Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Listener e-mail on gadgets

Well, we released the Culinary Roundtable #17 last week, and promptly receieved this email from intrepid listener Shawn Dreelin. I thought I should post it here, as it says more than we EVER could about gadgets!

Woo Hoo! Way to go Mark on the latest Culinary Round Table. I am a gadget freak and an appliance freak. You could have interviewed me alone and I could tell you what works and doesn't.

First.....the cherry pitter is not a single use item.....it also pits olives nicely! In fact that's what I bought mine for. It works better on larger black olives, but can do the harder green olives. Sometimes the green cracked olives don't work too well, but it will strip the outer layers off. It just isn't pretty, but for black olives it's essential!

Now my list of must haves:

Man I cannot believe anyone didn't mention tongs! A good set of spring loaded tongs is necessary.
Microplane.....same reasons....zesting, grating, nutmegs, chocolates, etc....I have three sizes, but only ever use the regular style.
Box grater....you still need the large holes for cheese! Just make sure it's metal and dishwasher safe.
Garlic press...Zyliss makes one that is the bomb.
Garlic chopper. This is one of those things that look like it would not work, but it does. It's this flat cylinder thing and you whop the garlic gloves with it to remove the skin. Then open it and drop the cloves in and twist it to move the little cutter fingers to chop it. You get decent minced garlic fast. Now a good chef with a knife can get by, but with the home guy, this saves time.
Mango slicer. Yup.....it looks like an apple wedger only made for a mango.....only OXO makes it, but I use it all the time and it works!
Whisks.....all sizes and shapes. I use the standard one, but I also have this one that is a weird flat spring that gets into the corners of the pans nicely.
Mortar and pestle! Bigger is better....I bought one in Korea than can pound multiple heads of garlic, but is awesome on spices too.
Mexican Lime or Lemon juicer.....the turned inside out peels look good in a batch of lemon/limeade....or sangria!
I also have a citrus juicer that sits on top of it's own measuring cup so you can juice limes, lemon or oranges and measure at the same time.
Zyliss rotary grater......makes mounds of parmesan cheese in seconds! Works like a microplane, but faster.
The OXO "i" series peeler.....sharp....ultra sharp and peels tomatoes nicely too! You can get replaceable blades too.
Fine and course sieves........straining is key to good sauces and gravies.
Speaking of gravy.....the gravy separator from OXO is nice too. It has a strainer on top and a plug for the spout to keep the grease out before separation.
Instant thermometer! Man I can't believe no one said that either. I use a digital one. The Thermapen is the Rolls Royce, but I haven't gotten one.....yet..... I also have one that sits on the counter with a remote probe for the oven....also a must have for roasts and things like that. Whatever thermometer you get, if it has a clip for the side of a pan, it's instantly more usable!
Bench Knife (some call it a bench scraper)......must have for baking, but also excellent for transferring things from the cutting board. Mine is stainless steel, but I also have a plastic one from Pampered Chef that has a nice "S" curve to it and one side has a squeegee built in. If you only have one, get the stainless steel....it's stronger and can be used to cut things.
Apple corer.....cores apples, but also pears, tomatoes, kohlrabi, onions, etc....
Apple Wedger.....it works and you can get one from the dollar store. If you have the apple corer and a good knife, you don't really need this, but it's faster.
Waiter corkscrew gadget.....includes the foil cutter and cork screw device....haven't met a bottle yet it didn't work on. Plus you can open beers, juice cans, etc.....no need for a "church key" device with this.
Citrus Peeler...yeah yeah....they cost 50 cents, but they are the bomb for peeling an orange and some have a little device that will peel long strips of zest too.
Food Mill.....works as a ricer, but also has the different size holes so you can make everything from baby food to apple sauce. Don't waste money on the expensive metal ones.....here is a secret....go to K-Mart and get the one marketed by Martha Stewart is actually the same one made by Moulinex....the same people who have made them for years and years. It's plastic so it's lighter, but it's strong and for $15 it's better than the $90 ones!
Mandolins.....wow....what a fun tool! Inherent danger lurking! Well you can get by with a super sharp small Japanese one, but I like the big ones....the one made by Bron is awesome, but expensive so I just have the one Pampered Chef put out which is really by Leifheit. It works. I think Zyliss makes one that works decent too.
French Fry Cutter....laugh if you want, but home made fries are 100% better than Ore-Ida! And you can french fry sweet potatoes, yams, purple potatoes, carrots, etc. You can also run things through there and then line up the batons and cut them into perfect dice! Hash browns here I come!
Melon Baller....not just for melons! It's great for scooping out the innards of tomatoes, kohlrabi, apples, etc....also makes neat round butter balls!
Tea Infuser....yeah, works for tea....but also your bouquet garni and simmering spices if they aren't whole this mesh thing keeps them in place.
Spatulas.....you need a bunch cause I'm always melting or blending them! Ha Ha...
Egg Slicer....buy a good one...cheap ones break the wires easy. You can do eggs, but also mushrooms, strawberries, and fresh mozzarella for pizza!
Scale....electronic and precise to 1/8th....a must for baking!
Timer.....what can I say....of course electronic is nicer.
Salad Spinner......awesome for greens, but also berries, herbs, pasta (larger types) etc....OXO reins supreme here.
Oil Mister....like PAM, but refillable and you can put what you want in it!
Pastry Brush.....brush oil on anything! Coat the chicken before putting a rub on it, wet pasta before sealing for ravioli, oiling filo dough, etc....
Silicone pastry mat...nothing sticks and when you are making pizza dough, it's great for rolling out!
Speaking of rolling.....a good rolling pin is nice.....Don't waste money on really fancy ones... the French just use the pastry stick and it's wood and works!
Funnels.....all kinds of uses here. Some even have strainers built in which is nice.
Vegetable brush...simple I know, but if you buy local from the farmer's market...it's going to have dirt! Also good for getting the silk off corn.
Splatter screen.....good to keep the grease off the stove from sauteing, but if it's strong enough you can use it to hold the food in the pan while you drain it.
Oh, and if that doesn't work, the pot strainer does! Buy large!!!! It took me awhile to find a large one to go on the stock pot. Mine has handles at each end which is nice when you are muscling a huge 12" cast iron frying pan full of food and need to strain the grease or juices!
Pineapple corer/slicer....weird, but cool for making fresh pineapple slices! or even wedges after you line up the slices and cut them.
Pizza Piel....lifts large objects into or out of the oven....pizzas, breads...etc.
Pizza cutter....just get the kind with the wheel and get a large one! About a 3" blade or larger is nice because it doesn't stick as easy to the cheese as the smaller 2" or less size. Stay away from the large knife type...the don't work as good and usually fall short on a larger pizza. A pizza cutter can also double as a dough cutter for pasta or pie crusts!
Skinny measuring spoons....I got mine from the Baker's Catalog (King Arthur Flour) but you can find them around. They are nice because they are long and skinny so they get into the spice jars nicely! Ever try to fit a regular tablespoon measure into a spice jar? Doesn't fit. They are metal so they can be washed in the dish washer and are strong so you can level off heavy things like brown sugar or peanut butter easily.
Butter Keeper.....only for home use since it doesn't travel, but you take a stick of butter at room temperature and mash it onto this bell shaped lid. Then you fill the reservoir with water and put the bell lid down in it. The water seals out the air and you can keep your butter at room temperature to spread on things or scoop a pat for the skillet. It works and I love mine!!!!!
Measuring cups.....if you only get one, then make it the two cup Pyrex glass....it will last forever and serve most applications well. Besides, they are $2....can't go wrong there.
Food Grinder....yup....not only can you grind you own meats (hence...gourmet!) but you can also grind on the course plates vegetables for your soup mire poi! If you are making a lot of soup (gallons) this is easier than chopping everything by hand. And, bonus, buy the sausage stuffing horn and you have the basics for making home sausages! If you are serious, then go electric.....it's worth it if you use it a lot.
Ice Cream Spade....get the type with the antifreeze in the handle....if cuts through hard ice cream nicely and slides right off. Now if you are a perfectionist or are using ice cream cones, then nothing beats the old fashioned ice cream scoop that scoops a ball of ice cream and then you flick the lever to release it...but buyer beware....do not get any with any kind of plastic....get 100% metal everything including the gears, because premium ice creams are hard when frozen solid and it's hard enough to scoop much less release the ball of ice cream. Bonus use.....portioning things in small quantities like batters for cupcakes or corn muffins or making perfect large cookies!
I think that's enough for now....I'm sure there are many other "must haves" lurking in my kitchen....

