I am often asked how to make the home cooking experience better and more efficient in a smaller home space. I find that keeping preparation time and the amount of small wares to a minimum helps.

Here are a few ideas to streamline your kitchen arsenal and make cooking at home stress free.

If you can’t have your own brigade, a team of dedicated suppliers vying for your business and a state-of-the-art kitchen to spread out in, you can get close with the following 10 tools.

See you next week, when I’ll be starting a series on the Santa Barbara Saturday Fishermen’s Market.

Stick Blender, aka the “Immersion Blender”

Just like it sounds, this one-button wonder is about a foot long with a blade on the end. Use the stick blender for pureed soups, chopped nuts, tomato sauce, vinaigrettes and aioli — and that’s just the beginning. It’s great for silky potato puree you can use for fancy plates. Cuisinart and KitchenAid make wonderful models. Bonus modernist design points if you can find an old school Braun on eBay.

Kuhn Rikon Y-Shaped Peeler

With a Kuhn Rikon, you’ll be peeling quickly and saving time for more important activities, such as shaking up cocktails for your guests! Often you will find them in packs of four or five at better kitchen stores. I can’t think of a better stocking stuffer! The Kuhn Rikon is my only choice.

Offset Spatula

You know this tool as the angled spatula commonly used by the pros to ice cakes. They make a smaller model about 4 inches long that most chefs use for flipping fish and meats, spreading goodness on our sandwiches and any other use you can dream up. It is way cooler than a butter knife and under $10. It can be found in the small tool wonderland at Williams Sonoma.


The MicroPlane — every chef remembers his or her first, and probably still has it. These come in all shapes and sizes. Grate cheese and nutmeg, make breadcrumbs and shave chocolate in a jiffy. The list goes on. You know where to find it. All you need to do is pick the style of your ribbons.


Need to blanch veggies and reuse the water? Perhaps you’ve cooked a few cocktail shrimp and need them out quick? Frying tater tots? Get a spider! Also called a skimmer in some circles, this is a handle with a flat strainer on one end. You can find these in most kitchen stores. Some have stainless handles and others have wood. They all look good on a pot rack.

Chinois Strainer

The chinois is the backbone of professional kitchens. Wondering why your favorite restaurant has super smooth purees or how to make a fancy lobster stock without pesky particles? They use a fine mesh strainer, for sure. Be sure to grab one with a fine mesh and handy stand. Most chefs will tell you not to force anything through by pounding away and straining the mesh — tap the side gently with a wooden spoon. It runs about $40.

Vita Mix Blender

Comes in one color — black. Pop this on your counter and other cooks will be green with envy. A Vita Mix is an investment, but guaranteed this is the only blender you will ever need. Smoothies are smoooooth. Vinaigrettes emulsify as if commanded from on high. Winter farmers market got you down? Grab a pumpkin and get busy. It runs $350 and up. Do it!

Heavy-Duty Scissors

A good pair of heavy-duty kitchen shears will get the job done. Shears are great for trimming herbs, breaking down chicken and cutting kitchen twine. You do have a spool of kitchen twine, right? It’s sold with the knives at most kitchen stores. German brands like Wusthof are the best, and all metal models will last a lifetime with proper care.

Rubber Spatula

You won’t waste a drop of your cake mix or salad dressing if you keep a few rubber spatulas handy. Couple them with a nonstick pan and you’ll have no problem turning out an omelet like the pros without scraping up the expensive surface. Grab a few.

Sheet Pans

I like what we call a “quarter pan,” which is about 9½ by 13 inches and fits in most home ovens. You sometimes see them marketed as “jelly roll” pans. You can find them online for as little as $5. Sheet pans also come in nonstick, but skip that and line it with parchment paper or foil. Sheet pans are great at keeping kitchen clutter down, too, as you can stage your prep on them until you plate up your masterpiece.

— Chef Joe Hafner writes the weekly Noozhawk column Word of Mouth and can be reached at jhafner@noozhawk.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.