If you do get a towel bar for your kitchen, it helps to have some S-hooks to hang from it. From them, you can suspend bottle openers, scissors, and any utensil or tool that has a hanging loop on it.
I can't tell you how many times I burn bread crumbs or forget about the nuts I'm toasting in the oven. At least, I used to. That was all before I got myself a couple of these easy-to-use, loud kitchen timers that I can hang around my neck, so I never forget about something in the kitchen, even if I leave the room.
A good bench scraper is one of those tools people don't think they need until they start using it. I use it for everything from transferring chopped vegetables or herbs from one place to another, to portioning dough, to giving my cutting board a quick clean. Next to my chef's knife, the bench scraper is the tool you'll see in my hand most often.
Sorghum syrup is made from the pressed juice of sorghum grass, which grows prominently throughout the American South. This amber-colored syrup has a unique, nutty flavor that's both sweet and savory. And since the 1960s, the Guenther family of Muddy Pond, Tennessee, has been making some of the best.
I have a problem with wooden spoons. I collect them like nobody's business. But there are a few I always turn back to, and this one, from Le Creuset, is one of them. It's gorgeous to look at; it has a flat front, which makes it great for scraping up fond or stirring vegetables; and it's got a smooth, ergonomic grip that makes using it a joy.
My good friend and former Food & Wine coworker, Kristin Donnelly, runs this awesome lip balm company called Stewart & Claire with her husband, Phil. Every lip balm she makes uses great ingredients that you wouldn't hesitate to smear all over your mouth, but even cooler are the scents she comes up with, many of them inspired by foods and cocktails. Recently she teamed up with the talented folks at Death & Co, a great NYC cocktail bar, to develop three limited-edition scents. I've been walking around with "Smoky" in my back pocket for the past couple of months: It's inspired by the smoky scent of Scotch and mezcal cocktails, using smoked olive oil, along with citrus and spice notes, to achieve that effect. It's like a mezcal Negroni or Rob Roy for your lips, but subtle enough to sit under your nose all day.
On more than one occasion, I've been tempted to try out the cool new pepper mill on the block, but none of the ones I've used have held up over time. That's why I've settled on a good old classic, a wooden Peugeot pepper mill. The steel burrs last and deliver whatever grind I want, from fine-as-silt to chunky and coarse.
A bean is a bean is a bean. Or is it? Once you go down the rabbit hole of eating quality dried beans (after they're cooked, of course—raw dried beans aren't so great), you'll fall in love with their variety of flavors, textures, and colors. Some are starchy, some are nutty, some are earthy, and some are slightly sweet. Rancho Gordo is one company that sells some really cool ones to try. You won't look at dried beans the same way again.
If you like your whiskey with a giant ice cube, then you'll really be into Mammoth Cubes—unlike ice cube trays from current competitor brands, these make eight cubes (not six) and are actually stackable, so they don't require a section unto themselves in your freezer.
I've long been a fan of Jessie Kanelos Weiner's vivid and imaginative watercolors—she's done the art for several of our stories. But when Weiner released Edible Paradise: An Adult Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables, I discovered a new affinity for her work. See, like many children, I grew up with coloring books. But, unlike most adults, I continue to buy them—and fill them—to this day. For that I can thank my mother, a licensed art therapist who has long promoted the pastime as a therapeutic outlet. Far from pushing a think-inside-the-box mentality, coloring provides a healthy space for self-expression and experimentation. And, for those who enjoy it, coloring can leave you with a profound sense of zen-like relaxation and accomplishment. Weiner's fanciful landscapes are organized by season; they're a riot of vegetation, edible plant life, and tantalizing market scenes. They'll encourage you to paint (or pencil) the town red—in any colors you like.
There are some kitchen tools that make the difference between amateur-looking food and pro-level stuff. A small mandoline is one of them. This one, from OXO, is compact, easy to use, and very sharp. It has only three thickness settings, but in my experience, that more than covers most home slicing needs.
It may sound nuts to mail-order cornmeal and grits, given that they're found on any supermarket shelf. But I'd argue that you haven't experienced the best cornbread, grits, or other classic Southern dishes until you've had them made with the kind of high-quality stuff Anson Mills is selling. It'll change how you understand those foods and what they can be.
For years, I thought citrus presses were overhyped, absurdly specific, rarely useful, space-consuming, money-wasting gadgets. But it took only one use to see just how wrong I'd been—not only does a citrus press guarantee that you'll get way more juice out of every lemon and lime you squeeze, but you can say good-bye to stinging papercuts and all those infuriating attempts at pinching slippery stray seeds from your salad dressings and cocktails.
They may not come in the most festive or glamorous packaging, but you can't go wrong with Effie's Oatcakes. Buttery, crumbly, nutty, and salty-sweet, they're insanely addictive. Case in point: I've eaten three in the last 10 minutes. My advice? Purchase them in bulk so you can stuff a stocking or two and hoard the rest for yourself.
I'll admit it: I'm a pepper mill snob. I need my mill to produce a shower of evenly crushed peppercorns. I want to be able to control the size of those grains, from a rough crush to a fine powder. Not only that, I want my pepper mill to last. With a solid metal burr and a unique easy-to-load design, this is my favorite pepper mill of all time.
In the inexpensive-thermometer department, the ThermoPop comes in an impressive package. An easy-to-read display rotates at the touch of a button, so you don't have to twist your head to read it. It takes a few seconds longer to read temperatures than its big brother, the Thermapen, but it's every bit as accurate.
I renovated my kitchen at home this year, and of all the features I installed, the towel bar is one of my favorites. Set it on the wall over a stove and you can hang small pots and pans, ladles, and other frequently used tools on it for rapid access; install it elsewhere and you can hang not only kitchen towels from it, but also bottle openers, scissors, honing steels, and anything else you use often and would rather not rummage around in drawers for.
A good pair of kitchen shears is one of those things that are hard to appreciate until you have them. Sure, there are all the obvious uses, like opening food packages with a snip and cutting up poultry, but that's just the start. Take another look at those things. Yes, that's right, they're also a nutcracker. Aha, yup, and a bottle opener. Did you see the flathead screwdriver built into them? Handy, right? Oh, they can also be used to unscrew stubborn jar tops. They're way more than just a pair of scissors. Plus, the two blades come fully apart, so you can wash them really well—no icky chicken juice hiding in the recesses. Isn't avoiding salmonella poisoning a gift worth giving?
I don't really consider myself a lunch-bag person, but when I have something cold to transport, there's only one carrying case I reach for. These PackIt cooler bags come in a variety of sizes and styles, and all of them can be collapsed and chilled in the freezer overnight to provide refrigerator-level temperatures for a 12-hour period. I use mine most for bringing beers to the park or beach, or transporting raw meat to barbecues and campsites.
A hefty weight and a narrow head design make this an extremely efficient fish scaler. I've used it on smallish porgies, bigger black sea bass and fluke, and just about everything in between. It's a significant improvement over the clamshell I used to use, and something about its design reduces the spray of scales.