Thursday, April 14, 2011

HuffPo: Spring Cleaning! 5 Kitchen Tools Every Gastronomista Needs... to Throw Away

Ah, Spring! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, our kitchen is...

A mess.

An overwhelming, drawer-bulging, disorganized mess. Our motto with food is often, "more is more," but when it comes to our kitchen, our cabinets overfloweth, and our anxiety groweth.

Thus we present to you a short guide to help other Gastronomistas separate the wheat from the chaff. We suggest you grab an Extra Large Hefty bag and get to tossing!

The Apple Slicer

We’ve got to hand it to this gizmo - it makes a pleasing sound when tossed backwards over our heads. Otherwise, we can’t see how this item is useful. When it’s new and sharp enough to actually cut through an apple, it will unfailingly leave you with at least 30% of the core. After 5 uses, though, it no longer even deigns to slice without prodigious elbow grease. Our advice? Pick up a knife. Or, hey, get a little wild - eat that apple whole!

The Rice Steamer

Ah, the Rice Steamer: a large, cumbersome, plastic device that takes up a lot of space and makes only rice. Guess what else is a rice steamer? A pot. A pot is also kind enough to agree to cook other things, from stews to pasta. Kick that rice steamer to the curb. Think of all of the cabinet space you'll free up for genuinely useful items.

The Tea Ball

This item is perfect for tea enthusiasts who love picking leaves out of their teeth. The concept is great, and we adore the lack of waste, but sadly, this item just never, ever works.

The Salad Spinner

We know we will incite the rage of many home chefs by insulting this item, but hear us out. Our kitchens just aren't that large. A Salad Spinner is. Use a colander and a kitchen towel to wash and dry your leaves, then reward yourself by buying a nice big salad bowl that you suddenly have storage space for.

The Egg Cracker

Cracking eggs! SO HARD, are we right? No... we're not. If you can't successfully crack an egg without a spring-loaded device, please, for the sake of us all, get out of the kitchen. Run, don't walk. The infomercial for this gizmo is very useful, though... for a laugh.


  1. Certainly keep the rice steamer, the tea ball and the salad spinner.

    A good rice steamer can steam dumplings and veg, slow-cook food while you are out of the house, and also hold rice at temperature for long periods of time. As rice in a pot does not stay warm long once it is ready, the ability to free up hob space right before service and hold your rice at serving temp is priceless. You can also use it to transport warm food (curries/stews) without loosing heat or needing extra kitchen equipment. Buy a good one and it becomes a great tool.

    The tea ball gets us away from commercial tea bags, which opens up a world of excellent teas from many cultural traditions. Explore fermented teas or young teas from around the world and make your own mixes in the ball. With many teas, it is the second and third steeping that produce the best beverage. By keeping the teas in the tea ball you can remove the tea from the steeping water (preventing bitterness due to over-steeping) and reuse the leaves to get the best flavours from your leaves while saving money. I like the spring-loaded ones that are in the shape of a quinnell/spoon; they work great! Check out the 'tea school' at the Canton Tea Co website for more about proper tea service.

    A salad spinner works perfectly for removing excess liquid from salad leaves without breaking them. This keeps the leaves green (as crushed and broken leaves brown quickly) and removes liquid that would be added to the dressing, making it lifeless and watery. In larger kitchens we use larger salad spinners, not colanders (which is a straining tool, not a drying one).

    To make space try hanging knives on magnetic mounts which keeps their tips from being damaged, frees up drawer space and makes them easily accessible. Hang your most used utensils and pans on wall-mounted racks for the same purpose. Get rid of the microwave, toaster ovens, bread makers, sandwich makers, herb chopping gadgets and anything that is taking space on your prep surface. Thin out plastic container/bag build up, unused plates and glasses, bin all your dried herbs, and store glass jars (for canning)out of the way when not in use.

    Just a few thoughts.

  2. Wow -- Ryan should have written the original article as his suggestions are right on.

  3. Ryan -

    Thanks for all the great space saving tips. I too love my magnetic knife mount - my knives look so sharp - har har har.

