Frivolous and pretentious? Or a great way to save time and steps in the kitchen? Here are a dozen kitchen gadgets that fit in the second category, and a couple to avoid.
Most kitchen gadgets are just a way to separate foolish cooks from their money. But there are what I'd call tools that I couldn't get along without. Sure, I could still cook a meal without them, but they take out lots of drudgery in the day-to-day tasks of preparing food.
Of course, one woman's drudgery is another woman's stress relief. For me, kneading bread is a rewarding activity, one that smoothes out the wrinkles of life. If I owned a bread machine, the mechanics of filling it would quickly become drudgery. Another job.
Here is a baker's dozen of tools that I would hate to live without.
Zester/grater.This is a long rasp, or plane, to make citrus zest. I used to cringe when I saw a recipe that called for lemon peel. Though I had three or four different gadgets to make zest, usually I'd succumb to peeling the darn lemon and then scraping off the bitter white. Time-consuming, labor-intensive, frustrating. This rasp — it looks like what my dad used to shape my horse's hooves — is quick and easy with no bitter white stuff. But do it over wax paper because the zest really flies. Several types are available at cooking stores.
Grapefruit knife. OK, this is the height of decadence. But in this two-ended knife, the parallel blades on one end allow me to slice on both sides of the membrane at once. Then the other end, which is serrated, deftly cuts around the outside edge of the grapefruit. (Don't reverse the process, though, because it's not as effective.) When the Texas ruby reds come in, I'm a happy slurper.
Microwave. I don't have a fancy one, don't need a fancy one. Forget the word "oven" — this is a substitute for the top of the range. I cook vegetables in it, melt butter and chocolate, and, yes, I've saved a zillion dollars reheating coffee, rather than making a whole new pot. Just the time saved not washing dishes more than pays for this handy, albeit mundane, convenience.
Mega mixer. I thought I could stand over a bowl with my hand mixer until the cows came home. Then my husband, Ace, bought me the fabulous big boy of mixers. Egg whites beaten in seconds. Cream whipped so fast I have to watch carefully or I'll have butter. Cookies, cakes, cheesecakes go together so quickly, the oven hardly has time to preheat. If only it'd clean up its own splatters.
Mixing bowl with pour spout. Pancakes made easy, waffles made easier.
Tiny baby whisk. Can't remember where I got it, but it's perfect for the tiny task of beating a single egg and it fits right in with its bigger brothers and sisters, including a wonderful single-sided whisk, which is immune to clogging dough in the center, because it has no center.
Rubber spatula. You can't have too many sizes. Some come in bold colors.
Ditto, cutting boards that can be popped into the dishwasher to sterilize.
Slotted spoon and soup ladle. Neither the yin nor yang of moving food had found its way into my utensil (read: junk) drawer until recently. How did I ever get along without them?
Parchment paper. For years, I ignored the bakers who talked up this time-saver, thinking it seemed so wasteful, but then I realized you can reuse it and it probably has less impact on the environment than those aerosol spray oil cans.
Wax paper. This oldie but goodie, the ugly stepsister to plastic wrap, is back in my drawer after an absence of many years. But wax paper lies flat on the counter to sift flour onto, and it minds its own chemicals when microwaving dishes. Some plastic wrap fits so tightly over the bowl that it holds in big gusts of steam — an open invitation to a burn when opening.
Apple corer-slicer. An apt way to increase fruit in your diet. Just wash apple, and core and segment in one deft move.
Cookie dough scoop.These come in two sizes — regular and cookie-lover. It guarantees equal baking time because the cookies are all the same size. Quicker than simply spooning, too.
Some gadgets are good but require the soul of a perfectionist. In this dubious category, I place my nutmeg grater (a TV miniseries' worth of time to get 1 teaspoon) and my melon baller. (Who cares if each bite is perfectly round? As Gramp used to say, "They all go down the same hatch.") Less waste with a knife, too.
Suzanne Martinson writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.