February 22, 2020

Best of 2019: Must-Have Kitchen Gear

When you grow up in a home with an inventor, you can either reject or embrace change. In our home, my father was the embracer; my mother and me the rejectors.

Dinner at our house was always a brainstorming session. Ideas floated above the dining room table like suds percolating out of a bubble machine. As my father’s inventions and gadgets gained popularity and his company grew, our family conversations became marketing-oriented, but he always was trying to get my mother and me to be more efficient in our tasks. Aside from patenting his inventions, he also designed a method for us to stack dishes, to put cutlery in the dishwasher efficiently and computerized our home before there was even a whiff of technology anywhere. 

We always had the latest: I was among the first of my friends to own a computer, use an electronic organizer, to play video games and own a cellphone. Yet, my mother and I didn’t always adopt all of my father’s time-saving strategies. 

But the desire for innovation must have subliminally taken hold because today I can’t resist buying cooking gadgets even though as I am buying them, I realize they will likely just be stuffed into my rarely opened gadget drawer. I own so much cooking equipment and gadgets that I could probably open a shop, not much smaller than Williams-Sonoma and live off the sales of my stash for a year. After all, I’ve used most of them only once.

After working at the American embassy for only a few months, one of the supervisors called me into his office and told me that I basically had a blank check to replace the 13-year-old embassy kitchen with all new and more modern equipment. “You mean I can order anything I want?” I asked with eyes as big as saucers. “Yes, within reason, feel free to order anything you’d like.”

The wild-eyed dervish who left his office that day spent the next few weeks scouring government-approved sites for kitchen equipment. This was much more difficult than I imagined, especially after it dawned on me that I was spending taxpayers’ money, not mine. I needed to choose wisely and buy only items that would get used regularly and would save time and energy during prep before a busy service. 

Here’s a list of some high- and low-tech kitchen equipment that an active home kitchen shouldn’t be without. You may own many of these items but if not, most of them are under $50. None of them will disappoint you or be seldom used. My mother’s latest acquisition recently arrived in the mail. It’s an automated grape leaf filling machine. I rest my case.

Immersion blender: This phenomenal tool will enable you to puree and blend in a pot of sauce or soup. It’s also the quickest way (30 seconds) to make homemade mayonnaise and certain dips. Some come with a whisk attachment so there’s no need to use a hand or stand mixer to whip cream. Favorite brand: Kitchen Aide five-speed with whisk attachment

Potato ricer: This may seem like a frivolous purchase but it’s the only way to ensure smooth mashed potatoes. Usually, items that can be used only for one task end up not being used often, but if you value lump-free potatoes — this is a must. Favorite brand: Chef’n FreshForce.

“I own so much cooking equipment and gadgets that I could probably open a shop.”

Magnetic knife strip: Storing your knives (even your most expensive ones) rattling around in a drawer is the surest way to ruin them and make them imbalanced and dull. An easy-to-hang magnetic knife strip will enable  you to easily store and peruse your knives without wasting valuable counter space with blocks. For everyday cooking, you’ll need a good chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated bread knife (which can double as a blade to cut through pineapples and tomatoes) and a knife sharpener.

High-speed blender: I love the new high-speed blenders that chop, mix, blend, whip, grind and puree for smoothies, dips, juices and soups. When you own a blender with blades that whip and grind quickly, you won’t know how you lived without one. Favorite brand: Magic Bullet

Storage containers: If you cook a lot at home at home I recommend storage containers that go from dishwasher to oven and are made of shatterproof, tempered glass. Favorite brand: Glasslock 18-piece oven safe

Salad spinner: There’s no replacing a salad spinner to dry vegetables and herbs and ensure salad greens stay dry before being dressed. Don’t settle for a pool of water at the bottom of a salad bowl. Favorite brand: OXO Stainless Steel Spinner with integrated colander

Instant pot: The most well-marketed electronic pressure cooker ever invented is a staple in many households these days and for good reason. Unlike a standard pressure cooker, which is one of the best tools ever created for busy cooks, an instant pot also steams, slow cooks, sous vides and can be used as a rice cooker. It even bakes and sautés. It’s an all-in-one that replaces a number of other kitchen items. Favorite brand: Instant Pot Smart Wifi 6 Quart

Food processor: There’s no replacement for a multipurpose food processor. It can make hummus, grate cheese, chop vegetables and even pie crust. I make scones and puff pastry in a food processor. Favorite brand: Of the many on the market, Cuisinart DFP-14BCNY stands out

Spiralizer: It may seem like a frivolous gadget but spiralizers are a versatile tool that can make ribbons and “noodles” out of a variety of vegetables. Great for salads and interesting vegetable dishes. Favorite brand: Veggetti

Digital scale: Proper baking relies on two things – proper measuring and proper oven temperature. Measuring cups can’t compete with weighing ingredients on a scale. If your baked goods and breads come out differently every time, start to bake like a professional: Get a scale. Favorite brand: The My Weigh KD-8000

Oven thermometer: Home ovens often are uncalibrated. In my bakery, we wouldn’t dream of baking something without an oven thermometer to gauge the oven’s true temperature rather than relying on the dial. Keep an inexpensive oven thermometer hanging in your oven and never over- or undercook your baked goods again. Favorite brand: CDN DOT2 ProAccurate

Bench scraper: This tool is indispensable when working with dough or pastry but also picks up excess flour or waste from countertops. It’s great for cleaning vegetable scraps and herbs and also makes a great dough cutter for rolls, pizza dough or scones. Favorite brand: Orblue pastry scraper and cutter

Mezzaluna: Italian for “half-moon,” the mezzaluna has been in use since the early 18th century, for mincing and chopping tasks, and as a pizza cutter. The big cutting surface catches all of the ingredients on your cutting board, ensuring all pieces are uniformly cut. Perfect for herbs, chocolate blocks, nuts or even lettuce. Nothing beats a vintage mezzaluna but a good one is hard to find. So go with the next best thing. Favorite brand: Wusthof Double-Handle.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.