    Seems as though the debate comes down to two camps, those who have a rice cooker and never use it, and those love their rice cookers and who cook everything in the rice cooker (sometimes with out the need of a proper kitchen - dorm room style). For those who prefer the latter - cook on, rice lovers, cook on.

    Unfortunately in my 300 sqft apt, I don't have enough counter space for the thing (I can't give up my beloved toaster oven - for the love of melted pecorino on toast).

    It's an amazing day we live in - where there is a tool for everything. Some you need, some you're sold and never touch again. The beauty of it is, everyone can pick their tools of the trade.

    I, for one, regret buying that damn mango slicer.

  4. Dearest Ryan -
    Your comments ARE spot on - unfortunately, they just don't work in my world, and I know a good handful of people who share my predicament.

    Our knives are hung, our pots dangle from racks, and still, we are without the storage space to give to a tool as large as a rice cooker. When rice is not a daily staple in your diet - which I find is true for the average Western chef - and storage is at a minimum, this space hog is difficult to justify. For the multitude of uses you describe, my crock pot is a thousand times more valuable, and will also happily braise a lamb shank to perfection.

    As for the spinner, again, too large to justify, particularly when I can use the colander, sprayer, and gently remove excess water by dumping, shaking, dabbing my leaves on a large kitchen towel, which can then be reused for cleaning surfaces.

    I am an avid tea drinker, and despise the waste of a bag, but I have never owned a tea ball that has not leaked small particles of leaf. Tea leaves are delicate - they rarely survive packing, shipping, delivery, and shelf life without some bits breaking into fine particles, too fine for a tea ball.
    I solve this by using a small mesh strainer - one that I use for countless other things - rested atop my mug.

    I would like to clarify that I did not write this piece on mere speculation, but have actually owned, and disposed of, all of these gadgets (well, except for the EZ Egg Cracker. Ha!).

    Emma said it best - different strokes for different, er, chefs.

  5. Totally agree on the apple slicer and salad spinner but as an Asian person the idea that a rice cooker is a "waste of space" is absolutely laughable to me. Show me another appliance where I can spend five minutes in the morning throwing brown rice and millet and quinoa and mung beans and water into a receptacle and have hot, perfect, fluffy, healthy mixed rice waiting for me when I get home.

    As for the tea ball Ryan's comments are right on. My only beef with the tea balls is that they are far more expensive compared to the many other tea strainers/receptacles that are often sold in Asian markets for far less.

  6. Dear Gemma,

    I think this is a great discussion to have as most home kitchens have far too much useless kit in them. As you correctly point out, each cook/chef is going to work differently and have an affinity for specific tools. Each kitchen also has it's own limitations and even the beautiful ones are often poorly conceived.

    For me, the most important tip is to keep your entire work surface free from blenders, ovens, jars, etc.; just counter, that's all. Most home kitchens have small work surfaces...most home cooks want everything on their counters. The first thing that I do when working in a new kitchen is to move everything off the counter so I have space to cook; it's absolutely liberating.

    I hide my rice cooker (slow cooker) behind a door in a spare room and only pull it out when I need it. Often I cook the rice in the other room as well, as my home kitchen is ludicrously lilliputian and I like the smell of steamed rice wafting through the flat. My rice cooker is also a crock pot (or vice versa).

    I have never had any trouble with tea balls (mine is mesh), but then again, I don't mind a few leaves floating in my tea. I like to chew while I sip, but I also like chunky herbs in my dishes.

    I think that, as most cooks mature they start to get rid of the silly bits in their kitchens. Things like garlic crushers are irritating and smelly drawer-dwellers if you have good knife skills. Knowing what kit to keep and what kit to ditch is the mark of a mature chef.

    As with you, my comments are not based on speculation and my comment was not meant to demean your post. As both a chef and a blogger my intent is to contribute from my own experience with the hope of stimulating some discussion.

  7. As I peer into my kitchen cabinets, I have to say that I agree with Ms. Gray.
    Too many kitchen items that can do the same job!

  8. I just got a salad spinner! my life was incomplete without it!!! And I hate drying lettuce.


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