I am basically a lazy cook. I don't want to create any more work or spend any more time than necessary, but I still want the best possible result. I value efficiency, of course, but until I acquire a scullery maid, here are some processes and gadgets that make cooking and baking a pleasure instead of a chore.
Maybe everyone already does this and I'm just late to the party, but I find myself calculating the way to use my measuring cups and spoons in an order that will allow me to reuse them multiple times for any given recipe before I have to wash them...i.e., measuring the 1 tsp salt before the 1 tsp vanilla...
And you know those recipes that say to melt your butter or chocolate in the top of a double boiler? I ask WHY? Were these recipes written before the invention of the microwave? What could possibly be faster and easier than popping a stick of butter into a Pyrex measuring cup and putting it in the microwave for 1 minute? I've even realized the potential mess from it spattering all over the interior can be eliminated by laying the paper that it was wrapped in over the top of the measuring cup! Chips or chunks of chocolate are also easy to melt in the microwave, though you have to be careful not to burn it. White chocolate is especially susceptible to this. Just set it for short bursts (like 30 seconds or so depending on the volume and your particular microwave) and stir in between - if you use a wooden spoon you can even leave it in the bowl if you need to return it to the microwave.
For less mess and more consistent size making cookies or muffins, I love these cookie scoops. Pro tip: spray the scoop with a non-stick spray like Pam to keep the dough/batter from sticking.
True confessions: I am addicted to parchment paper. King Arthur Flour sells half sheet precut parchment that is just the right size for cookie sheets. They also sell precut rounds for cake pans which are great if you bake a lot of cakes, and smaller squares which I like for boxing baked gifts or separating layers for storage, but I digress. I always use parchment on my cookie sheets (no greasing necessary and easy cleanup) and to line baking pans for brownies (these I still grease). The parchment makes it easy to lift the finished brownies out onto a cutting board so they can be cut without scratching up the pan. Pro tip: unless you are serving them warm, chilling brownies in the freezer a bit before cutting makes it much easier to get neat cut edges.
I am an absolute evangelist about the microplanes that have emerged from the woodshop and been adopted by the kitchen industry. These are the BEST graters ever. They grate citrus peel with practically no effort AND therefore no grated knuckles. Yay. And they are perfect for cheese or chocolate or ginger as well. They come in a variety of sizes, but I would not be without 1 or 2 in the kitchen!
Speaking of grating cheese...if you need it in any sort of quantity, the shredding disk on the food processor makes this task take less than 10 seconds. Really. It is absolutely worth hauling out the food processor and even cleaning it up afterwards for the expediency of shredding cheese this fast. And freshly shredded or grated cheese is always superior in taste to buying it already shredded or grated - this is especially true of the hard Italian cheeses like parmesan. And did you know that if you need to shred your cooked boneless chicken, for say enchilada filling or chicken salad, you can do it in a matter of seconds with the paddle attachment in a standing mixer? Who knew? I am a big fan of appliances that do more than one trick.
The Rolls-Royce of garlic presses is this one. We have dated and broken up with several garlic presses over the years, but this is THE ONE. It is really sturdy, large enough to handle big cloves, ergonomically comfortable to use, and, most importantly, easy to clean because of it's ingenious construction. No more sterilized bits of garlic welded to the garlic press after a cycle through the dishwasher!
I am blessed with an overly well-equipped kitchen thanks to generous relatives, but if I had to choose just a few essentials, these would be among my top picks!