Tools, foods, cookware, tableware – all the things we love for the kitchen and table.
Fans of ceramic knives, rejoice! There is now an electric sharpener for these handy, lightweight knives that hones the blades to a super-sharp 15° edge.
I tested the sharpener on my three favorite ceramic knives, all of which, until now, I’ve used sparingly in order to preserve their edges for when I really need them. After less than a minute of sharpening, the edge of each knife felt sharper than when it was new.
The Chef’s Choice Ceramic + Steel Knife Sharpener 700 isn’t just for ceramic knives. It will put the same keen edge on all knives, including steel and serrated blades, and will work on any size knife from pocket knives to long slicing blades. Lightweight, easy to handle, and easy to use, it will keep all of your knives, ceramic and steel, sharp and ready for when you need them.
About the time that my ancient countertop blender gave up the ghost, a friend offered me her never-used Cuisinart immersion blender. My old blender didn’t really plow through the solids in a vigorous fashion and it had to be cleaned by hand. Now, having the Cuisinart Smart Stick, I may not need to replace it.
The Smart Stick is rugged and powerful with a 200-watt motor. And a 5 foot cord. It churns through most anything you’d want to blend, to turning out great smoothies, soups and purees. The rotor part detaches and can go right into the dishwasher. And at under $40, it won’t emulsify your budget.
It’s easy to be intimidated by modern gastronomic technique. After all, how many everyday cooks use foam, or thickening powders made out of kelp extract? Can you remember the last time you went to someone’s home and saw them plating pasta with surgical tongs or using borosilicate beakers to gently heat and mix emulsions?
The reality is that, much like the world of high fashion, modernist cooking trends, techniques, and equipment trickle down and become increasingly more approachable as they simultaneously become more affordable. This is particularly true when it comes to the preparation method known as sous vide.
Sous vide, which translated from French means “under vacuum,” is a method by which food (typically protein) is vacuum-sealed in a heatproof plastic bag and cooked in a temperature-controlled environment, which these days means a water bath. In the past, sous vide was a method of preparation reserved for chefs in modern kitchens, as the equipment was large, finicky, and prohibitively expensive. Equipment is now much cheaper and smaller than it was, and sous vide machines have been reduced to compact “circulators” which can easily clip onto the side of a pot or other heatproof vessel.
Why would you want to cook this way? Because sous vide cooking gives unparalleled control. Imagine a time you’ve cooked a steak on the grill only to discover that the outside is charred while the inside is still raw. Sous vide does away with this by gently cooking your food to a level of predetermined doneness. If your end goal is to cook a 5 cm (2-inch) thick ribeye to a perfect medium-rare, sous vide would allow you to cook it to that point simply by cooking it at a specific temperature for a specific amount of time, eliminating worry about overcooking or undercooking. Once the food is cooked to the desired temperature, it can be quickly grilled or seared to brown the exterior.
There are now a number of sous vide products on the market, ranging from old-school (but updated) water baths to circulators. It’s that last category that is the most economical and also the easiest to use. Plus you don’t actually need a vacuum sealer to cook things sous vide: simply season your food, place it into a ziplock bag, and slowly lower the bag into a pot of unheated water. The pressure from the water will squeeze out the majority of the air and all you need to do is seal the bag right before it’s completely submerged. It’s not quite as good as using a vacuum sealer, but it’ll work fine if you don’t feel like buying another piece of equipment.
The Joule by ChefSteps is one of the newest sous vide circulators to enter the market, smaller and lighter than its competitors. It has a compact white design, wire clip, and low profile. It’s also substantially smaller than other circulators, in some cases less than half the size.
The Joule is quite simple to set up. The water-resistant circulator clips onto the side of a pot and is turned on by clicking a large metal button that sits at the very top of the device. The Joule’s base is also magnetized, allowing it to be used without needing to clip it in place.
The Joule is unlike other circulators in that it is operated entirely from ChefSteps’ accompanying app, and thus the device doesn’t feature a screen. The Joule’s app is, in fact, one of the major selling points of the device. The on-screen guide is easy to use and emphasizes visual instruction, and instructions are clearly laid out for each type of protein you might want to cook (currently the only vegetable featured is asparagus). The guides show you how your meat will appear depending on what combination of temperature and time you select, and the interface, which frequently incorporates video, is well designed and easy to use.
Perhaps most important, the device only takes a couple of minutes to set up. In my testing, connecting to wifi was easy and setting the temperature was simple. Multiple tests of the water temperature revealed occasional variations of less than half a degree. The Joule also requires very little water to be in your cooking vessel so the desired temperature is reached quickly. As long as you have enough water to cover up whatever you want to cook you’re good to go and in minutes flat.
