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BLOG — Getting to the core of the few absolutely necessary kitchen gadgets

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Perhaps because gorgeous food is in high demand, owning a kitchen designed to create the most sophisticated noshes has become all the rage. I guess I’m no exception. I actually am building a kitchen, my first, and on a budget. And while having limited money limits my options, I’m still so overwhelmed that I find it helps to make decisions about the things I don’t want, can’t stand, will never tolerate, in my kitchen. In short, this is a missive on gadgets.

Like the word itself, a gadget is an item that has little integrity. And in a fast-paced, oft-cluttered workshop whose constitution is written in scalding water, searing flames and sharp knives, there is no room for anything but tools with integrity. But perhaps due to the ubiquitous need to feed ourselves and the commercial opportunities therein, gadgets proliferate for no application like they do in the kitchen. Rules are therefore necessary to curb the urge to acquire any number of these tempting objects that are ultimately ruinous to both one’s pocketbook and one’s ability to be a good cook.

First, the space a gadget takes up must be proportionate to its utility. In our kitchen, the toaster oven is a gadget that takes up one whole corner of prime countertop real estate, right next to the oven and under the dish cabinets. It’s substantial, but virtually every member of the family uses it virtually every day to not only toast, but in place of a microwave to defrost, heat up, melt, roast and sear everything from soup to nuts. It’s useful for baking small amounts instead of heating up the entire oven.

A worthwhile gadget must not duplicate the function of another tool. Many tools have been invested along the way to take the place of a regular old paring knife, but few have succeeded elegantly. And egg slicer, an apple corer/slicer, carrot peeler, garlic presss, and anything else advertised on QVC is no doubt as useless as the time spent watching the show on TV. The paring knife, used with facility, is pretty quick as a prep tool and can obviously be wielded to tackle any job.

A good gadget must perform more than one task, unless the one task is the focus of a business that is going to make enough money to hire a chef, a sous chef and a sommelier, thereby rendering cooking for yourself unnecessary. A bread machine, for example, breaks all three of the rules mentioned so far. It’s huge, does pretty much what a pair of hands and an oven do, and can only perform the task of baking bread — and, most egregious, bread without a crispy crust! Likewise, a steamer is also large and completely unnecessary, as you can easily steam meat and vegetables in a frying pan with a small amount of water (or in a metal colander over a shallow pan of boiling water). Also, a note that if you’re doing a lot of steaming, you probably need to cultivate a tastier method of food preparation anyway.

On the contrary, a food processor is a must-have tool that will, especially with all the attachments, cut, slice, shred, blend, grind and pulverize, and save loads of time and energy so you can make even more food! Food processors are big, and heavy, and the attachments are awkwardly shaped and take up a lot of space. But it actually does things that no other implement can do, such as grinding nuts and grains into flour, or pulverizing fresh herbs into a paste.

Surprisingly handy tools that don’t take up too much space:

  • The oft-maligned melon baller, for decorative serving
  • An old fashioned apple peeler (only if you make applesauce often)
  • A coffee grinder for beans, seeds and spices
  • A flat metal sieve for straining as well as fishing things out of hot water or oil
  • Grater for veggies and soft cheeses, and microplaner for fresh ginger, citrus rind and hard cheeses
  • Citrus juicer, because bottled lemon juice is an abomination
  • Potato masher for mashing softened foods without pulverizing them
  • Bread slice spacer, for making thin sandwich slices out of home baked loaves
  • Cleaver, for cutting through bone












One Response to “BLOG — Getting to the core of the few absolutely necessary kitchen gadgets”

  1. Lauren Shows says:

    This is great. “Like the word itself, a gadget is an item that has little integrity.”

    We are very much a carrot and potato family, and so the one gadget I use repeatedly is a peeler. The wonders some can work with a paring knife when it comes to this function I am unable to produce, and am thus scandalized when I go cook at somebody else’s house and find out they have no peeler.

    Likewise, my mom bought me a rice steamer several years ago, and it’s literally the only way I cook rice now. Since baby, it has also become a vegetable steamer, so I suppose it fulfills the multiple use requirement.

    Very interesting blog. I need me one of them tater mashers.

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