Must-Have Kitchen Gadgets

Do you cruise kitchen stores to discover the latest "must have" gadget? I do! I'm always checking out innovative tools and equipment. I've discovered some new devices and some additional uses for old favorites that will make your cooking more fun.

In the kitchen, the most valuable tools are those that have multiple uses. For example, a sturdy egg slicer will evenly slice strawberries and mushrooms in a fraction of the time it takes to use a knife. In fact, this surprisingly egg-citing tool makes preparing Strawberries Romanoff a snap.

Rubber spatulas are typically used for scraping cake or muffin batters from a bowl. But versatile heat-proof rubber spatulas also allow you to blend hot liquids on the stovetop. Because you can stir the bottoms of pans without scratching nonstick surfaces, simmering pastry creams and other custards won't scorch. Heat-proof spatulas are also great for making egg dishes, such as omelets and scrambled eggs.

Are you ever in a quandary when you're trying to decide the doneness of a roast meat or poultry? An instant-read thermometer is the safest and easiest way to determine when roasts are thoroughly cooked. The thermometer is inserted into the thickest part of the food, and it will register the temperature within 30 seconds. Chefs use their thermometers so frequently that they often store them in a pocket on their sleeve.

Here's another tip from the pros. Professional bakers are never far from their bench scraper. A simple flat metal rectangle with a handle, a bench scraper's original purpose was to remove dough and flour from a baker's workbench and quickly cut large masses of dough into individual portions. Home bakers can certainly benefit from this tool when making bread or rolling pastry dough. Another tip is to use a bench scraper to scoop cut vegetables from the cutting board and transfer them into a cooking pot or pan, such as when making a soup or stew.

Another baker's friend is a dough scraper, a flat, bendable plastic spatula with no handle. Bakers love this tool for preventing wet dough from sticking to their hands when kneading and to scrape dough out of the bowl.

A kitchen ruler is indispensable when you need to exactly measure rolled-out pastry dough. If a recipe calls for rolling dough to a 10 x 12-inch rectangle, a quick check with a ruler will leave no doubt. You can also use it as a straight edge when cutting strips of dough for lattice-topped pies.

A pizza cutter is not just for pizza night! You can use it as a pastry wheel to cut neat strips of dough. It's ideal because you can cut the strips quickly, which is helpful when you need to keep your dough cold.

A Microplane is a relatively new tool, but rapidly becoming a favorite item. Originally developed as a woodworking tool, the Microplane's razor-sharp teeth make it a perfect tool for zesting citrus and grating ginger, nutmeg and hard cheeses. The tool is available in several sizes with a range of grate sizes, giving depending on the fineness you desire.

Here are some other kitchen tools that I can't cook without:

  • An offset spatula is handy for evenly spreading cake and brownie batter in a baking pan. You can also use it for frosting and transferring a cake from the turntable to a platter.
  • Long-handled chopsticks can serve as tongs or whisks.
  • An inexpensive Japanese shredder consists of a plastic box with disks that set in on top. You can change the disks to shred, grate or slice. They're available in Asian cookware stores.
  • Versatile poultry shears are a useful tool for cutting through bones instead of using a knife.
  • Of course, no kitchen should be without razor-sharp knives. My favorite knives include an 8-inch chef's knife for chopping vegetables and fruits, a serrated bread knife and a paring knife for peeling fruits and vegetables and doing smaller cutting jobs.

With the proper equipment, time in the kitchen can be more efficient and enjoyable when you cook family meals.

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