The basic (and free) app that accompanies the circulator does a fine job, but if you want to go a little deeper than simply cooking a steak or a piece of salmon, ChefSteps also offers a separate premium service which for $39 unlocks a number of digital recipes, cooking classes, and “special offers.” This purchase isn’t necessary to cook sous vide, but it would give you directions for recipes like Korean-style bbq short ribs and foie gras torchon.
All in all the Joule is a compact, easy to use product which makes sous vide approachable and easy to understand.
Because I do a lot of food preservation, owning appliances like a dehydrator, a vacuum sealer, and a meat grinder seem perfectly reasonable to me. I don’t mind the counter space lost by these infrequently-used items, and each has already paid for itself in however long I’ve owned it. But what if I were a parent with young children, or a cook interested in the truly “from scratch” experience? Is owning a dehydrator good for more than making the occasional banana chip?
While I can think of many kitchen appliances more immediately useful to, say, the novice cook, the Excalibur dehydrator manages to make a pretty convincing case for itself – if you happen to be in the market for one. No longer relegated to the jerky-making set exclusively and freeing up oven space, this easy to assemble, easier to use dehydrator has loads of potential for use in the home kitchen.
Outfitted with Excalibur’s nine-tray model with timer, and new stainless steel racks that they generously provided to replace the plastic ones that come standard, I set myself to the task of dehydrating a variety of items that would be useful to the slightly ambitious home cook. I dried blueberries, strawberries and cherries, zucchini noodles and sliced apples and pears. Vegetables, too, drying bell peppers and leeks for adding to casseroles and soups. All were good, easy to make, and have stored excellently in their tiny packages, but my favorites are the “sun-dried” tomatoes and a variety of fruit leathers. The fruit leather (fruit roll-ups if you’re a child) is especially fun and has infinite possibilities. The apple-cinnamon variety is a standard flavor, but I’ve also tried mixing in beets and blackberries with great results.
The large body of the dehydrator takes up a good bit of counter space, so I installed it on a small table close to an outlet that the four-foot cord could reach. While the dehydrator is rather boxy and large, it’s thankfully simple in construction and requires almost no set-up. The fan is mounted in the back, rather than at the bottom as in some dehydrators, so air circulates well. The door comes completely off and the racks are generously sized and easy to slide in and out. My only complaint is the somewhat narrow space between the racks, but this is only a problem if you’re drying bulky items like tomato halves. If so, it becomes necessary to remove every other tray, leaving you with five to work with. This can become a problem if you have a large amount of food to dehydrate, and is why I’d recommend going with no smaller than a seven-tray model.
The stainless steel racks are lovely, well-constructed, and fit easily into a standard size dishwasher for easy cleaning. Having used the plastic ones in the past I can’t say that there’s a definitive advantage of one over the other, but I do like that the stainless ones are one piece, whereas the plastic ones are in two. Because each type is perforated, it’s necessary to use parchment paper or Silpats (non-stick silicone mats) when dehydrating liquids, and Excalibur offers specially-sized mats for that purpose. Silpats are slightly long to fit lengthwise or sideways, but as long as the liquid you’re dehydrating isn’t too fluid, a bend in the Silpat shouldn’t matter.
It’s debatable whether the timer is a necessity. On one hand, I find it useful to keep track of how long something has been drying because I’m not great about keeping notes; on the other I find that I still have to check back fairly often once the food is close to done – it is possible to over-dry. Even with the help of Excalibur’s guide and cookbook that comes with the unit, simple things like the humidity and temperature levels in your house, the water content of the particular food you’re drying, and the quantity of items being dried can vary the times dramatically. I found myself removing tomato halves as they became dried and leaving a few in the unit to dry longer. Food at the top and bottom of the unit also dry a little slower, so it became necessary for me to rotate trays once near the end of the drying period, but the dryness across individual trays was uniform.
Wüsthof makes a wide range of attractive, durable knives, and one of my favorites is the Wüsthof 16 cm (6-inch) IKON Blackwood Utility Knife. Made in Solingen, Germany, from a single piece of forged high-carbon stainless steel, the IKON Blackwood gets its name in part because of its handle of attractive, durable African Blackwood (also known as Grenadill). Fastened by 3 metal rivets, the IKON Blackwood features a half bolster, allowing the entire length of the blade to be sharpened, and a full metal heel bolster, which aids with balance.
The 16 cm (6-inch) blade is a particularly nice size. It’s smaller and lighter than a chef’s knife, making it a nice choice for a variety of kitchen tasks, but more substantial than a paring knife. Testing the knife on carrots, onions, herbs, and peppers revealed that the IKON Blackwood is also nicely balanced, the handle feeling sturdy in the hand without being cumbersome.
