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MIT blogger Sabrina M. '21

My Favorite (Kitchen) Things by Sabrina M. '21

cue julie andrews singing

As I’ve sort of mentioned in previous blogs, I am a big fan of cooking. I was once on a meal plan for about two weeks at the start of my freshman year, but I dropped it when I realized I hated walking across campus for food I didn’t even find that good. So, I’ve spent the last five years learning how to cook for myself,01 essentially from scratch. before college, i only knew how to make scrambled eggs and boil pasta watching a lot of cooking shows or YouTube videos as inspiration. These days I am pretty confident in my skills,02 my friends and family say i’m <i>good at cooking</i>! with the drawback that now there is nothing more appealing to me than the kitchenware section of a department store.

So, the most inevitable thing has happened over the course of the last few years. I’ve accumulated a wide range of kitchen stuff. Some of them have been gifted to me, others I purchased, and others actually belong to my like minded roommates, but since we share everything they’re also mine, for now. I won’t go into things like pots or pans or dishware because if you’re cooking, you should already own these things. I’m thinking things that you might not know exist already, or do but don’t realize how useful they are. Here are some of my favorite things.


Spoon Rest

a photo of a spoon rest on the stove

Essential for any apartment. I’ve melted one too many plastic spatulas resting them directly on the pot, and burnt my hands too many times from ultra-steam-heated wooden spoons. I can’t even think about going back to that life. When my roommates and I moved out of our last apartment and had to leave our trusty red spoon rest behind, I mourned her for many, many days as I sadly placed all my cooking spoons on a paper towel. Our stove’s cleanliness suffered, and so too did my heart. The day our new one came in the mail was a real highlight in my fall.

Oil Dispenser

a photo of an oil dispenser

doesn’t she look so pretty

Ultimately, an unnecessary item to have, but getting this filled me with a primal joy akin to ancient man being taught how to make fire on a cold, dark night. My house buys groceries communally, which means we also get very large tins of olive oil, as we all cook and it is much cheaper. Unfortunately, these tins are a nightmare to use when actually cooking, for their awkward rectangular shape and disastrous center of gravity that make them hard to wield, their slippery little metal surfaces, and their plastic spouts that seemingly only have two pouring options: nothing, or the whole damn gallon. After attempting to live this life for a few weeks,03 i’d previously used a NORMAL SIZED trader joe’s bottle that i just kept refilling, but someone accidentally recycled it. I was a woman defeated. Broken.

Soon after, my girlfriend came in like an angel bearing good tidings in the form of a little glass bottle. My world turned around. No longer was I a dejected wannabe chef fumbling with my olive oil — I was Gordon-fucking-Ramsey. Look at that control. Look at that gentle spread. Look at that flick of the wrist. The power is indescribable.

a gif of me pouring some oil

isn’t that sexy?

Microplane

a photo of a microplane

Okay, so I have to confess. The idea for this blog came to me first as a tweet, where I wrote this:

man once you start putting a little lemon zest in your mushroom spinach egg scramble… gotta say it’s hard to go back

I couldn’t stop thinking about my eggs, even hours after eating them. The little added tang of lemon zest elevates the flavor so much. And I thought, somehow, I need to tell everyone I’ve ever known how much I love my microplane. But a tweet didn’t feel like enough. I needed to shout this on the mountaintops, voice hoarse but full of joy. The blogs are my closest thing to a mountaintop, as far as online posting goes.

I don’t even use my microplane that often. Far less than some other items on this list. But, it’s all about the quality of my time spent, rather than the quantity. I love putting my fancy little imaginary chef’s hat, towering high above my curls, and thinking to myself: you know what would really add depth to this meal? Zest. Lemon, lime, orange, take your pick. It makes me feel so giddy inside. For so long I’d used the juice to add flavor, but so many problems can arise from that:04 don’t take this as me being anti-citrus juices. absolutely not. they just both have their uses. for single serving meals, half a lemon is too much! Squeeze just a little bit, and you get a partially squeezed lemon in your fridge, which will dry out as the hours go by. Or, the liquid can ruin the consistency of your meal. It certainly screws with the perfectly set scrambled egg consistency, and any baking things where moisture content matters. You just can’t win.

a gif of me zesting a lemon

zesty

Unless you have a microplane. You know what else you can do with a microplane? Buy fresh parmesan, like in real, expensive blocks, and shred it on your steaming hot pasta like a waiter at Olive Garden.05 except this time, you don’t have to feel guilty about asking for more. grate to your heart’s content Grate fresh nutmeg in your Alfredo sauce, or in your baked goods, like a professional chef. Grate garlic, and ginger, directly into your pan and worry not about chunks. Prance around your kitchen like a contestant on Chopped. You’ll be grate at it.

But seriously, put some zest in your things. You’ll thank me for it.

Box Grater

a photo of a box grater

You should already have this. How are you grating cheese for a lasagna, or a mac and cheese? How are you grating potatoes to make a hash, to make latkes, to make tater tots? How are you grating zucchini for a deliciously moist zucchini bread? Don’t be that guy who has to make their dish with mixed shredded cheese instead of a mix of gouda, cheddar, and mozzarella because they didn’t sell those pre-shredded at the store. It’s just such a staple item.

