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The right assortment of kitchen tools can reduce preparation time and also improve the flavor, texture, and presentation of the food you are preparing. Quality tools perform better and seldom need replacing: think stainless-steel measuring cups with long handles, silicone basting brushes, and lots of wooden kitchen tools. Choose wisely now, adding new tools only when you are sure you need them, and more than likely, you will also have chosen well for later.
This list will get you started, but you can learn about more time-saving tools in "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook."
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For chopping and all manner of food preparation. Use wood for fruit and vegetables; plastic for raw meat and fish; and a separate board for garlic and onions (to keep their flavors from seeping into other foods). Ideally, you should have one or two larger boards with plenty of room to work on and one or two small boards for slicing fruits or vegetables one at a time.
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A metal, plastic, or porcelain enamel perforated bowl for draining and rinsing pasta or cooked vegetables. The holes are larger than those in a strainer, and may form a decorative pattern. Most have a base or feet and two looped handles. They come in several sizes; select more than one if you do a lot of cooking. You could also use graduated footed strainers for many of the same tasks.
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Use an all-purpose four-sided box grater for grating cheese (coarse or fine) and slicing and shredding vegetables. A handheld grater is convenient for table use.
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For more than just making perfect scoops of ice cream, these come in varying sizes and are ideal for measuring equal amounts of cookie doughs and other batters. Look for one that is mechanical, and dip it in warm water between scoops to help it release more easily.
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For quickly slicing vegetables paper thin; the blade also adjusts to create julienned vegetables or the waffle pattern on gaufrette potatoes. Japanese mandolines are made of plastic and are a less expensive alternative to the traditional stainless-steel French model.
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This includes liquid measuring cups (choose transparent glass with clearly marked lines and spouts) for measuring and pouring liquid ingredients; dry measuring cups (for accuracy in cooking, especially baking, choose a graduated stainless-steel long-handled set); and measuring spoons for small amounts of both dry and liquid ingredients.
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For making spheres of ripe melon such as cantaloupe or honeydew; it's also useful for carving the core from a halved apple or pear, stemming a tomato, or picking the seeds from a watermelon.
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For removing lumps from dry ingredients such as flour or confectioners' sugar, and straining certain soups or sauces; look for sturdy mesh that won't stretch or bend. Choose sieves in several sizes and levels of coarseness (fine, medium, and coarse).
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Silicone spatulas are great for folding cake batters or transferring them from bowl to baking pan. They are heatproof up to 800 degrees F, won't impart flavors from other foods, and are safe to use on nonstick pots and pans. A set of three (1-, 2-, and 3-inch) heat-proof silicone spatulas is ideal. The most useful metal spatulas are wide-offset stainless steel, for flipping pancakes or patties; long-offset, for spreading batters in pans; and long flat, for icing cakes. Other helpful tools include a fish spatula, with a flexible slotted blade, and a wedge-shaped cake server.
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For monitoring cooking time. It's a good idea to invest in one even if your oven has a built-in timer. Some digital models allow you to time a few jobs at once.
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Select 12-inch tongs for myriad kitchen tasks such as turning meat when browning or roasting, lifting vegetables out of hot water, and grilling. Look for heavy-duty, professional-grade tongs; a long-lasting spring allows for easy storage.
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The most essential tool for mixing everything in the kitchen -- from sauces to soups to salads. Flat wooden spoons with angled bottoms are great for getting at a pan's edges when making custards and thick sauces.
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For beating egg whites, smoothing sauces, and "sifting" dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Look for one with fine spokes that wiggle when you shake the handle; the best ones are stainless steel and weighted for strength and comfort.
For more kitchen gadget essentials, shop the Martha Stewart Collection line at Macy's.