By Carie Birkmeier EBS Staff

I’ve been passionately cooking since I was about 8 years old, and in those 20-odd years I’ve collected an assortment of kitchen tools that I can’t seem to get by without. Chefs and cooks alike all have their favorite tools and tricks to save time in the kitchen, and here are a few of mine.

When you hear the word mandolin, the small string instrument may come to mind, but the only noise you’ll hear this tool make is the whizz of precisely sliced ingredients. Knife skills are important because they ensure that each piece of carrot or celery, for example, is relatively the same size and that they will cook evenly. A mandolin comes in handy when you want to slice your ingredient especially thin, something that may be hard to do with a knife. Making potatoes au gratin, or finely shaving cabbage for a slaw are examples of when a mandolin may come in handy—not only will it make even cuts, but it will also make for an attractive presentation.

A microplane is a fine, rasp-like grater ideal for zesting citrus, garlic, whole spices and ginger. This tool is ideal when you want a strong ingredient to be very finely grated, such as garlic and ginger. Use this tool to grate raw garlic into dishes when you don’t want chunks of garlic in it; it will turn the garlic into more of a paste than a mince. It also works great for finishing an Italian dish with a dusting of parmesan cheese. Microplanes are sold in several sizes and styles—I’d recommend purchasing one that has a handle attached, for ease of use.

An immersion blender is a great kitchen appliance to own, especially if you enjoy making soups and sauces from scratch. This tool, also referred to as a stick blender, is handheld with a blending mechanism on the bottom of a shaft. It allows you to purée soups and sauces without the hassle of transferring the liquid to a blender, and I’m a fan of any appliance that reduces cleanup. This tool isn’t just for soups and sauces though, it can also be used to make salsa, pancake batter, and even whipped cream.

If you read my article in the last issue, you know how much I love using citrus juice in my recipes. If you do too, adding an inverted citrus juicer to your shelves will ensure you get the maximum amount of juice possible. This handheld tool takes a half of lemon and pushes down on the outside to extract the juice, nearly turning the fruit inside out in the process. Make sure to use your microplane to remove the zest before cutting the fruit in half, this will make the process much easier.

Last but not least, get yourself a good chef’s knife and a hone, or sharpening tool. When cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen, dull knifes are the one frustrating thing I always run into. If you haven’t sharpened a knife within the last 10 times of using it, it’s probably dull. Not only are dull knifes less safe, but they make the work harder as well. Bust out your hone and sharpen your knife—I promise you will see a difference in its performance.