting with it, now I'm thrilled all over again to have it! Instead, I have pulled out all the vintage crockery, pottery and casserole dishes and will make an attempt to use items in other rooms, as you suggested. I already put pens and pencils in a small pitcher (after putting a piece of cork in the bottom to protect from ink) so it's no longer hogging cabinet space, and I get to see it when I use our new mini office.

I have done a small evaluation of how we cook day-today, for smaller gatherings, and for a couple of large annual parties. I think these large events are what make me think I need lots of prep and serving dishes/bowls, but the truth is I don't need everything. My main concern is that I have to have enough prep bowls so that I can just throw them in the dishwasher and not have to worry about washing them so I can serve food. Also, I'm going to get a casserole dish with a lid that's just a little larger than anything I have right now, maybe something that can go from stovetop to oven.

The one thing Alton Brown's book made me realize is how little I know about the science of cooking, which is something I've always liked about his TV show. I inherited or haphazardly bought my kitchen stuff (often second-hand) without any thought to why certain types of materials or designs are efficient or ideal for certain tasks. I'm looking forward to reading more and determining the kinds of tools, pots, and small appliances that may be more helpful than my current mish mash of stuff. I think it will be fun to have things I enjoy using and will gladly part with stuff I've been hanging on to for no other reason than that I've hung on to them for this long.

I'll post some pics when I get finished with my projects. Thanks again for everyone's suggestions. You've been really helpful.


    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 6:26PM
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Yeah for electricity! Would a piece of painted pegboard work near the shelves in the basement. I recall seeing painted pegboard in a Martha issue awhile back. This would give you the flexibility to change with out pounding more holes in the wall.
My mother has a small house with a tiny kitchen. She uses a melamine closet/cabinet purchased from a box store to hold items and serving dishes for entertaining. It is out of the way. Since she only needs it a couple times a year it is worth the inconvenience.
Good luck. Looking forward to the pics.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 7:51AM
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My main concern is that I have to have enough prep bowls so that I can just throw them in the dishwasher and not have to worry about washing them so I can serve food.

I purchased some cheap-o stainless-steel bowls from a dollar-store type place near me once to use for some non-food use (they have flat bottoms, so upside down, they made great 'stepping stones' for the obstacle course; I duct-taped them to the industrial carpet so they couldn't slide)

They nest VERY tightly, and are themselves quite thin, so I can fit 8 of them in a stack that's only about 1.5 inches higher than a single bowl.

i've discovered they're also a great size (not too big, not too small--I'll have to test tonight to see how much they hold) and shape (more flaring than straight-up-and-down, so they have a wide top), and they hold almost everything I need to premeasure for a recipe.

I also want different TYPES of bowls for prep and serving. I prep in stainless steel or industrial glass (or the new melamine batter bowl I got for Christmas). I serve in china or decorative glass.

Another vote for the pegboard, painted some pretty color. And here's why:
-you can move the pegs around easily if you want to add an item, or if you realize the mop you use most is at the far end.

-you can buy smaller jars, shelves, baskets to go on the pegboard, so you can keep the vacuum-cleaner bags, or a flashlight, or other little things there.

You can get SHELF BRACKETS, so you could install an actual shelf in the pegboard as well. Probably not strong enough to hold cast-iron or a full stack of pottery or books, but tough enough for boots, baskets, baseball gloves, and a phone book or two.

there are baskets and paper trays (for both 8.5x11 and 12x12 paper)

long skinny baskets,

bins with lot sof compartments, which would be a substitute for the junk drawer maybe, or little plastic single bins in a few sizes.

some pegboard accessories:

Here is a link that might be useful: more on pegboard

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 9:40AM
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I was looking on the Martha site for the article I "thought" I saw in one of her old issues on pegboard. No luck on that particular article. She does have many other articles using pegboard.
The best thing is a link to a company that sells GOOD pegboard hooks etc. I love the look of these and may order some for myself. They appear to be far superior to those I can buy in the box store. The usual disclaimer about not being affliated with this company applies. I just think they look so fantastic. Don't know how to post a link. The site is:

Look under the category TOOL CONTROL

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 10:25AM
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Wow, you guys are on the ball! I do have some pegboard on one of the walls and it is very useful. I really like the wire baskets and the bins suggested and will check these out. The large wall already has been somewhat fitted with hooks to hold our vacuum cleaner and cleaning supplies, and we'll only need to add a few more, so I think I'm going to keep that the way it is. You'll have to see the space configuration when I post pics -- to use traditional pegboard, I would have to put strips behind it so it wouldn't be flush to the wall, and I can't even afford to lose an inch or two in depth along there because it would compete with the shelving area to the immediate right. Also, this is the shallow side of the stairway area and I have to keep it open enough to maneuver, especially for carrying tools or boxes to and from the basement. I always love to watch the look on a big burley repairman's face when he first sees the basement steps, especially if he's going to carry large/heavy things or make multiple trips! I just smile and say, "Watch your head!" One of the joys of living in an old house.

I do like the idea of those stacking stainless bowls. A friend of mine has them and they are great. I think that in the future as I change out some of my other tools and equipment, I'll need to go this route to conserve space. I just can't afford to update everything at once, so I have to work with some of the things I have. At this point, I think I have room for all the prep bowls I currently own -- a melamine nesting set of 6 bowls, 5 medium and large colored Pyrex bowls, and a nesting set of 5 vintage crockery bowls (which can also work as serving bowls in a pinch, as can the melamine ones). As far as serving bowls and plates, well, let's just say I have plenty! I have organized the kitchen cabinets, the jelly cupboard in the living room, the sideboard in the dining room and weeded out less-used pieces and will be putting them in a box in the basement. I should be set no matter what size crowd I'm entertaining.

I forgot to mention that I only have a few "items of beauty" that I still need to find homes for in other rooms of the house. I have a feeling they're not going to make it. There's tough competition in this pagent!

Thanks for your suggestions. I'm off to BB&B and Home Depot for supplies.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 2:34PM
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I think this is my bowls!

I have more platters than I could fit on my table, even when it's fully extended. But I'm not willing to get rid of any of them. At least, not yet. Part of why I'm letting myself keep them is, I feel that if I did get rid of the, it woudln't make any difference, really.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2007 at 5:21PM
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Talley sue, what a great resource for inexpensive stainless bowls! I would never have thought of looking at camping supplies, but obviously, they are made to be light and compact. Plus, they are dirt cheap compared to restaurant store versions. I was blown away when I saw how much a nesting set of bowls cost! I know there are different weights and quality stainless, but I'm sure it's easy to overbuy with this kind of stuff.

Still not done with the shelving area, but I'm taking some pics of my freshly organized cabinets, jelly cupboard, and side board. I was inspired to organize my tablecloths as well! Be back later.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2007 at 11:33AM
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Thanks for sharing this information.

Tuscany cooking schools best cooking schools chef cooking classes. Child cooking classes Culinary Schools in Nebraska best cooking school.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 6:43PM
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If anyone is still hoping to see pegboard in use in the kitchen...

Here is a link that might be useful: Someone who knew her way around the kitchen

    Bookmark   October 21, 2010 at 8:53PM
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I think it's really interesting how it can sometimes be so difficult to determine whether to keep or get rid of kitchen stuff. I don't even consider myself to be a cook (I more of a "find something to eat" person!), and I have 2 sets of dishes ("Maybe I'll need them again!"), a tea kettle that I use only a few times a year for hot chocolate or a cup of hot tea when I'm sick but that takes up space on the stovetop, and a cookie-dough extractor and cookie cutters that are used only in my dreams.

I think that it's similar to when we clean out our closets: We know that we pull out a fraction of our clothes routinely but save so much more for that rare occasion. It takes us a long time in life to understand who we are, what we feel comfortable in, how we prefer to cook and with what items, what we typically put on the table, and then we hopefully can say "I don't need this set of 12 ramekins that I used just once for a recipe that cost far too much in ingredients and prep time."

The fact that some of us have alternative storage spaces, so we can shelve something, doesn't help, I think! It's like not fully committing to that boyfriend who you doubt has long-time potential but you feel having him to go to the movies with (or "just in case" you get invited to a big party) is better than doing without!

How we make these decisions, and how we avoid them, is just very interesting!

    Bookmark   October 22, 2010 at 11:52AM
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If I got stuck on a desert island, I'd hope it was the one Gilligan and friends had lived on. They left behind huts and there was plenty of edible vegetation, coconuts, etc. And I wouln't need any kitchen gadgets, just a machete. Hope I'd be rescued soon.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2010 at 9:30AM
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