Mandoline

a photo of a mandoline

The most dangerous tool you can have in your kitchen. What seems like an innocent tool designed to make perfectly uniform and thin little slices of vegetables can very quickly become a tool of self mutilation. The ease at which you slice cucumber rounds for a delightful, teatime sandwich can fill any person up with euphoria. Careful though, Icarus. Hubris is a dangerous thing. A blade that can slice through a hearty carrot can certainly slice through soft, supple skin.

a photo of cucumbers i sliced using the mandoline

look at all those thin slices

The fault doesn’t really lie in the design though — mine came with a little safety grip to use for smaller vegetables, so my fingers aren’t at risk for cuts. It’s a bit hit or miss in terms of handling, but I don’t personally like the taste of fresh, human blood on my food, so I use it. I’ve made some delectable cucumber sandwiches, two great Spanish tortillas, and a whole other assortment of thinly sliced veggies and fruits. Since I even dreamt of having one, all I’ve wanted is to make is a baked, cast iron ratatouille, like in the movie with the cartoon rat. Alas, it’s been almost two years and I haven’t, but I’m still holding out hope.

Vegetable Peeler

a photo of a vegetable peeler

This feels as essential as the Box Grater. I must admit though, I often don’t peel my carrots out of laziness, and I only buy potatoes with soft, tender skin. Still! I would be nowhere without a trusty peeler. Some things, like a sweet potato, or a butternut squash, really need peeling. And you don’t want to be stuck fumbling with a paring knife and getting something like Porygon, when you know you deserve Porygon 2.

on the left: the caption "me peeling potatoes" and a picture of the pokemon "porygon". on the right, the caption "my mum peeling potatoes" with a picture of the pokemon "porygon 2"

Lemon Squeezer

a photo of a lemon squeezer

Cooking anywhere without this makes me feel like I’m in the stone ages. Somehow, as soon as I began to use this item, my fingers became frail little sticks that could no longer squeeze a lemon. Please, do not separate us, I’m not strong enough.

caption: "frequently bought together", a picture of me and a picture of a lemon squeezer, and then a tumblr comment that says "do not separate them"

The real impetus for this one was after a particularly traumatizing night where I decided cosmopolitans would make a fun drink to make for a group. I spent a lot of time watching Sex and the City with my girlfriend, and occasionally my roommates, and I wanted to feel like Samantha before a night out. It felt fun, and cheeky, but damn was it a lot of work. Did you know that cosmopolitans take about a half a lime’s worth of juice per drink?06 probably not, seeing how most of you are not of legal age. but things to know for the future! Now, multiply that by like ten people, and two per person, and you’ve got… twenty lime halves to squeeze. Jesus, my knuckles ached. I unearthed cuts I never knew I had on my hands as the lime juice seared into my exposed skin. I lost a percentage of the juice to the counter as my hands shook, delirious from the exertion. I vowed to never make this many cosmopolitans again, not without the proper firepower.

And again, like an angel, my girlfriend appeared with the right tool. Now, I squeeze with confidence. A little bit of lemon to finish off a soup? A bit of lime in my chili? A whole lot of orange for a decadent bundt cake? Oh, it’s no problem. Let me handle it.

Funnel

a photo of a funnel

I actually didn’t have one of these for a long time. I’m sure you can imagine how hard pouring oil into my Oil Dispenser got, though I did manage for a time. Not to mention, we only use freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt in my house, which means we’re constantly refilling our spice mills, which also sometimes means getting whole peppercorns or salt crystals all over the counter. When I lived with coffee-drinking, pour-over loving roommates, I’d just use one of our coffee filters wrapped up in a little cone for this. But, this doesn’t work well with oil, and now no one in my house drinks coffee regularly. Hence, funnel purchase.

It’s a really good thing to have. You just never know when you’re going to need to pour from big container to large container. When the time comes and you need to do it, but you don’t have a funnel, well… you’ll surely wish you had one.

Butter Dish

a photo of a butter dish, with butter on it

we’re running low on butter

You know that moment when you need to butter your bread07 actually, you should use mayo but the point still stands for a grilled cheese or other pressed sandwich, and you get your cold butter out of the fridge and try to gently spread it onto the bread (which is at this point, soft and untoasted), only to rip the bread to shreds as you try to break apart the lumps of hard butter? It’s a horrible experience, one I’ve lived through too many times.

There is a solution though: butter dish. It’s a pretty little dish that you put a stick of butter on,08 im partial to kerrygold salted and then keep it on the counter in a cool-ish spot. It has a cute cover so you can put your butter to bed, and so it doesn’t get dust on it. I know what you’re thinking. Butter? Not in a fridge? It’s dairy! Yes, I know it’s scary. I know the FDA may say otherwise. I don’t claim to be a food safety expert, but I can claim to know how to have softened butter available at your beck and call. I haven’t ripped bread ever since, so who are you really going to trust here? Results may vary depending on the seasons — in Boston’s winters, it’s a little firmer (but still spreadable) and on very hot summer July months, it can get quite melty (never full liquid though).

