Kitchen: How to turn single-purpose tools into multi-use gadgets

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I have a pretty small kitchen with a limited amount of room (ask my basement how it feels about being the overflow storage space). So whenever I feel the inclination to add “just one more thing” to my cooking supplies, I have to ask myself, “Will I use it? Will it earn its real estate?”

The bar is set particularly high for items that, at least in theory, are single-purpose – or are billed that way, anyway. Because home cooks are often a resourceful bunch, there are usually plenty of clever strategies for making use of these types of tools or equipment. Here are a few ideas:

Salad spinner. Only during the pandemic did I finally cave to add this tool to my kitchen. I was getting so many bags of salad with my weekly farm box that I felt this was an investment worth making.

Salad spinner (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Thankfully, it’s also handy for cleaning berries, which my family devours by the quart. The insert can serve as a plain old colander, as well.

French press. Again, this is a recent acquisition prompted by at-home pandemic life – cold-brew coffee with a toddler in the house 24/7 is extremely helpful. But don’t discount it for making tea. My French press holds a generous amount of water perfect for brewing tea for several people.

Coffee grinder. Some brands already advertise this, but you can grind your own spices in a coffee grinder. Although in this case, you may actually want separate pieces of equipment for each purpose so your coffee doesn’t taste like cumin.

Potato ricer. Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan has long endorsed a potato ricer for the best mashed potatoes. He says it’s just as handy for squeezing extra water out of greens and, of course, mashing other vegetables.

Melon baller (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Melon baller. Our colleague Laura Reiley, who covers the business of food for The Washington Post, recommends a melon baller for scraping out the strings and seeds of winter squash. Food assignment editor Olga Massov uses it to core apples.

Strawberry huller. Here’s another one from Laura, who blew our minds with this: “A strawberry huller is the best dang fish bone remover there is.”

Cookie/ice cream scoop. Don’t pay too much attention to what these are billed as. The tools that are often called dishers can handle a bowl of ice cream just as well as a batch of cookie dough.

Ravioli mold. Olga has used this pasta tool as an ice tray. And in the Food Lab on more than one occasion, we’ve used a Bundt pan to make a large, attractive ice block for a punch bowl.

Rolling pin. Not just for rolling! Food staff writer Emily Heil uses hers to pound meat (my alternative tool of choice for that is a small cast-iron skillet).

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