To budding chefs, cooking shows like Chopped, Iron Chef, The Barefoot Contessa and Everyday Italian are a source of inspiration and excitement. Who wouldn’t want to have the culinary acumen to turn sea urchins, rhubarb and cough drops into a delicious, restaurant-quality dessert?
But as much as they would like to transfer what they learn from those TV shows into their own kitchens, these hopeful cooks can be stymied by the dizzying array of kitchen gadgets and doo-dads those TV chefs always seem to have at hand.
I mean, seriously, a soft serve ice cream maker? Not exactly something you’ll find in every home. But before you start shopping for a liquid nitrogen vendor, consider these more moderate kitchen gadgets that can make your dishes easier, tastier and more fun to create:
This isn’t for strumming some music while you cook (that would be a mandolin — drop the e); a mandoline is a kitchen tool for slicing food very thinly or in patterns. With different blade inserts, you can julienne carrots, crinkle-cut your own french fries or just create super-thin radish slices.
Spiral apple peeler/corer/slicer
This single device can resemble either an industrial tool or a frightening instrument of medieval torture, but the only things it tortures are apples. Impale the apple on the spindles and turn the crank, and the tool will spiral slice it, cut out the core and peel it all at the same time. The gadget usually comes with multiple crankshafts that allow you to adjust the thickness of the cut, and parts can be moved away so that you can slice and core without peeling, or peel without slicing and coring.
If you make apple pie, apple crisp, apple cobbler or any other apple-based dessert, this tool is a fun and safe addition to your cooking arsenal.
It’s counterintuitive but true: sharp knives are safer than dull ones. A sharp knife will slice through a piece of food without very much pressure, and it isn’t likely to slip when you cut something hard or smooth. A dull knife, on the other hand, will require more pressure and will be more likely to slip — which is bad news for fingers.
Keep your knives (and scissors and pizza cutter) sharp with a good tool sharpener.
TV chefs never use boxed pasta, and neither should you. Making your own pasta gives you the opportunity to include non-traditional ingredients, from jalapeños to squid ink. But to do that, you need to find yourself a good recipe and get yourself a pasta maker to flatten and slice the dough.
There’s nothing quite like fresh ingredients in your culinary creations, and this handy (and inexpensive) tool will help you bring that freshness to your cooking. Based on the design of a workshop rasp, a microplane grater is the tool of choice for grating fresh, hard spices — nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and the like — into a recipe. It’s also used for zesting lemons, limes and oranges and other citrus fruits.
The variety of kitchen gadgets, gewgaws and gizmos is virtually endless. If you’ve got the money, it’s easy to go off the deep end and stock your kitchen with wacky tools you’ll never use. As a general rule, don’t buy a new tool unless and until you have a specific purpose in mind for it. And try not to forget what tools you have; they tend to “disappear” into the dark recesses of kitchen drawers and cabinets.