LOS ANGELES, April 6, 2013 ― We live in an age in which fully prepared meals can appear at our door with no more effort than a click. It is a time when time is valued over money and convenience often takes precedent over health when it comes to food. I understand the attraction. But I also believe in the rewards of self-sufficiency in the kitchen—those to the mind as well as the body. I’ve come up with a short list of what I’ve deemed the five most important tools in my kitchen. I firmly believe that these five gadgets are worth the investment and will not only improve your culinary prowess but they can help you improve your health:
1. A toaster oven
Sure, you can say it doesn’t exactly qualify as a gadget, but a toaster oven is definitely one of the most efficient, best time saving items in my entire kitchen. It can roast asparagus for two or crisp potatoes in short order—about half the time of a conventional oven on average, I’d estimate. Two scoops of cookie dough and I have an indulgence that is absolutely worth the calories, warm cookies for one in about 5 minutes. This time saving tool can also help save money. One of my favorite uses for the toaster oven is making my own pita crisps and reinvigorating packages of crackers and nuts that have wilted in the humid months.
2. A mandoline
Every budding cook should own a mandoline, an adjustable plane with a blade for slicing and julienning foods. Instead of pasta, try shaving zucchini — intriguing alternative to carb loading. A mandolin is perfect for handling hard vegetables like celery root and fennel. The cuts are even every time, the thickness simple to adjust and with a quick rinse its ready for another task.
3. A vacu vin wine saver
This gadget is obviously obsolete if you don’t drink wine but even if you are just a casual drinker, I recommend investing in this inexpensive wine preservation gadget. (In fact, the less you drink, the more you will appreciate this culinary toy.) A vacu vin is a vacuum pump that sucks the air out of a wine bottle, helping to slow the oxidation process. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed your wine breaking down when you try to enjoy the remainder of the bottle you opened the night before (I don’t know if you ever have wine left over…) but a vacu vin will slow that deterioration so greatly that you will be able to keep your open wine for days… even months for some wines. As a wine critic, I open a great deal of wine that isn’t immediately drunk. Using a vacu vin I’ve been able to preserve many bottles of red for up to 2 or 3 weeks, (Pinot Noir might be the exception. It tends not to survive). And with whites, I’ve accidentally saved an open bottle this way for 6 months!
4. An eclectic knife sharpener
I will say that this tool is not necessary if you are dedicated to caring for your knives, sharpening regularly (preferably with every use). But for those of us for whom knife sharpening is about as high a priority as polishing the silver, an electric knife sharpener is an outstanding investment. A sharp knife is actually a safe knife. It is when we allow our knives to dull that we most often get cut. A properly sharpened knife makes the quickest work of any chopping task. A recent present to myself, my three stage electric knife sharpener from Chef’s Choice allows me to get a very nice edge and even a polish at home by plugging in and running my knife through the machine’s three cycles every few months. (Of course, along with a knife sharpener should be the investment in a good chef’s knife and paring knife, at the very least.)
5. A Vitamix
The last is a gadget I once considered a fun plaything but now regard as the most indispensable tool in my kitchen. I’m talking about my Vitamix. If you want to eat for your health, get a Vitamix. If you’re having a baby, get a Vitamix. Kid with braces? Vitamix. Love smoothies? Vitamix… You get the idea. Not only is it great for making soups, purees, baby food, juices and salad dressings, it crushes ice, chops herbs and I even use it to make frozen yogurt.
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