When it comes to cooking over at a friend's place, there's nothing worse than staring at a pile of potatoes with nothing but a dull carving knife to peel them with. This is why I often go toting a box of kitchen basics along with the ingredients. Some act insulted by the insinuation (they usually forgive me after I've made them dinner) but most just ask what they should have.
In this 5 part series I'm going to cover the kitchen tools that will help you achieve better results, and save you time doing it. Best of all you'll avoid the ire of a guest chef as he/she contemplates how they're going to whip some cream with a cereal bowl and fork (true story)
When buying kitchen tools, keep in mind that a lot of the stuff out there is made purely for how it looks in your kitchen, so price often has little to do with how well it does what it's supposed to do. If you're looking to bling out your kitchen, you can stop reading here and go drop a few grand on those shiny gadgets, but if you actually plan to use them for cooking, keep reading.
Part 1: Kitchen Utensils
Heat-proof silicon spatula - This is my favorite mixing implement. It's heat proof so you can use it on the stove. The silicon won't scratch the coating on your pans and they're soft so they conform to the shape of your bowl/pan/container. Although a run in the dishwasher should rid them of any odor, I recommend having at least 2 in different colors (one for savory things and one for sweet things) so your whipped cream doesn't end up tasting like sauteed garlic. I've tried spatulas from a couple of brands, but I'd have to say my favorite are the ones from Le Creuset. They're about 9 bucks, come in lots of colors, have a nice sturdy wood handle and a thin blade that's just the right combination of bendiness and stiffness to get every last drop of batter out of that bowl. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all you'll need is the medium sized spatula.
Small short handled turner (a.k.a. "the other spatula")- I have a little nylon spatula that I got for free as part of some promotional package years ago that I still use to this day. Sure I've tried fancier (prettier) KitchenAid and Cuisinart ones, but they've all been big and clunky and pretty much useless for the multitude of things I like using a spatula for. The problem with some of these is the length of the handle. The longer the handle, the less control you have, and the more like you are to get a pancake half turned over or to drop that delicate poached sole fillet on the way to the plate. I also use my spatula to break up pieces of ground meat in a pan, or to cut up a cobbler as I'm serving it, so I find that a relatively sharp, flat leading edge helps. I've actually never used this particular spatula before, but I couldn't find one like mine for sale online and for 8 bucks, this should do just fine.
Whisk - Make sure you dish out the few extra bucks and get the silicon coated kind. This lets you keep your sauces and custards smooth without scratching up your pans. They're also great for whipping up some cream or an egg white without hauling out the big mixer. It should have a good number of stainless steel wires so you're not whisking forever and a nice thick handle makes it easier to hold. Something like this should do quite nicely.
Tongs - A good pair of tongs is a must for turing roasts, plating some green beans, or fishing out that stray coupon that fell into the pot of boiling water with your pasta. The key here is a good sturdy hinge that doesn't flex much, a non-slip grip, and tips that occlude properly so it actually grips things. My perfect tongs? $11 OXO Good Grips 12" locking tongs.