Saturday, February 7, 2009

Inspecting Gadgets

On Saturday mornings that I don't go to the aquarium, I can be a bit lazy. I tend to sit around putting off drying my hair while drinking coffee and reading the online edition of the New York Times. Then I sit in front of the computer a little while longer, killing time on Facebook while hoping Chet and Lorraine show up on Skype so I can call them. The one moment of activity in this hour and a half or so of laziness involves going down to the kitchen to actually make said coffee.

My kitchen: my favorite room in our house.

I don't buy coffee that has already been ground, so I am always jolted awake by the sound of my little electric coffee grinder. This morning, I happened to start thinking about how much I love that grinder, and by association other little odds and ends in my kitchen. it is, a list of my favorite everyday kitchen gadgets. This is mainly little stuff - although I love the KitchenAide mixer, it doesn't make this list. These are things I use almost every day. (Ignore the sub par photography - as I said, this was a lazy Saturday morning. I made these black and white in hopes that they'd look a little better.)

#1: Coffee Grinder and French Press

You can have one without the other, but why bother? Freshly ground coffee is always more flavorful, and coffee made in a French press is to die for. I actually asked my mom to buy me a French press as a gift about six or seven years ago after seeing an episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy where Ted Allen informed that week's makeover that after-dinner coffee made in a French press was not only super-tasty but looks sophisticated and impresses people. I don't often pull the press out for entertaining, but it is perfect for making one or two cups of morning coffee. And when I have to use my drip coffee maker and make a whole pot, I still grind the beans with my trusty grinder, purchased at the same time as the press.

#2: Kitchen Shears

My kitchen shears came with my first set of knives (a Chicago Cutlery set in a wooden block - thanks, mom!) which I think I got when I moved into my first apartment. Those knives went by the wayside over the years (I moved on to Henkels and am hoping to drastically increase my income so I can continue to advance along the cutlery ladder) but I kept the brown plastic kitchen shears. Until I got these - and for a year or two after - I cut everything with a knife. It wasn't until later that I discovered how much easier it is to snip fresh herbs with a pair of shears. I aslo use them sometimes to cut - rather than chop - bacon if I need small pieces for a pizza topping, etc. I use them all the time. Hopefully whoeve bought my old knife set at Goodwill doesn't notice the empty whole in the front of the block where these used to reside.

#3: Zester

This little and inconspicuous-looking tool is a lifesaver. It wasn't until I graduated from cooking receipes out of the Betty Crocker Cookbook that I realized how many recipes called for lemon zest. This zester, picked up as an impulse purchase either at IKEA or at Cost Plus World Market in A2, allows me to make fine little ribbons of lemon peel to brighten the flavor of any dish.

#4: Mini-Chopper

My little, tiny 1980's Back & Decker mini-chopper might be my all-time favorite kitchen gadget. First of all, it came from one of Aunt Susan's ladies weekend giveaways. It was the first real kitchen gadget I actually owned. Aunt Missy is the one who put the idea of a mini-chopper into my head by introducing me to pesto (I can not believe there was ever a time I did not eat pesto) and telling me you could make it yourself. So when this little guy appeared in Aunt Susan's giveaway pile, a lightbulb went off in my head. I snapped it up and made my first batch of homemade pesto later that summer with a whole bunch of store-bought basil. Now I make pesto with basil I grow myself, along with herb pastes to rub under the skins of chickens, small batches of salad dressing, and more. The blades still chop as well as they ever did. I will use this mini-chopper until it chops no more, and I will be incredibly sad the day I am forced to buy a shiny new one.

#5: Wine Key

I can not open wine with anything other than a waiter's corkscrew, or wine key. I have tried using those fancy openers that are supposed to be easier and end up getting very confused. I started opening wine when I got my first fine-dining job at the Gandy Dancer in Ann Arbor. We did not employ a sommolier and opened our own wine tableside, which was slightly nerve-wracking the first few times. We all had our own wine keys - you could never find one when you neeeded one if you didn't because they kept getting stolen. I had a habit of keeping mine in my purse, which was bad news the first time I took a post-911 flight (confiscated AND had to do the whole search process thing). At the Earle we didn't open our own wine at the table, but we opened many bottles after. I have never bought a fancy wine opener because I think the waiter's corkscrew is the easiest and most direct way to open a bottle, and if it ain't broke, why fix it?

What kitchen implements can you not live without?


Jess said...

I've got a new one this year, a set of measuring bowls that I got this year for christmas. They're basically mini prep bowls with measurements inside. Pretty efficient...didn't use any measuring cups this year doing my baking.

Jessica Watkins said...

I don't have a french press. If the coffee is better, I must have it. I know what you mean about freshly ground. You won't catch me buying pre-ground coffee.

Alexis said...

I had a zester at one point, but I found it very nearly useless (yours is surely better). Now I just use a fine cheese grater, and I'd never use anything else.

My favorite kitchen gadget isn't so much a gadget: it's my best knife. Super sharp blade, stainless steel handle. For years I used a crappy kitchen knife I got at Kroger, and when I finally got a decent one (On sale at Marshall's! Woo!) I was amazed at what a difference it made in the ease and enjoyment of my cooking. I'm also looking forward to climbing up the cutlery ladder.

I could write sonnets for my mom's KitchenAid stand mixer, but alas, it is not mine.

Bobby G said...

Im dont cook....Im not patient enough, so muy Panasonic Microwave gets the nod here! its got senor cook, you open a frozen meal, slit the cover, and wait. the sensor waits for steam and then it adjust the cook time, perfectly cooked everytime! No stiring, no BS, just deliciousness!