Now, things that don't work!

Oh boy, I've had my share.....some of the one's I remember....
Garlic slicer.....too dull and a knife is faster...
Herb mincers.....I've tried them all....none work! I've used the roller kind, the hopper style you crank and tested the Chef'n herb spinner/slicer...none work without making an herb paste. Use a knife or scissors.
Food chopper...the kind you put things under and then pound on the handle on top. It sort of works on harder things like nuts or onions, but it's inconsistent and things like garlic never really get small enough to make a difference...I have one, but haven't hardly used it. Zyliss makes the better model because it opens up easy for cleaning.
Avocado Slicer....sometimes it works (the hoop kind...forget the curvy knife style), but only well if the avocado is the right size....just use a knife and spoon.
Alligator chopper....it's sort of a variation on the french fryer. You open the top that is hinged, place an onion or potato in there and press, but the angle is weird and the device is flimsy. You don't get the results "as seen on TV", that's for sure. It also clogs up.
Salad Shooter.....sometimes works, but most of the time you can get faster results with a knife or mandolin. It can grate a lot of cheese, but there are better devices for that out there.
Tomato slicer....looks like a multi-bladed saw.....kind of works, but a sharp nice is cleaner and does a better job without mashing the tomato down.
I know there are more....I've just blocked them out of my mind (not to mention pawned them off in yard sales for someone else's misery!).

O.K. I'll stop....what can I say....I'm drawn to shiny kitchen gadgets and appliances!!!!! Ha Ha....

Last thing....I can't believe I forgot to say congratulations on (now over) 100 episodes!!!!!! Woo Hoo...and they get better and better!!! Keep up the good work!!!!! Later......

Shawn Dreelin
Glen Allen, VA, USA

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