Consumers say they’re the best thing since sliced bread—and some can even be used to slice bread! In the modern world of kitchen gadgets, the sky’s the limit and efficiency rules when it comes to saving time and steps in getting delicious, healthy meals on the table. The following tools can make life easier, and should be in every kitchen. But first, a look back at some of ancestral kitchen apparatuses.
In Victorian times, a woman rarely strayed from the hearth, or if she did, she often had servants to keep the proverbial home fires burning. It could take all day using rudimentary tools to prepare food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with items that included toasting irons (somewhat unreliable precursors to the toaster), and a fruit and lard press—called a multitasker by culinary historians in that, with a little elbow grease, it not only extracted juice from fruit for preserves, but also oil from cracklings in rendered lard. Or how about spending an afternoon with a corrosive combination of bath brick and emery powder used to scrub crusty knives—light years before the advent of rubber gloves?
Today’s products are thankfully much improved, sleek, efficient, and reliable, turning history’s tortuous kitchen prep into a streamlined, even fun, process. And if something helps you to easily prepare more budget-friendly meals at home, it’s worth the minimal investment. So what are some of these modern marvels?
- Mandolin Slicer
Martha Stewart swears by mandolins, and any home cook who gets her hands on one will find there’s nothing easier. Their sharp, fine cutting blades make the tasks of julienning carrots for salads or making paper-thin slices of onions a breeze, with tears a distant memory. It works as food slides along the two parallel working surfaces until it makes contact with an adjustable blade (be sure to always use the accompanying veggie holder/guide to avoid cutting fingers and knuckles). These precision slices are unattainable with a knife. You can turn out stir-fries, toppings for tacos, and homemade potato chips in record time. Mandolins are easy to clean (just rinse) and priced anywhere from $10 to $100.
- Hand Held Julienne Peeler
These handy gadgets transform carrots, zucchini, potatoes — you name it — into neat julienne slices with no fuss. Just rake it across the veggie to get even uniform slices. “Spiralizers” are hot right now (they spiral slice your veggies into thin spaghetti-like ribbons) but they’re also bulky. This fits right into a drawer and does a great job. $10.
- Immersion Blender
A time and space-saving tool, and a favorite of chefs like Emeril Lagasse, the immersion blender makes whipping up soups, smoothies, and vegetable and fruit purees fast and fun. Just immerse in a pot of steamed vegetables with a little stock and cream, season to taste, and with a flick of a switch, you have a supreme gourmet soup in about 30 seconds. They are great for making meals for those who need their nutrition in liquid form without having to lug out a bulky blender — you can puree right in the same pot you cooked in. Clean-up is easy, and costs range from between $15 and $500.
- Food Processor
A relative newcomer to the kitchen scene, the food processor made its debut in commercial kitchens in 1960, and then into most North American homes in 1973, thanks to a company named Cuisinart. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just learning how to cook, a food processor is must-have, as they can tackle just about anything that no blender can (think smooth hummus). With interchangeable blades, they do super-efficient work without the necessity of added liquids (unlike blenders). They come in different capacities, from large (7-16 cups), to small (1 to 5 cups), and turn hours of cutting, chopping, grinding, and other tedious tasks into minute-long magic. Many can even tackle bread dough, but if counter space is an issue, you might consider one with a smaller capacity that tucks neatly away. Homemade pestos, grated cheese, chopped garlic, nut butters — and hundreds of other heavenly concoctions — are just a few pulses away. Look for one that’s sturdy, with a wide feed tube. Clean up is a little more challenging due to their many parts, but most all pieces are all dishwasher safe. Depending on size, prices range from $20 to $200.
Great for the minimalist cook, this 5-in-1 kitchen utensil saves time and space (for all those clutterbugs out there!) by multitasking as a slotted spoon, solid spoon (turn it over and use the opposite end), cutting tool, spatula, and turning utensil. Usually made from durable nylon, it’s dishwasher safe and tucks neatly in a drawer. No sharp edges and under $10.
It’s possible Ina Garten, the celebrated Barefoot Contessa of TV and cookbook fame, said it best, though: The most perfect kitchen tool is a pair of clean hands!