9 Kitchen Tools That Drastically Upgraded My Quarantine Cooking

One of them is secretly a game-changing hack if you live alone.

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Kitchen Home Appliances: KitchenAid stand mixer
macys.com

Prior to last March, I would've rated my cooking skills as "fine, just fine." I knew enough recipes to not get bored, and I knew how to make them taste good enough to look forward to after a day at the office. But then I stopped going to my office—or anywhere, really— and started spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Literally: The best spot for me to write and edit stories for work in my studio apartment is at the bar-height counter that separates the kitchen from the living space.

So, like many, I started trying out new recipes, from baked mac and cheese with pesto and peanut sauce-topped crispy tofu, to pecan pie muffins and cucumber sorbet. And not to downplay the importance of high-quality ingredients or proper cooking techniques (not to mention plain old practice), but what's really helped to build my confidence in the kitchen throughout the pandemic is acquiring the cooking tools I didn't know I needed.

If you're looking for a few new tools to pull you off a cooking plateau, scroll down to see the nine products that have drastically improved my confidence in the kitchen. Some are fairly standard tools I never got around to buying, while others are more eco-conscious, and still more are just cleverly designed or downright delicious.

The best part? Save for the first item (which, to be fair, is legendary), everything is under $40, and often well under.

KitchenAid stand mixer

Kitchen Home Appliances
macys.com

I don't need to introduce you to this iconic kitchen appliance. After doing lots of comfort baking early on in the pandemic, I convinced myself that the 5-quart stand mixer was worth the splurge—and I was right: My batters taste better and are properly mixed in virtually no time. Since my kitchen has open shelving and very limited countertop space, it serves as decor, too.

Magnetic measuring spoons

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

These clever stainless steel magnetic measuring spoons are so much more convenient than the clunky plastic ones I previously used. They're double-sided, with a slim side that's specifically designed for sticking into spice jars. And though the magnets are strong enough to keep spoons from straying, the set pulls apart with just one hand, which is convenient mid-meal prep.

Glass nesting mixing bowls

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

I thought I'd get the most use out of the largest 2.5- and 3.5-quart sizes, but I'm often reaching for the teeniest pieces from this elegant glass set of mixing bowls instead. The 1-ounce, 2-ounce, and 4-ounce bowls allow me to finally do a proper mise en place for meals with lots of little ingredients. And like the KitchenAid mixer, the nested glass bowls double as decoration.

Reusable plastic bags

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

For me, "being better in the kitchen" isn't just about making delicious food—it's also about reducing food waste, which doesn't always come easy when I live alone and don't want to eat the same things every day. But reusable bags have been a huge help, and I particularly like these leak-proof and BPA-free reusable plastic bags from U-miss. I keep some in the freezer to hold sliced banana for smoothies and others in the fridge to extend the life of produce and leftovers.

Beeswax food wrap

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

Products like reusable plastic bags and Bee's Wrap also help out with another long-term goal of mine: cutting out single-use plastic. I have a box of plastic wrap in my kitchen drawer for backup, but the three pieces in this set of reusable beeswax food wrap, which seals shut with the warmth of your hands and washes clean with cold water and a little dish soap, is usually enough to cover what I'm working with.

Chili crunch

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

The only edible item on this list, chili crunch was a dangerous addition to my kitchen last year. Dangerous in that I'll put the minorly sweet and majorly spicy condiment on just about anything (eggs, pizza, tofu teriyaki) and also in that a little goes a long way—too much chili oil, and your meal may become inedible.

Long silicone oven mitts

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

My old oven mitts were wearing thin, so I got new ones for their intended purpose of handling hot dishes, and I wanted long mitts for extra protection from the sides of my oven (a butcher block sits directly in front of it, so I'm forced to take my stuff in and out at weird angles). But I didn't anticipate the secret benefit of getting silicone-covered long oven mitts: When the lid on the aforementioned chili jar gets stuck, these loosen it up! They're a game-changing hack for living alone.

Anti-fatigue mat

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

Remember when I said that my kitchen counter basically functions as my standing desk? This anti-fatigue mat makes it possible for me to stand in my kitchen for eight hours. (I take stretch breaks!) You don't have to take my word on it: It's a best-seller in its category on Amazon and has more than 15,000 five-star ratings. I went with the standard black mat, but it's also available in fun colors and patterns.

Lemon squeezer

Kitchen Home Appliances
amazon.com

I resisted making room in my tiny kitchen for a quality lemon squeezer because of its singular purpose, but I caved after looking at recipe upon recipe calling for fresh-squeezed lemon juice. (In case you were wondering, the first time I used it was to make lemon bars.) Now I no longer have to go spelunking for rogue lemon seeds in dishes over which I once hand-squeezed the fruit for a burst of flavor.

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