They're bad for your kitchen, your wallet and the environment.
Someone once gave me a Spätzle maker. I used to live in Austria and love to cook, so it made for a lovely and thoughtful gift. I was excited. I even used it…once. I feel bad, but how often does anyone make Spätzle and can’t one do the same thing with a box grater and a little ingenuity?
There are a million ads offering the next best thing for your kitchen, and most of those items get tossed in a drawer and forgotten. Chances are, there is a long-established device that will meet your needs and more. Most often, this device is an 8-inch chef’s knife or your oven.
Here is a simple test:
1. How many tasks can this gizmo take on? If less than three from your usual repertoire, fuggedabowdit.
2. Will another tool do the job, and better and other chores to boot, and do you already own it? Probably, and if you don’t own one, you might want to get that multitalented tool instead of the brass-plated lychee peeler or the battery-powered Arbor Day cookie extruder.
3. How often do you actually attempt whatever this tool does, and honestly, how often would you use it if you had one? If you really need to make an apple pie to impress the in-laws at Thanksgiving, but will likely not make another until next November, a little extra time with a knife is probably a better investment than the $30 apple corer/peeler.
There are so many great tools that pass all these tests:
Food Processor: I use a 14-cup Cuisinart, and I use it a lot. With just the blades that come standard, I can grate 3 pounds of cheese, chop all the vegetables for a vat of stew, make a couple pounds of dough, and each in less than a minute. I use it to emulsify vinaigrettes, to blend smoothies, to sift dry ingredients, to puree hot soup, to chop fresh herbs or nuts (or both at the same time for pesto), to turn a stale roll into breadcrumbs, to make sauces smooth, and for just about any job that involves bulk prep work.
Stir-Fry Pan: I use my Joyce Chen stir-fry pan for just about everything. from (potato leek) soup to (candied) nuts. I use it to make omelets, crepes, scrambles, pancakes, Hollandaise sauce, bacon, sausage, hash and boiled eggs, and that’s just breakfast. It is the most versatile pan I have ever had, and covers just about every stovetop dish you can imagine. I even made a stir fry in it once. It has a wide, flat bottom which provides ample frying surface, rounded sides for easy flip-tossing, adequate depth to hold over a gallon and all it really lacks is a metal handle for moving it from stove-top searing to oven finishing. Maybe it is time for me to get an upgrade.
Mesh Strainer (sturdy, all metal, 6-8 inch diameter): I use the $3 strainer that I bought in China Town for its intended purpose and a variety of other jobs. In place of a ricer or food mill, I rice potatoes by pushing them through with a wooden spoon, and do the same with cooked apples to make pink sauce sans skin. For a really fine straining job, I drop a coffee filter into the strainer basket and let only the liquids through. I also use it to lift and drain things from deep-fry oil and boiling water.
Note: Now that I am thinking about it, this might be the perfect replacement for my Spätzle maker, to drip the dumpling dough into boiling water.
Tongs: I use the same pair of 12-inch OXO “Good Grips” tongs for moving steaks on the grill, chicken in the frying pan, asparagus from the steamer, cooked spaghetti to the plate, biscuits around the oven, ramekins under the broiler and everything else everywhere else. Tongs are easy to use, easy to clean, serve myriad purposes and are easy to store.
Tip: in the backyard, there’s no need for BBQ a fork when you have tongs, unless you like dry, punctured meat. I improved and simplified cleaning by replacing my grill brush with a steel wool pad which I use to scour the hot grill by holding it in my tongs. I head out to the grill with only tongs, a spatula, steel wool and an instant read thermometer. That’s really all you need.
Plastic Squeeze Bottle: like the ketchup and mustard bottles you might find at diners, but clear, they are great for storing, dispensing and serving anything liquid. I infuse olive oil with woody herbs and spices right in the bottle and keep it by the stove to squirt into the hot pan. When I make a sauce to be be drizzled on fish or adorn a dessert with swirls and stripes, the sauce goes straight from pan to bottle. It won’t work as well with thick frosting, but if you are decorating a cake with ganache or jam, the bottle works better than a pastry bag, allowing more control and less mess.
Tips: I’ve had better luck with plastic squeeze bottles bought at art supply stores than kitchen stores. Test the bottle in the store by covering the tip tightly with your finger and squeezing. If air leaks out where the cap screws onto the bottle, so will the liquids you put into it. If you are making a sauce ahead of time, but intend to serve it warm, just reheat the bottle in a pan of hot water.
I would definitely say that one high-quality, versatile tool is worth the cost of a whole drawer full of gadgets, and worth making an investment. Good knives, just three or four will do everything you could want from a set of ten Ginsu Knives, except maybe cutting through a tin can, but really, who doesn’t have a can opener (with built-in bottle opener and triangular hole puncher)?