By Katie Workman
I love a shiny new kitchen object as much as the next cook, and at times my kitchen has resembled a kitchen specialty store. But if you have a small kitchen, counter space and cabinet storage are at a premium.
Here are some of my all-time favorite gadgets to make your cooking life better.
I’m skipping the bigger appliances like slow cookers and air fryers. I’m also skipping knives, cutting boards, pots and pans, measuring cups and the like, because you pretty much know you need those.
This is about great gadgets, both low- and high-tech, that deserve a spot in your kitchen because they work hard and smart.
I use a peeler pretty much every day for something. Potatoes, carrots, apples, winter squash, etc. I am a fan of Kuhn Rikon peelers, which are lightweight and easy to use on peels thick and thin. OXO also make an assortment with different blades, shapes and widths.
Nothing is more important in the kitchen than salt and pepper, and freshly ground pepper is much better than pre-ground. The Peppermate Traditional Pepper Mill is sleek and contemporary looking, made of ceramic with a side crank. It has a removable, clear bottom cup under the grinder to catch the pepper, and an adjustable grinding size, from very fine (for most things) to very coarse (for things like steak au poivre ). For a more classic look, Peugeot makes high-quality mills.
It’s hard to get perfectly thin slices for most of us home cooks, even with a good knife. But with a mandoline, you can get even slices of all sorts of vegetables and other ingredients. One example is the OXO Good Grips Hand-Held version, which comes with settings for three different thin-nesses, and a handle so you can slice safely and quickly into a bowl or over a plate.
I use no appliance more than this one. I use it for pureeing, chopping, slicing and shredding. Cuisinart has long been my go-to brand; I grew up with one and now own half a dozen. Other companies, like KitchenAid and Breville, also make good food processors. Sizes range from quite large (14 or 16-cup bowls) to mini (about 2 cups). I recommend one little one, for things like mincing garlic or making pesto, and one large, for everything else.
One of those products where the brand name has become synonymous with the thing itself, even though other manufacturers make similar items. This is basically a small, handheld grater. The most classic one is long and narrow, with lots of fine blades that turn lemon zest and hard grating cheeses and chocolate into fluffy mounds of delicate tiny shreds. You can also get versions that grate food into larger strands.
There are many versions on the market, from digital to analog to Bluetooth to infrared. When you want to make sure that you are not overcooking a roast beef, or that your bread is cooked through, an instant-read thermometer is indispensable. (You’ll justify the cost quickly when you consider how much you spent on that holiday filet!) In the most user-friendly digital arena, Thermapen instant thermometers are fast and precise with a wide temperature range.
I love my blender and food processor, but if you’ve ever tried to transfer a pot of hot, chunky soup to a blender then you understand why an immersion blender is such an asset. Instead of pouring, just place the immersion blender right into the pot. You can even stick the wand into a can of whole tomatoes and puree them right there. There are loads of good ones on the market, from companies like Breville, All-Clad, Braun and Philips.
If you’re not a wine drinker, then obviously this isn’t a go-to gadget, but if you are, investing in a nice one makes opening a bottle a real pleasure. Williams Sonoma makes a great assortment including classic winged corkscrews and easy-to-use lever corkscrews. Rabbit is an another reliable name in the wine-opener world, and you might splurge on a Pro Electric Corkscrew with an Infrared Thermometer for the true oenophile in your life.
If you’ve been curious about sous vide (and many people are), then now is a good time to try this latest-technology gadget; there are lots of options out there at pretty reasonable prices. Sous vide is a cooking method that entails putting food in a vacuum-sealed bag and cooking it in water at a controlled temperature. It’s basically impossible to overcook it. The Joule Sous Vide is small compared to other sous vide appliances, but powerful, as well as sleek and attractive enough to leave out. It works with phone apps as well for the ultimate in modern cooking.
Katie Workman writes the monthly Kitchen Smarts column for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, “Dinner Solved!” and “The Mom 100 Cookbook.” She blogs at http://www.themom100.com/about-katie-workman. She can be reached at Katie@themom100.com.