My last post in this series is devoted to some of my favorite kitchen appliances…

The freezer. I get rather embarrassed when a friend comes over and wants to stick, say, a pint-size tub of ice cream in my freezer, and I don’t really have space for it. I’m afraid I look like quite a hoarder if you peek in my freezer! When I’m good about it, I try to keep a rough inventory of what’s in my freezer, to make sure I don’t neglect something that’s stored way back in the corner.

Growing up, my parents always had a separate deep freezer at home, even when we lived in a small apartment. That’s because they always stocked up on sale items, hard-to-find ingredients (like Asian ingredients when you’re living in, say, Saskatchewan), and meals prepared in advance. I’m lucky to have space for a normal-size fridge at all, let alone a deep freezer, so I try to make use of every square inch of the freezer I do have. My sister likes to make fun of the way I organize my freezer like a bookshelf ’cause I like to freeze things flat in quart-size Ziplock bags and stand them up for easier access. :)

A peek inside my freezer, organized "like a bookshelf" according to my sister.

I freeze everything from pre-made meals, to homemade stock, to chicken carcasses (for making more stock), to shredded cheese (bought in bulk during sales). I also like to use the ice cube tray for freezing ingredients you might need in smaller amounts in certain recipes (like tomato paste or stock for sauces). After the cubes are frozen, I take them out and store them in Ziplock bags. My sister’s in-laws have a lemon tree, and they like to freeze lemon juice in the ice cube trays for months when lemons are out of season.

The rice cooker. When I went abroad to France for nine months during college, I actually made room in my two allowed pieces of luggage for, that’s right, my rice cooker. I blame it on my parents. When I was growing up, they often brought a rice cooker on family vacations. We cooked meals in motels, with the rice cooker sitting next to the sink and plugged into the outlet meant for blow dryers. How Asian of us, right? :)

My first rice cooker was a cheap, simple model (and I actually left it behind in France so I could make room for all the souvenirs I was bringing back), and it was the same one I used when I lived in the dorm my freshman year of college (particularly useful there because hot plates were not allowed in American dorms… unlike in French dorms). I cooked so much more than rice in that thing. I made instant noodles. I steamed and boiled veggies. I even tried to stir-fry in there (ok, that didn’t work too great). I also made congee in it by leaving the lid off (it was a one-function rice cooker that was not meant to make congee like the fancy ones these days). You can basically make anything in there that you’d normally boil water for. Many of my dorm meals consisted of rice plus veggies and marinated meat, which all cooked in the steam created in the rice cooker. I didn’t even use the steamer insert — I just threw it all in there and let it cook together.

Nowadays, I don’t make use of my rice cooker nearly enough. The fancy Zojirushi model I have now takes a while to cook rice, so I end up making a big batch of rice all at once on the weekends. The rest of the time, my rice cooker, sadly, sits in my cupboard. What I do use every day and reserve valuable kitchen counter real estate for is…

The toaster oven. You can make anything in the toaster oven you would make in a real oven, just in smaller portions. But this makes it perfect for daily use. I’ve had my convection Euro-Pro toaster oven since grad school, and even though it’s almost died on me several times, I’m still holding onto it because I haven’t been able to find a good-size model like this available anymore — big enough to hold more than two slices of bread, but not giant and boxy the way they make them to bake pizzas these days. I make room in my teeny tiny kitchen for this one appliance because I use it every day. I bake eggs or make toast in it for breakfast and roast veggies and meats in it for dinner. I’ve even roasted a whole chicken in it many a time. Given that my actual oven is miniature in size, used to store pots, and is really temperamental temperature-wise, my toaster oven is indispensable in my day-to-day cooking. Chef Eric Ripert even has a video series called Get Toasted that’s dedicated to this little appliance.

What appliances do you use every day at home? If you were going abroad for a year, what kitchen tools would you bring with you or invest in during your temporary stay?

This post concludes my Cooking at Home series this week, but I’m always on the lookout for ways to make my weekly meal preparation go more smoothly, so feel free to send tips my way any time. :)