Slotted Spoon

a photo of slotted spoon

For a three month period about two years ago, I got really into poaching eggs. It’s arguably one of the most pretentious ways to make an egg, since it involves a careful technique of swirling water that takes a lot of practice to master. I’m still quite bad at it, but I can poach a decent egg about ¾ of the time. Enough about my skills though, what about the slotted spoon?

Okay, to explain that I do need to explain the egg poaching in more detail though. I’m going to go through the steps of the traditional method, not any of those new wave methods using ramekins or fancy gadgets. First, crack an egg into a small bowl, and leave it there. Don’t break the yolk, please. In a wide enough pot, you want to heat up some water with a splash of vinegar until it’s simmering. Not boiling, just a nice gentle simmer. Tiny little bubbles in the water. Then, using a slotted spoon, you need to swirl the water around the edges of the pot until you form a bit of a little cyclone in the center. Not a raging cyclone, just a little swirl. Once you’ve got that, gently place your egg into the cyclone by getting the bowl as close to the water as possible, and then tipping it over. Now! This is the most important part, and if you’ve ever poached an egg before, you might disagree with me, but this is just how I do it. With the egg in the middle, gently swirl around it with the spoon so the whites keep spinning into itself, forming a little ball. Then, once the whites are completely set, remove the egg with the slotted spoon and place onto whatever you want. If you didn’t have a slotted spoon, you’d just get water all over your plate, which is pretty unappetizing.

Mine is made of plastic, because I had a metal one with teeth that would constantly break my eggs. But, the material doesn’t matter that much. I guess you could also use this when you boil or blanch vegetables, or to fish out hard boiled eggs, but I don’t do any of that so it’s a moot point. Still a good tool to have.

Rubber Spatula

a photo of a rubber spatula

I feel like this is already a staple for any avid bakers, since that involves a lot of scraping bowls to get all the tasty batter out. I don’t really bake though, but this is still a necessary one for me. It’s my go-to utensil for making scrambled eggs, because nothing else can gently toss and turn those eggs without getting them all stuck to it like this spatula can. I just think my eggs deserve a gentle, loving touch,09 we all do and the smooth silicone definitely delivers.

Mason Jars (and lids)

a photo of many mason jars

As everyone who has had a Zoom class or meeting with me knows, I drink out of these exclusively. My project partner once called me a hipster for it as we tried to find the forces in our designed roof. It’s not that I want to be an obnoxious hipster, really; my house just doesn’t have any other cups. Well, there’s mugs, and my fancy cocktail glasses, but none for daily water sipping. If that makes me a hipster, then I accept, but I swear there’s a reason.

I love a multipurpose item. So, when a jar comes into my life, swearing its fealty to me as my loyal cup and container, who am I to say no? I’ve had so many fond drinking memories with these jars: big glasses of juice cut with seltzer water after lunch. Old, lukewarm water on my nightstand, saving me from my 3AM thirst. Lovingly made Tom Collins as I watch movies in my living room. But really, my favorite thing about these jars is the pickling potential. I’m a sucker for a good pickle, of any kind. Cucumber, carrot, jalapeños, radishes, onions, all of them. I want to put those sweet, spicy, crunchy things on everything. And did you know, they’re actually very easy to make? If you have mason jars, of course.

Just cut your vegetable of choice and fill up a jar with the pieces. Toss whatever spices or herbs you want in here, in whatever quantity. I kind of just eyeball it, but some things that work: fresh dill, fresh garlic cloves, hot chilis, whole peppercorns, mustard seeds, and chili flakes. Then, heat up a cup of water and a cup of vinegar (any kind that suits your fancy) in a pot with a tablespoon of salt, and if you like them sweet, a tablespoon of sugar. When the sugar and salt are dissolved and the mix comes to a boil, turn it off. Pour that into the jar until it’s totally full, seal it, let it cool for a few hours on the counter, then pop it into the fridge. In like 48 hours you will have delicious, homemade pickles that will surely impress all of your friends. The ones with taste, at least.

Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of my pickles, since I finished my last jar in November and haven’t made more. But that is a little IAP goal of mine.


There’s still so many other, kinda niche items I wish I had. A silicone baking sheet, a bamboo steamer, a fish spatula, to name a few. One day, I know they’ll be in my hands.

  1. essentially from scratch. before college, i only knew how to make scrambled eggs and boil pasta back to text
  2. my friends and family say i’m good at cooking! back to text
  3. i’d previously used a NORMAL SIZED trader joe’s bottle that i just kept refilling, but someone accidentally recycled it. back to text
  4. don’t take this as me being anti-citrus juices. absolutely not. they just both have their uses. back to text
  5. except this time, you don’t have to feel guilty about asking for more. grate to your heart’s content back to text
  6. probably not, seeing how most of you are not of legal age. but things to know for the future! back to text
  7. actually, you should use mayo but the point still stands back to text
  8. im partial to kerrygold salted back to text
  9. we all do back to text