The Foods staff spends a lot of time in the kitchen, both personally and professionally, so good tools are high on our must-have lists. Well-designed ones save time or at least simplify meal preparation. So when several Test Kitchens Professionals and Foods Editors sing the praises of a particular gadget, we all take notice. Here are a few that most of us have in our collections, along with some suggested uses.
We can't say this often enough: Among our favorite time-savers to come along in recent years are Microplane graters. Modeled on a woodworker's plane, these handy utensils shred everything from chocolate to soft cheese with ease. Before buying, consider what you'll be grating most. The version with the smallest cutting holes makes short work of tedious kitchen tasks, such as grating citrus peel, garlic, and ginger. Most importantly, when you gently pull the grating edge across an orange, lemon, or lime, it scrapes off only the oil-rich rind without getting the bitter pith. Use the larger Microplane tools to grate chocolate for dusting desserts or pasteurized processed cheese for that veggie-plate standard, macaroni and cheese.
For added convenience, hold the Microplane grater over a flexible cutting board. These are downright cheap--you can buy them at a dollar store--and very versatile. Because they fold, you can easily shake the grated or chopped ingredient into a mixing bowl or pot. Place one over your regular cutting board for slicing meat; then put it in the dishwasher when you're done. That way, you can cut vegetables and raw meat for the same meal without fear of cross contamination.
Small Is Beautiful
Tiny measuring cups portion out from a Tbsp. to 1/4 cup of liquid with ease. No more adding a Tbsp. of water at a time to a recipe, counting how many you've added while trying not to spill. One version even has a 1 1/2-Tbsp. mark.
The cups also are easy to grip, perfect for children. The dainty size of these tools makes them fun to use. They'll take you back to the days when the Easy-Bake Oven was your primary kitchen appliance.
Mini-whisks are equally engaging and useful. They're perfect for whipping up one scrambled egg or a small amount of salad dressing or for frothing milk for an occasional latte. They fit nicely in an utensil drawer and in the dishwasher.
A silicone basting and pastry brush has two advantages: It cleans up beautifully in the dishwasher, and it won't shed bristles into the food as traditional basting brushes are prone to do.
More Favorite Gadgets
Rice steamers are terrific for producing flavorful, fluffy rice and were once a staple in every coastal South Carolina kitchen. (Some cooks would still argue that they are essential for perfect red rice.) Order a stove-top model, such as the one shown here, from Charleston Cooks at (843) 722-1212. Electric models may be purchased from major retailers.
A meat-and-poultry pounder (about $10-$15 at kitchen stores or online) makes fast work of flattening and tenderizing boneless chicken breasts for quick cooking. For easy cleanup, slip the chicken inside a heavy-duty zip-top bag before pounding.
These spatulas are perfect for using with fried, baked, or broiled fish. They're large enough to pick up fillets without breaking them, and the large slots let excess grease or liquid drip off.
Inexpensive pasta forks are terrific for serving long strands of pasta such as spaghetti or fettuccine. The wooden version is best at hanging onto the pasta, but all do a fine job of serving up the slippery noodles.
Spaghetti lovers will adore this pasta pot (4026) with its built-in colander. You simply lift it out when the pasta is done, and let the cooking water drain back into the pot. You won't have to transport boiling water to the sink any more. But this versatile pot has tons of uses--it's great for cooking anything that's boiled. Use it for shrimp, green beans, broccoli, or blanching tomatoes and peaches to remove the peels.
Once you don a pair of kitchen shears, there's no turning back. We use them for everything from cutting open pesky packages to cutting fat from chicken pieces. You can also use them to snip small amounts of herbs into tiny pieces.
If you only have one or two tomatoes to peel and don't want to bother with dropping them into boiling water, try an extra-sharp serrated peeler. The rough edge of the blade grabs the slippery skin and slices right through it. We also like this tool for eggplant, peaches, and other hard-to-peel produce. Some serrated peelers have a plastic blade cover to prevent accidental cuts when you're rummaging around in the utensil drawer (yes, it's that sharp). If not, you may want to put it in its own special spot, just like a really sharp knife.
"From Our Kitchen: Tools We Love" is from the September 2006 issue of Southern Living.