You need: A double boiler.
You can use: A bowl and a saucepan.
Melting chocolate, whipping up crème anglaise, making lemon curd―the list of tasks that require a double boiler is just short enough to land that tool on the B-list of kitchen gear. The time-honored standby is a heatproof bowl (glass or stainless steel) placed in a large saucepan (with about an inch of barely simmering water). Fit is key: The bowl should nest securely inside the pan, but not so deep that it’s difficult to remove.
You need: A potato masher.
You can use: A pastry blender and a wooden spoon.
Myth: You need a potato ricer or an electric mixer to make perfect potatoes. Reality: If you can take a few lumps, a pastry blender does the trick. Don’t overboil your potatoes; they’ll fall apart and become waterlogged. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Mash well with any additional ingredients.
You need: A lemon reamer.
You can use: An ordinary soupspoon.
A reamer picks up where a squeeze leaves off, extracting every last sour drop. We love the old-fashioned glass juicers because they remind us of Grandma, but a simple soupspoon will do. Working over a strainer placed in a bowl, hold a lemon half in one hand, the spoon in the other. Press firmly into the flesh, twisting the spoon back and forth as you drill into the lemon.
You need: A salad spinner.
You can use: A mesh onion bag or citrus bag.
A salad spinner uses centrifugal force to slough water off salad greens―water that can turn a salad into a wading pool. If you lack a spinner, swing into action and convert a mesh bag into a human-powered model. Toss wet greens loosely into the bag. Holding it tightly closed, step outside and swing it in rapid circles for 10 seconds.
You need: A pastry bag.
You can use: A plastic bag.
Rosettes and ruffles are one thing, but if a simple scripted Happy Birthday is all you’re after, you can turn a plain plastic bag―heavy freezer bags are best―into a pastry bag for decorating. Spoon your whipped cream, frosting, or melted chocolate toward one corner. (Or microwave your chocolate right in the bag.) With scissors, snip the corner to the desired diameter, then gently squeeze onto the cake.