Kitchen Gadgets - you either love them or hate them. They can be indispensable to you or they can be so cheaply made that they fall apart on the first use or run through the dishwasher. I personally have a drawer full and had to recently cull a bunch of them as I was running out of space.
Almost every foodie I know has the same problem. It’s an addiction. We walk through a cooking store and see all these neat little gadgets and imagine all the delicious foods we can prepare with them or some little problem they may solve. Don’t get me wrong, I do the same thing so I’m not casting any stones.
Sometimes though, you find a few gadgets or tools that you can’t live without and wonder why you didn’t get them sooner. I’m going share a short list of a few items that I find irreplaceable in the kitchen or soon hope too.
I know what you are thinking, “Do I really need a zester or micro plane?” I don’t know about you, but I use mine all the time. So many dishes rely on the zest of citrus to add a punch of flavor. Pasta dishes are so much better when you have some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on them and you can shave it right over the plate with a micro plane. These little tools are so handy but can be a bit of a pain to clean. Here’s a hint, a pastry brush works wonders at cleaning those nooks and crannies.
Half sheet pans (also known as cookie sheets) are as essential to a cook as a frying pan or a good knife. You can use them to oven roast vegetables, bake cookies or marinate meats. I have two half sheet pans and four full sheet pans and use them four or five times a week with dinner preparation. By having several of these pans, it’s easy to keep the cookie production moving during the holiday bake-a-thon.
Every cook should have their own knives. I’m not recommending a brand here but please buy good knives. Good knives, when properly maintained, can be used indefinitely. I have a Chef’s knife that is over 25 years old and I still use it routinely. A medium sized utility knife, slightly larger than a paring knife but smaller than a Chef’s knife, will handle 60 to 70% of your cutting needs.
I can’t say enough about cast iron skillets. In this age of non-stick pans (and I have a few of those also), I can’t imagine living without my cast iron. I have three of various sizes and use them for searing steaks and roasts, pan frying chicken and fish, caramelizing vegetables and baking corn bread.
Cast iron, like good knives, will last forever if you season them and care for them properly. Two of my skillets were purchased at an estate sale for a few dollars and continue to serve me well over 20 years later. If you are new to cast iron, I suggest reading up on the seasoning and care of these pans otherwise you are just throwing money down the drain.
I’m talking about smaller versions of the wood handled kitchen tools with the rubber or silicone ends, not the metal or plastic tools used to flip eggs or pancakes. Mini-spatulas are extremely handy if you are doing small batches of things like smoothies, scrambling eggs for one, or icing cupcakes. They are typically sold in packages of two or three and are dishwasher safe. I have a few and use them quite often.
A boning knife has a long, flexible, razor sharp blade. It is my go-to knife for dismantling a roasted chicken, deboning a pork shoulder or fish, or segmenting oranges or grapefruit for medallions. This knife will also last a lifetime with a bit of care and proper sharpening.
Before you roll your eyes at me, I’m not talking about the small metal tools that your grandmother had from the 1960’s. Those handles hurt my hands and the blades were floppy and could do more damage to your fingers than the potato you were peeling. I’m talking about the newer versions with large, comfortable, rubberized grips. I can peel all my vegetables for dinner in literally no time and without slicing my fingers. I also use the peeler to cut strips of zest off citrus for my cocktails.
(I had to throw this in.) A sous vide machine is basically a small precision water heater with recirculating capabilities. I know, “Why do I need one of these?”. Well, sous vide is all the rage in cooking right now. It allows for very precise temperature control and even cooking without drying out or burning your food. I personally don’t have one of these yet, but my birthday is this weekend. I have used one before and love the technique.
I’m a food gadget junkie and I admit it. Gadgets can be useful time savers or they can take up value space and waste your money. Before you walk out of the home goods department, ask yourself if you really need that garlic press or the silicon pot lid lifters in the shape of a pig? And yes, I have some of those too.
I’m not going to leave you empty handed this week. With all this talk about kitchen gadgets, I’m going to share a recipe that uses three of the gadgets I mentioned above. Oven roasted carrots and parsnips are one of our favorites and uses the half pans, vegetable peeler and utility knife.
Live, Laugh, Love and Eat Well.
Serves 3 to 4
Prep and baking time about 40 minutes
Preheat your oven to 425 F and peel the carrots and parsnips. Cut the carrots into sticks about ¼ inch square and 2 to 3 inches long (depending on the size of the carrots). Transfer to a large bowl.
Remove the center core from the parsnips, then cut them into sticks about the same size as the carrots. If they are not the same size as the carrots, the larger ones will not cook completely or the small ones will burn to a crisp. Transfer the parsnips to the bowl with the carrots.
Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and toss to coat them evenly. Transfer vegetables to a half pan and sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Use a frying spatula to flip the vegetables and bake for an additional 12 to 15 minutes or until done. We like the vegetables to have the texture of baked French fries, so you may also want to broil them for a short time at the end to give them a bit of crunch.