A new item in my kitchen about which I cannot speak highly enough is a simple one. It is a stylish piece of stainless steel, unassuming and aesthetically pleasing. Its purpose is to crush garlic. It requires the palms of one’s hands and a rocking motion. That is all.
For me, the most appealing aspect of this garlic press, besides its slick appearance, is the fact that I can crush garlic quickly and remove it from the press quickly. I don’t need to dig my fingernails into the mashed garlic pulp to remove it. This usually stings my fingertips. Unlike others I have owned, this press is easy to clean. After scraping off the garlic bits that have pushed up through the small holes, I simply run it under hot water and it’s ready for another use.
The Joseph Joseph Garlic Rocker is affordable and worth every penny. It takes up about the same space as a soup spoon. It’s smooth to the touch and it’s satisfying to use.
The Smoking Gun handheld food smoker from Polyscience might, at first glance, seem like yet another hifalutin’ gastronomic gadget. The reality, though, is that this small, incredibly easy to use handheld device provides a method of food preparation that is unattainable in virtually any other way. Powered by four AA batteries and operated using a single switch, The Smoking Gun provides a simple method for adding natural smoked flavor to any food or beverage. Simply fill the mesh-lined hole bored into the barrel with your aromatic of choice, light using a match or lighter, and use the detachable hose to pipe cold, fragrant smoke into a cling-wrap covered vessel. The lack of heat means that no additional cooking will occur and only a few short minutes of exposure is enough to imbue your food or drinks with added flavor, whether they are fish, meat, cheese, salad, or even mixed drinks.
A kitchen timer is not typically an item I associate with smiling. This item is usually a nondescript piece of plastic with a knob and some numbers. However, I have found a kitchen timer that makes me smile.
“Piggy,” a 60-minute kitchen timer in the shape of a small, round pig, makes timing one’s cooking more fun. It’s functional, it has personality, and if you really love it, you can surround it with others of its kind – items from the Piggy Wiggy Collection by JOIE MSC International. (These include sink strainers, grips, mini fry pans, and spatulas.)
Since this timer is not a toy and is not meant for children, it may be necessary to keep it out of reach of them. The other day when my Piggy timer went missing, I found it among my six year-old daughter’s toys. “I’m sorry, sweetie, that is my plastic pig, not yours.”
To operate this pig timer, hold the pig’s feet in one hand and twist the round body clockwise to 60 minutes and turn counterclockwise to set the desired cooking time.
Piggy is small and round and fits in the palm of the hand.
Spear an apple on the holder and crank away! In seconds you have a peeled, sliced and cored apple. I use this (okay, my husband uses this) every Thanksgiving for my famous apple crisp which requires 2.7 Kg (6 pounds) of apples to feed the hordes. I have a White Mountain brand, though this Victorio looks close.
An important tool I use all the time in my kitchen is an industrial-strength ruler, 2-inches wide by 24 inches long. I use it all the time to develop recipes that are exacting, and also to follow recipes that call for doughs to be a certain length or size. All of which ensure I have good results.
The more accurate, the better, I say!
I love this stainless steel pot strainer, but I love it for reasons unrelated to its advertised utility.
It’s perfect for making spaetzle. It makes a platform on which to put dough that you can then press through the holes — which are just the right size for spaetzle — and it can rest on the rim of the pot if your hand gets tired. It makes an excellent spoon rest on the edge of a pot; any drips go back into the pot.
Of course it can also be used as a strainer to drain water from a pot, and, because it has a short lip along the outside curve on both the top and bottom sides, it’s handy for either a right- or left-handed cook.
Frywall is a heat-resistant silicone shield that can be placed in a frying pan to prevent splatters.
Available in 10-inch or 12-inch sizes, each size will actually fit pans that are approximately that diameter.
Packaged rolled-up in a small sleeve, the 12-inch size seemed disconcertingly large and floppy when I first unfurled it. I set it aside for the next time I was going to use my skillet, and set to work making a tomato sauce that had to be cooked uncovered until reduced and thickened.
As usual, the sauce began to gurgle menacingly, then bubble, then spit. As I wiped up the first ugly spatters from my stove, I wondered if the Frywall would fit into the wide pan of sauce. It did, fitting firmly and perfectly, and not another drop of sauce landed anywhere but on the inside of the Frywall. The sauce reduced exactly as it always has. Genius! I recommend it highly.
I have the 250 ml (1 cup) and 500 ml (2 cup) versions and love the ability to accurately measure liquids while viewing from above – no stooping necessary!
Set includes 1-cup, 2-cup and 4-cup version
This generously-sized tool does a nice job of both mincing and slicing. Made of cast zinc, it is easy to clean, and includes a self-storing cleaning tool.