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Tools for the Well-Equipped Kitchen
( Cooking Gadgets )

You really should exercise caution when purchasing gadgets that claim to make life in the kitchen easier. Many are useless and take up a lot of precious storage space. My mother used to be a gadget collector, "junkie" of sorts, and they all ended up in my kitchen. Since she lived with me, I did not have the heart to throw them out. She finally realized we were not using most of them and she said to get rid of what we did not need. But there are some gadgets, including a few that came from Mom, that are very useful and some that I consider essential. How important they are to you depends on the type of cooking you do and the frequency with which you think you will use them.




Small Appliances



See also:

Cooking Tips

Glossary of Cooking Techniques

Cooking Gadgets

Pepper Mill - You know you should be using freshly ground pepper for all of your cooking, as well as at the table, right? So you need at least one pepper mill. There are many choices as far as style, size and composition. Make certain that whatever you choose has a high-quality steel grinding mechanism that adjusts to various grind sizes. My favorite mill and the one I have been using for cooking as long as I can remember is a large, brass mill made in Greece. It cost a bit more, but no other mill I have owned has lasted as long, so I purchased a smaller one for the kitchen table.

Thermometer - Everyone really needs to have an instant read thermometer. Even if you are an experienced cook, you can't take chances with large cuts of meat or poultry that need to be cooked to a certain internal temperature for safety. Not to mention, you don't want to overcook that rare beef roast. They have other uses, such as determining the temperature of lukewarm water for baking with yeast. I have a battery operated digital variety because the numbers are easy to see. But I keep a regular one for backup just in case the battery dies. If you make candy or do a lot of frying, you will want a candy/deep fat thermometer. I have one, but I rarely use it.

Vegetable Peeler - This is essential for peeling lots of vegetables and some fruits, but especially roots and tubers. You can use a paring knife but, more than likely, you will remove more than just the peel. Invest in a good one with which you are comfortable. There are several types and shapes. I prefer the old-fashioned swivel peeler. You can also get a serrated edge peeler, which works well in foods like tomatoes and peaches, although I rarely get the opportunity to use it.

Citrus Juicer or Squeezer - This is not essential since citrus juice can be squeezed out by hand. However, when I need a large amount for a recipe, it comes in handy. Since I don't want to invest in an electric juicer, I have one that has a removable top with holes to catch the seeds that sets on little bowl.

Egg Slicer - Of course, you can slice eggs with a knife, but this is so quick and it slices cleanly without breaking up the yolk. For chopped eggs, you simply lift the whole sliced egg and turn it 180 degrees, then slice again. They say a well-constructed egg slicer can also slice through mushrooms or strawberries. I tried the mushrooms but it did not work with my slicer.

Garlic Press - There are times when you want to press or crush garlic instead of mincing it to get all of the juices working. That can be done with the back of a knife, but this is quicker. Don't fall for the claim that you can put the unpeeled garlic in and the peel will stay behind. The problem with that is, if you need to do more than one clove, you have to remove the peel from the previous clove first. I prefer to peel the cloves by whacking with the side of the knife, then pass the smashed garlic through the press. I also suggest you run hot water over the holes immediately after use so that cleanup is easy. Get a press that feels good in your hand, especially if you will be pressing multiple times.

Bulb Baster - You can use a large spoon to baste roasts, but a baster can get into those tight spaces without having to tip the pan. I say it is essential. The best are the ones with metal tubes and rubber bulbs. The bulbs will wear and crack in time, but you will get your money's worth out of it.

Box Grater - Even if you have a processor with appropriate blades, you will want a stainless steel box grater. Although they take a little more elbow grease, they are sometimes quicker and a lot easier to clean. Purchase a good quality. It doesn't need to be the most expensive, but very sturdy and sharp.

Microplane (Rasp) - I like to do my research before purchasing some of the products suggested by professional chefs because some are just not necessary for the way I cook. When everyone started pushing the microplane, which originally was a hardware product known as a rasp, they said you could get one at any hardware store. I tried that, but had no idea what I wanted. So I found one in a cooking catalog. It really is not expensive and, let me tell you, it is every bit as wonderful as they say. It is great for grating the zest off of citrus fruits. You can also use it for spices like ginger and nutmeg. I use it most often for grating hard cheeses, such as Parmesan and Romano. It can also take the place of that garlic press if you grate the garlic cloves. You might want two, a fine one for zest and spices, and a medium or coarse for cheese.

Potato Masher - There are potato ricers and there are potato mashers. I prefer to use the masher. Maybe it is because that is what my mother and my grandmother always used. I also think it is a quicker process and you never take the potatoes out of the pan in which they were cooked, so they stay hotter. Additionally, it is a multi-tasker. It can be used to mash berries or canned tomatoes and to break apart ground beef as it browns. They come in various forms, but I believe they all do the job. By the way, I have one from my grandmother, possibly great-grandmother, that was wooden. It is shaped like a large pestle. It was probably used back in the mid-19th to early 20th-century. I have never used it, but it is proudly displayed in my house as a family antique.

Cork Screw - This is a must if you cook with wine. Even less expensive wines sometimes come with corks. There are many different types available. Choose something simple that works for you.

Manual Can Opener - It goes without saying that you need a can opener. However, if the one you have is electric, buy a manual opener just in case you need it in a power outage. The one I have cuts through the seal on the side of the lid rather than the top of the lid so you don't need to worry about getting cut on a sharp edge.

Cheese Slicer - This borders on being a utensil, depending on the kind you have. Mine is the kind that looks like a small spatula with a cutting edge carved out of the middle. A cheese slicer is useful when you want thin slices, thinner than you can normally make with a knife. Most of the cheese I purchase comes in brick form, so it essential for me to have a slicer when making sandwiches. I also use it when having cheese with crackers or fruit.

Meat Pounder - You can use the bottom of a saucepan or a rolling pin to pound meat and that is just fine. However, you will be much happier with a real pounder. There are many different varieties available, so you really need to consider what type you need or which feels most comfortable. There are stainless, wooden, flat disks, hammers, with and without prongs or notches. The first one I had was stainless with a handle and a flat disk that you had to use in an 'up and down' motion. I found it tedious and hard on my wrist. Then I found a double-sided stainless hammer. One side is flat for tender cuts that just need to be thinned and pounded to even thickness, and the other side notched, for tough cuts. I like the hammer motion much better. I have not had opportunity to use the notched side, but I still love the pounder. I would probably never use prongs, and the wooden pounders are more expensive than the stainless, mostly for the aesthetics. So, if you prefer to use something other than a saucepan, do your research before you purchase.

Strainer - A strainer is essential for making a sauce or purée when you want to discard unwanted particles, such as seeds or skins. One of the simplest strainers is a wire mesh basket with a long handle. The juices are pushed through the mesh with the back of a spoon. It doubles as a sifter. A chinois is a stainless strainer shaped like a cone, usually paired with a wooden pestle for pushing out the juices. A more elaborate strainer, and one to consider if you will be working with large amounts, is the food mill. Most come with several disks that have different size holes. A food mill rests on a bowl and is operated with a crank handle. It is wonderful for straining large batches of cooked fresh tomatoes to remove the skins. It can also double as a potato masher. I have a food mill, but I must admit I seldom use it unless I am canning tomatoes.

Funnel - You might not use a funnel often, but the time will come when you will wish you had one. I have a set of three different sizes. I also have a canning funnel that has a wide opening that fits the top of a jar. Even if you don't can, it is very useful for placing foods into jars.

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