Kitchen gadgets — the more, the merrier

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Deirdre Parker Smith

Kitchen gadgets are the Christmas gifts that foodies drool over — be it the digital thermometer or a new vegetable peeler or the latest in wine glasses.

Maybe it’s a selection of herbal mixes or a flavored oil or vinegar. Some of these can be made at home, but it’s kind of too late for that.

You can opt for a bunch of web-connected products that tell you things you once figured out for yourself or do things when you’re not actually there.

How about a Foaster, which is a phone charger made to look like a toaster? No, I didn’t think so, either.

What about an egg minder, a high-tech egg tray with each slot equipped an LED indicator that tells you which egg is the oldest, so you can use it first. Push notifications alert you to when the eggs are low or going bad. For $70, I’ll just look at the best by date on the carton if I’m not using farm-fresh eggs.

Could we be a tiny bit more practical and hands on? At the Kitchen Store, 121 W. Innes St., Dennis Lunsford has a slew of ideas for gifts, from practical to indulgent. He’s getting ready to move to a slightly larger space at 106 N. Main St.

He’s got some favorites that I use and like to buy for others. Non-stick silicon mats are wonderful, and can vary widely in price. Even the less expensive ones work well, and it will save so much time greasing and cleaning pans. Get a couple so your friend can make batches of cookies for you — is that hint subtle enough?

Joseph Joseph makes a line of gadgets that can do more than one thing, which will cut down on the need for another entire drawer of stuff. The graters have adjustable handles and specific cutting methods. The Twist Grater for cheese and chocolate means your chocolate won’t taste like onions. These are a little easier to grip than some box graters, and the ability to angle them saves fingers and knuckles.

Peelers are also multi-function. The Y-shaped peeler is what I prefer because I have arthritis in my right hand. It provides a firmer grip on the vegetable. This one comes with a scraper on one side, for ginger, potato skins, carrots. And that little hole is to take the eyes out of potatoes. The serrated peeler has a zesting tool on the side. The rasp or microplane has a pusher to make sure you get all the garlic or lemon zest or what have you off the grater.

Oxo Good Grips repeatedly win gadget testings, because of the firm grips and the usefulness of the tools. Do you need an omelet turner? Maybe. Lots of things need a gizmo to slide under and turn, and sometimes, the spatula just isn’t the right thing.

You definitely need a sanitary, knife-safe surface for cutting. We love the beauty of wooden cutting boards, but for safety sake, a cutting mat like this will cover your countertop and can be easily washed and sanitized. Save your wooden board for vegetables and cheese. This one is just $14 and it will cover a large area.

Honestly, you have not tasted pepper until you’ve had it freshly ground. It has so much more flavor than the pre-ground stuff, and you can create your own pepper blends by adding other things, like red, green or pink peppercorns, or some other spice, like coriander seeds or even allspice.

Grating sea salt is a treat, too, and allows you more control than free-flowing salt shakers. You can get a pair of grinders for just $20 and change.

You can also find big, statement pepper mills that say, “I know what I’m doing in the kitchen,” even if you never use them. But seriously, you will never go back to ordinary pepper again.

COOL-ID glasses and tumblers, and of course, there’s a wine cooler, too, are ingenious items made of ceramic. You soak it in cold water and it stays cool for a long time without ice. An outer lining makes it easy to hold, too. No ice to dilute your drinks.

If you want to go all fancy and high tech, there’s a wine bottle opener that requires a short course on learning how to use it. Meanwhile, it’s a good looking piece of hardware to put on display.

Want another way to chill your glass without ice? One gizmo made by Peugeot uses a metal disk with a special core that goes in your freezer. When you’re ready to drink, place your specially shaped glass on the metal disk, and pour in your beverage — this one is typically used for whiskey — to cool it down, without ice and without a mess. Store the disk in the freezer all the time.

Zyliss makes durable gadgets. I’ve had their garlic press for 25 years or so without a single problem. This chopper is a quick, non-electric way to chop up a little bit of food, like a bit of onion, a shallot, some mushrooms. It’s a great way to release some tension and it makes a fun noise as you have at whatever’s in there. Fairly easy to clean, too, for just $15.

Another Zyliss product that works well is what’s called a restaurant cheese grater. This produces clouds of parmesan to top your favorite dish, from soup to salad. It’s also good for other hard, drier cheeses, like aged cheddar or romano. If you want to try it with a softer cheese, make sure to chill the cheese first to add firmness. Simple.

Once you have a good bench scraper, you’ll use it for so many things. Some cheaper models are flimsy, with the blade bending and warping after a few uses. This blade is solid for picking up chopped vegetables, scraping off dough and flour, cleaning up a messy countertop after food preparation. This one is also strong enough to use for straight, downward cuts, on things like cinnamon rolls or tortilla rollups.

Plastic colanders are great and all, but a nice, stainless steel colander will make washing or rinsing off food and vegetables a snap and it will clean up and dry better than a plastic version. Plus, no worry about the colander warping from repeatedly being doused with boiling water. Also use to cool blanched vegetables by submerging the colander of veggies into a larger bowl of ice water. Another good investment.

Need  one last thing to round out the basket of goodies? A flavored oil or vinegar in an elegant bottle could be just the thing. These bottles are so pretty they can be used again and again and even placed on the table. Once your friend has used what’s in the bottle, plan a little project to fill it up again with a new flavor.

If you want to spend big bucks for someone you really care about, splurge on an enameled cast iron pot or pan. Staub has been around forever, like Le Creuset, and the pots, if properly cared for, will last for decades. The inside of a Staub is black, instead of cream colored like Le Creuset, but users praise both for even, consistent heating and their ability to go from stovetop to oven.